Dear Chebon



by Chip Livingston

Chipper Boy, I don’t expect this to frighten you none, Chebon, receiving my message like this, as you’ve always been tuned for reception. But write it down, so you remember, and share my words with those who might need them. I’m taking advantage of the holiday prayers and chimney smoke to work a bit of your Paw-Paw’s old Solstice magic to make sure this missive gets through. Obviously you’ll have to clean up my grammar some. I could do all sorts of things with a wrench or hammer, but words, grandson, those are your tools. I took just enough book learning to sign my name away on bills and send you short notes in college. 

Away is a funny word to think about, here from the spirit world you might call West of Heaven, but we’re closer than most people think. Your ancestors aren’t just floating around in some far-off place. We’re also there on the earth, watching with you as the creeks freeze and thaw, smiling and laughing mostly at your forgetfulness, reminded of our own fleshly shortcomings. But where we are, we know a wholer sense of empathy. Especially now, grandson, when you’re holding on to worries larger than your heads conceive the world. 

You forget, Chebon, some of the things I told you as we walked the land, picking up empty beer cans and gathering pecans. The trash we can recycle, and the task to break the stubborn shells is worth the sweet inside. But just now, you ain’t worrying none about pecans or the 40 cents a pound we got for bags of aluminum. You think the whole world is ending. But only parts of it are ending – and only as you’ve known them, the little what you know of it. We keep learning. 

The United States has always been a figment of some white folks’ imagination. Democracy? Tell your Paw-Paw a better one. You took some history from me and some from books, but what you seem to forget is what you stand on stays forever. That land in Alabama, Colorado, Uruguay, and all the rest of it, it’s been here since crawfish brought the mud up and long before the thought of humans. That land will be here long after the memory of us, Chebon. The earth is taking a beating, sure, and tides will rise. But the land itself withstands. As do we, son, but in forms you don’t yet understand but will in time to come. 


Time to come, grandson, you’ll also understand that election as a duration every people face and our people in particular have already several times survived. Your blood’s a testament that in a long line of troubling history, it’s nothing you can’t handle. The president of the United States in the year 2018 is not going to be what ends human life. Don’t believe apocalyptic lies. There is no Armageddon. But of course there will be consequences.

Confusion, pain, division. Fear. It won’t always be clear who or what to believe. You sure won’t have to dig up distractions. They’ll be near. But so will the gathering of a new kind of nation. The continent is calling out for its true citizens, restoring the balance of brown people who first emerged upon its mud; it’s telling you the land is almost ready for your occupation. You’re coming out from underground – just like your ancestors. Your volume now is just an ankle rattle but it’s growing toward a hum. Listen for the drums that lead toward syncopation. Syncopation! How’s that for your Paw-Paw’s eighth-grade education! But it’s true, Chebon. Trust me. There’s a song if you listen. That’s a promise. Keep listening until you know the tune. Then write a new verse. Sing that prayer into the world. Direct the chorus. 


Chipper Boy, this ain’t a scolding. Sure, I’m prone to coaching but this is also a celebration. You exist. Despite everything they’ve done to us, you exist. With everything they’re doing now to silence and undermine your objections and confidence, Chebon, you exist. As long as you’re alive to witness and protest, you still exist. So don’t get down. Instead get up and shout. Then dance. Don’t forget to stomp and dance. Feel your feet on the loose sand. That’s your freedom. 

And what comes after this muddy patch is so much better, more solid, more united in humanity than the planet has yet seen in our living history. 

This message is a recognition of you and the Helpers who clamor at the real chaos of earth’s growing pains. It’s an awakening. A celebration of a new awareness. And it’s a great big thank you. We’re grateful, son – Mvto, Chebon – to everyone who’s paying attention. We’re paying attention. All Creation is listening. Make your noise but also remember to quiet down and distinguish the truth from illusion. Keep your chin up. You’re not returning underground but there are times you’ll have to tread water. This is just another one of them. And I taught you how to swim. 


But the earth will remain. And we’re not going anywhere. Remember as you walk the land your relatives prepared for you: Prepare the world as best you can for what you’ll leave behind. Life is still a celebration. Trust me, grandson. There’s a reason we don’t have a word for goodbye. 

Your Paw-Paw 

First published in Radical Hope: Letters of Hope and Dissent in Dangerous Times, Vintage Books.

Copyright © Chip Livingston. All rights reserved.  


Chip Livingston is the author of a novel, a collection of essays and stories, and two poetry collections. His writing has appeared on the Academy of American Poets’ and the Poetry Academy’s websites; and in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, New American Writing, and other journals and anthologies. Chip teaches in the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. He lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.

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