Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo by Colin Mutchler [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Like most people, I’ve heard Martin Luther King, Jr. invoking the prophet Amos in old film footage. In the 1960s, this particular verse inspired many people to advocate for civil rights, and later to advocate against US involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Even now, Amos’s words are almost synonymous with Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work for justice. Yet King’s reason for calling up Amos was to petition his own followers to become “maladjusted.” That’s an astonishing call, not what I’d expected.
It’s so staged, so false, so politician of him. After a days-long drama of political wrangling over authority and jurisdiction that extends into the dream world of his wife, the man of power ends the debate with a gesture. Perhaps it’s his political signature: staged events to render judgments. Perhaps, backed into a corner, it’s only this time that he does it. Perhaps it’s simply functional, a way to communicate to those in the back of the crowd who can’t hear. Whatever the case, to put an end to the problem of Jesus of Nazareth, Pontius Pilate resorts to gesture: a subordinate appears on stage bearing a bowl and a towel; the man washes his hands, dries them, leaves the stage.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
I hear it first thing in the morning. Though it’s not really silence. There’s the whir of the fan, the slowly ticking clock. It’s not so much the absence of sound that defines silence, but a moment when the second hand slows the spinning Earth and creates an expansiveness of time. Not just on the borderlands of waking and sleeping, we cross the threshold into this broad space more often than we realize. Usually artists take us there.
“Stick to the daily learning targets. Do not get off track.” This is one of my administrators, the one that meets with me once a week to go over my lesson plans. Daily Learning Targets are like Bible Memory Work: we are to write these words on our hearts and minds. Do not stray from these words. And it’s not that I stray, but if I were to claim a characteristic of my teaching it’s that when I begin to study and discuss a story, I tend to walk my students down a path that we didn’t know we were going to walk down. Mayella Ewell’s geraniums, for example. The grace in Mercutio. Voldemort’s broken heart. All of these are bulls’ eyes; I just didn’t know I was shooting in their direction at the time.
Four of the five years I spent selling myself to creative writing programs, I used this gem in my personal statement: I am overwhelmed by my bookshelf. Everything that’s been written in the canon of literature has said all there is to say. I do not purport to say anything new. It’s a wonder why they rejected me. Who wants a writer who thinks they have nothing new to say? Especially when that writer goes on to swing a metaphor as dull as a spoon: My aim as a writer is the toil of the porter… All I strive to do is haul my bookshelf up a floor.