“Are your gutters cleaned out?” a friend asked a couple of weeks ago before the last storm. “I’ve been watching the radar, and a gusher is coming.”
My roof leaks, so his hard rain warning was hard to hear. I knew I should be glad since our rainfall total is still desperately low this year. But with climate change bringing us unprecedented weather events, I was grateful when we only got one little downpour and I was spared from drastic consequences of my leaky roof once again.
Another kind of hard rain has been predicted by Mark Arax, one of our Valley’s most dedicated writers. “A hard rain’s gonna fall,” ran the headline of his piece in Sunday’s Bee, quoting the Bob Dylan song from more than 50 years ago, when people of my generation threatened to overturn not just the government but the culture, their parents, anything smacking of the post-WWII mythologies of American greatness we’d been raised to believe. We had discovered the lies overlying some ugly truths: racial inequality, gender discrimination, corporate greed and governmental complicity, unnecessary war. The hard rain predicted in his song was the oncoming struggle to make America live up to its promises.
The hard rain predicted in Mark’s piece, however, is the storm of backlash as witnessed brewing in our neighborhoods. “Glimpsing the rise of hate through the lens of our Valley” was the second half of his headline, and the views he shows us are spot-on.
In Fresno, he wrote, “I can see… the two Americas side by side, a place more or less half red and half blue, one political tribe looking backward to its glory, the other political tribe looking forward to its ascendancy.” I can’t think of a better way to describe our social rift zone, deeper than the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, longer than the San Andreas. Moving in opposite directions, pulling the country apart, with white supremacy tweaked to volcanic eruptions—something’s gotta give. I keep hoping for reconciliation, for finding words to reduce the pressure and bridge the divide.
By the end of Mark’s piece, however, I began thinking that hope is unfounded. “We all seem mad waiting for a hard rain,” he wrote, then quoted this line from Dylan’s song: “Ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken.” He set that thought beside the hope Biden expressed in his inaugural address, that we might “rediscover our common language.” Then he ended with this bleak but well-earned conclusion: “Watching the storm approach, I no longer believe such a language was ever there to begin with.” Clunk.
Feeling helpless, I turned back to the song. I don’t know it well; when Dylan was singing it and people my age were listening and responding, I was hiding in the corner. So I went online to get the lyrics. In them, I found a common language, the language of prophets and poets through the ages, including the prophets who founded this country. And like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jefferson and Lincoln, words are the ammunition against the oppression and hate Dylan saw.
“What’ll you do?” asks some parental figure in the last verse. “I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’” the songwriter says. “I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest/ Where the people are many and their hands are all empty/ Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters/ Where their home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison/ And the executioner’s face is always well hidden…”
Then the artist describes his job. “And I’ll tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it/ And reflect from the mountains so all souls can see it/ And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’/ But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” When it comes to the social warfare always waged in this valley, Mark knows his song. He keeps singing, thank God. A hard rain may be coming, but we don’t have to drown if we listen.
Trudy Wischemann is a neophyte wordworker in awe. You can send her your favorite verses c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.