Monday, July 15, 2013

The acquittal

I came home late yesterday, 
surprised to see the day lilies 
curled back up for the night. 
I thought they’d been given their name 
because of their short lifespan, 
not because they wax and wane
with the moon. Inside, the news
was spewing opinion. About
the verdict, the dead young
man, the acquitted defendant.
I think back to that night.
The misty rain, the shadows.
How one man had a choice
to open his door or to keep it shut.
How everyone has the choice
to open the egress to malice
or keep it closed. Even day lilies
know we acquiesce to light
and secure ourselves against darkness.
Even they know there’s a time
to be still, and let the night move on.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

For you, without

You do not have to walk that way,  
there, with your head down, waiting.  
It doesn't matter if we barely know each other.
We've met before so many times. 
The road alone will cut your feet,
parch your face under the hot sun. 

Fold half into half, then half again.  
Simply make an outline of who you want to be. 
I will cut you into a string of others. 
Take either end or place yourself in the middle. 
Reach right, reach left. Someone 
always will meet your reaching with a hand. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Supreme Court Rules

DOMA overturned.  Though I would have rather been at home clanging a loud victory pot on my porch, Im in the service department at Liberty Ford in Maple Heights.  There are six people in the waiting room with me; most are engaged in other activities.  One man is sleeping, a woman in typing on her laptop.  A man, who just left, was checking his phone.  One reading the paper.  The man next to me was watching the tv too, but did not make any indication that he was for or against the two landmark decisions that were just handed down. 

I am flush with a near-weepy feeling, knowing what this means to my friends J and M who were married in New York last month.  I am near-weepy because I know what this means to other couples I know, most of who have been together "forever."  And, mostly, I am near-weepy because I feel a little more whole. 

I wish I could talk to these people around me about that, that feeling of being seen or perceived as less-than or not-quite.  They're all black, older, in their sixties or seventies.  I know they lived through the years of Jim Crow.  They saw the marches, the bombings, the hoses aimed liked guns on small children.  

Trust me, I am in no way equating being gay with being black.  Two different situations all together.  For one, I can hide and have hidden my difference, and there is no way for someone of color to do the same.  Those people around me today, I would imagine, have come face to face with more covert and overt discrimination than I ever will have to face. 

Maybe, this is no big deal to my fellow wait-ers, or, they may be in complete disagreement with the decisions. All I know is that no one flinched, just at a time when I wished I had someone to talk with.  Wished I had seen someone else in this room smile.  Nod.  See me smiling too.

After some action I took five years ago, in which I promised to not hide who I am or feed into the fear associated with that, I thought I was done.  The journey to acceptance was complete. But today, right now, I realize I was not done.  These rulings -- this stamp of legality - filled up something that was still not complete.  I realized that I was still on edge, expecting the Supreme Court to sway conservatively.  I was expecting to be rejected again.  I had already started to steel my argument, I had already cemented a crust to skin. 

Maybe it is appropriate that I was here, in the service waiting area, as the Supreme Court rulings came down.  This is what life is after all -- this is we've ever wanted.  Supermarkets, hospital rooms, co-signed mortgages and tax relief.  Taking the car in, sharing insurance.  Holding hands.  Paying the bills.  All of this without a fuss.  Perhaps it is a great sign that there was no reaction from the people in the room with me.  This coming of justice is so right and so obvious that it raises no rancor or grand celebration.  There are more important things to think about: lunch, broken wiper engines, crossword puzzles.  The arc of moral universe is long and it does bend toward justice.  We simply know that another right thing has been done on a slow path to equality, no big deal.

So to JF, making sack lunches for the twins she and her partner parent; and, J driving home tonight to the home she shares with M; and D who's more excited about this than her pimp deck on the trailer; to all of the straight allies posting messages and waving the flag of solidarity; to that couple I saw in Target yesterday, both in their seventies, gathering up toilet bowl cleaner and paper towels; those of you in a new but lasting love (you know who you are); to T who is pushing the boundaries defined in churches; to people who have loved gay people for their whole lives before it was in issue of equity and justice like C; to you who never thought this would come in your lifetime; and to those of you who may not be excited but have come to realize that love cannot be tamed and controlled by law...thank you and congratulations.  Part of our country was broken, and now service has been done.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


My father punctuates his speaking with "whatever" 
and "essentially" and "more or less."  I wonder
about this persistent half-conviction, until he tells me 
about a friend who's dating, just a few months 
after his wife's death.  I ask my father if he's considered that, 
trying, with my question, to give permission if he needs it. 
He says no quickly.  He's satisfied with what is, 
and he's satisfied with what was.  How I ache for that, 
how I wish could wear a loyal ring on a loyal finger, 
accepting love and loss, life’s twin gifts, with equal assent.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Still, the heartache

Two men carry in a new mattress, 
then wrap the old set with plastic, 
double layers.  First a fiery red, 
then clear.  If I could, I would ask 
that they take it to a landfill in 
Juneau.  Tokyo.  Far away. 
If money allowed, I would replace
everything you touched.  
The floors that creak with your feet, 
the silverware with your mouth.
You remember Nagasaki, 
the pictures you saw in seventh grade, 
shadows left after the vaporization.
Tonight, I hope you dream of me.  
That you make one thousand cranes
from paper so thin it feels like skin. 
That the origami sparks to life,
murmuration of wings, hot heat. 
They spin and swoop around you, 
and decide, finally, to fly away. 
I hope you wake with a gasp, 
a thousand flutters in your heart.
And you know it was me 
who sent you the dream, 
the paper, the birds, the folding, 
the creases, the leaving, 
the sound of wings, so close
and then, far away, so silent. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Today at church, Patrick Davis, of Scars and Bars, talked to us about how God is with us, even when we are in complete imprisoned darkness.  He spoke of a friend, when Patrick was in solitary, who would lay on the floor and speak to Patrick through the gap underneath the door.  He would flick candy to Patrick and assure him that he was not alone. Day after day, this man would come and respond to Patrick's silence with talk.  Whispering, as God is wont to do, through a crack. Yes, I cried.  I'm not afraid to admit it.   

Later, in the afternoon, I went to River's Edge to listen to Taklung Matul Rinpoche discuss the difficulties associated with leading a compassionate life.  If I were to tell you the truth, I did not understand the connections the Lama was trying to make in his talk; it was a bit too swirly for my taste. But I could have looked at Rinpoche all day long.  He had, like His Holiness has, a uniquely serene and joyous face.  

Or at least that's what I thought until I met the nun sitting outside River's Edge after the talk.  Her face was even more radiant, if that could be at all possible.  She was holding two bags of recently -gifted popcorn and I asked if I could take her picture.  She obliged and, afterwards I sat and we talked for about a half hour.  She's 88, and had been a teacher for well over 40 years.  Everything from K-12, with a stint at St. Joseph's Academy as a math and science teacher.  We talked about travel, about holy spaces, about various parishes in Cleveland.  Mostly, I just payed attention to the way Sister greeted every person who walked through the door.  "Hello, sweetheart. It's so good to see you."

I do not know what it is between me and God.  Why I keep writing and thinking about God, why I am pulled.  Years ago, it would have been easy to answer that question: because I was at war.  But now?  How does this quest serve me or serve God? Wouldn't it be better if I were like any of the three people I met today?  

Doing work, like Patrick is, speaking with inmates and those released from prison so that they are supported in their desire to live whole lives? Not his work, but my work?

Praying and meditating like Rinpoche?  Studying the sacred texts? Or simply being more gracious and loving with every exchange like Sister?  What, I wonder, is derived from this storytelling and meandering? 

I will let that question rest, and simply end by saying, it was an extraordinary Sunday.  Not only for the three people I met, but for the three faces of God I saw.  God, it seems, can show up as an ex-con.  God can show up as a monk from Nepal.  God can even show up as an 88 year-old woman, sitting in a wheelchair, excited about popcorn.  Someone who says, then winks, "I hope I didn't break your camera with my good looks." And ends by waving, "Bye now,  sweetheart, it's been so good being with you." 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rigor and relationship

I was waiting in line at the salad bar.  A young man was looking at a list and adding items one at a time.  Jumping forward to get some broccoli, the backwards to find some chick peas.  Clearly, he had never gotten salad from the salad bar before; he was doing his mother’s dirty work. 

The back of his shirt said J------, and I remembered – yes, vaguely – a former student with the same name, but because I had not seen his face full on, I had no idea if it were him. 

At last, after reading and crossing off each item he had gotten, he turned and looked up.  “Miss Reinhold?” I saw it, the ten-year-old J------ in his much older face.  “J------?”

I asked J----- how old he was, barely able to keep myself from staring at his eyelashes, the same ones that had impressed me years ago.  You know, the kind that actually curl up on the ends. 

He said he had just graduated and would be attending Ohio University, but planned to enter the Army after getting ROTC training.  “Every man in my family does it. They are usually in and out in four years, but I want to make a career of it.  Join the special forces.  Do ranger work.  You know.”

I did not know. 

How could I?  Even though what stood before me was a grown, sophisticated young man, J------ was still ten to me. And I did not want any of my ten-year-olds going off to war. 

Before we parted, J------ promised to come back to Fernway this fall to visit.  He asked me how the poetry play went.  He said he had heard people talking about it.  It was, he smiled, one of his favorite things at Fernway.

I spent all of last week attending training for OTES, a new teacher evaluation system that will go into place next year.  A teacher – through a fairly complex rating system based half on value-added data and half on a teacher observation rating – can attain one of four rankings: Ineffective, Developing, Proficient, and Accomplished.  

Trust me when I tell you, it will be hard, hard work for me to end up being Proficient.  Accomplished is out of the question.  Most days, if I tell you the truth, I am merely Developing based on this new scale.

And then, I spent Monday learning about the new Common Core curriculum to which we are accountable in 2013-14, as well. 

When I think back on my teachers, my favorite teachers – they did two things: made learning fun while being challenging and they recognized me as an individual.  Rigor and relationship. 

I understand the need to make teachers accountable for their students, I do.  And, to be honest, I'm worried.  I specialize in rapport and creativity and neither of those attributes seem to be leading this reformation.  I’m not worried that I will be found less-than or incapable.  I’m not worried about my job, as na├»ve as that is.  

I’m worried about two things.  First, the domination of head-centered learning (in a time when head/heart-centered learning is called for).  We all know that positive radical change happens when a motivating feeling is attached problem that needs to be solved. And I’m worried that we will not have old teachers laughing with college-bound kids at a salad bar.  There just will not be time or a call for connecting, person to person.  It's all about data now.  

We might not have him sharing a dream.  Her giving blessings.  His soft heart saying, “Poetry mattered to me because I got to say what I needed to say.”  That kind of stuff might not happen any more because that kind of stuff doesn't really matter.  There is no measurable data point to learning who you are, not what the nation needs you to know. 

Truth told, the state of Ohio can put any rating on me that they want.  I know what counts.  I know the value I’ve added.   And so, I hope, does J-------.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Let the summer teach me

Like the sky, be wide. Massive and always present.  Shift and move, calibrating your speed and spin to the circumstance.  You are allowed to shine.  You are allowed to float dreamily.  You are allowed to hover and drop a deluge. 

Like a cloud, realize that everything evaporates and transforms.  Shift, billow, fill, roil, darken. Or be pure white.  Refuse to become static.  Fix your gaze, not your being.  You can be amorphous and fluid.  Change.

Like the sun, know that part of you burns intensely.  Is always burning, sending out flares.  There is no night for the sun.  Stoke the fire, blow smoke.  Send up a signal.  Be warmth, be hot.  Stir and be stirred. Engage, create friction. Give your light away without hesitation or preference.  Do not apologize for the space you take up.  Let people be drawn to you, orbit you.  It’s okay to step into the center.

Like the grass, grow. Propagate, cultivate.  Mow when you need to, trim away the hairy parts.  Coiffed or tangles, present yourself in many ways.  Fertilize yourself; you know what you need to flourish.  Be flat, be ordinary, rest still. Go dormant if it gets too hot. Get weedy, bust out in clover.  Every aberration is acceptable.  What needs to happen in you will happen. 

Like the flowers, be expectant.  Know the sun will shine, the rain will fall, the soil will be nourished.  You are part of an amazing cycle that feeds itself. Relax. Gluttonously seek southern light. Flush the landscape with color. Be a subtle or saturated hue.  Seed yourself and, if that’s not possible, gather pollinators. Prune and pinch away.  Give yourself room to spread; know you will get bigger.  You are meant to expand, meant to be noticed. Bring pleasure to place.   Be cut and tied into a bouquet. Let yourself be the first gift of love.