On Today Today

Dear Lily June,

I owe you updates on the bad things, like how deeply I’ve sunk into a staggering depression, how hard I’m fighting it so that you can see that that kind of fight is winnable. But this summer, I mostly came home like a zombie in a coma glazed over and slept on the good days, and on the bad, I couldn’t stop weeping and reached out to hotlines on my drive home from work just to “sober me up” (so to speak) so I could put a smile on when I got home to see you.

I owe you updates on the good things, like how we’ve bought and moved into a house and were given a puppy and we are all learning to navigate what that means to our family to have the room to make our new kinds of messes in.

I owe you updates on how amazing you’ve grown to be, already at two years old, able to ride a tricycle and declare with more self-confidence that I’ve ever held in my pinkie finger, “I know I’m pretty.” Recently, you told me, “Mommy, I don’t have to love you back, but I do” expressing not only a mastery of language at two that is staggering, but also an impressive understanding of love as a philosophical choice.

Then, to ease my anxieties that you might choose NOT to love me, was another conversation we’d had. I’d hurt my shoulder and couldn’t pick you up, so I told you, “Oh, LJ. I’m broken. You’ll have to get a new mommy,” to which you replied, “Mom, it’s just your shoulder. I don’t want to kiss a new mommy.”

But oh, my dear, in these American times, in my despair, I don’t even have the words to focus on the sweetness in the ways it deserves to be dwelt on. The first thing I’ve written in months has been a long and laborious poem, that I share with you below on the off chance that you ever want to know what it was like living in the era of the Charlottesville rally and similar others. Forgive me for such a pale offering to such an important time in history.

I tell you this, my darling dear, I’m embarrassed by what I’ve written. By what I’ve believed. By who I’ve been. But I can also tell you this: Every day you’re alive is a new opportunity to do something different and be someone different. May you make better choices than your mother (the very same prayer the poem ends in.)

In the meantime, I’ve set up yet another appointment on Monday with yet another doctor to fix yet more problems with my mental health. I hope someday you’ll be able to tell me, “Mom. It’s just your broken brain. I don’t want to kiss a new mommy.”




I, too, dislike it.

I, too, have continued to talk

when I should have known

better than to interrupt the dead

and their envious eloquence.

I, too, have kept talking when I

should have known better than to

interrupt the living who’ve lived through

what I can only speak to. I, too,

have remained silent, failing to call

out all the pots in my life who

have claimed their lives matter

as much as the kettles’ and I, too,

have explained the implied “matter,

too” as if language were a great equalizer

even while ignoring the irony that

writing “I, too” will inherently apply

to some and not others. I, too,

have written the words “people of other

races” hearing, but refusing to listen to,

how disparity screams beneath constructions

that default people who look, on the surface,

like me. I have lingered on surfaces,

too, being afraid of skin color artificial

as the color of a hoodie, even

while knowing, in my bones, how ugly

that makes me. I have believed the lies

the news has fed me, even while I

now mentally defend journalism

from claims that it’s all sensationalism

and fake, too, believing there’s no such

thing as alternative capital-T Truth. I,

too, have feared that the Show and the

Stormer both represent America’s

poles with no need for polls, Daily.

Between them both, I am afraid,

via Godwin’s law, that any unpleasant

discussion, gone on too long, will bring up

a false equivalency with Hitler, and that those

tendencies strip agency and meaning

from real Holocaust survivors. But I,

too, like Anne Frank, want to believe “in

spite of everything…that people are really

good at heart,” even though I am no

Frank, nor will ever be, and am cynical enough

to think that if we tweeted her diary today,

piece by piece, she’d get likes, but not

retweets. I, too, have forgotten

what social media is—a mirror you shine

a flashlight into only to see a million

mirrors shine behind you, one you cannot

ask to show the fairest of all because

there is no fair there; there is only

symbol masquerading as reality. I, too,

have believed a gray safety pin to be

the opposite of a white hood, and I, too,

have learned the depths of how wrong

I can be. I, too, have scanned the walking

dead at Walmart, considering things

I’m afraid of, including but not limited to

how safe his or her dreads, how

dangerous their shaved heads, and I have

forgotten how shallow it sounds

to forget that below the scalps of both lie

bones fragile as a human being’s, and

under that bone, brain matter, too,

no matter who it’s thinking about or, as the case

may be, not thinking, too. I, too,

have used expressions like “many sides”

wanting to believe neither was the side

I wanted to sink a nail bat into, and

I, too, have feared the depths

of my own, at best, pacifism, at worst,

complacency, that coat of white

paint thrown over the house the white

president lives in now, whose followers hope

to keep white in perpetuity. I, too, am

the white moderate Reverend King said

was a bigger stumbling block to equality

than the klan member, but I am also,

the one whose ears were raised to hear echo

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” I, too, am

the one who was raised in a violent family, the

sensitive cynic, the one who wants

to believe that people should be better

to one another, even while not believing

people are capable of being better than

people can be. I, too, have confused people

with animals, savages, and I, too, have

heard, but refused to listen to, the irony

in dehumanizing dehumanizers. I,

too, have believed intolerance intolerable

while not knowing what that practically means

or how to police it. I, too, fear both the literal

police and symbolic policing. I, too, have

been taught both who to love and to hate,

and to rubberneck everyone who falls

in the shade of gray between, and I too

often speak in generality. I speak

specifically for Johnny Gammage,

killed in my home town in Pittsburgh

when I was only eleven, old enough to

pay attention, learn about how traffic stops

for black men in Jaguars are inherently

unequal. Some of those cops, from Whitehall,

where African Americans make up less

than 1% of the population, pulled

Gammage over for “driving erratically,”

defined as applying a brake too often

down a dangerous grade, and they must have been

so scared of his darkness they beat him

with flashlights, eventually sitting down

on him, asphyxiating him. His last words—

“I’m only 31,” reminding me I’m two years

older than he was now, or will ever be—

are what I should have told my students

over and over instead of sitting down

in shock on my desk and crying when they

asked me while they should still bother to read

The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of

Emmett Till” because the world doesn’t

work that way anymore, they told me,

a lie I earnestly convinced myself

they believed. I should have said Gammage

is dead, and I am still alive even though, once,

when learning to drive, I blew through a red

with a cop car in the lane right across

from me. I threw up my hands, an idiotic

sixteen, mouthing at the cop, “I’m

so sorry, so sorry” while all he did was wave,

thinking I was being friendly. I tell that

story now, but I, too, like Kevin Carter have

taken too much precious time to set up

the flawed photographic film of memory

to capture a starving Sudanese girl

and the vulture about to prey upon her

and have not stepped in to help anyone

physically because as a poet, I often confuse

documenting with difference making and

hide behind the banner weeping,

“Speak truth to power” in black

letters on a background whiter

than I let myself consider. I, too,

sometimes want to believe William Carlos

Williams when he says “men die miserably

every day for lack” of the news found in

poetry, but maybe that’s bread and circuses,

too. I, too, sometimes want to believe my white,

male father who thinks my poems aren’t

accessible enough, but spouts Hegel to me

and says, “History is cyclical” and thus,

this time will resolve with or without me,

and I’m of less consequence than a white star

in a black firmament larger than I

can consider. I, too, sometimes

want to believe my white, cisgendered

heterosexual mother who says “Things

are better than they used to be” even while

knowing that there is a difference between

things not being talked about and things not

being. I, too, though, have had survivor’s guilt

for how good my life inadvertently is because

of who my father and mother just happened,

by birth, to be, and I, too, have also

wanted to chisel the commandment

reading “Honor thy father and mother”

to dust that I feed to them over Thanksgiving

dinner, and while we’re there, I, too, have

wanted to take a knee, shred a flag, set my own

flesh on fire like a Vietnamese monk

from 1963 and have these symbols matter,

but free speech would cost more than I can

afford to get my message into the hands

of the people that matter, and I don’t believe

the ears of the people that matter will ever

listen to me. And I, too, have had trouble

believing in anything, and have had to be

reminded by my partner to only indulge

in a spoonful of despair at a time to avoid

drowning by the bucket. And so, I have,

a notorious agnostic, prayed, too, to unite

the right with the left. I, too, have prayed

to unite the right with what’s right. I, too, have

prayed to untie the noose of history, and to

pull the present’s peace officers’ fingers

from their triggers. I, too, have prayed

for our President, that his hard heart

might soften, that he might tear down

the wall inside of it, that his ego, as fragile

as Russian Fabrege, might finally allow him

to see himself as the bully. I have

prayed, too, for the neo-Nazis, so scared

of anything on the other side of their

swastika-shaped window panes, they can’t

even bear to watch the colors of a new sun

rise. I, too, have prayed that this sun melts

the icicles forming in every American heart

with enough water left over to douse

every still-burning cross in any lawn.

I have prayed, too, that each noose unravels

into a cocoon, transforming its corpses

into the beauty that inherits the entire garden;

I admit it. I have prayed unfairly, may one

nation, under God, forgive me for praying

for the torch bearers and their brutally

cruel and damaged psyches, alongside

praying for every mother who has lost

her baby. I, too, have a baby I could lose

in a world where pulling a trigger is as easy

as pressing down on a gas pedal, and I pray

for her that she’ll understand more than me,

that she won’t be so naïve or confused

or conflicted or stupid and she, too,

will know when to hold her voice, her

privilege, still as an outdated monument, and

let it topple silently to the unscorched earth.


Photo Credits:

17 thoughts on “On Today Today

  1. Lonna Hill says:

    I am so glad to see your post in my feed again. You’ve been missed! I know you say you’re embarrassed with your poem, but it’s lovely. And because it comes from you, I knew it would be. Welcome back ❤️🌹

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Elle says:

    I’m so glad you’re back—I was worried, but didn’t want to pry. Thank you for your poem. Charlottesville is my hometown, and poetry has been proving a good way of dealing with the many feelings of shame, horror and displacement that the rally evoked.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Shameful Narcissist says:

    I’ve been worried about and thinking about you. It’s good to see a post, but sorrowful to see where you’ve been. I’ve been lucky in terms of my mental health insofar as I have medicine that takes the edge off and have been able to avoid my worst triggers. I’ve had to avoid social media and/or scroll past, but I hate how I can only feel apathetic or powerless. It feels like nothing I could do matters, but I don’t want to choose to do nothing. It feels like a situation you can’t win.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jesska says:

    *hugs * I am so glad you’re back 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 I’ve missed you. Also glad to hear you got your house and are still writing poetry 🙂 Dearlilyjune is an amazingly eloquent 2yr old (I was apparently still pointing and grunting at 2) although, given her parents it’s hardly surprising 😉 You’re giving her a fantastic start 🙂 I am also amazed and impressed and awed at how you keep on keeping on. I wish you always have as much strength as it takes to survive (plus a bit more, to stockpile your way to thriving). I missed DLJ’s birthday, so here are some candles:🕯🕯🕯(in Germany you get one per year, plus one extra, just because you’re alive – I grew up in England where it was strictly one per year, but I think the extra candle is a nice idea.) Alternatively, you could all have one each 😉 *more hugs *

    Liked by 1 person

  5. shelie27 says:

    Hi, A. I had an inkling Charllottesville would bring you out wordwork. I don’t know much, A. I think I’ve told you this a time or two? I do know, a wise young woman told me once “We Have to Keep Living and Loving and it breaks my heart and it mends it too”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Allie P. says:

    I hate that hate prompted your return. I hate that demons still prey on your mind. I hate that you still feel the need to prove yourself to your daughter though she loves you as you are. I hate. And yet, through all that hate there is love too. I loved hearing from you. I love that your living situation has improved. I love the truth embedded in your daughter’s innocent commentary. I continue to love your words. Don’t give up.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. maggy says:

    I knew I haven’t seen you for a while, so I decided to hop on over and let you know that I am thinking of you and hope you are doing better ❤

    Just wanted to make sure you knew that I really appreciate these wonderful stories and life lessons that you've recorded from your daughter which I've also learnt so much from and shown my friends saying *how did she phrase that so beautifully and perfectly??*

    I look forwards to when you come back, if you don't for a long time or maybe not even ever, that's totally fine too, sending you love 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hannah Garner says:

    I don’t know what else to say but that your presence here on WordPress has been deeply missed. No, trust me, girl. I’m telling you- like every two weeks or so I’d type your url in on my laptop hoping to see that new thoughtful post of yours. And trust me. Your prayers matter. Your words matter. YOU matter. You can betcha that Hannah is sending you a big hug your way. These times are troubling, but there is still so much good in the world.. Let’s take this one day at a time.

    Liked by 2 people

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