Thursday, July 1, 2010

faces at the bottom of the well

"faces at the bottom of the well" is a book by derrick bell about racism in america that was published in 1993. I've stolen the title for this post but beyond that i recommend this book highly.

For beyond 70 days the Gulf of Mexico is the site of an oil spill problem, to put a "best face" on it, and for most people I talk to it's beyond the imagination to totally come to grips with. The hard truth to swallow is that no one knows where the path of such recklessness leads made only more painful by the fact that almost everyone is complicit in this disaster in one small or large way or another. That's the good news.

Persuing the metaphor , however, allows me to suggest that the gushing oil is also a psychotic artist blasting horrifying portraits onto a water canvas in indelible oil. It is a vast painful mural of destruction with more faces than we can count yet is a gallery we must, sooner or later, all attend. Central to the artwork is certainly the faces of wildlife and water, which are the most visible and easily recognized, posed in victims clothing and tossed lazily about in murdered postures. Beyond that are the faces of the people who have lost livelihood and with that, hope and a fixed look upon that background is the images of domestic misery, psychological trauma and worse. And there are thousands of these portraits to be sure, one as agonizing as the next, and we'll stop looking at those, for sure, once we have had enough.
There are also the faces of political and economic indifference that rouse anger and fury even at the most subtle gaze. The corporations and people that manage them glad handing the twisted corruptible polticians create an image that would clench the most peaceful fists among us. So, intricate is the drawing that we can almost hear their derisive laughter and the tinkle of the ice against the glasses of disdain.
There is the vast portrait of toxins traveling on a road that leads where we do not know, save for the fact that, for certain, the journey eventually passes by and even through our house. The sanctuary of distance from this tragedy is surely temporary and this face at the bottom of the well makes that easy for us to see.
My face is down there too, that's me with my jaw dropped open and if you look into my eyes you'll see a man whose feels his feet tied to the tracks on which runs an oncoming train. I am, at least, poised for my own doom, albeit, not at peace with it.
The gallery nestled toxically a mile below the surface of the gulf includes the faces of people not even born yet, who will enter the world with this narrative already in progress and will never be able to reference "life before the spill" and therefore, never truly understand. They will have been cast into a horror movie without audition.
Your picture is down there too. I don't care who you are or where you live, it's down there. Take a look if for only curiosity. I doubt you won't be moved. Perhaps, while we are all down there, examining the face and faces of some mass global collective tragedy maybe we can do something. I'm just hopful enough to think that the paint is not dry on most of the faces. I'm not sure what we should do but I am certain that it won't matter unless we all do it together. The real operative words here are "all" and "together".
I suppose the massive art display isn't just about past and present but is only impressionistic regarding the future. That changing the face of the future requires I ask myself some questions, simple ones really, about why we do what we do. We walk the world swinging a sledgehammer blindfolded without even looking at what we hit. Maybe we should put the hammer down for a year, maybe even a night. Maybe the faces will change and maybe they won't. If nothing else, our arms and shoulders can use the rest.
The faces from the bottom of the well speak to me. They say, if I want to change the way I want to die, maybe I should change the way I have to live. I'm hoping you hear the same message they are crying out. I'm hoping they keep you awake at night. I'm hoping they beg you to put down the sledgehammer. I'm hoping.


  1. I know this was about the spill but it sure speaks to me about my life in general too. Thank you for this.

  2. Thanks, MIke. I love it when you tell it like it is. This is beautiful and true. Expresses a lot of what I've been thinking/feeling, only with punctuation and consonants.

  3. Great blog. I live on the gulf coast and I think you are 100% correct. The consequences of this disaster will touch us all for generations.