Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cold Dark River

Oh, I have been so sad today, grief-struck, dumb. I think the last bits are dissolving and detaching and being washed away: the last bits of feeling I have any power, any influence, any say in how the world goes. People will listen to me, sometimes, and along with the special gift of idiocy that goes with growing up a straight white male, that can support the delusion that I can move them this way or that. But the fact is, people only listen while I'm saying what they want to hear. 

I am so tired, and so frightened. History is snaking up and around me, and around my children. It will eat us all.

And the words, the words that used to be my friends, turn into enemies in my own mouth. I start to speak and my mouth is full of lies. Spit and try again; spit and try again; but it's all lies, all the time.

Or say, sometimes, truths past their sell date. I just want to say something simple and true. I want to say, "oh yes, I see it, the glints and reflections of that plastic shroud of racism that settles over all our shoulders." But even to say it is to make claims and jostle others away from the mike. And I'm just timid and fat and old, and terrified of imprisonment. And I have nothing. No advice, no power, no good ideas.

Two strangers, young black men, embraced me on the street downtown a couple nights ago. "This guy needs a hug, doesn't this guy need a hug?" So we had a group hug there on the sidewalk, and one of them shouted, "I love my city!" I was grateful for the hug, which I did need, but I thought, "Oh, my dear young men, don't trust this city. It has an old and ugly heart"

You know. I love this city. I love coming over the bridge in the morning at sunrise, and all the gold-leaf windows, and the cold dark river scaled by the the wind. But that's different from trusting it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interlude: Winter

Camassia is full of tiny ferns and bruise-colored leaves, and sudden shining mirrors have been inset in the hollows, waiting for gleams of sun. I could see chips fly from the woodpecker at his work, though I couldn't hear a sound.

The world is too large for me. I remember a time when I thought people got bigger, as they got older; but it turns out that the world grows much faster than we do. I dodge from cover to cover, like a timid vole, in the scant winter light, and I reach home with relief.

Fields of seablush and camas lily,fields we knew when the world was young.

And yet -- there at Oregon City, where Willamette Falls runs over the edge of the plate, and the river dodges between industrial buildings and power plant -- there is an older world implicit in it all, a world in which people were proud of what they built. Those people wanted their industrial buildings to be plain works of power. I'm confident that the thought that they were defacing the river never shadowed their dreams.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Springfield, Oregon, 1965

I remember the first black kids, they came when I was seven, two brothers. I had never seen a black person before. In the showers, I had to look: and incredibly, they were black even where their swimsuits would have blocked the sun. 

It didn't occur to me then or later to make them welcome. I had my own problems, and being befriended by the weird kid would have done them no favors, anyway. But I pondered the blackness. I could have forgiven the strangeness if it had been only a burning of the sun. But no, black all through: except for their ghostly whitish palms and soles, which was so contrary to all reason. It's your hands and feet that get dirty, that you have to wash. These creatures turned the world over. And life was already hard enough. 

What became of them? Where are they now? I don't know, but I doubt they have much reason to look back fondly.

Back then, black people weren't ordinarily on television. I had heard of negroes, of course, but they were in far away places, states in the south, of which my parents definitely, if obscurely, disapproved. I knew "nigger" was a very bad word. But the kids who could get a laugh, the ones who actually knew what swear words meant, used it when the adults weren't around.

"Where did you get that?" one would ask.

"Stole it off a dead nigger, and he ain't gettin' it back!" was the reply. Gales of laughter. 

It had nothing to do with the real world, any more than the half-understood sex jokes did. They were just essays, sallies into the forbidden. What happened if you said those words? Where you struck dead? Or did you gain access to something, some secret power or pleasure? Well, I didn't know. Better watch and see what happens to kids who could get a laugh. I had a feeling, and so did they, that they were courting destruction. I don't know what became of those kids, either.