Now my prayers and meditation will be accompanied by a powerful, nearly terrifying wooden image of Moses, arms spread, scowling as he commands the Red Sea to separate so the Israelis, fleeing the Egyptian army, can pass through, then closes the waters again over the pursuing chariots and soldiers.
He’s not a nice man, this wooden figure of wrath and vengeance, and now for reasons I don’t entirely understand, he suits me.
He was carved by a Taos Santero, or traditional woodcarver, named Leonardo Salazar, son of Leo Santero; carved from cedar wood found in our northern New Mexico forests. Seeing a piece of wood with two branches, he immediately envisioned Moses opening the Red Sea. Cedar wood has a special significance; as Leonard said, “Ancient people knew that Cedar is a spiritual wood, even using it to decorate Pharoahs’ tombs. I express my love of the Lord by carving the cedar.”
I expect Moses will be with me for a long time, urging me on toward improbable destinations with his wide-flung arms.
We are all bound for the improbable as this terrifying election season rolls to its conclusion; here in New Mexico, the governor is calling a special session of the legislature, mainly to try to reinstate the death penalty, outlawed four years ago after years of strenuous effort. She will also try to reinstate the notorious “Three Strikes” rule, inherited from the Rockefeller administration in New York, which condemns people who have been convicted three times, no matter what the charge, to life in prison.
Rage and vindictiveness are all around us. The other night, I went to a performance by the comedian Mike Daisy, a man encumbered by an enormous body, who was nearly overcome when he remembered his grandfather reproaching him for being too fat. As Daisy said, prejudice against fat people is still rampant among us (and I don’t think it has anything to do with health concerns), and I felt its sharp prick last night when I saw an enormous woman, naked in the locker room at Ten Thousand Waves.
How dare she?
Mike’s 120 minute monologue was not mainly about fat; it was about Donald Trump. I’d been afraid of more of the jokes that attempt to disguise our fear and confusion. Instead, Mike penetrated to the hearts of the people who support Trump, using as one of his many examples, his mother’s anger when he approached her about the dangers Trump would pose through appointments to the Supreme Court that would eviscerate women’s rights—something his mother cared about. She was outraged that he would even mention the Supreme Court, having labored all her life in a minimum-wage retail job at a mall; no one had ever cared about her hardships and the U.S. government, no matter who is the president, didn’t seem poised to care.
She didn’t use this language, but Mike summed up her attitude, and others, as a general, withering, “Fuck you!” Let the economy collapse; it has already collapsed for many people. Let the individual rights we have never bothered to exercise be swept away. Even let the world be destroyed in a nuclear war:
“Fuck you!”This has been a strand, and a dark one, in U.S politics for a long time. It’s the unresolved bitterness against the whole world—or at least that segment that seems to be keeping us down—that William Faulkner embodied in the figure of Snopes in “Barn Burning.”
A tenant farmer ground down by poverty, he bursts into his wealthy landlord’s house and defaces the white rug with his manure-laden boot.
His son saw “the prints of the stiff foot on the doorjamb and saw them appear on the pale rug behind the machinelike deliberation of the foot which seemed to bear (or transmit) twice the weight that the body compassed.”
When the landlord commands him to clean the soiled rug, Snopes takes it home to his overburdened and silenced wife who further defaces it with lye in the wash pot.
Reprimanded, Snopes sets the landlord’s barn on fire and is shot. His son “running again, knowing it was too late yet still running after he heard the shot.”
As he runs, the heartbroken boy, lost In the darkness, “hugging himself into the remainder of his thin, rotten shirt, the grief and despair no longer terror and fear but just grief and despair. Father, my father, he thought. “He was brave!” he cried suddenly. “He was in the war!”—not realizing and never to realize that his father, “admitting the authority and giving fidelity to no man or army or flag” went to war only for the booty.
Now our country seems to be drifting, or rushing, without aim, other than to excoriate all who have the temerity to try to lead us. No one wants to address the fact that, while due to decades of effort, we are now sort of willing to accept an African-American president, nothing the Women’s Movement has been able to accomplish has made us ready to accept a woman.
So, Moses—lend me the power of your rage!