quiet on the set

Kaki and I are putting the book on cassette tapes for her 91 year old mother, whose eyesight is failing. We read a few chapters each, then stop and eat some of the quiche and pumpkin pie meant for my sister's snowed-out Christmas party.

Last scene I read was the birth at the end of Part I. Kaki came in from doing dishes in the kitchen to hear, smiling as I read the last sentence, a quote from Tahija - “The happiest memory I have of being a mother is the first time I heard them cry, because the doctor told me that they might not cry because they were real premature and their lungs might not be developed enough. The second was when I held them in my arms at the same time. I knew they loved me just as much as I loved them from the little smirk they had on their face, like Joy I finally see who I was kicking all that time.”

Many other good memories have come to her since, and will yet come, but I'm glad I captured that one -- for her and Lamarr and us, if not for posterity. And for the boys, who are posterity. And still kicking.

Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Bright solstice to us all.

look for us in that crowd

Looks like we may be going to the capital. A D.C. quaker lady offered two rooms in her house on the metroline. Dad said aight!, mom said no but not NO no, just the usual what I now take to be automatic response to any offer or invitation.

Or am I dreaming? If so, it's a good dream.

I remember three summers back, at the zoo with the seven-year-old triplets. We'd finally all gotten the nerve to go up in the hot air baloon (or should I say finally talked little Lamarr into it). Looking out over Philadelphia Damear was sure he could just make out the white house. More recently Mahad thought the same when he and I went to the top of City Hall to talk to William Penn. As if in looking into the distance they actually saw into the future.

A future with them and their parents watching Obama being sworn in, with a visit to the less-white-now white house, to Mr. Lincoln sitting so patiently and to Constitution Hall to see some old parchment paper encased in glass but not encased any more -- soaring now like an eagle, from california to the New York island.

This land, this day, this January 20th was made for you and me. And for the triplets.

... to swim in trouble like a muddy river rising

Better, I thought, for me in my rough being
To force makeshift connections, patches, encounters, rows,
Better to swim in trouble like a muddy river rising,
Than to become at last all thesis,
Correct, consistent but hollow
The finished ghost
Of my own struggle.

From "The Homely War" by Marge Piercy
suggested by Kaki

pitching the book to social work folks

This is WWU publisher Jeff Hitchcock and me at the Conference of Social Work Educators (CSWE) back in October. He's holding The Anti-Racist Cookbook, one of his other titles. After a top social work school, the University at Albany, selected the book for all its incoming students to read (thanks to the advocacy of my early supporter/angels Sue Clark and Florence Frazier), we thought other social work schools and profs might be interested. A lot of people bought books. Some, like a professor at St. Louis University, decided on the spot to add it to her syllabus. We'll see what develops. We had fun. Kaki was there too and a real powerhouse of outreach. One of her professors from the Binghamton University MSW program she started in the fall stopped by. I believe she got a free book (0:

Thanks to Ann at Marywood for the photo. She had the table across from us.

thought for food

This morning filling the bird feeder I found myself talking to one of the triplets in my mind – how it seems like the chickadees are telling me hurry up, hurry up or thanks a lot, but probably they’re just alerting other birds to the presence of food.

Instinctual sharing? The way the boys shared when they were babies, passing toys and food from crib to crib, the way they still do, freely, easily, without the negotiations and record-keeping I remember from my own childhood. They came in this together and they're sticking together. I miss them.

Notice (I went on in my head) how different kinds of birds eat at the same feeder without fighting. Some people don’t like blue jays but I haven’t had any trouble with them, of course when deep cold comes and if the feeder's low you'll see any type of bird trying to chase the others away.

I was inside by now looking out – watching the flitting and feeding. What in me do I feed with this imaginary explaining? And why do I look back on it, as if my mental patter, my imagined moment, is somehow feeding the boys?

The only thing it literaly feeds is my hope that the boys can come back soon to this house called Lucy, or some other place in nature – that great feeder endlessly replenished with a food we all need.

calculus will not stop her

Well, Tahija didn't pass calculus. She needed it to finish her A.A. degree at the U of Phoenix. She's gotten mostly A's and B's but this calc class was tough. She's less bummed than I feared though. Maybe she's had enough successes now that one setback doesn't knock her down like it used to.

Talking about it with her last night made me remember the day we registered for classes at Community College of Philadelphia, when the triplets were about eight months. We’d made it to financial aid and things looked good, until we gave Tahija’s birth date. At her age, she wasn’t eligible for any financial aid. Not a dollar.

Kaki and I had just gotten a joint checking account. I had the checkbook with me. Not sure how Kaki would react (she was earning most of the money then), not sure if we even had enough in there, I wrote out a check for that first semester. My heart was pounding, as when a message comes to me in meeting for worship.

Because I knew college was the gust that could carry her up off the cliffs that threatened to break her.

Now the college says her grants and loans are on hold until she pays for that calculus class. Last night, after we discussed other options (like transferring to a four-year school without the Associates degree), I said “We can pay for it.” I'm not sure how but we will. And she'll take the class again, pass it this time, and finally earn that degree more than ten years after starting it – her first degree of any kind.*

I have a feeling it won't be her last.

*The great American novelist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston graduated high school at 27. What slowed her down was her mother dying young, leaving 13 year old Zora to help with the 3 younger children.

Seagull photo by Jalca. Click to see it larger and for more work by her. Notice the heart-shaped cliud behind the gull?

radio interview # 5

They call you a few minutes before you go on and you sit listening to the traffic report or the guest before you or whatever. This time it was the country song “God bless the broken road that led me straight to you.”

I liked it, but worried I was in for another tilt-the-whirl ride with a Christian Right host. My media research assistants (Kaki & Kaki) hadn't said anything about that!

So be it then, I thought – a chance to a) come out right off and b) get better at volleying black-teen-parents stereotypes.

But Live with Lisa, while of indeterminate politics, wasn’t agenda driven, and it sure wasn’t homophobic and in-your-face racist (though she did want to get to victim-blaming as quicky as possible). We had a good talk. I got to tell the story. Lisa got to tell the world (or her New Haven Connecticut audience anyway) that she has polyovarian syndrome (like Tahija) AND a young woman of color in her extended-by-love family.

Notice how it’s now something us white people brag about - having a multi-racial family. And more than that, this Lisa Wexler bragged about helping that sort-of niece score an extension ladder of a NYC internship. Extended family extending the priv-i-lege, sharing the wealth. Yeah.

Kaki was sitting on the sofa holding me in the Light the whole time. She thought it was the best interview yet. We got double the time promised, and when it was done the sun came out after three days of grey. Ok, not a sign, I’m just saying....

What it was doing over in Connecticut, where my voice had just spilled out of a few thousand radios, I don’t know. Shining too, I hope, with that certain slant of light that makes people want to, you know, go buy a book they never heard of before.

Grady Harp review

A top Amazon reviewer called WWU a "little miracle" of a book. Same day the review came out sales went up. I guess this Grady Harp is somebody! He's an artist, gallery owner and writer living in L.A. Here's the new review. Scroll down for Walk with Us.

Me, Mahad and Billy Penn

We were all supposed to go, but Damear and Lamarr came home early from school throwing up so it was just me and Mahddy. We rode the El from their house into Center City and took the tiny, rickety elevator up through clock innards to the big bronze feet of William Penn, at the top of Philadelephia city hall.

We weren't there for the 360 view. We were there to talk about the curse.

The Phillies were up 3-1 in the best of 7 world series. I had asked their mom Tahija to come but she she said wasn't getting up that high in no elevator we had already gotten her into the hot air zoo balloon and wasn't that enough?

We rode in that jerky, rusting-steel closet with a couple from out of town. They didn't know about the curse (how I knew they were from out of town), so I told them: for a long time Philly’s building code forbade the building of any structure higher than the hat on William's Penn's head. In 1983 Liberty One went up, way up, shadowing the venerable Penn. Starting that same year, no sports team in the city won a championship.

Probably just a coincidence, right? Probably, but being a Quaker, a Philadelphian, and most of all a magical thinker who came by it honest (from my leprechaun-spotting Galway grandfather) I thought - let me just go up and have a chat with that founder. And take the triplets with me.

So if the team does win the World Series you can take credit, someone said to me. No, so the boys can feel part of the winning, and of the city, and of Quakerism - which being my great-godchildren they already are.

But only Mahd got to come. But Mahd was enough! And I was glad to have him alone. His brothers tend to compete for center stage while he watches from behind the curtain. And if they’d been there he probably wouldn’t have said what he did.

I'd been imagining some sort of curse-curling ceremony since the last time the Eagles got close to the Super Bowl, but once there in the fisty October wind gazing up the long Quaker coat to Penn's (literally) chiseled profile, I wasn't sure what to say.

I felt strangely serious, as if there really might be a curse, as if a ten-year-old Muslim boy and a middle-aged Quaker lady might just be able to lift it.

But how? With feeling, I guessed – feeling and facts.

I explained that his city had needed the office space, to grow - no disrespect intended. I argued that 25 years was a wicked long time for a pacifist to hold a grudge. I said we needed to win the world series, or something -- the city had been feeling kind of, you know Bill, down, what with the highest homicide rate in the country and all.

When the elevator guy wearing the Phillies cap called us to get back in, Mahad finally spoke up.

Of all the three, he talks least, but when he does talk I listen. One time, about some fish of his dad’s (piranhas) that had died, he said, “They tried so hard to live!” And he named two pet guinea pigs Either and Or.

What he said this time was simple. He didn't discuss the curse, or baseball, or the hard times the city had seen. He just said, "Thank you, William Penn."

Just that. Like the big guy had already done what we wanted.

And maybe he had. Maybe it doesn’t take long to lift a curse. Or shift a mood. Or find hope. Maybe it doesn’t take long at all.

Photo of Mahddy by my cousin Tommy (Thomas A. Farragher)
City Hall photo by Kris-chan