Hope on the Last Day of the Old Year: Everyday Magic, Day 912

I’m perched on this lovely porch on the last day of the year, at least the last day according to the Jewish year, which ends at sundown. The wind and crickets thread sound through the Osage Orange tree, leaning over the driveway with its heavy hedge apples (think lime green brains the size of grapefruit). A few hummingbirds dive-bomb each other on the aerial path to the feeder. I’m comfortable in a hideous chartreuse recliner with iced coffee within reach. It’s just another beautiful edge-of-summer day in Kansas for me, but for many it’s far more heartbreaking and threatening.

I think of people in central Mexico, working frantically to unearth possible survivors from collapsed buildings from the 7.1 earthquake yesterday. I’ve watched videos of people coming together in the streets, crying in each other’s arms, or staring at buildings that have sloughed off into big piles of concrete and steel.

I think of thousands in Puerto Rico, right now, enduring Hurricane Maria, which hit the island as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 155 mph. I imagine the terror so many must feel right now as the winds batter their homes or shelters, bending palm trees horizontal and tossing cars across flooding parking lots. At the very least, they might be worried about having enough water and food, knowing how likely it is that they could face weeks or longer without electricity; at the most, their lives might be danger because of storm surges, crumbling buildings, and mud slides.

I think of millions in South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Guam, and many other places living with the searing threat of nuclear attack due to two immature and reckless leaders, one in North Korea and one in America, talking trash about the other and escalating a historic conflict. With rhetoric about destroying these countries and many more, those within easy reach of missiles bearing nuclear warheads must be living with overwhelming fear as the war of words builds.

Meanwhile, the fires in the west burn millions of acres of forest and change the faces of many a gorge, valley, and mountain. Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar has led to hundreds of villages being burned to the ground. People throughout various chains of islands and many on our mainland are still without electricity, or are busy with the sad work of stripping out of their homes all the water-logged furniture and family treasures.

Fire, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria), and war rage on, sporadically or worse, and much of it (excluding the earthquakes) due to the worst of human behavior: ignoring or denying the effects of climate change, and escalating the conflicts between tribes or nations to the point of no return.

It’s the end of the world as they know it for so many, human and otherwise. It’s also, as seems to have been the human habit, a time for the best of our beings to come forth. People in Texas made human chain to transfer elderly people out of flooded homes, thousands (or tens of thousands) of people driving to Texas or Florida to help with feeding, clothing, rebuilding, and reconnecting electricity for those in need. People in Mexico worked in the hot sun for hours, then all night, and still continue today lifting shards of concrete, digging with their bare hands, and listening carefully for one trapped beneath. I think of my brother-in-law in Florida, an electrician, who has worked long hours in the heat along with countless others to restore power for many communities. I marvel at the photos of humans throughout the Caribbean and Bahamas who lost everything, but also gave every ounce of their energy to rescuing others. A cruise ship ended its trip early, giving passengers the option of staying on to help evacuate islands in the path of Hurricane Irma, and over 70 vacationers did just that along with many cruise lines that sent ships and cash to the islands. Firefighters in Montana, Oregon, Washington, and other states worked themselves to exhaustion doing dangerous work to save lives and places.

At sunset, we cross over into the new year, but millions around the world have been forced to do this already, leaving behind all that was lost in the old year. For them, and for the blessings we can be when we reach out to help those facing the end of their worlds, my deepest wish is that we find hope in action that shows us what we’re capable of. Let us mend what’s broken, lift who and what is fallen, and act always on a love for life, and all that being and staying alive entails. L’shanah Tovah — a good and sweet new year — for everyone.

Our local food co-op, the veritable Community Mercantile, just celebrated its marvelous school garden project at West Junior High School and the person who founded the project and has given so much to our community over the last 25 years, Nancy O’Connor. When Rita York, general manager of the Merc, asked me to do a toast, that toast turned into this poem. Nancy has inspired me for 30 years, not just about the beauty and vitality of a good carrot or ways to roast vegetables to make them irresistible. Her dedication to weaving together community, and feeding everyone in the process, has changed the lives of thousands of people in our region. She also brings to all she does enduring excellence, steady patience and humor, and expansive vision. Thank you, Nancy, and long may your flag fly and your spirit shine!

In Gratitude for Nancy

Let her near the food, and everything changes:

broccoli opens the pathway to nirvana,

beets show us new ways to glimpse the sunset,

quinoa leads the wooded path to the banquet

where everyone begins laughing without knowing why,

clinking our glasses to toast the goldness of the garden,

the kindness of the kitchen, the dream of the dining room.

Take a taste of life in gratitude for Nancy who,

dish by dish, class by class, carries all the ingredients

her car can hold to gather us together so we can see

who we are, and how we can make peace on the plate.

Listen to her speak through what she grows and cooks,

teaches and mentors, about the marvel of who we can be,

one meal at a time, our bodies chiming in time

with what the earth offers, how we can put

our hands and time to good use to feed the soul

of the world we inhabit that inhabits us.

There’s white fur on the bathroom mirror, bath curtain rod, and bedroom windows from Calicoco, the feral cat I stupidly thought I could catch and keep. For three months, this beautiful and seemingly tame calico kitty has been hanging out at our place: sleeping on the deck or on top of the kayaks while blinking at our indoor cats, who blink back without a fuss. She got along well with Shay the Dog, who treated her like any of the other feline-Americans of the house, and I spent a lot of time talking to her. “Calicoco,” I would call out in a high-pitched voice, “We are your forever home!” Then I would put out food and water for her, each day getting a little closer although she required an eight-foot perimeter with humans.

After a big storm the other day, when we found Calicoco outside our bedroom window cowering, Ken and I decided today we would set up the live trap, then take this supposedly sweet and pitiful kitty to the vet to get her shots and make sure she was healthy before making her our new cat. A few hours later, I set out the trap on our driveway, sat on the screened-in porch, watched and waited. Calicoco circled it continuously but she seemed too smart to actually get inside the cage with the food, surely knowing it would trap her. After a few hours, I had to leave, so I told Forest to check on her.

Of course, she got caught in the trap 10 minutes after I left, and Forest reported she immediately started ramming her pretty face against the cage to the point that she was bleeding. I told him to put the cage in the bathroom, and let her out, then close the door until she could chill. The plan was then for him to wrap her in a towel, put her in the cat carrier, and meet me at the vet.

Sitting at the Wa with Kelley while finishing our bento boxes, Forest called, and we both listened to him trying to catch her. It sounded like a Roadrunner cartoon without the beeping: lots of crashes and bangs. He took a breather, tried again, and the sounds we heard were even more outrageous (think mega squirrel on steroids). So I drove back home to help catch the kitty myself, figuring that if my over-6-foot-tall, strong, young son couldn’t get her into the carrier, surely it would be a piece of cake for me.

When I locked myself in the bathroom with sweet Calicoco, I experienced the most wild animal encounter of my life up close and personal. This cat doesn’t just jump — she flies! She could leap from the top of the bath curtain rod to the molding over the door, front paws extended, in a flash, then boomarang window to floor to sink to bathtub in about two seconds. Trying to throw a towel over a feral cat is also a very bad idea indeed, and it results in a barrage of crashing and breaking glass. Within a minute, the floor was covered with blue and pink glass, cat food, blood, and fur.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Forest and I talked earnestly about letting her back out into the wild, but with cuts on her face that could get infected, we decided to try to get her to the vet instead first. So I opened the door to the bedroom, where Forest, a box, and several towels waited, and we backed up to watch the fireworks. She repeatedly body-slammed herself into every window, trying to break out, and she might have succeeded. But then she leapt down between the bed and the wall, just her adorable feet sticking up, and this was when I did something brave and idiotic: I grabbed her feet, praying she didn’t swing around and kill me, and flung her into a towel and box. Forest and I threw ourselves on top of the box, taping the hell out of it, then carefully carried that box to the car.

Now the ethical (and financial) quandary deepened. If we took her to the vet and spent big $ to sedate and treat her, it would just be to let her out in the wild again. Then again, it was our fault she was injured. Ken and Daniel were concerned about her effect on the bird population, and given that this cat flies, so was I. If we took her to the humane society, we feared they would kill her. For the next hour, Forest and I drove around with a feral cat in a box, calling various friends, talking with Ken repeatedly, then puzzling it out with each other.

In the end, we drove to the humane society to see if they would truly send her to the wild cat rainbow bridge, and it turned out they turn wild critters like her into barn cats by way of shots, neutering, and flea treatment. We spent a lot of time talking with staff there about when and if they would kill her — they might if she’s not adopted, and it’s apparent she’s suffering too much. “It’s torture for a feral cat to be in a kennel,” one of the very wise women who worked there told us. “We have to think about what’s best for the cat, not what we want.”

Forest and I wanted Calicoco to live, but we also realized she couldn’t live with us. Turns out Denise and Courtney, who brought us an abandoned kitty years ago (Sidney Iowa Goldberg, found in a parking lot on their home from where they married in Iowa), need a barn cat. So we’re working with them to give Calicoco a real forever home, one with a heap of goats, some big-ass pigs, and humans who will know enough not to put a feral cat in the bathroom. In the meantime, I look at the top of the kayaks, so lonely now without a beautiful and fierce flying ninja cat sunning herself on top of them.

I’m looking for art for the cover of my novel Miriam’s Well, coming out from Ice Cube Press when the clock strikes 2018. This 12-year-in-the-making novel is about biblical Miriam and her brothers Aaron and Moses, but it’s set in the U.S. and has Miriam wandering the spiritual, political, and cultural desert and lushness of this country for 40 years, starting her wandering in People’s Park in 1969. I describe the book as somewhat like Forrest-Gump-Meets-The-Red-Tent. I’m looking for original art to use that resonates with Miriam, her well (way of feeding people and keeping up their spirits during the long haul), wandering, seeking home, the kaleidoscope of family and life, or any related theme. Little caveat: ain’t nobody getting any advance on this book, so I don’t have a budget for art, but I can pay the artist with extensive gratitude, a big pile of books, his/her/their profile at the end of the book, and other ways to share more about this wondrous artist. Thank you for your help! Below is a longer synopsis of the novel. If you know of any art – photography, painting, pastels, sculpture, quilting, etc. — that might fit, please email me at carynmirriamgoldberg@gmail.com. Thanks for reading this far and considering what images would do the trick!

Miriam’s Well Synopsis

From a young age Miriam sees visions she can’t cope with or stop. Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn with Aaron, her boy genius brother, her black father and white mother, she finds her place in the world best through singing and feeding people, much like her biblical namesake. That sense of belonging is shattered when, as a teenager, her worst nightmares come true. After her high-strung mother gives birth to a third child, Moses, who is more Miriam’s than her mother’s, the family moves to Israel. Caught in a freak accident during the Six-Day War, Miriam’s father is killed, her mother disengages from the family, and Kansas relatives take Moses away from her. Shattered and lost, Miriam and Aaron return to their old house in Brooklyn, now owned by their aunt and uncle, to piece together their future. Miriam embarks upon an opposite journey than her career-driven brother Aaron as she takes to the open road.

For the next 40 years, Miriam wanders, yearning for home and meaning while dwelling in the edges of America. She feeds a giant house full of hippies in Berkeley, attends women’s Black Panther meetings in Oakland, and sneaks into Wounded Knee during the 1973 occupation to cook for everyone. She sings to people at soup kitchens in Denver, homeless shelters in New York City, and a San Francisco hospice during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. She even bakes the Cuban bread the leaders of Key West throw at U.S. government officials when the city tries to secede from America in 1982.

Many of the places Miriam lives, first on her own, and later with her half-Lakota, half-Italian husband Joseph, and their daughter Laura, are geographically, politically or spiritually on the edge of America, from Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine to the beaches of Key West to an extreme west Texas small town. She tries to salvage a relationship at an Idaho back-to-the-land commune, leads women’s rituals at a feminist potato farm (Mrs. Potato Head) in Utah, and runs a cafe at an Alabama ecovillage. Working with the homeless or the hungry, at-risk L.A. Teenagers or overlooked New York City elders, Miriam reaches beyond the edges of her upbringing.

Miriam is continually plagued by her visions and driven by an unquenchable desire to save people while puzzling over what do with her own family. She helps a man search hospitals for his wife after the Oklahoma City bombing, rescues a a teen who overdosed during the Whittier-Narrows earthquake, runs toward the World Trade Center during 9/11, and feeds hundreds after Hurricane Katrina–all to the fury and fear of her family. Her many visits with Moses in western Kansas teach her that she can’t rescue her autistic brother from his quiet life among evangelical Christians, but she can dwell with him there. She can’t live the life her brother Aaron wants for her, but over decades, she helps him recover his own visions. She can’t stop missing her father, but over time that deep yearning changes from overwhelming roar to dull ache. After decades of avoiding, blaming, and distancing from her mother, Miriam discovers Batty isn’t who Miriam thought she was, and her family is intact in a mosaic she never could have imaged.

Much to her own surprise, Miriam finds home in a kaleidoscope of family and friends, healing in the middle of cancer, and peace in the thin places between the world lost and the new land on the other side of her wandering.

This weekend, I had the honor of being part of the Voices of Freedom Festival, celebrating the Brown vs. Board of Education supreme court decision that ended “separate but equal” policies in public schools and beyond. It was a joy to hear the music of Kelley Hunt, Isaac Cates and the Ordained, Maria the Mexican, and Injunuity, and to read with fellow poets David Baumgardner, Tava Miller, and Ashanti Spears. Here’s the poem I wrote for the occasion, held in downtown Topeka, Kansas.

What It Takes

It takes years of waiting on polished wooden benches

outside trembling courtrooms. Thousands of meetings

in church basements or someone’s living room,

sipping lukewarm coffee on folding chairs.

Centuries of nights up late worrying, or puzzling out

how to change what’s unjust and breaking us all,

then early mornings to make the oatmeal, pour the

orange juice, and remind the children to take their homework.

It takes 16 blocks to get to the black school instead of

the white one on the corner, and hundreds of new signs

for another march, hours on the phone, and dressing up

to meet with the senator who sends his aide instead

and says, don’t push, change takes time

as if that’s not obvious as daylight after decades

of waiting in chains, standing in the back of the bus

and swimming in the smaller mildewed pool

surrounded by weeds and broken beer bottles.

It takes gumption and guts, grief churned into anger

that makes a tired man head to the newspaper office

to tell a reporter, it’s past time for justice, and just in time

to turn supposed equality into walkaday freedom.

It takes all those lawsuits before judges blinded by habit

and their own inadequate stories, and all those potlucks

to break bread with people who don’t look like you,

and tell them what it’s like for mothers to count the minutes

between the school bell and the front door,

and fathers whose hearts fall when hear

their beautiful daughters say, it’s nothing, I’m okay,

when she’s not okay. It takes piles of briefs that sway

the sidewalk leading up to the school where

a little girl walks, hand in hand in a federal agent,

ready to cross the threshold into the world we should have

inhabited all along, each step a way to sing, “Stand Up.”

Even then, it’s not over, and it’ll take all this and more

to make it safe to drive, or cross the street, or ask

for help without the risk of seeing eye bullets and

all the secret lashes that separate us into a lesser people.

It takes the patience of water to turn mountains into rivers,

then find the courage to sing while the healing waters flow.