Our Tale

As the petals opened truly, sweetly, wide
and the fragrance swept our fears away,
as the song filled the rooms,
and we sighed into our own peaceable blooming,

we knew the flower’s artistry would curl up and brown,
the ground receiving bits and pieces,
the melody fertilizing earth for the next cycle of being.

And though we scatter to the four corners of our differences,
and all the little deaths have been tucked away,
the decrees final, the shunning done,
no resurrection likely in our time,
and though the barriers against what was and what is taunt
and accuse the past blooms of being not blooms, but instead a totality of falsehood,
and though the desire to either/or and to brutally conclude clamors,
the truth refuses obliterative absolutes.

It is not true that a flower was not real
because the flower is now dead,
and because that one flower will not be again.

Love and songs transmute our failings
and carry nourishment from all the booming blossoms
to the heart of being, feeding our lives
in spite of the prevailing death.

There is a both/and excruciating
whose requisite liberation sets the heart free.

The magnolia did bloom.
We did feast on a love impervious to our fated losses
(though we cannot reach ‘cross charred divides).
And in that is purpose no betrayal can destroy,
in that is a feltness stomping out futility’s lies,
in that is unity beyond graves,
and a song of cherishing that which insanity cannot devour.

Though mere formalities obliterated bonds,
the magnolia’s bloom will ultimately be our tale.

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2019, All Rights Reserved

A Mere Formality

We say one thing and do the other, standing back as they roll out a defense against our own depravity.

Their fury.

But the recriminations we face if we validate it…

Oh hell to the no, we’re heavenly folk, not guilty broke.

See, now that we’ve had a history of bullying the four of them for decades,
their fury is real, is wholly healthy, so we’ll declare them intimidating
(we’re cornering the market on “isn’t that rich” since our parenting creed
for decades was “you must break their spirit”. so, how fitting
that we are intimidated by their full-grown adulthood,
and if you fall for our excuses, then you’re one of us, the morally insane.)
and the fact that our betrayals commenced
well before their valid fury unfurled, that fact will be an irrelevant fact.

The women. Got angry. They ranted. They threw down ultimatums.
Nothing more to know here, for there is no greater sin than women angry and demanding.
Rant after we betray, and legitimize our treachery by that rant because, well, female.
We’ll send letters declaring our total loss to understand the situation, as well.

See, we’re the slickest shit.

We can vote for Trump and call ourselves the “called out ones.”

He gropes and violates and gets elected so, our time has come, too.
We’re real cozy with violators. They earn nicknames, not shame, and a place at our table.
Most especially if they violated our own.

We can malign those who trusted us after we rebuked them for not trusting us previously
to not do the thing we did, after all, do, so hey ho, we’re noble souls.

The joke is on them, the four we slander, hammer and malign.

We have cornered.

The market on.

Duplicity Divine.
Moral Insanity.

All that the Good Book refers to when dragging up Leviathan, we are it.
And we would invite you to have tea with our murky pet.

Just don’t get mad at us if we violate truth or devour you without regret.

We’ll use it against you, judge you unforgiving, call you uncouth,

Invite you to court and play on your ignorance of just how dark our hearts can be.
(the witnesses we invite from your childhood will be part of a “mere formality”)

I Ran

I ran so far across noble terrain, full of intent to prove love makes us whole,

to prove love is what we’re here for,

to prove unity grows from and within love,

to prove the living of this life truly worthwhile,

to prove love can transform all the worst demons,

to be empowered despite loss, to be present ‘though pushing through disease,

to be accepting and expectant without entitlement because love,

and so, I ran hard at the work, in the work, in the rest and the play of it all.

And I hiked.

And I climbed.

And I fell, and I fucked some things up.

And I coasted, and I even flew.

And here I am looking down and across the miles behind me.

And I have loss and miscarriage where I least expected.

And I have declarations of love coming at me that ring empty, devoid of any action to make it real,

And rejection of who I am, of how I am who I am, blithe, unseeing and judgmental eyes looking back at me, forgetting when we laughed and held on, forgetting all the love knitting.

And I have proof of love’s work and unity where I least tried and with some unexpected.

And I have uncommon bonds, those seldom known, the kind of connections few experience.

And I have proof I can persist and release, celebrate and grieve.

And I know that love doesn’t make us whole as much as it melts into loss, imparting resilience, filling up the cracks.

And love doesn’t raise the dead, this I know, too.

And I have a crisis of meaning if I look at the lost harvest and the heartaches love couldn’t resolve.

And I have endless grief if I look long at the hurt life handed the ones I thought I could protect, the disease I thought preventable, the power I thought I had, we had.

And I want not to run.

I want not to climb.

I want to release proving.

I want to accept what needs accepting.

I stand looking at the path behind me and there’s a woman clawing her way up the summit.

Her hands are amazing, their strength endless and her legs flex with all the sinew I once knew.

The sun has loved her and the moon, too.

The earth delights in her ministrations.

The rivers know her soul intimately and she sings their songs.

One glance at her climbing my way and I know.

She’s singing and has paint on her chin, ink on her palms, dirt under short fingernails.

There’s a bit of moss and flower in her hair, wild.

She has some wands on her back, ones I thought were forever gone.

Those locks are flaming red, none of the sprinkles of gray gracing my own head.

She isn’t smiling, but she keeps singing strange chants tugging at my core.

She simply won’t stop.

She’s got the air of one who knows and instantly I remember her from dreams past and from dances under leaves, twirling innocence.

We were one, before the running began.

And I can’t remember anymore when it began.

But she couldn’t keep up with me in the clamor of my proving or the running towards meaning.

She had to do her own thing until I stopped.

She grips for the final reach and grasps up at my hand,

And we pull each other up.

She stands now in front of me and we’re facing.

And she wants to know if I’m ready now to know the deeper work of tRuth,

the one not dependent on proving anything.

She wants to know if I’m finished racing for what is and was always right here.

She knows the foundational work and breaking up of my defenses has been more relevant than all the racing to prove.

She knows the running for love, climbing and building, resting and dancing are not made futile by the scant returns or the seeming and actual loss.

She just knows more deeply what is more important than any other work now.

She knows me as my own teacher and my own saboteur.

She hugs the grieving, weeps the years ravaged by an illness that has yet to release me.

And she reminds me, insists I see that the miles stretched out behind us reveal the real, the deepest work of love was made more by love itself and by open-heart collisions than by the most potent intent or tenacious presence.

And so, now we can begin

singing,
singing,
singing

over these bones.

2019, All Rights Reserved

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.

Under Leaves…

Under leaves those lies and shows you thought I’d grow up to blow
on my knees perpetually for your testimony of delusions,
the paradise you claimed and named as real,
all those lies and shows, all their fangs and claws,
chains and saws dissolve around me.

Under leaves I am.

Under leaves these cells sing, sound and bellow something never meant to be silent or still.

Under leaves every fiber of me hums, shouts, and pounds a drum no one can claim.

Under leaves and on their scatterings my feet bare and drinking, gulping up the gobs, sigh.

Under leaves the chunks and corpses sink into dirt, all the lies gone.

Under leaves the bones rumble to life, a resurrection unrelenting.

Leave me here, I’ll dance, I’ll laugh at the scars and all the servitude scenarios.

Fly these arrows to the missionary madness, leave me to the sane and true.

Under leaves you could never be.

Under leaves I am.

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, All Rights Reserved, 2018

I Believe Her

One of the reasons Republicans can go ahead with Kavanaugh’s confirmation while a good many of them find Dr. Ford’s allegations credible is that they place such a low value on the sanctity of a woman’s right to her own body, her own space, her own time, her own mind. And, yet, at the same time, they place a premium on her ability to smooth ruffled feathers, look “pleasing”, be “pleasing”, and basically push all the buttons that mommy presumably failed to do so many years ago, or did so well they’ve never realized the world isn’t mommy.
We are, at once, compelled to nurse and coddle our men while simultaneously empowering them to be all they can be, as if the fact that they require our perpetual hand-holding isn’t enough to challenge the very idea that they are empowered, much less that it might present the credible question of whether or not the whole paradigm needs to be tossed.
This speaks to why a man can speak up after 40 years of silence and declare a priest his abuser and not be ridiculed. He is not a responsible party in that paradigm of the feminine burden; he is, instead, the one who receives the benefit of the doubt and the one whose sexuality – especially if it fits the hegemonic mold – precludes him from any doubt, for surely, as a man, to admit he was overpowered and violated (since his role, his duty is to be perpetually empowered and in control) is the greatest violation of the paradigm. Why would any man admit to something happening to him, something especially that challenges the myth of masculine domination and strength?
Women, on the other hand, are responsible for perpetuating the myth, for being the ones who, by their less than, second-class, weaker status affirm the superiority of the male. We are meant to be inspiring and inspired, independent and yet not to the point of challenging male superiority, accommodating, brilliant, child-bearing, gorgeous and never-failing in the face of unyielding criticism even when we are called out for abandoning the great paradigm or for merely stepping a toe out of those maddening realms – we must first be sure we held our faces just right. If we cannot make everyone around us at least comfortable, then we must not either try too hard to make folks happy in too obvious a way otherwise, we may make folks ill at ease. We must grin and bear it when the product of our efforts to fall in line do not always go according to plan. The great white God is truly, intentionally a motherfucker from where I’m sitting, for he is a creation of patriarchy.
I was told by my father when on the cusp of my 20’s that “anything that happens between you and a guy is your fault.” Anything. The great burden. You wore those clothes. You looked him in the eye. You didn’t look him in the eye. You smiled. You didn’t smile. You had an attitude. You spoke your mind. You rocked the boat. You left the house, the car, the building.
I believed him for many years. I believed him until I birthed a daughter. Then it all fell apart.
Besides the feminine burden of upholding it and a host of other common human frailties, the myth of male domination rests on the brute power of the male form and the ability of a man to hold a woman down, to take the time to put his hand over her mouth, or tower over her with his fists balled, or to quote scripture at her about her wifely duties or to yell and bluster in the face of accountability before a judiciary committee. Ad Infinitum.
The GOP and many who claim Christ as their great Saviour (as did my father at the time he declared me wholly responsible for all the actions of a male towards me) rely on the myth of the work of the Cross as one that requires nothing more than that you accept it. And from there? Well, much like the t and c club, you’re a member. You can do anything except challenge the paradigm. If you’re a woman, forget it. You can’t do anything. There are only certain things and only in certain ways especially if you have had a child. This slice of “Christianity” doesn’t actually possess a moral compass apart from the paradigm that upholds the myth. You must not challenge the paradigm. That is their great “morality” and they believe in it fully.
I watched Dr. Ford yesterday and was simultaneously grieved, devastated and beyond thrilled that someone would embody such power and courage in the face of that myth. And that Anita Hill did this very thing years ago enduring the violation and ridicule, that we are still right here enrages me.
We are not going to progress by pulling back and we aren’t going to be free of the paradigm if we don’t upend it fully.
I’m so very proud of Dr. Ford and of everyone who has rallied for investigations and, at the same time, I salute those men who stand with women outside the myth, who know their true power rests, not in domination, but in welcoming the dance.

Jonah-Like

“Jonah-like we all have to be spit out of the belly of family and cultural assumptions, a new person, freed and unqualified. But this is one of the purposes we have seen for dark nights of the soul: to prune, to cleanse, and sort out the essential from the illusory. We have to do something with our anger other than suppress it or vent it. There are a thousand possibilities, but each of them has to honor the emotion while giving it form and meaning. Ultimately, you transform your anger through a channeling of your life force, and this liberated vitality gives you your presence as a unique personality.” Thomas Moore [Dark Nights of The Soul]

It’s time to get back to the book I started, finish it and set it free. Onward.