Lois P. Jones: “Milonga for a Blind Man”

The always-pleasing literary e-zine The Rose and Thorn has just released its Winter issue, which includes cover art by Gustav Klimt and fine poetry and prose by Jason Mccall, Linda Leschak, Michael T. Smith and many others. Lois P. Jones has given me permission to reprint her wonderful poem from the issue below. A milonga is a style of South American dance.

Milonga for a Blind Man

    Time is both loss and memory.
    —Jorge Luis Borges

In the middle of the night
a man takes a key
from his pocket.

In the middle of the night
he climbs to the top of the stairs.
From his balcony he remembers daylight,

the crumbled cement and the cracks
on the tavern below. The way the sky spoke
to him, the last one with anything to say.

And the opening of the flowers
when they would open for him.
Pink or coral, her lips staining
his with a memory – a breath

and a daydream of pampas and hibiscus.
His shirt buttoned down to the waist
and the white skin of a butterfly.

In the middle of the night
he remembers a snow heart
and the red walls of morning

where he walked the streets
in search of distance. Someone
has counted his days

before he was born. And this blindness
that followed plucked out his eyes
to sleep. It always comes to this –

edges fading from the familiar,
a city vague and celestial. He has lost
count of all his endings.

Video of Join the Impact Boston Protest

Hundreds of people braved the freezing winds and icy steps of Boston City Hall to rally for GLBT rights this past Saturday. In addition to pushing for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, speakers advocated for passage of a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and urged Massachusetts to add gender identity and expression to its existing anti-discrimination law. (The latter bill will be filed in the Mass. legislature on Jan. 14; contact your legislators here.)

Among the speakers were Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Rep. Barney Frank, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and the Rev. Jeffrey Mello from Christ Church Cambridge, the Episcopal Church in Harvard Square. After the rally, we marched through downtown Boston, ending up in a Methodist church where we were treated to passionate slam poetry by award-winning performer James Caroline.

Below is a video (52 minutes) of the rally, recorded by my husband Adam Cohen with his ever-present Flip camera.

Nationwide Protest Against the “Defense of Marriage Act” on Jan. 10

Activists nationwide will be gathering on Jan. 10 to protest the federal Defense of Marriage Act and gather petition signatures asking President-elect Obama to support its repeal. My husband and I will be at the Boston event, 1:30-4:30 PM in front of City Hall. To find the event in your city and print out the official petition form, visit Join the Impact.

DOMA, passed in 1996, defined marriage as between a man and a woman for purposes of all federal laws, and decreed that states did not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Normally, the Constitution requires states to give “full faith and credit” to the laws of other states.

This means, for instance, that a woman covered by her domestic partner’s insurance must pay federal income tax on those benefits, where a heterosexual married couple would not. Same-sex couples can’t file joint tax returns or inherit as surviving spouses. A man might not be allowed to visit his partner in the hospital because the state where he fell sick treats them as legal strangers, even if they’re married in their home state. A straight person can get a green card for his or her immigrant spouse, but there’s no such mechanism for same-sex couples. These are just a few examples of the 1,100 rights and privileges that we heterosexual couples take for granted.

DOMA’s title is a misnomer because it confers no new protections on straight married couples, nor removes any threat to the legal privileges we already enjoy. It should have been called the “Deprivation of Marriage Act”.

Even Christians who oppose gay marriage should rethink whether this is a proper use of state power. Disadvantaging same-sex couples has no effect on how we live our lives. It only “defends” our specialness at the expense of a minority group. Isn’t marriage worthwhile in itself? Do we really need the incentive of feeling superior to others?

Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality, but he sure had a lot to say against people whose righteousness depended on invidious comparisons. I’m thinking especially of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), as well as the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).
So, DOMA defenders, what’s it really about? Are you hoping that if you make gay marriage difficult enough, they’ll give up and become straight?

I’ll let Jon Stewart have the last word on this one, in this Daily Show interview from December 2008 with former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. “Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality…and the protections that we have for religion…talk about a lifestyle choice!” Stewart observes, adding, “It would be redefining a word, and it feels like semantics is cold comfort when it comes to humanity.”


I Came Here for an Argument

This video will explain why I turned off the comments mechanism on this blog:

Great humor often contains insights into serious issues. What is the difference between an argument and mere contradiction or abuse? And what motivates us to respect some arguments, while blocking out the possibility that others might be legitimate?

We may resort to bare contradiction when it’s too frightening to face new interpretations of a text that once seemed clear to us. Refusal to engage with the argument can be a way of denying that there could be other possibilities. Sadly, it also bypasses an opportunity for self-knowledge.

As long as we pretend that there is only one possible viewpoint, we don’t have to examine the desires, fears, vanities, or misunderstandings that spur us to cling to that viewpoint. Nor do we confront the power imbalance between us and the questioners–the privilege that puts us in a position to interpret their lives in the first place, rather than the other way around.

Abuse takes this strategy a step farther. Because ours is the only possible interpretation, anyone who disagrees must be disobedient or perverted. Our own anger (or revulsion, or fear of losing something special to us) becomes objectified, masked by the authority of the text. It is not a personal feeling for which we must take responsibility, whereas the other side has only selfish personal feelings.

Before we as Christians can conduct a fruitful and faithful discussion about issues on which we disagree, we must be honest with ourselves and one another about the passions behind those issues, and consider which emotions are the most appropriate guides to choosing between one interpretation and another. Perfect love casts out fear.