Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ancestors Are Not Sated

Clinging to red-streaked rock, their numbers grow. They have survived in me and I am all too quick to reduce them, what cobwebs of memory I have evaporated under the chilly April sunshine, yesterday my birthday, the beginning of my 27th year, on a day when I am alive and they are not.

I celebrate that I am alive but I know I will be dead soon too. Soon even if it is another 60 years. I have already led dozens of lives as dozens of different people, all in this serviceable body that has born the same name (more or less) for 27 years. If I were a dog or cat, I would most likely be dead and reborn twice over in this time. What I am trying to say is that I don’t know what to make of life. I could be dead at any minute or slowly and what does that mean? I know things, I have inklings, I hear whispers and feel glowing warmth and the firm tugging of invisible strings all the time. I know the unseen world is teeming, know the unknown outnumbers the body of facts we’ve assimilated by a thousand-fold. But it’s the blackness that scares me, the thought of being two sightless, bodiless eyes in a vat of nothingness, unceasing nothingness. Where do we come from, really? Where do we go? When I set about the dirty and glorious work of saving myself, am I saving the ancestors too? Perhaps back through time… I feel them heave great breaths sometimes, loosening, untying their tight and ragged knots.

This morning standing in moccasins and a big gray sweater at the stove, stirring together broccoli and mushrooms, potatoes and eggs, boiling water in the tarnished kettle for coffee with fresh raw Jersey milk, I surfaced a memory, a tucked and guarded secret story, the one about my great-grandfather who was in the Klan. If I tell most people, they will unleash their horror, curl their lips, show the whites of their eyes. No one likes to be found guilty of carrying their country’s history. How easy it would be to travel light, pretend that your family tree began with just your grandparents, and maybe they didn’t really have much influence on you anyway.

But somehow my great-grandfather’s deep fear and neurosis spawned a child that deeply cared about his secret Cherokee roots, worked for fair housing in the 1950s, spawned a grandchild who walked side by side with Martin Luther King Jr., another who married a black man and then spent much of her life after 50 trying to heal her own internalized racism.

And the grandchild stirring broccoli. It would be easy to spit water and gaze innocent at myself in the mirror as I brush my teeth. But I have a survived knowledge of responsibility, backwards and forwards throughout the crook of time, a knowledge that will not let me evaporate before I bring healing.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What I Know How to Do Well

First crawl out, bitter, warm, wrinkled. Survey the room weakly, move head from side to side slowly, muscles stiff, wondering if one will tweak and spasm - I didn't do my exercises last night.

Light from window diffuse, sound of rain soft, spitting. Can't be bothered to look, I can tell what kind of rain it is without looking, I have become an expert on rain here, we all have, constant, constant. Moments when the drops cease, evaporate back into the thick woolen gray sky, that's when you dive, go, grab bike, grab bright orange helmet, go, bike fast, downhill, gravel, wet ankles from the puddles, go.

The bed is crumpled, warm, inviting. Heave off blankets, reveal white flannel sheets, pale brown liquid stain. I've never peed in my bed but it sure looks like it, what is that stain? Where did it come from? Did someone else leave it? Even more disturbing.

Fluff pillows, down one flattened into a lumpy slab, synthetic one unmarred, uncomfortable. Fling white flannel sheet over impression of body on the right side. For some reason I can't sleep in the dead center and definitely not to the left. Sigh and pause to stretch back slowly, touch toes, ease up vertebrae by vertebrae.

Then onto the comforter, devilish thing, snakes out the bottom of the wildly polkadotted cover every single goddamn night, no matter how still and deep I sleep. Wrestle it back into a square, order, snap it back in, onto bed, fluff, smooth, even the edges.

Then the small quilt my mother, older sister and I made. Some days I linger here, run my finger over the purple and blue flower I embroidered in satin stitch when I was seven. Other days I get past it as quickly as possible. Hidden memories, sweet-bitter, raveled pieces of red and blue yarn holding the whole thing together precariously, coming undone bit by bit the older I get, the more I remember.

Next the quilt that is not mine, pilfered from my roommate who got it from a yard sale. I feel a guilty prickle every time I look at it, keep it face down so the patches won’t give me away. It should be on the bed of someone who knows its story, someone who feels the love of the maker sink down in their bones every night, someone who knows that what covers them is more than fabric cut and sewn. But maybe its story is pain and forgetting. Maybe the receiver no longer wanted the burden of meticulous hands, piecing hands, lingering hands over their body in the dark liquid hours when the mind is most vulnerable. It is a fugitive quilt and I hide it between the others.

Last is the innocuous comforter, the one with cheery red and blue geometric windmill shapes on a white background. This one is for the guests, this one is for people who just want to peep in and say oh what a pretty room. This is the one we touch with our hands as we gaze milky at each other, or as we peacefully examine the white ceiling, our bodies tucked neatly between the pocket of sheets.

This is the task I bend to every morning, in the dim hours, the labor that is necessary before I enter into the world.