Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
— The Inferno, Canto I, trans. Longfellow
I am “midway upon the journey of [my] life,” in a dark forest; in a world where rising levels of disrespect and unkindness are called “pendulum swings.” I’m so profoundly, overpoweringly, overwhelmingly, dreadfully, devastatingly disappointed. And I am also lost.
Here’s the thing: At first, the “problem” was “out there”—all those refugees forced to flee their countries, some riding, some walking, some drowning, some landing, all of them setting off with the hope that their journeys would be the pilgrimage that would lead them to their new homes. Now the “problem” is “here”—we are being asked to make the borders of our skin into barbed wire; those with hardened hearts want to build a wall because they know that when the heart hardens it can crack more easily, and they see a wall as the one and only thing that can offer protection to this hardened muscle.
Our voices—those of us who are resisting the idea of a wall—are getting lost; and because there is a danger that we will be drowned out in a sea of noise, I called out to you, My Loves, in the hope that we can form a choir that gives us volume and helps us to build a structure we can climb and stand along—a continuous ridgeline to belt out our wallsong.
And when I called out, you sang:
A wall can be the trellis a passionflower climbs.
A wall can outline.
A wall can be jumped.
Mon amour, a wall cannot enfold.
A wall can be made of sound.
A wall can be made of light.
A wall can be scaled.
Amore mio, a wall can exist until it decays.
A wall cannot close the arms of Lady Liberty.
A wall can be a steppingstone.
A wall can keep people in just as much as it can keep people out.
A wall can keep good things out and bad things in.
A wall can be demolished.
A wall cannot hold back passion.
Aγάπη μου, a wall cannot keep out the truth.
A wall cannot solve our problems.
A wall can symbolize the fear of those on either of its sides.
A wall can keep you awake.
A wall cannot welcome.
Mi ife, a wall can be a canvas for graffiti.
A wall cannot keep the mice from getting in.
A wall can stand,
But, mahal ko, it cannot stand forever.
A wall can be a gallery.
A wall can do for a tablet in a pinch for a boast or a screed or the names of the dead.
A wall can be made of from the black granite names of the fallen.
A wall cannot maintain itself.
A wall cannot unite.
Lubirea mea, a wall cannot lie.
A wall cannot withstand a river.
A wall can be seen over.
A wall can give the illusion of safety.
A wall cannot be a law unto itself.
A wall can be climbed.
Mein liebe, a wall can divide.
Mi amor, a wall cannot divide.
A wall cannot solve.
A wall does not equate.
A wall is bad math.
A wall can put your mind to rest, but, mpenzi wangu,
a wall cannot free your soul.
A wall can crumble.
A wall cannot be blamed for the barrier it creates.
A wall can do damage.
A wall can hold the roof on a house that shelters a family.
A wall cannot stop our years from rolling into a future none of us can see.
Cinta saya, a wall can define.
A wall can separate your body from mine.
A wall cannot uncover
how I laid you down on a feathered bed . . .
A wall cannot separate our minds, no matter where our bodies preside.
A wall can be clawed down crawled under scrambled over with only two hands
or it can be constructed one trowelfull of mortar at a time.
A wall cannot simply rise
Mi amor, we have lived through the rise and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Mi amor, a wall cannot hide.
A wall can arouse curiosity about what’s on the other side.
A wall cannot deter the curious heart or mind.
A wall can touch the ground, my love, but it can never reach the sky.
* Thank you to the students and faculty of the Goddard College MFA in Creative Writing program for their words; specifically Aaron Kiser, Angela Gyurko, Anne Boaden, Carol Harblin Cate Gallivan, Darrah Cloud, Derrick Bergeron, Edward Stephens, Emily Nelson, Heather Bartel, Jen Gaboury, Joe Norton, Kaye Newbury, Kimi Hardesty, Kyle Tijerina, Mary Cantoral, Meghan O’Neill, Pam Dionne, Richell Hart, Scott Morris, Sean Hart, Sherri Smith, Terry Finley, and Tisha Gentry.