You Must Change Your Life

Rilke wrote a beautiful poem called the “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

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In this series of poems, called The New Poems, Rilke captures the perfect lyric impulse of a poem. These are touchstone works for me and many others. I love this poem because it is about the transformative power of art, blah blah.

Art is not the only thing that must change our life.

Teri writes, “I have not actively worked. I have sat quietly.” When a white man opens fire on a black church, when a hurricane devastates a city and the media hardly seems to care because it is mostly black people that are affected, when a black woman can be shot in the face for asking for help after a car accident, then we must change our life.

I just came back from Baltimore, among other places, on a visit-family-and-friends tour of the east coast. When she heard we were going to Baltimore, my mother-in-law blanched. “That Baltimore?”

“Is there another Baltimore?”

“Isn’t there still rioting going on?”

My mother-in-law scorns the racism and ignorance she sees in others, when she sees it. As Teri says, I too was raised in Southern politeness and respect for my elders, and I sat quietly.

Rilke never tells you how to change your life. I am a writer, not an activist. I am not always comfortable speaking up. This whole blog originated as a place to say what I wanted to say as a copyeditor when I had to hold my tongue and say, “Flesh is not just one color. OK to change ‘use a flesh-colored pastel’ to ‘use a peach-colored pastel’?”

On the way home we listened to some good alt country music. Uncle Tupelo does a great job representing coal miners and the fucked up nature of the capitalist system. Darrel Scott, although I love many of his songs, needs a gender studies class. I can explain in great detail why that is (DP had to hear the whole thing).

Mother-in-law, the whole city isn’t rioting. People had a legitimate concern. It was a response to police brutality. My explanations are not good enough. So I need to read more, learn more, listen more in order to respond to casual racism clearly the way I can dissect a country music song.

How will you change your life?


4 responses to “You Must Change Your Life

    • Even speaking up one more time than you otherwise would is better than staying silent. We can all push ourselves a little bit and we won’t solve all the problems, but we will be doing more than we were before.

  1. A coworker of mine was running the weekly pre-teen gaming program, when she heard one girl saying, “We didn’t used to have so many black kids here, before you and your brother showed up.”

    My friend was headed over there when the girl continued. “That’s pretty cool. Glad you guys joined!”

    Steps and steps.

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