We sang songs
On feeling a way through the day, one line at a time, when everything is hard and also on fire. Plus two poems by Naomi Shihab Nye and Aracelis Girmay.
Everything is on fire and it’s always been. But now we’re asked to know so much about it. This has not been an easy week.
A part of me wants to tell you everything I think and know but what good will that do either of us? I know nothing at all, and odds are you’ve been bombarded by a firehose of thoughts and opinions for days, just like every other day for the past ten years or so, wittingly or not consuming a volume of data that would be unimaginable to your ancestors.
(For a fun time, take a moment and imagine explaining to your great-great-great-grandparents what you’re up to with your phone all day. No judgment. No shame. Just an objective play-by-play of your minute-by-minute interactions with a pre-sentient glass rectangle that knows how you spend your money.)
I struggle, all the time, to find the balance between self-soothing and disassociation. I sometimes struggle to stay present, and prefer spiraling instead inside of my little thoughts and feelings, or mindlessly starting four to five different projects around the house to keep my hands occupied and mind ruthlessly unfocused on anything at all except keep moving.
Or more often, in weeks like this one, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, looking for what? Relief? A solution? Catharsis or validation? Whatever it is, I rarely find it, only to find an hour has passed that I could have been doing anything else.
I could have been slicing an apple or making tea and going mmm while looking my dog in the face and wiggling my toes. Or stretching my body, or asking my friend that I married to talk to me about modernity and animism, or writing Ariel a postcard I won’t send for months due to how truly, profoundly inept I am at doing mail, or reading a book about building adobe homes, or sitting comfortably in silence for five goddamn minutes for once in my life, so my body and brain might learn to rest and repair.
I might sit down and practice writing the hard poem, the one I keep hearing I must learn how to write—not just the love letter, but the world on fire, the poem that tells the whole truth, the one I struggle to move toward, whatever it may be in the moment.
I might. I could. I can.
And I will.
I do not need to be cruel to me for behaving as I’ve been rigorously conditioned to. But I do want to understand it so I can practice interrupting it. So I can try something else, see how it fits, how it feels on my life.
I wonder what kind of poems I might write when I learn how to say the whole truth. I do not want them to be despairing, or jaded and full of unmetabolized rage. We can say what’s true about the world without reproducing trauma. We can point to the wound without salting it. I just need to practice.
One excellent piece of advice that keeps coming up: Write one line at a time. Then the next.
(Feel your way through it.
Allow missteps and tangents.
Love the exercise enough to allow imperfection.)
I can try. And I will.
This week, for the first time in the fourteen(!!) years I’ve been on it, I thought definitively—and I said it out loud—I must find a way off of Twitter. There is so little for me there these days. Scant nutrition. Rarely clarity. Very little joy. So much bearing witness to the way people speak to one another when they believe we owe each other nothing and there are no consequences for cruelty. But then I’ve also learned and seen and laughed at so much, 100% for free, and there’s all the writers and journals and surprising bits of brilliance I’ve stumbled upon and the friends—yes the friends!—that I’ve found in this strange and horrible and interesting soup we’ve made. Two things can be true.
I’m not sure what my spiritual health and wealth requires—abandonment outright? Reframing my relationship? Somewhere in between? It took me five years to quit smoking. I’m not so good at giving things up. But I’m getting better at making good choices.
I can try and I will.
Anyway, I hope whatever day this is, whomever you’re with, you find some soothing in it. I hope you’re able to stay present with it. I hope your heart is okay. And if it isn’t, I can tell you it will be.
Here. Have some poems.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
My friend, dying, said do the hard thing first.
Always do the hard thing first and you will have a better day.
The second thing will seem less hard.
She didn’t tell me what to do when everything seems hard.
& When We Woke
by Aracelis Girmay
It rained all night. It did not rain.
I strapped my life to a buoy — & sent it out.
& was hoping for a city whose citizens sing
from their windows or rooftops,
about the beauty of their children
& their children’s eyes, & the color of the fields
when it is dusk. & was hoping for a city
as free as the rain, whose people roam
wherever they want, free as any real, free thing is free.
Joyful. Green. & was hoping
for a city of 100 old women whose bones
are thick & big in their worker hands
beautiful as old doors. & when we woke,
dear reader, we’d landed in a city of 100 old women
telling their daughters things. & when we turned
to walk away, because we did not think we were citizens
of this strange & holy place, you & I, the hundred old
women said, No, No! You are one of us! We are your
mothers! You! You! Too! Come & listen to our secrets.
We are telling every person with a face!
& they stood us in a line facing the sea,
(because that is the direction we came from)
& behind us there was another line of women
& another, & we sang songs. & we filled the songs
with our mothers’ names. & we filled the songs
with trees for our mothers to stand under,
& good water for our mothers to drink. & we filled
the songs with beds for our mothers to lay down in
& rest. We filled the songs with rest. & good food
for our mothers to eat. We made them a place
in our singing, & we faced the sea.
We are still making them a place
in our singing. Do you understand?
We make them a place where they can walk freely,
untouched by knives or the police who patrol
the borders of countries like little & fake hatred-gods
who patrol the land though the land says, I go on
& on, so far, you lose your eye on me.
We make our mothers a place in our singing & our place
does not have a flag or, even, one language.
Do you understand? We sing like this for days
until our throats are torn with singing. Do you understand?
We must build houses for our mothers in our poems. I am not sure,
but think. This is my wisest song.
i want more.