24 Jun Pride(s)
“I’m sick and tired of bein’ sick and tired!” That’s what Fannie Lou Hamer, the magnificent Civil Rights leader and head of the Mississippi Freedom Democrats said, and I thought I understood what she meant back in the 1960s.
But now I understand it in my bones. You determine to manufacture affirmation. It’s a deliberate decision. You seek affirmation as if it were a place, and so it is. It’s the place where Yes We Can comes from. Anger can get you there–and women especially have a hard time with anger. But we’re learning to walk that path. Religion gets some people there. Love get some people there. There are many roads.
It’s the mysterious place of reserve from which we draw resilience, imagination, even humor. Endurance–and pride in endurance. Art flourishes there. Like jazz and lullabies. Signals flash there, like songs, puzzles, quilts with codes that map directions for routes to follow north to freedom. Wit thrives there, and inside-outs and upside-downs like Why do we wring our hands that 40 percent of Americans approve of Trump when that number is falling every day, but in the process we don’t notice and celebrate that 60 percent of Americans disapprove of him intensely and that number is growing every day? 60 percent! That’s amazing!
So this is about those Americans. This is about me, moaning and groaning in anticipatory dread at reports that 4.5 million partygoers were about to descend on my quiet area of Greenwich Village for the 50th Anniversary of Lesbian and Gay Pride month, while all I could think of was brilliant Hannah Gadsby’s line about longing for the nice quiet sound a cup of tea makes as it clinks into a saucer. But actually, as the streets fill, it’s a glad and glorious sight: pairs and groups of pairs from all over the world arm in arm and hip to hip celebrating a half-century of visibility—some of them old enough to have lived and fought for it and be mourning those who didn’t; some of them so young they had only heard the stories; cramming the sidewalks and spilling over into the streets, laughing and chanting and singing in their freedom. One young couple maybe in their teens, two women, one with bright lilac hair streaming behind her radiant mahogany face, the other with a long blond braid trailing down her back, both very much in love, unable to take their eyes off each other, walked along in locked step as if they were a single body-—provoking a smile from everyone who passed them, to which they were oblivious in their bliss.
And then, when I got home, domestic joy: a fledgling in the garden. My little garden has been so generous over the years, giving me subject matter and images for poems, teaching me patience, waking me with the dawn chorus of birds before the city cacophony starts, rewarding my labor with fruits and herbs and flowers, splashing my days with sunlight and shadow and nights with the percussive music of rain! It’s an organic garden, so creatures come here—a wee toad from god knows where, three summers running; hummingbirds, opalescent-winged dragonflies—and many birds. New ones lately, given climate change, ones I haven’t seen before. Plus the standards: blue jays, finches, robins, the occasional starlings and hilarious tufted titmouses, and woodpeckers, and different kinds of sparrows. In winter I set out suet and seed feeders so I think they pass the word along that I’m an easy mark.
This year the robin family has shared the raising of a chick who fell from the nest and has been tottering around the ground with the parents flying up and down to feed and tend to it. Yes, both parents. I checked my bird books, so my politics wouldn’t run away with my reportorial accuracy. She flies back and forth to rebuild the nest for the next brood—they have 2 to 3 a year—while he tends to this one. When I first saw this one under a broad hosta leaf, I thought it was a hawk chick because it was so large, bigger than a baseball, and periodically I’ve spied a falcon or two in the garden in the past, stalking pigeons. But the photo I sent to the Audubon Society was identified as a robin, and sure enough the parents are robins. The fledgling, all puffy feathers, has spent its days walking around cleaning itself, staring, yawning, getting fed by swooping parents, and squawking. And there has been an inordinate amount of pooping. Every morning new poop. Poop on the hosta. Poop on the azalea. Poop on the lily-of-the-valley and the violets. Apparently we can’t get up very high so we can’t poop on the roses or the hydrangea, but can flit high enough to poop on the herbs which I’m sure is excellent for fertilization but makes me reluctant to use them in salads. I swear that the mother and father robins are very amused. Then, three days ago, they began teaching the fledgling to fly.
This involved great patience on the parents’ part and for the fledgling lots of veering left swooping right and frantic flap flap flap bonk into a twig desperate flap flap bear sharp left nervous poop from aloft siiiiiinging from the parents squaaaaawk from the baby splosh splat into the birdbath. Great praise singing from the parents lots of proud wet feathers from the baby do it all over again next day a bit smoother again and again.
Then yesterday all day flap veeeer riiiiight then leeeeft almoooost and the parents singing and the fledgling crying and the crowds chanting WE ARE HERE WE ARE PROUD higher and higher wingspread arm in arm.
In a week the crowds will have left, the street cleaners will be at work. Already the birds have flown, all of them, and I have hosed the garden clean, smiling.
But as I did so, I thought, there it is. Do it over, do it again until you’re free, do it over until you get it right, the fledgling, the flame in the eyes of two young lovers, a flame already burning for 50 years, for centuries before that for millennia before those centuries, struck fresh from their glance, deliberately, because we determine to conjure affirmation, to reinvent miracle, to do it over till we get it right, to do it again until we’re free, to forge the energy that fires the reserve we draw on, that fuels the flame in our eyes, that spreads our wings to take flight.