Sunday, March 29, 2009

Offline for awhile . . .

Just a note to say I'll be offline until April 15. No computer access, and I'm not paying 40 cents a minute. But, I'll be busy trying to write a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month, and the challenge from NaPoWriMo. So, go ahead. Join in. Write a poem.

#156 On Aging . . .

This week's Sunday Scribblings asks us to reflect on aging.

I thought once I would die young for I never saw a tall person, and very quickly, at the age of 12, I grew to be 5’8”, tall for a girl-child and still tall for a woman.

I loved the lines of Rabbi ben Ezra, “Grow old along with me, the best in life is yet to be . . .” Isaac Asimov included those lines in the opening of his Foundation series, which I discovered in my teens when I read science fiction by the box. Later I learned Robert Browning wrote this poem, and other lines jumped out: “What I aspired to be, / and was not, comforts me.”

Melina Mercouri, flush with fame for her portrayal of a prostitute in Never on Sunday and appearing on an Ed Sullivan show, said something like, “Get that camera in here close. I want it to show every line. I have lived and I have earned these lines.” There was a woman I admired. She was not afraid of her age.

Other lines, from Omar Khayyám's Rubaiyat, have stayed with me: “I come like water, like wind I go.” And in a cosmic sense, Robert Frost, that great American poet, wrote “Fire and Ice,” which neatly puts the fate of the world and all of us accountable.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

I was a quiet little kid. I wore glasses, read books, was last chosen for games, and the first to move to a new town or a new family. My childhood I now remember as a steady stream of argument, fueled by cases of beer and nights of brutality. I somehow reached 17 and wrote a desperate (and most likely horrible) poem that ended: “There’s no such thing as a future, whether good or bad,/ there’s only the past, taunting you with things you’ve never had.”

My aunt took me away, and my life changed. I went to college and worked to pay for it. It took me 11 years to graduate, working full-time after those first two years at a community college. Now and again, a teacher would encourage me, and this made all the difference. Of course, I became a teacher myself and at a community college. I could help others as I was helped. My dreams of somehow creating a harmonious family, loving my husband and a child – all came true because of the generosity of one person.

So I would say aging, if we are so lucky, is about understanding our lives, the choices we’ve made, and how each decision, each act shapes us and those around us. So many times, we seem afraid of death, and yet, death is the natural end to all of life. What is aging but a preparation for death?

If we are so fortunate to have a long life, then these last decades allow us to come to terms with who we have become. Each day thus can be a gift to appreciate and celebrate. I remember my 20s and 30s, and even into my 40s, as a struggle to become something I could barely imagine. But now, in my mid-60s, I can simply be.

It’s early morning, and the yellow-breasted kiskadee begins its song to wake the sun. Today, we leave on a grand adventure, to do something I once read about in Richard Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast – we will sail around the horn at the tip of South America. My suitcase is packed. My computer is nearly ready to go. And I am thrilled to be able to say to my husband, “Grow old along with me. The best in life is yet to be.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

#155 I come from . . .

I come from the country, an
estancia so far from the city that
only the men go on horseback,
driving the cattle to market. When they return,
we’ll set up the barbeque on the patio.
The old men will play their guitars,
and the women will dance. Ah, I remember last time.
I could feel Renaldo’s eyes on me
as I placed a vase of yellow flowers on my head,
fanned my skirts back and forth, and
placed my feet just so.
Singing, I danced faster and faster,
my hips moving,
the flowers steady and true.

I come from San Telmo, a barrio in Buenos Aires.
I sit on my third floor verandah each morning,
hidden from the crowds below. I sip hot coffee.
The sugar from my sweet rolls sticks to my fingers.
Parrots nest high in the nearby palm trees, and
red flowers bloom in a Ceibo; later,
I’ll twine them in my hair when I dance the tango.
Ah, Renaldo, I long for when you come to the city.
I will put my black dress on and dance with you
cheek to cheek.

The startling scarlet flowers of the Ceibo, also called seíbo or bucaré, are Argentina’s national flower, as the tango is Argentina’s national dance. We’re only in Buenos Aires one more week and then back on the road (without internet for 10 days). Already, I’m thinking of April and napowrimo, the challenge of writing a poem every day for a month. Will you do it?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

#154 Buenos Aires, March 2009

Her head was found. They say
the rest was scattered.
Desaparecidos, they call these lost ones.
30,000 disappeared
sometime between 1976 and 1983.

I stand in the Plaza de Mayo,
wondering again about violence,
remembering when I was young.
Would my mother have worn a white scarf?
Would she have walked slowly
in a circle past the soldiers,
so slowly as to be eternal?

Our guide tells us the women still come here to the Plaza de Mayo, each Thursday at 4:30 pm, circling the plaza silently, holding photographs of those who were lost. A passing man interrupts our guide’s explanations. “Do not step on these symbols. They represent 30,000 lost.”

He tells us more; our guide interprets. Finally the man leaves and our guide continues. “We do not support these women today,” our guide says. Other Argentinians in the group nod. “We support them, that is, their main idea and honor what they have done, but today, there are two groups, one is made up of mothers who pressuring the government to admit its culpability; they take money from the government. The other group is made up of the grandmothers seeking to reunite those children who were adopted with their real past, which is very difficult.”

The sun flickers on his face. I do not really understand his distinctions, though I learn later that the more radical group also blames the United States for training Argentina's military in the controversial School of the Americas. The history of Argentina’s “Dirty War” and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo is summarized more fully in two Wikipedia articles I found useful.

I look at the round plaza and remember learning of these women from newspaper accounts when I was in San Francisco in the 1970s. I marvel I am standing in this place, in the shadow of the Casa Rosada, the Argentinian equivalent of the White House.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

#153 Did you . . .

Did you pinch your daughter’s hand
because she didn’t mind you quickly enough?
Leave your three-year old alone in a motel?
Feed him beer because he was crying?
Hit her because she laughed too loudly?
Lock your child in the basement?
Or worse?

Your child will never forget.
You can’t take it back.
You can’t say “I’m sorry”.
Those memories won't go away.
Remember this. This is important.

This week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings asks us to write about something that is truly important, something you notice or would like to say. This was my first reaction. Child abuse takes so many forms, not the least at the macro level being poverty. Many adults struggle the rest of their lives to heal themselves from what happened when they were vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. So, what you do forever shapes a child (and their children), whether you are parent, teacher, or even a babysitter. Be mindful. Be gentle.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Last Night . . .

Last night, I dreamed
I was floating,
past your embraces,
past your eyes
frozen in dreams.

We have slept in how many cities,
walked through plazas together,
heard the night birds sing,
and watched the stars fall out of the sky,
always together. Yet the day comes
when, like a star
that follows its own path,
revolving slowly,
I will tumble into the future, alone.


Anoche, soñé
yo flotaba,
por delante de sus abrazos,
por delante de sus ojos
congelado en sueños.

Hemos dormido en cuantos ciudades,
andado por plazas juntos,
oído las aves de la noche cantan,
y mirado las estrellas se caen del cielo,
siempre juntos.
Aún el día viene cuando,
como una estrella
esto sigue su propio camino,
giramiento lentemente,
caeré en el futuro, solo.

Note: I'm still working on this poem that came to me partly because I was studying Spanish before sleeping. If you see changes needed in the translation, please tell me. Otherwise, be assured all is well.