Deferred Action Look at the mountain, find my boots, abandon walls, look at the mountain. It’s all I do. The president tweets DACA is dead while the magnolia publishes other news: the future will be pink. Whom should I listen to? Beets for lunch. Do not think of my father, who loved them, as juice bleeds over the salad. Do not remember my mother-in-law, whose jewelry I wear, glassy teardrops strung along a chain. She died far away, last verses unheard. It’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall, he plays, the curator of beatness who visits class with Dylan on cue. Scratches under scratches. No one’s allowed to dream anymore. A student comes by with poems and fear of deportation. So many words; so few. Evening, home, where once I found on the lawn a note from neo-nazis. Look at the mountain, crowned in rose. Where black is the color and none is the number, the singer foretold. Still I talk, fail to talk, and grant some songs their visas. And look at the mountain, its gloomy hunch, its glow.
House Mountain, visible from my desk past telephone wires, is a daily reference point that appears in many of my poems, often as a way to touch base with forces much larger than my own little life. The piece above was in 32 Poems; in the final poem of The State She’s In, now three months old, the same mountain gives me a stern talking to about ambition. This morning House Mountain is invisible behind haze. It doesn’t mind giving me a metaphor for an uncertain, unforecastable future, apparently. Nor does my cat Ursula, who has taken to chasing her tail on a staircase newel. The other day she fell off, busted a lamp, and slid down rump-first behind the upright piano–clearly enacting the state of my brain.
DACA survives, at least for a while: good. A monstrously destructive president slides in the polls: all right. My daughter’s stories of recurring police brutality to Black people in Philadelphia: the record keeps spinning. I’m not writing much these days, but I think the 2020s are going to be another great decade for protest poetry. There were two powerful ones in the New Yorker I flipped through yesterday, by the always amazing Marilyn Nelson and Terrance Hayes. They remind me that I don’t have to be writing; I can just wait out the mists. Being a reader, voter, donator, person at rest: those are all fine, too.
A few good things I’ve been a part of lately: the Practices of Hope reading I participated in a week ago was warm, lovely, inspiring, and pretty much ego-less (recording here, the About Place issue it’s based on here). Verse Daily kindly featured a poem of mine, “Unsonnet,” that recently appeared in Ecotone. I have a gigan about my parents’ pine green Gran Torino in Literary Matters: anybody else old enough to remember those seatbealt-less rides in the “way-back”? Sweet interviewed me here. And I have an essay about teaching in my part of the south in Waxwing (a former colleague calls this place “Confederatelandia”). That one I did write recently–miraculously, really, given how hard this spring was!–but it’s just a 1500-word expansion of comments I would have made on an AWP panel called Teaching in the Confederacy, organized by Chris Gavaler and featuring Lauren K. Alleyne, Tyree Daye, and Gary Dop. Editor Todd Kaneko urged me to keep digging deeper into my own evasions, making it a better piece, but I presume it will be outdated in about five minutes. As I just wrote to a former student, now a professor himself and wondering about how to be a better teacher-scholar during Black Lives Matter, I’m in a constant process of self-renovation these days.
As is necessary. I think about Breonna Taylor every day, and the dreaming she can no longer do.
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