Friday, January 15, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

Both my Grandfathers and one of my Grandmothers served in WWII. My Grandpa was shot out of plane and lost most of his hearing, his sense of taste, and who knows what else - he never talked to me about it. My Paupa and my Nana served. My Paupa worked on airplanes and screwed up his back stepping around in the dark. I don't know whether he felt relieved or angry that he never saw action. He was a pretty practical guy; I doubt he felt left out. My Nana was with the WAVES in San Francisco. I talked to my Paupa a bit about his experiences flying and working on planes. He helped me write a short story. I hoped that it meant something to him to have those memories live again, but I honestly don't know if it was a good thing I did. 

My Paupa was the Mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania for years. He was not a wealthy man by any stretch of the imagination, but he was respected and devoted. He took care of his town, and one of his self-imposed duties was to gather damaged flags, flags that had touched the ground or were worn, and burn them in ceremony. This was something he took very seriously. I don't put much stock in flags or pennants or pledges, but I respected my Paupa, and I loved him very much. I loved my Grandpa, and I adored my Nana. I tried to respect the things they respected because I knew they had their reasons. Reasons that mattered.

Watching someone beat police officers with a American flag hurt me in a way I didn't expect, because I know it would have crushed my Paupa. My Grandpa would have been outraged at his neighbors in the Midwest flying to DC to wreak COSPLAY havoc at the Capitol. My Nana and my Grandma were the sweetest, kindest, and most thoughtful women I have ever known. They believed in manners and not being tacky. They would be heartbroken at what we have become. 

I think about my Dad a lot, too. And my sister. 25 years in the Navy and years with the State Department respectively. I can't bring myself to ask them how they feel about it. We aren't always that kind of family. We keep our cards close and our pain hidden. That said, someday, I will ask, but I already know the answer. I can feel it, an ache, in my chest. 


  1. Brother, I hope your family surprise you one day when you have that conversation. I get that chest ache. But it really can happen. I know because it happened in my own family, a shift away from conservatism.

    Anyway, word. All the words, in fact. Heartfelt and totally relatable.

    1. Love this. My grandparents were awesome too. My grandad was a paratrooper in WW2 and served for 5 years. I'm only finding out the details now and wish I could ask him about it. I'm curious what he'd think of the things you mention.

  2. I hesitated to post this; I still wonder if it's a good idea. I wrote this as a human response, and in no way did I intend it as any kind of rationalization or apology for these misguided and often malevolent people. But the sheer waste just hit me on a human, emotional level, and I wrote this for good or for ill. It goes without saying that hers wasn't the only death that affected me; it was just the only one I watched happen, the only one in whose eyes I saw the recognition dawn.

    Your skyward eyes reflecting your comprehension of your imminent oblivion, you bled out on a cold marble floor surrounded by baying inadequate men. For what? What did you gain? Nothing. What did you lose? Everything. Your entire life. Again, for what? For an illusion, a fever dream, a tantrum, a calculated deceit by a spoiled, cowardly, and self-absorbed man who cared nothing for you, in either life or death. What you stood for I oppose with every cell of my body, but watching your lifeblood drain from you, I cried. You are the dollar-store Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death was similarly gut wrenching yet who died for something larger, for something that’s real: freedom, democracy, hope, love, those precious fragile things we precious fragile beings must cling to. I didn’t know you and would likely have bristled at everything you believed, but I spared more of a thought for you than this abomination you apparently exalted could ever summon. This naked wannabe emperor. This spineless absence. This cluster knot of aimless, surly grievance. He didn’t know you, and he didn’t care, and he still doesn’t care. He still has life, however constrained it might now become. You, however, get no second chance. For you, the mirage has dissolved, the bright white oasis never existed, and you have been overcome by lethal, ruinous thirst and the bleak, arid eternity of your own appalling choices.

    1. Powerful stuff. If you want some creative input, I'd delete the first 10 words and start with 'you bled out'. I haven't watched the scene you mention, but can imagine its awfulness. The whole event was so shocking and I saw a few videos of the scary stuff that happened inside. It's so shocking that I don't really have words.

    2. Vickie, thanks so much for that input. I agree. Somehow, though, I still want to include that aspect, the realization of death that reminded me so much of Neda's death. It haunted me. I could bury it further in, though, as you're right: that would be a more effective opening line without it. Maybe I could flip the clauses or separate them into two sentences.

      I almost wish I didn't see it. It was very fresh, and I saw it on Twitter. The cable news and network news shows have since heavily edited it.

  3. The caretaker

    We watch the carriers of the night,
    darkness roused inside, the crow’s carrion,

    life’s raw supper stewed between oceans;
    a depth unquantified. We lie in stupor.

    The bulbs need fixing here. Still glass
    shapes itself into phantoms dusted out

    over walls of empty play. They draw murals,
    the children, running paint til it slides

    into something recognisable, ardent colour.
    It enriches; a sustenance to enliven grey.

    Rain races down this labyrinthine brick,
    narrow footways twist like knotted hair.

    He carries his anxieties tight-wound, a ball
    of wool, each strand intangible in the pack.

    We watch the night steal away each light,
    switching it off, the last caretaker of the world.

    Humbly, he never says a word, false or true.
    His heart lies heavy, but he never lets it speak.

    Vickie Johnstone, January 16, 2021

    1. I love this so much. The rhythm, the mood, the word choices, the internal rhymes, the melody of the language. All of it.

  4. Whether

    They say we weather the storm,
    but wouldn’t that fuel its fervour,
    create an even bigger rush,
    crunching the elements together?

    Do you just wait it out silently,
    bide your time ‘til it evaporates,
    or do you match the storm with fight,
    give back what’s coming down?

    Do you bring sunshine to the tumult,
    combatting the darkness with bright?
    Or freeze it in its leaps and bounds,
    snowing it in, so it can’t possibly get out?

    Is that what the phrase is saying?
    Water plunges against this cold window.
    It rattles glass, convolutes waiting earth,
    but we aren’t sodden, here, just watching.

    Jan 16, 2021

  5. The tremor

    Footsteps wake the tremor,
    the obsequious hum, the filament,

    this breath of fire eluding us,
    electric mayhem on the wire.

    A switchback. We all feel it.
    We pour water on our passions,

    rehearse a million excuses for no.
    Run in stasis; see how far you get.

    A peer into the future rides us back,
    returning to our childhood dreams,

    these sparks of light we held so dear,
    the pirouetting ballerina, the acorn tree.

    Jan 16, 2021

  6. Rooms within rooms

    Do we know not who we are,
    clothed, speaking, thinking beings

    set apart by our ‘intelligence’,
    our tools, our opposing thumbs?

    Culture, action, people, work,
    movement wound our momentum,

    and so we never paused to think,
    never had to reside so long inside

    these same walls, these fixed rooms,
    missing all the faces that made us.

    Did we find something new, something old
    inside our shells, our hermit selves.

    Jan 16, 2021


Please leave comments. Good, bad or ugly. Especially ugly.