Willow

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

In the shade of a Willow Tree

the heart of dreams took root:

Keats, fertilizing the shape of men

with flesh-wrought words

turbulent, wind-blown

beyond the cusp and ken of mortal grunting

a passion of time, a labor of spirit

the blooms to which even sunlight bows

while apples, stirring thoughts of gravity

tempt us by the notion:

what lies within.

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Promoting the “Other” When You Don’t Fit the Bill

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Photo by Nong Vang

Storytelling is one of the most fundamental, universal aspects of the human species. We tell stories to learn what it is to walk in someone else’s shoes. The notion that you can’t tell someone else’s story is ludicrous, and so is the idea that you can’t learn someone else’s tales. Will you tell it the same as they could? Almost assuredly not. Does that make you any less genuine in intent or depiction? No. Does it make the story any less important? Hell no.

The key is consideration versus appropriation. Empathy is critical.

Example: a character should not be included simply because they are black, or trans, or bipolar. These are aspects, not the sum. A scene should not unfold where a character enters and we are left to think, “and here is the gay character.” It’s an aspect of who they are. It may be completely unimportant to the story you are trying to tell. Yet they are there, and they should be there, with stories to engage. That story should not begin and end with their gayness, blackness, mental illness, disability, etc., but hell if each of these traits don’t affect a person’s life to varying degrees. They are important. They matter.

We’re all human. We have love lives, yes. But we also have passions. Doubts. Fears. We have quirks and faults.

It is the sum of our capabilities and failures and deeds—not the prominence or lack of any one—which makes us who we are.

It is unfathomably tricky to write outside of who you are with the care it requires, but I also fully believe that those with the power and stage to write should, as well as working to open the doors to equal voices throughout, in the meantime, speak for those who can’t. To do so, they must work as hard as possible to be authentic. One of the main points of writing is, after all, to tell the stories of people we may not recognize, so we might better understand everyone.

The story is not about you, but it can be about people, as much as ideas and events.

The word of the day is nuance, and it should accompany any scribbles. Yet it is especially important when including the traditionally underrepresented – particularly if you aren’t one of them. I dare say it’s more important now than ever, as the world slides into an age of illiberalism and authoritarianism, lashing out at one and all seen as “the other.”

There are some out there who do take umbrage with people who write outside their element. Whether it is an extension of the belief that writing is experience and nothing more, or  addressing things beyond your own experience is disingenuous, or even using the idea as a convenient way to stifle inclusion, the fact is the uncertainty shows one important thing: it’s not easy. As such, if you’re not a member of the community you’re writing about, you must be amazingly respectful.

Note I don’t say “should.” I say “must.” Treat your subjects as any less than human for an instant, any sense of caricature, and that’s it. You’re done. That’s all she wrote. Pack up the bags and head home, because you just undid everything you were trying to do.

To those who say don’t do it, I say: as long as you recognize your space, your power, and your limitations, approach it from that. Be open to feedback, be prepared to accept criticism, but most importantly, work hard to do it right and open a space and opportunity for the voiceless to come forward.

To those who fear appropriation, I certainly can’t blame them, but I urge just as much caution. After all, to silence ourselves entirely for fear of facing appropriation anywhere, we lose chances left, right and center to learn about the myriad identities which make up our world. More people should be able to write and engage with who they are and what that means—but people should also be able to think and opine outside of who they are. Fiction lets us do that, and sometimes it does it wrong, horribly wrong, but the best writer acknowledges this when it happens and uses it as an opportunity for serious discussion.

So what it all comes down to is this: nuance is good. Engagement is good. One needs to do it without being insincere, but they do need to do it. All of us have a responsibility as creators and influencers to do better.

It is our responsibility to give voice to the voiceless.

Their Eyes Watch Childhood Blossom

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Spring has a way of resurrecting memories.

I found the fox on the far side of the river. At first, I took it for a kitten—it was young, too young and slight to mistake it for a dog. With all the leaves about it, colored to its shade by the passing touch of winter, I probably never should have seen it, but some motion caught my eye. A twitch of the ears or a flexing of the bushy tail.

Either way, it was already dying by the time I got across.

A child’s thought: someone hit it, someone left it to die. My first dog, a chocolate lab named Rufus, had been not long in the ground by then—a passing memory of love that ran until his hips gave out, disease rattled his bones, and it would have been crueler to let him live than to let him die. I had not come to terms with that yet, and there, then, another animal lay before me on its side, curled into its haggard self.

Leaving it was not an option. Though the words of others rattled my head like wind in the trees—“If it’s wild, don’t go near it; it might have rabies, it might be angry, it might…”—they were about as effective, and I hunched over it and pressed my hands into its fur. What I realized then was that there was no blood, no open wound—just a child in the grass. It stirred at my touch. A little thing—its paws moved, like my dog’s used to; like it was dreaming of a hunt time denied. Nightmares maybe, dampened with earthen sweat.

High noon beat down on us, teased the frost away from the rot. The fox’s eyes looked at me, little gold slits leaking liquid light. I started, sat back on my heels. There were many things I might have done. I had my backpack, and he was small enough to fit inside. Still, I hesitated—my mother, I thought, would know.

Instead, I gathered a pile of leaves and sticks, made a bundled pillow of the earth that I could balance between my outstretched arms. I do not know what I thought to do with it. Mother loved animals—by that logic, she could help him. She would know what to do, by needle and thread or a doctor’s hand. Wildness mattered nothing. Its body still held the warmth that endears life to a child.

Lethargy benefited no one. I slipped both arms under it, careful to come between its sagging claws as I lifted the fox off the ground. Our world thrummed with the passing thunder of a car on the roadway, maybe a few dozen feet over and away—worlds separated by a hill and some trees. It was enough to waken me to the coolness that slicked from the lipless breaths. Water, I said. Frost and dew and whatever else condensation wrought.

Blood, by the stain, leaking from the pointed, open teeth—teeth as small as mine had been, for the tooth fairy’s gifts.

It took a moment to sink deeper than my skin. The head could not remain risen into the crook of me—it flopped against the side of my arm, drooping down as if to reclaim the lost soil.

A haze of freedom carried us forward, past one tree and another. Another car brought the wind through the trees and I realized for the first time that afternoon, truly realized, that I was alone. Shade clung to the leaves still drooping from the canopies above our heads, silent as statues and every bit as cold. Even this close, the cars were muted, lessened for what stalked the trees. One might have believed themselves in a different world, with their toes in this heady soil.

It was dead in my arms. Slowly, I came into that reality. I think the shadows had moved by the time I set it down again, laid it at the foot of an ancient oak overlooking the river, where time and erosion might one day wash both into the rest of something else. Something bigger. I had nothing with me. Nothing that meant anything. So I buried it in leaves that crumbled in my hands, weighted them down with sticks someone might use for a bonfire.

Yet I dared not touch its eyes. Instead, I closed my own as I sat beside the river and began to wash my arms. It took a long time.

Princess, Quaintly

david-clode-341216-unsplashBy night the singing stars

glorified the pumpkin moon.

The princess, awaiting her carriage

asked a frog

how a prince would benefit her tale

before the frog puckered

and she roasted him for frog legs—

so convincing an argument he had made

she thought she’d be a prince herself

by the magic of consumption.

Two Minds

we are of two minds,

you and I

vessels pitched toward

names left shapeless:

light to hold

by the comatose

mewling of silhouettes

as if breezes

no land here

only digital connections

between separate hearts

hoping to download a soul

Two Minds

Beyond Limbo

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Photo by Nicolas Jehly

Somewhere north of nowhere, past a road fueled by rumor, where merchants but rarely travel and music seems to stretch on forever beneath the sky, a woman walks. In her wake is a train of sycophants—those who traveled here just to seek her, or those who were left here to whither under an endless cosmic array of appetites no belly could contain.

Yet come she does. Out on the parched dunes, far beyond the oldest ruins. The dunes, after all, cannot be bothered to rest on foundations. They eat and eat, savage as wolves and greedy as leeches, gorging on wind and earth alike. They know no names, unlike the hills they consume, and neither does she. She shuns those who ask one of her. She slaughters those who demand one of her.

Such is her right.

Her silence has as much to say as a thousand words sputtered from drunken men. It has turned folk to contemplation, deep in the caves where faith has become a palace only as great as the heart.

“You will only hear her on the full moon,” a caravanner whispers after drinks one night. “She will wear a crown of peacock feathers, and you will know her by the beat of a pellet drum.”

He has never heard it himself, of course. Those who do rarely choose to leave it behind.

North beyond the last tavern, north beyond the final well, north so far the rivers have turned back for fear of being forgotten, the world parches. Wind grinds the skin to pulp, wearing all to gold. Even prayer beads bleach, a bead for each prayer the desert does not hear.

At this point, there is no turning back.

When the desert wears the sun for a mane and walks between rest and sleep, the world loses meaning. A bell that rings, rings on forever, inviting the rain, calling to wisdom, and receiving no answer. In such a moment, it is as wise as any sage.

All that is left to do is to feel the tapping of a heart’s demands. It counts the seconds, minutes, hours, inexorably pressing toward the moment.

A hand closes its fist about the blazing heart of the world and she appears.

Her drumming is a conjured echo of the bell. She is as unquiet as the howl of the wind, and as ancient. Wrapped in skins and cloths dyed as if by iron, she swirls through the contours of her starlight hammered realm. Incantations pour from beauty glowing with the alchemical crescendo of the world, and for once, there is no deceit to be sensed.

About her the hungry ghosts dance in an endless parade, without malevolence or concern. Every strum of the woman’s hands sign words for them, sign voices for them, and it can be felt all the way to that tapping of the heart. It becomes the beat of it, wailing in tune.

For a tick, all is reborn and unborn, a hollowed out train of eyes pouring from the darkness. It stains the world. There is no escaping it. Only then does the drum settle and the woman cup her palm instead to the distant mountain. Her other hand hovers, as if waiting to clap it—but the sound never comes.

It is at this moment one might bear witness to the henna birds on her hands. They circle her, rising into the clouds of her garments, and one cannot be sure where they end and she begins. Other stories tell of men and women that can become birds that fly and fly until they find their hearts’ desire, somewhere in the green that exists beyond the sand. This is the birds’ favorite song when they fly.

Tears track the woman’s face, and she begins to call to ignorance.

“Leave me!” she cries. “Be not shackled by your lust and your hate and your pain. There is peace beyond the limbo. There is magic yet to be found in the emptiness of existence. There is a silhouette of a cage just beyond a rainbow. Tears will rust it. You would break it.”

From the unborn expanse, the ghosts mewl until no line can be found in the sand. The woman sinks, drifting through fog and silence, to the finest dab of dew on the ground. In this light, her garments are a prism, and the faint slants of light make her polychromatic. It just so happens the gesture is a bow to the full moon.

There is nothing for it but to bow with her. The gesture scatters and compels, until there is no chasm between the world and its ghosts. She looks up on approach, waiting for the hiss of self-interest.

But the perch is empty. Love has made another summit, somewhere closer to earth.

A Tribute to Ursula K Le Guin

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Art by Rebecca Guay for “A Wizard of Earthsea.”

You taught us the meaning of humanity

out on the Sea, where the Earth

falls away and leaves us with nothing

save the mud of our struggle

visions of utopia left behind

when mad men came ashore

looking for Heaven.

 

When I hold my Left Hand to Darkness,

no one asks if I still suffer

what those men work in the shadows;

instead they take my hand and show

a map to the stars holds hope

that we are more than what we are

and not everything can be bought.

 

Perhaps we will never break the echo

the clatter of coins leave on the Farthest Shore

but the journey will chip at our bad habits

and remind us that happiness is to live

to a ripe old age where pain

is a memory of the Dispossessed

before we rejected the banality of evil hopes.

 

The revolution drifts in orbit now

asking for trouble where only spirits and fire

can touch its priceless permanence, as with

love—neither sits, waiting

for someone to give it meaning

they get out there and remake

the universe on their own terms.

(For Ursula: 1929-2018, but whose mark upon speculative fiction, the world, and my own literary motivations, is eternal. Your journey was truly worth it.)

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Ursula K Le Guin

Rhythmic Gambles

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Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

Rhythm is not just speed

but the thought of where the signals lead;

away, spirit, into the motion

of the universal devotion

to life beyond routine

the confines of a paper-thin screen

freedom, by any other name

a laughter of notes experiencing the game

without any fear; sacred, and devout

before the collective trance of the communal bout

whirling meditations to the bleeding and the broken

speaking without ever suffering outspoken

methodologies through the fighting,

to find out what they’re lighting and writing

and talking about, exhaustion

a sort of Faustian

gamble for the peak in breaths

that strips identity, time and flesh

to bone, where shyness will not lurk

nor stimulation shirk

the magic of connection

only the body gives direction:

Dancing with the waves of the oldest seas,

Dancing to be wholly free.

Despite Appearances, Democrats May Come Out Ahead in Shutdown Fight

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Image Clipped from CBS News.

(Since this piece was published–in a cowardly act–Senate Democrats retracted their push for DACA and Dreamers’ rights in future negotiation demands. As such, I renounce all the grace I gave them in this article, an instead add: this may be the moment that cost them the 2018 Midterms.)

The shutdown of the U.S. federal government seems set to end.

At least, as of 5:24 p.m. on Monday, January 22, within 72 hours of the debacle’s beginning, that’s where things seem to stand. My first reaction was, admittedly disgust–disgust the Republicans would get what they want, disgust the Democrats would cave so fast.

After all, Republicans managed to keep a vote on a Supreme Court justice nominee happening for a year when there was a Democrat sitting in the White House. They managed to play the game all the way through to the next president–so they could control House, Senate and White House, and thereby guarantee a sweep of whomsoever they wished. Gorsuch came of that. Gorsuch, and a disservice to the methods of representative rule.

This is not that case. On its head, as I said, Democrats caved to pressure within 72 hours and allowed for a temporary measure of government funding to push the can down the road until February 8. This refunds the government, gets people to stop using the military for ammunition for a bit, and gives politicians more time for debate.

I know what you’re thinking: oh gods, MORE debate? Can’t they come to a conclusion?

The short answer? No. Democrats want to protect DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It’s popular with their base and it’s just solid humanitarianism. Republicans chose to hold funding for CHIP kids–the Children’s Health Insurance Program–hostage as a means of forcing Democrats to abandon immigrants and DACA.

So how will this be different in February?

The Democrats won this round, even if it doesn’t look it at first glance. Once my fury had subsided, I realized this means that CHIP is now funded for a full six years. It’s passed, done, off the table. Those kids are no longer held hostage, and in so doing, Republicans have lost their big leverage. For those who think the military still represents leverage in the debate, just remember: Democrats attempted to pass a bill during the shutdown TO keep the military funded. They’re fools if they don’t consistently remind the public that it was Republicans who torpedoed those efforts, and most importantly, Donald Trump who shot down just about every attempt at a moderate solution that could have avoided the shutdown in the first place.

So if the moderates fail to get a veto proof bill rammed through the Congress in February? Well then, we’re right back at a shutdown–and this time, Republicans won’t have sick kids hanging in the balance for pressure. It gives Democrats even more of an opportunity for a longer shutdown, if Republicans won’t listen to reason. After all, DACA–Democrats’ main sticking point here–is still on the books until March. They can kick the can down the road for a whole month before they lose what they are pushing for.

In the meantime, under court order, DACA recipients cannot be deported purely for being here on DACA grounds. Now, ICE has been finding insidious ways of deporting people for other reasons, but they cannot deport specifically on those grounds as long as DACA remains on the books.

The left side of the aisle can blast Democrats for failing to stand up and deliver a scathing, “To hell with you,” to the Republicans in the Senate and Trump in the White House. It can blast them as having no backbone.

There are plenty of reasons I might agree with such statements on the day to day, but this isn’t one of those cases. This might actually be the smart play, if not the most aggressive. Of course the Republicans are unlikely to keep their promises to discuss DACA again during the February 8 deadline. Democrats know that. But there’s something they have to tiptoe around. After all, there are confines to this play: remember, McConnell can still detonate the 60 vote requirement in the Senate. Trump is urging him to do it. Republicans on the whole probably don’t WANT to do it, because it’s a short term win that might backfire spectacularly for them after the 2018 Midterms. Democrats could get that away from him, and while they don’t have a history of playing as rough with the nuclear option as his people have, they could, and use it to decimate anything Trump tries to ram through in the future.

So in essence? No, this is probably not the shutdown deal any of us want. It’s far passed time to get a long term solution for the issue of funding this nation, but this opens a lot more opportunities for Democrats to come out ahead.

Dreams from the Lunar Sea

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Photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash

She had always wanted to live on the moon. People called it barren, but in its dryness, its isolated streets, she saw endless possibility—untouched, untainted. When she got there, she walked the streets every night, reborn under the reversed sky. She drank in the scents of abandonment and stale, recycled air.

Somewhere off of Main Street and Liberty, though, she caught herself absorbing the rotating waves of the blue satellite above her head. People looked at her oddly, called her out of place. And it was just so cold, here. The moon disappeared from her dreams one night, leaving her in darkness.

It wasn’t so long before she began to dream of living on the earth.

(Happy National Science Fiction Day, everybody!)