Every Sunday there is a man screaming at the sea.
At dawn, I hear him yelling,
Voice straining violently
As the low tide waves do nothing
To drown him out and let me sleep.
I want to warn him that this weekly ritual is probably bad
For those fragile little threads in his throat.
I can hear them break over the surf,
Especially when he reaches the top of his register.
It sounds like losing one’s balance.
At first I thought he was drunk.
After the third time I thought it was rage,
Then grief after the fourth,
And then back to alcohol-induced.
I went to yell to the man,
But saw he had headphones in and could not hear me.
“Madam, il le fait pour chanter mieux,”
The guard says at my shoulder.
He grabs his throat in his fingertips
And makes a gesture that suggests strengthening.
I nod as though I understand this logic.
“C’est le sel – c’est bon pour la voix.”
If I wanted to sound like beef jerky
I too would scream at the ocean.
The salt would cure my throat so that it never got tired.
In front of us, just out of earshot
The man keeps sing-screaming to the endless ocean
Off-rhythm and Off-key
Hoping to have a voice as tough as the surf.
I see us express our sadness
Only to be told told we are sad about the wrong thing
Or that our grief is misplaced
To the sense that a perspective is skewed
The wool has been pulled over one’s eyes
Leaving them to weep as babies do
When mommy leaves the room.
How lovely, to be smart enough to know
The best use of other peoples’ tears.
Grief is not a zero sum game,
Nor is empathy.
There is no scale of proper sorrow.
Her dead cat and his dead faith are allowed to coexist.
If anything, since neither exists anymore,
They are more alike than they were before.
Pause before you kick out a pithy reminder
Of how misguided those tears are.
Allow for personal mourning.
At least for forty-eight hours, please.
I found myself really bothered by the backlash on my social media about those of us sad for Notre Dame. One post in particular drew my attention – a smug little tweet assuming that the people weeping for Notre Dame were blind and callous towards the immigration crisis or other tragedies. No. No! Grief is not a zero sum game (the inspiration line for today’s piece). I can recognize tragedy regardless of where it is.
(I know the backlash is more towards the Church / obscenely rich people – fine with that. But don’t lump all the mourners into an ignorant glob.)
What I remember most is the weight of faith you carried.
Centuries of faith.
The thickness of it, thicker than the incense
The countless spiritual atoms floating in your space
Made everything seem heavy,
Yet somehow also uplifting.
If there was a place for faith
It was under your grey arches.
There are taller buildings, but none reach like you.
Your frame yearned to be taller, and in reaching
You took us all with you, upwards.
I do not doubt we will look up again.
I pray we will.
4.12 I cannot find the rhythm in the day (A sonnet)
I cannot find a rhythm in the day
As gentle fingers probe along my skin
To coax the rotting problem on its way
I cannot stand outside and reach within.
A tiny discontented grain of thought
As light as finches dancing on a bough
Is traipsing through where it should not
And leaving little cracks along the brow.
Now blood does not move merry in the vein
Pulsing angrily beneath the eyes
My fingertips work circles, but in vain
Then defeated reach out for supplies.
When headaches think they’ve just secured the win
That the is the time to take the aspirin.
I can hear the busker approach across the sand
I’ve heard his tinkering from up the hill
And prayed he was luncheon entertainment only.
Sadly, he parks next to our umbrella
And starts to sing Bienvenue, bienvenue
Bienvenue a Guinee
I want to be lulled to rest by the crashing incoming tide
Not by an improvisational musician Bienvenue a Guinee
Bienvenue a la plage
It’s not an unpleasant sound, the guitar
Metal picks suspended over a gourd-like belly Bienvenue a la plage
La plage est jolie-eh-eh
But it’s tin whistle plinking
Plink, plunk, plink, plunk Bienvenue Monsier
I sit up abruptly and shove money at him
It disappears instantly and slyly into that big-bellied instrument Merci, merci Madame
The empty space inside my head
Is vast, but ever shrinking
I find I bring my focus back
With patient, conscious thinking
Or else I stare at something bland
And let my hands meander
Perhaps they’ll write a shiny phrase
And my brain will take a gander.
I haven’t looked down at the keys
Which I know sounds most outlandish
Would you be kind enough to look
In case there’s something I accomplished?
4.11 Love and Bouldering
If I’m a bucket
You’re a crimp
We make an interesting climb
I’ll take your arms
You’ll need my fingers
We’ll make it up just fine
I’ll hold your feet
You take my toes
While we’re both in our prime
And when we’re up
We’ll trace back down
Let’s chalk it up to time
“Today is a different look for you.”
I anticipate the compliment.
It’s the most flamboyant blue I own.
The bravest thing I can wear
In this world of black slacks and neutral forms
Is a skirt the color of lapis
Printed with symmetrical golden crescents.
When I bought the bolt I was warned it would be risky.
It’s a difficult print to work with.
The little tailor mimicked the a-line photo,
Then added big pockets on the sides.
It’s out of my comfort zone.
“Normally I can pick you out, but today
you look like everyone else.”
I mentally stutter before responding.
I look like everyone else…
I’m dressed like a color block in a children’s picture book!
Then I remember where I am.
It takes Africa to make cerulean mundane.
My American muted purples are luxurious here,
Here, women wear rainbows.
To stand out is to blend in.
“But it’s nice that you’re trying something new.”
4.9 Keeps Dancing
I hope that little boy keeps dancing.
I hope the music does not leave his arms,
Even after they’ve grown long and wiry with hard work.
I hope that no one scolds him for dancing,
Tells him that men don’t spin.
I hope that little boy looks up again and again
And starts to beat his feet against the ground,
Throw his head down and his chest up in jubilation
Just for a moment now and then
Just enough to find pleasure.
I hope that little boy grows to be a man
Who dances in the streets every now and then.
Atop the granite stone I sit down hard.
The climb up has been long.
Hassan, our guide, smiles and squats down gently near me
“Are you tired?” He asks from his ledge.
I nod with as much honesty as I can muster.
He cups his hands and claps them in front of his face
Pushing the air out through his four strong teeth.
I stare at him, dumbfounded.
He looks at me, confused.
Don’t I understand?
“It’s to give you power!”
He goes back to clapping his hands at me,
his air echoing through the canyon around us.
And I desperately search for whatever power
I’m meant to absorb.
Finally, out of guilt towards a grandfather figure-
“It worked!” I announce, standing.
I cannot disappoint Hassan.
Indulgence is a kind of power.