A holiday weekend here in the US. Labor Day–a federal holiday, thanks to Grover Cleveland and his wish to avoid observing International Workers Day on May 1st, with its taint of anarchists and communists commemorating Haymarket Square. In my childhood, Labor Day meant a picnic with fried chicken, potato salad, watermelon, lemonade, blackberry pie–the last long day of summer, school starting a day or two after. After Labor Day, the community swimming pool closed down, county fairs were over, amusement parks cut back their hours, Life got Serious again. It was loss, dread, and hope–loss of those long, summer days of bare feet and bicycles, dread of the classroom lock-up, hope that somehow, this time, it’d all be different, school would be fun, kids would like me, and my mother wouldn’t make me wear pinafores.
Now, most kids go back to school before Labor Day and in San Francisco, the weather’s not fit for a picnic the entire summer.
Today began with foggy gray skies and damp chill, but the afternoon is bright and blue and the wild parrots are out in force. For the past few days, a flock has been swooping over the house, squawking furiously. They’re so fast, all you can see are black outlines against the sky, an occasional glint of green or red, and that unmistakable harsh screech. I wish I knew why they fly about in groups squawking like that. Yesterday they came by three or four times, twenty or more of them. They act as though they’re fleeing for their lives, but nothing’s chasing them.
Probably we all should be fleeing for our lives, we just don’t know it. A phrase of Kathleen Norris’ caught my eye: “…what remains when pretense, including our own pretense to affluence, is taken away.” I flashed on a guy I saw out the car window as we drove by a couple of weeks ago, sleeping on the sidewalk next to a chainlink fence around a barren lot, his body wrapped in a ragged blanket, broken down leather shoes cradling his head, people walking by without looking at him. America, circa 2012.
Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have know the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.
–Roque Dalton, translated from Spanish by Jack Hirschman