Shortlisted People ~ Randy Newman, Susan Lucci, & Me.

Tags

, , , , , , ,

I love a list.  It has a beginning and an ending. It’s a certainty. A sure thing. Naturally, then, I love Rob Gordon, a kindred spirit erstwhile hapless record shop owner in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. A compulsive maker of lists which somehow make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense, Rob’s “top fives” run the gamut of pop culture, eclectic compilations that include his top five episodes of Cheers, top five Elvis Costello songs, the top five musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the 80s and 90s, and the top five “women who don’t live on his street but would be very welcome.”

Like Hornby’s character, I can produce all kinds of top-five lists . . . album covers, fonts, pet peeves, life lessons, things not to say to a teenage daughter, mix tapes (now playlists) for any occasion, places to see and avoid in Phoenix, dive bars, concert venues, ways to get my own way, setlists, pizza toppings, authentic “Irish” bars in Phoenix (there might not be five), hairdressers, Tom Petty concerts, Van Morrison songs, things Nora Ephron said about what not to wear, lipstick shades, handbags, road-trips, playlists for road trips, white lies, excuses not to go out, cocktails involving gin, dramatic entrances, exit strategies, famous people who could play me in a movie, Heaney poems, hashtags, and ways to let someone down easy (mostly myself).

It turns out there are psychological reasons for this love of lists. For instance, there’s the guess-work, the wondering if what I think will be on the list will be there when I click on it, confirming that I was right about something. Apparently, a correct prediction causes the brain to send an extra little shot of dopamine, and that boost makes for a better day.

So today is a good day. I clicked on the email, and there it was – news that this blog has made it to the short list of the 2017 Blog Awards Ireland competition in the Irish Diaspora category. This is not the first time the blog has made it this far. And it’s grand. No really, it is. Look, Randy Newman was nominated for twenty Academy awards and held the record for successive nominations – 14 of them – before finally winning in 2001 for “I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters Inc. Some of the critics attributed his losing streak to the obvious – that all his songs sound a little too much like Randy Newman, of all people.

Then there’s Susan Lucci, Queen of daytime soap operas, who finally won an Emmy after 19 consecutive years of being nominated in the Best Actress category for her portrayal of over-the-top hellcat Erica Kane on “All My Children.”  Like Ms. Lucci, I’m happy to be nominated and in the company of others who wrestle with getting the words right and who retreat online to this timeless space, this home away from home. It is a lovely thing to know that there are readers for whom this corner of the blogosphere represents the Irish abroad, and the recognition delights me as does being included on a list with others who have lifted me up and set me down again in this very space.

So thanks to those of you who read and remark and even republish in other on and offline places; and to those of you who come back for more, for enduring thousands and thousands of words – many of them not remotely close to being the right ones, about breast cancer and bad hair days or Belfast and bombings; the extended rants about menopause and motherhood and having it all or not having it all, about Seamus Heaney – ah, Seamus – and back home, about vinyl records and concert ticket stubs, and brown paper packages tied up with string the way my mother still does, about magic and loss and Van Morrison.

As much as I have revealed of myself in this virtual space, I know for sure what is not copy, what is not up for public consumption. Cancer was copy – it still is. Some of the business of widowhood has been copy too. But I know what is not.  I know what to keep and what to discard. I know how to control it and how to control myself. Most of the time.  As public as I have made many of my choices,  I know how to keep what is most precious, private. I suppose I have learned how to  – as Meryl Streep said of Nora Ephron – ‘achieve a private act.’

I’ve learned how to avoid an ending, and I am very good at the long game. I know what Nora Ephron’s son knows – that closure is overrated.  I cannot consider the concept without recalling the first time I realized how much it mattered to other people, in particular, a principal who, following her observation of a lesson I had taught to a class of 5th graders, indicated with grave disappointment, that I had provided “no closure” for my students. I didn’t bother arguing with her because I knew I would be back in my classroom the next day and the next – to continue – not to close – with my students.  I think it’s the continuing that matters (along with what I wore along the way).

Continuance – it has a nice ring to it. Keep on keeping on. Howl on.

I am dedicating this post to one of Belfast’s finest musicians, who will forever be on my top-five list and whose final album, Reckless Heart, is currently shortlisted for the Northern Ireland Music Prize In Association With Blue Moon 2017.

Bap Kennedy (17 Jun 1962 – 1 Nov 2016).

Comments

comments

the last name on the list ~ remembering September 11th

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

I have yet to be disappointed by what happens when my online world collides with its ‘real’ counterpart. Landing on the virtual doorsteps of people in the middle of lives parallel to my own, I have been beautifully blindsided by unexpected coincidences and exchanges of truths that may not otherwise have seen the light of day. In my virtual home, it is easy to pull up a chair and trade ideas and opinions with people I may never meet about why Seamus Heaney will always matter; about the beautiful, bruised Northern Ireland that both scared me and shaped me; about breast cancer and the pain of it, the politics of it and the shiver of fear it brings when it moves in; and, about clearing a path to things that matter most and things that need to be said.

A few summers ago, I got lost in the blogosphere and somehow landed at Lesley Richardson’s blog, where within minutes, I was completely at home, howling with laughter as we traded stories about surviving our adolescence in Northern Ireland long before curly-hair products had been invented. Both of us born in 1963 in neighboring counties, we have much in common – along with the curls, we each have a teenage daughter, we share a love for Seamus Heaney and for Belfast and a need to write. There’s the cancer. Always the cancer. Before posting to her blog, An Unconventional Death, Lesley emailed me and asked me not to read it, afraid that perhaps her searing account of her beloved dad’s death would upset or offend me, given my own diagnosis. I was moved by her sensitivity to my situation, but I read it anyway, and it broke my heart with its unvarnished truth-telling.

On September 11th, Lesley and I talked here about the jolt to our psyches on that grotesque morning in 2001 when it seemed as though the entire world could barely breathe for fear of what might happen next. Our little girls were then just four years old, safe in their preschools on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. When the news tumbled out of New York city, Lesley and I stopped in our tracks, heartsick, the familiar terror we both knew as children of The Troubles, reawakened in us. Blindsided again. 6a010536fa9ded970b0148c86bc490970c-800wiWe had grown complacent, I suppose, with the Good Friday Agreement and talk of peace and renewal. How could we have so quickly forgotten that anything can happen. Anything. We should have known better.

“Anything can happen.
The tallest towers
Be overturned, those in high places daunted
Those overlooked regarded.

~ Seamus Heaney

Did we used to be more resigned to that maxim? I don’t know. Growing up where we did, when we did, we were confounded by the bombs and bullets, the brutality and barbarism on both sides, but at the same time, somehow – and sadly – resigned to it. We held tight to the ordinary rituals, the ones we thought we could control, and we tried not to be afraid that “it” might happen to us. We never fully gave into the fear as we went to our schools and our shops or out to the pub on a Friday night. Had we given into the fear, we would never have left our homes.

For myself, one such routine entailed writing in a diary every day. Unprompted, I could fill page after page with stories, some true, others embellished. Along with now embarrassing angst-filled poetry, bits of social commentary, newspaper clippings, dried red leaves from maple trees on the edges of country roads upstate New York on my first trip to America, concert tickets, letters never sent, and things I wished I had said at the time. There was always plenty of evidence of a life being lived well in spite of the troubles that swirled around and within us.

A young woman, just starting out on my own, I had time and space from which to carve out a tight hour each day to set words down on a page. The world was my oyster. But the business of adult living eventually got in my way, the way it does, and writing in my diary, my once cherished ritual, gave way to more mundane tasks and responsibilities that turned out to be far less important, far more costly, and often not even good for me.

Just when I thought I had my house in order, a breast cancer diagnosis caught me off-guard – with a jolt. And I began to write again, the way I had done in that old diary. For me. I kept it private at first, afraid to hit “publish.” Inexplicably, I felt like I was speaking out of turn or that I would get in trouble for expressing aloud my indignation about the disease that would interrupt my daughter’s adolescence and make me make room in the next ten years for appointments with oncologists.

As I encountered others like me in this online space, I grew bolder and started to set down my story against the more mainstream stories of celebrities who have “conquered” cancer or women who “have it all.”  Here, I could lean back rather than Lean In obediently just because all the other women are doing it.  I can take stock and trade. I can light the match rather than not burn the bridge that served only to keep me down and in the dark. In this space, if a visitor leaves a comment that is unkind or untrue or defamatory, I can place it in the trashcan, where it belongs. But that has happened only once. This is my home away from home, so I keep writing. For myself. I suppose cancer made a writer out of me.

For Lesley, it was the death of someone she never met, a Russian immigrant who worked on the 97th floor of 2 World Trade Center, that prompted her to start writing for herself. A jolt that helped her find her writer’s voice.  Although she has been writing for years and makes a living writing for other people, it was not until she took a Creative Writing Class in September 2002 that she started to write the kind of writing that lays bare those things that matter.  I am glad that she did, because it led me to her, and it led her to publish her first novel The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir.

Lesley’s first homework assignment in that class was ostensibly simple – to write a letter. To anyone. About anything. Just a letter. Stuck and not knowing what to write about or to whom, she turned on her TV on the second anniversary of 9.11 and began watching the memorial service. For over two and a half hours, she listened, as the names of almost 3,000 dead were read, and when they got to the last name on the list, Igor Zuckelman, she knew the letter she would write. Her letter to Igor became a tribute to all those who died:

I’ve been wondering, Igor, what you would have made of your death, of all the deaths, and the aftermath of that catastrophic and grotesquely historic couple of hours. I come from a place that has been tarnished by terrorism for over 30 years. My country has lived with death, hatred and evil for almost as long as I can remember, and many of the atrocities we have witnessed have left wounds that for some will never heal. Perhaps the saddest thing that I have learnt from living here is that hate breeds hate, ignorance breeds intolerance and, for those who are locked in their insular beliefs, forgiveness is not an option.

When I read Lesley’s letter to Igor, I knew what to do. I promised to print it out and deliver it to the Healing Field Memorial in Tempe, Arizona, where I would attach it to the flagpole erected there for Igor Zukelman, a flag flying for him along with 2,995 others.

20130911_3481-2

On Wednesday, September 11, 2013, before going to work, I went to the Healing Field. My best friend brought a plastic bag to protect Lesley’s letter from the impending rainstorm and a bit of green ribbon to attach it to the pole. Unlike me, my best friend thinks of everything.

Making our way up the little hill upon which Igor’s flagpole stands, we could not help but look up, uncomfortably aware of the field’s proximity to Sky Harbor Airport and the roar of airplanes above ensuring we will not forget the sound of those planes before they hurtled into the Twin Towers.

Letters and paper flowers, candles aglow in the bright morning, tiny stuffed bears on the grass at the bottom of six flagpoles – I have been cleaved in two by such things before, things left to honor innocent lives snuffed out by terrorism. The tragic lesson learned growing up in Northern Ireland is that terrorism is a horrible equalizer. Babies, children, parents, grandparents, those without names or families or homes or good health – it matters not. In a terrorist attack, they are all “legitimate targets.”

20130911_3452And in this field of healing, flanked by row upon row of flagpoles set five feet apart, we can stretch out our arms and touch two lives at a time, lest we forget what happened on September 11, 2001.

The 9.11 memorial in Tempe, Arizona, is heartbreakingly beautiful, each one of its 2,996 flags signifying a life taken on that horrific autumn morning.  There are shows of patriotism and silent prayers for the dead; a mournful “Taps” pierces the air every hour on the hour, and everyone falls silent and still; then bagpipes and then Amazing Grace. Yellow ribbons wrapped around and around those flagpoles encircling the field, represent the valor of those “first responders,” whose duty is to protect and serve those within. Ribbons as blue as that September morning sky wound around flagpoles in the heart of the Field, for the flight crew members who perished. On the grass, for veterans lost that day, pair after pair of combat boots.

20130911_3446

In cities here and across the globe, wreaths are laid, bells ring out, and names are rubbed in pencil on cherished scraps of paper. We say their names. We remember them.

I found Igor’s flag and found out that he was born in the Ukraine in 1972. An immigrant like me, he came to America to make a better life for himself and finally landed a job as a computer analyst for the Fiduciary Trust Company. He worked on the 97th floor of 2 World Trade Center. He was married with a three-year-old son, and he had become an American citizen just months before he died.

I said his name and attached Lesley’s letter to the flag pole. Before turning away, a whisper  “Godspeed.”

I will never forget his name. “The Names” is in dedication to all the victims of September 11 and their survivors. Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins, finds the right words and rhythms to cut through with clarity and compassion to the heart of the matter – right when we need it most. Remember their names.

545250_10202012082884776_38091935_n

The Names – Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Comments

comments

Whose American Dream Matters? #DefendDACA

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

207915_1028507794086_1267069810_30074358_213_n

Original photo: Jeff Topping

Each of us from a different corner of the world, each of us an immigrant in Arizona, we wanted to make a point with our simple declaration – “We’re all immigrants” – the point being that America makes immigrants of us all. In 2007 in Phoenix, Arizona, it was a point lost on too many people. At the time, I was principal of a small high school. My students were mostly poor, their families living at or below the federal poverty level; they weren’t expected to go to college, and many of them had been told they wouldn’t amount to anything. But at that school, we were doing something special. These kids for whom society had the lowest expectations were beating the odds. They were taking college and high school courses simultaneously, some of them graduating from high school and college at the same time.  The “early college” model was working. The school that had languished for years with attendance and drop-out rates at 50% was now boasting a 1.7% drop out rate. The attendance rate was 96%. The students were proving that, yes, they could “do college.”

Then everything changed.

Proposition 300 which was passed overwhelmingly by Arizona’s voters, stipulated that college students who were not legal United States citizens or who were “without lawful immigration status” had to pay out-of-state tuition. It meant that they were no longer eligible for financial assistance using state money. And that meant that as principal, I could no longer use state funding – generated by student enrollment and attendance – to pay college tuition for those students who could not prove residency. There were 37 students affected by the law, students whose parents had brought them to the United States when they were babies. In order to provide them the same educational opportunities as their American born peers, I had to come up with $86,000. And I had to do it on my own time.

When I broke the news to those 37 students, they were devastated. I felt ashamed that I had acquired permanent residence in America so easily – I had merely fallen in love with an American who married me, therefore making it possible for me to stay. People who could have helped me didn’t. Nobody told me what to do – or what not to do – to help young people who wept openly in my office. Their tears forced me into foreign territory – the media. I contacted the Arizona Republic and columnist Ed Montini wrote a column – “Unintended Consequences of Prop 300?” I was convinced that voters didn’t realize that children would be affected by the law, which meant I was wholly unprepared for the negative response, for the hate-filled messages that flooded the newspaper’s internet site. By all accounts, the consequences were most definitely intended.  A TV appearance on Horizonte and a New York Times about our situation helped change some hearts and minds. Some readers – all the way from Australia to Arizona – began to see beyond the stereotypes as they learned of the dreams of aspiring architects, lawyers, doctors, and entrepreneurs. Donations began pouring in, and, anonymously, my students – and their parents – began writing thank you letters. Every letter told a story, a story of a child who took his or her first steps on Arizona soil, who said the Pledge of Allegiance every day at elementary school, who believed the assurances of their teachers that all their dreams would come true if they stayed in school and worked hard.

My America was beginning to feel familiar, reminiscent of another time when I was beginning my teaching career in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In the early 1980s, many of my students had been touched by sectarian violence beyond the school playground. Thus, I learned very early on that classrooms are and should be sacred places, places of hope and possibility, places where dreams begin.

For our efforts in 2008, over just a few months, we raised enough money to pay college tuition for those 37 students – over $100,000. The Hispanic Institute of Social Issues published the students’ thank you letters in a bilingual book, “Documented Dreams,” and everyone who contributed received a copy.

On behalf of those resilient immigrant students, I accepted the City of Phoenix Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award in January 2008. Almost a decade later, I don’t know what became of all of them. Some of them left Arizona, beaten down by SB1070, the DREAM Act unrealized, comprehensive immigration reform elusive still.  Some of them left August 15, 2012, when the Obama administration began accepting requests for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA). While DACA does not provide lawful status or a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship, individuals whose cases are deferred will receive temporary relief from deportation, and they also receive employment authorization. To be eligible for DACA, young undocumented people had to meet the following criteria:

  • You came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday
  • You have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time
  • You were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • You entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012
  • You are currently in school, have graduated or obtained your certificate of completion from high school, have obtained your general educational development certification, or you are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
  • You have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat
  • You were present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action.

Since DACA’s inception, it has provided temporary relief from deportation as well as work authorization to approximately 800,000 undocumented young people across the country, people like the students at my school. The research is clear that DACA has not only helped improve the lives of these young people, but it has also contributed to an improved economy, benefiting you and me and all Americans.

These educated young people who know only America as a home – almost 800,000 of them – have contributed to their local communities. Out of the shadows, able to get a driver’s license and a social security number, to buy a car or a house, they are a vital part of the fabric of America.

But America is unraveling at breakneck speed in front of my eyes. DACA hangs in the balance with leaks from the Whitehouse suggesting that Donald Trump may end the program as early as this week.

Whatever Trump does, he cannot change the fact that immigration is always about the future and moving forward. It is always about tomorrow, it is about the about the kind of tomorrow Dr. King described in his dream of an America with a place at the table for children of every race … and room at the inn for every needy child.  It is about the kind of tomorrow I dreamed about as a little girl in Northern Ireland where one day Catholics and Protestants would attend the same schools. I still dream of that tomorrow, because I am an immigrant, an American dreamer. Anything is possible in this country, the America that Tom Wolfe described as “a fabulous country, the only fabulous country; it is the only place where miracles not only happen, but where they happen all the time.”

On September 5, 2017, I am hoping for a miracle, but I am wary. Reports from the Whitehouse now indicate that Trump will formally announce his decision to end DACA within six months, in effect breaking the most important promise ever made to these young people who stepped out of the shadows to believe it.

2008 City of Phoenix, Martin Luther King “Living the Dream” Award ~ Acceptance Speech

“Not too long ago, I asked our daughter, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”Without missing a beat, she said, “Happy.”She’s off to a great start. Born in America to legal residents, she has health insurance, a little savings account, a passport. She has a City of Phoenix library card. In several years, she’ll have a driver’s license; soon after that, she’ll be able to vote. She has a Social Security number, the nine digits that will enable her to work. She is well documented. Sadly, there are other daughters and sons in this state who also want to be happy when they grow up but through no fault of their own, they lack the documentation that would make their pursuit of happiness more than just a dream. They are the children of immigrants who have become the collateral damage in this war over immigration. As Seamus Heaney once said, when hearts harden, dreams diminish and possibilities narrow for these young people.215254_1028507874088_2639_n Unlike my daughter, who can join me today to openly celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, these students have no choice other than to live in the shadows, afraid of being forced to leave the country they have always called home.Anna Quindlen writes that “Immigration is never about today; it is always about tomorrow.” It is always about the kind of tomorrow Dr. King described in his dream of an America with a place at the table for children of every race … and room at the inn for every needy child. The kind of tomorrow I dreamed about as a little girl in Northern Ireland where one day Catholics and Protestants would attend the same schools.Basically, Immigration is an exercise in hope, in deferred gratification, and deferred dreams. Dr. King’s dream reminds us that “disappointment is finite, but hope must remain infinite.” The immigrant children among us have little other than hope, but recently they have had to face adversity and disappointment that no child should have to face: disappointed that Proposition 300 limited their access to a college education, disappointed that the DREAM Act died in the Senate, disappointed that there are those who are willing to discard them while, at the same time, to import professionals from other countries to do the very jobs these talented students are qualified to do!  I marvel at the resilience of these young men and women, many of whom have taken their first steps on Arizona soil, placed their hands on their hearts every day to pledge allegiance to the flag of the only country they’ve ever known, and with dedication and gratitude have risen to the educational and social challenges they have faced. This prestigious award belongs to these undocumented  dreamers and their undaunted immigrant spirit. It also belongs to their tireless,  courageous champions who fly below the radar.  In closing, I thank the Arizona Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee for this beautiful morning, and from the bottom of my heart I thank the Phoenix Human Relations Commission and the city of Phoenix Equal Opportunity Department for their courage in presenting this award which I hope is a first step in breaking the silence about these children, these future lawyers, engineers, teachers, doctors.They are here. They are here. We need to listen to their dreams and we need to act to make those dreams a reality.”

 

Comments

comments

For Houston ~ Home Sweet Home

Tags

, , ,

A 2:15 am Facebook update from my friend in Houston reads, “The rain continues.” Flooding thousands of homes and pummeling the area with over four feet of rain, Harvey is relentless. Rekindling memories of Katrina are harrowing images of people stranded on the rooftops of their homes or wading chest-deep in filthy floodwater; and then the heartbreaking stories of Manuel Saldivar, 84, his wife Belia, 81, and great-grandchildren, Daisy 6, Xavier 8, Dominic, 14, and Devy who drowned while trying to escape floodwaters in a van or of the little girl rescued after she was found holding on to her unresponsive mother in the floodwaters of Beaumont, or Houston Police officer, Sergeant Steve Perez, who drowned after becoming trapped in high water as he was driving to work.

Unprecedented, Hurricane Harvey landed in Texas with a vengeance, bringing with it winds in excess of 130 mph and, in Harris County, 1 trillion gallons of rainfall in four days – enough to run Niagara Falls for over two weeks.

At a loss for words and graphics that would adequately convey the storm’s fury, The National Weather Service could only issue a dire warning that its impact would be unknown.

Five days later, we know more. We know that it is still raining, that Harvey has claimed at least 31 lives and destroyed close to 50,000 homes, and that thousands of people are still stranded, waiting to be rescued from rooftops and stalled cars and second-floor windowsills, waiting for the water to recede.

(Photo: Bernice Emerge, of Houston, teared up while praying during an evening service at Woodlands Church, which is being used as a shelter. Credit Barbara Davidson for The New York Times)

My friend’s Facebook updates continue: “This will be a long, long night. I don’t usually ask for prayers, but that’s really all that anyone can do for us at this point. We cannot leave our town – everything is flooded. They are predicting .5-1 inch of rain per hour. Please keep us, Friendswood, surrounding areas and the entire city of Houston in your prayers.”

From afar we watch, horrified, desperate to help, but unsure what to do. We send prayers and donations of blood and money. We stop to count our blessings that we are safe in our homes and wish we had enough room for those who are soaked and scared, having lost everything. We find our better selves as Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy explained in her response to the earthquake in Haiti, that poetry is as powerful as prayer, that its language is where we find our humanity and perhaps when there is nothing else we can do:

Poetry is the music of being human. We turn to poetry at intense moments in our lives ~ when we lose people, or are bereaved, we look for a piece of music or a poem to read at the funeral, or when we fall in love we turn to poetry, or when children are  born. And I think that can happen at moments of public grief too, as well as personal. It is so close to prayer, it is the most intense use of language that there is. It is the perfect art form for public or private grief.

Learning that Harvey has made landfall in southwestern Louisiana, I am reminded of last year’s deadly storm, also unprecedented but unexpected, arriving like a hurricane with neither wind nor a name, but a relentless, record-breaking rain that over the course of four days wreaked havoc in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  According to Scientific American, it was a “once-in-a-1,000-year event” that killed 11 people and displaced tens of thousands. “Everybody in Baton Rouge knew somebody whose home got flooded.”

I am reminded of Sondra Honora who lost her home in the Louisiana flood, the home of her dreams and for which she saved for years. She started out dependent on government subsidies and used Section 8 vouchers to live in apartments and rentals, until in 2012 she could finally afford her own garden home with three bedrooms and a fireplace – her American dream off Old Hammond Highway. Getting the keys to that house was the best day of her life, and now it is gone.

Honore and her daughter, Ciera, are bus drivers for East Baton Rouge Parish. They have no flood insurance, no home, and no livelihood now that the buses are flooded as well. A poem, a prayer for her – forever –  from poet Sara Cress:

HOME SWEET HOME

I saved.
Not a penny spent
on frivolous things,
I forgot the taste of candy.
And when I walked in that front door I said, “finally!”
That floor under my bare feet was sweeter
than ten years of spun sugar.
Funny how it dissolves
like that
like one second
atoms switch around
and you fall right through.
They’re so nice here,
we don’t hear the rain,
they’re bringing us fruit,
and I laugh with the baby so I don’t cry.
But it isn’t my home,
now slowly melting down
to sweeten the sea.


 

Comments

comments