Location: St. Vincent & Grenadines

You were driving home in the dark on one glass-slippered heel, window sliced open and bathing in the snowliquor of the night air. We heard you singing, and couldn't bear to wake you.

02 January 2007

This will be our year, took a long time to come.

This morning was 5:45 a.m. and the green serrated unrelenting grind of the alarm, after two weeks of letting the body do what comes naturally. But it's okay. A cup of decaf (full-strength gives me an all-day alarm clock feeling with bonus nausea) and a Dunhill Light and the Chronicle pop me back into the workaday drama. I am newly bearded, a winter ritual, a surprise for students that I'll shave off in a few days because, pleasant though neglecting to shave may be, the bottom line is that my woman's not at all a fan of facial hair. And really, I can't blame her.

On the whiteboard today I drew a cartoon of myself holding a picket sign that read: WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT? Naturally, my students were confused. I like confusing them. Especially when it's a prelude to an "Ohhhh..." moment. So what is a right? Is it different from a privilege? Where do rights come from? Who decides?

Energetic, they were. I love them. Even though they ate all my chocolate-covered raisins.

We'll segue, over the next few days, into an examination of the civil rights movement in America in the twentieth century and a comparison/contrast with the current state of civil rights. Is the story that the Almighty Martin Luther King died for our sins and we are all now healed and whole? (If you think that's a ridiculous question, you haven't waded through the hagiography I have in the last few weeks. Man, I'm as liberal as they come and I'm about ready to puke at the treacly, pious, self-righteous bullshit that's grown up around the MLK cult of personality.) Or is the story that people often hurt each other out of hatred and fear, and that King -- like a whole lot of less charismatic but no less righteous people -- fought as hard as he could to reduce the hurt, and that the struggle continues today and will always be ongoing and precarious and necessary?

That may be a loaded question. Maybe.

Okay, fine, it is. I'm pushing an agenda: there, I said it. In my defense, I'll never grade a student down for disagreeing with me. Here's my agenda: history is just a bunch of stories, but so is everything we're doing now, and it's a really good thing to be a reader, but it's an even better thing to be a writer.

More on all this later. In the meantime, here's another Mary Oliver poem. I don't care what you say. Read it. Then write something.

Beyond the Snow Belt

Over the local stations, one by one,
Announcers list disasters like dark poems
That always happen in the skull of winter.
But once again the storm has passed us by:
Lovely and moderate, the snow lies down
While shouting children hurry back to play,
And scarved and smiling citizens once more
Sweep down their easy paths of pride and welcome.

And what else might we do? Let us be truthful.
Two counties north the storm has taken lives.
Two counties north, to us, is far away --
A land of trees, a wing upon a map,
A wild place never visited -- so we
Forget with ease each far mortality.

Peacefully from our frozen yards we watch
Our children running on the mild white hills.
This is the landscape that we understand --
And till the principle of things takes root,
How shall examples move us from our calm?
I do not say that is not a fault.
I only say, except as we have loved,
All news arrives as from a distant land.

Mary Oliver


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