By Heather J. Macpherson
What we say and what we do, and how we listen to each other, is more important than ever. As I mourned Hillary Clinton’s loss this week, like many other millions of Americans who watched our best advocate for women, children, minorities, and our LGBTQ communities lose to a misogynistic reality television star, who as a close friend stated on Wednesday, will go down in history for saying “You’re fired” and “Grab ‘em by the pussy,” I am trying to find my own way back. I am not participating in the many protests against our President-elect, at least not right now, because I ask myself if that is how I really want to expend my energies. Instead, I am thinking about organizing, mobilizing, and doing what I can to fundraise and volunteer time because soon, the majority of our country, a once-conceived cultural melting pot of American Dreams is going to drift toward the darkness never to be seen again. At the same time, we can only predict where we think we are going and it appears that a mostly white-male conservative Republican cabinet is forecasted, suggests a high probability that Roe V. Wade is at risk of getting overturned; birth control may not be covered under health insurance; and how is a man whose name I cannot even bring myself to say aloud going to reassure us that the visible rise in violence against each other is going to subside when it was his dangerous rhetoric that irresponsibly caused the beating of a Hispanic man in Boston? or, more recently, encouraged the haunting classroom chant of one group of children to another, “Build that Wall!” It was easy to predict that regardless of the election’s outcome rallies, riots and protests were bound to reveal themselves across the country, but what does it all mean? We are impassioned about what we think in the most negative and positive ways. I too, am lost in the woods reconsidering what Adrienne Rich wrote in her 1995 poem “What Kind of Times are These,” included in Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 by W.W. Norton.
Both a question and a statement of authority, “What Kind of Times are These” does not beg the reader to enter – we go willingly into a vast unknown where “There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill / and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows” (lines 1-2). Rich evokes a place that is all past, present and future; a place with historical value yet reminds us that we too, can be “abandoned by the persecuted” (line 3). Why? because “we” abandon the persecuted. Whatever hostile treatment we subject each other to is measured by individual survival instead of helping each other. I ask of myself and all of you: do not run to the shadows and disappear. We cannot hide in fear, we should not abandon ourselves or each other; we need a meeting house more than ever and all should be welcome… right? Theoretically? Or do we have to worry about who has the C4 and who has the detonator?
Fear is poison, a toxin quickly seeping through the bark and funneling it’s way to the heartwood. Rich reminds us “this is not somewhere else but here” (lines 6). We are here and now, and the world is watching our every move because now we are a volatile society and who knows what we will do next. The world is watching our new President-elect, likely asking themselves, how dangerous is he really? Is he really going to build a wall? Will we go to war with Mexico? Will we go to war with everyone that ‘stands in our way’? We rely on perception to leverage our ability for aggression I mean, this is the United States of America, is it not? We are created equal, but not really and let’s face it: we’ve never been one nation under God. What God are we talking about? Where is the “we”? How can “we” possibly be represented fairly and equally? We are not a nation of voters, but a select number of privileged electors and it is the electoral college that continues to push our country “closer to its own truth and dread, / its own way of making people disappear” (lines 7-8). I beg you, do not disappear. Stay visible and away from the shadows. Do not fear what is unknown, but stand strong in this unknown place. We are “the dark mesh of the woods”, a threadwork of disagreement, misunderstandings, and vulgarity (line 9). We are the “leafmold paradise” diseased and disillusioned because we don’t know. We are infected by a broadening spectrum of hate and indifference when we should act responsibly with our voices. I know this is not easy, I struggle too. So why am I even attempting to communicate what I think? Can I accomplish anything with my voice? Rich herself asks: “so why do I tell you / anything?” And her honest response is “Because you still listen, because in times like these/ to have you listen at all, it’s necessary / to talk about trees” (lines 13-16). Let’s talk about the trees, not hide in the forest.
Heather J. Macpherson writes from Massachusetts and is the executive director at Damfino Press. Her work has appeared in The Parlour: Literary Arts & Criticism, Radius , Niche Magazine, ATOMIC, Spillway, Blueline, Pearl, The New Worcester Spy, Rougarou, and others. She was recently a guest blogger for The Best American Poetry Blog, featuring her interview with poet Stephanie Brown.