Self as Suburban Ruin
                        I see some orangey red maples, aspen, hickory,
            sugar maple. Out on my ride. The last blazing
“burning bushes,” their scarlet individual leaves
                       dropping like vivid tears.
            Felicia is taking down the light
blue sheets from this morning. I was actually up early
            enough to see her pin them to the line.
                                                As I was leaving
on my bike ride, I saw her on her phone on her
back step.
                         “I love you,” she said into the little box. We’re
            careful to do that
these days. After she said goodbye, she turned to me
            and said she’d been having a hell of a time
nailing my cat with the flea medicine, because Zoey
            was on to her. But she said she’d get it.
                                                                         She’d figure
it out.
            Then we were on to the election, and she
said she’d taken four walks
                                    and had also cried today;
I told her I cried in CVS and also two days
                                                ago, when they called Michigan.
She said she’d cried around then
                         too. I said there were a lot of long faces in CVS
and I couldn’t believe it.
            She said she couldn’t
either. She said there were two tiny
            counties in our whole state that went blue,
                        she’d looked. Ours
and Bloomington. Her brothers lived in blue places.
One of her brothers lived in Memphis, where
                        people were right then dancing
                                    in the street. Why were we here?

I told her about my protracted struggle with the
            poem series on Black Lives Matter, Ham in
Noah’s Ark, and James Baldwin.
                        I didn’t tell her
                                     about my phone call with
            Samantha in which I’d complained that I’d
bought a cashmere scarf, and then realized
that it would attract moths (hence, moth holes) and
             Sam said she’d seen a documentary called
something like “Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea”
                          on white privilege—on Netflix.
             I told her Black “inferiority,” anti-Blackness,
had been justified through Noah’s curse
                          on his son Ham via Ham’s son Canaan—
            he’d made him black!—
                          and used to justify slavery from that time
to this. That our evangelicals
were so steeped in this rationale and every kind of
                          doctor, minister, abolitionist (!) had used
it to explain why Blacks were inferior—many said they’d benefited
                          from slavery—and could not be equal to whites
(the LDS church, for example ).
                                       That I was making myself
             sick reading and rereading about the
“Hamitic line,” how (I would say western world
but witness Australia—so, everywhere the Judeo-
Christian world has touched? –or?)
                                       it was so rock-solid,
so semiotically sealed, so black fire on white fire,
             justifying the Muslim keeping
                          of slaves. Neither Jesus nor St. Paul
            sought to change the status quo
regarding slaveholding, according to this article.
             And then our election
in which half of our population voted knowingly
                          for the guy who said
                          white nationalists carrying
Tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us”                  
                          etc., etc. were possibly nice guys
                                       (there were “very fine                                     
             people on both sides”), the guy who wanted to
do Baltimore, Portland, Chicago a favor and send
                          in national troops to clean up their “problem.” The
dog-whistle guy. And they had voted for him. And
on Twitter and Facebook, on CNN, Van Jones
             almost crying in shock that still there was no
                          repudiation. I told her I couldn’t write about
any of it, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time,
             was trying to get information about the code
in “Mary Don’t You Weep” (from whence the
            line “the fire next time”
comes—midrashic addition to God’s promise not
            to bring flood again)
                          and that I was trying to research
wild fires in California (covering an area as large as the state
             of New Jersey )—but
                                       no problem—"climate change is a hoax,” etc.
                          And that basically I was cracking up
             in my house alone. 

             I said I can’t even find
a guy here to date because the whole state
is red. I have a guy in Chicago, but who knows
             how long he’s going to put up with it.
                                       I said And I’m in
a twelve-step program here. Everybody is
             a Trumpie and a lot of them are Q-Anon.
             I said, it’s great that they want
                          something spiritual,
that they can get the higher power thing and
                          believe in miracles (thinking of myself) but then
             that magical thinking seems to go right on over
             to the Golden Toilet. Etc.

             Ignoring for the moment
things like my behavior in the pandemic. The
                          cashmere scarf is the least of it. There’s also
the floral puffer coat from Johnny Was, so I could
                          fancy up for grocery shopping (my only outing
and, come to think of it, dangerous at that), and my
two pairs of gold-plated dangle earrings to be used in
             AA Zoom meetings
                          (in addition to the “Video Enhancement”
face filter Nessy told me about)—plus
             every-other-day hair-curling with the electric wand—
why? I mean per my doctor the other day on my Medicare
             check-up appointment (kind of a suitability-for-nursing-
                          home-test, I observed) I should be eating two and half
                          cups of vegetables a day—say what? He asked for
a verbal recall of my last lipid panel. But ha! I don’t
             have one
                          for the pandemic yet. 
                          Usually I cycle in and out
of the melted butter and puffy white
             stuff cravings;
now that I’m home alone all the time, and lacking
                          entertainment, not to mention opportunities
                          to wear my dry cleaning . . . .

                          Anyhow, I thought these
             things on my bike ride. How I’d written to my school
friends on the list serve (I mean high school) explaining
                          it wasn’t Trump’s values so much,
                          or even hatred of
             people with “elite” educations (like us, in the case of
this particular school),
                        but an immediate hypnogogic response
to the voice. Forget the content.
                          It’s the cadence, the
cajoling, teasing, insulting (others), degradation, faux
             superiority, abusiveness, manipulation,
             very appealing to those who grew up
                                                    getting slapped around (I
             should know), who could
not get their footing and only want to find a warm pool
of melted butter to hang out in.
                                                    That would be me, but
I didn’t get into that
             with my schoolmates. I’ve been to two reunions at
Stone Harbor
             in the last few years
                          and had not been hard
to spot—as in high school—
             though Andrea so generously said
that what happened in high school would stay in
high school. Were any of these women present when
             I walked into Miss Falabel’s
             chorus rehearsal after school
caked with mud, my shoes squeaking with rain water
                          from the irresistible mud brawl on my
             way up there?
                          As sometimes happened, I was able to “pass”—
              I was kept in chorus because I could sing—
and my friend Susy, who came in similarly drenched,
                          was tone deaf, and was removed.

                                    I just told Felicia my compatriots
             in Twelve-Step meetings were often gullible,
wanted to be gullible—wanted magic—
            and that I got it
but that it was costing people—other people, and ultimately
them too.
                   I wobbled off on my bike then,
as, even though it was warm,
             the time had changed and I knew the sun
                          would go down soon.
                          The light was golden. I was even able to take
off my two long-sleeved shirts, figuring it is November 7th and
             forty-five minutes
             before sundown. Surely I would
                          not get full-on hives on my arms
                          from the sun exposure.
Which has happened consistently in the past.
                                                                              Like a lot
of people I had my mask
             “with me,” dangling out of my front pack where I had
                          my phone, but not “on me.”
So beautiful, so mercifully mild; I was more than happy
             to take a reprieve from the winter that had been
coming on.
             I started thinking about the phone call
(which I’d blown entirely with my (misplaced) snobbery
             about Samantha’s home-schooling—what is wrong with me?
                                       and my scarf), how she said
vis-à-vis my nervousness about the James
Baldwin/Fire Next Time project and the Noah’s Ark             
            project as a whole, I should, basically,
stop being a bitch
             and rely on my higher power.

             I was so happy that I’d
gotten to talk to my neighbor, a human, and that the light
was so wonderful (and in retrospect I’m realizing
                                                    that for once
             it wasn’t windy on the macadam bike path), I started
                          fishing around my mind for my higher power—
I had so failed at my morning meditation and
                                       had come out of it so aggravated and
then rushed to get on Zoom for the meeting where I saw
             Samantha—making a mental note to talk with
                          Sean about Mike’s suicide (handsome, charming 49-year-old
             man, and my friend, God damn it), but Sean
looked so haggard, from the memorial service
I’m sure, and had chocolate donut in the corners
                                       of his mouth (I guess that’s what it was—
                                       I remembered
             he used to buy them for us
                          when this Saturday morning meeting was in-person), I
decided to wait. My rationale for asking,
                                       apart from how shocked
             I was when I found out which “Mike”
             it was from the Surf Center and Home with Hope
                          who had died, was that I wanted
to write in my Kindness and Ecstasy poem maybe about the
                          very high cost to recovering addicts and alcoholics
                          of the isolation
of the pandemic. I mean, all we ever do in twelve-step meetings, is say
             Don’t isolate. Which would be short-hand for
             “Don’t isolate yourself.”

                          So I thought about how far I was from seeing God
             in the tree tops as I had earlier
                                                    in the summer when
I was writing Martin. I loved writing Martin. I saw a bald
             eagle twice—it was, both times, huge, implacable, unflappable,
immoveable, and not giving a shit. Only the barely
                          perceptible surveillance of the slit eyes. Like a big silver                                 
             upright flounder high in the tall, tall foliage (I mean, like
ninety feet) or the other time on the lamp post                                   
             where Route 52 branches off to Northwestern. But
then I thought about the news accounts Felicia
                          and I had talked about, people dancing in the
                                       streets in Washington, at her brother’s in Memphis,
and the news reports quoting African American
             political organizers saying, We delivered the   
                          presidency to him, now he needs to give us a seat
at the table (as in the Frog Prince and other similar stories), and I thought
             again about the attraction
of Trump’s golden hair,
             golden skin,
                          golden dulcet
vocal tones, golden underpants
             probably, definitely,
golden toilet, and how I could claim not to
             be a sucker for these things. Not him, but the earrings
I ordered, the impractical scarf, the Amazon Prime
             my daughter lets me share with her.
                                                    The butter pooling
in the center of everything, even where it doesn’t
             belong (who puts butter on a pot pie?), the real maple
                          syrup every day on “Pamela’s” gluten-free pancakes, ha
ha. Never mind the various amber
                                       liquids of days of yore,
Benedictine and Brandy, bourbon.

                                                    And the silky
pointless men. Buying me hors d’oeuvres,
             amuse bouches, escargots, continental
             breakfasts in hotels
in foreign countries (though we may have been
                        living on fumes
             and there was no money for other meals), crusty
baguettes and beautiful peach compote, the Almond-Joy-bar pie
                                       that the journalist-pilot bought
                          for me at Random Row in Charlottesville, several
                                       Friday nights running.
But, also, then, the “higher power” Sam had tried
             to remind me of. I thought
                          Who can explain this?

                          The self-proclaimed “heavily skeptical” guy
who wrote on Twitter of all places that he was ill
             with Covid in the ICU and all of these
                          gold people visited him,
reached out their hands, lifted him up,
                                                    and in contrast to the other stories
             I think most of us (and him as well)
             have heard about these
grave illness situations,
                          he could tell that they were signaling
                                       he would get well. That they
would lead him out.

                          I loved thinking about that, riding my bike
in the mild air up the slightly upward-sloping
             macadam hill.
                          I thought do I have anything that could compare
(or do I just need to borrow his “higher power(s)”?),
             and I thought of my dream of the hand
                          coming up out of choppy water             
                          and holding my
hand, but it was weirdly neutral,
                          insistently neutral,
             not giving an inch—
like meditation, I guess—and my
                          inscrutable boyfriend. Some red-winged blackbirds
showed up             
             on scraggly leaf-denuded young trees along the path.

I tried not to think of the two young drunk crickets
             last night near the cat bowls
                          in the basement when
I was putting out food—all of the last hurrahs before winter
             bring me delight and grief—had the crickets been

             The blackbirds trilled and another bird
that I couldn’t see over near the roof of Walmart
             repeated a beautiful, sonorous song, as beautiful
as any I have heard about the flood—
                          to the point, really,
             I started trying to remember if
                          Noah saw a dove and a raven,
or if that was Gilgamesh
             or which one saw which and so on—though, in the stories, there
is no reference to a song anyway—and the gorgeous
                          Terrance Blanchard sound track
                                       to Spike Lee’s movie about
Katrina. His trumpet is his voice. Flood and aftermath.
             After the election,

my bike ride
                          with the golden arms,
             reaching out to me, even
if they were meant
             for someone else,
                          could feel like that.
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