I stand here at my desk, looking south into the brown daylight, my eyes flickering over the sopping laundry on the clothesline, the empty shabby chicken house, the orange wheelbarrow parked beside the wet garden. The day is quiet, except for the birds--hundreds of them, perhaps, concealed in the trees that ring our clearing--shrilling and banging and peeping and hollering. The day is quiet, except for the chainsaw. Almost always in this town, someone, somewhere, is running a chainsaw.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, in Nepal, in a thousand other places, fury stalks the streets and stones.
In May 1985, the Philadelphia police fire-bombed a houseful of MOVE activists, killing eleven people and destroying more than sixty homes. I was a junior at Haverford College, a few miles down the road, an elite school tucked into the rich safe suburbs. That night a few of my friends and I climbed onto the roof of a classroom building and watched Osage Avenue burn. The sight was horrible. I cried and shivered and cried--useless, terrified--a witness, an impotent storyteller.
"Who am I, to be here and not there?" I kept thinking.
This is a question with too many answers, with not enough answers. And while I waste time asking it, the fire keeps burning and the earth keeps shaking, and the chainsaw growls, and the birds in the trees continue their customary shrieks and chatter, an uproar of blood and instinct, neither pretty nor placid.
I suppose there's an eloquence in all this. There's eloquence in silence too. The problem is figuring out how to respond. The cat's answer is to kill as many birds as he can. I try not to put my hands over my ears.