Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Personal Freedom or Selfish Ignorance?

"Coronavirus children" by https://www.vperemen.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

My family and I have been among the fortunate during these nineteen months of the coronavirus and emerging variants, a pandemic with a death toll now exceeding that of the Spanish Flu despite the easy availability of multiple, free, effective vaccines. I look out my front window to the fenced yard, imagining a small fortress, protection against the disease and mayhem of our world. Am I choosing ignorance, denying the realities of this horrible pandemic, of devastating global warming, of homelessness, of warfare driven by greed and manipulated by religion? Or, am I simply struggling for sanity?

We live behind a vine-laden fence in relative ease, privileged not only by good health, food on our table, and a solid roof overhead, but also by family. Becoming a grandmother and caring for my pandemic-born grandson has been a source of pure pleasure during these dreadful times. Yet, my words flounder as my anger festers.

I began a post a while back announcing two upcoming in-person readings. Both events were originally scheduled for early 2020. Both were events where I looked forward to sharing from my latest memoir, The Ex-Mexican Wives Club, published in late 2019. Both events were cancelled with the outbreak of COVID. So I was pleased, joyous actually, to be invited to participate in these events when they were re-scheduled for the second week of September 2021. Then the Delta variant hit and both events were once again cancelled. Cancelling made sense, it was the right thing to do. Still, I felt the dark tentacles of anger, fear, and hopelessness tighten around me. I do not believe I am alone with these feelings.

My anger builds as far too many put self before community in empty arguments favoring personal freedom. With children dying, vaccinated adults getting sick, hospitals overflowing, schools and businesses shutting down once again, we must put the well-being of local communities, our country and the world above all else. As I hold my young grandson in my arms, I cannot comprehend putting selfish interpretations of personal freedom above the life of any child.

We have a medical solution. Deaths and variants rest in the hands of anti-vaccers.  

Monday, July 5, 2021

Antiracist Grandma = Antiracist Grandson

Breathe, July 2021, Artwork by Tania L. Abramson

I'm happy to share a recent essay titled Antiracist Grandma = Antiracist Grandson published in the online journal, Breathe.

"Breathe makes a difference by rallying dissent against racially discriminatory policies through the publication of artworks, poetry, and essays to counter the protracted disavowals and lethargy that allow racial coercion to persist." 

This mission appeals to my sense of justice while offering an opportunity to use creative expression to combat feelings of helplessness, and yes, perhaps lethargy, in the face of social injustice. I invite you to explore the journal and consider submitting your own written or visual work.

Last month the submission invitation included the follow theme: “What has changed? What remains the same? How have you changed? What have you done differently?" I was intrigued. I wrote. I submitted. I am grateful to the editorial staff - Tania Abramson, Paul Abramson, and Leopoldo Segue - for publishing my work:  

Antiracist Grandma = Antiracist Grandson

My grandson is a year old this month. A privileged white male born to the cacophony of social justice marchers below his parents’ hospital window in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood during the worst pandemic since 1918 and the most divisive federal government in U.S. history.

I am a white woman in her mid-sixties. Spurred by the murder of George Floyd, I embarked on a journey of personal education and became deeply engrossed in social justice reading, devouring the works of Michelle Alexander, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, Kiese Laymon, Wesley Lowery, Ijeoma Oluo, Mychal Denzel Smith, William Still, Isabel Wilkerson, and others. I read to make sense of the growing violence in our streets and growing discord on the college campus where I had taught for decades. I thought I had a decent understanding of the history of racial injustice and the roots of police violence against people of color in my country. I was wrong.

Read more ...

Friday, June 25, 2021

Paintings and Poems: Shadows of Caravans Pass

On May 11, 2021 I lost another sister. Unlike Maureen, she was not a victim of a horrendous crime, not the thirty-ninth victim of a mass murderer. That is, unless you consider the snail-slow progress in cancer and dementia research a crime. Colleen was a victim of Lewy Body dementia, as well as mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. One month after her sixty-ninth birthday her suffering ended.

As I returned to writing poems to pair with Veronique Burke's paintings, I was drawn to the image above and found myself awash in memories. Those memories took shape in the following poem:

Shadows of Caravans Pass

Childhood under starlit skies,

her endless stories filling my young ears.

Treading water – who could last longer?

Riding, grooming, feeding, mucking.


Who left the pasture gate open

that day the nag nearly died?

She shouldered the shame,

but it could have been me.


Somewhere over the rainbow …

A forgotten teen production leaving  

no trace of her young voice.

Only echoes of barnyard rehearsals remain.


She left for college, and

our wilderness adventures ended.

A solitary bus ride to her dorm across state:

first jolt of my early independence.


Flower child wedding of flowing white.

Floppy straw hat over fringe of curls.

Bridesmaid skirts of yellow daisies.

What dreams held this young bride’s heart?


Did she imagine caravans in exotic lands?

Long dark shadows on desert sands?

Woman warrior of mystery and magic?

Or perhaps her dreams hung closer to home.


No longer woman warrior,

nor stoic farmer, nor solid teacher.

Where did she travel when life left her?

A long dreamless sleep – nothing more?


Caravans of memories pass,

tethered by cherished moments in parallel lives.

Woman warrior was here.

Now is gone.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Paintings and Poetry: Coastal Dawn

In February I wrote COVID & Creativity, a piece highlighting artist and friend, Veronique Burke, whose creativity finds voice on canvas as well as in paper mache, pottery and mosaic. The joy she experiences through creative expression is clear in her work. 

Recently Veronique decided to assemble a collection of her favorite paintings and asked some of her writer friends to create poems to pair with her work. I loved the idea and the opportunity to join her in this fun project. To date I've completed four pairings. Here's the first I'd like to share ...

Coastal Dawn

On a cold gray Pacific dawn

In a damp bag inside a damp tent

Salt air, seaweed tang, and strong coffee

Permeate the tight air


The coffee drags me from our tent

Ocean vista my reward

He knows this, he does this for me

To get my aching body moving,

to begin a new day


Huddled tight on a driftwood log

Coffee hot in gloved hands, we listen

To gulls and heron call overhead, and

Gentle waves lap the sandy shore


Awash with sunset memories under bluing sky

We plan our day in early morning calm

As the chatter of day hikers invades,

We hoist our backpacks and head out,

in search of solitude

Friday, April 9, 2021

A New First!

Many thanks to those of you who were able to attend my poetry reading last week. It was wonderful to share this first with my talented friend, Pamela Hobart Carter. 

I'm also grateful to Leopoldo Seguel, the dedicated energy behind the PoetryBridge reading series, for transitioning from a monthly in-person event at C&P Coffee Company in West Seattle to a weekly online event throughout this year of COVID isolation. If you'd like to receive the weekly zoom link to participate as a viewer, open micer or featured reader, please email Leopoldo at info@poetrybridge.net

To those of you who were unable to attend, Leopoldo has graciously shared the video of this event at: PB LIVE! #35 - YouTube 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Watch Us Wednesday!

Last July I posted a short history of the PoetryBridge reading series titled A Reading Event in the Time of COVID so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say, you’re invited!

On Wednesday, March 31, I am honored to be sharing the virtual stage with Pamela Hobart Carter. Honored and frankly, intimidated. Unlike me, a neophyte in the world of poetry, Pam is a Pushcart nominee whose work is widely published. She is currently celebrating the release of her first poetry book, Her Imaginary Museum, and awaiting the release of her second, Held Together by Tape and Glue. She is a gifted and dedicated poet, playwright and novelist who I am fortunate to call my writing partner and friend.

Together we have created an intertwined presentation of our poetry that I think you will enjoy. I hope you can join us next Wednesday, March 31 at 7:00pm PDT. The zoom link is usually shared the morning of the event. To get your name on the list, please email Leopoldo Seguel at info@poetrybridge.net. Or, drop me a line at aw@arleenwilliams.com.

Friday, February 19, 2021

COVID & Creativity

This was my day: I woke at 6 am and dozed for another hour. The first upright hour, I wasted on my cell – email, news, social media. I watched a Roy Orbison and KD Lang duet, started a load of laundry, then decided I needed to hear more KD Lang. I spent another hour or two listening to music, researching Canadian songwriters - Leonardo Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jane Siberry, Sarah McLachlan, Leon Redbone (a rabbit hole of talent) – while reading about inspiration and creativity.

The reading was inspired by this wonderful video clip my friend, Veronique Burke, shared of the work she’s created during this pandemic year. It got me wondering about how little I’ve been writing and the reasons for that change. Then I made chocolate chip banana bread, cleaned out the refrigerator and made a shopping list. If not for the falling rain, melting snow and slushy sidewalks, I might have walked to the store, or driven. Instead, I folded laundry before sitting down to finish Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece, The Warmth of Other Suns – The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.

Finally, after numerous additional texts with sisters and friends, I sat and scribbled a draft of this post with Veronique’s video looping through my brain. Veronique’s creativity explodes in image, paper mache and mosaic. It’s clear that she had a blast expressing herself and decorating her world. I admire that, and I’m grateful to her for the reminder that self-expression can do wonders for the soul and that creativity doesn’t bloom on its own but grows through regular attention, a practice that’s easy to lose during these endless months of isolation.

How are you expressing your creativity these days?