June 24

Zelda and I rode to Laurelhurst park on May 31st to protest. It was the second night since this most recent iteration of the uprising for Black Life had sparked in Portland. Maybe the third. Jeff had just gone downtown to “help clean up” with John G.

Tonight I will march again … for the 10th or 11th or 12th time. 

My google calendar still holds the old story: swim lessons, gymnastics, childcare swaps. I am returning from a BMC training in Lorane. I am headed out on a five day backpacking trip with youth from school – school where I am no longer employed and no one is leading a backpacking trip for youth. 

It was too much to delete everything at once. And it is too much to add what is actually going on somehow on top of what was planned. So I let the days float freely, unadhered to the construct. I write very little here. It feels like such a struggle to quantify, to try to name, to hold it still. 

I don’t know how many times I’ve been in the crowd, chanting, walking, heart in fist. It doesn’t matter. Only a few things matter, is the legitimate relief of now: the source of all possibility. So much floats, but the path is clear.

I have no paid work and yet I work, am being paid. I think about the same issues, practices, processes I thought about when I was “working,” though the number of interactions with others is far fewer. The pressure to produce on an external schedule is much less. The pressure to grow is not less. The pressure to grow comes from within, from the pull between earth and sun. 

In a text conversation with a former colleague and still-friend, I joked that I had no idea the government was going to pay me to work for Black dignity, joy, and self-determination in 2020. As soon as I saw the words on the screen, I realized the disconnect: of course I did know; before I got laid off, before Covid-19, before the uprising – that was my job, as I conceived it.

It looks different now. I miss my students. I miss my colleagues. Like most everybody, I stay home a lot, doing repetitive things in my house, some of which are functionally supportive (making dinner, listening to the kids, moving money into Black lives and Black orgs) and others which are dysfunctionally supportive (eating the cakes the twelve year old makes, going for periodic swims in the meme ocean, painting my fingernails black so I won’t bite them and then biting them anyway). 

I look at my phone a lot. I take mandatory breaks and struggle, but manage to cut down. Then I congratulate myself and re-addict. I just want to stay in connection with the movement, with the cultural body that is close enough to my value matrix so that I can resonate, cultivate, transmit beyond just the small feeling of me locked away in my privilege in my house. 

On the streets I feel connected, rooted, powered by the great bursting desire of the Earth. And then I feel, afterward, relieved to take a break from the drumming, shouting, dully repetitive language of the march, of the crowd. My inner Virgo rises, and I want carefully constructed sentences, details, history, multiple meanings, shadow and light. My inner Taurus wants to slow down, touch the grass like a lover. I want to move my own small body in generative, intuitive ways. I want to feel the myriad replications of life, in a dance that includes time but is not defined by it. I want to explore the ramifications of even the smallest codes – “what does Good mean in this case?” I ask the children, again and again. My inner Cancer wants the loving push-back that can only happen in intimacy, where the fetus kicks, where personhood and personality can be parsed, and the warp of conditioning fingered gently from the weft of Life. 

But here at home I am often blank, shifting from one room to another, putting the phone down, picking it back up. I sit to write, and tiptoe along the edge of hopelessness, using two hands to break the full flooding spectrum of sensation into word problems I can solve for an imagined audience. So I try to read, and in three pages am so full of the concentrated literary transmission of one human (Hanif Abdurraquib or Christy deGallerie or Aja Monet or Ta-Nehisi Coates or adreinne marie brown or Suzan Lori-Parks) whose sharing of their embodied experience of oppression, white supremacy, family, safety, legacy, beauty, gender and Blackness is so unique, so collective, so painful, so rich and proud and elegant, so impenetrable and isolating and impossible to fucking get a break from – that I subside again, rocked by intimacy and vastness. A cat sits on me, and I collapse into relief at being only this body again. If I pet the cat long enough, someone will sit with me, and I can listen to a kid talk about a show or a dream, or read a kid a book, and then it will be almost time to cook dinner, again. 

The rest is garden: turn of leaf, root need, language of shadow and air, too tight here, too bright there. I draw out where the abundance makes a rhythm that erases difference, limits possible outcomes; I feed in where my desire is whetted but not yet met. The soil is so many ways; my toes show where it was garden bed, where pathway, where an anchor plant has made the land a home. I feel the space between “me” and “it” – from the window/ from the deck/ passing on the path/ deep in, crumbly on my sweat. Our relating shifts from eyes to ears to smell to skin. I breathe translucent, ego-less, from watching-the-gold-lit-leaves to wet-shirt-petal-pile to how-are-you-corn? I am cells upon cells, a whisper garland on my mother’s chest. 

The garden senses, I think, if I am in a mood to visit and listen, or a mood to fuck things up. Sometimes I am a reverant worshiper; sometimes the nature of harm reduction is action after action, because learning from impact requires engaging with choice. Red bark cracks from manzanita branch. The jays squack at the cats. The bunnies watch me expectantly, knowing my process brings fresh green things to the pen. I wonder if their categories for the leaves I toss them overlap with my own: grass, broad leaf, woody stalk … do they peruse by flavor (bitter? sweet?) or rate of digestion (fibrous cells, watery ones). Do they break up bites of the medicinals with something a little blander? Or is it all about what is most fresh? 

Walking the stalls at the farmers market every week, throughout the pandemic, the winter, and for seasons and seasons before (and after), I fancy myself like the rabbits, twitching my nose and tuning in to my salivary glands – a wordless inquiry, reading the recipe for satisfaction in red cells/ thirsting for that which only green cells can eat: soil and sun. 

In the kitchen it is simple, rhythmic: clear a space. Beets. Greens cut off and boiled, roots roasted, their damp, leathery skins rubbed off with a blue towel. Cool under the shakes of a vinegar bottle, rain of salt. In a bowl with cucumbers, smooth white goats cheese peeled out of plastic. Pause, face to light, to dream of the day when the green tomatoes on the vine will be red in the bowl. Black pepper. More vinegar. More salt. When it is time to eat, unwrap the head of lettuce from its shroud. Chop gently, add with oil to the bloody pile, turn with kindness in your heart, eye-edges wide and soft. Feel safety in the skin of bare legs. Sense the back of your neck. Let the air all around extend in and out; feel held. Gather; ring the bell. 

Sometimes I pull tarot cards, since a friend leant me hers. I tend my altars, sit on my cushion, follow my spirit into the center as I fall to sleep, wind it out again in the waking light. I’ve spent plenty of years of my life inquiring into specialized practices for juicing the nervous system, flushing toxins, burning the seeds of karma, grounding anxiety and leavening depression. I’ve taught these practices and learned from the alchemy of witnessing the spells at work in others’ bodies. I’ll continue to do this. But “practice” in this way is like the boxes of my calendar: a construct. I let that track go on, but what floats above it, or walks beneath, is everywhere. Not held or transmitted, not known or learned. Not planned, not future or past. It is each footfall in a rumbling wave of feet: Now, Now, Now.

Published by Devon Riley

lately: youth work, parenting, sorcery, books, walks in the woods

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