This past year was nothing short of national chaos amidst rising numbers of deaths. Somehow, we not only lost lives, but we lost souls. I saw many a moral compass spin and spiral out of control and get lost somewhere else, but not on earth. I have hung on to mine for dear life. Why should that have been hard to do? I have considered my personal core to be that of strong ethics and firm moral balance. But I do believe I was not the only one foundering around with footing trying to grasp every grain of sand. We must work to change the sand to rock. Rock solid. I want to be rock solid.
A philosopher was once asked, what is the purpose of the giant redwood tree. His response was simply, to shade the tiny vole. I find this statement to be magnificent in its brevity. All purposes do not have to be grand. Why do we feel as if we need to make something bigger than it really needs to be? The tiny vole is still under the shade. He waits. For a beetle. Somewhere a hawk flies and as it circles in the air above the giant redwood; she does not see the vole. She flies. Looks further. The vole sights the hawk and remains still. You cannot see this vole breathe. We do not hear a sound. Yet there is this big tree, a tiny vole, a hunter in flight. I see all this in my mind, and I am humbled by this vision. A story starts to form.
I see a young black poet recite a powerful poem, in the sun, her coat in its brilliance rivals our sun. Her words pierce the air like a feather. Her language and rhythm of speech take control of our ears and we stop our own clocks for the five minutes we hear her. Can the hill of humanity really be so big we cannot climb it to the summit where we can see all the world? Can we revive, re-position our own gyroscopes to get back on track for a better destiny? Yes. I believe we can. We can start by taking a self-inventory of our biases and our denial of nature’s place. We can take this inventory and start checking off each one of our misinformed notions as we work to improve ourselves. I will start right now. I need to listen more. To nature. To people. To my heart.
We need to start healing our land as well as ourselves. We need to reckon with our future and resolve that there must be justice for all. We can take the pandemic-caused malaise and force it out of our minds. While it may be difficult to come together and harness all the redemptive power of people, it is not difficult to believe that this power can exit. We can be ready. I will be ready.
I need to jump start my writing again. Like many of my writing friends, I let 2020 stop me in my tracks. My pens were idle for too long. The erasers on my pencils dried up. How can I write my American Story if my tools do not function? We need poets to tell our stories. We need them to tell us we are better than we have been. We are better than we have seen. Maybe we all need to buy yellow coats and get out into the sun. Climb a hill. I’m in.
Here is what I want my story to include: I do not want to see sunsets and mankind only through power lines, cell phone towers, and oil rigs. I do not want to search through plastic bags and tar balls to find a perfect horse conch shell. I do not want to see someone pulled down because of their skin color. I want to see all minorities rise in their own dignity defined by equality that is bestowed in our democracy. I want to see birds compete for space on my feeders. I want to see fish with perfect skin swim with vigor after crawfish. I want to hear the masses laugh. I want to see bats at sunset dodge and swoop at insects. I want to sleep soundly with my partner and my dog.
My American Story can start as an epic poem about how my ancestors arrived in Baltimore at the turn of the 20th century and settled in a little Virginia town. I can write of my life growing up as one of only two Jewish families. My story can describe all the wonderful folks who used to shop in my father’s store, who also ended up in his photography books. Forever saved. I can write about the little woodland vole my dog looks for every day at sunset when it comes out to feed. His home is in a corrugated pipe under a tall black oak tree. In the summer, the leaves are just the right size for shade. For him. For me. A friend.
Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. In addition to publication in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), and Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017); journals: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013), and Stones for Words (2014). Her latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, released in February 2016, was a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award.