A Brave And Startling Truth

“A BRAVE AND STARTLING TRUTH

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.” Maya Angelou

A One Woman Riot

1 Corinthians 14:34

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

For more than the first half of my life, that passage of scripture cast a shadow over me, seeping into my physiology, accompanied by the style of parenting that sets it into the neural pathways, often choking, inhibiting, paralyzing. I’m past 50. I’m still ousting the darkness of its influence though I have long renounced its claim. The women of this epoch are making it easier and easier to oust. But the work is still mine.

When the song “Quiet” morphed into the anthem of the Women’s March, I was drowning in a silent scream of grief and life events way beyond my capacity to actually weather. I was holding my breath. So, I missed the originator of it, MILCK, though I heard groups of women standing, holding hands and singing “I can’t keep quiet.” It pricked my ears.

My sister shoved the video in my face, finally. And so, I can’t sing this song without sobs. So, I sing it a lot. And then some more. I have yet to get through the song without stopping to let things roll out of me. I’ll get there. MILCK found the words I haven’t. Imagine that. I have so many words and I never could keep quiet for long. It’s my biggest, baddest sin, that and boat-rocking, cage-rattling insistence on truthseek. And while it’s not like I have a big secret to tell, it is definitely that I and many other women are still unlearning the silence. Minute by goddamn minute.

Folks, girls are still raised under the strain of the lie of misogyny. Right now, and in the name of Jesus. I imagine he’s pretty pissed about it. It’s cloaked in all kinds of alleged holy. And it’s even dressed up in versions of pretend liberation, the kind that works as long as you speak up only within the prescribed, allowed lines. Dare not announce you will no longer tolerate certain things. Dare not boldly be. Dare not call people on their shit when you’ve had enough. Dare not be anything but a new version of quiet. Fuck that shit. All of it.

A Harvest Calls

When the winter stole my song, all the lovely bits of me blew away
and the night chained the dirt of my soul to the earth,
a forest of dead leaves and berries cloaked my blood.
So I wailed into the mire, a sort of siren sob for ice and snow, but no.
The season remained anchored to an epoch, bored by all my ire
and, instead of relenting, carved notches in my throat,
binding my voice to memories of long ago, whispering secrets stored in lifetimes past.
And so I listened.
And the notches cut deep, freeing waters dank and tired.
They ran in rivulets down my neck and into the valley hardened by hope’s abortions,
flooded all the flotsam jamming up my flow and washed old corpses out to sea.
And I listened more
as the ice and snow melted down into my core, warmed by embers unseen.
Then a new song gripped the heart of every screenplay refusing tRuth,
wringing out the lies, peeling back the armor ancient,
fucking the mindlessness out of every habitual, knee-jerk bullshit
reactionary presentation.
Stripped, disintegrating but the truest hum emanating.
Out past the dirt and mire, through the cracks in my grave…
a harvest calls,
a song is freed,
and these feet remember the dance.

j. ruth kelly, 2017, all rights reserved

Profoundly Human Endeavors

“Even once the true cause of my disease is discovered, if we don’t change our institutions and our culture, we will do this again to another disease. Living with this illness has taught me that science and medicine are profoundly human endeavors. Doctors, scientists and policymakers are not immune to the same biases that affect all of us. We need to think in more nuanced ways about women’s health. Our immune systems are just as much a battleground for equality as the rest of our bodies. We need to listen to patients’ stories and we need to be wiling to say ‘I don’t know.’ ‘I don’t know’ is a beautiful thing. ‘I don’t know’ is where discovery starts. And if we can do that, if we can approach the great vastness of all that we do not know, and then rather than fear uncertainty, maybe we can greet it with a sense of wonder.” Jennifer Brea on CFS/ME and the ways the medical model can improve for all of us.

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved
j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis aka Alienation

I so often wrestle with whether or not to express what CFS/ME does to my life, how it shapes the landscape of my mind, my will. More often, I choose to sparingly articulate how it impacts me, simply in the interest of sanity. But I find, as more and more people wake up to the truth of this disease, that it is becoming more empowering, less overwhelming to go ahead and speak up. The ignorance is melting away as people realize it’s not a psychological issue but a real assault on the body.

As Jennifer Brea experienced initially, so did I. Fever over 106. Pneumonia for the first time in my life. Early 20s. Never. The. Same. After my primary care physician sent me in many different directions seeking a diagnosis, we landed on the diagnosis of CFS. And the alienation began right there in my doc’s office, with her set of prejudices awaiting me like a box, a prison cell.

Brea’s TED talk speaks to so many of the issues confronted by those who walk this path. Her words, in their affirmation of the validity and impossibility of the struggle, bring balm to those who have suffered this illness for a long long time.