Surprise

My hometown was already a wreck by the

time I arrived. Nimishillen Creek ran

 

motor oil and sewer slops behind the

high school, and downtown disappeared in

 

smoke the day fathers lit their coal furnaces.

Deer and bluebirds were as rare as the

 

people who worried about the deer and

the bluebirds, and we hurled beer cans

 

onto the roadside like our heroes threw

hand grenades. We rode our motorbikes

 

up and down the slag heaps left us by

the strip miners who took their money

 

and moved as far away as they could afford

from the ruin that funded their move, and

 

there was joy everywhere in the conviction

that America went on forever and nothing

 

we could do would ever fill it up.

 

Surprise.

oh to be

oh to be breathing

in a strange

land of strangulation

shown from different

angles where extreme degrees

of difficulty make it harder

to draw anything other

than a gun

 

oh to be one

with the lung of the universe

expanding . . . inhaling the charred

steak of dead stars, kicking up red

dust on Mars in the pale faces

of fear and dread

 

oh to be an engineer

that makes diagrams of diaphragms

to invent new ventilators

for post-reconstruction purposes

available for delivery

at premature

funeral services

 

oh to be mother

nature’s summer lover so every

time she takes my breath away,

i know it won’t

be forever

 

oh to be like the trees

that synthesize the light of day

leaving without leaving

 

oh to be alive

again

 

oh

to

      be

 

oh to

            oh to

oh to

                                                      oh to

oh to

                        oh to

oh to

                                                                        oh to

Move, Mountain, Move

To those who can’t stand

the rain:

 

let it flow

and move mountains.

 

cry me a spout

for watered mustard seeds

to sprout from well-tended

gardens of grief,

eroding rocks, making hard

places bend to the will

of irrigated tear ducts.

 

cry me a mountain range

so i can measure variations

in river steepness and rainfall

and calculate the pain

carved in your rugged terrain.

 

do not blame yourself.

fault the tectonics that try

to shame your way of weathering

and take credit for relief.

 

there is no relief without release,

says science.

 

so cry me a new topography

with contours that naturally defy

convention and gravity in the same weep.

 

let it flow

let it flow

let it flow

 

from mountains high to valleys low

let us make a new earth.

Resilience

They called us resilient.

 

They think it only means strong.

They say the Filipino Spirit is all positivity,

is smiling when the storm hits,

is finding the light in the darkness,

no matter what.

They don’t know that daybreak finds us

shadowed and shaking,

breaking and almost broken,

caked in dirt and the debris of someone else’s

irresponsibility.

Because when the storm hits,

it brings us to our knees.

Witness, then,

the concavity of a body,

wide open and aching,

gasping in the sunlight,

spilt on the earth.

 

We are god’s poison-tasters,

bitten off by the teeth,

bitten off at the skin.

Purpled by the dawn, we are

shivering for want and waiting

for something that feels like justice.

We take refuge in the rock piles,

drunk on earthquakes and

fermented in cheap grace,

tooth by tooth,

flesh by pound of tender flesh;

we would give anything

not to disassemble in the echo

of a careless politician’s footsteps.

 

Find us howling

where mangrove meets with salted water,

nursing from the sea,

hands clasped in prayer,

throat aching for prayer to be enough,

eyes anguished with supplication.

We are human splinters,

scattered by the flood,

by the fire,

by the shaking of the earth,

by the blood on the pavement,

in the cracks of the land,

on the stones of the mountain,

caked underneath the fingernails

of all the strongmen who so desperately want

to be strong men.

They know nothing of the Filipino Spirit.

They only know what their greed whispers to their dirty hearts.

They cannot see us coming undone.

They choose not to see us coming undone.

 

And yet here we are,

eroded with every new tempest,

bleeding our runoff into an ocean of time,

knuckles splitting on the door of

an indifferent god,

our mezzanines shattered,

our columns felled,

our temples all defeated.

We are children to this anger,

this hateful neglect of a people,

this ageless war for the soul of a nation

that has not learned yet how to love itself

without devouring its own.

 

And so here we are,

leveled in the beat of the earth,

still holding on to everything,

still trying to call this ragged country home.

In this flowerfield of wreckage,

find us crying into empty cups,

mouths waiting

for a hot meal,

for a garden song,

for a kind word to say about the state of our nation,

or else for a war cry.

For a call to arms.

The Filipino Spirit demands

that we be strong,

not only in defeat or in darkness,

but in the disobedient thundering of our hearts

in a clamor for our due.

 

Remember this:

we grew from seeds.

We hid in the cracks of the land and

let the storms make us brave, not broken.

We let the lightning carve our grief into good intentions

and we refused to call them scars.

We are the better tomorrow,

the lesson learned,

we are the light in the darkness,

the way home, resplendent

even in our disrepair.

 

This is us. This is resilience.

This is the Filipino Spirit,

unyielding and unbroken.

What We Have At the End of the World

In a way, hope is a failure of imagination. In a way, it is a flourishing.

It is a failure because I cannot imagine the end. The world goes on, and on and on, even when we wish it would stop.

I know how bad it is. The emission levels, the microplastics, the pipelines, the species gone, the rogue genes introduced, the coral dying, the water rising. The infrastructure still damaged in Puerto Rico when I visit my great-uncle, the droughts and floods within the same week that destroy the soil of my mother’s farm in Illinois, a tornado in a Minnesotan December as I leave another message on my senator’s voicemail. I know.

But the end? That I cannot comprehend. There is a well of despair so deep I could fall forever, there is a grief so all-consuming it warps the edges of dimensions, melts reality like plastic trash on a campfire. Who could wrap their mind around that loss?

I am only human. I can only hold one emotion for so long.

In a way, hope is a flourishing of imagination. Because when we reject the surrender of the end, we must imagine going on in new ways. And there is no limit to the paths the authors have chosen in answering this submission call for complexity, complicity, and hope.

Always hope.

We become trees, exhaling oxygen and digging our roots into eroding shores; we become islands, and rise up. We endow the soil itself with artificial intelligence and willingly place our fate in its hands. We speak with fungi, and we speak with our family, and all of the conversations are hard and necessary. We grapple with a monstrous, enduring capitalism, and reach out for each other as it tries to trap us within ourselves. Even when we are no longer on the planet, there are echoes of us and our actions in the relationships of the lives, natural and mechanical, we leave behind. We become ghosts but it never stops mattering that we were here, that we did what we could.

We go on and on and on. Together.

It is not utopia. But it is what we can have, these careful negotiations, communications, challenges, and sharing. We have relationships. New, complicated, frustrating, rewarding. Alive.

Relationships are what we have at the end of the world. The world is ending right now.

Hello. Nice to meet you. Please sit down. Are you warm? I have made my mother’s herbal tea. I have made soup from a local butcher and a CSA. I have made cookies from lard and wheat flour and sugar whose history is drenched in blood; they sparkle in the light. Please eat. It’s cold outside, for now. Tell me what you imagine.

The world is also beginning.

On Making Peace With Time When Time Has Lost All Meaning

I have resisted writing a Pandemic [insert “poem/story/essay/play/song”] just as I have resisted writing a BLM [____], or a #MeToo [____]. Those borders, those things that can be designated and specificated have given me pause as far as I can remember.

In part it comes from perpetual rage: I want to write about all the worldwide historical injustices faced by Black women, about all the times powerful structures have failed marginalized people during globalized socioeconomic collapses. I want to write about all the moments when being alive on this planet felt like boarding an unsound ship.

When one lives in a tottering world, within a body and an identity frequently threatened, between multiple cultures that blurry the notion of belonging, and in an age that often disappoints in mundane, comical ways, the refusal to moor oneself to a place, any place, can be (ironically) grounding. Liberating, at the very least; because when everything feels terrible, as it too frequently does, it comes heavy. Immobilizing.

 

I have resisted, because surely, I tell myself, we are more than the random era into which we have been tossed together. The stories we tell are universal (the cyclical nature of History being some proof of this), similar accounts and heartaches reverberating simultaneously in every curious pocket of the world. How else to explain how the same folktale can pop up across unrelated cultures? How a same chord progression can transcend centuries and completely different instruments?

I imagine there’s vanity in there too: if I don’t point out when this particular story emerged in me, then perhaps in a thousand years, someone can consider it as a free and formless thing. Perhaps this story can live forever.

 

When pondering the Poetry and Nonfiction call for submissions for Reckoning 6, then, I deferred to that old determination: do not say pandemic-inspired, do not say 2020 racial injustice protests, or climate change school strike. Nothing, in short, that would contract the scope to this here Moment. If we received those pieces, all the better, because of course I wanted them: but mostly, I hoped for those everyday experiences that transcended the greedy enclosures of Time. The seething meditations, the exhaustion exhalations, those rooted anguishes that come barreling down each person’s generational road.

 

These Major Historical Events: they seemingly confine suffering + its company (faith, grief, clarity, disillusionment) to the dates that anchor them, as if that is where they generally start. Reflexively, the eye starts to look forward, for that other part, the end date, that indicates where it generally tapers off. It becomes a shorthand. There is an immediate accounting neither for those subtleties, nor for the enormity of every moment when something similarly calamitous—albeit quieter—has occurred.

These Major Historical Events: too often seen as catalysts, relegated to cause and effect, too seldom seen as uncoverers of what has always been there. We talk of colonization and the Civil Rights Movement and environmental racism as if the date of their coining effectively gave them more concrete life; as if everything that came before, the collection of separate events creating the momentum, were only leading up to that eruptive movement. As if everything after were merely the comedown from that Really Big Thing. If anything, it is convenient for those who are unwilling to recognize the constancy of injustice.

Even as a child, ever the cynic, I side-eyed the promises from the powers that be, instigated by the summit or protest of the day, knowing that even without them, the unglamorous and steady fight would go on. Knowing that when the moment passed, so too would the cacophonous and shallow empathy.

Maybe unfair, but I said I was a cynic.

 

It’s why I’ve done away with tangible places and dates in my stories, chasing instead the tantalizing flavors of uchronias, analogies, multiverses.

 

It’s why I’ve given in to the jolt of recognition when yet another person in the last two years declared “time has lost all meaning!”—my people! join the club!

 

It’s why I have worshipped any device that thumbed its nose at temporality, be it ghost stories and reincarnation and fortune telling, or a certain wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey flying police box.

 

But as most childhood cynicism goes, surprise, surprise: it buckles at first encounter with something so utterly unlike itself. My, how the poems and essays in this issue have proven me wrong. They are blazingly loud and searingly quiet and yes, funny, even. They are a sight to behold.

 

In a way, this call for submissions did more than I could have hoped for: namely it gave us devastating works of art that, borderless, might as well be speaking to a broad, almost abstract humanity.

But, it was also profoundly, unexpectedly humbling to challenge the notion that freezing a moment might reduce the scope of its significance: I sometimes forget how much it can intensify and honor it. We asked for environmental justice at the intersection of social justice—and indeed, every historical event existing under that umbrella is established, constant, neverending.

And yet, each poem, each essay, each story we got tells of what it meant, at that time, to that specific author. Every word, every line entrenched in the minutes, months, and eons that marked those who wrote them; in the specificity of a prancing second, in the gaping parentheses of a noteworthy couple of years. They make profound etches on the authors’ respective soft surfaces: I was There and Then. Whether about fleeting long-ago liminalities, emotions pinioned by constant rumination, or yes, even pandemic-inspired thoughts, they radiate Time.

 

Profoundly, unexpectedly humbling: to be reminded that it is not only futile, but also inadvisable to the integrity of a story, to try to disregard the weight of the moment that made it.

Just as too many people I love remember every setback—financial, emotional, personal—felt in the last couple of years; just as I remember every instance when my mother was told to go back to her country; just as the Lac Rose in Dakar remembers every foot that tickled its shores; so does this planet we’re on, surely, remember every time it was sorely wounded.

 

Cruel Time. Strange Time. Funny Time.

To any and all who need an overdue reconciliation with this baffling notion, I hope that this beautiful collection gives you a helping hand.

 

I still eye Time with suspicion, still dodge specifying questions; but making peace with it doesn’t seem so uncanny lately.

I imagine it’s like a brief closing of the hand around something small and floating, framing it just long enough that we are able to look, really look at it. And then, if we can, we let it go.