We were all babies once,
With soft and teetering baby heads,
Wide-eyed at the world.
Just like our proverbial baby bottoms,
Uncallused, unblemished, unbruised,
So were our newborn brains – clean, pure.
No neural pathways for fear, jealousy, hatred or self-loathing yet formed.
No axons fused to dendrites to register the words “idiot,” “nigger,” “rape” or “kill.”
For a few precious moments, we were free.
In 1937, Saddam Hussein and Colin Powell,
Had they been left alone together by their mothers to play on a blanket in the sun,
Would have blinked with curious wonder at the chubby round cheeks and dark eyes
Gazing back across flowered fabric.
We don’t choose the gods who speak first into our tiny ears,
Who give color, texture, form to the landscape of our minds.
It is not for us to say whether the hands that hold our wobbly heads are rough or gentle,
Or whether they are there to hold us at all.
We only make do,
And take what we are given,
Because it is all we can, all we have.
Until the time that our muscles and minds have hardened
into some functional state.
And then, we act.
But Then is too late.
The dominoes have been set for us,
And they are already falling.
We choose, yes,
But only from among the paths we see from where we stand.
Our actions are our own,
But we act out of the reality inside,
That was put there by someone else,
whose reality was put there by someone else,
whose reality was put there by someone else…
What if, instead of floating between the households of depressed mother, militant uncle, abusive step-father,
Baby Saddam had sat on my father’s knee,
And been told the same stories I was told.
What if my mother had tucked him in at night
And kissed the spot on his forehead where his sweet, little boy curls fell?
What other pictures might have been painted on the canvas of his mind,
and those of his children
and his children’s children…?
What other ways might the dominoes have fallen?
Perhaps we should not assume too much.
Perhaps we should not forget to turn
And look back at events that came before,
And grieve those first.
Perhaps we should spend less time
Swimming ’round and ’round in the wrongs of the present moment,
And more time figuring out how we might redirect the forward path of fall.
It is possible, you know,
In spite of everything.
We are all babies once.