You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Poetry’ category.

wave

The finality and sheer volume of the moving water column underlies all of the dreams: a sense of suffocating inevitability smeared with an animal fear. But the circumstances are varied, concocted by an invasive fancy of a fixated mind.

We may be building sand castles. The whoosh-whish of the coastal wind shimmies the pebbles, dry reeds slither down the dunes and the sun bakes at high noon. Our naked backs are turned towards the water and then the seagull soundtrack stops, the shadow of the wall climbs gingerly over our toasted shoulders…we see it mount the ramparts of the castle. Before we have a chance to turn we feel it crushing down on the chaise-longues, plastic neon-green buckets, sunscreen lotions and bathers, and us of course. I gasp for air and jolt up in bed, coarse grains of sand in my mouth, tasting still the saltiness…

Or: I am in Estonia on the Gulf of Finland with my grandparents. Happy feelings as I clamber, hand over foot, carefully up the gnarled pine. Sticky sap leaves black stains on palm and knee, a soft breeze murmurs sweet nothings and bits of hair tickle the nape. Finally up high enough, I turn to look out to the sea and…the sea is standing. I utter a chocked “Ah!” and then the wall collapses over me, my grandparents, the stand-in chaise-lonuges and beach umbrellas. We all a-jumble are rushing with the water down a tremendous slope, and when we hit the bottom…

Or: I am in the city and it’s Independence Day, the movie. I am in the movie and the water comes as seen from a chopping helicopter. Velcroed to the road I tear a leg off and make an awkward, wide step away, then another. Then the water comes and I wake in a cold sweat, wrestling the tangled sheets and half-hanging off the bed, suspended by an unnatural balancing scheme.

These dreams started coming as I was coming of age: 14, 15, 16. I don’t remember that they started, only that it felt like I’ve had them for a long time. Before, I loved the ocean, frolicked fearlessly in the waves but now even the thoughts nauseated me.  Why? It was a mystery.

The pieces begin to fit together after Papa recalled, quite accidentally, an incident we had when I was maybe ten. We were on a beach in Massachusetts, Papa and I holding hands and diving into the waves while the rest of the family basked. An especially strong wave wrenched my hand from Papa and I tumbled dryer-style with the breaking wave, lost to him as he frantically searched the waters. Sure, within a minute I got footing and stood up and the swimming continued, but dad was shaken. For years he had recurring memories of that event, blaming himself for not holding tighter, for putting me in danger. I forgot the incident completely until he brought it up in my twenties.

Memory believe before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Kinship, genetics, unconsciously mumbled words – what is it that passes our fears to our children? The pieces are coming together and falling apart, oscillations of a pendulum, an optical illusion going in and out of focus. Dreams bring up the forgotten, the buried. But even – that buried by our parents.

In conversation with my ten-year old daughter we stumble upon night-time dreams. She shares that her scariest ones have to do with water. She dreams of tsunamis hundreds of feet high, crashing upon civilization. That interminable liquid wall, crushing her and everything around her. An excellent swimmer, always at ease in the pool, the lake, the river, the ocean, where did she learn to fear the wave? How did she know it was scary? Who told  her…?

(Painting by Liza Ezhevskaya)

(Painting by Liza Head)

A one, a two, a one, two, three…

The day begins, unfolding in a geometric progression of regular plans, emails to write, things to do on a flat screen of the computer, everything is two-dimensional.

These are the days when I feel strongly the frailty of other people. That elderly gentleman walking up to the store in slacks and an off-white, starched dress shirt when it’s 98 degrees outside. He is honoring tradition, a sense of decorum, hearkening back to a time and place where you dressed up to go out, even to the nearest mercado. It hurts to see the shirt hang straight down off his spare shoulders.

Every one of us carries a certain burden, a certain doubt. Standing at a light with the windows down, the chain-smoker in the next car over hollers, “Cheer up, kid, it can’t be that bad!” Thanks, lady. I wish you wouldn’t kill yourself slowly with those cigarettes. But really, I appreciate the sentiment.

Then at the next light – “Hungry, every bit helps”. C’om on, guy, why won’t you get a job? He can’t get a job, he has no permanent address, no clean pants to wear for the interview, no toothpaste, no quiet evening at home to get his paperwork together. He is living the permanent vacation. Doesn’t even know what he wants, but every bit helps. I pull out a sock stuffed with soap, deodarent, hygiene items and the other sock, and flag the homeless man. “Thanks,” he says, “I’m wearing a pair of those right now.” And he sure is. “I’m sorry we’ve collectively failed you” I murmer and thank God for the green light.

Some of us – brave and powerful, some – meek and barely looking up. Slinking through life on our bellies, it’s like for a very brief moment I am given insight to all of the hurting.

At the gas station, I pay and cannot help notice her hands: just regular hands but ones that someone has loved, someone has kissed tenderly. These hands that wring out clothes before drying them, that peel potatoes and soak to the elbow in dishwashing detergent. Many years ago, they might have been the tiny baby fingers that a mother gently caressed, or maybe they had perpetual fingernail dirt and no love at all.

People are strange, when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly, when you’re alone. I want to pull in and hide inside my shell, but it is transparent and there is no place to shield yourself from all of the faces, the hands, the carefully tucked-in shirts, the buffed shoes, the frailty, the vulnerability. This is what Jim might have felt. They are so painfully familiar, and yet, you feel strange.

And when you’re strange, faces come out of the rain. No one remembers your name…

Trees

This man knows things. Let’s call him Alexander. Sometimes we work together, and when we do, I can safely bet that I will not get everything done on my agenda, because instead of doing the things, I will be listening to the man. And he will be telling me stories.

Once Alexander spent over an hour recounting the long and vibrant history of the shrimp trade, with tangential excursions into the seventeen species and twelve genus of this crustacean, the currents in the Sea of Japan, and shipbuilding in the late 1700’s in Portugal. Another time, he dedicated the better part of the work day talking about bee-keeping and hair styles. One of the most memorable talks was a thorough critical analysis of Bruegel’s The Battle Between Carnival and Lent. But today Alexander is telling me about something of a more personal nature: he recounts his memories of climbing trees as a child.

I imagine little Sasha clambering up and down the large and luxurious branches of trees that, in our context, would be the venerable live oaks. He’d spend his days up in the canopy, jumping from limb to limb, planning ambushes with his friends, swinging on branches, scratching skin off protruding knees, ankles and elbows. He tells me that through this exercise, he first learned to appreciate three-dimensionality. He came to be able to visualize the spaces between the branches, the entire layout of the tree, in his mind’s eye. Later, when he was a teenager and climbing trees was no longer appropriate, he dreamt about it. And at night, in his dreams, he was not holding on to the branches anymore, but flying among them, up and over and between them.

“Through my dreams, I came to know the meaning of negative space: the spaces between things, and how to navigate them.” he tells me. Dreams are personal territory, and I listen quietly, appreciative of a rare glimpse into this person’s inner life.

I imagine these negative spaces – they look like 3D images of polypeptides, captured by invisible boundaries.

“There is another instance of negative space,” I start to tell him, “that I encountered recently.” Several days prior, I accidentally came across Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes: what ethereal compositions, especially when performed thoughtfully. One rendition was played at such a slow tempo, that the pauses between the sounds took on a life of their own. The shape and feel of each silence was different, unique, deliberate. By the end of the gnossienne, it was clear that the pianist was sharing things too personal for words. And perhaps Erik Satie himself wanted us to read between the lines.

Spurred on by my own contemplation, I want to tell Alexander more about my understanding of negative space. I glance up him, and though he is nodding, as if listening, his eyes have that glazed look of recollection. He is back there, flying through the trees. So I fall silent, thinking my own thoughts, comfortable with the shape of the quiet between us.

Image

Photograph by Liza Evans

When you work at night, sleeping schedules shift, lines between dream and wakefulness blur into one hazy continuum. After, you never quite know what happened, whether it really did or not.

Some time ago I was working with Russian EVA specialists who were visiting at the Mission Control Center to support a space walk. We’d sit for many hours in that gray, windowless building, straining painfully to understand conversations coming through the static of outer space. Mostly this happened at night, though in that building, you could never tell.

It was on one such night that I decided to stretch my limbs and go for a stroll. I made my way out of the logically elusive structure and into the damp, warm night air of a Houston summer. The earth’s guttural breath caressed me out of the harsh, rough sensations of the building, and lured me towards the green space in the middle of the space center complex.

There, a thick mist was lazing out of the lake, expanding in all directions, reaching out to me. I walked slowly towards the green, half-asleep, relishing the living sounds and sensations of the outdoors. Suddenly, a deer appeared out of the mist, head first. I could see his elaborate antlers and the hooves, submerged in grass. He glanced at me briefly, then turned his attention back to the reflective glass windows of the building he was standing next to.

I was awed by his pensive, slow gaze as he contemplated what I thought was his own reflection in the glass. For a while, we stood still. I – breathing in the moist magic of night, he – thinking his own existential thoughts while peering into the window. Eventually I yawned and he slowly backed into the mist, disappearing from view.

Intrigued, I walked towards the building and noticed, to my great surprise, a stuffed deer head, standing on the inside windowsill, clearly visible through the glass. I marveled at the intelligence of my deer, who had been looking not at his own reflection, but at the head of his fellow ungulate, immortalized and graceful, contemplating life and death, and the fate that awaits us all. “Imagine that…” I mumbled to myself, and turned back towards the mission control center and the stifling cold.

A while later we were walking with a couple of friends in that same part of the center. It was a bright, cheerful day, and I recalled to them my strange encounter with the deer. I timed the story just so, hoping to get to the punch line at the exact moment we would pass the window with the stuffed head. It would have been perfect, except the deer head was no longer there.

Several times I walked the entire length of the glass wall, looking for it, but it was not to be found. In fact, I could not even find the windowsill where it might have been placed…

Mother

Inauguration into their ranks
Came in the shape of a good face-to-face
with the toilet.
Ninety days in a row.

Mother, mother, mother.
Like you, there is no other.
You are the bread winners
And bread bakers.
The diaper changers
And soccer-practice takers.
You are the lunch-bag senders,
The love never-enders,
Behind-the-scenes directors,
Always welcome-and-never rejectors.
Most faithful wife and mother –
Like you there is no other.

After a dehumanizing visit to the OBGYN
The doctor wiped her hands
And heading for the door, as if in afterthought, said:
“Well, looks like you’re having a baby!
…Any questions?”
Well yeah….I did have *a couple*…

Mother, mother, mother
I don’t know why you even bother.
You were the fire-keepers
And story-tellers.
Today, you’re professors, doctors,
Real-estate sellers.
But you remain the sacrificers
And dream trappers,
Devoted bandage wrappers,
Hidden talent tappers,
The peaceful fighters,
Profound emotion divers,
The all-odds overcomers,
The survivors, the survivors.
Among your ranks I stand, so unprepared.
Wondering, like any other,
If one day I may also earn the title:
Mother.

Wiping the last sweat off my brow
After the birth, I’m feeling older
Bolder
I glance up lovingly into the eyes
Of my committed spouse – hand holder
And whisper, “Honey, if ‘ere again you feel that yearn
Remember, dearest, next time – it’s your turn!”

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 247 other followers

%d bloggers like this: