Dear Governor Ducey,
Last night, around 8:00, after a few of my friends had come over for a cocktail party (I made chicken liver pate. No one ate it. I have two pounds of it leftover. If you like pate, I could bring it when I come to your office to discuss Li Po), my husband told me the senate was planning to vote on the budget changes right then. That night. At 8:00 in the night. I misunderstood, as I often do, how quickly things move. I also misunderstood how likely this was to pass. I still had time, I thought. I emailed every member of the state senate and legislature. I got a few emails back from Debbie McCune Davis, Ken Clark, Eric Meyer, and Andrea Dalessandro. One of them came at 2:24 in the morning. They encouraged me to keep fighting. They promised to vote no. But even there solid commitment to staying up all night to spare us from this budget cut wasn’t enough. As you know, the budget cuts have passed both houses. It’s a done deal.
Which makes these letters seem futile but I am well-versed in futility. I’m a poet. When I have a poem published, three people might read it. And what of all those unpublished poems? Whole manuscripts? I misunderstood, because I’m a poet and because I am naïve, that there was some hope to stop the effective dismantling of higher education in this state. But misunderstanding is kind of the point. I have to misunderstand to stay up past midnight writing letters to legislators. I have to misunderstand you, if I’m going to write these letters. I have to see that perhaps you have a human side, an ear for the individual voice. Trying to bring out the human between us is the point of the humanities, the discipline under which I work, in part funded by the state of Arizona, which I imagine you hope to dismantle but even as you do, I write. I have to try to find the human in you even though I think you would prefer to be called arbiter, austerity-master, deal-maker, power-broker, decider, winner.
I don’t know what you did this morning after the houses delivered your budget deal to you. Maybe you went golfing. It is 85 degrees in Phoenix today. It was cold here in Flagstaff this morning— 26 degrees when my husband and my kids and I went to pick up garbage along Huntington Drive, where the new Walmart is. Our kids take Taekwondo and this section of road has been adopted by their studio. Longer than you think—the span between McDonalds and 4th Street, the road stretches through an industrial area with Pacific Pride kinds of gas stations, APS, UPS, the equipment rental places.
It finally snowed in Flagstaff last week. The first time in two months. I was worried we wouldn’t have any garbage to find. But the snow is melting quickly. There was plenty: plastic straws, plastic bottles, empty Bud Lights, empty cans, cigarette butts, cigarette butts, string, caps, shell casings, rubber bands, plastic Walmart bag after plastic Walmart bag.
I might misunderstand politics. I thought, when you first came out with these budget proposals, that it was a joke or a stunt and 10% would turn to 1%. Instead, it turned to 13%. Instead of time for public opinion, lawmakers stayed up all night to represent the end of the university, at least as we know it. I misunderstood how deeply you meant to destroy the humanities. And science. And art. And forward thought. But I don’t misunderstand garbage. People will throw it out the window of their car as they wait at the stoplight installed for Walmart shoppers who sit at the stoplight and throw plastic sacks and cigarette butts and hand wipes out the window. I will pick it up. The next day, they will throw out some more garbage. In a few weeks, I’ll join the Taekwondo folks and pick it up again. I will write a poem later, maybe about garbage and crows and snow. I will make chicken liver pate. I will send this letter even though all these letters are futile because once in awhile, someone honks to say’ thanks’ for the garbage picking up. Someone reads a poem. Someone takes a bite of pate and says they like it.