Monday 10 August 2020

Invisibility Is Not a Choice: Daily Meditations on Finding A My Voice

Week 21, Day 1: Nothing More to Say

Hello, __day -  the __ day of the month of ___.

You look the same. Do I?

Sirens roar in the near and far distance. Again.

Tones range from high soprano to low alto. Unlike days of decades

past, when children danced safely in the streets and porch gatherings

were times of festive camaraderie. Dusty shoebox photos – blurred

in black and white ink - proof my memory is not the source of the daily

betrayals that parade before – on, through, over  us. Now, eyes darken

and elders of all ages shoo offspring inside. Hurry, now. Balls away.

Nets tucked behind fence. Careful now. Locks twist right. Nighttime

Games of tag with no winners await. Curtains draw. Lights off.

Bedtime comes early for the children

these days. Bedtime comes early – and increasingly earlier – for all.

Asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks spew unpredictable fury

after dark. Temperatures rise. Ninety-nine, One hundred,

One hundred and one. Rest calls. Daytime frolics grow shorter. Lifespans, too.

Measured in decades. Did he reach his third?

Times differ – daily’s shutter, go digital  and fear persists. Was she let go, too?

I need coffee. No cream. No sugar.

Percolate and brew – steam reveals a rising sense of unease

that fails to temper or cool. Too hot to touch. Stand back. Step away.

Yellow tape, solemn faces.

What now?

Heads turn right, then left,

then right again. Eyes lock.

Stories vary, yet truths remain the same.

Another shot. Mark made. Life lost.

Him? Her? Both?

Why? What? How? NO.

Not again. Again.

No. Yes.


“There’s nothing more to say”, we say. On repeat, as we fade into dust

and our stories evaporate into the gray air we call our temporary home

on our path to nowhere. And everywhere. Tents line 8th. 9th. 10th, too.

But there is. There’s much to say and say we must.

We must ensure the stories persist.

…Pursuits of Ms. M. and Mr. D.
... Hobbies of young Miss F.
…Dreams of Teen T.
…Toys of Tot P.

That we persist. Through speech. Loud, high-pitched yells. Low, deep-bellowed

moans. Quick, eager whispers. Punctured text. Succinct replies. Mass emails. Hand written

letters. Marches. Petitions. Sign here. On the dotted line. Pieces we call poems.

Call it what you wish, but for whatever you wish – then write.

We must.

Well-constructed arguments built on scholarly evidence and mountains

of sound quantitative and qualitative data.

Formal and informal logic. Formal and informal speech.

Simple if-then statements mask complexities

revealed in hindsight only.

…If stay at home orders are to work, everyone needs a home.
…If stay at home orders are to work, all homes must be safe.
…If we live in a democracy, all voices deserve a vote.
…If drug dependencies require treatment, all souls require care.
…If temperatures rise above 100 degrees, milk and minds sour.

Shall I continue? It’s getting dark…

When contra-positives falter, we must continue to find ways

to ensure our voices and the stories

of those who cannot speak for themselves

are shared.

First Amendment protections frayed

and fractured. Neighbors speak in whispers only.

First Amendment protections stifled

and stomped. Visitation rights on uncertain  and search

dependent  terms.

Privacy scorched and pruned. Behind the

Curtain. Turn. Bend. Cough.

Like the bare

wilted and ever so sad _____ tree with no recognizable name

or identity in my own backyard.

We speak not of the terms of our visits.
Only that they occurred. Twelve noon.
We had a fine time. Lovely, yes. Of course, we did.
No one utters his name. Fear it’s contagious, maybe.

In everyone’s own backyard. ____, there, everywhere.

Ashes and embers

flicker, as [nameless] boots on the ground tromp, trudge, and slog

through the crushing news

bites, media clips, ____ streams, and 24/7 assaults that flood

our planes, trains, automobiles,

phones, and minds. No wonder I have a headache.

Week 21, Day 2: Tell Me Why

When asked why I write, I think how can we not?

The times when “there’s nothing more to say”

are the times when there’s nothing more important than saying – anything, everything –

we can. If we can’t speak to one another, then we write. Loudly. Of the headlines,

the daily news, and the stories [ the _____, the _____, and the _____ ] of our everyday,

ordinary, uniquely extraordinary, increasingly silenced lives. 

Week 21, Day 3: Time Waits for No One

Clock alarm buzzes.

Body coughs. Bones growl. Wake up.
Hello, World. Let’s go.

Right toes curl. Left stretch.
Flannel quilt drops. Knuckles crack.
Sirens roar. Ready? Go.

Fingers find Red Bic.
Spiral notebook on nightstand.
Capture nighttime thoughts.

Vague wonderings turn
real as phantom “Thinks” transform
to physical “Things”
with a familiar name and a familiar voice.
All that which is documented persist beyond nighttime dreams – the good and bad  and daytime
wonderings – the good and bad, the right and wrong, the acknowledged and the ignored.
Write. Now.

Week 21, Day 4: Marking Every. Single. One.

Ball point ink runs dry. Please forgive the tiny pencil scrawl. Cannot – will not – miss a day. Not a single one…

Hidden behind the numbers and volumes of data that “speak” objectively of thousands of traumas –
physical and sexual assaults, rapes, and batteries - are the faces. Fingers tap, then click. Weary eyes
await, as tired souls seek refuge and transportation. Entering a vehicle with a smile and leaving
with a forever scar. Behind statistics that emphasize percentages, odds ever in our favor, and phrases
of “only” one for so many thousands, is the question: When will one – every one  matter?
Students of eighteen years, tourists of twenty, workers of thirty, travelers of forty, explorers of fifty,
friends of sixty, families of seventy, experts of eighty, and elders of ninety years of age.
Parades of lives upended  each and every one – as car processions occur on the daily -
out of a basic need to arrive at one’s destination safely. Ending a late-night shift. Avoiding drivers
with penchants for drinking. Splurging on a direct ride home. Choosing license plates over subway
unknowns. Seven months pregnant with tired feet and an aching back. Office staff spending wages
to save time. End of paying the ultimate price. Each one – Losing everything. Unknowingly entering
contracts about to be broken. Transactions meant to take one safely from point A to point B - where
loved ones, rest, and sweet dreams await, lead instead to a destination – for one and for all
of a lifetime of tossing, turning, and haunted nights. 

Darn. My pencil point broke. Hang tight. I have one more.

Week 21, Day 5: Daily Edits

The alarm clock rings at 6 AM, though the world
runs non-stop despite our need for rest. First thumbs,
then hands push Sleep twice, then shower, dress, drive. Again.
Coffee brews at 7 AM as incoming emails and outgoing
replies light up the airwaves – 24/7 without fail -
and enter the stratosphere of our daily
To Do’s with a relentlessness that never fails
to impress. Careful and cursory reads alike
generate further clicks and clacks
on keyboards that next morph into 8 AM meetings
and talk of policy, appropriate responses, and reviews
for tone. “Where’s my draft?” On it. STAT. Check
grammar, get sign off. Be careful of copies. Blind CC only,
please. Copy him. Not her. Not her? Yes, Sir. Yes, M’am.
On it. STAT. Careful now. Clock minute hands tick, emails
beep, phones ping, all the while I long for a mandatory – thank you
Federal laws and regulations – 15-minute break – my time to write.

Clock out. March to break room. Unzip
clear plastic backpack. Color tints not allowed.
Must see all. All must be seen. Always.
Open journal.
Wait – STOP. No more robot. You’re not
on company time. Relax. Write.

Smile to co-worker. Glance right. Then left.
Okay to chat? Breathe. Be. Write.

What’s writing? Freedom.
Freedom to cover, process, share
a story
however, whenever, wherever
I choose.
Freedom to speak and to be
whomever, whatever, whenever
I wish.
Freedom to take rides down rabbit
holes and emerge only for air, not
a new pressing lead or need.

Freedom not to dwell on what others –
might think, but only to encourage

Freedom to toss the manual, the samples,
the relentless checks
and line edits that strip
life, and its glorious peculiarities,
like chocolate whipped cream frosting
on eggs (Not for you? No problem. Works
for me), from the story
and myself.
Sorry. Not sorry. No one has to read
What we write, after all.
Response requested options
left at the sterile office.
No “Poem Read” requests
Required. Not YET.

Freedom to write
to find a story,
rather than tell the story
I’m asked to write.
Most of all, Freedom
to Just BE.

Until the alarm bells rings. Break over.
Time to go back to work.

Week 21, Day 6: Pick-Up Sticks and Media Clips

Games of pick-up sticks.
Pick one. Touch none. Ready or not.
Lives crumble daily.

Prime time news tells all
stories no one wants to hear.
Ten second clips of fear.

… Quick. Count down from ten. Backwards, yes.
Nothing ever looks right side up again.
Do you hear the sirens? The baby’s cries? The squelch
of the car breaks? The snap of the yellow tape. The roar
of the thunder? Two seconds remaining? No worries,
there’s more. Always more. The rush of the winds. The collapse
of the building. The slam of the door. The screams?

And the monotone voice of the concerned anchor persists…

Blink. Fast. Sound bytes play.
Media runs on steroids.
Remotes click and clack.

Pick up ball point pen.
Find last yellow Number 2 pencil.
Write to remember.

Week 21, Day 7: The Question

My logical side knew the Question would present itself. One day.
But hopefully not today. Not tomorrow, either. Of course, those
questions we are most reluctant to address are those most
likely to knock. Doorbells while we shower. Ticket collectors. Traffic
fines. Probation officers. Boyfriends. Do you love me? Him? Overdue
library books. I’m still looking for the copy, I promise I will return
it by week’s end. Whether by chance. Like wrong numbers, reply
all emails (Did I really just do that?), and a single empty seat
on an otherwise standing room only bus. I sit, knowing I might need
to talk when all I want to do is write. Most questions are intentional
and life’s a bargaining process, after all. Though I’d much prefer
anything else. Well, not anything. But not the Question,
either. “I read something, in a journal, it had your name on it… is it you?”
Me? I do not know. How could I? I do not know who writes the words
I see emerge on the page. The screen. The air between you and I. Are the words
Mine? Yours? Ours? The piece  you’ve read it. Processed it. Even interpreted it.
So, now, might it not be some of you? Perhaps. And who I am? That I say, depends
on whose asking, and when you ask.  But wait. It’s my stop. I must go.
Thank you for sharing your seat.

Week 22, Day 1: Seeing Double.

Calendar page flips

as left-hand grips new red Bic.

Blank lined pages wait.

* * * * *

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Recent work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, Toho Journal, The New Verse News, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals. 

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