#2566

on the eve of fifteen years I lay in bed fearing my father is passing out of memory and into legend as the childhood friends who grew up with him fade from my life, the last pets who lived with him all gone themselves these past five years, old family friends scattered across the country, now almost everyone in my life knows him only in the stories I share, in pictures on Facebook every birthday and death anniversary, and as I lay here picking open old wounds both real and metaphorical I know deep in my gut he’s become part of the immutable past, a thing from my childhood like stuffed toys and crayons or the sweets I can no longer eat yet reminisce over fondly, tonight I lay crying in a bedroom in a house he never stepped foot in and realize my father is immortalized more now in the traditions I use to honor his memory than the shared experiences of the things themselves and most days that’s sufficient, it really is, my wife talks about him like she knows him and most days it feels like she does but then this day, this awful day, rolls around and I remember she never knew him, none of them did, because he wasn’t at my college graduation or my wedding because he is dead, he is dead, he is dead and the way he lives on is that of all myths: through written word and oral tradition, those transient, untrustworthy things, and not even the greatest storytellers in history could truly capture what it felt like to be hugged by him, no, memory and mythology can’t replace a person’s physical presence one bit

#2559

I meet Mnemosyne at a bus stop beside the River Lethe.

White boulders lay scattered along the riverbank, the grooves and hollows worn onto their surfaces by the river’s swift waters making the rocks look like massive skulls. As I walk the shore, careful to stay back from the potent waters, I notice lit candles clustered among the rocks and floating in little bowls. I’m not alone; people kneel in the shallows, weeping quietly over offerings of flowers, bones, and other little gifts. I nod to the makeshift memorials and offer a silent prayer to whomever they’re for: may those who have passed be at peace.

Turning away from the river to let the mourners have their privacy, I walk back toward the bus stop and approach a little wooden stand I hadn’t noticed before. On top sits what looks like a visitors log, the kind you might find at a trailhead or visitors center, only the pages have been laminated and are wet with mist from the river. Anything written on them has been rendered illegible by the water. Sensing someone’s gaze on me, I look up to see a woman watching me through hard, pale eyes. Everything about her is pale, actually – her flawless skin, her pressed lips, her long fall of perfectly straight hair. As with the guestbook pages, her angular body is slightly damp as well, making her look like a marble statue left out in the rain. The woman’s gaze weighs on me, harsh, judging, but when she speaks I know I’ve passed some test with my respect for the mourners at the river.

The words of the mad are not for others’ eyes, she says, indicating the book with its illegible, impermanent writing. They should not be read. They should not be remembered. I take this to mean the people I saw weeping at the edge of the Lethe had gone mad with grief, or perhaps had lost themselves to the memory of their particular dead and couldn’t let go. I realize then who I am speaking with – Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, daughter of Gaia, and mother of the nine muses. She presides over the Pool of Memory, though, not the River of Forgetfulness. Perhaps Her presence here indicates that She protects those who have lost their memory, and thus their minds, to grief or madness.

Then again, is there really much of a difference sometimes?

#2555

Queer Joy (is)

sacred revolution
holy reclamation
defiance of fate and fortitude against death
a communion with those who came before
a covenant with those who come after
a consecration of those who fight and fall beside us

#2539

There is a woman named Margaret. Years ago she was young, first the silky pastels of spring and then the bright jewel tones of summer. She is not young now, though, for the years of her prime are far in the past. Autumn laid hold of her for a time and she was the burning oranges and reds of its passion. Then winter came, muted blues and the white and black of bare birch trees, and Paul died.

When the flowers on the doorstep stopped arriving, and neighbors stopped dropping off lovingly prepared home-cooked meals, and the doorbell heralding another kind visitor finally fell silent for good, Margaret joined a group. There was a faded flier tacked to the supermarket bulletin board and she tore off one of the little slips on its edge that listed a date, time, and place. Tuesdays, six o’clock. Snacks will be provided.

It was a nice enough group at the start. Paul had been gone four months and in the group a man’s wife had been gone for two, a mother’s young child for three, another husband for five. Others, like Margaret, bore fresher wounds. On Tuesday evenings for exactly one hour the gathered mourners talked as they sipped instant apple cider and grainy hot chocolate from small Styrofoam cups. Winter passed like this, dreary and indistinct, and Margaret tried not to count the days.

Spring came, then. The group grew smaller. Some healed, as much as one can heal after a loss; enough, at least, to let them go back to their singular lives and move on from the group. Some just stopped coming, unable to face another’s grief head on when it stirred up their own. There was always Margaret, though, with her cup of hot chocolate or burnt coffee. Dependable, punctual Margaret.

The fleeting months of spring and summer passed, bringing autumn, bringing winter. The group changed. The old ones were gone. New ones with new stories, new tragedies, came to spill a little grief from their overflowing hearts. Margaret listened; she was good at listening. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. A husband gone two months. A wife gone three weeks. A trio of children, gone in an instant. Paul gone forever. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. She watched them come and go with the leaves.

There is a woman named Margaret. Years ago she was young but it’s hard to remember those days, the memories worn smooth by the river of time. The brokenhearted come and go, seeking comfort, giving solace. Margaret stays, finding neither. Tuesdays, six o’clock, snacks will be provided. And always there is Margaret.

#2536

One of the ways I honor Bast is by experiencing Her pain, grief, and burdens. Not to erase them, not even to ease them; simply to feel them on my own, knowing my emotions are but a small drop compared to Her oceans. Every foster kitten I must give up so someone else can adopt them is a kitten She has sent out into a wide, unpredictable world. Every foster kitten lost to illness or injury is a child She mourns forever. Every cat struck by a speeding car, abandoned by a heartless family, or euthanized by a crowded shelter because no one claimed it in time is a grief that pierces my pincushion heart with another needle – but to my goddess who sees and knows all, they are blades that drive much deeper. I grieve and rage and weep with Her because no one should do these things alone, even an immortal goddess.

#2531

While the skies swirl with the gray storm-cloud nebulae of the approaching apocalypse, The Nameless cradles me in black tendrils of chaos that tingle against my skin like TV static. She calls me Her destroying angel and croons a lullaby about mankind’s destructiveness as I watch the skeletons of ancient beasts awaken to devour the Earth. Creatures created in a false god’s image, She sings, never still, never sated, so full of wrath and greed and misery. You brought this end upon yourselves and now it’s come for you, now it’s come for everything. The inky tentacles coil around me, creeping along my skin toward every orifice. My sweet destroying angel, haloed in disaster, now the end has come. As they cover my face I close my eyes, breathe in, and welcome the chaos into my body. The Nameless is right – we brought this upon ourselves. Why not embrace the end if doing so eases the pain?

#2529

The dead begin to forget – that’s why they touch us so often, to remember, to clutch at the memories before they slip away and the past is lost entirely. We have to remind the dead of who and what they were by building monuments and rituals to them. Light a bonfire on the beach and drink cheap beer from a can. Spray her favorite scent on your pillow; reread his favorite battered novel. Hold the worn, well-loved stuffed animals they left behind, wax the car on a sunny weekend, listen to the songs you danced together to all those years ago. This is who you were, you tell them when you do such things. This is who we were together. This is who we are together. The dead begin to forget, just like the living, and just like the living they grieve that forgetting. But they are near to us, so near, and all you need to do is summon them with memory. Remind them. Reconnect them. When they reach out to touch you, reach back.

#2525

Can I tell you a secret?
(Of course I can; I’m a writer.)

Sometimes when the hostile dead come
whispering their insidious lies
encroaching on my dreams
testing the limits of my strength
(and my stupidity)

I’m honestly just grateful
someone sought me out.

#2520

A childhood friend’s mother, dead from cancer since we were teenagers, smiles at me from the front door of an unfamiliar house. “It’s good to see you,” she says. “You’ve let go of all your protective camouflage from back then, especially that fake hair.” With the clarity that comes in dreams I understand she refers to things I did subconsciously as a child to protect myself from a wrath I often saw unleashed upon others. “Yeah, well…” I scuff my shoe on the gravel drive and flash her a wry smile. “Turns out there was a lot about my life back then that was fake.”

#2519

Once I would have thought the little girl a creature from my nightmare – pale, emaciated, her dark hair hanging in long skeins in front of wide, staring eyes and a gaping mouth – but I do not fear her in my dream. I see her for what she truly is. She crawls to where I lay on a cold floor and I open my arms to her. “Come, little spirit,” I say, drawing her fragile body down to my warm chest like parent and child. “It’s okay. You’re safe with me.”

#2511

You humans are so destructive in your ineptitude! Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, all those other little one-in-a-billion-chance beyond design-basis accidents hidden in redacted documents or lost to history’s bad memory… You just keep repeating them. You keep cutting corners, forging numbers, ignoring science and safety in favor of profit. Down through time, again and again, greed and hubris are your fatal weaknesses. Only when you unlocked the power of the atom, well… that might just be your greatest mistake, and your last. But I will love you for it even after you’re all dead and gone, your little planet a dry wasteland soaked in radiation. You can’t see it but there’s beauty in the way unstable atoms decay, metamorphosing from a merely dangerous element to one exceedingly deadly, and how they unravel tightly coiled DNA into frayed strands of broken code. Entropy at its finest and I didn’t even have to lift a finger. You did all this yourselves.

#2510

I dream.

Though I cannot hear the violin’s soaring notes, I feel their vibrations shiver outward from the union of string and bow, through my long fingers, and down my flying arms. From my place on the small stage I can see other musicians arranged to my right and left, actors before us haloed under the spotlights, and beyond them the darkness where a rapt audience watches us all. The actors are dressed in clothing from a dozen different time periods across American history: rough colonial homespun, stiff Victorian lace, spiked leather jackets; frock coats and beaded flapper dresses and sequined disco jumpsuits. However, what they all have in common is their heritage. This play requires an entirely African American cast, and specifically one with a diverse range of genders. 

The music swells as the actors waltz together in pairs, one masculine presenting and one feminine presenting to each. They turn in ever faster circles while we pick up speed, costumes swirling, movements erratic, until our instruments come to a cacophonous crescendo and then a jarring halt. The theater goes totally dark for several long seconds. When milky spotlights come back on the actors are standing in their pairs beneath them. The femme of each pair now has streaks of gray powder in their hair and white makeup on one half of their face; they look like ghosts, or dead bodies. The transformation is meant to highlight the intimate partner violence committed mainly against women/femmes in the African American (especially queer) community due to the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and racism. 

The music picks up again, a mournful dirge, and a much slower, sorrowful dance begins. I do not take part in playing this time, just watch the dancers from my vantage point at the back of the stage. The actors begin singing the final song of the show, a haunting coda about restless spirits and breaking generational cycles of pain and grief. The chorus is a swell of voices chanting, “Now I know what I have to do” and “Give my spirit voice”. I recognize the message meant for me and begin to sing along, only I sing, “Give YOUR spirit voice” like a prayer and promise both. As I do, some of the ghostly actors turn into true spirits, their bodies and clothes taking on a shimmering bluish hue. They rush toward me and one reaches out, gripping my hands in her strong, cold grip. I see her so clearly in this moment that I would know her anywhere. She could be Octavia Spencer’s twin; dark skin, a round face framed by loose black curls, full lips open as if in a wail of grief. Our gazes lock, her wide eyes full of urgency, and I instinctively flinch away from the pain in them.

As I do, I jerk awake with a cry in a dim, unfamiliar location. I seem to be laying on cold cement in the entrance hall of a huge building, perhaps an abandoned school or hospital. Ice crystals dust my clothes and the hard floor around me. My wife is nearby and she comes running at my cry to help me sit up. She’s talking to someone outside my field of vision; I get the sense we’re here as a paranormal team. I think I had been attempting to communicate with the spirits here and what I just broke out of was some sort of medium’s trance. 

And then I wake up for real, heart hammering in the 3 AM darkness, and think, I hear you, spirits. I will give you a voice. I will tell your stories.

#2504

I dreamed I stood in a dark forest with the wall of a barn-like building nestled among the trees to my right. Around the far corner of the structure a white light began to glow through the encroaching branches. Creeping through the underbrush around the corner, I came into a small clearing where a door in the barn had been rolled aside. I had expected to find a god waiting there, perhaps Loki, but instead in the doorway sat my black cat Bruno. I tried to move toward him but a white cat appeared between us with a hiss. He appeared to be a domestic cat in size and shape but felt… bigger somehow. Wilder. Like the primal essence of Felidae itself.

“But can she prove herself to me?” the white cat was asking. Then his blazing gold eyes caught mine and he commanded, “Hold my gaze with humility if you’re worthy of working with me; your eyes are always too aggressive.” I knelt down and tried to hold the cat’s fierce gaze, willing my own to remain open and honest. I was succeeding until the white cat began to fade into the darkness, making it hard to keep my unblinking gaze on his. When he suddenly popped back into full view I flinched a bit, blinking accidentally, and the test was over. He laughed scornfully and said something like, “That’s what I thought; we’ll try again later,” and disappeared along with Bruno.

Suddenly cats started streaming out of the barn, rushing up to greet me with head bumps, chin rubs, and belly flops. I pet and hugged them all, rubbing tummies and kissing noses as all around me cats purred. The group had a leader of some sort, a black and white tom who sat watching them from the barn doorway. I overheard him say something to someone else, maybe that white cat, about how, “She has to stop using her son as a crutch”. I asked, “My son?”, wondering if he meant Bruno and concerned my grief might be preventing him from reincarnating, but the black and white cat didn’t elaborate.

Instead, the leader began telling me about the cats who now lay around me and in my lap. He said they had no one to take care of them, that they were completely on their own. I think I asked the little female curled in my lap how she died and she said, “A child never came for me so they took me in the back and put the needle full of cold stuff in me.” I saw the story while she told it as if from her own eyes, watching from behind the cold bars of a cage as a huge shadowy human approached. “Oh little one…” I kissed the top of her head as I fought back tears but she wiggled like an eager kitten and piped in her high voice, “It’s okay now! I have a wife here and a little baby of my own!”

The cats were all clearly happy but their leader was saying something about how they needed support, like money… or maybe offerings? I offered to help but I wasn’t sure how I could when they lived in a different realm. I need to do something, though – maybe if I do, the white cat will give me another chance?

#2502

Hail to the animal dead!
Hail to the creatures with which we share this Earth
large and small, domesticated and wild,
livestock and house pet and feral.
You who suffered in cages and feedlots
who struggled to survive in a vanishing wilderness
may death bring merciful freedom
and may your agony be a yoke around our necks
so we might do better by your children.
Hail to the animal dead!

#2501

Hail to the ancestral dead!
Hail to those ancestors with whom I share blood
and to whom I am bound by love.
Hail to those ancestors with whom I share identity and experience:
queer, pagan, witch, neurodivergent,
all of you ostracized for who and what you were.
May you find joy in the life your descendant lives;
may your hopes come to fruition in me
and your memory be honored by my actions.
Hail to the ancestral dead!

#2500

Hail to the stolen dead!
Hail to those of you taken too soon
by the evils of capitalism, colonialism, and fascism,
by hatred and fear, greed and pride.
Those of you stolen from your communities,
ground beneath the heel of your oppressors,
we vow to uphold your memory
to fight against corruption and cruelty
in hopes others may not share your fate.
Hail to the stolen dead!

#2499

Hail to the disaster dead!
Hail to those of you lost
to mitigable and preventable disasters:
to earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires
pandemics, droughts, famines.
Hail to those taken before your time;
may we learn from your loss
and take the actions necessary
to ensure others do not share your fate.
Hail to the disaster dead!

#2496

When I was a kid I imagined my dad’s death a lot. It was always one of two scenarios: either I would watch him shrink in my vision as the lifeboat I sat in lowered slowly into the cold water, leaving my father to await certain death on the foundering Titanic, or I would watch from the safety of the underground tornado shelter as, gripping the flimsy door to keep it latched and me safe, he was sucked up into the maw of the roaring funnel. The influence of history and pop culture on those scenes is obvious, and certainly I was a morbid child by nature anyway, but as I lay here in the midnight dark I wonder if there is more to them than overactive imagination. I wonder if my younger self sensed on some instinctive level that her father would be taken from her without warning and sought to prevent this looming disaster by compulsively imagining worst case scenarios. Or maybe she was simply attempting to blunt the inevitable future pain of his loss by repetition. Either way it didn’t work, perhaps because in those scenarios he was always sacrificing himself to save me when in the end there was no danger, no moment of swift choice between his life or his daughter’s. I was only a child, after all; back then I understood the threat disasters posed, but not that human ineptitude could just as easily shatter my fragile world.

#2495

There are many kinds of Beloved Dead. There are our ancestors with whom we share blood; those we are connected to by the branching tree of life that stretches back hundreds of thousands of years. There are the ancestors with whom we share identity; spirits who shared our beliefs, our genders and orientations, who lived and struggled because of who they were or how their bodies operated just as we do today. Blood binds us to some Beloved Dead and shared experience, shared worldviews, to others. 

There are the place spirits, those who share space with you and with whom you must have a relationship of mutual respect. They may be past tenants of your home or the land on which it sits; animal, insect, and nature spirits who died there or who still live there; or wandering spirits who have come to stay for a time. Proximity ties us to place spirits, as well as our duty to honor the land and home we share with them. We are not the first to live in a location and we should not treat it as solely ours.

And there are the dead taken too soon. They are the disaster dead, the war dead, the dead stolen from us by police brutality, capitalism, climate change, by greed and hubris and hatred. They are often the faceless dead, frequently nameless, their numbers so vast we struggle to keep our heads above the sucking waters of their grief. We are indebted to their past so that their existence may never be forgotten, and burdened by their lost futures so that we may prevent others from sharing their fate.

The Beloved Dead take many forms: human and nonhuman, animal and plant, single and collective. They are strangers and friends, unknowable and familiar, yet all are equally dear. All are equally worthy of remembrance and honor.

#2493

An Unexpected Meeting

A week or two ago I took advantage of an offer from Aleja of Serendipities to test a new cartomancy spread intended to facilitate communication between clients and the dead. I’ve had an altar to the Beloved Dead for about six months now, and I invite many kinds of benevolent dead to take part in my offerings, so I was eager to see who or what might initiate contact. While I’m good at connecting with gods, my experience with spirits, human or otherwise, is really low.

The entity who reached out identified herself through a card called “Celebration” (Aleja was using the Vintage Wisdom oracle deck, which is just lovely) and agreed this moniker can be used for her until her true name is revealed. Through a combination of cartomancy and the use of a yes/no coin Aleja was able to determine that Celebration is not a blood ancestor of mine but a queer ancestor! I was super excited to hear this because when I reach out to ancestors I always include those “with whom I share identity” (versus blood) and specifically call out to queer, pagan, witch, and chronically ill/mentally ill spirits. Having one reach back and identify themselves as an ancestor provided validation I hadn’t realized I craved; now I know my words are being heard and are considered respectful enough to be reciprocated.

Celebration further indicated that she is proud of the work I’ve been doing to release things that no longer work for me and to stay true to myself. She can also help me with surrendering to the flow of things (something I’m very bad at) to reduce obstacles and minor mishaps in my life. She wants to spend more time with me, and one way I can connect better with her is by standing in my power. When asked if there was anything else she wanted to say, she said we have a lot in common and that’s how she found me – the card she used for this was called “kindred spirits”. 

I asked a few follow-up questions but didn’t want to press too much, as it seemed like the connection was a little tenuous. Aleja shared that Celebration’s energy was somewhat femme, appearance is important to her, and that she’s a bit like a wine aunt who’s secretly a mother hen. The connection wasn’t strong enough to get a great visual image, but Celebration is perhaps from the late 60s or early 70s. (I’ll add a note here that I thought I got a feeling that she might be African or African American but this could just be because her vibe reminded me of Hathor, so I’m taking that with a big grain of salt for now.)

Moving forward, I’m going to try connecting with Celebration using my own oracle deck. She seems hesitant about divination and my particular oracle deck is probably easier to understand than a tarot deck. I’m also going to use a yes/no coin and will maybe try a pendulum, though I’ve never had luck with those myself. Hopefully between offerings and some quality time, she and I will be able to find a communication method that works for her.

[ I found Aleja’s reading to be extremely informative, as have some past readings she’s done for me, so I highly recommend her services! ]

#2485

I carry the Disaster Dead with me always: Okawa’s precious children, lost to the waves; Pompeii’s huddled masses, lost to the ash; Titanic’s frozen passengers, lost to the cold. And more, so many more taken by pandemics, hurricanes, heatwaves, earthquakes, wildfires, famine. The burden of their unnecessary deaths is a reminder of the necessity of knowledge. Knowledge empowers the uninformed. Knowledge prepares the vulnerable. Knowledge saves lives that might otherwise fall to preventable, or at least mitigable, forces. There are no natural disasters, after all, only natural hazards exacerbated by human action – or inaction. Okawa’s children did not have to die within reach of high ground. Texans did not need to freeze in their homes. The west coast does not have to burn every summer for longer and longer periods until “fire season” becomes a meaningless phrase.

The Disaster Dead are also a reminder of my own self-ordained responsibility to ensure the people of my homeland do not share a similar fate, that we do not doom ourselves to repeat the past simply because we refuse to learn from its most painful lessons. What else can soothe the wailing of the Disaster Dead? What else can truly honor their memory? Never forget is a trite, passive promise when our historical knowledge stretches back thousands of years. We never forgot the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, but what good did that do us in 2020? Never again is the promise we must make and uphold as a global society. Never again should we allow greed to outweigh the common good. Never again should we ignore experience or science in favor of ignorance. And never again should we allow the loss of lives we could have saved with care, dedication, and preparation.

I carry the Disaster Dead with me always. Some speak louder than others, and some may have come to me sooner, but I carry them all. I mourn them, I honor them, and I try my best to uphold my vow to them – never again.

#2465

I dream that I have failed. The tiny, struggling cat rescue I’ve spent years trying to help keep afloat has finally gone under. Where will all the cats go? I think. Where will they go, who will feed them, who will bind their wounds and shelter them against the cruelty of the world? As I walk numbly through a grassy field toward rows of kennels, perhaps to say goodbye to the cats inside for the last time, I whisper the names of those already lost so that I won’t forget them. Yet when I reach the kennels I find their doors all open and the cats streaming through the grass past me. They run eagerly, all in the same direction, as if toward some destination I cannot see. Even the littlest day-old kittens with their ears still buttoned down and their eyes still squeezed shut try to stumble through the tall grass after mothers and older siblings. I have to stop walking or I’ll step on someone by accident, so I kneel down in the grass and begin gathering babies up in my arms to keep them safe. Some older kittens climb into my lap as well, or up onto my shoulders, and soon I’m weighed down in a blanket of warm, squirming bodies. Their purring vibrates through me so loudly it drowns out my thoughts, my frantic heartbeat, a glorious pean washing over me in a crescendo of wordless voices. Within its embrace I finally break; I bury my face into sweet silken fur and add my own wordless, animal howling to the hymn-turned-lament. I let grief wrack my body in violent sobs as if I am a bean sí crying out the world’s doom. By the time my exhausted body has no tears left to shed nor sound to utter and I lift my head once more, everything around me has burned to ash and I am alone.

#2464

“Ancestors”

you who were judged and found wanting
for whom and how you loved
for what you believed and why
I claim you as my own

you who were cast out unfairly
for the state of your body or how you embraced it
for refusing to keep silent or to yield your power
I claim you as my own

you who were forgotten by history
for not fitting your oppressors’ narrative
for being an inconvenient and incontrovertible truth
I claim you as my own

#2444

Deathwork and the Preservation of Life

I had one of those “oh my god, DUH” epiphanies the other day. I was thinking about my increasing call toward deathwork and how that’s reflected in my life. In some ways it makes perfect sense: I was always that weird kid who was a little too obsessed with morbid historical events like the sinking of the Titanic and the cataclysmic fate of Pompeii; all of the gods I follow have ties to death or the underworld; and my own life has been touched by death in many ways. On the other hand, I have never felt any desire to go into forensics/criminology, mortuary sciences, end of life care, or other death-related career fields. I’m happy in emergency management and I have no plans to leave this field. That must mean I’m not really a death witch, I thought. If I was a legit death witch, I’d feel driven to become a mortician or a coroner or something… right? 

Then it hit me. My passion career-wise is emergency management and in emergency management your top priority is always preservation of life. And isn’t preservation of life just the opposite side of the deathwork coin? Aha! Death itself is inevitable for all living creatures, true, but many deaths are entirely preventable given the right mitigation and response measures. Every day I do work that will hopefully save lives in the future when Washington state faces its next major tsunami. I do this work in honor of those who have faced similar fates, especially those who lost their lives in the 2004 Indian Ocean and 2011 Japanese tsunamis. Now I realize that by working to prevent unnecessary deaths, I’m filling a necessary role in the greater field of deathwork. It’s a small role, obviously, but I’ve never minded being one cog in a greater machine. What matters is that lives are saved.

When I told my wife about this stunning revelation, she predictably stared at me with her trademark blank expression and asked flatly, “Wait, this just occurred to you?”. Which, fair. It really was quite obvious but I’m known for not connecting the dots when it comes to what’s right in front of me. I just never made the connection that part of honoring death is preventing it when you can or that emergency management could play a significant role in this work. It’s proof to me that I’m on the right path and correctly interpreting the vague “feelings” that constitute my intuition. It also aligns with my most recent oracle reading which urged me to trust that the universe is working in unseen ways to guide me on my path. Point taken!

#2442

You wax so poetic about the lives of cities, how hot pavement swells with each behemoth breath, subway arteries rushing with electric lifeblood; look at Paris and New York, Rome and Sao Paulo, oh what ancient beasts of civilization! Yet even the oldest cities are naught but animate skeletons, great slabs of concrete death laid out upon the graveyard of a once living land. You want real sentience? You want a consciousness so vast its leviathan architecture is incomprehensible to your human mayfly mind? Go to the country. Go to the wilds. Go to the green growing places where man has yet to fully intrude, where you can be surrounded by things which exist only for themselves and not your convenience or society’s continuity. Walk out into the fields at night; feel the weight of the darkness on your shoulders like a raptor descending, the cool serpentine scales of the silence as it brushes against you. Stare up at the sharp, distant stars which scorn to shine on the polluted corpse-cities and sense like all prey animals the true primordial awareness boring into you. Understand for the first time how very small and fragile and fleeting you are, here among the collective consciousness of a wilderness untamed. The city can kill you just as easily, of course, but when you die in the country they’ll never find your body.

#2436

Preserving the Memory of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in Literature

March 11th, 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, one of the most devastating disasters in recorded human history. The magnitude 9.0 quake which struck off the eastern coast of Japan on March 11th, 2011 remains the 4th largest recorded earthquake in modern times; it not only caused widespread damage in Japan, but even shifted the axis of the Earth. The massive tsunami following minutes after the quake took the lives of over 10,000 people, triggered meltdowns at 3 reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex, and left over $235 billion US dollars’ worth of destruction in its wake. After crossing the Pacific Ocean, its waves struck distant coasts hard enough to cause notable damage in the United States, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Chile, and the Galapagos Islands. 

Yet the true human impact of such earth-shaking disasters is not captured only in the number of casualties or the cost of response and recovery; it is captured in the personal experiences and journeys of those who survived, and the memories they bear of those who did not. So too are the lessons they learned, which are priceless to those of us who live on or near vulnerable coastlines. For example, with the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the North American West Coast, our “Big One” could look very similar to Japan’s and strike with just as little warning. As we say in the emergency preparedness world – it’s a matter of WHEN, not IF.

Therefore, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, I would like to share some of my favorite written works on the subject. There can be no better way to honor those who lost their lives to this tragedy, nor to show our respect to the survivors who have worked so hard rebuilding their communities, than to take their stories and lessons to heart. Don’t let the subject matter dissuade you; we should not shy away from tragedy, because in tragedies like the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami we find poignant evidence of the beauty and strength of the human spirit.

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry

Ghosts of the Tsunami is not a light read, yet it is absolutely worth the emotional journey. While Ghosts of the Tsunami touches on other aspects of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, its focus is the tragedy of Okawa Elementary and the 74 students lost while under their teachers’ care. Parry’s masterful narrative follows their grieving families through the immediate aftermath of the disaster and continues over the span of many years as some parents seek closure while others push for answers and accountability. The story of these families is a haunting reminder that disasters of this magnitude have the power to reshape the future of a community for generations – not only through quantifiable impacts like infrastructure and economic damage, but through the responsibility and emotional burden survivors carry with them.

So Happy to See Cherry Blossoms: Haiku from the Year of the Great Earthquake and Tsunami edited by Mayuzumi Madoka

Given the importance of poetry in Japanese culture, it is no surprise that there are several poetry collections about the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. So Happy to See Cherry Blossoms is distinctive for both the poignancy of its 17-syllable poems, all of which were written by Japanese citizens who personally experienced the disaster, and the amount of detail provided within. Along with both the Japanese and English translations of each poem, the reader is provided with the authors name, age, the number of tsunami-related fatalities in their hometown, and either backstory or direct quotes from the author explaining the inspiration for the piece. Interspersed between chapters is also commentary from the editor, distinguished haiku poet Mayuzumi Madoka, who travelled through the disaster zone in the months after to help survivors heal through poetry writing. 

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith and Rachel Wada

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden is a beautifully illustrated children’s book based on the true story of “Kaze no Denwa” (the phone of the wind or wind phone), a disconnected phone booth built by 72-year-old garden designer Itaru Sasaki to help him process the death of a close relative. After the tsunami devastated his town, other survivors began using the phone booth to communicate with their own lost family and friends; many found this expression of grief gave them the closure they needed to begin healing. Tens of thousands of people have visited the phone booth since 2011, many even traveling from other countries to experience its unique form of therapy. The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden crafts a simple yet heart-wrenching version of this story that speaks equally to young readers and adults alike, reminding us that grief is part of the human experience and healing can be found in the unlikeliest places. 

Beyond Me by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

Beyond Me is a fiction novel-in-verse told from the point of view of a 5th grader named Maya. Maya experiences the March 11th earthquake from the relative safety of her inland town where she’s lucky to lose neither her family nor her home. Instead, she struggles with survivor’s guilt and the trauma brought on by constant unpredictable aftershocks, many of which are major earthquakes in their own right. This is where Beyond Me truly shines – through clever use of font formatting and a disjointed writing style, the reader experiences each earthquake in real-time with Maya. Dropped into Maya’s uncertain world where even the ground beneath your feet can’t be trusted, readers of any age will identify with her conflicted emotions. Likewise, I’m sure many readers will identify with the impulse to ignore one’s own problems because “others have it worse”, and hopefully will learn with Maya how to help both themselves and others in a healthy way.

In addition to these 4 books, below is a short list of additional recommendations. This is hardly an exhaustive list of the English-language literature available on the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, but I believe there is something of value available for everyone (and all ages!). 

Drowning in the Floating World: Poems – Meg Eden
Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami – Gretel Ehrlich
March Was Made of Yarn: Writers Respond to Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown – Ed. David Karashima, Elmer Luke
The Orphan Tsunami of 1700: Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America by Brian Atwater, Musumi-Rokkaku Satoko, Satake Kenji, Tsuji Yoshinobu, Ueda Kazue, and David Yamaguchi
Tsunami vs the Fukushima 50: Poems – Lee Ann Roripaugh
Up from the Sea – Leza Lowitz