Just Love Her

You said
Just love her

Love is enough
You said

She was so frail
Legs that could not support
Even her small body
Dangling against mine.
She could no more hug
Than a rag doll.
How many times
Did I pull her knees up
And press them to my side
Before she learned
Tentatively
To hold on?

In the orphanage
There were no embraces

In the orphanage
There was no time
Outside the crib
For her legs to gain strength

You said
Just love her

Love is enough
You said

She was so hurt
Wanting so much
To fit in
To be popular
Always putting on a show
“Like me! Like me!”
It worked for a while
Until the other girls
Developed deeper friendships
Shared heart to heart
And left her on the stage
Of her own making
Alone

You said
Just love her

Love is enough
You said

So vulnerable
Playing the role
Of the grown up
She so wants to be
Seeking the embraces
The orphanage never gave her
(Even though we gave her all we could)
Seeking the freedom
Of life
Beyond the bars we have erected
To keep her safe

And so she leaves us
Still frail
Still hurt by all she cannot understand
So vulnerable to all those
Whose love
She thinks will be enough

Because
No matter what you said
Our love is not enough
Even though we do
Just love her

Debra Rose Brillati
April 2018

Prayer for Racial Justice

Prayer for Racial Justice

Written for and prayed at the All Auburn Churches Harriet Tubman Day Prayer Service in Auburn, New York, March 10, 2018

Gracious God, lover of souls, we feel your Spirit in our midst today,
We know that you dwell in every heart,
That you inspire every mind,
That you uplift every soul.

We know, precious Lord, that it is you who gives us eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to do the work you would have us do.

You have given us all we need to bring about your kingdom on earth, a kingdom where justice reigns and compassion rules.

Give us, we humbly ask, eyes that see all our brothers and sisters as ourselves, eyes that see Christ in all people, eyes that are not blind to the racism that permeates our world and that allow us to look inward to see our own part in it.

Give us, we pray, ears that hear the truth in the testimony of our neighbors, that listen for the pain behind their words, that recognize the lies that are told to separate us from our brothers and sisters.

Give us, we beseech thee, hands that reach out to expose injustice wherever we find it. Give us lips that speak truth to power. Give us feet that carry us to every dark corner where oppression dwells so that we may shine your light on it for all to see.

Fill our hearts with an abundance of love but also righteous anger for the long dark history of racism in our country.
Fill our minds with wisdom and creativity so we may collaborate with one another to work for justice.
Fill our souls with the Holy Spirit, the sacred energy of the universe that makes all things possible.

We pray all of this in the name of our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. AMEN.

Debra Rose Brillati
March 2018

The Lottery

I remember reading a story about an entire town
That gathered every year
to stone one of their own to death.
An annual ritual,
A sacrifice,
Even if a child won the lottery.

But it was just a story, right?
This could never really happen.
Right?

1942.
My father was 20 years old
When the army called him up.
A dark and slender Italian-American
Muscles taut from early mornings in his father’s garden
And from pushing the heavy wooden beam of the wine press
Round and round, harder and harder,
Until the skin and seeds turned to concrete.
Too good a training sergeant to send overseas,
He marched thousands of miles
In the hot Alabama sun
And sent hundreds of young soldiers off to fight.
He begged to go with them, volunteering for every mission.
Three times he was allowed to flip a coin.
Three times he lost.
Three buddies never came home.
Only with his final breath
Did my father release the heavy weight
Of the survivor guilt he had carried his whole life.
Who won this lottery?

1969.
I remember a family party,
Standing with all the moms,
Not really listening,
When suddenly one of my aunts
Leaned down, shook her finger in my face,
And said, “Debbie, never have male children.”
Three years separated each of their sons.
My brother Tom was 14.
My cousin Gary was 17.
And Dale was 20,
Old enough to be eligible for the lottery,
With the others close behind.
Dale had carrot-colored hair and freckles.
He was our cool cousin.
Just married to Joey,
A Goldie Hawn look-alike
Who was even cooler,
Dale spent three years in Vietnam,
Missed the birth of his carrot-topped son,
And came home changed.
Many of his friends never came home.
Had he won or lost this lottery?

2018.
Images of school children
Huddled in classroom closets,
Listening to the piercing sounds
Of rapid fire
Shattering glass and
Ricocheting off hallway lockers,
Haunt my mind.
Younger than the youngest soldiers,
They endure the unearthly cries
Of their fallen friends.
Those elected to preserve and protect
Choose to preserve and protect
The guns
Rather than the children.
Without any conscience or morality
They enter our babies
In this deadly lottery.
No one wins.

These are just stories, right?
This could never really happen.

RIGHT?

Debra Rose Brillati
March 2018

 

 

Rambling Rose

The car I grew up in
Was a ’59 Pontiac Star Chief
Four -door sedan hardtop
In a color my Crayola 64 box called Flesh.
Even at a time when most cars
Came in a wide variety of vibrant colors,
This one stood out.
Not that it was flashy.
My Dad would never have a flashy car.
No, this color was like my Dad himself,
Solid, utilitarian, not trying to be anything
Other than what it was,
Prizing family over fashion.

Sprawled in the wide bench seat in the back,
My older brother and I would press our noses to the glass
Just to watch the world go by
In a horizontal blur.
Or stand on the hump in the middle
And fold our arms over the front seat
Between Mom and Dad
to watch the road come up to meet us,
the long white line whizzing under the chrome arrowhead
that ornamented the sleek hood.

During the day
We would sing along with Mom and Dad
To all the old standards,
Taking turns picking which song would be next:
“I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,”
“Deep in the Heart of Texas,”
“Don’t Fence Me In,”
“On Top of Old Smokey,”
“From the Halls of Montezuma,”
And my favorite “Give My Regards to Broadway,”
Because it talked of that magical black-and-white place
I saw in the late-night movies
When my Mom would let me stay up to watch with her.

But on nighttime drives
When they thought we were asleep
My parents would sing “their” songs:
“I Love You Truly,”
“Blue Heaven,”
“Let Me Call You Sweetheart,”
“A Shanty in Old Shantytown.”
Mom’s beautiful soprano carried the tune
And Dad would come in softly to harmonize.
Often they would lean their heads closer
And find each other’s eyes
As they stretched out the final note.

Nat King Cole’s “Rambling Rose”
They sang both day and night.
I think it was the word rambling
That captured their imaginations,
And seemed a perfect accompaniment
to our rambles in the flesh-toned Star Chief.

Daily life for my parents in our small coal mining town
in the four-room apartment above my grandparents
was not easy.
Mom worked school hours in a medical lab,
then cooked, cleaned and cared for us
and anyone else in need of her loving touch.
Dad worked long hours in the lumberyard
where he had been employed since high school,
before and after the war.
After supper, he went out to do the books for several local businesses,
working alone in darkened stores and offices.

Dad was not someone anyone would call a dreamer.
Hard work, responsibility, frugality, caution.
These were the concrete values he lived by.
But every once in a while,
With a twinkle in his eye
He would let tell us about his two fantasies:
To go on a big game safari in Africa and,
Just for a time,
To ride the rails like a hobo.

Our excursions in the Star Chief,
particularly the long Sunday drives to the Poconos,
were Mom and Dad’s escape from the routine
and our entertainment.
Often our only destination
Was a roadside overlook
Where we’d enjoy a picnic lunch packed by my mother
Served on a starched cotton tablecloth
Laid carefully over the rough wood of a rest stop table.
These trips didn’t cost anything to speak of
(gas was cheap back then),
But for us they provided untold treasures.

I often wonder if,
Coming around a bend,
My father imagined a tawny lion
Slinking across a field
Or a gazelle in full gallop
Leaping across our path.
Did he look at the countryside rushing past
And imagine he was peering through the slats of a boxcar?

Perhaps.

I suppose each of us packed our own dreams
For the ride.
And no matter where we rambled,
That was enough.

Debra Rose Brillati
March 2018

 

 

AR 15

An AR-15 fires.

The tiny bullet
Traveling 3000 feet per second
Enters the body
Explodes into a million pieces
Blasts shrapnel everywhere
Before ripping an exit wound
The size of a fist
Through flesh and bone.

This is what the NRA wishes for our children.
This is what the NRA buys for our children.

Every day
Insanity after insanity
I begin to doubt the obvious
Perhaps the insanity is mine.

Every day
The news breaks
And breaks
And breaks again
Like waves crashing the shore
Leveling the sand to concrete
Until the pounding surf
No longer leaves a mark.

Every day
Insanity after insanity
Will I let myself be hardened
Unmarked by shock and grief?

Every day
The news assaults my consciousness
Explodes inside my brain
Rains shrapnel down inside my chest
Piercing my heart.

What for me is metaphor
Is for 17 in Parkland
And 58 in Las Vegas
And 13 in Columbine
And 26 in Sandy Hook
Simply
death.

And with each death
A tiny bullet
explodes on contact
Shredding the world of a life cut short
Leaving raw wounds everywhere

On the horizon
An army of men in dark suits
Moving forward in lock step
Flags on their lapels
Money in their pockets
Carrying bags of salt.

Debra Rose Brillati
February 2018

 

 

The Tears I Cannot Shed

The tears I cannot shed
Sit hot behind my eyes
Or throb in the heavy dark space between my temples
Sometimes they close my throat
And I am paralyzed, suspended in time,
Until with a gasp my breath comes again
With a surge of emotion.

The tears I cannot shed
Are ancient
Spanning the arc of a moral universe
That too often has bent away
From all that is right and good and just.
I pull hard
Adding my strength to the strength of all who have gone before
Straining every fiber
Bending my knees and lifting my feet off the ground
to add my dead weight to the effort
But it is no match for the opposing force.

The tears I cannot shed
Are for Maria,
Who dreams one day of becoming a kindergarten teacher
Passionate to help eager young minds
dream their own dreams of all that is possible.
In the chill of a desert night sixteen years ago
She was carried across the border
By a mother driven by her own dreams for her baby girl.
Now Maria lives every day in the terror
That the only country she has ever known
Will banish her
And her dreams with her
Alone and afraid.
To a place that is beyond tears.

The tears I cannot shed
Are for Tamika
Who kneels every day in the soft fresh grass
That covers her son’s grave.
Doubled over in grief, her legs stiffen under her
And she needs to reach out to the cold granite
To slowly pull herself upright as her tears darken the gray stone.
Why did she have to send him out for milk that night?
Why hadn’t she noticed the broken tail light?
Why hadn’t he kept his hands on the wheel
As she had taught him over and over again?
How could a grown man with a gun
Feel threatened by a sweet boy
With a gallon of milk?
Imprisoned by these unanswerable questions,
She wonders, “Must all our tears run dry
Before black lives matter?”

The tears I cannot shed
Are for Hasan and Daria,
A young couple who fled their Aleppo neighborhood on foot
after it was bombed to rubble
so that their unborn son might have a chance
at life.
Two years later, huddled in a plastic tent
In a squalid refugee camp,
They listen to the crackling sounds
Of a transistor radio just outside their tent.
Despite the papers granting them refugee status,
The American president
Has banned them from entering the U.S.
Daria’s scream awakens a sleeping Aziz
Whose cries pierce Hasan’s heart
As he wipes from his son’s face
The tears he cannot shed.

Debra Rose Brillati
March 2018