“The Revolutionary Table”
Chapter Fourteen of Steam Drills by Rivera Sun

Patrick, Louisa, Hank, Wanda, and Ford all crowded around the kitchen table in Henrietta’s two-room cabin. Old Moses Nelson’s mother gave birth to him on that table. Strong and sturdy, rugged as the ancient oak that formed its boards; the table’s grains held a wildness within them, as if the gale storm that had felled the tree had etched itself through the rings.

Wanda placed her elbows on the table’s edge. Her bosom leaned against her father’s birth-stains. Wanda thought for the five thousandth time since childhood that the house would crumble around that table and it would stand alone among the other trees, solid as a rock and twice as hard to move.

Her brother Ford leaned way back in the tilting manner he had learned as a boy around that table. Patrick stood stoically beside it with one fist curled and waiting on the edge. Hank sat his fanny on the corner and put his feet up on a chair. Henrietta bounced Jerome upon her hip, stirring up Wanda’s memories of the long lineage of aunts and mothers who had also paced that kitchen. Louisa carefully arranged and rearranged her thin and dirt-etched fingers on the tabletop.

“That Motherhood Today article has given us -and you- a chance to lay siege to coal using national attention,” Louisa began. “That photo grabbed the heartstrings of the country.”

“Yeah, but to keep them, we need a plan of action,” Henrietta pointed out. “I can’t just spew off at the mouth.”

“‘Course you can,” Hank snorted. “You do it all the time.”

Henrietta whacked him on the arm. He grinned. She relied on his ruthless honesty for sanity and he knew it. They’d been friends since Hank Crawley’s guts (and a twenty dollar bet) had propelled him into No Man’s Holler last winter, collecting signatures on yet another petition. Her last name stuck out on the page of scrawling Nelson signatures, and he struck up a friendly conversation.

“You have to give them the facts,” Louisa said. “Bio-diversity loss, a million acres of irreparable damage, four thousand miles of streams destroyed, the carbon emissions from the coal itself-”

“I think she has to speak more about the injustice going on,” Patrick interrupted. “I think she’s got to call out those greedy bastards who’ve been screwing everybody over.”

“Hey,” Hank added, “if she’s going to pluck those heartstrings, she could give us hillbillies a better reputation while she’s at it.”

“You’re a fine one to talk,” Patrick snapped. “When was the last time you shaved?”

“Get off my back, old man. You’re the one with a hole in your shirt.” Hank poked it. Patrick slapped his hand away.

“Enough,” Louisa warned them. “Wanda? Ford? Would you like to say anything?” She graciously tried to include them in the conversation, though she felt their presence was inappropriate. Neither had been active in the movement before. Wanda had just showed up at the door with Ford in tow. Henrietta had been fine with them staying, so Louisa tried to include them.

Two heads shook. Henrietta paused in her pacing. She didn’t like that look on Wanda’s face. Wanda wasn’t happy about something. Henrietta shot her a questioning look. Wanda shrugged and folded her arms tightly across her chest. Henrietta waited five seconds. Wanda burst out,

“What you think Henrietta is, huh? Some dumb parrot for the same old lines everybody’s tired of hearing? Statistics ain’t keeping those mountains standing.”

Louisa began to object, but Wanda cut her off. Henrietta groaned inwardly as she saw irritation zip across the thin biologist’s face. Louisa was such a stickler for communication protocol.

“Mmm-hmm, y’all want folks to feel sorry for you, huh? Well, I don’t. Don’t need nobody’s charity or pity. And injustice? Huh. Screaming for justice ain’t done nothing in a thousand years ‘cept make us all tired of screaming and getting screamed at.”

“You were singing a different tune in the sixties,” Patrick muttered. Wanda snorted.

“That was personal.”

“Tap water running out red isn’t personal?” Louisa argued.

“Ain’t no protest gonna fix my tap water now,” Wanda said defensively. “Sides,” Wanda added, “I ain’t getting jailed over no environmental hooplah.”

Louisa bristled up to deliver a lecture on ecology. Henrietta cut in,

“Wanda! What if they told you that you couldn’t live here anymore and just had to leave?”

“Over my dead body!” She slammed her hands down on the table that had raised her family. “Ain’t nobody making me leave. We Nelson’s own our land here. We ain’t never sold it off like them white folks in the other hollers. We’d rather starve.”

“Some did,” Ford interjected softly, “back in the Depression.”

“In a few more years,” Louisa put in huffily, “you’ll all start dying of cancer from the exposed minerals and the chemicals in the air. No use owning land if the mines over the next ridge start choking you to death with poisonous dust.”

“And those mines won’t be slowing, stopping, or shrinking,” Patrick said, “only growing bigger each year. We’ll all get swallowed up by pit mining machines or buried by the landslides.”

“And it won’t stop there,” Hank put in his two cents. “Those mines will keep spreading until they run right up to the suburbs.”

“Global warming from carbon emissions doesn’t stop anywhere,” Louisa said severely. “Coal is going to kill us all, one way or another.”

“Might as well make a stand here, then,” Hank declared. “It’s as good a place as any.” He posed dramatically. “If I die today, I fall in the hills that birthed me and lie alongside my forefathers.”

“Son,” Wanda glared at him, “you best get your scrawny white hide over the ridge if you’re gonna do any dying. This holler’s only good for killing black folks.”

“Nobody’s getting killed, Wanda,” Henrietta said. She could almost see the hairs standing straight up on Wanda’s back. Wanda twisted round in her chair and gave that young mother a look.

“Henrietta Owens, you’re a real bright girl, but you don’t know nothing about history. You stick your head out agitating like Dr. King and JFK and Gandhi, and you’re gonna end up just like them. Dead. D-E-A-D. Dead. You got that?”

“Wanda, those mountains are the civil rights of our time!” Henrietta protested.

“Humph. Girl, you ain’t even got half the rights that was promised to us in the sixties,” Wanda retorted.

“Fine then, Wanda, I only got half as much to lose.” Henrietta tensed her tougher-than-Moses-Nelson’s-moonshine bristles, but Wanda was a Nelson, through and through, and that kind of spitfire wasn’t gonna curl her hair any more than it already was. She shook her head.

“Henrietta, you are as stubborn as Buella’s mule and I don’t even try to talk sense with that ass.” She glanced up at Henrietta’s set face and rolled her eyes.

“There ain’t but one thing I can do about someone as young and stupid as you,” she spat at Henrietta.

“What’s that?” Henrietta asked.


With that, Wanda folded her fingers together and bent her head.

“Uh, Wanda?” Hank began.

“Shut up, I’m praying,” she snapped. One eye popped open and looked around at them. “Y’all gonna send Henrietta up against the almighty coal company without getting your Savior on your side?”

No answer came from the table except for a few awkward looks. They tended to leave religion out of things . . . less trouble that way. Wanda sniffed at them,

“Y’all need a miracle and you ain’t even asked nicely for it?” She shook her head and muttered, “Lord, what is the matter with these people? First thing I gotta pray for is some common sense.” She glanced up from her hands. “Y’all can pray to whoever you feel like, but if you’re putting that girl on the front line, I’m gonna get my Creator on her side.” With that, she lowered her head to bend God’s ear.

The long moment of silence was broken only by a cheeky squirrel’s chatter. The organizers looked from one to the other and glanced a little guiltily at Henrietta. When everybody realized that this was no short conversation Wanda was having with God, each surrendered to their own private oasis of the spirit.

With a feeling of relief, Louisa quickly sought the quiet void from which the web of all creation springs. A moment of silence might clear the air of argument from the room . . . and from herself. Louisa quietly thanked Wanda for this reminder. As an organizer, she should have remembered how essential this time of centering was for any meeting. She breathed in and out and watched the ripples of her breathing shake the dewing beads of change throughout the universe. She called on pure potential to help humanity, envisioning a host of what if’s and it could be’s and maybe we could’s swooping into every person’s mind.

Patrick danced his awkward dance with spirit. He never prayed direct to God, but to an unseen angel whose wafting wing beats brushed against him from time to time. Like Jacob wrestling in the dark, Patrick’s soul grappled with his angel’s challenges. He was tried and tested and left counting his blessings for one more day of life. Patrick quietly listened for the angel’s passing, hoping to grab it by the robe and ask for guidance.

Hank, who would surprise you if you peeled off his Appalachian overcoat, launched with gusto into prayer. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and, in his mind, called upon the old Taoist sage, Lao-Tzu. He had a real affinity for the guy. Hank fancied himself a holler sage of sorts, a hermit in the mountains unless he got a hankering for life. Then he substituted mountain moonshine for Taoist wine and went in search of what pulls all holy men from high-horse hermitages: women. Yes, Hank had an affinity for Taoist philosophy and all its earthly forms of wisdom. He respectfully asked Lao-Tzu what course they could take to save the mountains and mankind.

In his mind, Hank saw the Old Sage stroke his beard and pull upon his ear.

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Hank begged him for another answer. The wise one added,

“You must let everything take its course . . . and that, of course, might end up saving you.”

Hank pulled his hair and asked for further illumination. The Sage drew an enormous breath to launch into a lecture. Hank interrupted,

“I don’t have a thousand years. Can you just give it to me as a sound byte?”

Lao-tzu scowled with the disgust of one who had already condensed a universe of operations into eighty-one short poetic verses and now this impudent young man wanted a haiku?

“Well, actually,” Hank admitted, “even a single sentence is too long.”

Lao-tzu’s wrinkled eyes flew open in delight.

“Ah, yes! You understand!” He bowed to the bewildered Hank. “Words are wasted breath beside the infinite suchness of the wordless Tao,” the Sage commented.

Hank groaned in utter confusion.

“So . . . what do we do?” the young man pleaded.

“Do nothing . . . and something comes from that.” Lao-tzu handed Hank a sound byte on a platter and hoped the young man’s American palate could appreciate its subtle meanings. Hank’s skepticism twisted up his face. Lao-tzu sighed. “Go ask the Immortal Sisters for an answer.”

Hank perked up at the mention of wisdom-laden ladies.

“Are they cute?” he asked.

“Gorgeous,” Lao-tzu replied and gave the young man directions to the Celestial Heavens.

We could write volumes on Hank’s journeys through the inner mysteries of the Immortal Sisters who teach the sagest of the sages everything they know, but we don’t have a thousand years, so we’ll skip to the important part: at long last, when the Sisters bid Hank a fond farewell, one of them graciously rephrased Lao-tzu’s single esoteric sentence into a simple kiss.

Hank’s blue eyes flew as wide open as the sky. The kiss popped the cherry of his spiritual virginity. He tumbled through the intercourse of yin and yang, male and female, night and day, and saw the world collapsing into nothing and then just as quickly springing back into a something-ness that formed and grew and lived and died by fractions of a moment.

His mind spiraled back to No Man’s Holler and he sprawled on the table clutching a single shard of sanity. He had no idea how to save humanity, but the why of it clung sweetly to his lips. He burst from quiet and startled them all from their prayers.

“Holy smokes and Mother of God, y’all, we’ve got to turn this ship around! Extinction?! Hell, that’s like an eternity without an orgasm! Imagine it: No sex! No chocolate! No moonlit madness! Are we insane?!”

He leapt up on the table and laid out mans’ options with the deep bellow of an auctioneer.

“On the one hand . . . we can die in an agonizing process of extinction involving carbon emissions, ozone depletion, global warming, famine, war, nuclear fallout, disease, and societal collapse. On the other hand,” his grin exploded across his freckled face, “we’ve got women! Beautiful, lusty, healthy women! And food! Bread and collards and ripe ole tomatoes and pecan pie and god-the-list-is-endless! Did I mention dancing? Next to women?”

He was crude and crass and utterly honest and impassioned. He was twenty-two and the whole world was one mad orgasmic organism ejaculating copulation: birds and bees and garden hoses and well pumps and break waters and tidal plunges and thunder spouts and pines exuding aphrodisiac aromas while the slugs were foregoing all genders in their passions and the flowers were making wild love with pistol penises and petal labia and little buzzing vibrator bees.

“We’d be mad to give this all up!” he shouted on the tabletop. “Men are crazy not to pit our every working, waking effort to keep humanity a part of all of this!”

He stared at the startled, upturned faces. The table’s soapbox urged him on. He paced it searching for solutions.

“Something. Nothing. Something. Nothing.” The words exploded from him. His hand pumped gestures in and out, female embracing male in a fluid expression of the universe of love until, finally, it came! Hank groaned in ecstasy; in the release of thought; in the solution to mankind’s conundrum; in the simplicity of the primal act that creates us all.

“Love.” He sank onto the table in collapse and rolled onto his back. Henrietta’s bemused expression stared down at him as he said, “All we gotta do is learn to love.”

The group consensus grunted, “Huh?”

Hank sprawled his youthful lusty worldly understanding out, “We gotta love so much that we’d do anything –anything– to keep on loving.”

He tried to find the words to express the power of this simple concept. “Our lust for love, our lust to live; that is what propels this world around! Love is what has run the motor of the universe since time began. It got each of us where we are today.”

He rolled upright and put his face in front of Patrick’s.

“Old man, what sent you into those black mines way back when?”

“A job,” Patrick answered testily.

“What did you need a job for?” Hank asked.

“My wife-”

“What did you need a wife for?”

“I love her!” Patrick exclaimed indignantly.

“You mean you went into Hell each and every day because of love?” Hank gaped and laughed and smirked all at the same time. Patrick scratched his head.

“I guess, when you put it that way . . . ”

“Yep. I do,” Hank said. “This whole world is propelled by love. It’s the fuel that got us where we are today, not coal or gas or oil.” He rolled over to Henrietta and said directly to Jerome, “What got you here, little guy?”

“Love,” Henrietta answered for him. And sometimes that’s all that keeps us here, she added silently, glancing around her kitchen. Hank sprang up into a crouch.

“Everybody preaches morality and godliness. I say fuck it! Literally. It’s the craving for unity that turns this world around each day. And if we don’t want to miss out on all the action, we got to get our butts into gear, quit hanging around like a bunch of wallflowers, and love this world like she deserves!”

“Amen, son!” Wanda shouted out unexpectedly. Hank whirled to face his unlikely supporter who stood beside the birth-stains of her father and testified, “If y’all men treated me the way we been treating this earth, I wouldn’t just walk out on you . . . I’d run your lousy, no-good, two-faced, lying, crazy, drugged-up asses off the face of this planet!” She slammed the table with her palm. It kicked back a shudder that jolted Hank. Everyone jumped and saw a vision of a righteously inflamed Wanda scouring the earth of abusive men.

“I think Mother Earth will stand up for herself, Wanda,” Louisa said. “She’s doing it already; hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, heat waves, droughts, floods. We can’t count the rapidly increasing number of natural disasters that are sending us the message.”

“Can’t blame Mother Earth,” Wanda sniffed. “It’s self-defense.”

“Yeah?” Patrick grumbled dourly. “That’s what the coal companies say when you threaten their profits. Self-defense. Makes ’em feel justified in threatening your life.”

“We are just talking about some interviews here,” Louisa reminded him. “They’ll probably spend most of it asking about Henrietta’s romantic life.”

“That oughta be a short conversation,” Henrietta snorted. “I’ll have plenty of time to talk about coal.”

Patrick commented,

“That’s where it gets life and death.”

“Oh, living, dying, who cares?” Hank erupted in impatience. He threw his hands up and stated, “You live until you die. Don’t y’all want to have some fun while we’re at it?”

His grin spread from ear to ear. Hank Crawley, in and out of scrapes his whole life, was daring them to risk everything as if tackling the coal company was just a long rope swing into a pond, or a no-hands sled race down the steepest hollow slope, or borrowing the neighbor’s car for a joyride when you’re only ten.

Patrick, gray in head and stout in waist, reflected on his earlier days railing full-force against injustice. Fun? Humph. He was too old to consider police with clubs, tear gas, or riot gear fun. But as he thought about those early days, he realized a gray cloud of seriousness and survival was coloring the pallor of his memories. He blinked at the bright sunshine of Hank’s suggestion. Fun? He was older now, with nothing but retirement and death stretching out before him. His grimness began to lighten up. Fun, huh? Well, he had nothing to risk but his own last few years and heck, who knows, maybe another lifetime, if those Hindus turned out to have it right. Shoot, if that were true, he’d best risk it all right now! Next time the skies might not be so blue, nor the air breathable at all. Make it fun, huh? He’d be down there at the protest singing Yankee Doodle instead of chanting angry slogans. Lighten it all up! Yep, he decided, this time around, let’s have some fun.

Louisa calculated risks. Pain and suffering clung to snapping rope swings and smashing sleds and reckless joyrides that rolled into ditches. Prudence learned to take the slow and cautious path so nobody got hurt. Too late for that, she thought, with melting icecaps flashing through her mind. Louisa looked at the long and winding road before them. She saw the sunset of the human species. She realized that, fun or not, there wasn’t time to not take risks. They’d have to leap and pray.

Quiet Ford, who had sat listening through it all, started chuckling in his chair. All the gods, goddesses, angels, saints, and sages blessed his patient silent prayer with an epiphany,

“What do we got to lose except life itself?”

His words struck lightning into Louisa’s tangled web of thoughts. Suddenly electrified, illuminated, bursting with energetic understanding, she cried,

“Yes. Yes! YES! That’s exactly it!”

No one remembered later if she leapt up in her hiking boots and thick wool socks or if that table itself hoisted her up onto its shoulder. Henrietta had long suspected it of revolutionary leanings. No chairs ever sat quite right beside it. The table flung them back, calling out for pacing and impassioned speeches, fist poundings and declarations of independence. Its wood had emerged from roots that had soaked up the blood of generations of mankind. It had grown its beams from the bones of natives, whites, and black people alike. It had breathed in the stench of fear and hate and love and lust and drunken moonlight serenades. It had caught the reverberations of the last wolf’s howl and the final touch of Lenape Indian hands. The dust of coal was newly on its leaves when a wild storm had knocked it to the ground. Now Louisa stood on it and assailed them with a speech so patriotic it sounded un-American.

“We are citizens of this nation,” she proclaimed, “but even beyond the invisible borders of our cities, states, and country, there is a supreme geo-political body that claims our foremost allegiance. Even as the city yields to state, and the state yields to national authority, so is there yet one more governing body that claims the highest ranking among all the nation-states of man.” She hesitated, almost afraid to say it. Then Henrietta dared,

“The Earth.”

It was a matchstick in a haystack of insurrection, a traitorous statement in the current notions of the United States of America. It was treason to the laws of the country of their births. They were on the verge of declaring themselves to be, first and foremost, citizens of the Earth.

Of course! Of course! Hank groaned. Why had he never seen it? Who else granted them their human rights to air, water, sleep, shelter? Certainly not the U.S. Government. What other nation, state, county, or city negotiated the crucial laws of space and gravity and tidal currents, and coordinated the sun and clouds in a constitution that made a mockery of international boundaries and interstate commerce clauses? What other geo-political body gave all people liberty with their lives and taxed them only for reverence and respect?

The group of six humans -no, seven, for while the youngest one knew nothing of the concept of America, he already lived and breathed his citizenship with Earth- sat slightly stunned and suddenly robbed of national identity by this revelation.

You are my people, the Earth had just declared. The Earth, herself, had called them round her table and knighted each of them as champions.

“Can you hear it?” Louisa whispered, for suddenly the whole forest trumpeted its leaves. The branches clacked sharply in the beat of snare drums. The fife of birdsong whistled out its tune. Patrick’s face turned ashy gray. He whispered the most patriotic of all American declarations,

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another . . . ”

The Earth was singing her revolution. She was calling her brave men and courageous women to her defense.

” . . . a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes that impel them to separation,” Patrick quoted.

“Not separation,” Louisa said. “Reunion. I call for a declaration of our allegiance to our entire globe as our Earth calls now for the United States to end its abusive practices.”

“Its long train of abuses and usurpations, repeated injuries and Tyranny,” Patrick recited, grumbling.

“Yeah,” Hank added, “we’re waging sneaky underhanded terrorism against the Earth.”

“Whose citizens are you?” Louisa challenged them. “When the battle lines are drawn, where will you stand?”

The house shook now with a gust from the storming forest and Henrietta held Jerome close. The tension built in the atmosphere. The course of events swirled madly around the wildness of this table.

When in the course of human events,” Patrick repeated, “any form of government becomes destructive of the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness; it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.

He paused as a tremble shuddered him.

“This is treason,” he said.

Hank scoffed, “It’s only treason ’til you win the revolution.”

The wind thrashed around the cabin. Henrietta turned on the lights against the darkening world.

“We must decide,” Louisa said, with the ring-lined planks of an ancient tree beneath her feet. “Are we puppets of a mad empire or citizens of the Earth?”

Henrietta sighed. She held Jerome tight against her as the storm darkened the room.

“We must make the choice,” Louisa insisted. The first crack of rain smacked onto the roof. “Without the life support of Earth, the principles of this country -justice, liberty, pursuit of happiness- all mean nothing!” The rain tapped drumbeats of revolution on the tin and tar. “If we want to be loyal to our country, we have to start by being loyal to all the people, plants, places, and animals that keep us all alive!”

A billion raindrops broke deafeningly against the roof. They thundered on the canopy of leaves, the forest floor, anything they could find. Their wild clapping overwhelmed the humans. Six hearts pounded madly. The seventh heartbeat pulsed against his mother’s. The one lamp barely held off the dark blue shadows from the storm. Louisa’s face shone gold and midnight as she turned toward them.

“It is all for one, and one for all, like the old stories of democracy. We must shift our table to be round and offer the entire world a seat. No longer can man be king of beasts, nor the lion, nor any other. We must recognize our perfect union, our true democracy with all of Earth.”

She stood and the light strove to catch up with her as she towered and cried out to all that hammered at the cabin walls. The moment called her passions howling from her throat. Louisa, white and thin, with dark brown hair that hung straight around her enigmatic frame, called upon her bloodlines that stretched back to the first peoples of this continent, the colonists who later came, and the immigrants who followed them. She called upon the elements that had given the breath of life to all of them.

“Rain!” she cried, for water gave her blood its form. “Come sit at this table! Wind! Join us with your breath. Clouds! Draw close and trees as well! Gather round and grace us with your presence.”

Louisa chanted out a list of names, calling the rocks, grasses, mountains, field mice, and tiny creeping insects through the storm. She welcomed microbes, parasites, worms, and spiders, lichens, ferns, mosses, reeds, and seaweeds. She called on sun and warmth, snow and ice, frosts and glaciers. She made room for all the aspects of the Earth.

Her wide-eyed listeners felt suddenly the immensity of this new democracy. No longer were they lonely rebels, seven small humans against the world. They had the allies of the elements, the support of all creatures great and small. The rain slowed and the Earth drew closer, listening. The trees hung their leaves down to hear the murmured words beneath them. The mice crept underneath the porch. Seven humans leaned in together.

“We must give voice to all that has no human languages to speak in,” Louisa said. “Henrietta, you must speak not just for the mountains, but for the trees, the rain, and all the creatures. You must speak-” she touched Jerome’s head, “-for all the human babies and the ones that are to come. Their fate hangs by the thread of your words.”

Henrietta shivered. There is a story that must be told. It was just as her mamma had sensed. Arellia had received the sign, a book with nothing written in it. Earth’s creatures used no written language.

“It is a web, see?” Louisa said and interlaced her fingers. Jerome watched her cat’s cradle fingers weaving in and out.

“Imagine all the people, animals, plants, and elements,” Louisa invited them, ” . . . imagine them like gossamer spider webs, strung out across the expanse of the Earth. Every issue, every field, every person is a part of this. Here, if we tug at this sticky spot of the dying Appalachian Mountains, the whole web puckers and wrinkles, but it’s all too sticky with injustice. We’ve got to break the old web and build a new one that grows from the democracy of Earth, itself. Henrietta, do you understand?”

“Oh, yes.” She touched the cross sections of Louisa’s white and bony knuckles with the dark and light shadow play of her own. “Here, here, and here. I start to break the threads of fear that hold us back. Here, I slip the new connections and understandings into place. Here, I bring two hands together,” she smiled at Louisa and laced her fingers into the other woman’s.

Hank’s slid out to join them.

“Not just two hands,” he said, “all of them.”

“And not through fear, but through hope,” Patrick added, as his flesh and age came under theirs and lifted up their burden. “We’re building a new citizenship with all of Earth. We’re becoming true Americans.”

“Well,” came Ford’s slow voice as he rose from his chair. His dark, earthy hand joined the pact, “I never thought today would lead me to become a citizen of the Earth, or foment a revolution, or hear anything like what’s been said today.” He paused and thought a moment, “But all my life I’ve protected things; women, children, men, small animals, and I guess now mountains and the whole earth. It’s like the old song says . . . ” His deep baritone drew breath to moan out,

“Are you a protector of the meek?”

“Yeeeeeesssss, Lord,” Wanda’s voice shot out of darkness, trilling the response.

“Are you a follower of the Lamb?”

“Yeeeeeessss, Lo-oh-ord!” she rocked as she sung the reply.

“A soldier of the cross?”

“Yes, Lord!” Wanda sang the last notes and fell to silence. The others felt the hairs rising on their arms as they sensed that God was listening. Ford’s face lifted up in supplication and his voice fell into the cadence of prayer,

“We’re being asked today to make some mighty difficult choices. Asked to take up sides and try to make a mess turn out right. Lord, I can only do my best and I ask forgiveness if You see any wrong-doing in my actions. I hope You won’t, Lord, no, I hope You see that Your ole Ford here is just a protector of all Your creations, yes, and all these other folks are, too. I ask Your blessing, Lord, for them, and for me.”

“Amen.” Wanda’s hand joined theirs and sealed the prayer. The rippling air currents settled in the kitchen. Hank slid off the table. Birds resumed their callings in the trees outside.

They all looked at Henrietta. The course of action hung on her. She would be marching front and center. She would become the face for the force that strode behind her. She would step into the targets of the powers that lined up against them.

“Do you know what we’re getting into?” Patrick asked Henrietta. “I’ve been jailed and beaten for doing no worse than holding up a picket sign against the coal company.”

“Yeah,” Hank chortled like the devil, “this is like sticking your shining face right out in front of their cannons.”

“There may be death threats,” Louisa added pragmatically. Jerome leaned against Henrietta’s chest, playing with the buttons on her blouse. She looked down thoughtfully at him.

“I’ve been thinking lots and praying,” she glanced at them, shadowed and gray in the rainy evening light. “But when I pray, I just send my hope out like messages in bottles. I got no idea whose shore they’re washing up on, because I feel like I’m floating in the middle of an inky dark ocean of my life without any rudder or sails.”

A rush of emotion pressed up inside her; fear, loneliness, worry. The wind rattled against the loose shingles on the roof. Henrietta swallowed and continued,

“The truth is; every day, we risk dying just to live. Tyrell and I, we risked this baby’s life just bringing him into the world. I don’t need to start splitting the hairs of courage now. I been in equal danger of dying since the day that I was born. In fact, death may be the only promise I know is gonna be kept. That makes it real simple.”

Henrietta looked a long time at her son.

“I can die trying to live,” she said softly to him as if making a bargain on their future, “or we’ll all just die.”

“Or,” Louisa gently pointed out, “you could just live.”

“Well,” Henrietta replied as she started to chuckle, “I guess that would be the point of all this, wouldn’t it?”

She looked at Louisa, who started laughing with her. A ripple of relief ran through the room. The storm sent a drip-dropping patch of sunlight into the room as the clouds slipped over the hollow ridge.

“What do you say, Henri?” Hank asked, brimming with eagerness. “Do you want to jump out of the bushes and make faces at the coal company?”

Henrietta laid one hand on the table as if for strength. The grains of wood sent wild rhythms running through her bloodstream. The risk of living life at all pounded in her heart and made her willing to take a chance. She raised the strong lines of her face. Her eyes shone hot in the dusky twilight.

“Oh no,” she said, soft and serious, “I’m gonna do much more than that. I’m going to have a heart to heart with every household in this nation. I’m gonna sit down at their TV dinners. I’m gonna serenade them on the radio. I’ll swap secrets in their beauty parlors and shout headlines at the checkout counter. We got to wake this nation up and it’ll take every alarm clock that we’ve got. The first thing we’ve got to do is- ”

“Pray,” Wanda interrupted. “First and last and all the while in between, you got to pray.”

Henrietta smiled. Sometimes, our prayers are chants or songs or ecstatic cries of lovemaking or poems or quiet energies inside us. Henrietta was going to sing a lullaby to wake the whole world up. Some would call it rabble-rousing. Others would simply call it prayer.


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ARivera New Hatuthor/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio, and the co-initiator of Live Share Grow: A Movement for the 100%. She is a trainer and social media coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene. Sun attended the James Lawson Institute on Strategic Nonviolent Resistance in 2014 and her essays on social justice movements appear in Counterpunch, Truthout and Popular Resistance. www.riverasun.com