What are white people whose grandfathers fought on behalf of the settler state to do? Silko would say begin by acknowledging one’s ancestry and one’s relationship to the land. The land upon which we stand is like the back of a turtle. Native people, along with their ancestors, including nonhuman relatives and kin, are the ones who made this world. I, meanwhile, am a child of people who called themselves “immigrants.” Before that, they were Europeans; upon settling, they became thinkable to themselves and others as “Italian-Americans,” “Irish-Americans,” or what have you. Assimilated into whiteness but for a hyphenated attachment — a sometimes-proudly, sometimes-guiltily-clung-to trace of ethnicity. These latter were everywhere present among members of my extended family. Dialect; manners of eating, speaking, and being together with others; a tendency to gesticulate; a regional accent. Some of what I myself possessed, I lost when I left home for school. Yet here I am now, with a home, and a family, and a bit of land. From this property mortgaged to me by a bank, the settler state exacts its fee.
“You there,” says a cursor, a pointing finger: “Feed your head.” DC hardcore bands of the 1980s laughed off the hippies, refused to remember what the dormouse said. Contra Jefferson Airplane, they clamped down defensively, shouting “Flex your head” through speakers and sound systems across time. That stance appealed to me. I was hailed by it. It formed me into a position as a particular kind of subject. Emanating from the capital, coeval with an era of federally-waged drug war, straightedgers like Ian MacKaye denounced drugs as “crutches.” The stance conveyed an ableism that was simultaneously hyper-defensive, its anger a reaction to fear. As punks, MacKaye and his friends and bandmates faced routine bullying and marginalization. Early episodes of teenage drug use led to denunciations of party culture, as on Government Issue’s “Rock’n Roll Bullshit,” and dramatic public acts of abstention from drug-assisted Dionysian revelry, as on Minor Threat tracks like “Out of Step” and “Straight Edge.” Always flexing, never feeding. It took years for me to recover and loosen up — but loosen up I did.
What is my relationship to US settler-colonialism? For historian Nick Estes and the members of the Red Nation, the US is not a “nation of immigrants” but a “nation of settlers.” My ancestors are said to have arrived to North America from Ireland and Italy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — after the Civil War. They settled in apartments in urban ethnic enclaves in New York and New Haven, another group in Memphis, TN. After service in the two World Wars, they purchased homes in the new postwar suburbs of Long Island — though “purchased” is perhaps a misnomer, as the banks retained portions of these mortgaged properties, debt in that way a permanent tool of extraction. Both grandfathers launched and ran small businesses. Before I was born, however, both were dealt charges of tax evasion. One settled quickly by paying a fine; the other refused, and may or may not have had minor mafia connections, my parents always denying involvement of that sort (though maybe also hinting at it in secret?). All I know is, expenses ate away at his always-no-more-than-modest wealth, leaving my parents and I no inheritance other than debt. Since leaving my parents’ home, I’ve lived in rental homes on land that was several centuries ago stolen from Native people. My parents sent me off to a settler-colonialist boarding school, a “university,” so that by boarding school’s end I was left with the bill, a bill that in its form as debt has sentenced me to life as the equivalent of Staff at another of the system’s boarding schools. Can a person of my circumstance join the Red Nation? What would that mean? What would that entail? The struggle, after all, is worldwide, is it not? All of us occupy a place in it. Time to decolonize the world, from within and without Occupied Territories. (There’s your microcosm and your macrocosm. There’s your cognitive map. There it is: the totality and one’s place in it. It was there, in a sense, in Brave New World and its reservation system, albeit distorted by the particulars of Huxley’s standpoint and powers of vision.)
Sarah endures days of contractions, pain shooting around inside her — muscular, interior, burning, grinding, all at once — until the hospital staff turns over at 7:00am and a new doctor-and-nurse team administer an epidural, after which Sarah experiences intense relief. From then onward, all is mostly smooth sailing, at least compared to the night prior. Amplified via monitor, the baby’s heart rate soundtracks our wait (how weird to sit there listening to our daughter swim!) as we watch monster contractions graphed as vertical spikes on a screen. Reflecting afterwards, under the influence of the epidural, on the discrepancy between her expectations going into the labor and the sheer pain of it: “That is not,” Sarah says, “how I imagined it at all.” A loud echo reverberates through the delivery room. Thinking of the baby as the sound’s origin, J. replies, “I imagine her pushing off the side of a wall, as when one is swimming in a pool.” As Sarah continues to dilate, the three of us watch calming footage of sea turtles swimming in the deep. As for me, I picture the baby as an angry Al Pacino, fist in the air, shouting “Attica! Attica!” as in Dog Day Afternoon. And then, without further ado, she arrives in all her glory.
We’re here, we’ve arrived at the projected due date, little one carried full term. And according to the doctors, all is well. But Sarah hasn’t yet entered into active labor — so the wait continues. I pass the time by sitting in the yard listening to outdoor sounds, birds and squirrels, drinking a can of pilsner. ‘Tis enough, sometimes, to just yip and squawk and tweet.
Ornaments adorn the Christmas tree — several beauties. Stars, birds, balls with bands of colored chrome. And out the window beside the tree, sunlight catches in the bare upper branches of a neighbor’s elm. We’re storytelling beings, you and I, as we wait for the arrival of another. In these next few days, we become parents — ontologically transformed.
A Monarch explores blooms of ivy beside me, some of the latter grown up the side of a tree, with bees, too, attending to its nectars. Sarah and I received word today that we’ll have to move within months of the arrival of our child. It will be an in-town move, however — and while moves for us are difficult, not least because of my masses of books and records, our hope is that out of this will come purchase of a home, whereas before we’ve always rented. The hope, too, is that the home will be a place where we can grow a garden and assemble an herbarium. Birds come over and sing to me. The butterfly folds its wings, and in shadow, as if camouflaged, disappears in the ivy, before flapping open, the ivy leaf transfigured, hosting in its place beings of vast beauty, elegance, and intelligence. Our minds begin to play with a name, one we share with others. It’s the name of my mother’s maternal grandmother; in its history, it’s associated with patronage of animals and nature; musically, it evokes a flowering cosmos.
A woman with gray hair and glasses rounds the corner of the neighborhood park and waves her fingers at a man and son blowing bubbles near the playground. Pickups and CR-Vs drive past. A helicopter descends toward a hospital. Grass stems quiver, birds chirp. Is my view of the world large enough to encompass the deeds I will do as well as their significance? How can one know in advance, unless communications could be sent and received between two or more minds in anticipation of events themselves? It’s as simple as a building blinking on in recognition of the approach of evening. Spring is here, daffodils aplenty. To my future self, I submit a note, a reminder in anticipation of summer: London is currently home to an exciting, droney, psychedelic jazz scene anchored around figures and groups like Szun Waves, Luke Abbott, James Holden, PVT, Triosk, Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross, and Shabaka Hutchings.
Neighborhood kids play basketball on a small concrete court behind the house across the street from me. Their father plays with them, chuckling, laughing goofily at times, shouting “Airball, airball!” Tiring of basketball, the kids ask the father to pull them, turning him into a docile horse tugging their Hot Wheels chariot. A bird perched on a telephone wire sings to me: a beautiful chesty robin. Such is what I see and hear when I sit for a few moments on my front stoop on a recent misty afternoon. A worker a few hundred feet away hammers new shingles to a neighbor’s roof. While no part of this world is “owned” by me — I, too, like all of us here aboard Spaceship Earth, no more than a mere renter — ’tis a garden all the same.
Time to get back into the habit of a public/private split, so as to juggle in each hand like Shiva the Destroyer the activities of mind and body, line and syllable, metaphor and metonymy, head and heart. I’m not sure what I mean by that, other than, “I wish for reconciliation, evening sound a grand symphony. Cars, dogs, voices: by these, evening in the neighborhood is heard, and all is well.” Evenings are weird, and it’s hard to know how to word a wish. We hear ourselves wondering, “Where are we?” and “What did Freud and Jung and Sartre believe, what powers did they ascribe to the event in the life of the spirit known as the Wish?” My foremost wish is that Sarah and I grow into enlightenment by raising a child together. Let our worlds fill with loving kindness.