Grief – a series

0. Death
My Choctaw grandpa died
one cold January morn,
surrounded by his son,
his family,
and his wife.

1. Isolation
In a nursing home,
She had left him,
had overcome her grief –
moved on –
Long before we did.

2. Anger
Less than a year,
she remarried at the VFW;
he reminded her of Grandpa,
she said.
We did not share her belief.

3. Bargaining
She married a Mexican;
He moved into her house,
cooked us tamales to earn our trust.
We relented,
but only for her sake.

4. Depression
It would not last;
The inheritance dwindled
She married a conman,
Dad said;
But no words got through.

5. Acceptance
She was convinced she needed him.
That we were just jealous,
So, we left her with him,
disowned her,
and never saw her again.

Let’s be super honest here. It’s obvious, I’m not a poet. This poem, a series, is part of the June poetry slam over at YeahWrite. The month is over, but still, I encourage any and all criticism. (Hint: I know it’s not good) (Discussion points: is it clear that we were racist? That we were in the wrong here? That it’s written from the perspective of an unreliable narrator?)

Basil’s Adventure

Basil fidgeted with the gold coin in his pocket as he quietly walked into the open door. It was dark inside, the way he liked it, but it was too cavernous. He was exposed, laid bare by its lack of papers and boxes to keep him secret, safe.

He turned his head, widening his eyes to take in the room. Outside, a car sprung to life, and it took all the courage he had in him to not squeak.

Basil kept reminding himself, that he only had to make it through this room. That’s what Justin had told him. The Grand Rat, his fierce visage burned in Basil’s mind, had targeted the mousy desk-clerk because of his stature. He was unassuming.

Back home, his wife and kids were waiting for the cheese and bread he’d gotten earlier, but instead of going home to them, he was here, traipsing through his office building, looking for one vent sitting beside a filing cabinet. Apparently, only he could fit into. Worst yet, The Rats had his family hostage as collateral.

Finally, he was there. Opening the vent meant using a screwdriver. Basil dropped his coin in his pocket and pulled out the Leatherman he had squirreled away in his cluttered desk.

He slipped it in the grooves. The lights turned on.

This time, Basil did squeak. And just like that, he couldn’t move. He was fear-frozen, lips trembling, eyes panic-scanning the room. 

His gaze fell on two pairs of brown suede shoes. They belonged to the boss.

“Basil, what are you still doing here?” 

Basil stammered. He couldn’t think, couldn’t move.

The boss lifted him to his feet. His cat-like whiskers moved with his mouth.

“Basil?”

Basil burst into tears. “The Rats. They have them. My Gus and Phoebe.”

“Stupid Rats,” the boss said with a shake of his head. “Gone too far this time. We’ll get them back for ya, Basil. You just wait here. Well, not here. But in the front office.”

Basil choked back some snotty remains and nodded, “Oh, oh, oh, -kay, Mr Patch.”

The boss led the way out of the room, closed the door, and locked it behind them. Basil settled into a tight corner with his coin in hand, and waited. 

 

 



Recovering racist

CW: Racism

It was March 2002. This morning’s topic of conversation: the 2002 Oscars. It had aired the night before, and I was excitedly talking about my favorite moments. I (a white-appearing part Native American) was sitting on my white male manager’s counter-desk with my heels hitting his overstuffed filing cabinets.

“I was so glad Halle won!” I said. I pumped out my chest as the head chef, a Texas-bred black man, walked by and nodded at us.

“Yeah, same,” my manager said. His smile half-seen as he focused on his computer screen. “And Denzel.”

I shook my head, “Nah, dude. He didn’t deserve it. It was only cuz-of that Affirmative Action bullshit that he won. Denzel should’ve won for The Hurricane in ‘99.”

My manager swung his chair around, stood up, passed me, and closed his door. On the other side, the chef walked past again, eyes narrowed.

“You can’t talk that way!” my manager said. He crossed his arms.

“Uh, what?” I asked, oblivious. I didn’t want to admit that I had mimed the words my father had said earlier.

“It makes you sound racist,” he said with a stern expression.

“I’m not a racist!” The knee-jerk reactionary words rang in the closed-in space. “My best friends in high school and college were black.”

He shook his head and walked back to his chair. He sat, posture rigid, practically imposing.

“That’s exactly what racists say.”

“But it’s true.” 

I jumped off his desk and landed with a soft thud on the ground. “I’m done here,” I swung open the door and crossed its threshold.

He called back to me, but I ignored him. I stalked into the ladies’ bathroom, cheeks burning. I’m not. I’ve never – Who does he think he is?

I didn’t know it then, but he had sown the seeds of doubt in me. 

I think back now to my high school and college friends, the ones I so boldly misused as mascots to my non-racism. I think about the trombone player with broad shoulders and a broader smile. I think about how instead of playing football as he would have been “suggested” to do, he spent his days practicing his instrument and playing Mario Kart with his white friends in his upper-middle-class home. I think about the half-black girl adopted by two white parents and how she never sounded “black”. 

Did they code-switch to match their environment? Probably. Did I know what code-switching was back in 2002? Absolutely not. 

I think about my college friend. His blackness was the butt of every joke he told since he was the minority in our circle of friends. “Horror movies have it all wrong. As a black man, lemme tell ya. There ain’t no way in hell he’s walkin’ into that house. He’s high-tailin’ it outta there.”

He’d laugh, we’d laugh, and I just wonder now if that wore away at his racial pride at all.

I didn’t do or generally say the things overt racists do, but that does not mean that it wasn’t there. From an early age, I learned from my parents to keep my feelings hidden. I’d hear Dad say things in the privacy of our home. It would be a natural occurrence for him to say the n-word or other slurs that should never be uttered. Raised in a strict and sheltered household, it was normal. This was how everyone acted. I was too close to it to see the truth.

It took one closed door and a frank word for me to realize I might be racist.

It would take longer yet to overcome the deep programming of my youth, and it would take distance from my family for me to see the source of my hate. It would take reading other people’s stories to understand how generational trauma occurs and affects people. And it would take documentarians to show me the truth about racial profiling and incarceration.

I can’t say I’m the best person to talk to about racism. I’m probably not the ally that people of color need right now. But I do know, sometimes all it takes is one nudge to change a person’s heart. 

So you can be damned sure I will speak up if I hear a racist comment. 

Island Escape

It would seem I am not okay.

Until yesterday I had assumed I was. But as another day settled and all I did was work and play Animal Crossing, I realized the truth. I’m escaping from this solitary existence into a game with ten imaginary friends.

For those not “in the know”, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest in a long-going series of games developed by Nintendo. The aim is, well, nothing specific. It’s a simulation game where you pretend to be a creature living on an island. It’s pure imagination-fueled. You are given an island, basically, and you have to catch fish and bugs and garden and spend copious amounts of currency (on bridges, furniture, inclines) until you can make your island less, you know, island-y. As you travel through the game, you get cute anthropomorphic residents (my favorites are a sheep, a zebra, and an anteater). None of them have jobs or do much of anything except sometimes sing or pretend to fish and catch bugs or ask you weird random questions or give you clothes for no reason. It’s cute, it’s relaxing, and best of all, it’s all yours.

I have logged over 250 hours into the game already (released 22 Mar). It’s been all-consuming. Over a 4 day weekend, I planned to write, do some weeding, read a bit, watch a couple of movies, and finish crocheting a scarf (because: cooler weather, yo!). I managed to do… none of those things. I was caught in a vortex.

I woke on Friday morning with the best idea. Make a secret hidden amusement park at the back of my island. Once I went down that rabbit hole, it turned to adding a bamboo forest and moving all the residents into their own little village, and the list goes on.

It seems I’m not alone in my not-okay-ness. The sheer volume of people talking about it on Twitter and Facebook and Reddit, and so on, is just mind-boggling. It was my therapy, but no more. I know it for what it is. It’s an addiction.

So now that I’ve said it, did I reach the first step? Am I cured? I both hope so and hope not. Because, I love my little island and it brings me such joy. (Pictures because why not?)

 

(Also, for those that do play and wanna be friends, my friend code is SW-3080-7022-4167)

The Distance

20191014_051439We moved to our neighbourhood mid-year 2019, five months before the first case of COVID-19 occurred. It was a quiet, residential area surrounded by bushland, hills, and walking parks. We introduced ourselves to the neighbours in our cul-de-sac when we moved in, but after that, we never engaged in conversation. Most of them were aging, though, and we made a habit to smile and wave when they are out tending their lawns or feeding birds. We learned early on, from our morning dog walks and afternoon strolls, where the dogs lived and whom owned cats allowed to roam free.

Less than a block from our front door, there’s the entrance to a one kilometre walking park where we let the dogs out on full-leash so they can sniff the grass and wee on the trees. Sometimes, they spot a kangaroo or wallaby before we do, leaving us puffed as we try to wrangle them to our sides.

But mostly, we learned that no matter the time of day we enjoyed a walk, we rarely came into contact with any other people. Evening walks at 4-5-6pm showed us that as people returned home from their jobs, they locked up and stayed indoors. The dynamics of middle-class life were the same: work-home-tv-sleep. Despite our differences, we were the same.

As we entered week four of social distancing, we challenged ourselves to 10,000 steps every day. It seemed unachievable. There was no walking from a car park, or train, into the office anymore. There were no incidental trips to the grocery store or to get coffee with the boss. Routines that we weren’t even aware we had were gone.

Late Monday, when the best I could muster was 7,000 steps from taking the dogs for a walk and pacing my living room during telecons, I suggested we go for a walk, like we used to. We left the house, expecting the same lack of people as before, forgetting that the world wasn’t the same since the last time we took an evening stroll.

As we entered the walking park, we noticed several couples and families on the paths. For the first time since moving into the area, we saw how culturally diverse our neighbourhood is. It seemed oddly heartwarming. But it didn’t stop there.

Every couple and group were observing proper social distancing. If there was an intersection, one couple would slow down while the other would speed up so they would not be in danger of coming into contact. Families chatted from across streets as one small group would cross the street rather than risk coming into physical contact. We followed a similar path, walking onto the grass when we noticed a dog and his owner coming our way.

As dusk sent the world in shades of pink and amber and orange, I realised we were all the same. Isolation has driven us from our homes but made us socially conscious for the first time. And that’s weirdly comforting.

It may not be the same everywhere, but here, in my little suburb, distancing has brought us a little closer together.