Thursday, May 26, 2022

At Kualoa Beach Park


26 May 2022

After Columbine. After Red Lake. After West Nickel Mines Amish School. After Virginia Tech. After Northern Illinois University. After Oikos. After Sandy Hook. After UC Santa Barbara. After Umqua Community College. After Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. After Santa Fe High School. After Robb Elementary School. After.

A monk seal was sleeping at the water’s edge, her scarred gray belly looming in the air, head only barely twitching when the water reached it. (We agreed that was a good sign.) A small flipper tucked under her large gray body. Three men had driven close in vans; their job was to make a barricade between us and the seal. Do not get within 100 feet. On our way out, I told a tourist about the monk seal; “what’s that, honey?” her friend said.

What does the word “after” mean? Can it live without “before,” or is it “before”? After, but ahead of the next event. After, on the altar of human sacrifice. Parents could not recognize their children, had to provide DNA. (And what if they were adopted?) The horrible dementia of violence, that it takes away our memory because it takes faces away, blows limbs apart, drenches clothes in blood. Memory comes back as repetition (“repetition is one of my triggers,” she said) as the awful moment before you forget everything. Again. It leaves a space for the classroom’s return as the place in your head you can never get out of. The doors are locked, except one the gunman walked through. Senator Cruz blames the door. Governor Abbott the mentally ill. They speak of evil. The man who confronts them is uncivil. Because who would dare speak of such a thing when it just occurred? Before we speak, we must be after. But after can’t be born.

Two fisherman look at their taut line, holding seaweed like laundry or flags. Not even the good kind, one says to us. From the vans and buses, from the parking lots and from the shoulder of the road, come lines of tourists. They march across the grass and toward the narrow beach. You can find Niihau shells on this beach, Ruth says. There are clumps of coral on the grass, light as small sponges, and a clot of bleached concrete, resembling coral. An old man paddles by on his board, as a military plane comes toward us, lights on. The water appears to have lights on its caps, and kayaks rest on the small island nearby. You can see them but not their people.

Lilith and I walk up hill. Two little girls take turns posing in front of a small palm, the taller girl wearing a long black and white dress. First one and then the other smiles. Their young mother takes pictures. They are so beautiful--and ("and" is addition, I say to my students, not conjunction) they could be killed by a boy/man not much older than they are. It could happen after they hold up their honor student certificates. It could happen after lunch. It could happen after, or before. Last day of school? I ask. I take their picture, and hand the phone back. Streams of children flow toward the elementary school. We know the tide has an edge you dare not cross. So we trace its curve along the sand, leaning over to pick up shells, fish skeleton, blue plastic bottle with frayed hieroglyphics scrawled at its base.

Impermanence ought not be slaughter.

--for Ruth Canham

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You capture the horrific extremes we are all going through. Even a day with gorgeous mountains, bright sunshine, good food and friendships we are all forced to somehow deal with constant news of unbelievable actions made by people intentionally, people who continue to actually plan these awful events.