Friday, May 01, 2015

Baltimore


Baltimore is a poem that is writing itself.  Through a five day migraine I wake and sleep, its echoes my mantra, my feet and heart itching to go, to be in the poem, to be of its pulse. Instead I hold a space, I breathe in the anxious angry magma that is finally being let loose from the dungeons and the dragnets of the harbor, the city I always drive around, not into, on my way from Kentucky to New Jersey and back. All this time... these people have been here, and I was just trying to avoid the traffic. From the harbor where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, from the streets that had ceased to feel like the land of the free or the home of the brave, something had arisen. A sense of justice, a mighty, mighty sense of impudence, a fed-up, washed-up, worn-out despair that had had enough, seen enough, suffered enough. And then came Freddie Gray. He pivots, in my dream of it, on his heel, like a dancer, makes eye contact, then runs, like a sprinter, till they take him down (did they taser him?) and fold him, someone said, "like a piece of origami." That phase struck with me, such a beautiful analogy for such a hideous act. They dragged him like a rag doll to the van. His screams, like the wail of wounded soldiers, pierced the air. And they. just. didn't. care. How in God's holy name can you not care? He looked to me like someone who'd been taken down from a noose, from a lynching, and lynched he was. So: he dies. Days pass. And slowly, but surely, the protests begin. And through the haze of migraine and meds, I, and millions of others, are watching, and waiting. Losing sleep, and praying. Let it stop now. City councilman steps up. He says, We are the men of this neighborhood. We are handling thisThis is a symptom, he explains. The funeral is held. A colleague posts: It is hard to capture the awful beauty of the funeral of Freddie Gray, Jr. I was moved by the spirituality of the day, the order and disorder of it all, and the power of the witness of people who did not know Freddie, but who knew too, too many other Freddies. The visiting families of Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner and others calling for justice broadened--no! I mean deepened--the impact on me. And the opening prayer, where we held hands and offered to those around us that we wanted to be held accountable and were willing to hold each other accountable, made this not a memorial for a man, but a pledge for personal and social transformation. "I was churched today," a friend said. I agree. Baltimore was held in our hearts and minds, and I was churched (Rev. David Carl Olsen, First Unitarian Church of Baltimore).  A young man is shouting, urging protestors on. A Humvee rolls between him and the viewer. He's gone. "Snatched up." "Kidnapped." Anything is possible. It's like.. Cambodia. The disappeared. People just gone. And no way could they read him his rights that fast! A fellow writer says, on facebook: Them gangs coming together. Then comes #momoftheyear I hate this! Don't people see how unfunny this is? I'm furious. And they put her on CNN, put him, on CNN, at first I'm just outraged. But then I think: go on. There's a strange kind of justice at play here. All the haters will watch this and see her beautiful humanity. "We don't come from the best..." she says. Her son, looking so ashamed. But: humans, real people. You have to see them now. They are real. I see another young man, confronting Geraldo Rivera. They do a kind of dance, a pas de deux around the cameras, while Geraldo's frozen grin and shellacked hair belie his false bravado. "You don't care about these neighborhoods before Freddie Gray," the young man shouts. "All you want is a story." He uses his hands like an artist. He will not let go of this pulpit. He has seized the moment and it will be his. He tells everyone, "Turn the cameras off."  So this isn't for show. It's as if Rivera grows smaller and smaller while this beautiful, spirited young man rises in his righteous anger, his indignation, his pride. Next act. A young woman strides to a podium, her face determined, her carriage that of a warrior. It doesn't matter what she says, because all of the words flow together except one: homicide. Murder. The city erupts. A frenzied dance ensues as people spring from stoops and storefronts and fists raise from open car windows and all along streets and even little baby girls raise a fist. Even old men hold up a sign, like the one that says "FREE-die Gray speak's from the grave 'Thank you Marilyn Mosby'" Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. I saw an image of their faces carved in a mountainside, like the ones on Mount Rushmore. Martyrs.And there would be Marilyn Mosby. May this be the day it turns around, and what a day! MAY-day. May Day. The call of distress. May it finally be answered. The day people bring flowers to their neighbors. Bouquets of love. Bottles of water to the National Guard. International Workers Day. A truce between the Crips and Bloods. All on May Day. A hundred years from now, I pray they will say: On May Day. May 1st, 2015, in Baltimore, a poem wrote itself. It started with a man named Freddie Gray. It started in a place that used to be the home of the free. And the brave. The brave came out. The brave and the bold. They fought back. It's a beautiful thing to see people fight back. To know, we still can. I raise my fist in my empty room. Baltimore! .