I wish I could enshrine that day In my mind, nay, in my soul And share it still. It was a perfect day A day in which I drank my fill. And store for a time to come When we shall no longer be Together as one.
First we came, to seaside town Then we ate and passed round The last bite of just one sweet. Then went to walk in a deserted park to where we met the sea And walked that hillside path Taking great care Not to stumble there Or fall the fatal fall Upon the rocky shore bellow
My eyes were full To gaze upon that gentle sea My heart was filled I see you still, the dearest souls In my menagerie. My husband, daughter, son No, not children, but grown That after wandering have come home. One on a rock, one near the broken boat One, feet in the water, and me Sitting in a gnarled tree.
Were I to paint this scene It would be fine. The sun, the blues, the hills The pelican standing on a lapping boat Unafraid and so still.
What is all this to me? It is the priceless threads of gold From which I weave The tenderest strings of me. The prize for which i strove With every fiber of my wishing. It is the deepest well From which I draw my breathing. A thing to be caressed within my breast. As a mother, wife and me, all live To see things well, for these I carry close. This was a perfect space, a still-life painted in my soul An easy peace, an inlet beach, Few words, a few jokes, a kindly breeze. Forever and ever Please remember these.
When is a slave no longer a slave?
Is it when she thinks she is free?
Is it when time no longer has relevancy?
No, the twenty-first century
Does not free me.
When there’s a pandemic and I become
The most essential worker in your economy
Nursing the old in your old folk homes
And ringing up your grocery
And then I die disproportionately
Am I free?
Or am I still your mammie?
When is a slave no longer a slave?
Is it when she thinks she is free?
Or does it depend on what you expect from me?
What you tell me is my responsibility?
To hold up the Community.
From organizing to tending to baptizing
To showing up to see the incarcerated
And serving your needs of intimacy
Without choosing or salary or thank you
If a no is beyond possibility
Then is a yes really a yes?
When did I get free?
Or Am I now the Universal Mammie?
When is a slave no longer a slave?
Is it when she thinks she is free?
After forced breeding to fuel an economy
To now high maternal mortality
Suffering malaise from the weight
Of your systemically racist society
Your state sponsored violent policy
To deny me a wage to live decently
Housing me in your public
plantation shanty equivalency
Slave mammie is living among you
And you don’t even see me.
But here we come dragging our chains
Into the twenty-first century.
Am I as invisible as she
Is sanitized and imaginary?
When is a State no longer a purveyor of slavery?
If you wash your hands does that mean you are free?
What you still expect from me
I think that is the skeleton key.
You want mammie’s lap and the lullaby
But you still after so many years
Don’t celebrate setting me free
Begrudge my indemnity
My equal opportunity
YOU enslaved ME!
And now have the nerve
To call me a welfare queen!
You keep your knee on the neck
Of the multigenerational me
Then ask why do I protest
Why I can’t breathe.
Honey, mammie can’t rock you to sleep no more.
Mammie is angry.
Mammie is here in the street.
Just saying free me.
Fix this shit and
Fourth of July, 2020
(Note: Mammie is an imaginary white creation not grounded in historical fact but that has, nevertheless, infected the collective American psyche).
Daniel was packing up his backpack. Not recklessly, jut methodically. His military training.
“Of course,” she scoffed. “We’re in the middle of an argument, and you’re leaving.”
“You keep the car, Kira,” he said, putting the keys on the cooler. “I’m going to hike out of here. It’ll give me some time to think. And to enjoy this incredible scenery.”
She looked out, over the mountain. Forget the beautiful fall colors. “Was that a little sarcasm I detected there?”
“Not at all,” he said.
“Because you can’t enjoy it with me, right? What’s the matter, Daniel? Am I too…cranky for you? ”
He just gave her a look and kept on packing.
Her mouth didn’t know when to stop sometimes. “You need time to think. You. Daniel, at least I was talking to you. Why can’t you talk to me?”
“You weren’t talking to me. You were talking at me.” He zipped the knapsack.
He didn’t answer. He never explained what was in his head. The world was supposed to know. Well, screw that.
“Why do you always do that? Expect the world to know what’s in your mind?” She shook her head from side to side. “Guys,” she whispered under her breath. “White guys.”
He stood up. All six foot seven of him. “You want to know what’s in my head? Well, I hope you can take it. Here it goes.”
She zipped her jacket at the sudden chill.
“I love you Kira, you know that?”
He looked out at the horizon. “But I have to let you go, girl.”
Her mouth didn’t move now.
“You know why? Because I can’t stand how you hate yourself when you’re with me.”
“Huh?” This was escalating to a place she’d never intended.
“Yeah. That’s right, I know you do. You hate yourself because you’re a black woman in love with a white man.”
Kira stopped breathing.
But Daniel wasn’t done. “Look, I’m just a guy. Yeah, a white guy. Out here trying to live my life. Not a white supremacist, not a tool, just a guy. And you’re so angry all the time. All the time. Not at the world! At me! Like I’m supposed to redeem the world for you, so that you can live in it. You look at me and you don’t see me. You see white privilege, even though you know what I come from. That I’ve had to pull myself up from nothing. You see the system, broken down, corrupt, and in chaos, and you want me to fix it. All by myself! You want fairy tales, Kira. And I’m not the guy who can give them to you.”
He now slung the pack over his shoulders. Fingered his cap.
“If you decide you want me, come and find me, I’m committed. And we can build a life together, I mean a real life. Kids, cabin in the woods, we can do some pioneer thing. Or, we can do your corporate newscaster circuit, whatever you want. But you have to come with a different attitude. Because I won’t be with you like this. It just tears me apart.”
He took her arms and kissed her, slow and heavy. Then he turned around and started down the mountain.
Kira Lee was left with the feel of bruised lips, sexual arousal, and astonishment.
Astonishment at the sheer number of words that had come out of that man’s mouth. In all the time she’d known him, he’d never strung that many words together. Not once. At least, not about his feelings.
She had a suspicious lump in her throat.
Their idyllic camping weekend was ruined.
She sank down, on the side of the mountain, facing not just the russet forest and the sun climbing the blue horizon, but the analysis she was forced to make, of his exit speech.
She really, really hated that man.
Tall, lanky, powerful, and chiseled. Wicked skilled, hard working and even-tempered.
Daniel was perfect.
From where she could see, he was untroubled by doubts, imposter fraud syndrome, or insecurity. He was Superman.
And that is why she hated him. So much!
But she also admired him. She also loved him.
She was smart enough to know, that looking at him like that, like he was perfect, was dangerous. It was brain washed, it was shit! And she hated herself. He was right about that.
She knew that he must have faults, he must have insecurities. He was human after all. But he didn’t talk about them, he didn’t let anyone see them. He was wound tighter than a rubber band. He was in command all the time, naturally. He never sat still. He took three aspirin when he had a headache and just slugged it out. He was a prisoner of his own self image. When he keeled over, it would be for good. Because nothing would stop him before that.
And he was right. When she saw him in all his glory, she also saw white privilege.
Even the confidence to work hard was a part of that white privileged. She envied everything he was and everything he had.
He had bought into the narrative that he could do anything, it had propelled him, it had him in its grip and it would not let him go. To him, admitting vulnerability, ignorance, feebleness of any kind was to fail, to be weak.
And she was weak. That made them basically incompatible, didn’t it?
She wasn’t weak on the outside. Not in the obvious sense. She was a ripped, fit, tall, chocolate sister. She could shoot a three pointer from any angle on the court and sink that basket.
She was acing it in her career, just like she had in her tour of duty. Her daily speech to the bathroom mirror was, “I’m a strong black woman and I don’t take no shit from nobody.”
This motto got her through life.
But it was a lie.
Because she too had drunk the cool aid. If Daniel thought he could succeed at anything because he was white, then she thought, deep down, she believed she could never make it out there, in the real world, because she was black. The lowest on the totem pol. A black, dark black, nappy haired, female.
There it was. She had bought into the myth. On a celular, DNA level, living in the United States of fucked up America, she was also fucked up.
She hated herself more than she hated Daniel.
She hated herself because she was a highly visible professional journalist, who wanted to throw it all away.
She hated herself because she was a feminist, who just wanted to have babies with this man.
She hated herself because, while descending from a long line of mammies and domestic workers, all she wanted to be was a housewife. A stay at home, privileged, well kept, suburban, soccer mom. Huh! On a fireman’s salary.
And it was his fault! He was the one. He had done this.
Taken away all her confidence, her will to fight, to slug it out in the professional arena.
He was the one that made her feel so safe, that she could let go of the reigns, slow the horses, and coast to a stop. She could step down from the stage coach, walk barefoot in the prairie, find the little cabin on the hillside, plant a veggie garden, and begin to homestead.
She wanted to hide behind this man. She wanted him to fight all her battles, like a knight in shining armor. In other words, she wanted to cash in on his white privilege.
And that was sooo messed up.
What if she lost herself in the process?
And wasn’t that just drinking a little bit more of the cool aid? This idea that a man and woman could be happy ever after. This myth.
But yeah, he was the one she wanted. Since she was a fourteen-year-old, boy-crazy girl, she’d been looking for a man like this. She’d found him. They’d known each other for seven years. They’d met during her tour of duty in Afghanistan, then he’d been over there by himself for another tour. Now, they’d been together for the last three years.
God! What had she done to make him give her this ultimatum?
Huh! What hadn’t she done.
She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and nearly scratched her eyeball with the ring.
She looked at the ring that was on her fourth finger. He had given it to her last night. After they’d hiked all day, shot some amazing pictures, come back exhausted, built a fire and cooked.
After that, they had christened the tent with some amazingly good sex. Then he had pulled the little box out and said, “Been meaning to give this to you all day.”
He put the velvet box in her hand and said, “Sleep on it.”
“Wait! Aren’t you going to do the thing?”
“The get down on one knee and ask thing.”
“I’m nearly naked and it’s cold, get back under the sleeping bag.”
She slipped the ring on her finger and it fit.
She snuggled back into the sleeping bag and tried to sleep.
But somehow, in the middle of the night, her dreams had become entangled with some real ugly stuff.
Like, “How come I didn’t get the ‘Will you marry me question?’ Don’t I rate that? Is there something about me that, like, says, no you don’t have to ask her, you can just give her a box and roll over and go to sleep? Is this what black girls rate? If I had been a white girl would you have done it like that?”
On and on and on, all night long, the question was being asked, and magnified.
So that when he got up, she was already up, making coffee, banging things around.
He came out of the tent, smiling from ear to ear, “Good morning. Oh my God, look at this view, the mountains, the valley, the pine trees, the river. Isn’t it awesome?”
How could he not tell?
He went off to the woods, came back. He helped her fry the eggs in the bacon drippings. It wasn’t till the second cup of coffee that he seemed to notice her quietness.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter,” she shrugged.
“You can take your time, you know.” He smiled, with understanding eyes.
“Time for what?” She said.
“To give me an answer to my proposal.”
“What proposal? There was no proposal.”
“Oh?” He got serious. “Give me back the ring then, I’ll do it again. I’ll do it properly.”
“It’s not that. I don’t need you to go down on one knee.”
“What’s it about then?”
“Oh, really! You don’t have any idea?”
“Come on, Kira, let’s not play games.”
“Oh, oh you really think this is a game?”
“No. I didn’t mean that. Just tell me what I did wrong, okay?”
“Oh, now it’s my job. It’s always my job to explain.”
“Wait, Is this about race? How is this about race?”
“You didn’t ask, you just gave me the box and went to sleep.”
He sat still. He looked out across the horizon, then back at her.
“Do you know what it means for a man to spend three months of his salary on a ring? It’s a symbol. It means he wants to honor you, protect you, support you, take care of you.”
And that is when she should have stopped. And actually heard him. But she had to get in the last word.
“Well I don’t know, but where I come from, there are certain symbols too, like champagne and candlelight and a question. It’s called romance. Or is that just for white women?”
That’s when he had gone into the tent, and emerged with his backpack.
Kira wiped her face again, this time with a proper tissue.
She remembered now, being in a bar with him, more than a year ago. What was it he had said?
“C’mon Kira, I’m getting too old for this.”
“To be a boyfriend. I’m thirty eight.”
She had laughed. “So what do you want to be?”
“I want a family,” he said, quietly.
“And I want another drink!” She waved her glass at the bartender.
And that was all she had said. Funny how you knew now, things that you couldn’t even acknowledge at the time. Now, she knew she had hurt him. How? Because now she remembered the slight pause before he had said, “I want a family.” And the still, wary look in those blue eyes. Like he expected to be blown off.
That was fear.
He’d never brought it up afterwords. And she didn’t either.
How long had he planned this weekend? Had that episode been a prelude to this? Had he been slowly overcoming her defenses, her skittishness. First, her awkwardness at dating a white man, then her shyness at calling him her boyfriend, then, her resistance at taking the final plunge. Had it taken him another year to get up his nerve again? Is that why he’d said, “sleep on it,” instead of, “Will you marry me.”
And had she really complained that his proposal wasn’t romantic?
A perfect setting, a perfect moment, and she had ruined it all, by saying it wasn’t romantic. What a bitch!
She wiped her face again.
But why couldn’t he stay and fight it out with her? Fight for her?
In her way of thinking, she should be able to ask questions. Like, “Well, how’s this gonna work?” And, “How’s that gonna work?” And so on, and so forth.
But really, the fight was between her and herself. And he knew it. If three years of being with him hadn’t answered her questions, overcome her mistrust, what would?
Daniel wasn’t good at talking about race. But he was the one doing the big brother stuff, building for the community center, coaching in his spare time. He walked the walk and she did the talking. Talk, talk, talk.
There was a cancer on her soul and she was afraid to name it. But she had to, if she was going to root it out.
In a subtle way, Kira knew she was a racist.
Not because she believed she was better than someone else, but because she had fallen prey to the other lie. The idea that she was not equal, that she was less. Impossible to say how that had happened. But maybe she wasn’t the only one. If you lived in a society that kept telling you in a million ways, every day, that you were inferior, wouldn’t it seep in? Politician’s babble, election campaigns with their innuendo and coded language. Job interviews and reviews, the corporate structure, all made you feel that you shouldn’t be there, that you were an imposter, an anomaly who could speak “proper” English. The continual need to push back on this narrative wore you down, made you crazy. Beauty standards, hair comparisons, make up adds, movies and people, these were telling you that you were less than, that your story was missing, that your human experience was not as important. My God, when had this happened to her?
And the resentment of Daniel, where had it come from? It comes from constantly comparing yourself to him.
The mistrust, the ever present, growing mistrust, that should have been diminishing as her love grew, but wasn’t. It was growing, always wanting proof that he wouldn’t, by some small slight, by some tiny tiny act, reveal that he was a racist. As the stakes grew, so did the fear that he could betray her.
But all this shit, this cancer on her soul, was getting her nowhere. It wasn’t protecting her. It was just interfering with her happiness.
If Daniel had vestiges of racism in him, then that was his problem, his spiritual battle to face. She had her own battle to fight.
“Push through it,” she hissed, as if she were doing her crunches.
And now she knew, that instead of drowning in fear and resentment, she had to follow her bliss.
She started humming the words to the song, under her breath. “What a girl wants, what a girl needs, whatever makes me happy.”
Suddenly, Kira got up and started packing up the campsite gear. She, too, was methodical, army trained. She took the tent down, packed it up in minutes.
“What would make me happy is to trust,” she said, out loud.
“What would make me happy is to not focus on our faults.”
“What would make me happy is to build something with Daniel. To accept him as my mirror. To know that he’s just like me.”
“Yeah, he triggers me. And that is okay. That is the point. We’re gonna grow together.”
“I’ve gotta tell him I’ve got his back. He can open up with me. I’ll be his safe zone. You don’t have to be Superman, baby.”
“Baby, I love you. You’re gonna be okay with me. We’re gonna be alright. Oh God, pick up the phone. Pick up your phone, Daniel!”
When she got to the car she found his phone there. “Damn!”
When she got home he wasn’t there.
It’s okay. He would have had to hike out of the National park, then catch a ride. It could take a while.
Twenty four hours later he wasn’t back yet. She called the fire station.
No. He hadn’t reported for work. He wasn’t due back on shift for another day.
No need to worry about his safety on the job today. No need for the stomach ache that accompanied her most days, when he was going into burning buildings, saving people’s lives.
Another twenty four hours, and now she was frantic.
“Where are you, baby? How could you forget your phone?”
“I’ve got to let you go.” That’s what he’d said.
What the hell does that mean anyways? You left your phone on purpose?
What if he fell down a hole and broke his leg?
“You see, only a white man would think he could go off without a means of communication and be okay. That nothing could happen to him that he couldn’t resolve himself. Such an arrogant prick!“
Her alter ego countered, “Well, after all, he is a rescuer. People call him when they’re in trouble.”
“No. No. You see! That’s your Superman bullshit. They call a squad. A whole team of guys. And even a hundred guys, working together, can die. They died on nine eleven.”
“Shut uuup! This is crazy. I’m going crazy.”
Her hands were shaking as she called the station again.
“Yeah, Kira. He’s here. But they’re out on a call. Do you want to leave a message?”
Damn. She had to go to work herself. Would he come home after work?
On the way to work she stopped at Bloomingdales to grab a dress shirt to go on air with. In the bathroom, a middle aged white woman came out of the bathroom stall and said to her, “There’s no toilet paper in that stall.”
“You need to put more paper in that stall.”
The woman was out the door before the words came out of her mouth. “Do I look like the cleaning lady?”
In the Uber she was fuming. “I can’t believe this. Twenty first century, and this shit is still happening.”
But as the day went by she grew more philosophical. So what if someone confused you for the janitorial staff? Did you get kidnapped? Did you get raped? Forced to be a sex worker for an African war lord like those little black girls in Africa? No. So shake it off. Don’t be so damn unhappy. So whiny about an America that isn’t perfect yet.
So what if the founding fathers promised equality for all? Is that what made her so unsure of herself? So angry? The fact that the reality did not always accord with the promise?
She had freedom. To be whatever she wanted. Not as a right, but by her own effort.
She could exercise some of that freedom and marry a white man and raise some biracial kids!
Take that, bathroom lady!
She left a message at the fire station, “Come home after your shift.”
When Daniel walked in at nine she didn’t even let him get his coat off. She slammed him against the wall and was all over him.
He reacted with energy and that Superman strength. It amazed her, that her being six feet tall never stopped him from picking her up and carrying her to a bed.
“The answer is yes,” she said. “But I still want to discuss the details.”
“Afterwards,” he said, flinging his coat on the floor.
In his arms, later, she said, quietly, “I really want to get married Daniel, but I’m afraid.”
“Tell me what you’re afraid of,” he said, tightening his hold.
“I’m afraid that being with you is going to debilitate me. Make me…mentally ill.”
“Because, you’re so strong. And I’m always comparing myself to you. And I always come out…wanting.”
“It’s an expression. It just means, being inferior.”
He was silent for a moment. “Was that an example, right there?”
“Where you had to explain to the dumb jock what an English expression means?”
He lifted her chin, looked straight into her eyes. “Let me explain to you how men’s minds work…in the business of looking for a mate.”
“You see, men are very strategic. They always go for the gall they think is too good for them. They try to marry up.”
“In my case, I picked the strongest, smartest, sexiest woman to come across my path. And that’s you Kira. Hands down. I need your strength.”
“I…I’m supposed to swallow that,” she said, a suspicious treble in her voice.
“Believe it. First day you walked into my platoon in Afghanistan. That’s when you came into my sights.”
“Wow. That’s how come you signed up for another tour, when I was coming back home?”
“Well, I knew you weren’t ready to look at me yet. Plus I had to wait and see what city you’d settle down in, so I could look for a job there. I mean, here.”
Kira was at a loss for words, to think he’d been focused on wining her for so long. “You’re not just strategic, you’re scary.” She kissed him.
But he wasn’t finished. “And about this race stuff. A lot of changes are coming, we’re just gonna have to hang on and live through it, the best we can, together.”
“What kind of changes do you think are coming?”
“Oh…This is going to be the century of retribution. I know I’m a dinosaur, on my way out. Why do you think I want a black woman to have my children? So my genes will survive.”
“Ah ha ha ha ha ha. Ah ha ha ha ha.” Kira couldn’t stop laughing. It was as if someone had tickled her right in the stomach. And the perspective of race relations which had been so gloomy before, was now looking like…a pioneering adventure.
“Cmon. I wasn’t that funny,” he said.
“I can’t help it. It’s so….weird to hear you say stuff like that.”
“Well yeah, I was joking. With just a little bit of truth in there.”
“It doesn’t have to be the century of retribution, you know, it just has to be the century of restitution.”
“Well, one man’s restitution is another man’s retribution,” he said. “Why do you think there’s so many of them arming up? It’s all connected.”
She looked at him as if she were seeing him for the first time. “Wow Daniel, who knew you were this deep?”
He shrugged. “You can talk to me. Or at me. Whatever. I was wrong to walk away.”
That was all she ever wanted. That’s what love meant. That was the proof she had been waiting for.
Slowly, she felt it melt away. The mistrust. The fear. She exhaled it out.
She squeezed his hand. “Promise?”
He raised her hand to his lips. “Hurrah. Semper fi.”
That was unbreakable. On his honor. In battle, always faithful.
With Daniel, the fewer the words, the deeper the meaning.
A recent picture taken of the atmosphere over Italy just showed a significant decrease in pollution over that country, correlated with its coronavirus lockdown. It even talked of fish and dolphins coming back into the canals of Venice when the boats and ferries stopped churning up the muddy waters. Country after country has locked down or decreased its industry and car use.
What is the impact of shutting down our society on climate change? Will it buy us time? Did it decrease CO2 output? Did it decrease the temperature or at least keep it from rising as quickly? Did we just succeed in doing what was on Greta’s fervent wish list? Did we just give the earth a breather so she can recover a little bit?
When we restart our economies up again, what can we keep from our current shutdown that would benefit the earth and the climate? Does working from home need to become the new normal so that we drastically reduce our automobile pollution? Do we actually need to congregate in order to do all of our jobs? Do we need to relocate our young adults to physical colleges in order to educate them? Do we need to air condition or heat hundreds of millions of square feet of offices? If Justin Trudeau can do his job as prime minister from home while minding three kids, can’t we?
Isn’t the lack of pollution we are seeing proof positive that fossil fuel energy needs to be changed to green sources? Is there anything we can do when industry starts up again to keep it from spewing venomous pollution into the air? And what about air travel? Can we not start to build electric planes? Or find some other form of green energy for planes?
This is an opportunity. This is a moment. We have so many questions. Climate scientists need to model this and to compare their past and present models. This is a big change but is this change even detectable in their models? Does it put us on a new trajectory? This scenario (massive decrease in CO2 output) is better than the best-case scenario that climate change accords could even dream of. And all countries are forced to participate whether they want to or not. With the coronavirus, governments are forced to react to the projections of infections and death by the medical scientists. They are slower, however, to react to the projections of the climate change scientists. Maybe we should be stressing the number of projected deaths from climate change instead of the number of degrees of temperature rise.
But the question is, where do we go from here? We have a few weeks or a few months to answer these questions before we start business as usual again. So, let’s get it right. Let’s honor all this suffering and death and find some answers.
MOTHER’S RIGHTS, segment 2 of 5 (see previous post)
REFRAMING MOTHERHOOD IN THE CONTEXT OF EQUALITY
The Right to Health
The low priority afforded worldwide to the health of mothers is a fact wholly incongruous with their inestimable value. The loss of a mother is an ordeal more devastating to a family than any other. Yet women undergo pregnancy in many cases without adequate prenatal care or skilled birth attendants.5 Widespread mother malnutrition and the high incidence of childbirth mortality in many regions of the world reflect the low priority given to mother’s health by agencies allocating resources.
Even beyond pregnancy, safeguarding the health of a mother would directly affect the survival of children. It is clear that what is good for mothers is good for families. Therefore, in allocating resources to the health of mothers, governments are ensuring the highest benefits to the largest number of its citizens.
How important is motherhood to us as a society? I want to generate a dialogue on how our global society views, upholds or defends the rights of mothers. During the next 5 days I will share parts of an article I had published in the San Juan Star several years ago. I thought taking it piece by piece would help us focus the dialogue. Please feel free to leave any comment, no matter how short.
REFRAMING MOTHERHOOD IN THE CONTEXT OF EQUALITY
During the month of May we celebrate one of our most sacred holidays – Mother’s Day. At this time we honor our mothers, buy them flowers, take them out to a nice restaurant and recognize their sacrifice and care. During our celebration it is also fitting that we should examine the spiritual significance of motherhood, the vital contribution which mothers provide to civilization and…
Reflecting on the day’s sad buzzword, which is so heartbreaking. There are historic reasons for the state of nations. There will be an accounting, where some will be shown to have grandeur and some will be found wanting.
Raised from the Dayspring of Grandeur
They were forged in irons
And steeped in toil
They were clothed in cruelty
And brought gold from the soil
When invaded by Spain
Those with skin of coal
They were called to arms
Despite their own bonds.
They bartered for freedom
one day out of seven
to work their own hand
and buy out their children
They fought off the aggressor
And the Spaniards turned tail
With valor they triumphed
Then were paid with betrayal
They were told to disperse
To melt back into bondage
To dissolve the army
To be again master’s hostage
So they took no trophies
And begged no pay
But raised the saber
And claimed the State.
They framed a constitution
Enshrining their rights
Pristine and unique
In the annals of time
They invited all nations
To come to their ports
To France they offered
To be brothers, in short
In exchange for equality
They would stay with the crown
They were sent a vast army,
To make them stand down.
Napoleon’s thirty thousand
They vanquished again
Where once they had freedom
They would not be enslaved
Again they prevailed
And the generals surrendered
But Toussaint, their Pride!
Was carried away, on the ocean tide.
He would sue for their cause
Haiti and France reunite.
But without hearing his plea
Napoleon denied it.
In a cell he entombed him
Then mislaid the keys.
Of hunger he perished
As they left him to freeze.
A martyr for freedom!
His oblivion intended
Across the broad waters
To his nation dismember.
But the roots of the tree
Which he planted so deep
In its sons and its daughters
Awoke with a shriek.
Now descending to wrath
They unleashed a blood bath
An hundred thousand man army
To proclaim to the world
That their bondage had ended.
Egalitée, liberté libète
Were both seized and defended
They burnt their own legacy
The fruit of their toil
They left nothing to covet
To the thieves on their soil
They left nowhere to hide
But the soot and the ash
O’er that tyrant’s disgrace
They triumphed at last.
Then bound wounds of the broken
With the rod of command
Planted liberty’s flag
Across their own land.
Nations shunned them as lepers
For ideals contagious
The world turned its back
Wiping them from the map!
And so, into their future
With their island as home,
Their banner unfurled,
They sailed alone.
Nurturing their spirit
They toiled resilient
They painted their history
In the colors of synergy.
They had knitted a language
And called it Creole
They sang to their children
Beat the drums with their soul
Yet they harbored a cancer
Bequeathed by their past
There moved in their midst
a vile colorist asp
A leach necromancer
Drained blood from its breast
Eclipsing the grandeur
From which Haiti was cast
by her own amalgam
by an elitist language.
The black pupil shone
In its dark cabochon
A Caribbean jewel
held as captive son.
Its luster yet hidden
Amid poverty’s grip
Poised with the phoenix
Like the arrow’s own tip
When the bowels of the Earth
Raised the hand of fate
And with the rod of command
Shook tectonic plates.
Moving its sinews,
It bid Haiti awake
By the rivers of pain
And the innocent slain
To meet the horizon
To seize and lay claim
to their rightful place
On the world’s wide stage.
To fill all of space
In mellifluous hymn
Singing, “We were the first
To have broken our chains
“Before all we proclaimed
That on earth Justice reigned
As in heaven the same.
That all colors are one!
“And though we were betrayed
By the traitors on Earth
We have not lost our faith
Nor made deals for our worth.
“Shunned, used and oppressed
By the nations of Cain,
Though Sacrificial Lamb,
We have prospered and gained.
Our soul is redeemed
Our own hands are clean
Our spirit is unbroken
Our resilience serene
Now the test is the world’s:
For all nations and races,
To redeem their own past
Wipe the greed of their history.
Who of these will atone
For their deeds in the now?
Those who trafficked in treachery
Will they mend their own vow?
By the Rod of Justice
By the voice of the people
Part the goats from the sheep
Clean the chaff from the wheat.
Bind the wounds of the broken
And abolish their suffering.
Cry and fight for the world
And not just your own country
For the Books are unsealed
And the Kingdom is nigh.
Now the meek shall inherit
As decreed from on High.
Say: we fulfilled the command.
Built an Ark with our hands.
Crushed oppression at last
And spread peace in the land.
In this Dayspring of Grandeur
It is stamped on our brow:
“In the family of Man
Those who serve are the free.
And grandeur is shown
By whose love is now spent
On the good of the world
And not on his own.”
Yeah. Forgive the word badass, it doesn’t come easy to my generation. But it is, in fact, the word that fits. And I thank the generation that coined it.
In 1954 my father, Edward James Howard, a black man, newly married to a white woman, moved into a neighborhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Promptly, several of the white neighbors moved out. In 1959 he sailed to Brazil, wife and four kids in tow, to “pioneer.”
Edward J. Howard thought “a little different.”
Was he for real? What made him think so differently? What was it like for him in the 1950’s? And what was going on in the world at the time? I wish that he could tell me, but he’s been gone for thirty years now.
Recently, my storage got invaded by termites. Horrible. I won’t go into how nasty that was. But one amazing thing came out of it. I had to sort through my deceased parents boxed belongings. And there I found it. This precious thing, that told me how he thought. There, neatly typed on an old fashioned typewriter, with hand-written notes in the margins, was a talk he gave in 1956, when he was 32 years old. This is the average age of his current grandkids, most of whom never got to meet him. And it’s titled “Fast Evolving World – to What?”
Seriously? He thought his world was “fast evolving”? If he were here now his head would be spinning like a top. The other question, “To what?” is almost funny. But don’t we all want to know where we’re going, what we’re evolving into? I know, some think we might actually be “devolving.”
In order to preserve the disintegrating document I digitized it, so that his descendants could decide for themselves whether he was a dreamer, a philosopher, or a revolutionary. It’s freaky how current some of his comments are. I know for sure his grand kids are smart and enterprising global citizens, but then, maybe Edward J. Howard started this trend.
Precisely at this moment in time it became very important to share his thinking. Why? Because at this juncture in time it is imperative to know one’s north. So that events in the world don’t defeat us, or cause us to lose our footing before we get where we’re going.
Here’s his talk, given in 1956, at LouHelen Bahá’í School near Davidson.
FAST EVOLVING WORLD – To What?
By Edward J. Howard
In an age wherein we are inclined towards and have our attentions constantly drawn to the negative things of life; in an age wherein we have witnessed opinions and viewpoints expressed on every imaginable idea in every conceivable subject; in an age that has produced so much confusion, conflict, and catastrophe, I would like to speak to you upon a more positive vein this afternoon and tell you some of the deeper values and spiritual implications found in the Bahá’í World Faith as it pertains to this disturbed and fast evolving world of ours.
The material and spiritual history of mankind has been a continuous process of evolution or gradual and constant unfoldment -and with all processes of unfoldment or development, as with the life of an individual, we might well ask ourselves the question – to what?
In the case of the individual, we can readily observe the seed of the man contained in the boy and through the various stages of growth and development the reality of the man who consumes the boy. Likewise, we observe the processes of history in civilization and see mankind march from family to tribe, from tribe to village, from village to city state, from city state to nation, and from nation today we hear the soundings of world government in the making.
You will notice I have mentioned world, for that is exactly what the Baha’i faith is- a universal, all inclusive, all embracing global movement of spiritual impetus signalizing the coming of age of the whole human race and the consummation of mankind’s material and spiritual progress on this planet.
Ed married Jane Reynolds in 1954, bringing his daughter Mary, and her daughters Tina and Carolyn into the family. Baby Tracie was a new addition in 1956.
To those of us accustomed to thinking in terms of limited concepts such as nationalistic states, geographic religions, class groups, and racial identities it is perhaps difficult to readily grasp concepts and the avenues of progress which eliminate all barriers in human endeavor based upon such limitations, and to begin anew with a simple thought such as – one God, one religion or one earth, one country. And yet, in the subconscious reality our deeper senses should demonstrate and confirm these basic truths.
It is clear and evident that the direction in which civilization is moving, and the swiftness of events that accompany this fast evolution, requires of us a new orientation in regards to our mental outlook, in order to make those necessary adjustments so essential to a positive approach to the problems of this age.
There is not one individual in this gathering whose conscience does not testify that in this day there is no more important matter in the world than that of universal peace. If the 19th century witnessed an age of industrial change, the 20th century is witnessing an age of changing concepts about people, about religion, about political ideologies and many other aspects of our civilization. As a matter fact, there is no facet of society that has not come in for a new closer scrutiny, and re-evaluation. The fundamental challenge of our day is the re-ordering of human affairs on the basis of justice and a genuine concern to understand the essential values and real purpose of life. The most outspoken opponents of truth and justice must and do rely on antiquated and unscientific information to make their points. Those people who distrust the democratic processes of freedom offer nothing new. They use the oldest kinds of religious and political devices to divide and rule. Any successes which the enemies of mankind can claim are won through the default of those who can and should promote the spiritual way of life. We as individuals bear a great responsibility to mankind to make clear (in both word and deed) our fundamental principles based upon some higher spiritual process such as those given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Baha’i Faith over 100 years ago. Hot air may serve a very comforting purpose on a cold winter’s night, but it leaves a very noticeable chill in terms of human rights.
Another aspect of this swiftly developing need and demand for re-orientation (and reorganization of our thinking processes) in order to see the great transition through which the world is passing, lies in our ability to gain perspective. To attempt in this day to visualize the world as anything other than a complete unit is a failure to understand the lofty purpose of divine wisdom. A most important concept is that of universality. The human situation concerns everyone, and not only do we have a religious precept on which to base our action, but they are in accord with and supported by all kinds of scientific evidence. Unfortunately our society has become so compartmentalized that many people believe that their only responsibilities are to limited groups of their own choosing. In reality the job before us is universal, it’s primarily to do with our sense of values. Any contrivances which some people use to set aside the common qualities of mankind are frustrating and annoying, but they are temporary at best. No matter how they twist and turn, regardless of their spurious arguments, in spite of their violence or turbulence, those who are unaware of the world as one community have been unable to do more than delay the constant progress of the great ideals of truth and justice as the true basis upon which universal peace can alone be established.
Brazilian friends Flavia and Newton invited Ed to settle in Brazil in 1959.
A standard by which we can test all valid arguments in the field of social concepts is this simple statement made in the Bahá’í Writings, as to the meaning of religion, “Whatever has to do with the universal good is divine, and whatever is divine is for the universal good; if this be true it is for all, if not it is for no one.”[i] “How pathetic indeed are the efforts of those leaders of human institutions who, in utter disregard of the spirit of the age, are striving to adjust national processes, suited to the ancient days of self-contained nations, to an age that must either achieve the unity of the world…or perish.”[ii]
We are caught in the era of change. Today’s problems and their solution were outlined in perspective over 100 years ago. The tangled mass of tensions in the world today comes from people’s past experiences, their outmoded ideas and limited vision, and their inability to meet the challenge of tomorrow. Those who oppose or hesitate to face broad moral issues, today, rely on insecurity, fear, expediency, and self-interest to sustain their position. Unfortunately too many accept the present state of affairs with complacency. We find many people who recognize the impact of change, but who insist that the only way of dealing with it is to let time solve the world’s problems. Most people abhor war, but they resist efforts to bring about peaceful solutions because they have not learned how to work constructively in the world community.
Though we view the world in its present state with apprehension and alarm, there is something strangely significant about this century we are living in, (beginning about the year 1844) which can only be fully understood and appreciated through spiritual eyes.
In the estimation of historians, this radiant century is equivalent to over 100 centuries of the past. If comparison be made with the sum total of all former human achievements, it will be found that the discoveries, scientific advancement, and material progress of this present century have equaled and far exceeded the progress and outcome of 100 former centuries.
It is evident, therefore, that this century is of paramount importance in the history of mankind. Reflect upon the miracles of accomplishment which have already characterized it, the discoveries in every realm of human research, in inventions, scientific knowledge, ethical reform and regulations established for the welfare of humanity, mysteries of nature explored, invisible forces brought into visibility and subjection, a veritable wonder-world of new phenomena and conditions heretofore unknown to man, is now open to his uses and further investigation. Day by day, discoveries are increasing. We might well say, what a wonderful century this is! It is an age of universal Reformation. The foundations of human society are changing and strengthening. Today sciences of the past are useless. The Ptolemaic system of astronomy, numberless other systems and theories of scientific and philosophical explanation are discarded, known to be false and worthless. Questionable ethical precedents and principles cannot be applied to the needs of the modern world. Thoughts and theories of past ages are fruitless now. Thrones and governments are crumbling and falling. All conditions and requisites of the past unfitted and inadequate for the present times are undergoing radical reform.
It is evident, therefore, that counterfeit religious teaching, antiquated forms of belief, and ancestral superstitions which are at variance with the foundations of divine reality must also pass away and be reformed. The morals of humanity must undergo change. New remedies and solutions for human problems must be adapted. Human intellect itself must change and be subject to the universal reformation-if universal peace is to be attained.
In this radiant century, in this fast evolving world, it becomes apparent that at no time has mankind had greater opportunity to achieve a lasting and universal peace than it has now. It is now obvious that if such an objective is to be reached, more than ever before it is necessary to re-examine and reevaluate our thinking, discard worn out and outmoded ideas, to weigh new evidence and discoveries and reapply realistic knowledge to an ever-advancing civilization.
In Brazil Ed designed and built the family home with his own hands.
In analyzing much of what is happening in the world today, we can clearly see a new world order being born before our very eyes, evolving out of the chaos and confusion that commands our daily attention. We are witnessing the birth pains of the reign of righteousness and justice upon the earth. The period for which the Christians have been fervently praying for 2000 years.
Baha’is throughout the world, in every land and island where human creatures exist, are laying the foundation for world unity based upon simple and broad universal principles given to the world by Bahá’u’lláh. In laying the pattern for future society, he talked on the subject of humanity-“The lovers of mankind, these are the superior men, of whatever nation, creed, or colour they may be.[iii]”
Unfortunately, largely prevalent in the attitudes of nations, peoples and religions is the notion that they are on the defensive, that they must cling to some dying cannon and thus they join the ranks of the frightened, exiling themselves from the real world by fleeing from most of its inhabitants. We were all born too late for a tribal existence. The incompatibility of our desires for exclusiveness with our other aspirations for peace and security can be shown on any principal for the ordering of life. That is why nationalistic, religious, classicist, and racist thoughts and practices are ethically wrong, regardless of the intensity of the desires and fears that support them.
Some people think that religion is confined to an edifice, to the worship at an altar. In reality, it is an attitude towards divinity which must be reflected through life in all of our actions. On the subject of the foundations of religion, Bahá’u’lláh (and his son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá) had this to say, “There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God…”[iv] “the foundations of the divine religions are one and the same.”[v] Further, “The fundamental purpose animating the faith of God and his religion is to safeguard the interest and promote the unity of the human race, to foster the spirit of love and fellowship among men. Let your vision be world embracing rather than confined to your own selves.”[vi] “Religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable.”[vii]
On the subjects of universal peace, education, and economic problems, Bahá’u’lláh said; “All men have been created to carry forward and ever advancing civilization.”[viii] “That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race… It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”[ix]
The family grew in Brazil, with the addition of Rhea, Gregory and Charles, and the marriage of Tina to Celestino.
These are just a few of the broader concepts permeating the teachings of the Báhá’í Faith but they serve to illustrate an all inclusive, all embracing philosophy rather than the limited concept so prevalent in our thinking today. They call for a wider vision, a greater loyalty, which can transcend the mental barriers of nation, religion, class or race, for most of the barriers to peace and the well-being of mankind are mental barriers only, and the only real obstacles to world peace.
Though mankind sits and waits, and expects that some great force other than himself, in this fast evolving world, will bring about a solution to the problems and conflicts with which the world is faced, until all nations and people become united by the bonds of spirituality and real fraternity, until national and international limitations are met in the reality of divinely revealed guidance, true progress, prosperity, and lasting happiness will not be attained by man.
I asked you the question: exactly what is the world evolving to? The world is rapidly and steadily moving towards unity. That the forces of world catastrophe can only precipitate such a new phase of human thought is, alas, becoming increasingly apparent. If nothing but a fiery ordeal, out of which humanity will emerge chastened and prepared, can succeed in implanting that sense of responsibility which the leaders of a newborn age must arise to shoulder, it shall assuredly come.
“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.… National rivalries, hatred, and intrigues will cease…”“The whole of mankind is groaning, is dying to be led to unity, and to terminate it’s age long martyrdom.”[x]
Back in Chicago, around 1979, some of the grand kids got to know Ed (far right).
It is strange and pitiful that an inquiring age such as ours, which has discovered so much of truth, should have left the spiritual realm unexplored, and should have missed the most important truths of all. Arnold J. Toynbee, a historian of Oxford University, recently pointed out that the practical extinction of a rational faith in Western society is the supreme danger to the spiritual health and even to the material existence of Western civilization. A deadlier danger by far, than any of our hotly contested and loudly advertised political and economic sicknesses. He further stated that historical evidence definitely reveals time and time again that religion is the cement that holds civilization together.
Reflecting the spirit of the age, and with grave concern for society brought about by those spiritual forces released through the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, down whatever road thoughtful men look today, they see before them some guiding truth, some leading principle advanced long ago. The sum and essence of the best hopes of the best minds today is contained in such simple statements as the 12 basic principles of the Bahá’í Faith revealed and proclaimed over 100 years ago.
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hallmark of the stage which human society is now approaching. But to those who are aware of the direction in which civilization is moving it can hardly fail to be significant that the Baha’i Faith is laying the foundation for the “Kingdom of God on Earth”. It is these new patterns of thought for society which will be the agency for the reign of righteousness and justice upon the Earth.
[i]‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, by J. E. Esslemont, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition, p.257.
[ii]Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974 edition, p. 36.
[iii]‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Paris Talks. UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1972 eleventh edition reprint, p. 148-149.
[iv]Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition, p.217.
[v]‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Foundations of World Unity. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979 sixth printing, p.92.
[vi]Bahá’u’lláh. Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1978 reprint, p. 122.
[vii]‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982 second edition, p.287.
[viii]Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition, p.215.
Bob Reynolds and Jane Reynolds Howard, his tireless advocate
On this Veteran’s day I want to share a poem I wrote in honor of POW (Prisoner of War) Robert Reynolds, my mom’s first husband and the father of my sisters Tina and Carolyn. Briefly, the story goes like this: My mom remarried after her first husband was shot down over the Baltic Sea and declared dead. 30 years later after my father passed away she heard about “Ghosts in the Gulag”, American soldiers whose plane had been shot down during the Cold War and imprisoned in Siberia. She began a long campaign to get secret documents declassified. She discovered her first husband had been taken prisoner and abandoned by the government behind “the iron curtain.” She set out to Russia and the Artic Circle to find him.
WORDS FOR ROBERT REYNOLDS (M.I.A.)
First you were dead,
gone forty years.
Memory of my mother,
brow of my sisters
reminiscent of your picture.
Now you’re alive
Wandering ghostlike in cold Russia.
You used to be just the pain of my mother,
bottled up grief
never spilling out
of vacant doe eyes.
Now my sister dreams of grueling torture
on a father she never knew.
Cold sweat on waking,
curled up like the child in womb
she was in 1950
when the spy pilot was shot down over the Baltic Sea