a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Written on the Solstice, December 2021/ended March 2022
The weather–this last day of autumn in New York–was exuberant-sky clear; air crisp; sun bright. Great coats, puffers, jackets, no furs were on the bodies of residents and tourists and there were police barricades all along Sixth Avenue and around Rockefeller Center esp. near the tree. While there were plenty of tourists, there were none of the hordes you would see in the 1990s–around the time I stopped going into the area because of too many people.
As I tapped my cane across 50th street from Sixth to Fifth, I watched a wedding photographer take a picture of a couple–mid-thirties, Latinx. He was jacketless, but she wore a sleeveless top, and it was like 35-36°F. I yelled yall must be in love as I tapped on by. They kept that pose.
Saks was lit up like Vegas and all I could think of were the department store windows that are not lit up: no B. Altman’s, no Lord & Taylor for instance, which was always my favorite. One year they did scenes from Peter Pan, and I found myself singing along to “I’m Flying” while standing in line with others looking at the scenery and the puppetry. When I walked along the 50th street side of Saks, there was a sign and a line for Covid testing. People, mostly tourists, with their shopping bags stood on the sidewalk waiting. They had their poise and their pose.
I ain’t gonna lie, when I got the Covid test results I almost cried. I am fortunate. But many people are not. There will be many not visiting family or friends. The virus is out and about and all who wander about maskless and unvaccinated are a danger to themselves and to others. And the anxiety that lack of community brings is visceral.
People keep talking about going back to normal–what normal? The normal of dismissing the work of scientists and doctors and neglecting public health. The normal of thinking that hordes of people who wander the city heedless of its rules (like don’t stand in the middle of a sidewalk) is always a good thing. The normal that in the face of mass shootings and rising gun-related deaths did nothing to change gun regulations other than stop & frisk thousands of young men of color. The normal of allowing state after state to curtail the reproductive rights of women and girls–basically creating a class of people to discriminate against. The normal of police misconduct paid for by the city’s citizens as if not one of these officers are liable for that misconduct. The normal of lousy governance that led to collapsing apartment buildings in Miami and the destruction of a well-used public park in New York. The normal of demanding service while paying poorly for it as the men on electric bikes whiz by on sidewalks. That normal.
We need a new normal. We need a blossoming of kindness. We need a greater sense of responsibility to our bodies and the bodies of others. We need to taste affirmation not anxiety. The solstice is the shortest day on the calendar, the light departing. But the next day brings more light. Second by second more light. Can we take the beauty of this cosmos and allow ourselves to think, dream and demand better outcomes for a more loving, more generous, more communal space?
The first day of Spring is almost here and the “new normal” has brought terrible things. A war is raging in Ukraine. Laws that not only discriminate against women and girls in terms of reproduction are now on the books in several states and the Supreme Court is poised to essentially gut the ability for women to control their reproduction. New laws have targeted transgender adults and transitioning children and their families. Others censor the teaching of American history lest White people feel bad that their ancestors were brutal racists or people who accommodated them. Oy Vey, where can one even see signs for peace?
Ours may be the generation that lives through this volatility so that later ones if we survive this can see how there were ideas that demanded a better way. Governance out of consensus for instance? Reverence for the living planet and making work to clean polluted spaces, to create avenues for biodiversity, to try and heal the wounds inflicted by humans on the land and other creatures. A call to community that includes prayer, chants, the names of the divine in whatever way one calls the spirit. It is now the Lenten season and amidst this chaos, there is prayer and reflection on the connection to the divine and what sacrifice(s) may be made to express that. I am not sure I have ever quite believed in the resurrection although I love the hallelujahs on Easter Sunday. But Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity is a powerful gesture of taking on responsibility. We must then ask ourselves responsibility for our weaknesses, our stupidities, our rage, our violence. Is death the only way to assuage our sins? Or is this pierced body a symbol of how many of us daily wreck our bodies because of our weaknesses, stupidities, rage and yes violence?
What I do understand is that Christ’s message of loving thy neighbor as thyself could lead to a place of peace. But first, one would have to love oneself. Would have to love this earth and work tirelessly to heal the many wounds placed upon it. Would have to recognize that all living things are part of the earth and that we must work to create conditions for biodiversity—that we must resist the exploitation of this planet for profit, and for only human consumption. A place of peace would be ending war, the threat of war, but that may be more difficult than creating conditions for biodiversity. All wars start with human demand for power and if we do not look at power in a different way, some version of armed conflict will continue. In many ways, I have tried to say, can we see power not as hierarchy, but as exchange, like electrons or an electrical current—it’s circuitous, right. But such an exchange is the way the lights stay on. As I write this, a war rages. As I write this, millions protest worldwide. As I write this, the Amazon is under assault. As I write this, more bills that incur in our most private spaces are being introduced. And as I write this, parents are welcoming their child into this chaos and challenge. May that child see that peaceful place, the one we wanted to be born in the “new normal.”
This piece was started as a post on Facebook but has gathered more words to explore this moment in time and a deep desire for that new normal, that place for peace.
Patricia Spears Jones is a poet, playwright, anthologist, educator, and cultural activist, and is the winner of the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers. She is author of The Beloved Community, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press; A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems and ten other poetry collections. Her work is in anthologies such as African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song; Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin; 2017 Pushcart Prize XLI, Best of Small Presses; and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. Poems recently published in The New Yorker, The Brooklyn Rail; Ms. Muse, Plume, and CUTTHROAT: A Journal of the Arts. She edited THINK: Poems for Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Day Hat and Ordinary Women: An Anthology of New York City Women Poets. She has taught at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, Poets House, Community of Writers, Truro Center for the Arts, Fine Arts Work Center, Gemini Ink, Brooklyn Poets, Hurston-Wright, and at Hollins University, Adelphi University, CUNY, and Barnard College. She is organizer of the American Poets Congress and is a Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Black Earth Institute.
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