Transylvania Posts

July 4, 2013

Check back around July 14th.  Egeszsegre! (Cheers!)

What will happen when they stop building churches?

July 3, 2012

I visit my daughter in her life—2,000 miles away in a graduate school in Washington State. My daughter, beautiful, with her orange hair in braided knot. Making coffee, pleased that we liked her kabobs and witness her apartment with its rhythm of towels and spoons that belong only to her hands. She is here in her 400-dollar apartment with peach walls and sprung bed that leaves a crank in my neck. Pots of basil and thyme line her windows. Cans of beans stack her shelves. Banana, tangerines and plumbs in a bowl decorate her table. Hints of her childhood are all around us, the black and white Polaroid of my parents, a volume of Harry Potter, post-its from me stuck above her desk. After breakfast, we take a walk. The sky is achingly blue, not like Indiana sky pale as a last breath, or the diffuse yellow of St. Louis. The clouds radiate a reality of silver linings. Walking up the steep stairs of her university, my heart pounds. Makes me stop short. Pullman rises unspeakably beautiful, despite the town’s haphazard way. Sky, azure junipers and hills.

When my darling shows us her campus under a small arch, we joke about the St. Louis gateway. Walk up to a piece of modern art humming in the wind. Gaze out on the patchwork greens of Palouse Valley; a place I didn’t know existed until yesterday. Pass 4 graduate students giggling and vibrating together. 1 waves to my daughter, younger than a graduate student has a right to be. I don’t belong here, I have not walked behind these houses. I don’t know these people. Students belong to my past, and I am their past. The townspeople have strange garden flowers middling in their day lilies. On the way home, we walk past a church with turrets and a rose window. Some developers converted it to upscale apartments. There is a grill outside one of the steeple-shaped doors. My daughter is no longer my daughter. She is altogether a new religion.

Home. Not home.

May 12, 2012

In a year, the road crumbles. Men, I have known, grow bellies like lakes bloated with floodwater. Ruins of chain restaurants swallow my former town’s nose. Taco Bell picked off Labamba Restaurant across from the church, and the mural of the BSU players with burritos as-big-as-your-head is gone forever. On Morrison Road, the new roundabout, fine with grass, yields a confusion of east, west, north and south. Tower of Babel. I stop, confused. Later, I drive past Lisa Shaw and wave. She nods, but keeps walking. After all, I broke up with her by moving away. At MtCup, the auctioned-off Cup, three church members who know me are inside. It’s a small town. The latest owner buys me a bagel, hoping I’ll come back. I don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.  Later, my poetry compadres turn up. They kept meeting for coffee without me.  For me, they had been sitting at the table of our last bull session for a year.  Since then, one has forged a poem in stone, the other is Internet dating. Life is good.

This time, I feel the going.  Kiss them on their cheeks.  Cannot bear their eyes.  Instead, cry over the eyesore of McGalliard: Captain D’s marquee, the Sixteen Shrimp Dinner $4.99 and Ecclesiastes 5:2, “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”

On the way out of town I stop at the Village Pantry.  Hide behind the gas pump from the crazy professor, in silver beard, straw hat and Birkenstocks, who reads Reinhold Niebuhr and mumbles in Spanish, Dios, mio. He’ll talk, too long.  I drive out Spur 67. The crashed Chevy’s tailfins babbles from D & J Body Shop and Muncie 4 Liquor sign sing like sirens. The tattoo parlor raises a rebellion of mythical birds with wings raised, roses, and skulls in cowboy hats, with Cain-like Lonestars.  I give thanks for the ugly side of the town.  Makes it easier to leave.

But, for a moment, the White River’s wind, and the bewitching bend of Marrow’s Meadow flood me.  The big mouth-bass utters the clear words of memory: Jeff, Mike, my girls, my deck, day lilies, biking on roads between silent tick of cornrows … I quickly turn the wheel to the broken hearts of potholes, litter and ramshackle houses–exposed family secrets–and leave.

Southside St. Louis-River

March 17, 2012

Our new neighborhood’s brick houses stack up like square workmen: contractors and painters, electricians and roofers, standing erect because they are so close. It’s the only way to avoid touching, except when there is a ballgame and they run out of doors hooting and hollering in the streets, like St. Louis kids telling their best jokes at Halloween. Why did the skeleton not cross the road? Because he didn’t have any guts.

We see into the backyards of our neighbors, stubble of sun-bleached toys, pink and yellow, untended gardens, garages sweating away their paint and sinking chain link. A fat man sits in his truck in the alleyway, for sun. And, they see into our yard. Thomas hammering in a wood handrail for the stairs that lead to our all-seasons’ room, where I stand watching. Our black Aussie mix running like ink around a herd too small to imagine.

We miss the railroad whistles of Indiana. Don’t quite know what to make of the church bells from the Lutheran church, tender in yellow-orange afternoons. Their church marquee broadcasts Spaghetti Dinner or Fish Fry. At Valentine’s’Day the surprise of Jesus, he loves me, he loves me, there is no not.

Instead of the white river and big-mouthed bass, we wind along Kingshighway, near little Bosnia and the Hill. On the Hill lawns are as neat as red, white and green postage stamps. Shotgun houses ornamented with Mary, arms outstretched to embrace the air peppered with garlic and basil, tourists, purple and yellow pansies at her feet, Bocchi ball players, and stores packed with olives, sesame seed loaves, jars of artichoke or fungi goodness, and tins of anise cookies. It is the closest we get to my father, his olive oil skin, fondness for the old ways, and his love of coffee and conversation in the cool basement kitchen of my grandmother. If only he were standing on Marconi Street, enjoying the sunshine, rattling change in his pockets, drinking in the Italian-squawk in the air.

On the other side of the Kingshighway is the great Bevo mill, her skirts in disarray, and little Bosnia. Little Bosnia on Gravois is littered with closed shops, beauty salons, and bars. One day we stop for tea at café and gift shop, it is really a bar with tall tables and stools dusted with smoke. We surprise the group inside. When we turn to leave, they let us.

Bosna gold is one place that realizes the American dream. Valentines’ Day each table is covered with cloth and decorated with a pink or red ballon. The owner greets us at the door, all American confidence, dark hair, hands as fat as sausages. The menu boasts grilled meats, sour cream and goulashes and the spongy Bosnian bread. Even though it is before the lunch rush, the air smells like grilled onions. At night across from Hollywood Smiles, young Bosnians, like all teenagers in small towns with nothing better to do, and Little Bosnia is a small town, hang out and drink beer. One boy slouches against a girl; her skirt is too short and leather. We inhale her shrill yell and wafts of smoke through the window as we whiz by.

Those who have not faired well, men that do not speak English, fish Carondolet park Sundays and smoke cigarettes. We recognize them by their industrial features, and dark eyes. They grasp fishing polls in Carondolet Park one of the three jewels of our new city, but because it has lost funding the past couple of years, the park looks more like a ring redeemed from a pawnshop. Cigarette butts filter in the tufts of crabgrass along the playground and Loughborough. Friends of the neighborhood meet on a Saturday, comb through the bushes and shrubs for perennial Styrofoam cups, cap less bottles of booze, one accented with gold Bosnian letters, and a pink pony from a wayward child.

In the summer there is jazz from the bandstand. The fountain still retains the glory of the early days, the design of the neighborhood, Holly Hills, a Midwest mix of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The finest houses face the park along a boulevard, tended by one man, who honors them with red cannas in summer, like bouquets for Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, divorced and buried long ago.

We ride Kingshighway to every port in the city, through the smoke stacks and oily factories, across the beauty of fleur de lieu bridges, where black men walk and walk, or wait for the buses. One wields a sign in stars and stripe tux, points toward a quik-cash shop. We have barely sojourned to the riches of Forest Park, the tree gladed and gated mansions, Webster Grooves and Clayton, that we, like the poor, know are there. We will enter like Lewis and Clark under the gateway, through the arch and museum marvels under the sphinx-topped Architecture. There is so much to learn in this conflicted city, beautifully bricked, rich and dirty, waiting for us.

Seventh Poem in Seven/Nine Days

February 28, 2012

Advil or Wine

My neck hurts from craning
over fireplace bricks.
I’ve been painting them wine
to hide old scars.
I opt for day old Zinfandal
with a broken cork in its bottle,
instead of ibuprofen.
Miss the wine glass when I pour
before even imbibing a sip.
Burgundy liquid stains my white
counters and cabinets. For lunch
beets stained my hands, and nestled
next to my omelet
filled with greens and caramelized
onions.

Sipping wine and writing,
wrapped in my maroon sweater,
I stumble into an epiphany
of red. Is it because moon slivers
have aligned themselves with Jupiter
and Venus? Or because you come home
and doze fitfully on our couch.
Arms folded against your blue
shirt. As if you could ward off dreams
troubled by starfish or cucumbers.
Perhaps, this day dipped in red letters
is a harbinger of Mars, declaring
war on the rest of our days.
Or a war trumpet
sounding to our old souls,
Life, while it is life, sounds red.

Poem 6

February 28, 2012

Decaf

I’m in the narrowest of Starbucks.
It reminds me of a caboose.
Patrons sit solo
facing each other,
except their heads
are crooked over laptops and i-phones:
clicks away from Scrabble Finder,
Live Oaks, New Orleans,
or the Worst Dressed list
at the Oscars.

A young woman
with a purple water bottle crosses
her legs, an Asian American
rests his left hand on his keyboard,
his pinkie has a gold ring.
Forever Asian
American.
No one is with anyone here.
Two read novels.
A middle-aged woman cupping her chin
like a hard blend and a boy.

I ask the boy what he is reading.
Hunger Games, he says.
He’s not a boy, even though
his face is awash with blush.
Even though his eyebrows are infinity.
Nothing occurs to me to say.
I bite my brownie.
Don’t know how long it’s been since
I was hungry.

Poem 4

February 24, 2012

“Winter,” is too painful too post. Therefore, it is probably the only real poem of the lot so far.

Day 3 Poem

February 23, 2012

Fall

In the Greek restaurant
off the trendy district’s rump,
I eat Mediterranean.
A present for my daughter,
invokes Christmas on my table.
A book about artisan bread,
in a silver bag.
He walks in slippery with city,
an open coat, holes in his t-shirt,
and asks about falafel.
The owner sneers.
He removes some balled up
bills from his front pocket
to prove he can pay.
Falafel’s great, I said.
The owner sizes me up
out of the corner of his eye.
I tear off a nice sized piece
of pita bread.
Go ahead, I can’t eat
the whole thing.
Lettuce and sauce
spill down his hand.
He nods and chews,
orders fried fish.
The owner retreats behind
swinging doors.
The place is deserted.
He edges near me in new
confidence. Eyes my package
with indecent interest.
Been Christmas shopping?
What’d you buy?
I say it’s a cookbook.
He tells me I look fifteen years
younger than I am. Asks
where I live.
I’m married, I say.

Why don’t you wear a ring?
I’m fifty-three and would like
to be real, but my Got fat,
opens the wrong door.
Now, we’re on my body.
I sure would like to visit you,
he says percolating.
A window washer
pulls up outside. Rinses
brown film off the window.
Before I can get out of my seat,
the window washer packs up.
My foolish sandwich stays
on its plate. I rush out the door,
duck into the shop next door.
He follows me outside.
Looks to the left and right.
I hold my breath against
another kitchen counter.
He crosses the street at a diagonal.
His coat flaps.

How should I live?

December 21, 2011

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth said:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/ To the last syllable of recorded time/And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death.

This is not an atheist’s lament, but of one who has lost his way in life. I too have felt out the petty pace of days, which, if not a sinful way to live, is an exceedingly frustrating way to live. The luxury of days, if one is healthy and of sound mind, is a gift. To access that gift most fully is to love. To the theist and the atheist what is Ultimately Important is Love.

From Corinthians 13, Paul wrote:
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

For once, grumpy old Paul got it right. One of my favorite movies is Groundhog’s Day. The main character, played by Bill Murray, is juvenile, vain and selfish. He finds himself in a quaint town, which he despises and is trapped in the same day to live over and over. Since there are no consequences, he gorges on sex, sweets, cigarettes and caffeine. After these pleasures lose their allure, he tries and fails to attract  love, through manipulation. Then tries to kill himself, over and over again.

One day he finds out that an old man, he has bypassed in the string of days, will die. He sets out to save the old man. Then, he decides to save all the town people that are supposed to die on “his” day. He becomes an accomplished pianist, dancer, and ice sculptor. He reads and is inspired by Chekov. Everyone who encounters him is enriched. Finally, he finds  contentment in the happiness of the woman he has pursued the entire film, partly because he does not try to possess her or even touch her. It is the happiest day of his life. The endless day is broken. He has gotten it right.

Imagine living one day a week mindfully and with love. Oh what a difference a day can make. One of the saving graces of my week is my Tuesday and Thursday Zumba Gold class. The class of frumpy old ladies is filled to the brim with stretch pants that are pulled too high and flat bottoms. The enrollment is full due to Shari and Bob. Shari is an African American woman who is 53 and her husband, Bob, a white man in his 60s. They met working at a Chrysler plant and have been married for 25 years. I’ve never met a more unlikely couple. Shari is engaging, smart, full of laughter and energy. Bob, well Bob is a very average Joe. Such marriages sometimes seem like a trade off, a good-looking woman picks a someone who is safe. He stands in front with Shari, but he takes his cues himself from the participants. Like Shari he smiles a great deal, and both seem very happy. It’s a marriage that works.

Shari communicates many things to us. In one of her dance moves she crosses her hands to her heart in a loving way. We follow, loving ourselves. Sometimes I feel like I am in a kindergarten class, in a good way—where kids were scattered in there own small orbits on the gym floor, excited and ready to listen to “Go You Chicken-fat Go!” No inhibitions. In Zumba, we shimmy our hips to the de de de, de, de, de, dededede de pings of music. Or  strike a pose like five year olds in a mirror, imaging we are ballerinas or engaged in the dance of the seven veils. We mumbo, merengue and play the guitar. We play. Shari laughs. We laugh.

Sometimes when I cannot sleep at night, I like to think about Shari’s smile. Bob a step or two behind. Or I think about the bent over lady, who mumbles and almost always sits down. Who one day baby-stepped herself through the whole class, her cheeks pinking. She laughs too. I don’t know how to explain it, but it is not just an exercise class. Shari communicates love in her being. Because of that, we are all richer walking out the door. That is the way to love. That is the way to live, de de de, dededede de.

Suffering & Healing

November 29, 2011

The four of us huddled in sleeping bags on the floor in the master bedroom of our new house, even though it was late July. Our furniture would arrive in a few days. The moon hid behind the branches of an unidentified tree in the backyard. A low train whistle sliced the night. We wondered if it would always be mournful. If we would always hear the train bawl.

We’d left our home. A small house in Texas. You could run a circle in that house. Start in the kitchen, through the den, then the center bedroom, parlor, dining room and back to the den. You could see the Christmas tree from the center room in the parlor, maybe hear Santa laugh.

An old lady died next door. The new owner chopped down the old lady’s tree. She had once said, “When the tree goes, I go.” When we left, we said goodbye to all the houses in our neighborhood. One was circular, one had a pink cow painted on it, and one was the house of many colors. Each resembled an old lady with a different bun and unique apron.

How tender was that night–the four of us in our new house. Unsure. The empty house, echoing. We toasted marshmallows in the fireplace. Our furniture hadn’t arrived. Friends and family trailed a thousand miles behind. Gone was the walk to preschool, gone was the marriage tree—two trunks that grew out of one plot, gone, gone were the long syllables that swept like “ooooh” over our landscape, down from the Llano Estacado.

We were in forests now. Corn stalks walled in country roads, the plains were out of sight. Trains whistled. But, we slept in one room together. The surety of our bodies, side by side. Our warm breath mixed and folded into snores. Only in dreams, would we see again the sandbox, the fallen nest of sparrow eggs by the side of the house, or the neighbor’s boxer through the chain link fence. Small suffering.

The next day some boys from the church came to paint a room. Two brothers. One is married and in med school now. The other is a homeowner and lives alone. We may never see them again. Isabel Allende once said something like, “Life is about losing everyone and everything you ever loved.” For the most part that is true. Unless you die young. Unless you have never loved. Unless you are a Christian. There are fewer warm bodies in the room. In Camelot, Merlyn says to King Arthur, “You may lose your mother, your father, your only love, your dog. There is only one thing for all of it—learn.” For a long time, this statement bewildered me. But, I have learned something. Life is also about finding everything and everyone you have ever loved. For some of us. We lucky few. Coffee with cream, blankets, snow.

In that room, we four suffered a small death. However, that death made us more fully love what we had lost. That death bound us each to the other. That death, at least that one, made us more open to new lovers.

There is so much suffering in the world. When one loses everyone and everything one loves, one must find other things and people to love or one dies. The way to alleviate suffering is to love. Let the furniture arrive. Useful advice, I don’t always take it. Sometimes, I want to turn back the clock, find myself among the tumbleweeds just before they blow away.


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