Taming a Princess

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King Thrushbeard disguised himself as a poor minstrel and married a mean princess. He hoped she’d learn kindness.

Mildred, the castle’s matriarch mouse disapproved. “This girl’s been spoiled, spoiled, spoiled.”
“Not so. She fed my grandbabies from her plate,” said the attic mouse.

It took time, but living a simple life with a person who loved her inspired humility. She recognized how much we need others and wanted to help, not hurt. She found joy in small acts of caring.

When the minstrel revealed that he was the King and she his Queen, the princess was worthy of the honor.

How Long Before the Lake Dries Out?

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In 1975, I biked my dog to Stanford campus. At Tressider Union, I drank coffee. He rested under the table. Afterwards, we stopped at Lake Lag. Cas retrieved sticks, swimming murky water. “Two-thirds what it was,” the old timers said.

In 2012, my niece moved into a dorm that backed onto a weedy, muddy shadow of Lake Lag. I expected it to fill with rainy season water. No luck, dry like this year.

Hundred year drought we’re in. Arsenic blows off a drying Great Salt Lake, a hazard to fish and people. Climate cycle, climate change, it’s too damn hot.

Death, Natural and Not

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“The moment you accept your own death, something in you changes.”* Words spoken by a Ukrainian refugee slumped on a shelter bed, phone in hand. Resigned. Her words resonate, a reminder of my mother’s decline. 

Mom has changed. She says very little, sleeps a lot. No more raging temper tantrums over how much butter there is on the toast. Little things matter little, big things less. Nothing big like Russian planes threaten Mom. Nothing external. Nothing like this Ukrainian woman faces. And yet she is upended. Shuttling from hospital to rehab, death has crept inside my mother, weighing her down.

* From The Economist April 30, 2022 “The Wreckage Within.”

Stir Things Down

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The dates to celebrate spring are close this year, within a month, and yet some religions seem far apart. They fight each other. They fight among themselves. “They are young,” Eostre said, “or maybe a bit territorial, those men.”

This ancient goddess brought them all together: old and new religions, female and male deities. The witches stirred a brew of love, the opposite of hate. They loaded it into clouds that rained tears on the land that had dried to dust. Cracked seeds opened into bulbs that bloomed lilies, all kinds, fields full. The perfume of peace filled the air.

The Ragnarök

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Líf and Lífþrasir lived in a tiny hovel on the side of a wild fjord north of the settled lands. Rippling through infinity, Thor came to them. He carried the couple to Hoddmimis holt. “From you, generations will spring.”

The gods went insane; a war of destruction, an ecological nightmare. Three winters arrived with no summers. Yggdirsil, the world tree, nurtured the couple. All the while, morning dew was their manna from heaven. Wandering, nestled in the warmth of moss, sheltered by the forest, emerging with the sun, nurtured by salt water, they rebuilt after the Ragnarök. They repopulated Earth.

Freedom Fighters

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Here’s a story my grandpa told about a friend he had from Birmingham. He’d gather us kids around and we’d listen, the big ones shushing the little ones and holding them on our laps. Must’a been near a hundred when he died, but what he told us lives on.

I knew it was over when Jesse told me his people could fly. We were down at the creek and when he said it I had a feeling that the Old South was destined to collapse like a circus tent after the last performance. Not that I’d ever say that to my daddy. He was sympathetic to old Dixie. Figured things had to change some after the North won the war. But he couldn’t see it changing that much.

“Come on,” Jesse said. “I’ll show you.”

Instead of digging crawdads for supper, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water. We confessed to Jesse’s mama in the kitchen at the big house. Thanks to her being from a long line of Gullah storytellers, she forgave us. That tale of magic, passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next, saved our hides.

Me and Jesse, we stayed in touch even when I went up to Boston for school. When I come back six years later to practice law at my daddy’s firm, Jesse was the first one I hired. He was whip smart; did my research. I wished he’d had a law degree. He fled north when vigilantes carried out their coup against some of our duly elected aldermen, 1898 I believe, in Wilmington. I gave him a password so he could get through the cordon the Klan set up the night before all the bloodshed. In the dark, he could pass. The way that damned mob went through destroying the businesses in the colored section of town was enough to make you think the whole thing was over, the whole Emancipation. But it wasn’t. Like so many of the survivors, the wish for justice went into hiding but it never died.

Jesse was lucky. He settled in DC, where he got another law job with a friend of mine from school. I tried to get him to come back to Wilmington, but he found his calling in the capitol. I sat in the front row at his law school graduation. Turned out he was good at organizing and that city was ripe for protest. Much of the segregation in Washington was enforced by custom, not law. They had more marches there than a centipede has legs. I visited him, but he never come down to North Carolina. Not until 1965 when he stopped on his way to Alabama for what he said might be his last protest, but maybe his best.

Me and Jessie were ninety years old, riding in that caravan our kids started to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. It was six carloads all told. Seniors at the wheel, a passel of squirming grandchildren in the back while them could walk marched across the Pettus Bridge. Jesse and I looked at each other when Dr. King said the words, “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Afterwards, Jesse said, “That moral arc Dr. King talked about must be a rainbow. You need faith to believe there’s an end to it.”

“And do you? Have faith?” I thought I knew the answer to that, but I didn’t expect him to say what he did.

“If anybody’s going to find justice at the end of a rainbow, it’s the people who fly?” He picked up his two year old great-granddaughter. “You remember that story, don’t you?”

I nodded.

Then he passed that child, arms spread, to her mother and said. “This one’s in training.”

So that’s the story. That little girl was my play cousin Sarah. You’ve met her. A tiny woman. Strong as an eagle, wise like an owl. She’s flying with a slew of others across the land. They’re darkening the sky for justice, a righteous swarm of freedom fighters. They carry the message that we are a nation of laws, not custom; that faith is not enough. In the spots where the sun shines through the clouds of flapping wings, both ends of the rainbow are within reach of anyone with the will and the courage to fly.

Equinox

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Eostre surveys the protestors at the Vernal Equinox Picnic. Signs read, “Change the name.” But there’s no consensus. Norwuz, Passover, Holi, Easter, Zhonghe…

Eostre gathers morning light and scatters its rays. It dawns on the participants that there’s better things to do. They discover Eostre’s hares laying eggs. Ashanti boils the eggs and Saraswati prepares dyes to color them. The feathered serpent, Kulkulkan, paints designs across the shells. Soon everyone wants a chance.

Eostre finds the old goddesses, Cybele, Wang Mu Niang Niang, Beorc, and Ishtar. Together, they lead the Rebirth Parade around the world, stopping to toast new beginnings.

The People Could Fly

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When Jesse said his people could fly, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water instead of digging crawdads for supper. Though he fled to D.C. after the Klan burned Wilmington in 1898, we kept in touch. *

In 1965, both ninety-five years old, we rode to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. Afterwards, Jesse said, “The moral arc of the universe must be a rainbow. Takes faith to find the end of it.”

“Helps to fly, doesn’t it.”

He nodded, picked up his two-year old great-granddaughter, who spread her arms, laughing and flapping. “This one’s in training.”

*Go to: https://revealnews.org/podcast/remembering-a-white-supremacist-coup/ to listen to the podcast.

Watching from the Window

Painting József Rippl-Rónai 1910

Imagine the painter after a day at the easel in a room, now salon not studio. Le dejeuner cleared from the red tablecloth. He looks outside. A foreigner in Paris. Homesick for Hungary. Hopeful for himself, for his talent, and with good reason. He will become the Father of Modern Hungarian Art.

But not before he is tested. He will be interned in a displaced person’s camp as the Great War begins. Paris Interior, on exhibit in San Francisco, will be detained as enemy property, spoils. War, pandemic flu, it will be years before the world rights itself. Have faith.

If Those Three Words Were a Statue, We Could Take it Down.

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“Merciless Indian savage.” The Declaration of Independence contains these hateful words.

I did a double take when I saw the phrase emblazoned on a tee shirt in Southwest Alaska. The dark-haired girl wearing it was laughing with a friend. Her bright eyes and brilliant smile offered a refutation to the offensive words.

Contrast the clutch of fishermen on the ferry who bristled with antipathy as a Native man walked past. I stared at them, a witness. Spoke as an ally when the local clinic turned away a Native who needed emergency treatment. The founding fathers got those three words wrong.