Monday, September 16, 2013

Alice Walker & The Harvest Reading

Photo by Rudolph Boyd
         This has been Alice Walker week. It began with a trip to Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore with a gift certificate I got  months ago for reading at the Montclair Public Library. I had stowed it away in that Abyss of a File that is supposed to keep things from being forgotten.

        At Mrs. Dalloway's I found Ms. Walker’s Hard Times Require Furious Dancing, and isn’t that the truth!  Today was joyous First Day of the New Series for Anna Halperin’s dance movement class, and I did some at least semi-furious dancing. Afterwards I went to the University Library and found Walker’s The World Will Follow Joy,  and I certainly hope she is right. 

         I also watched videos of Alice I found on her web site and bought tickets to the film about her, which will be shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival. I've loved having her in my life all week.  Below is the poem I wrote about her, and below that you'll see the announcement of an event where I plan to read it. I hope you'll attend!

      Nineteen Seventy Something

                                        for Alice Walker

I remember her at that gathering
though I can’t remember why we gathered  
or when
she in dashiki & dreads     or was that later   
There were luminaries in that room  
though to be a woman was luminous enough   
If you were proud   
If you were standing up or acting out   
If you were Congresswoman Bella Abzug
in her iconic hat
If you were That Blond Activist in aviator shades  
If you were Constance Carroll  new black president
of where I taught  
If you were Peggy Reese  my-colleague-the-geologist
whose expertise   Dakota Sandstone 
was my alias    a nom de plume
to cover my tracks   
Alice Walker
you were laying down hot tracks of poetry
and the short stories called In Love and Trouble
and weren’t we all? 
Not to mention the poems titled

Revolutionary Petunias  
See we were learning how to garden   
seeding the beds of change   
you have to water     fertilize  
weed and watch over   
and then we learned    reluctantly    to prune  

That’s when I stopped using Dakota Sandstone  
which crumbles    slides  and can’t abide a shift 

Have I let this poem go to seed?  
All I started out to do was say
Alice Walker  I just saw that video of you
in your age    your white hair    
and I love the wildness 
that still dances
in your eyes

                                CELEBRATING HARVEST
                                   Poetry, Prose, Libations

Please join us for a harvest of earth-centered writing and book signing at
                                  First Light Farm Stand.

             When: 2:00 pm, Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Where: First Light Farm Stand, 4588 Bodega Avenue, Petaluma

Who will read: Poets Frances Hatfield, Naomi Ruth Lowinsky
     and Leah Shelleda, and novelist Patricia Damery.

         Free. Booksigning and light refreshments to follow



Thursday, September 5, 2013

The New Year, Truth and the Leghorn

Photo by Lainie Fefferman
              Last night was the beginning of the year 5774 among the people I grew up with. As a child the very air felt different on the High Holy days, as though awe had reached us from a far place. I can still experience that specialness, and though I left that community for a different kind of life, I can still appreciate certain traditions. One of them is the practice known as Tikkun Midot - choosing a quality to pursue during the year.  Ever the rebel, I chose two - Truth and Authenticity - because I find it difficult to separate them.

         The lack of both truth and authenticity occur when we take on protective coloration, put on camouflage -when we behave like others in order to fit in. We may express opinions that aren’t really ours, or withhold them. Sometimes when I’m aware of that dishonest impulse I ask myself how far I’ve come from the conformity of high school during the 1950s.  I believe deeply in individuation - in developing one’s own Self, and there's the old To Thine Own Self Be True, which never loses its meaning - yet…..

       This morning I experienced that impulse.  On the front page of the Chronicle there was an article headed Animal Welfare. It's about an anonymous donation that allowed 1200 chickens that were about to be killed to be flown to the safety of sanctuary on the East Coast. What I learned in that article deeply effected me, and I immediately wanted to write about it - but my first thought was:
      “Chickens! Some of your readers are going to think 

       that’s really weird. And those people who run chicken
       sanctuaries are probably considered weird as well - 
       they probably don’t have Important Positions or Iphones, 
       or dress well......"
I was rather disgusted with my first thoughts, and I finally remembered Truth and Authenticity, so....

       The Facts of Factory Farmed Eggs:  Laying chickens are kept in tight wire cages with 8 other birds where they can’t lie down or turn around. Artificial lights are kept on 24 hours a day so they'll produce more 'jumbo' eggs. The feet of the leghorns are frayed from the wire cage bottoms, their wings torn from beating against wire. They are exhausted after 2 or 3 years, and no longer able to lay jumbo eggs, so they are gassed. It is not “economical” to keep them. 
       The truth is that I can’t bear to have any living being treated that way. I feel for them. I don’t care that they aren’t cute, like baby seals,  or capable of  inventing a better smart phone. I imagine someone, a voice from the community of my childhood,  saying "1500 humans were gassed in Syria, and you’re worrying about chickens?"

       I think about my former students who were very concerned with animal welfare. They seemed to have given up on humans - but I have not. It is true that my focus is often on the welfare of the entire planet, but I don’t think the plight of the chickens is separate from our own. I think that when we lack empathy  - when we make a person or an animal Other - we not only do them harm, but we harm ourselves. We are diminished.  We lose the ability to be  open-hearted. We lose the ability to feel how all life is connected, and  the pleasure that comes from that realization.  And that for me - that Open Heart - is the highest truth. Ibn al-Arabi said it best: 

"My heart has become capable of every form: A pasture 
for gazelles, a monastery for monks, a temple for sculptures, 
the Kabah for pilgrims, the scroll of the Torah, the book of the
Koran. I follow the religion of Love: whatever direction             Love's camels take is my religion; my faith. "    

Happy New Year!