Sisters poem

The Ekphrastic Review has a regular series of Ekphrastic Writing Challenges, in which they post a piece of visual art and invite writers to respond to it. I have had several poems published in this way.

Here is a link to the artwork and response pieces for the most recent challenge, “The Two Sisters” by Théodore Chassériau (France) 1843. Among them is a poem by Kyle Laws, fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member and ekphrastic writer extraordinaire!

My piece was not chosen in this go-round, but I thought I’d share it here. Enjoy!

Sisters

Is it the matching outfits
that proclaim sisterhood –
my sisters and I in pale

yellow with coordinating
hats and gloves
for Easter mass –

my daughters in black
velvet with lacework collars
in a rare formal portrait –

my granddaughters in rainbow-
and-unicorn pajamas
in pandemic London –

or is it the dimples
that appear with smiles
the entwined arms

the mischievous glance?

What a week!

I started the year by posting for 33 days in a row, thanks largely to Linda’s Just Jot It January.

Then, I fell off the wagon.

Today, though, I am taking advantage of being kept inside by a snowstorm to try to process what has been a surreal week into a post.

On the personal side, my spouse B has been involved in a major workshop week with co-workers from the US and Germany, so he has been working loooong days, sometimes capped off by group dinners that run late into the evening. Between his schedule and working around the weather, things were already feeling unsettled here.

This just added to what has been a very unsettling week here in the United States. T and I had watched giant swaths of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The House managers who served as prosecutors were very methodical in laying out their case. The president’s defense team was much harder to follow and tended to be in conflict with both some of the evidence and some of what other members of the team had presented. Their arguments were often circular.

For example, one of the arguments that the president’s team was making against the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress was that the House should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. Meanwhile, a court case that the House had brought trying to enforce subpoenas in the ongoing investigation of Russian election interference saw the Justice Department lawyers arguing that the courts weren’t the proper remedy, that impeachment was! As Rep. Adam Schiff, who was leading the House managers, said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Because the Senate had voted not to call witnesses or request documents, the first part of the week was about senators being able to speak for ten minutes about their reasoning behind their upcoming trial vote on Wednesday. However, on Tuesday night, President Trump gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union is usually a very formal and solemn opportunity for the president to lay out their agenda for the coming year, including what legislation they would like to see taken up by Congress and passed. It was obvious from the start that this address was not going to follow that norm, when the Congressional Republicans started chanting “four more years” before the president even began speaking.

Much of the president’s message mirrored his campaign speeches. As a reasonably well-informed citizen, I knew immediately that some of the things the president was claiming were not true. He tried to take credit for things that actually happened during the Obama administration. He said he would always protect health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions at the same time the Justice Department is in court trying to have those protections under the Affordable Care Act thrown out.

It was surreal.

The State of the Union often features special guests of the president who sit in the gallery near his family. Their stories are inspiring and heart-warming. President Trump added a twist, though, in that most of the people received a surprise reward.  This seemed to harken back to Donald Trump’s experience as a “reality show” celebrity. A couple of these surprises made me cringe. There was a girl, attending with her mom, who received a scholarship to attend a private school. Education is a wonderful thing and I am happy for this girl, but the president framed it as her leaving “a failing government school.” In the United States, we don’t call them “government schools”; we call them public schools. One of the responsibilities of our government is to provide free public education through primary and secondary school. If a public school is doing poorly, it is up to our government at all levels, working on behalf of the taxpayers, to ensure that the school is brought up to a high standard – for the good of those students and the general public. To see the president totally abrogate responsibility for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of US students, was disheartening.

The shocking part of the evening was the “surprise” awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States and is usually given to individuals who have brought people together in a positive way. By contrast, Rush Limbaugh has been sowing division for decades. He regularly belittles people who don’t follow his particular brand of conservatism. [Fun fact: He once railed against a women’s prayer group of which I was a member. We were a small, local group getting lambasted on nationally syndicated radio. It was ironic, because his actions gave us more power and visibility and led to a 60 Minutes interview.] Limbaugh has recently revealed a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis; it is appropriate to ask for prayers and well wishes on his behalf, but the Medal of Freedom is not an appropriate honor for so divisive a figure.

Speaking of prayer, yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast, which is sort of an unusual occasion in and of itself, but I can’t give its history here as this post is already shaping up to be long. First, though, there needs to be a wrap-up of the impeachment trial.

As expected, Trump was not removed from office. All the Democratic and independent senators voted for removal on both counts. There had been hope that some of the more moderate Republicans would join them, especially on the abuse of power article. Several Republican senators, in opposition to the president’s assertion that his behavior was “perfect”, issued statements saying that what the president did was inappropriate but didn’t warrant removal from office so they were voting for acquittal.

In the end, one Republican, Utah senator and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did vote to remove the president on the abuse of power charge. In his ten-minute floor speech, he spoke about how difficult this decision was. He is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and because he had sworn an oath to God to deliver “fair and impartial justice” and because the House managers had put forward convincing evidence of the president’s abuse of power, he decided that he must follow his conscience and vote to convict. He did not let political expediency deter him from his obligation to follow the dictates of his faith and the Constitution. He has faced immediate backlash from the president and other members of the Trump family, as well as from some of the conservative media. I appreciate Romney’s integrity. It took a lot of courage to vote against a president of one’s own party in an impeachment trial. Indeed, this is the first time that that has happened in the United States.

Which brings me back to the prayer breakfast…

The keynote had been on the subject of love and, in particular, the Christian call to love one’s enemies. When President Trump, who is ostensibly Christian, spoke, he proceeded to attack the faith of those he considers his enemies. After speaking about the impeachment, he said, ” I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.” This was a thinly veiled attack on Sen. Romney for his impeachment vote and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, in answering questions from reporters has revealed that she prays every day for the president. Speaker Pelosi was sitting at the head table, only a few feet away from the president as he spoke. As a fellow Catholic, I admire Nancy Pelosi’s prayer life and don’t doubt for a minute that she sincerely prays for the president and for our country every day. That the president dismisses people of faith, equating his own viewpoint as being right and theirs as being “wrong”, compounds the damage that he has done to our country.

After President Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he apologized again to the country and made a plea for reconciliation and moving forward as a nation. (He was impeached for lying under oath about an affair.) By contrast, when President Trump spoke later in the day after the prayer breakfast, he did not admit any wrongdoing and blamed everything on Democrats and anyone else he considers an opponent.

At this point, without a unifying leader, I don’t know how Americans can fully come together as a nation to meet our challenges. I do want to point out, however, that, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, the House of Representatives has passed over 300 bills, the vast majority of which are bipartisan, that Majority Leader McConnell has refused to take up in the Senate. I am a member of NETWORK lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Every Congressional session, NETWORK scores the votes on ten bills that deal with social justice issues, such as fair pay, access to medical care, and equal justice. For the first time ever, this year they were unable to score the Senate because they hadn’t held votes on the bills that were companions to the House-passed bills. I and millions of other Americans expect and deserve more.

I swear that I did not spend the whole week on nothing but politics. I wrote a new poem in response to a challenge on The Ekphrastic Review. If it gets accepted, you can be sure there will be a link here at Top of JC’s Mind – and a mini-celebration that I managed to get a poem published in 2020.

Now, I think there is a snow shovel that is calling my name…