What I Would Give for Surprise

Officer Rusten Sheskey of Kenosha has returned from administrative leave. He will not face any disciplinary action for shooting James Blake.

And it’s Tuesday. A Tuesday like any other. Nothing shocking, nothing out of the ordinary. One more in the forever line of days of being at constant risk in this land of the free (whites) and home of the (trigger happy) brave.

* * *

Let’s talk about Golden Shovels, shall we? I’ve been so tired the last few days, I haven’t had time to think about how hard this form is for me. All I’ve been able to do is churn out a poem and get it posted. I posted a comment earlier that showed me at least part of what the road block is for me with these poems. Yes, having a prescribed set of words and word placement is restrictive. The bigger issue is that the lines I’m using as my source text are from Clifton’s poems. Using them feels rudely audacious and makes me even more self-conscious than I would normally be. So yes, the task I’ve set for myself for this month is specially designed to trip me up. Brilliant!

Despite all of this, I am actually starting to feel more comfortable with the form. Not snuggled in the way I was with the tanka. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that cozy in another form, but I am feeling less like a combatant, less under siege. That’s a good sign, of course, and it’s kind of right on time. It’s usually around the middle of the month that I stop approaching my chosen form as if we’re cage-fighting. It remains to be seen if I can approaching something closer to actual ease with this.

Tonight’s source text is from “the times.”

No Charges

That confidence, safety, certainty is so white,
so very, blindingly white, and
the heat of it burns, glowing, as I
watch it dance, saunter, flaunt its might.
I understand.
I do. I might be the same, except
nothing in this unwelcoming birthplace has afforded me that
freedom, that comfort. Instead, I
have built every good thing I am.
And today what I feel is tired,
as again I spit out a bitter draught of understanding.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

You’re not even trying.

I’m tired. Beat to my fucking socks. Once again hearing Zack de la Rocha’s lyric, like the only song this country will ever want to sing to me: “Don’t you know they’re counting backward to zero?” So damned tired.

The source text for this poem is Lucille Clifton’s “grief.”

Pause

I am thinking of
a number between naught and eternity. Many
stories, many artful shadings of all colors.
Pause --
as we listen for
your revision, your retelling of the
tale. It's your story, your myth.
The reconfiguration of
Black death in Amerikkka.
Pause --
because he thought it was a taser. And pause for
the self-flagellating knife-cuts of our scoffing laughter, for the
rejection of your tired, lazy myth,
for this one more time of you revealing the bloody soul of
Amerikkka.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

What I Don’t Want to Say

Since Wednesday, I’ve been thinking about all of my Asian friends … but I haven’t been checking in with any of them. Not directly. I’ve certainly clicked “love” or “care” or “angry” on their FB comments. I’ve shared articles they’ve posted. But I haven’t reached out.

And, clearly, I feel lousy about that, or I wouldn’t be writing about it now.

Last year, people started checking in on me. Sometimes more than once a day. Lots of people. Close friends, not-so-close friends, people who weren’t really even friends at all. I got emails, texts, notes on Messenger and IG. It was a lot, and I had no idea what to do with any of it.

It was early June. It was right after the murder of George Floyd. Yes, because that’s why everyone who knew me was checking in.

(Of course, when I say “everyone,” I am lying. There were some unsurprising and conspicuous absences from the cavalcade of “How are you doing?” messages. The folks for whom Floyd’s murder didn’t register, didn’t matter, the ones who were entirely pissed off and threatened by the uprising that spread across the globe but couldn’t acknowledge the wrongness of the killing that sparked the protests. Those people didn’t check in. And yes, I have those folks in my various “friend” lists. I leave them there so I can get the occasional glimpse of what’s happening in that mindset. It’s bracing, to say the least.)

I appreciated that my friends and everyone else were thinking about me. I mean, I mostly appreciated it. I was also really frustrated by it because, often, the checking in was accompanied by a request for me to do something — when was I going to start posting about it on FB, when would I write some essays? And yes, people had reason to expect some kind of written response from me, since that was a way I’d shown up after so many other murders of Black people. But I went silent last year, so a lot of the people who reached out also asked when they were going to hear from me.

And that didn’t feel good. It felt, instead, as if I couldn’t just rage and grieve in private but had to share, had to do some rib spreading, let everyone see my feeble, shredded heart.

And I really am not trying to sound as much like a jerk as I sound right now. I love my friends, and they love me. I imagine they struggled with what to say to me just as I’m struggling right now.

I haven’t been contacting my friends. And that’s because I remember how I felt over the summer and don’t want to pile on. At the same time, I have to be honest and admit that I have no idea what to say. I certainly don’t want to say, “How are you doing?” because how can anyone be doing right now? What would I have wanted people to say to me last year? What would have felt less like pressure and more like love?

And maybe that’s all there is to say, maybe that’s what I would have wanted to hear last year. My love feels thin today, though. Doesn’t feel like nearly enough, though it’s the only thing I have in abundant supply.

There’s no neat and tidy bow to tie around this. I’m sad and angry and angry and angry. And I feel like a bad friend right now. Raging and grieving in private feels selfish today.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

What I Didn’t Do

Content warning: Atlanta shootings

I had a crap day today. I’m overtired and cranky. I discovered a huge error in the big project we’re slogging through at work. There was a worsening of a pain in my right arm that feels distressingly similar to how my rotator cuff tear started four years ago. I left work too late to make it to the UPS store, which likely means it’s too late to return a nonsense purchase I made a while ago.

I had a crap day on Monday when I hurt my hip and smushed my finger in a door and had a snarky interaction with a neighbor who refuses to wear masks or respect socially-distant space.

I could have an entire blog dedicated to writing about the crap days I have. The days when I come home feeling defeated. The days when it’s hard to get out of bed because what’s the point when everything sucks. The days when I’m more sad, angry, lonely, tired, fed up than I am anything nicer. I generally have pretty good days, but I have quite a number of super-bad ones, too.

I don’t imagine I’m all that unusual. Don’t we all have crap days sometimes?

I had a lousy day. What I didn’t do was pretend that my unfortunate day was a reasonable catalyst for terrorism. What I didn’t do was go on a killing spree and explain my actions by saying I was in a bad mood. What I didn’t do was make my victims out to be villains who left me with no choice but to end their lives. Somehow I managed not to do any of that.

I had a crap day and this is what I did: some impulse grocery shopping when I was finally on my way home and got back here with watermelon, tortilla chips, and ice cream (hey, my binge doesn’t look like everybody’s binge). What I didn’t do, it bears repeating, was kill anyone and then blame them for my violence.

I’m not surprised that a police officer (one who has been revealed to be — surprise! — a racist) would talk about Robert Aaron Long’s act of domestic terrorism in a way that offered up excuses for the murder of eight innocent people. I’m not surprised that this racist police officer told the killer’s story and erased the victims from the narrative as easily as Long did with his racist, misogynistic violence. I’m not surprised. But I am, too.

I had a bad day. And it was made worse by the reverberations of this latest act of white male violence against people of color. Robert Aaron Long isn’t some lone wolf, some individual crazy guy who had a bad day, some unfathomable mad man. Long is one more in a line of violent white men we are asked to ignore over and over again. This morning I wrote on FB that he looks like all of his brothers — like Dylan Roof, like Tim McVeigh, like Biggo with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, like every murdering incel. They all look alike, because they are all alike. And we are asked to ignore everything that is plainly similar about all of them, asked to pretend that each of them is a stand-alone case of mental illness rather than force the conversation about the violence of angry white men, rather than act.

I had a bad day, but I’m still here. I wish I could say the same for the eight innocents who were gunned down yesterday.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

So much for the Emperor.

It’s wasn’t at all surprising that yesterday exploded, that the ceremonial electoral college vote tallying was upended by violent insurrection, by an attempted coup. Mustn’t we all have known we were going directly to domestic terror? Every non-violent attempt at invalidating the 2020 election had failed. Caligula has been signaling his legions of thugs. Of course vote count day would be thrown off course by violence. And of course we should all have known that.

Still … I felt some surprise. I mean, what was up with that bare-chested guy in the pj bottoms and weird-ass horned headdress? Seriously, what was up with that guy? You’re coming to town for armed resistance and you’re dolled up like the love child of a Wagnerian Valkyrie and Max from Where the Wild Things Are? I mean, sure, you would be expecting a wild rumpus, but that get-up was … extra.

And what about the guy with the fist full of zip tie handcuffs? What’s that guy’s story? Who was he thinking he would be taking hostage? Why was he thinking about taking hostages?

Yes, some surprises, but mostly just head-shaking anger. The police opening the barricades and basically ushering the mob into the Capitol, cops yukking it up and taking selfies with the invading horde. The noose hung outside, complete with make-shift gallows. The wanton destruction, carried out by imbeciles talking about “their house.” And, best of all, no arrests, everyone just gently guided out of the building and off the grounds and allowed to walk away. Just like that. So casual. An occupying force, and the cops just let them stroll off.

It must be so interesting to be white.

Clearly America is finally great again. I’m waiting for Susan Collins to express her disappointment. Or to assure us that Caligula has learned an important lesson.

I wrote this at three o’clock this morning, while the House was voting on the challenge to Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes. I was watching Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon talk over each other. I was waiting up to see the full slate of votes counted and read into the record. I was tired, and staying up meant that work today would be a bad joke, but it felt important to stay up and watch it happen.

I’m interested in consequences. For the mob and for the Republicans and for Caligula himself.

While I’m not surprised, I am thoroughly fascinated by the comfortable entitlement of the terrorists. They didn’t think what they were doing was beyond the pale. (Sidebar: what the fuck does “beyond the pale” even mean? Where did it come from? Why did I write it when I’ve never said it in my life? I’m guessing I owe that to 3am brain.) One CNN reporter noted how shocked the invaders were when they were met with even mild resistance. Shocked. Because of course they should be able to storm the seat of government, destroy shit, rampage like drunken frat bros … and suffer no ill effects. Of course.

So I’m looking for some comeuppance for these assholes. Many of them are clearly identifiable, should be too hard for the FBI to find them. The FBI, right? Because they attacked a federal building, because they traveled across state lines to create chaos. That makes them the FBI’s responsibility, right? I want to see a string of news videos of these people led out of their homes and jobs and businesses in shackles. I want to see their stunned, angry, teary faces as they’re led away to pay the piper. (Seriously where are these words coming from? I think I really do have to blame 3am brain … that and the fact that I was forced to watch Louie Gohmert’s lame af objection to Wisconsin’s electoral college votes — did anyone need that nonsense?)

And then I want the Sedition Caucus to get their turn. All the senators and representatives who backed Caligula’s play. Censured and expelled. Every last fucking one of them. They are as responsible for feeding and goading the violent mob as Caligula is for goading and then unleashing that mob.

And finally, of course, there is Caligula. I want to see a fast-tracked impeachment. Because it’s more than warranted. And because a second impeachment has the added bonus of making it impossible for him to run for president again. I want that. I want it desperately. I think I deserve it. I think we all do.

At about 3:35am, the votes were officially counted and Biden was officially-officially set to be sworn in as our 46th president. Done and done.

Today I spent a chunk of time reading the weird, on-the-fly interviews with random terrorists. Reading the words of these violent criminals makes me angry, makes me sad, and makes me acutely aware of my Blackness, by which I mean acutely aware of the fact that White Supremacy has always been this country’s middle name.

When Caligula was inaugurated in 2017, I watched because I felt like I had to. I knew it would be awful, but I wanted to hear him actually say all the terrible things he was bound to say.

I bristled when he thanked Mr. My Forever President and his wife, Mrs. My Forever First Lady … and then went on and on describing how they had taken from the American people to enrich themselves and driven the country into the ground.

And then he described the country in stunningly bleak terms. He described our state of being as “this American carnage,” actually used the word “carnage” in his inauguration address.

It struck me because it showed just how much Caligula didn’t understand the job he’d just sworn to do. Yes, every president-elect who steps up to assume the mantle of state from an administration led by the opposing party wants to show the contrasts, wants to be clear about the ways their new administration will be a dramatic improvement over the outgoing crew.

But in those cases, they look forward and talk about the promise they’re going to flood over the land. They talk about the ways they’re going to join hands with the people, and together walk into a new world of possibility and prosperity. They don’t describe the country people are living in as carnage. They just don’t.

Caligula doesn’t know how to make a comparison other than saying option one is a shithole and option two is excellent like no one’s ever seen before. He has no sense of highlighting something good about option one and then showing how he will build high, higher, highest from those seeds of greatness. No. It’s only ever going to be shithole or glory. There’s no grey. And so we got “American carnage.”

Taking from the American people to enrich himself. Driving the country into the ground. Leaving (American) carnage in his wake. So, in 2017, Caligula was telling us what our future with him was going to yield. There were other eyebrow-raising callouts in the speech, but “American carnage” stood out, likely because it felt like foreshadowing, like a description of the world he would create for as many of us as he could. And by “us” I mean the majority of the citizenry, anyone who wasn’t wealthy and white. Yes, it would be worse for BIPOC, but it was clear he had no interest in or love for poor and middle-class white people, either.

We made it through the firestorm of his presidency in a severely diminished and debilitated state … only to have him try to orchestrate some additional carnage — as if all the lives lost to Covid weren’t a damning enough legacy — inviting bands of thugs to the city, ginning them up, and pointing them at Congress. Four insurrectionists and one law enforcement officer died. And as much as I am angered by the fact of how different the violence would have been if the invaders had been Black folks, I have to be glad the number is so low. I have no love for the people who tried to dismantle what’s left of US democracy, but I wouldn’t have wanted to see them bleeding and dying all over the Capitol, either, and I wouldn’t have wanted that more dramatic level of violence happening while electeds and journalists and maintenance workers and staffers were all sheltering in place throughout the building.

My title is the first bit of a quote from Suetonius. The full line: “So much for the Emperor; the rest of this history must deal with the monster.” Suetonius was talking about Caligula, and so … Caligula’s reign only has a couple of weeks left. I’m holding out hope (a hope that feels more like wishful thinking, but still) that he’ll be removed from office in the next few days. I’m not surprised that we’ve wound up here. But whether he leaves office or is removed, we still have the monster to deal with. The mob we watched yesterday was small. There’s plenty more where they came from. Caligula might be exiting stage left, but they will all still be our neighbors and coworkers. This is who we are as a country. It’s for-sure who Caligula is as a person and who he’s been as a leader. Can we do better? I choose to believe we can. Will we? Guess we’ll all have to stay tuned and see.

__________________________________________________

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.