Race by Elizabeth Alexander

Sometimes I think about Great-Uncle Paul who left Tuskegee,
Alabama to become a forester in Oregon and in so doing
became fundamentally white for the rest of his life, except
when he traveled without his white wife to visit his siblings—
now in New York, now in Harlem, USA—just as pale-skinned,
as straight-haired, as blue-eyed as Paul, and black. Paul never told anyone
he was white, he just didn’t say that he was black, and who could imagine,
an Oregon forester in 1930 as anything other than white?
The siblings in Harlem each morning ensured
no one confused them for anything other than what they were, black.
They were black! Brown-skinned spouses reduced confusion.
Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
When Paul came East alone he was as they were, their brother.
The poet invents heroic moments where the pale black ancestor stands up
on behalf of the race. The poet imagines Great-Uncle Paul
in cool, sagey groves counting rings in redwood trunks,
imagines pencil markings in a ledger book, classifications,
imagines a sidelong look from an ivory spouse who is learning
her husband’s caesuras. She can see silent spaces
but not what they signify, graphite markings in a forester’s code.
Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
The one time Great-Uncle Paul brought his wife to New York
he asked his siblings not to bring their spouses,
and that is where the story ends: ivory siblings who would not
see their brother without their telltale spouses.
What a strange thing is “race,” and family, stranger still.
Here a poem tells a story, a story about race.
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/52118
Sometimes I think about Great-Uncle Paul who left Tuskegee,
Alabama to become a forester in Oregon and in so doing
became fundamentally white for the rest of his life, except
when he traveled without his white wife to visit his siblings—
now in New York, now in Harlem, USA—just as pale-skinned,
as straight-haired, as blue-eyed as Paul, and black. Paul never told anyone
he was white, he just didn’t say that he was black, and who could imagine,
an Oregon forester in 1930 as anything other than white?
The siblings in Harlem each morning ensured
no one confused them for anything other than what they were, black.
They were black! Brown-skinned spouses reduced confusion.
Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
When Paul came East alone he was as they were, their brother.
The poet invents heroic moments where the pale black ancestor stands up
on behalf of the race. The poet imagines Great-Uncle Paul
in cool, sagey groves counting rings in redwood trunks,
imagines pencil markings in a ledger book, classifications,
imagines a sidelong look from an ivory spouse who is learning
her husband’s caesuras. She can see silent spaces
but not what they signify, graphite markings in a forester’s code.
Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
The one time Great-Uncle Paul brought his wife to New York
he asked his siblings not to bring their spouses,
and that is where the story ends: ivory siblings who would not
see their brother without their telltale spouses.
What a strange thing is “race,” and family, stranger still.
Here a poem tells a story, a story about race.
Published in: on July 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Deena Metzger is part of the great magic in the world.

Lunch today with Deena Metzger, we had some crazy yummy sushi.  She is a shaman, a teacher, a healer and in her work to heal the planet, she is clearly luminous.  I met her many years ago, but she seems to not age at all.  She moves as if she moves through light.  Whatever great magic there is in the world, Deena is part of it.

There are some of us who are bearers of light and Deena is one of them. I remember her seeing Wanda at a party at my house, the two of them bowing to each other in my living room.

The journey toward the imagination and the creative process is not one we undertake for ourselves. It is one we undertake because we need to change the world.

I have met greatness in the literary world-Peggy, Deena, Eloise, Lisa, Judy, Maxine, the other Kate, Camille, Wanda, and so many more.  It’s a long journey, but worth it.

Published in: on July 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm  Comments (1)  

James Baldwin on the police

Negroes have always held, the lowest jobs, the most menial jobs, which are now being destroyed by automation. No remote provision has yet been made to absorb this labor surplus. Furthermore, the Negro’s education, North and South, remains, almost totally, a segregated education. And, the police treat the Negro like a dog.

By James Baldwin, July  1966

Today’s events make all of us wonder what has changed in fifty years and what has stayed the same.  We would like to live in a country where we can be safe, can work, can send our kids to school, can marry whoever we want, can have privacy, opportunities, dreams.

I can’t stop thinking about the four year old sitting in the back seat while the man was shot by the police.

America! What have we become?

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men

Published in: on July 7, 2016 at 7:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

a break in the sky

We saw the movie, The Legend of Tarzan which is not one of the smartest movies but the lead actor is ridiculously good looking.  It’s like he’s from another planet.  I like the scenes of Africa, the whole movie was a bit of a love letter to Africa, even though the scenes were completely unrealistic.  Tarzan could talk to ostriches and lions and elephants.  He could leap off cliffs and swing hundreds of feet.  He could command crocodiles and cattle.  None of this seems very likely even if you are raised by gorillas.  I wanted to see a fun popcorn movie for the 4th and everyone said that Independence 2 was a wash.  I want to see the new Star Trek movie and the new Bourne movie.

 

The best thing about silly movies is the popcorn.  Our dogs really hate the fireworks.  The brave one, Zooey is the most chicken of all.  She hides and cries and pleads for us to hold her in our arms.

 

Maybe, that’s a good way to be, the brave one is afraid.  The blind boxer cried least of all.  If she has her treats, she’s just chilling.  Zooey sees too much, hears too much.  The world is too big for her.

For Ginger, if there are treats, the world is a good place.

Treats don’t solve everything, but it certainly feels better.  Especially if you are a dog.

If I were a dog, what I would like would be:

Other dogs

Food,

Water

Taking walks

Interesting smells

Toys

Bones

Sleeping

 

I am glad to have time to breathe. Like snapping turtles do, I can rest on rocks in the sunlight.

Published in: on July 4, 2016 at 9:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Starfish

As kids we found starfish of all different colors and we saved them. It would be better if they were not saved by us.  We kept them alive for a short while in buckets and pails of salt water, but then they dried out and then they smelled like seawater and brine and dead fish.  They were prickly to the touch where their fingers touch the rocks; those fingers dried out.  We would hide the dried starfish in our clothes and by the time we got back to the school, our clothes smelled of dried fish.  Our hair. Our hands.  We would also have shells, dried seaweed, wood, rocks and the feathers of dead birds we’d found.

 

When I left the Farm, I looked through my stuff.  I found one starfish, threads of dried seaweed, a few rocks, and a pile of pine needles. The pine needles were thickened with pine sap.  I left all that behind.  I was travelling light and for the next few years, I continued to be very careful what pine needles I collected, what shells, what rocks, what books.  I needed to be able to pick up my stuff and walk.  Now, I have a lot of books.

 

This weekend I will go to where the starfish are, but not to collect them. I will touch their tiny fingers, and they will touch mine.

Published in: on June 29, 2016 at 6:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Where you shop

 

I read an article recently by Dylan Landis. She tells of her husband taking her to buy lingerie at Neiman Marcus as a way of comforting her.  I like the story, but it made me think about shopping.  My husband has taken me shopping at H & M for my birthday.  We have never been to Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks.  Once in New York, I went to Bergdorf Goodman.  I just walked around.  I thought I would buy a scarf or a pair of earrings, but there was not a single thing I could even vaguely afford.  I never went back. I have a friend for whom I collect clothing.  She buys clothing at the Salvation Army and I’m sure she would consider my annual forays to buy clothes at H & M, (last time we spent $87.) quite extravagant.

 

When you are writing a novel, it is important to think about your characters. What they eat, drink. What music they listen to. Where they shop. And it’s important to not judge your characters too harshly if they shop at the 99 cent store. Or if they shop on Fifth Avenue in the fanciest shoe stores.

 

Things I never buy when I’m feeling down:

Perfume. Shoes. Jeans. Bathing suits.

Things I sometimes buy to cheer myself up:

Books. Plants.  Socks. Boots.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 10:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Journey to Long Beach

I had an almond latte with Victoria Chang tonight.

Long Beach has a huge apparatus for unloading ships and loading railroad cars. We walked around the town a bit. Lovely sturdy houses with porches where you could drink lemonade.

 

No writing since I got back from the greens of Ireland.  Just thinking. Taking notes for why and where and what. Sinking back into work.

 

Our tree is growing.

 

I keep an eye on the Lannisters with Mark and go to meetings.

 

This weekend we will go camping where the tide pools are.

 

If you eat healthy, you might live longer, they say.

 

After I walked away from my first green place, I learned to sweep.

 

I know how to make fires.

 

The sun rises so quickly here.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

My new email

My new email is

kate@redhen.org

 

Verizon was sold to Frontier, so my Verizon email no longer works.

 

 

Published in: on June 23, 2016 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Desire

 

There’s what you want and what you get.

Sometimes you find that what you wanted wasn’t the best thing for you anyway.

Desires of the body, the stomach, the heart, do not always point us in the right direction.

What you want at 20 changes by 30, 40, 50.

For a friendship or love relationship to work out, some of that desire has to overlap.

We wanted to write, to raise our kids together, to enjoy our lives together, to race toward the moon.

Some of that shifts, but the core stays the same.

I am amazed by how much love there is in the world in spite of everything.  How much joy.

Two wonderful writers, Meredith and Liz are staying at our house, Liz Kay is reading tonight at the Annenberg.  She wanted to be a writer, and she is one. Come to the Annenberg Beach House!

Published in: on June 21, 2016 at 9:27 am  Leave a Comment  

I had a wonderful lunch today at Follow Your Heart and remembered why love and friendship are part of what makes life worthwhile. I hadn’t seen my friend for a while and seeing him made me happy.

When I think of the culture of hate in this country, it makes no sense.

Hatred and fear pull us apart. Sometimes I think, really?

After Paris, after Orlando, after all, you still hate me or anyone?

Isn’t the world large enough

I want love to be a big enough room for us to walk around in.

 

T.S. Eliot, “Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
               That is not it, at all.”
Published in: on June 20, 2016 at 9:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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