Trying to break through
Time passes. The rain falls, the sun comes out, flowers in my gardens open, bloom, fall. In the graveyard I see doves and ravens, woodpeckers and jays.
There are meetings, and partings. There are books read, books sold, books given. There is bread given out to the hungry, blankets; there are phone calls made.
There are depositions and witnessing. I take down the stories of the ones no one listens to. I try to make those stories heard.
My hands are usually dirty, with newsprint and with ink smudges, with garden dirt, with soot from the woodstove.
I pin my hair up, but it straggles down.
I don't get enough sleep.
And sometimes I cry. When Benny brought his friend to me, and asked if I had shoes, I had none. And I looked at his friend's feet, which were raw, bare, swelling. Which oozed with sores. Which barely held him up.
And he was a young man, walking as if he were so old, so pained. Yes, I cried. I had soft new socks, but I had no shoes for him. I sent him to the clinic, being serious, being stern, saying "you must go there, you must have them look at your feet, there must be salves or medicines, give them my name."
And I cried all that night. Well, the oil spill had also happened, but somehow it was those poor feet, that had walked so far, in such pain. It was my lack.
Today my friend Debra had close to 50 people, poor people, travelers and locals, gathered in the hope of food in the town two miles north, where usually there is a lunch. The lunch had been canceled, but Debra had heard that another friend was bringing sandwiches. So imagine her, a big, tall woman, wearing velvety red and purple, rings on her fingers, her blond hair graying, her voice loud. And imagine our friends, all of them, gathered about for food. And imagine that the food did not come.
And they waited. Now, that's not so bad, but as they waited the police came and said "move on". So they went to the vacant lot. And the police came again and said "move on". And again.
And there was no food. Debra came here to my shop and we talked and shared news and schemed. And a customer came in, a nice woman, asking "what was that demonstration in the other town".
No demonstration, said I, those were merely a few of the hungry people. Perhaps they were demonstrating poverty. The woman was shocked. Hunger?
The guys gathered in the park across the way were also hungry; we brought fruit and bread. I'd already gone over in the morning, trying to find Frank Senior. I walked into a rowdy group, busy singing the most amazingly obscene song I had ever heard, at the top of their lungs.
I stood a while, near one of the guys I know best, and suddenly another looked up and said "oh, no, hush, that's the booklady". I told them I wasn't offended by the song, but needed to get in touch with old Frank, because his son is in intensive care. Broken neck. May not live out this night. I knew they'd get word to him, through our network of the dispossessed, the mad, the loving, the lonely.
And I've been thinking tonight of young Frank, in the ICU, down in a city far away. It is strange that he shares his name not only with his dad but with a friend who died in the same city, long ago, perhaps in the same hospital. At about the same age.
I remember meeting young Frank one Thanksgiving, when I was walking my old yellow dog down by the camps. He came up with a pup of his own, Gargomel, a spotted and very happy dog who only lived a year. We talked dogs, and I told him about the free Thanksgiving meal; he and his dad were new in town. He was just a kid. He had hard luck stories and wild hopes. His mom had been dead a long, long time. He met a pretty local girl here.
She's with him now, down in the city, waiting for the news.
Rains come. Sunlight comes. Sometimes I think...how can this all go on? And my friends are told again, "keep moving". And in this plentiful land there is real hunger. And I keep trying, trying to break through.
update: I met Frank Senior today as he came into town in the rain, just as I was walking out of the graveyard with my dog. Some phone calls, some scrambling. He's now enroute to his son at the hospital. Come what may, at least he'll be there. He has my number and instructions to contact me when he needs a return ticket home. His hands are covered with burns from when his tent caught fire, after the pretty dog died. I'm keeping them all in my heart and thoughts; you could do the same.
Second update: June 1, 2010...tonight there was a knock at the closed bookstore door, and Frank Sr. was there, grinning, back from the city. "How is your son?" I asked, bracing myself. He is out of the hospital and recovering at the home of the woman who helped raise him when he was a little boy, after his mom died. He will live. He will walk and dance and sing and play and be joyful.
Oh, and so will we. There was much hugging and rejoicing and grinning going on tonight at the bookshop, let me tell you.