Refuge of Hope

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've had a sense of foreboding the last few days about a known hate group rallying tomorrow at Stone Mountain. But I literally took brief refuge from such disturbing thoughts this afternoon at Refuge Coffee Co. in neighboring Clarkston, long dubbed "the Ellis Island of the South." The bright red Refuge Coffee Co. truck can be found at Market St. and E. Ponce de Leon, one of the best corners in Clarkston, on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is also often at Cobb Galleria or wherever Refuge is called to cater. “We dream of a more vibrant Clarkston, one where refugees have opportunities to thrive. Where they go from survival in their first days here to building a life. Where people from greater Atlanta and beyond discover the multi-textured beauty of a global culture right here in our own backyard,” says founder and Clarkston resident Kitti Murphy on the website of this 501c3 non-profit business that “exists to serve the global community in Clarkston through coffee-related job creation, job training, social networking, and commerce.”

As I drank coffee and mingled with the regulars, I excitedly pointed out a patch of rainbow in the sky, called a "sun dog” or a parhelion, to everyone around, among them Rupert Pike — poet, carpenter, father, and sagacious Clarkston communitarian — who, with paint still fresh on his fingers from transforming Refuge's soon-to-open indoor space, right behind the coffee truck, gifted me a collection of his award-winning poems, Lotus Buffet before I said goodbye. His poem "TUTORING MOHAMMAD MOHAMMAD," inspired by his actual time tutoring many refugees in Clarkston, was recently published in Goddard College's literary journal, Duende.

Then I came home to such horrifying scenes of terror out of Paris tonight, and my heart sank. The blow was slightly buffered by the positive examples I’d just seen today of citizens right here trying to improve their communities and make the world a better place. In such troubled times, it’s imperative to remember that even "out of the mountain of despair” can come “a stone of hope." As the days grow colder and darker, how nice it would be to see the Refugee Coffee truck in the parking lot of the walk-up trail at Stone Mountain and to even hold a warm cuppa joe in my hands as I walk. Refuge Coffee would, after all, still be serving so many of Clarkston’s diverse residents who actually frequent the mountain. Here’s to the park continuing to work with beneficial groups in the community to further heal itself from its racist past rather than hosting yet another “Confederate flag rally” by groups that dispense hate and violence and obstruct long-overdue positive change.

Paris is on my mind tonight. Here are some photos of my visit there in December 2010:

By Rupert Fike

“After a few homework sessions I see
     his most important questions
come when the textbooks are closed,
     for he is the English-speaking prism
through which the rest of his family
     experiences this newness, this America.
So he looks to me for social answers,
     like, did Bill Gates really drop out of Harvard?
He wants to know what Hari Krishnas do.
     And on this particular Tuesday afternoon
he asks, as though a friend is in trouble,
     “Mr. Rupert, is it true Lil’ Wayne’s in jail?”
I respond with the full truth which, of course,
     brings his next question, “What’s Rikers?”
And it’s somewhere during my description
     of that bleak prison out in the East River
surrounded by New York City yet apart from it,
     this is when the Head-Tutor-Woman’s at our back,
wanting to know what we’re discussing
     at such length with the textbook closed.
And even though I try to give Mohammad
     the universal let’s-keep-a-secret look,
the Ix-nay on Ill–ayne-way, the boy replies
     with the most charming guileless lilt,
“Lil’ Wayne’s on Rikers. Mr. Rupert told me,”
     yet this pleases me because it shows
he understood that Rikers is an island.
     But the Head Tutor Woman is not pleased.
She’s giving me the look that conveys we’ll soon
     be having a discussion about this,
the look that suggests she’ll soon be
     reviewing my background-check file.
So okay, okay, we open his Psychology book
     that dulls the boy’s eyes like silver polish
left on too long, and as we turn its pages
     he sticks his arm out, wham, a human bookmark
on this picture he showed his mother last night.
     It’s that famous photograph of Konrad Lorenz,
the German behaviorist, swimming in a lake,
     a line of six ducklings right behind him –
Imprinting – these newly hatched ducks
     think the swimming man is their mother,
the case for nurture in Nature v Nurture.
     Mohammad looks to me, “Is that man still alive?”
And in this still moment it no longer
     matters how disparate our worlds are –
our dreams are common – we both want to be
     the swimming man in that picture,
we want small animals to love us hard, unconditionally.
     And even though I’ve been told not to,
I open my laptop, “We’ll Google him and see.”
     “Yes,” Mohammad says. “Google.”
Ah, he died in 1989, but poor Konrad Lorenz,
     what a life he led, a medic drafted by the Nazis
then captured by the Russians, four years in Siberia.
     “Why the Russians?” Mohammad asks.
The boy, it turns out, does not know
     who was on whose side during World War II,
so we have to discuss that, we have to discuss
     how the swimming man with the ducklings,
oh, how he must have suffered in those prisons.
     “Like Rikers?” Mohammad asks.
“Yes!” I nod, give a thumbs-up. “Yes, like Rikers!”
     “Hitler,” the boy repeats after I say the name.
“He had the crazy hair, and stuck his tongue out?”
     “No, no! That was Einstein. Hitler had the moustache,
but Einstein was a Jew, afraid of Hitler
     so he escaped to America, taught at Princeton.”
The boy tries to take it all in, so much information.
     I see this could go on forever – Eisenhower, the ‘50s,
Cold War, Hula Hoops, Civil Rights,
     Dr. King, Elvis, the Infield Fly Rule!
“But Einstein made the bomb.” Mohammad says.
     “Well, I think that was more Robert Oppenheimer.”
I spell the name as Mohammad taps the keys
     then hits Images faster than I thought possible,
what brings up a schematic diagram,
     lines, numbers, colorful equations filling the screen,
a picture of a centrifuge, which is when
     the Head-Tutor-Woman is again at our back,
“What are you showing him? What are you showing him?”
     And then she’s acting like I’ve done a really bad thing,
she’s acting like it’s some kind of huge deal
     to show Mohammad Mohammad
detailed instructions for building a nuclear weapon.
     And this, as it turns out, is the last day
in my short history as a tutor.”