Cathy gave me a book several Christmases ago: Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Poetry As Insurgent Art. It's propped on the tray of my easel, which I keep in the bathroom for lack of any other space, and I read it from time to time. Yesterday seemed a good time to re-read it.
There was lots of hatred in DC yesterday, lots of anger, but none of it was in the black people with whom I spoke. They were friendly and loving as always, despite the fact that some of the streets were full of angry, angry white people who were pissed off about almost everything--the heat, the metro, the non-white people everywhere they looked. The place was a mini-tinder box--people howled if the metro doors slammed shut on them [well, they do...this is not the NYC subway...only the uninitiated try to prevent DC metro doors from closing]; they got on the wrong train and shoved other passengers aside roughly to get off.
I've said since arriving here from the MidWest almost 20 years ago, that the best thing about Washington is not the beautiful architecture or gardens or museums or rich cultural offerings, but the black people. Oh, sure...knuckleheads abound in all races, but the black people in DC have something special: they love each other, and many of them share deep roots with our nation's capitol. Their grandfathers grew up on K Street in small frame houses now replaced by granite buildings housing big law and PR firms, or their grandmothers grew up just southeast of Union Station where the slave pens used to be. They have a special sense of family that is simply awesome to me, coming from people who came through Ellis Island and think nothing of putting huge distances between themselves and other family members. My DC coworkers would come to work on Monday and laugh when describing their weekends: "I had 18 people sleeping in my apartment Friday and Saturday night. It was my cousin's birthday, and everyone came here for his party." One of my coworkers memorably bought herself a motor home and parked it in her driveway when her kids became teenagers; she moved into it and turned over the house to the children. "They are loud and happy and drive me nuts," she said, "and I need my peace." Her bumper sticker says "Too Blessed To Be Stressed."
DC is the only place I've lived where--especially in the "bad areas" warned against by the teabaggers this past weekend--young and old get up and give their seat on the bus to a pregnant woman or young mother struggling with a baby in arms or a crippled guy or a woman laden with grocery bags or just an old(er) person. These are sweet people, through and through. One of the best things about being able to hear again is to hear the people chatting and laughing on the bus home from work on Friday night. They all know each other in the "bad areas," (where I guess I live, too) and they love each other.
I'm afraid I don't love the Faux News stooges who headlined this past weekend's non-event at the Lincoln Memorial. That bothers me. I feel so angry with them that I entertain many ugly thoughts about them and what I hope will be their fate. I haven't found a good use for my anger yet. But I have discovered the smile. So I smiled this past weekend at my fellow passengers on the metro. Only the black ones smiled back. They especially appreciated my Michelle Obama t-shirt "Yes, We Can!!"
I think that's what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was trying to tell us: Love is stronger than even death.
Ferlinghetti has some great lines in his book on poetry, and they fit the present situation in DC and the USA in general:
I am signaling you through the flames.The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for
poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works
capable of answering the challenge
of apocalyptic times, even if this
means sounding apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you
are Mark Twain, you are Emily
Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent
Millay, you are Neruda and Maya-
kovsky and Pasolini, you are an
American or non-American, you can
conquer the conquerors with words.
. . .
If you call yourself a poet, don't just
sit there. Poetry is not a sedentary
occupation, not a "take your seat"
practice. Stand up and let them