A Promised Land: Book Review

“The power to inspire is rare,” Ted Kennedy advised Barack Obama as he sought advice about running for president (69). Obama seized that power, inspiring legions of young (and not so young) supporters to carry him into the White House. That inspiration surfaces in many parts of this first volume of his presidential memoirs, as Obama holds fast to a belief in American ideals, despite a clear-eyed understanding of just how far American reality is from those ideals. 

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Garden Time

Digging out stubborn chives, 

moving cement blocks to make walls,  

piling in dirt for a tomato bed.

Stretching chicken wire around short posts,

fencing rabbits out of my soon-to-be lettuce patch.

Planting nasturtium seeds in plastic strawberry boxes,

watering lilies that came up and lettuce that didn’t

(not yet, maybe tomorrow).

Unwrapping winter fences around 

lilac, bridal wreath, mock orange, 

nine bark shrub, hydrangea.

Clearing last year’s leaves and litter,

revealing bloodroot, wild ginger, sedum,


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Calling the Police on the Police

In an emergency, dial 911.
Call the police to report a crime.

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Spring, Elusive and Inevitable

"They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds."

Spring sunshine, warmer days, first flowers tempt me 

to believe
that winter is over, 
that garden-time has arrived

to hope
that we have turned a corner
that milder days are coming

to believe 
that vaccines will conquer COVID
that the economy will recover

to hope
that sanity and science will prevail
that reason will win over racism.

Inevitably, frost returns and Republicans, too,
crying crisis, 
surge, caravan, onslaught, 
tidal wave, flood, inundation, 
march, invasion, army,
danger, danger, danger as

parents seeking safety send
six-year-olds, sixteen-year-olds
into the river, 
a Sophie’s choice claiming hope. 

In Washington, cherry blossom spring blooms like 
a female black Asian American daughter of immigrants 
vice president standing alongside 
an old white male president 
and the pastor of Dr. King’s church, now Senator from Georgia 
and a descendant of Jewish refugees, now Senator from Georgia.

Inevitably, Republicans vow that will never happen again, changing
Georgia voting laws because
the only way to win is to keep people from voting and
by God, we will do that. 

Intersectionality looks like an AR-15 dealing death 
to Asian women at the intersection of race and gender in Atlanta. 

Across the country, 10 more random dead in Boulder join 
the annual parade of homicide and suicide that stretches 
forty thousand long

(how many blocks is that? how many marching bands? 
how many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers? 
how many tears?)

while a Senator who lives at the intersection of arrogance and ignorance
rants that every time this happens, you people
you people talk about gun control again.

Just like every other time, he and his kind make sure
that talk remains only talk
that there will be a next time 
and a time after that. 

Despite spring storms, tornadoes,
floods and filibusters,
sun returns, green grows,
hope endures and so do we. 

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The Physics of Spring

I’d like to know the why of spring:
why some puddles freeze on sidewalks overnight
even though the temperature never falls below freezing,
why snow here melts gurgles down gutters and
there gathers over grass in piles of ice.

I’d like to know when frost rises and 
how deep it goes and 
whether it comes out with a rush or 
slowly, inch by inch.

I prefer to ponder spring and to ignore
the why of my aging bones
or worse: the why of us, the corporate us,
retaliating bomb for bomb lobbed at our soldiers, but
daring only diplomatic displeasure at
the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. 

On this sun-warmed day,
I watch for cautious green arrows 
sent by flowers into another 
uncertain March, and try to believe 
in the ultimate efficacy of effort 
against the bitter winter of our failures. 

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In Memoriam and in Thanks: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1919-1921 (Photo by Elsa Dorfman, 1965,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 )

Another light went out today
howl for his passing and our loss
let not the dying of this light
kill light or grace or passion
carry on
poetry as politics 
insurgency as art

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Our Time Is Now: Book Note

Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America

Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America by Stacey Abrams

Through the lens of her campaign for governor and the voter organizing prior to and subsequent to that contest, Stacey Abrams looks at democracy in the United States, finding it both wanting and worth fighting for. That democracy is flawed by design and from the beginning is evident to any who read history, as she neatly summarizes:

“Though the Founding Fathers gave a nod to universal equality in the Declaration of Independence, they abandoned the aspiration by the time they penned the country’s organizing documents. Let me be clear here: the codification of racism and disenfranchisement is a feature of our lawmaking—not an oversight. And the original sin of the U.S. Constitution began by identifying blacks in America as three-fifths human: counting black bodies as property and their souls as nonexistent.”

Voting rights are fundamental to democracy, and the denial of voting rights has continued from the founding documents to the present day. Vivid stories of her own parents’ experience in asserting those rights and of today’s denial of voting rights, especially (though not exclusively) to Black voters show the urgency and immediacy of the continuing battle for voting rights. Without the vote, participation in democracy is impossible. That is both her thesis and the struggle to which she urges readers: “Our Time Is Now is my longer, more complicated answer to how we can frame and revise voting rights and the architecture of American democracy for the current age.”

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Begin Again: A Book Note

Begin Again focuses on James Baldwin, and I have not read enough of Baldwin, or recently enough, to appreciate it as well as I would wish. I read Baldwin (and Richard Wright) long ago, sitting in high school classes that bored me, reading because they did not. From Wright and Baldwin and Malcolm X and Piri Thomas, I learned of race and a world beyond my small, white home town. They opened doors to the world for me.

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Coup Attempt #1

Today I was going to write about farm subsidies going to big ag
and about speed-ups on poultry processing lines 
which correlate with higher rates of COVID infection
as well as less-serious traditional injuries 
like crippling pain from repetitive motion
and the occasional sliced-off finger.

Then insurrectionists marched into the Capitol
wearing MAGA hats, carrying Trump flags,
pushing aside police and barricades. 

I had bookmarked a story about rusty patched bumblebees
and another about monarch butterflies—endangered, but 
denied protection because there are too many endangered species
so there’s a waiting list for protection,
like the waiting list for asylum, which has no end date and 
does not care whether you live or die.  

Then my Twitter feed exploded with 
Senators being led away to safety
Representatives scrambling for 
gas masks and hiding places. 

Today, on Epiphany, I planned
to take down the Christmas tree. 

Instead I sat glued to Twitter and television
watching democracy crumble and wondering
where are the police where are the soldiers where are
all of those people who are supposed to defend the country. 

In fifty years of marches, I have seen armored officers, 
gas-masked and in riot gear,
carrying batons or guns or bayonets, 
spewing tear gas or pepper spray.

Today I saw 
police taking selfies with insurrectionists 
Neo-Nazis posing in Congressional offices
Confederate flags carried through the Capitol
looters carrying off podiums and papers
“Murder the media” scrawled on a wall
men yelling “Wait ’til we come back with rifles” 

The stock market closed higher,
Dow Jones up by 437 points.
The President said he loves his mob.
A journalist asked: 
was today an insurrection, revolt, riot, terrorism, a mob?

Whatever it was 
ended tonight
not with a bang but a whimper
of thirteen arrests.

They will be back. 

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Waiting for 2021.
Waiting for a vaccine.

Waiting for water to boil.
Waiting for bread to rise.

Waiting for Trump to leave.
Waiting for Biden to begin.

Waiting for a white Christmas.
Waiting for the snow to stop.

Waiting for the world to make sense. 
Waiting for people to care about facts.

Waiting for inspiration.
Waiting for a poem. 

Waiting for a rebirth of wonder.
Waiting for Godot. 

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