There is a birthmark on my back, a right of soil, in the shape of a country with too many original sins to name. A country that does not record my signature on its manifest.
A funny thing happened on the way to Maine to read a poem. I ran over a blown-out tire on I-95 somewhere in New Hampshire. The slight impact bent part of my front fender. Of course this happened a few hours before I was to participate in a poetry reading hosted by WAVE (Writers and Authors for Visceral Entertainment) for the Belfast Art Walk. Luckily, I was two highway exits away from the amazing service team at Starkey Ford that got me fixed up and back on the road in less than an hour. My daughter and I arrived in Belfast 30 minutes before the event, checked into our suite at the Jeweled Turret Inn, changed out of our road-trip leggings, and made our way to the venue just in time to meet up with dear friend and writer Anne Britting Oleson, five minutes before I was scheduled to begin reading. After a great dinner with Anne and her daughter Rosalie, we returned to the inn and fell into bed. The next morning we were back on the road heading home by 6AM because my daughter had an early morning shift at the bakery. As I was slipping back into my road-trip leggings, and my daughter into her work uniform, I stopped to sign the guest book in our suite. I thanked the innkeeper for the delicious lemon poppy-seed scones she baked especially for our early morning departure and promised our return. I then tucked a signed copy of my poem, Water, into the guest book with a note it is forthcoming in the Fall/Winter issue of the Aurorean, a poetry journal local to central Maine. The simple act of leaving behind a poem filled me with gratitude- the first day of summer marked my three months in remission and I am well enough to travel to read a poem written about a day at the beach a year ago right before my cancer diagnosis. Next on my to-do list: grow enough hair to cover my scalp, remain cancer free, make more poems.
Why do sharks show up off Cape Cod each summer? They used to come to southern California when I was a kid; swatches of beach closed because of some shark. Do you know what it’s like to sit on the sand and drink those frozen daiquiris that never really taste like daiquiris, but they’re cheap at CVS and anyway you can’t haul a blender and a pound of fresh berries and rum and ice to the beach for frozen daiquiris so you live with the imitation pouch daiquiris while the sun bakes you to a crisp and sand gets all up in your nether parts and then you go to take a dip in the water to cool off and, oops, there goes your juicy thigh in a shark’s mouth. I mean, it’s water and water is for boats and swimming and drinking daiquiris on boats and swimming with your boyfriend while coquettishly tossing one arm over your exposed chest and making that surprised Taylor Swift expression in slow motion after you lose your bikini top by accident on purpose like in a music video- human things, not shark things. You cannot run from the tide to the shore pulling seaweed off your legs to throw at your boyfriend like in the music videos if the shark has took your thigh. I didn’t move back to the coast for this. Seriously sharks, go home, you’re drunk.
“Forget the lady with the lamp in the harbor. Beware before you dare to come here.”
— Chris Cuomo
Stop saying this is not America. There are better and more accurate responses to the parade of inhumanity being carried out along this country’s southwestern border. Snatching away children for profit, to intimidate, or as an effective means of cultural genocide is a tattered seam in this nation’s fabric. This has been America since it was “discovered” out from under its indigenous peoples. And I know you know this so when you lament this is not America, what I hear is an admission that you are one of the privileged few for whom America stands at attention and raises its shield. The sight of Old Glory billowing from its perch on a flagpole mounted to the back of a pickup doesn’t fill you with a tinge of trepidation; the myth of meritocracy and bootstrapping a safe harbor. Saying this is not America is a direct act of erasure. It silences the cries of every child left without tribe, or soil, and forced, if they survived disease and unsafe passage, to assimilate into a Christian doctrine that normalized subjugation and provided little, if any, sanctuary. It silences the children sold away from their parents during the brutal generations of slavery; taken off reservations, by armed officials if their parents refused, and forced into government-sanctioned boarding schools with the intention to “kill the Indian in him and save the man“. It silences the children stolen from maternity wards, off neighborhood streets, and during welfare home visits by traffickers that also were nurses, physicians, social workers, and members of law enforcement working for the Tennessee black market adoption ring that supplied children from poor white families and unmarried women to wealthy couples including politicians and numerous Hollywood celebrities, from the 1920’s-1940’s. And these are only a few examples. An exhaustive list would include the passive methods that create barriers to education, healthcare, and food that work to separate children from their families through despair, poverty, and early death. It is right to be outraged, not because of a set of values, stamped on a statue, that were never really intended to govern our nation, but because these cruelties – this way America sorts out the worthy from the worthless- must exist in order to prop up and maintain your privilege.
I watched The Rachel Divide, Netflix’s documentary about Rachel Dolezal. The details about her upbringing make it appear obvious she and her adopted siblings were emotionally and physically abused by their parents (and allegedly sexually abused by Dolezal’s oldest and biological brother) and makes it possible for the viewer to draw a dotted line to the possible cause of Dolezal’s current crisis of identity. Where the documentary wins is it leaves it up to you to decided whether her “trans-racialism” or “cisracialism” (and no, I do not endorse this terminology because it’s nonsense) is a construct of opportunistic narcissism or mental delusion. The documentary introduces Dolezal’s adopted black sister, Esther, who at the start of the documentary was awaiting the status of a pending court case against their oldest brother Joseph for sexual assault. If you believe the sister’s allegations, which I do despite having a difficult time believing anything endorsed by Dolezal, it is easy to follow her claim that the truth of her racial identity and fraudulent deeds associated with her role as an NAACP leader was revealed as part of a plot devised by their estranged to discredit Dolezal as a witness in the abuse case. I don’t believe these things are mutually exclusive – I believe the abuse allegations to be true. It would explain, in part, how someone like Dolezal can construct a whole other self grounded in fantasy. But Rachel Dolezal can be a victim of her parents and brother’s past abuse AND be a pathological liar in other aspects of her life.
By the end of the documentary, we learn the court case has been dropped, largely due to the publicity surrounding Dolezal’s very public outing as passing for a black woman while leading an historical civil rights organization. After watching the documentary, I became immensely sympathetic to her three sons: her adopted son (formerly adopted brother) Izaiah, her biological son she shares custody of with her first husband, and her youngest son who is a toddler. Dolezal is a professional martyr. Her professional martyrdom began way before she crocheted the first strand of blonde kanekalon into her hair: she says in her book she related to African slaves when she was a young girl growing up in Montana because she had to sell crafts for money to buy her own clothes; she unsuccessfully sued Howard University for discrimination after denied a scholarship and teaching position; as the head of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter, she constantly reported receiving death threats in the mail from local white supremacists (none of these letters were confirmed to have been mailed, but hand delivered to a locked mail box that only she and one other employee had the key to); and then there was her zealous ability to be at the center of local protests including making her young sons lie on the ground in chalk outlines as part of various protest demonstrations. As a mother, I’m never desirous to see my child in a chalk outline in protest, in jest, in any type of performance, ever.
The whole of her black-woman-narrative is predicated on tales of woe like rubbernecking while passing by a collision on the highway or the way one might obsess over and become expert on a great historical tragedy. Where is the beauty? There is none because beauty is counterproductive to the task of her pickaninny martyr fantasy. Throughout the documentary, we are witness to scenes of Dolezal’s gentle weeping she only wants a safe and happy existence for her children juxtaposed against her engaged in or pursuing some sort of activity in direct opposition to a drama-free existence for her family. She declares she wants her son Izaiah to go on with his life free of her pariah status, but when she goes with him to tour his dream school, Howard University, she posts a photo of him on the campus to Instagram captioned that he intends to attend the school. The social media post is, of course, met with derision and vitriol. Not exactly the best way to endear him to an admission committee. Her middle son confesses during an interview that though he loves his mother and is okay with her choice to identify as a black woman, he believes there is a possibility she has made up some of her claims of discrimination and harassment. By the end of the documentary, it is clear her middle son is depressed (n one scene she tries to drag him from his bed one morning to eat breakfast in front of the film crew and he refuses, declaring he is tired of “all of this” and didn’t ask for “any of this”). He also goes on to tell her to just stop, just stop all of it. Her adopted son, of age, leaves for Spain and on the morning of his departure when she suggests it would be cheaper to leave some of his belongings until his return the following summer, he informs her may not be returning home for the summer as previously planned (if you read body language, facial expression, and tone, it feels like he was telling her he was uncertain if he would return, period).
You get the impression, the people around her who love her are exhausted playing supporting roles in the public shit show. My takeaway from the documentary is it serves as a tool to educate how adept a sociopath is at crafting their masks. Blackface just happens to be the mask Rachel Dolezal prefers to pull on.