Today, I Run

Today, I Run
Today, I run.
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My friend loaned me her car, so I drive to a trail head I’ve never been to before. I want to explore. I want to go up the rocks and jagged pathways and be completely immersed in nature. I love DC for that. You can escape whenever you need to into a National Park.
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I’ve caved in and started using the Samsung “Running Coach” app on my phone. I pride myself on being a self-motivator, but it looks like I am falling into another millennial trap of covering up the feeling of loneliness with a button on my phone. Hit this one to find a lover, this one to help you meditate, this one to find out where you are going.
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I find it hard to believe we are still born with any sense of intuition at all.
Looks great! says Samsung.
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How the hell do you know how I look? I say back. All that matters is that it feels great. I remind myself. Getting my heart rate up feels great.  
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Keep up, you’re going too slow.
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Of course, I’m going slow! I’m going uphill on a trail, dammit! This is as hard as shit! 
I give myself the break.
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Thankfully, I’ve learned how to do that in the past four years. 
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Four years ago I was not a runner. I was not even a mover. If the doctor asked me if I worked out, I probably would say I had sex pretty regularly– does that count?  Oh, and sometimes I take a walk. I wasn’t fat; I wasn’t skinny. I just didn’t really see the point of exercise when there were other things to do.
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My mother said my childhood pediatrician told me I had a body of an athlete. But the narrowness path of public education set me up as someone who was supposed to get good grades and be in marching band. I felt embarrassed around athletic people. Couldn’t really keep up. Leave me to the brainy stuff, I thought. Forget the body.
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So, when did I start running? I think back first run I took at my summer teacher training after I had arrived in China as a fellow in Teach for China, a program similar to Peace Corps or Teach for America. We lived and worked at a rural school for a month to prepare us for teaching in our villages in the fall.
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A few of my friends would run. But they were very competitive, as many of the people in my program were in they had first arrived. Many hailed from Ivy Leagues and were used to being the best. On many levels, I felt intimidated.
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I’m going to be quite vulnerable with my readers and say I have a slight, but sometimes major, emotional trauma from childhood when it comes to becoming a part of new, big social groups. Ironically, I seek the experience out constantly. Such is the paradox of souls yearning to heal.
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On top of that, the general atmosphere our training was just, well, difficult. I had become so depressed from nights hardly sleeping on the hard-wooden bunk-bed. We had ridiculous deadlines of lesson plans to meet without any real Wi-Fi connection. One weekend, I developed a low-grade fever and just wanted to nap the day away.
I think after some lucky Skype call connection with my dad, he reminded me to try and exercise more. I remember putting on an album of Afro-Cuban music and going towards the hills, the day-time glow of a full moon in sight.
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A la luna yo me voy sang my iPod.
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I guess this DOES feel good, I remember thinking.
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The fever disappeared and I forgot I had ever had it to begin with. 
Good pace. Keep this up.
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Thanks Samsung!
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Today, I run alone. I’m going to an event later tonight with a new friend that I don’t really know. Samsung talks in my ear but grounding down into my body reminds me about real emotion.
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Slow down and keep breathing.
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Stop pretending you’re not anxious. Just breathe.
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Run at a pace that allows you to still sing a song out loud.
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To who? About what? I’m alone Samsung!
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I wonder if I can make new friends who will want to run with me. Or maybe I do have friends that will run with me; I’ve just never asked.
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I pass an older gay couple with the two black dogs, the family of four that got lost from the trail, and a mom and her daughter racing in the grass to run into dad’s arms. 
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Belonging. I think to myself. I also have that sense of belonging. Matching my emotions to manifest my needs.
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I think back to the friends I used to run with. 
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I think of Derek, I think of Brittany and I think of Li Hai Peng. My co-fellows, two Americans and one Chinese, in my village, who convinced me to start running with them.
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Derek had a long, lean and muscular build. Brittany was tall and fit and had been running cross-country for years. Hai Peng had shorter legs, but they carried him along quickly.
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The first year I attempted to go with them two or three times after dinner. Teaching most days was a nightmare. And with running, I did not believe in myself at all. Someone in my family sent me a giant jar of Nutella in a care package, so and truth be told, I just ended up eating spoonfuls of that in my room after teaching to combat the stress.
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The second year, I settled in. I had a mastery over my class, my Chinese, and my emotional well-being in general. I started doing a lot of yoga, but I got bored. There wasn’t really much to do in the village, so I joined the run.
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Today, I look up the hill I’m about the climb. I can almost hear my childish cry after Derek and I see him up ahead on the trail. 
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“Derek slow down! Not fair, you’re too fast!”
“No, Merritt, you’re fine. Keep up that pace. See, you’re doing so well! Lengthen your stride. You have long legs, you can do it.” 
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“Thanks coach!” 
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Hai Peng and Derek used to sing songs in Chinese. Derek told me he liked to run to sad, melancholy songs, rather than upbeat ones. While we ran, we would talk about what was happening with teaching, or just ourselves, and even our lives outside of that place.
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I’d wave at my students, playing outside at home after dinner. Derek would always see that 14-year-old picking grapes who had dropped out of middle school and who he had befriended.
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When I ran alone, I’d hope the stray dogs wouldn’t chase me, but sometimes they did, and it made me run faster. Adrenaline is a nice drug of choice. In my mind, I’d plan out my trips I’d take to Vietnam and Cambodia. I’d think about what kind of life I’d have once I got home. I’d look at the grape fields and the mountains, but I never thought that one day that this place would be the home that I’d miss.
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Eventually, we started training for a marathon in the nearest city, about a two-hour bus ride away from our village. Hai Peng’s friend, Kun Zai, had come to live in the village because he had a job in computers that allowed him to work remotely and have time to play lots of video games as well. He always brought along a much needed sense of joy and humor to our running conversations that were often dampened by the stress of our work in the classroom.
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The day of the race we lined up early in the morning. There was a man smoking a cigarette and with a Red Bull in hand jogging in place.
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Yeah, I think I can do this, I thought. 
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We were off, running past a large beautiful lake and through alley ways of shops preparing fresh包子Bāozi, or steamed buns, from the windowsills.
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Derek and Hai Peng took off quickly, both of them taking a stab at the half-marathon. Kun Zai promised to keep an eye on me as he and I were both attempting our first 10K. 
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Near the end of the race, I found myself alone, tired, and ready to have the whole thing over with. But then Kun Zai met up with me.
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“You can do it! Defeat the enemy!” he said, a quick as a gunman from one of his games.
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I looked forward at a girl running about 30 meters in front of me. Sure, I can do it. Why not? (Or as I was probably thinking in Chinese 为什么不?Wèishéme bù?)
I crossed the finish line and came in 9th place for the women’s race.
…………………………………………….
I’m not really sure there’s an enemy to defeat anymore. I don’t hang around competitive people and I can’t say I’m competitive with myself like I used to be. 
The only “enemy” was the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do anything.
Now, I just enjoy the view from the run.
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Derek e-mailed me a few days ago. He still lives in China. I suggested that he and Hai Peng should make a motivational bilingual running app. It would sell millions! He said he’ll pitch the idea to him. 
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Across oceans of disconnect, it’s good to know technology can help make us feel we still belong to some greater tribe of friendship.
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 Nice job, you’re almost there. 
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Thanks Samsung.
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But where exactly is ‘there’?
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For I know with each breath I take, I have the chance to begin again.
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Sunday Mornings Are Never Really Sacred

A poem I wrote years and years ago that I am reminded of today. I like to think something really new and beautiful awakened after I wrote it. I don’t really go to church or am A practicing Christian” any longer, but I do find something wonderful about a Sunday.
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Sunday Mornings are Never Really Sacred

Sunday mornings are
never really sacred.
You walk to church,
like your feet are carrying you there.
You can’t say why.
It just feels like something you’re supposed to do.

Minds eye takes me home
Meandering road
Pennsylvanian vistas of the
Hilltop crest past the Christmas tree farm,
Barn door tucked into valley folds of
sunlight soaked evergreen pond.
Tampered by the promise of
Lumped on fracking wells
To end this recession.

In the city you arrive at the church
and climb to the balcony.
No familiar faces greet you. The sounds of a passionate piano do not guide the way.
No tapestry of a labyrinth, or a Pentecostal dove.
No smell of flowers or wax dripping off of candles.
No need to brush legs with your neighbor while you step into the pew.
No prayers of concern, no reverend who raises his hands –
Let us stand and greet each other.

Just that little black book, where you write your name and check whether you are a member or not.
And the hymnal too. It’s the same shade of blue.
Without white walls to use as a pallet for the colors seeping out of organ pipes,
your gaze tracks the leaden frame of a stained glass window,
dodging eye contact with a painting of Christ.

Your mind drifts during the sermon,
And when the collection plate comes around you throw a dollar in,
hoping it will atone for the sin of forgetting to tip the cabbie last night.

These avoidances keep you vulnerable,
until the end of the service, when the man in front of you with a startling stare turns around and invites you downstairs for coffee.
Tells you about what a great church this is and boasts of former reverend with Princeton accolades who boosted membership with his own bare hands.

Walking back to your apartment under a grey sheet of sky
you call your father and remember that today after church
you won’t be watching red cardinals and clumsy squirrels
dancing in the big pine tree
outside your long glass window

Rather hum to yourself
Be Thou my Vision
While washing the dishes

How to Get Lit

Lately I’ve been caught in
     the right way to hold your breath, how to meditate, how to stop the mind
     the right way to cleanse your liver, what to eat, when not to eat it
     when to go to bed, how cold to make your shower, what to put in the bath, what scent to wear
     how slow to dance, how to be a woman, how not to be tamed, how to be domestic
     what gave me acne, how to make it go away
     if I start smoking weed and cigarettes does that make me okay?
     i just asked the dentist if fluoride can close my third eye
     but my gums are bleeding! oh me, oh my!
     should I drink? do my armpits stink?
     is it okay to ask out a guy? or is it better to just sit around and wonder – why?
     be with the mama moon on your period or keep the IUD?
     but hey – if you get pregnant just don’t come to me!
     must I feel guilt when the Beibes comes on?
     or can I claim Despacito as my new favorite song?
     just live life by the fly, but please – don’t cry! it makes you seem weak
     you don’t want to loose your own winning streak
     drink bottled water, or don’t, just recycle the plastic
     hey look – you’re fantastic!
     do you compost? Throw your paper away?
     would you vaccinate your kids or raise them on an apple a day?
     do you ever how your gay friends have to pray?
     when so many rights are taken away?
     by those people who can split their heart into three?
     shoo away the Mormons at their doorstep but practice their own form of polygamy?
     I’m sorry to say, as I take a breath in
     I don’t really believe in original sin
     I sort of believe we are all just fine as we are
     all chasing that wish on some shooting star
     so join me perhaps in the “the Way” if you will
     because these self-punishment talks are not really real
     between vegan and kosher and old gluten free
     there’s no right way to do it
     I’m just simply
     me

Rowing Through the Rot

He paddled, day after day and night after night. Looking into the mirror of experience. Looking for that truth. That essence of his being that seemed to be missing forever.
Some would call it the Rot. Some would call it the “dark night of the soul.” The dark swamp of despair that he could not get out of. The paddler is like the Grim Reaper coming forth from Death to carry you across the Hades, into the underworld, where you will sit – wondering why you can’t really speak to anyone. Where you feel like you look around and every one seems happy and joyful and you just are not a part of that, while also knowing you are a part of everything at the same time.  Knowing death is imminent, you infinite, and human all at the same time. The feeling of now-ness, of nothingness. Of wanting to connect with your true self yet manipulate the tides of nature and her curses all at the same time. Using your gifts of magic to speak wisdom to the ages, yet lost at sea, alone, wanting to finally reach that next tree, but the water of consciousness just keeps running forever, knowing that you will never quite get there without a fellow paddler at the bow. Yet you keep rowing along, the lone traveler, thinking “If I just try this” or “If I just did this correctly” I would finally get there and I would be whole again. I have bad news for you – the water keeps going and from the illusions of trees there is just more water. You need not row forever, because, my dear, you have not yet learned to just rest in the stroke. You’ll see – something that used to be essential now Rots away, a compositing of the muck you could say, into the very White-Hot heart of Our Being.

The Woman Warrior

Ever feel like a book comes to you at the perfect time, describing the exact emotion you have been wishing to capture for so long?
We all know the feeling, and I’m an addict. I confess I have a vice for getting used books each time I pass a Little Free Library or find a free or cheap book bargain shelf. All of them spoke to me in a title or a passage. Most of them now sitting on my shelf, waiting to cozy up with me at a cafe, couch or park and be devoured for hours. It’s real.
When I went to NYC last week, I found The Woman Warrior at a vintage clothing shop where nothing I tried on seemed to fit quite right. I put on a nice poolside cover-up thinking Hey, this will motivate me to swim and get in shape this summer. A woman waiting in line told me I “looked like a lady of leisure.” I had just gotten off from my teaching job for the summer. My mother, just retired, after 30 years.  Yet, the passage I picked up out of this book was about work, as the narrator is talking to her mother about her life after immigration:
“See what I mean? I have worked too much. Human beings don’t work like this in China. Time goes slower there. Here we have to hurry, feed the hungry children before we’re too old to work. I feel like a mother cat hunting for its kittens. She has to find them fast because in a few hours she will forget how to count or that she had any kittens at all. I can’t sleep in this country because it doesn’t shut down for the night. Factories, canaries, restaurants — always somebody somewhere working through the night. It never gets done all at once here. Time was different in China. One year lasted as long as my total time here; one evening so long, you could visit your women friends, drink tea, and play cards at each house, and it would still be twilight. It even got boring, nothing to do but fan ourselves. Here midnight comes at the floor’s not swept, the ironing’s not ready, the money’s not made. I would still be young if we lived in China.”
I have been feeling this for the past two years, but really lately, trying to explain to others how deeply my friendships, relationships, and experiences unfolded when living in rural China. How expansive life felt, and yet bitter at the same time. I couldn’t seem to quite touch that again in the US. Only a few friends stuck around enough to get “bored,” which usually left us singing, dancing or sometimes sleepy.
At times, I feel blocked between the knowingness of “time” and its natural flow, and a culture where acquiring more money, more material items, and less time is bounded towards our eventual death. Not enough for this, not enough for that. Everyone moving about with deep seeds of unworthiness in the lack of our “productivity.”
The stars have it out for us as well. We are all healing the mother wound and our relationship between our focus on the masculine essence of linear time and the feminine co-creative universe. Despite a messy election cycle, there has been a tidal wave pop culture art of women in the past year and few months – the Women’s March, the Handmaid’s Tale, Beyonce’s photos, Hidden Figures, Moana, Wonder Woman, etc – ya know what I’m saying. The list goes on.
I see the fruits of the long evenings in my friendships bearing gifts to the world.
One of my closest friends from China just made a return, and looking at her pictures reminds me of this feeling.
Another friend has started her own clothing business, another will deepen her passion for teaching and the healing arts in grad school. Another, falling in love again like it’s the first time.
I wonder if those changes came about in those long evenings – movements we took to pause, sit, share our souls, and simply be.
Our modern, culture does not allow for this. Political action wants you to think otherwise, but see what happens when you stop living in resistance, and rather in receptivity.
For the next week, I challenge you to sit with a friend as if time would never end.
Hold that space in your heart and see what change comes about.
– Blessings

Compassion

Eating seeds of compassion
From my hands
An open pomegranate
Of thick tears
Crying for those I lost
   A soul mate
   An idea of mom and dad
   A grieving brother
   A friend I call sister
Crying for those who rule over me
    A powerful woman
    Who in passing
    Awakens me to love
    Like all of us
    She walks in her own hell
    Talking to her
    Leaves me with
    Pools of reflection
    That wash away
    My mask of denial
    “Why do you do this?”
    “Listen to us, like this?”
     She says, “Because, I care for adults here
like
     the adults here care for children.”
     How then, does the heart
     Translate those words
     To a crying lover asking
     “Why do you do this for me?”
     “Stay here with me, like this?”
     “Because, I care for my friends
like
     the children I care for every day.”
     From inside, I hear
     The voice
     Of a child
     Whispering
 tenderly
     “Actually,
Because,
     I love you.”

The Child

我要让孩子长成的样子

而不要我期待的样子

因为我知道孩子并不属于我

他只是经由我来到这个世界

去完成他自己的梦想和使命

I want the child to grow into the way he wants to grow into

Not what I expected

Because I know the child does not belong to me

He just came to this world through me

To complete his own dreams and missions

Four Cats

Four Cats

I. April  


The way he made her feel sober 

When she was drunk

The way he was too shy

To look into her eyes

They way they performed something 

Closer to making love than fucking

The way he’d sometimes tell her – 

“You’re incredible”

The way she’d always whisper back –

“No, we are incredible”

The way she sent shivers down his spine

Before he turned over modestly

To leave her alone on her side of the mattress 

A habit, he said, he’d learned from his fiancé 

Before she returned the ring

They way his cat would hide under the bed

Flinch at her touch when he left the room

Until she coaxed her to cuddle

Pull a moonbeam from sliced eyes

They way he said

“She’s quite found of you,”

From halfway across the room

Dressed in a robe

With one foot out he door 

II. November 

She had no idea

If he thought of her as much as

She thought of him 

After she’d forgotten what it felt like

To be revived 

So as you search for healing and completion

I wonder to myself –

Did you buy the car to drive to the mountains?

Or the plane ticket to fly to the sea?

You are a hungry bear hunting, searching, and seeking

Rather than taking the medicine that rests deep inside of me

After you drop me off at my front door

The landlord’s cat sneaks up into my room

“He wants up,” I’ll laugh. 

“No,” he’ll sigh. 

“He never knows what he wants

To go up or down

Or to even go at all.” 

III. December


Could it be possible?

Becoming awake together

Through the night 

To first be bound 

In order to know liberation 

To first be found

In order to be lost

When I remind you 

All shadows need light

When you ask me 

How it could be done

We hear suddenly 

Two cats screaming

Out the window we look

On a patch of grass

A black cat and a white cat

Staring at each other

Waiting to see who will back down

When you remind me

Animals never hold on to the fight

When you asked

If you could touch my arm

For your own pleasure 

I knew inside

It would not matter

Because I do not feel

That we are separate 

When I knew inside

It could mean that

People like us are destined to

Heal the immune system of the whole 

When the heavy sweetness

Whispered truth

From the sub-elements

Underneath your pillow

You sent me green

And I saw it in blue

Released from some

Taught string on my heart

Do you know?

My soul begs you to

Tell me to have

Some wonderful dreams 

Entrance

\\\ Entrance \\\
“Pittsburgh is the only city with an entrance.”
“It’s a Mayan portal”
“And you do you know that?”
Look at the wooden coasters at Kennywood
All the deaths in ’68
A microburst killed someone on the whip
In a city of mountains
Who thought a tornado could
Take a life
In a place where the trill of it
Is an upside wheel spinning us
To the brink of death
For our own amusement
Just to remind us how we’re still alive

Civilization Concept

\\\ Civilization Concept \\\

I am here in awe of my own humility
In gratitude of what remains
Holy supper, simple flame
I have known you for only so long
Yet you have been here my whole life
From boundaries of this house, not solid
I found doing nothing is doing something
Oh, oh, so much more than something
Rather, the process of becoming everything
~
The lights of autumn they bow to you
And fill your cup
But now is the time for mine to fill thine
To undercut and rewind
Ages of second-guessing
Who was the one to come, to save us all
Rather known, inside of us
Then he spoke about glory
About Hallelujah
But who are we?
We are no bodies of belonging
~
I sat, forsaking those
Given names
Weighing heavy on my heart
You know them well perhaps, after I
Left to become a local celebrity
Returned to nothing more than
flattened trash, blackened asphalt
roadkill, Saturday shopping sprees
Shreds of nothing
Why such then do I live
~
“I found my own self-worth when switching to Geiko. Namaste”
And suddenly the rage of 3 armies
from a heart so small
It is not true.
It is not true.
It is not true.
To denounce the church of a
    mighty capitalist is one thing
To leave him is another
When still need your money
   if I am
To walk on solid ground
But what then, if the ground
never invited me to remain
  if I have perhaps
always been able to float?
  Fly, even?
What then do I make of
 your eyes
     your pyramid
          your martyrs
     Now I know
You only told us that to
     Justify your
    civilization concept
Comprised of indentured servants
     and African slaves
That never agreed to build
         your holy homes
From the roots of sacred ground
Of course, the wanderer asks
  what if we had only allowed
their children to
  play?
Away from silk submerged greed
   In what light then
would we write
   our creed?
One could only hope a true beginning
I need the Atom for my Eve
A molecule to send us off
on some trusted noble steed
🐎🐍🌸🌻