Poems by Barbara J. Genovese

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He's Got the Whole World

by Barbara J. Genovese

From Canary Spring 2012

Barbara lives on 35 acres of protected wetlands in the Fanno Creek Watershed in Portland Oregon, with about 640 other people cleverly landscaped into their houses. The area is home to a variety of wildlife species, most commonly those that can tolerate a wide variety of habitat and the disturbance usually associated with residential and commercial development, and some of the critters come in close!

He sleepwalks. I must not startle him. It’s as if I’m a wild animal stalking game, only it’s my own child that I follow.

As he approaches the weathered Earth globe in his father’s study, he shudders. I want to hold him and say: “You’re too young, too little for all that responsibility.”

Tears soon cascade down his cheeks. Splash. Splash. Splash. He takes a deep breath: “The Earth is shaking and calling up the ocean. It will wash things away.”

Japan’s tsunami of March 11 is a day away. But his predictions are never wrong. What frustrates him is that he cannot tell me where. Sometimes he’ll have an image of a landmark. Then we pour over books. It frustrates him to tears. I remind him that dreams and visions are sometimes puzzles. Rarely do images come fully formed from deep in our minds. That doesn’t comfort him. He needs to be able to know so that he can warn people.

“The Earth is shaking.”

“The Earth is a sentient being too,” I offer. “The Himalayas were once part of Africa. Or rather, the land mass that became the Himalayas. It broke away and drifted for a long time in the Indian Ocean until it bumped into China. The force of that bump created the Himalayas.”

The tears have stopped. His tiny contemplative frame slowly fills with resolve.

“I want to go and live with the wild things. Then I’ll know, as animals know. Then I can warn people.”

Each time he brings this up, my heart breaks into more pieces that began a long time ago to separate from some intransigent land mass.

I’ve learned not to question him. Neither do I encourage him, for he is a serious, dark little boy. He will be gone from me soon enough. I’ve dreaded the day since the day he was born. A mother knows these things.

“I would miss you,” is all I can manage.

He has no idea that it would shatter me -- let alone what it would do to his father. My fear is that he’ll wander away in the night. I’ll find his empty bed and his missing backpack. I’ll linger in his room to catch the last remaining smells of him -- sweetness transported on air until my DNA has attached itself to it.

God is punishing me with this one. God is getting back for what I did when I was too young and inexperienced, too independent and reckless to care for anything, let alone myself. God is punishing me.

I watch as my boy does what he’s done since he could first hold the globe. He closes his eyes. His vocabulary has changed with his age.

“When oil spills, I clean the water. I plant trees in the Amazon. I run my fingers through rivers and oceans and pull out the garbage.”

We have noticed that sometimes the globe glows. There are times when it’s suspended. We’ve recorded this on our mobile phones because the click of a shutter is absent -- almost like an owl flying on noiseless feathers. We’ve taken these photographs for the unbelieving.

Then he falls asleep. His father gently replaces the globe and I carry our boy into his room and lay him between the sheets. He talks in his sleep. We’ve recorded him. This is so that we have memory of him. His father thinks it is only a matter of time. I think of a haiku by Akahito, memorized in college, when I could not hold babies in my belly: “The mists rise over the still pools at Asuka. Memory does not pass away so easily.”

We do not confine or restrain his activities in any way. He’s a bright light that we do not wish to extinguish. We believe he will be easy to find when he leaves.

An image persists of a family I babysat for when I was a girl. The mother told me a story about her daughter who was three when she died. The day before, she told her mother that she saw an angel. She told her mother that she was going with it. The angel told her not to be afraid.

I remember the look on the mother’s face. I see where we stood on the stairs so she could point to where her daughter stood. Her look haunts me. It is why I do not turn on the light in the bathroom. I’m terrified that perhaps her look has now transfigured my face.

I’ve seen my boy in dreams, waving goodbye. He assures me that he’ll not leave until there is absolutely nothing more he can do by holding the Earth globe. He assures me that where he is going, there will be ministering hands. He assures me that those ministers assure him that what he does for the Earth will be utilized wisely and well.

He assures me that he has been assured.




The Other Economy

by Barbara J. Genovese

From Canary Spring 2011

We’ve all grown up hearing about ‘generation gaps.’ Chances are you’re part of my generation – the Baby Boomers, because we’re a big part of the U.S. demographics. Many of us had parents who survived the Great Depression or served in World War II. My inheritance is that I still darn my socks, sew buttons back onto my shirts, or dye clothing if it’s wearable and there’s a stain I can’t remove. When growing up, we were taught to use it up; wear it out; pass it down or along (to a sibling or neighbor); make do, or do without.

In 2009, however, one of the things I couldn’t do without was a computer because I was looking for a new job. Unlike Gen Next (born in the late ‘70’s or early ‘80’s, also known as the Net Generation, Echo Boomers, and Millenials) -- I didn’t cut my teeth on a computer keyboard. I used a typewriter and witnessed its transition to a computer with word processing software. This is where one ‘generation gap’ comes in: the one between using something up -- and the alternative of replacing it with something new without ever diagnosing the problem. I call this “The Other Economy.” It’s contributing to the present recession, as well as deepening the ecological crisis. This is when I began seriously to rethink my priorities.

Energy is expensive. So I began to pile the bed with blankets so I didn’t have to turn the heat on. I tried not turning on lights when I went into a room. Didn’t I know where everything was? I imagined that this strengthened my night vision. If I needed something, I started training myself to look through what I already had and improvise where I could.

At first I felt like a Robinson Crusoe on my own island of self-sufficiency. It’s been a revelation what I’ve been able to do without; it’s also thrown me back onto childhood and what I remember, though sometimes painfully, from those years: My mother made us tear paper napkins in half, even when neighbors or relatives came to visit. My father paid cash when he bought a car and drove it forever. My own car was 27 years old before repairs were no longer cost effective. In anticipation, I’d taken a second job for three years so I too would be able to pay cash for a new one.

But when my mentality of conserve and re-use came up against what I thought was my five-year-old computer’s swan song -- I lost all rational thought: I succumbed to the siren song of the four-letter word “sale.” Further, I was swayed by the longer sentence: “Computers aren’t made to last five years.” It spawned a strange and angry drop down the rabbit hole.

In hindsight, I look upon it all as an adventure, an exploration of my fears, and -- what I subscribe to when I’m in “need” of a thing. Here’s what I remember:

My computer screen had begun to repeat itself. When it started to happen with great frequency, there also happened to be “back to school sales.”

I explained my computer’s problem to five different salespeople, two at one store, and three at another. They all were from Gen Next. They all said my computer had a speed issue; they all reminded me that the computer was five years old and way past its usable years, and interestingly -- all said it was a video card problem (an expensive fix). Interestingly, not one asked for the model or whether my computer even had a video card. I found out later it didn’t.

Each, not surprisingly, advised me to buy a new computer. After I listened to all these diagnostic wizards and asked numerous questions about computers in my price range, I went home and did some research (though not the right kind). The next day I returned to the store, asked more questions (convinced myself that it was a speed issue and that I had an old computer) -- and I bought a new computer. I paid extra to have the staff transfer data and waited two hours in the store beyond when they had told me it would be done. When I got my new computer home, email wasn’t set up (as promised), and a disc had been left in the computer!

The rabbit hole became darker and deeper. Suffice it to say that after three days with customer support, 800 numbers, and three trips to the store, the technical wizards could not get my email to work. I was back to Square One. I’d lost valuable time looking for work, and still didn’t have a working computer. My solution? I returned it, got my money back, and then I started from where I should have started in the first place.

I emailed a networking group I belong to and asked for names of computer shops that people had personal experience with. I made a handful of calls and found a shop that didn’t talk down to me. They had my computer working in 24 hours. The problem? My computer was trying to make too many updates simultaneously, thus the repeating screen. The technician, a man in his 40s, fixed a few things, removed a few things, gave me the option to say yes or no to updates, and my computer was as good as new. He made a revealing remark: “This is a well-made model and was built to last.”

When I need something now, I notice my consumer-based impulse when that voice says: Put it on the list and we’ll pick it up next time we’re at the store. Then, another voice, just as strong says: Do you absolutely need it? What do you have already that performs the same function but perhaps looks different?

I want to find that balance in my life where my spending doesn’t exceed either my means or the Earth’s sustainability; where, if I don’t have something, I put on my explorer’s boots and search among my “things” for a substitute. After all, my “things” aren’t busy all the time being the “thing” they were designed to be.

I’ve collected a few revelations and epiphanies along the way, and while looking for work:

1) We don’t live in a disposable world. It might be easier to toss than to find out what the problem is, or to fix it -- but buying isn’t always the solution. Buying may save you time, but then you have the old “thing” which may still work -- to dispose of -- which takes up space, and which you’ll have to make a decision about anyway. Or your estate will.

2) Take time to investigate. Ask the right questions. Be willing to crawl around in the belly of the beast.

3) Neither Time nor Money is as valuable as maintaining a connection with the things you own and use and depend on.

I’m from a generation and a tradition in which hand-made was prized. My grandmother was a seamstress who sewed for the Catholic Church and the Barnum and Bailey Circus. She sewed unique dresses for me and costumes for school plays, and I wore what my grandmother made with great pride. Her clothes were like blessings in my girl’s eye. I felt a fierce dignity in being able to wear my clothes and use my things until they were either unwearable, or unusable. It stretched my imagination, creativity, resourcefulness and Yankee stubbornness -- all these were ‘muscles’ for me as I grew. All these were part of the fiber of my grandparents’ immigrant mentality.

It’s also important to me to respect the things that work for me because, after all, they do work. Maybe it was knowing that the clothes on my back were hard-earned that made me able to make them last. To this day I hate to part with a piece of clothing.

I’ve also collected a few questions:

Q: Where has my ingenuity gone? Not too far down the road I hope, for I can still catch sight of its coattails swinging in the breeze. My mother, while she embarrassed me when neighbors and relatives came to visit, also taught me an important lesson: Maybe you can get by with only half a napkin to wipe your mouth (unless you have a really big or dirty mouth or have to wipe a baby’s gooey face).

Q: What kind of lives do we have if we have to keep topping ourselves, to wit -- how many different models of mobile phones do we need to live fulfilled lives? What price are we willing to pay to miss our inner landscape?

Q: Why am I not dancing with life rather than trying to outrun it?

Q: Why am I letting the advertising world create my world? What happened to me creating my own world?

Q: And -- my mind dreams into those places of energy conservation linked with consumerism that asks: What if we diverted some of that energy and money into inventions to benefit the planet and ourselves?




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