The Hordes of the Invisible

It’s all leading to a mass grave of chickens and eggs.

I get a little thrown sometimes when I realize that I don’t know what things are like anywhere else. I don’t know the vibe in New York or the gestalt in Topeka. I don’t know what Floridians see when they walk down the street. I just don’t know much about how people measure their worlds outside of my own, and have to guard against the tendency to assume that what I know about my home applies everywhere.

I do know what it’s like here. And it’s strange. Seattle. It’s like touching something and not knowing right away whether it’s absolutely searingly hot, or skin-shatteringly cold, because there’s hints of both in the pain. We’re awash in activism. Utterly drowning in it. There isn’t a shop window that isn’t plastered with flyers for this march or that proclamation or that protest. Every author reading at every “local” bookstore – nota bene: everything is local, people. Absolutely everything. it only depends on where you’re standing – every reading is this cultural expression or that identity group’s response to something, or a statement of “this is me climbing proudly out of this miserable social/cultural prison.” In every instance it is billed, at least implicitly, in its subtext, as an exception. A rare opportunity. A victory over something. But you can’t have victory without competition, and you can’t have competition without an opponent, and so without realizing it, the movement itself ossifies the necessity of the opponent.

If you’re still listening to the subtext, you know that here it says that none who suffer do so as a result of their own failings. It is that whatever the nature of their suffering may have been – “invisibility” is a popular one, as well as the closely-related “marginalization,” and of course any word  with “phobia” trailing from its backside like some undigested serpent that can never quite be pinched free – whatever the suffering, these are people who not only are/were down, but were put there, intentionally and perniciously, and are now rising up in spite of “the dominant culture’s” efforts to keep them down. But this raises a question or two for me:

1. Who is the dominant culture?

As far as I can tell, they are. The sign makers, the book writers, the painters and poets. They’re everywhere. But if their claim is that they are resisting the dominant culture, who is it that’s putting them down? In light of their inescapable pervasiveness and influence, are they even down at all? If so, who is trying to keep them there?  Not the athletes and CEO’s – they’re all on board and applauding. They’re hosting fundraisers and lending their celebrity to “awareness.” (Show me, by the way, the unaware. There must be an odd colony of them somewhere that eats garden slugs and are too cut off from civilization to have heard of sexism or Old White Males or Macklemore). Corporations have more people in subcommittees working on fair hiring and balancing corporate skin tones than they have working on their actual bottom lines. Are the oppressors the shopkeepers and their customers, who block out the sun with their storefront virtue signals, and curse the planet-eating Republicans over cupcakes as they wipe pureed kale from their baby’s Che Guevara onesie? Can’t be the teachers and the principals (sorry “Heads of School,” as we can’t say “principal” anymore, and I honestly don’t know why), because they’re as helpful as can be. They organize days for students to leave school to protest climate and corporations (I always thought the protest was supposed to reflect the issue being protested. When I skipped classes, it was to protest school), they encourage multicultural literature and literacy, and are leading the way on efforts for diversity and inclusion. And of course the media and the universities, as well as the music and movie industry, they’re so obviously on the right side of this thing that I don’t need to say any more about them.

In short, every single representation of power and influence of any kind, is dominated by the spirit of charity, inclusion, and diversity. They are populated, organized, and run by people of, to quote Roger Waters, “every race, creed, color, tint, or hue.” So where are these oppressors? If the so-called “invisible” are not the dominant culture, then why are they the only ones I can see?

2. Given all this – given the undeniable momentum and power of movements towards fairness and righteousness and equality, given the ubiquity of this movement in every single aspect and institution of this city, how is it possible that it still feels like such an awful, intolerant, racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-indigenous (sorry if I missed anyone) hell hole of a city?

The answer to that is actually pretty simple. The misery, the injustice, doesn’t exist in spite of all the social justice activism, it exists because of it. And truthfully, as my own subtext from the preceding paragraphs indicates, it doesn’t actually exist at all. The world, this city, as I walk around in it, is simply not in its actions a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic place. But my God it feels like it, and the activists (or the media, but I repeat myself) won’t have it any other way. What does exist, in a fetid curtain as thick as the sad salmon hauled from the poison Duwamish, is the idea of injustice. The haunting spectre of it. And they have all – high and low, black and white, gay and straight, on and on – risen up in their holy alliance against it, not realizing how adept they have been, all the while, at creating their own need for it. Students are rewarded for writing about it. They are given extra credit for attending poetry readings about it. Their social capital portfolios are almost wholly dependent upon the growth of it. Resist and you’re in. Don’t and you’re dead. It’s a sinister little perpetual motion machine, eating from its own toilet to survive, and knowing on some instinctive, subconscious (dare I say invisible?) level, that achieving its stated purpose would only eliminate its only fuel source.

How oppressed they would feel if someone took their oppressors away!

So no, maybe I don’t know what the rest of the world, or the country, or even the state of Washington looks like. But I do know Seattle. I’m in it on several levels every day. It’s a much nicer, much friendlier, much fairer place individually than the collective seems to want me or anyone else to notice. But I do notice. I certainly hope more people begin to as well. Because all this rallying towards disharmony creates the sensory confusion I mentioned in the beginning. Too hot or too cold? It’s impossible to know, because it encourages an ever-deepening degree of personal guardedness that prevents anyone from staying close enough to each other to find out.

Signs! Signs!

Maybe the first in a series. Probably not though.

IMG_2707I may begin a series of sign interpretations. I probably won’t, so don’t get too excited, but there are a few out there that are certainly saying something other than what they are saying.

This first example comes from our good friend Trader Joe. On the surface, he seems to be letting us know that on Thanksgiving, he will be closing up shop and allowing his workers to enjoy a day off. And indeed, had he stopped at “We Will be Closed Thanksgiving Day,” that’s exactly what the sign would say. And I wouldn’t be here. But as is so often the case with just about everyone everywhere today, he wasn’t content with his sign until he made it contentious. He looked around, saw that nobody was fighting about anything, and decided to change all that. The record-breakingly passive-aggressive addendum that says “So our employees may spend time with their familes” was never, not for a single second, about employees or families. It is a belligerent virtue-signal and a GoFundMe call for social capital. Here’s what Joe’s sign really says:

We will be closed Thanksgiving Day. Any business that is open on Thanksgiving Day is a capitalist greed monster that hates its employees and has no respect for families.

Again, stopping after the first sentence says nothing. Adding the rest says it all. I still bought my groceries there, and will not stop.

Bodily Functions

I’ll skip the meth.

This one. This one, this one, this one. I have stanzas and half-stanzas and semi-stanzas and absolute brain farts all over the page on either side of this one. Gerard has an essay titled The Arrival in which he talks about not only the work involved in really writing a poem, but the way a writer can be consumed by it. The way it works and more importantly the way it doesn’t work. The fact that you cannot, as he says “pound out “Howl” in a weekend on a diet of meth.” In other words, it takes a while.

I have a few that went that way. Cavity is one. Cut is another, so is The Whole Sky, All at Once. Tons of time poured into those, and they all still need work (Cavity in particular is a weird experimental thing that I almost hate). The one I’m putting up here today is just one stanza that looked complete in the middle of a general muddle, and I have to post it just so I can break its hold for a minute and get up out of this chair.

Worship

God has taken from us the sun
which loving was too much like firefly July,
watching our brother kiss the girl
we knew we were too little to love
but loved with cloying loyalty anyway.
A name in a notebook
and the little electric leavings
of her path across our sky.

Noondark Dreaming

Too early to eulogize Autumn?

Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
it’s no poet’s dream!
A street decayingly toothed with slouched houses
dirty cars and trash bins
(every day is collection day)
where muckfoot gutters suck shoes to the potholed road
in the scum-slurry brown of Autumn’s
rape-shortened honeymoon.

(Winter you shrill beast, you crook, you tyrant!
Making the robes of three seasons’ bounty
cower and tremble dead to earth
before the world can limp naked
and embarrassed into your icy bed!)

Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
yes, no dream of mine!
A street wearing hard a century’s neglect
and the slop-rotten offerings of a
beaten world’s winter-tithe
all swamped under noondark and I think
thank God I’m a poet.

This is beautiful.

Frozen Stories

Midwestern Memories

Frozen Stories

I don’t get to stand at the edge of a snowdusty lake and measure
with my child’s eye – squint against the bonefocused wind –
its slab of ice against the way the weather’s been and for how long

and then dare to step out onto it. I barely get to speak of ice
at all out here, much less hear tales of boys fallen through
over the years (I’ll have to ask mom why it was never a girl)

and how once you’re under the ice the mean water moves invisibly
to get you lost so you can never find the hole you made. And of course
in your soaked coat and wet-leaden mittens you will tire too quickly

to swim to that gray ring of sky before blueblack hypothermia hits.
I barely get to speak of ice out here or worry that a spot of skin’s
gone white. The weather asks so little of me that I have to beg

memory to list wispy words and show hung pictures of winterfear.
But memory’s different from knowing like guessing’s different from
fearing and I know that if I ever do get to speak of ice out here it’ll be

so whisperthin that every one of mom’s drowning boys would have
measured it beneath them to even try. They would just go around,
well trained by a place where the weather asks so much of them,

walking with fluid truth across the stonefrozen earth of a wintering farm
to find some way maybe to become a drowned ghost in the memory of
an old man’s couched and comfortable search for a reason to remember.

In Thinking of Things

I just thought…

Waiting My Turn

What does the story think of the teller
what does the thunder think of the cloud
what does the forest think of the storm
and what does the body think of the shroud?

What does the pearl think of the oyster
what does the leaf think of the tree
what does the sunrise think of the rooster
and what does the wave think of the sea?

When the story at last abandons the teller
and the last leaf reaches in vain for its tree
I’ll be out for a walk in conspiring weather
to ask them if any have a thought left for me.