Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past and Three Kings

When I was celebrating Christmas in Madrid many years ago, a friend (Patricia) asked me why Americans got so depressed and weird about Christmas.  Now, while spending my first complete holiday season in the US after years abroad, I have the answer.  Expectation.  It's in the crazed shopping and the pressure of obligation to get everything right from gifts to treats.  I feel overwhelmed.  The encroaching darkness, the chill to the air and too much sugar, alcohol, and salt don't help.
     Nothing can ever live up to the idealized media image of a holiday celebration.  When I was a child, my sister and I (having learned this in school) waited up for a Santa Claus who never arrived.  My Latvian parents weren't up on that tradition.  Christmas meant a tree, midnight mass, and a big meal.  Gifts we received from relatives were things like fruitcakes that were never quite right.  Gifts were a regular part of my life, just not at Christmas so I was never deprived in that sense.  My father always returned from his visits to Buffalo with books, chocolates (he preferred Swiss) and paper dolls.  My uncles spoiled us with bags of candy. 
     I'm over the hump and starting to relax.  I look out at the neighbor's cloth snowman swinging like a dead body from the porch next to the illuminated reindeer and smile.  My class of adult refugees is practicing "Jingle Bells" for our party.  Shopping is done and I can stop running around.  And, on Saturday I escape to Berkeley where I get to spend the rest of the holidays with my Jewish friends.



Here's a poem about King's Day- a fun holiday in Spain.  I am missing my past visits, the great friends and glorious meals.

Epiphany


The Three Kings are lost
in whirling snows.
Camels sink unsure
in lands
past sands and tropics.
My door has no shoes
Waiting for favors or coal.
My favourite, Balthazar,
for the name
and stately beard
shakes his head no.
Here in white
crusted snow,
ice fills each empty step.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The good life with bicycle

First of all, I don't drive.  I can hear the cries the disbelief- what? No way? It is by choice.  I took driver ed back when I was 17; I was never one of those who drove on their 16th birthday. I never kept it up or even got a license.
 There is a precedent to this behavior-neither my father or mother drove.  In his case, he did drive a tractor but I'm not sure that counts.  My parents came from Latvia to the US in  the '50's when public transport was widespread.  And I spent ages living abroad where a car isn't essential.
That brings me to my bicycle.  When I returned to the US, to Buffalo, NY, one of my first purchases was a bicycle.  For a city with an interminable winter, it's a challenge to see how long into the cold I can ride it.  I usually last until the first snowfall.  This year I may break my own personal record.  It's December 10th and my bike is still locked to a post (covered area) in the backyard waiting for the next ride.

My short story 'Midnight in Barcelona' is in Ride, collection of stories about bicycles!

Monday, December 5, 2011

How connected are you?

    How old are you?  Where do you live (I work with a woman who can only get dial up in her neighborhood)? With this information it's easy to determine how plugged in you are.  My number one electronic device is my laptop.  I panicked this morning when it struggled to start up and the screen went black.  What would I do without it?
    I work on it (job 2 with ETS testing), write daily, watch movies and an occasional TV show, listen to music, and manage my ever expanding virtual social life.  Without it, I'd be lost.  Far less so are the other devices in my life.  I've taken to leaving my phone (gasp!) at home when I go to job 1 (teaching) so I get a break from texts or voicemails.  That and the fact I have an MP3 say a lot about my age.  I only use the MP3 on long bike rides or when I'm travelling and can't get to sleep in a strange room.  I remember the endless loop of music in the hot Miami apartment of a friend's while sleeping on a blow up mattress that even through sheets made me sweat.  AC, like heat, is expensive.
     Then there's my kindle.  I haven't decided yet what role it will have.  So far, I'm revisiting old (free) classics like Moby Dick, Little Women, and for some reason, freebies in  Spanish.

The great divide is greater with the electronic world:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opinion/sunday/internet-access-and-the-new-divide.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss


Transit morning traffic,
truck stopped
cars workbound,
a child, coldproof in mittens,
waits with his father.
Inhale, at this moment,
in this tableau
no one escapes.

No cryonics,
no tucks or lifts,
nothing will free
you from what waits.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice

This is the slogan for the latest protests in Egypt that have become violent.  The battle is not yet won there and the military continue in power.  It seems like the same battle over and over again but at least there is a battle!  It's as if we have collectively woken up from a slumber of over a decade where no matter what corporations, banks, or politicians did, there was no way to object.  Beginning with the Arab spring and continuing all over the US, that has changed.
What does the future hold?  2012 doomsday predictions may go the way of the Y2K frenzy but there is an economic crisis and the future looks challenging for many of us.  Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots provides a beacon of hope that we can fight the terrible inequities and injustices that have created a tiny powerful wealthy ruling class and a diminishing middle class. 
Another movement that gives a glimmer of possibility is the local Farmers and Builders http://www.farmersandbuilders.net/   This group started with a Buffalo urban farm and is now expanding by buying empty lots in a blighted neighborhood with the idea of starting a farm and a community.  And if the future is bleak, that is the perfect start to another way of life that is respecting the earth and its inhabitants.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where does your writing take you?

     When I began nanowritmo (that write a novel in November free for all) I had a vague notion I'd be writing about Colombia.  Instead I find myself in the complexities of a father daughter relationship in a small American city.  What happened?  There is no real control over the writing process; it leads you.  You may nudge it but it has its own life full of surprises.
    Then I'm left with the question- when will I ever write about my year in Medellin?  There is a surfeit of material- the Latin boyfriend, the violence in the streets, and the extremes of wealth and poverty.  The list goes on.  This was my own "year of living dangerously" or stupidly as I could say, years later, looking back.  Why did I ever go to Medellin to teach English at the height of the drug lords' power?  It wasn't like I hadn't done some research so there are no excuses.
     I went to South America expecting Europe.  The first awakening came at the airport in an enormously long line of passengers transporting TV's and anything else that might fit onto a plane.  A guy next to me launched into how thieves cut fingers off to steal rings and how they could be identified by their bloody pockets where they'd stuck the fingers.
     Next the school, a binational center, picked me up from the airport in a bulletproof car.  That should have been a clue.
    In my year in Medellin I saw a motorcycle shooting (it supposedly cost $50 to have someone shot), the glass out of the lobby of my apartment building shot out, I had to get under a table in a restaurant because of shooting, and I watched tanks drive up the street where I worked. Excellent fodder for writing. 
     Yet there was an enormous beauty in the landscapes.  Driving down the mountain roads to the city, the city glittered in the night.  I had a fantastic set of friends- we cooked French meals, hiked, and read poetry together. 
      So much more to tell- the friend's brother who was addicted to crack (bazuko in those days) and stole everything in her house, and another friend's house with her deceased brother's room preserved as if he were still alive.  My dear friend Patricia with her gorgeous smile, Lai Yin from Malaysia and our meals together talking for hours. So against that backdrop of fear and violence, there was a great deal of love.
     One day perhaps I will tell those stories, but not yet.  Here is a poem from those days....





Santa Fe de Antioquia


The smell of decaying fruit hangs
in the hot sun,
A green as strong
I´d never seen
in years of temperate moderation.

Ceilings beyond reach
in a room very old,
matching the inhabitants
busily fashioning
caskets out of wood,
the family trade.

Neatly stacking them
just beyond the bedroom
where I sleep in coolness,
for babies, tiny and white,
for adults several wait.

This night double church bells
announce another lost.
Bats flutter, then
rest flat
           blotting out paradise in palm trees.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My personal nanowrimo

It's that time of year again.  Everyone's a writer or can be.  Who came up with the idea of nanowrimo?  How many people actually go through with it? http://www.nanowrimo.org/ The idea is to write a novel in a month and there are websites to sign up with and post your daily number totals.  Entire classrooms, even in high school, sign up for the task.
  For me, nanowrimo gives me external permission to get away from the endless editing and the business of trying to get published (sending work out is a huge undertaking in itself).  It gives me permission to do what a writer does, which is simply write!  I am often so involved in the other aspects of writing (editing, etc) that I forget what it is to be involved in a story to the point that it is the backdrop to my life. It's what I think of the moment I wake up; it's what (or what happens to the characters in the story) makes me cry or dance around my living room.  I wrote my first novel when I was 21 or so and this obsession so frightened me (I though I was going crazy) that I avoided writing for many years. 
So for nanowrimo I set no goals for myself.  I don't even bother to sign up anymore.  That would defeat the purpose.  I simply write as much as I can.
  The idea I started with this November is "What would make you take up arms?"  What's your starting point?  What would make you take up your pen?  Go with it and enjoy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Theater, a speech, and this human birth

I saw a student production of "Enron". While the acting was good, the play was lacking in drama.  Instead of a story unfolding a la Richard lll, the play was preachy and finally, despite music and dancing , somewhat dull.  To qualify for drama, the character of Jeffrey Skilling could have been revealed.  After all, there is a curiosity as to what makes a "villan".  Was it simple greed or some damaged part of his character?  Theater should provide more than just "information." Even entertainment would do.

   On a different note, Leonard Cohen won the Prince of Asturias (highly regarded Spanish) award in "letters".  His acceptance speech is among the most moving I have ever heard. 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLe0p0rZDr0&feature=share  He says  "You are an old man and you have not said thank you.. I have come here tonight to thank the soil and soul of this land that has given me so much".

My birthday is coming up and I am getting older.  I haven't thanked the earth for this life (the Buddhists would say for this human birth), for having had so many possibilitites, and for so much beauty and the possibility of more to come.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Through rain, through snow, occupy Buffalo!

What does your ideal world look like?  Mine looks like this one if I could just change a few essentials and add: universal health care, affordable housing, higher education at lower cost, public transportation, a safety net, and employment opportunities.  That was the Europe I lived in for 2 decades and now is threatened by the same forces that have decimated the US economy- speculation with pensions, a housing bubble, and extreme wealth inequity. 
   So I am grateful to those intrepid Buffalonians that can hold meetings and even sleep in a city square through freezing rain and wind.  I am grateful to see people of all ages including retirees, veterans, and college students fighting the good fight. 
    They can represent a majority that never vocalize their concerns, like the lost souls taking the city bus on their way to the endless appointments in the social services bureaucracy (at least in NY state there are social services).  They can represent my Burmese student who washes dishes in a suburban restaurant.  He finishes work at 10 but after 2 buses and a subway ride only gets home at 1 AM.  They can represent many of my part-time co-workers who have no health care or even myself, facing a very uncertain financial future. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bhutan, Buffalo- thoughts on marriage

This week I went to a Bhutanese wedding which was exotic and totally different from Western weddings.  "Say yes to the Dress" (TV show of women shopping for bridal gowns) pales next to the Bhutanese bride and groom in their golden bejeweled outfits.
http://www.buffalonews.com/city/communities/west-side/article582237.ece Blessings are given by the guests and flowers lightly tossed on the couple's heads. 
    In Bhutan, marriages are arranged.  In this case, the couple had met just once before the wedding when they discussed their future plans and what they were looking for.  The two came from similar backgrounds which goes a long way to creating compatibility. 
    What works?  In the US, attraction (falling in love) outweighs all other considerations.  In one of the French films I've seen recently, a woman talks about her potential partner and says, "We feel the same way about food."  That wouldn't even enter into the American equasion.
    I was never interested in marriage, something I attribute to watching my parents' marriage and growing up in the feminist era.  Did I miss something besides a big party?
Do public vows change the nature of a relationship (of which I've had one very long and a couple of shorter ones)?  Does getting married mean that you take on the very slow painful evolution of the archetype of marriage in a society in which gender roles are blurred and changing?
   Like most people I would like to fall in love.  These days I'm looking for an editor (just kidding).  By that I mean  a relationship of sharing each other's interests on a deep level.  That plus the other factors of attraction and compatibility.  And food?  ( it doesn't hurt).  I went out with a vegan for a few months and going out wasn't much fun.  Does marriage have to enter into this?  So far, it hasn't.
    And then, a poem:

Madrid Morning

An old world Madrid morning
turns the room sepia,
traffic screams
the dust of the plain
settles in my throat.
The room never lightens
past this shade,
ghosts inhabit all gaslit corners.

You turn over
each movement gains a response.
Around us now crashes
ago crumbles,

but steadily, calmly, you emerge
from the debris
to offer the tangible,
a taste, a touch.

I struggle to dream less,
pleasure is here, possible
your voice reminds.
My body agrees
I fight the voices of reason,
the ones of fancy
to drift above and escape in time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fiction, happy rejections, and a poem

Sometimes an e-mail will bring a pleasant surprise like the one I received earlier this week informing me my 2nd chapbook would be published.  More often than not, the e-mails are the standard rejections with the occasional but increasingly rare, personal note attached.  Yesterday I got an e-mail from Carve ( a literary magazine) announcing the winners in its fiction competition.  At some point I must have sent something to this publication or I wouldn't be on their mailing list.   http://www.carvezine.com/issue/2011/fall/fall2011.htm
   First prize went to Liesl Wilke's short story, "Stalled Symphony" which is set in the stalls of a women's restroom in a shopping mall.  It must have been the shock value or novelty of the theme that made it the winning entry though there was nothing the least bit novel about the story except its location.  And because it's a women's bathroom, there is nothing illicit or interesting happening like the footsie or outright sex you might find in a men's room.  Just bodily functions.  Can a writer get away with that?  What happened to the idea of conflict or resolution?  In this story there's a bulemic girl and an obese woman among others in the various stalls though nothing original happens to any of them.  Maybe if they'd gotten together it would have been more appealing.  Maybe the editors thought the theme would be enough to get a reader's attention so I guess in that, they succeeded.  Glancing through the runners up, I didn't find anything that stood out as great writing. 
   Whatever I may have sent to Carve, I'm glad it got rejected!




One of the Latvian ladies- I'm moving past the story...


Apolonia Painted 


We pointed out the flaws,
Look, a dog as big as a house
in the background,
no perspective here,
But Apolonia painted
and danced,
Her wig askew
after vodka shots,
Apolonia painted
and promised love.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Neptunian Dreamworld

Descent into the oceanic dreamworld.  A fuzzy space where I think I’m doing everything the way I do in my usual orderly slightly anal fashion only to discover that though I think I have, it’s not true.  Case in point- I was outside of the city for an interview last Wednesday armed with maps, papers, schedules, only to discover I had a Saturday bus schedule in a territory with blocks that stretched seemingly for miles and almost no way out.  Two days I’ve mixed up schedules for the TOEFL testing online that I do.  By luck I was checking my e-mail yesterday and discovered I was supposed to be working. Missed a meeting at my other job.  Sent a letter with no stamp.  I keep repeating the same poems on this blog.  How is this happening?  The list goes on.
   Fuzziness- a Neptunian transit to everything in my chart or menopause?  Hard to say.  I want to put a big post it over my desk- Pay attention!  Now! 
    The other side of fuzziness is a vague love of everything.  I’m enjoying my teaching immensely (for however long that lasts).  A roomful of students from 20-75 (the older ones I call the lifers) from about 14 different countries and I am happy with simplicity.  My idea is that calendars, weather, and goals can give them a hold on life. In that contained world it may be enough.  I used to teach university students so I am sometimes surprised this is enough.
I love the green of the park, the last of the summer sun touching my skin.  I love this life stripped of so much of the activity and excitement that once defined it.  So, for however long it lasts-  love this summer stretching into fall.

An old poem.  Am going through files. 


Sun and Moon Struggle


The sun and the moon struggle
on opposing sides of the sky
which tugs more
orange red dissolution
or the slow silver dance?

Full moon morrow,
my own wars
like the world's multiply.

No remorse,
I still search for a pen,
delight in floral innocence,
and in what brings the body
a smile.
                   

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Apples and gifts from the sky

Years ago when I was studying Spanish, the teacher asked us to describe our favorite fruit.It was one of those typical language exercises.  A German girl praised apples - their crispness, the satisfying texture and their taste .  It struck me as pedestrian to talk about such a common fruit.  I went on about the sticky sweetness of mangos which at the time were the ultimate in exotic. 
Years later I agree with her.  Apples caused the fall from Eden; in the 15th century William Tell shot one off the head of his son.  Cliches and sayings about apples abound.  I started to appreciate them in Spain where the tasty ones were grown for export but the ones in the shops were mealy and dry.  Golden delicious were ubiquitous and Granny Smiths were just starting to be imported.
   Now, an apple is a welcome gift from my refugee students,possibly my favorite since an apple embodies appreciation and utility all at once.  In Varysburg, I stand among the gnarled neglected apple trees on the edge of our farmland and remember a line from a poem - "all flavors of red."  The trees still produce small imperfect specimans in abundance.  This is in return for nothing that I provide (well, I could function as a vehicle for transporting seeds but I have ignored this orchard for decades).  In this world there are still gifts that fall from the sky.





THAT LIFE


                        I.
No strangers appear in that life
and we are the crazy Russians
on the hill,
enough to deliver us
from the rural town-
gas station, hotel, store in pairs.
Here in safety
golden fruit,
perfectly formed,
droops in bounty.
Blossoms brush my window,
daylight hypnotizes a hawk
hiding in the branches.
Apple trees provide
pink blush, green, all flavors of red.
And goldfish last
slumbering through long winters
in the pond,
where today
my uncle reflects sunlight,
imagining his cold gray sea.
 II.
The children of angels now,
my mother wears a dark blue suit,
instead of apron and headscarf.
We fly over the mountaintops of Crete
and lunch on city walkways
My father reappears as general
and still brings shivers.

III.      
There on the hill we tangoed
to the record player
after clearing fields of rocks.
                       


                                   

Friday, September 2, 2011

Inukshuks and finding my way home

On my last trip up to Canada on the northern highway which was cut through stone, there were little piles of stones perched on the rock set up on the sides of the road. After seeing many and wondering what they were, I asked my Canadian relatives.  "Inuk" means person and "suk" means substitute in Inuit languages and the rocks are piled on each other to create an abstract form of a person.  These forms have become a symbol of Canada and were used as the 2010 winter olympics logo.  Inuits used them as markers in areas that didn't have many natural landmarks. Markers could show the location of routes, sacred sites, and food caches but now everyone seems to want to leave one behind. 
  
 
    For more information from Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuksuk


My own idea of direction and what shows the way:
Finding My Way Home

The Hmong bury placenta,
close to home.
Danger rises in direct proportion
to their distance from it.

The Navajo began
the long march home
where each tree,
each stream tells the past.

The spot that fixes me
to the ground, floats.

Lost in the birches
and pines of the Baltic,
following the storks south,
to nest in the bell towers
of Castillian churches,
I´m finding my way home.
                                   
   

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chicken feathers, bats, and polar bears

      How close do we live to nature or the natural world?  For urban dwellers, unless we live with pets (or dare I say, children), not very.  Yesterday when I got a haircut I came home with a feather attached to my hair, a chicken feather, dyed in different shades of ginger (hairdresser's description). beige, and black, but a humanely obtained, chicken feather.  The feather makes me happy as if I had earned a feather in a traditional culture.  The earliest forms of adornment were objects such as these and these objects made us feel part of the world around. Years ago, in the middle of a rolfing session, I saw a flash of a polar bear along with my grandmother and I thought, this is my totem animal, if such a thing is possible.  So in honor of all life, and for the baby chicks that are coming to Cold Springs Urban Farm, I am wearing a feather proudly.

Here's a poem about a beautiful place in Colombia:
Santa Fe de Antioquia


The smell of decaying fruit hangs
in the hot sun,
A green as strong
I´d never seen
in years of temperate moderation.

Ceilings beyond reach
in a room very old,
matching the inhabitants
busily fashioning
caskets out of wood,
the family trade.

Neatly stacking them
just beyond the bedroom
where I sleep in coolness,
for babies, tiny and white,
for adults several wait.

This night double church bells
announce another loss.
Bats flutter, then
rest flat
            blotting out
            paradise in palm trees.



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beaches- Barcelona, Buffalo, and Beyond

Going to the beach in Barcelona often meant going to a nude beach with nothing titilating about it, just a glimpse into the variety of human shapes and forms.  This served as an important antidote to the airbrushed and anemic images that constitute bodies these days.  The beach was also a busy place with vendors hawking beer, coke, or water up and more importantly, if it was July or August, more people than you thought possible, squeezed onto the sticky sand.
Buffalo- in my previous life in the US, I went to the beach in Canada but now with border headaches and long bridge waits, I discovered local beaches.  Woodlawn is a park with a boardwalk leading through a forest to the beach, creating one of the weirdest beach scenes I've ever experienced- hawks circling.  I imagined following them to a path in the woods where I'd discover a body hidden under a tree. Could be the start of another story. 
Of course there is no nudity here- even little girls wear tops.  In Europe they get away with just bottoms, as do their mothers.  No vendors, no huge crowds - I can see cultural differences; African American families come dressed fashionably and everyone in a certain age range sports tatoos.  
A beach is still pleasure wherever it is.  Other beaches flash by- the South China Sea near Melaka with poisonous snakes and a monkey collecting coconuts, Cartagena with women balancing huge bowls of fruit on their heads, and Jones Beach with crowds, volleyball and the ocean.

I discover such interesting things here (Thanks Pat for this) http://paintingforpreservation.blogspot.com/2011/08/painting-for-preservation-in-parkside.html  Wonderful- painters, photographers and others paint, take pictures, and write about distressed buildings to bring attention to such architectural wonders.

And a poem, for nostalgia:
A Remedy of Touch


            Immediately after testing
            green bamboo for smoothness
            my hands burn,
            Quick, rub dirt on them,
            a passerby shouts.
            Jackfruit, with its flavor
            of mango and banana
            glues my fingers together
            in sweet stickiness.
            Run your fingers
            through your hair,
            urges the vendor.

But each night
            you hold my hand
            tightly across your chest.
            For this there is no remedy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I talk, therefore I am

I'm an independent person but this has been the longest period of time I've lived alone.  I was in a longterm relationship and before that, roommates and a couple of short lived romances.  Living alone doesn't mean loneliness- I felt that more acutely in my relationships but there is the factor of BEARING WITNESS (as I call it). 
You need someone to bear witness to your life or you might disappear from existance.  I can immediately tell when a friend calls and recounts all the minutiae of the day to me that she has no one to tell.  At work, a fellow teacher interrupted my class to tell me the long details of how her car mirror was clipped in a parking lot. 
My witness is the endless notebooks I fill with precisely this kind of information- incidents at the laundromat, how I felt slighted by a waitress, lists of what I need to do but may never get around to.  It's written down, it really happened, and thus I exist.
     I had the strange experience (on Facebook, of course) of a friend who died but her picture kept popping up even though I had (cruelly, perhaps?) unfriended her.  It was her birthday and wonderful memories were posted on her wall.  Facebook has a function its founders would never have imagined.


Suzanne

Secrets of green grass, backyards
and painted faces.
this California child remembered.
Then, Mediterranean blue,
Barcelona, a new love, captured.

In the streets of the Gothic,
on terraces high,
winding up caracol stairways,
You are present-
in the cool drink of cava,
the waves rolling in
from Badalona beach,
or the rocky view from Montsant.
Too short, this life
but  aprovechada.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mitochondrial DNA and Momma.

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110713/full/news.2011.413.html

This has been one of my favorite news stories- about mitochondrial DNA traced along the female lineage. Years ago I wrote a poem about it which was published in The Fossil Record.  Here it is:

Momma of an Ancient Time

    Mitochondrial DNA is only inherited through the mother.  we could trace ourselves back to one woman in Africa.


Momma of an ancient time,
fur-covered, huddled in darkness,
warmed me with her breath,
in the indiscernable shadows
of a cave,
her breast spoke comfort, calm
every syllable in silence.

The time when fathers had no word,
warmth, darkness, love prevaded,
Now they invent
frantically, furiously
-a rope and pulley pull us up.
We dangle experimentally.
Nodes attached, measure the care
they can't create.

And when she returns
in union with riverbeds
and mountain air,
blood clots
on node after node.

I want to thank Iara Lee, filmmaker and activist for posting the DNA story and reminding me about the poem. Check out her work on Facebook or here:
http://www.films.culturesofresistance.org/
She has been in some of the most incredible places in the world at eventful moments.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

North Country

How close do you live to nature?  I just returned from my relative's cottage up at Little Whitefish Lake up in Canada.  Thom Thompson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Thomson  painted very similar landscapes almost a centure ago, setting off with his paints in a canoe which is how he mysteriously died while on a canoing trip.
In these northern landscapes, birch trees abound in their white and black zebra like presence.  Rocks stick out of the hills that descend to the lakes reminisent of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  But here the light is northern, giving the color of wildflowers a special intensity. 
Canadian wildlife is fearless.  Chipmunks shared the cottage, stealing chocolate off the table (truffles, no less) and a deer stood and watched us just as we watched him- a young buck with budding antlers.  A loon made sounds like mourning cries and then it sounded like wood clacking as it took off to fly away.  And the beavers- 5 acres of land under water because of their meticulously constructed dams and lodges.
The visit finished with a trip to a Toronto baking in 97 degrees.  Travel often makes you see your home in a different light.  As I pushed along with the rush hour crowds on the subway I realized- I never have to do that.  I walk to work!
My friend Pat is working on a fundraiser project of haikus.  Check out her link:
http://boxofhaiku.blogspot.com/

And for fun:

Step into deep mud,
beaver dam silt and branches-
unplug, let life flow.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Art and Place




This Saturday I attended an Art Fair in Buffalo.  The organizers have hopes to put Buffalo art on the map right along with Basel and Miami.  It took place in the city's old train station, a magnificent building of 15 stories, in a state of decay in a difficult neighborhood.  Walking through the exhibits, especially those of the photographers I noticed a common theme- pictures of Buffalo's past architectural wonders which are now in various stages of ruin.  I myself have many photos of the grain elevators lining the lake and I recognized a shot of the old Bethlehem steel plant. 
Which leads me to the question- how much does the place you live affect your art?  If I used the art fair as an indicator, I'd say quite a bit.  My own poetry has taken on shades of anger at the economic decline around me and a tinge of despair.  If I were in the bright sun of the Mediterranean, I suspect my themes would be different but perhaps the industrial decline suits my temperament.  When I close my eyes, I can still see the icy edged sidewalks of winter and we're almost in the middle of a hot July.  I remember the line of an old poem I wrote about a town in Mexico I'd visited - "with no future, but a fruitful past."  Of course, there is a future here but will it ever compare to the early 1900's? 
   Tomorrow I have the priviledge to participate in a poetry reading with John Roche.  Please check out his new book- "Road Ghosts".
  http://www.spdbooks.org/Producte/9780964734296/road-ghosts.aspx

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Unexamined Life

I'm about to plunge into the unexamined world of memoir writing with a workshop I'm taking.  What I do know is that what you don't say is as important as what you say.  I recently read Patti Smith's "Just Kids" which like its title implies, reflects innocence despite the struggles of poverty in NY and Robert's hustling.  What it doesn't tell is what is it like loving someone who is gay and how it could feel to be one of the only two people at the Chelsea Hotel who went off to work every day.
  What are the themes of your life story?  What will you carefully omit? 

   Here's a poem from my chapbook which is from the long lost days of my life in the country with its Latvian twist.


                                  THAT LIFE

                        I.
No strangers appear in that life
and we are the crazy Russians
on the hill,
enough to deliver us
from the rural town-
gas station, hotel, store in pairs.
Here in safety
golden fruit,
perfectly formed,
droops in bounty.
Blossoms brush my window,
daylight hypnotizes a hawk
hiding in the branches.
Apple trees provide
pink blush, green, all flavors of red.
And goldfish last
slumbering through long winters
in the pond,
where today
my uncle reflects sunlight,
imagining his cold gray sea.
 II.
The children of angels now,
my mother wears a dark blue suit,
instead of apron and headscarf.
We fly over the mountaintops of Crete
and lunch on city walkways
My father reappears as general
and still brings shivers.

III.      
There on the hill we tangoed
to the record player
after clearing fields of rocks.
                       


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Other Side of the Coin

Last week I promised I would write about what's positive in the US so here goes:

1. Language- English wasn't my first language- I spoke Latvian at home until I started school but it is my love.  I revel in the accents and eavesdropping on what people actually say to each other.  I studied other languages: French, Spanish, Catalan,a brief stint with Russian and even briefer, Chinese, but as a writer, I need doses of English.   Living in Barcelona I discovered every utterance was a political statement.  Did I risk speaking in Spanish and potentially offending a Catalan or use my far more limited Catalan and risk sounding foolish?  Often I didn't speak. The message was the language used, not communication. 

2.Nature.   There is an abundance of wildlife encroaching on suburban (and urban) America- wolves, coyotes, bears, and alligators.  In my city I see white tailed rabbits in the yard,hear woodpeckers in the morning, and see deer when I ride my bike in the cemetery.  In all the years of hiking in different areas of Spain, I saw only an occasional snake,a fox once, 2 wild boars, and of course, the lizards that plagued my dreams.  A Chinese student said alligators would be no problem in people's backyards in China- they would simply be eaten. 

3.  The Bill of Rights though I would immediately eliminate the second amendment.  And I'd stop the Supreme Court from decimating Miranda Rights and everything else.

4.  A sense of community.  I have attended more fundraisers than I can count that range from supporting a victim of cancer to compensating for the state's budget cuts in the arts.  Community struggles to compensate for the lack of a safety net or public funding.
Living as an expat you have the freedom to observe without participating in the decisions that influence your world.  Here I have taken some responsibility- I vote in every election however, small and local. 

I have thought the happiest person is one who has never left their place of birth.  There is nothing to judge it by or compare it to.  Thus, it is perfect.  If you've lived in different places, nothing quite lives up to your expectations.  Here's a poem from my chapbook.  And yes, I'm still looking for that elusive place.




                                                Finding My Way Home
The Hmong bury placenta,
close to home.
Danger rises in direct proportion
to their distance from it.

The Navajo began
the long march back
where each tree,
each stream tells the past.

There is no landmark,
to mark America as mine.

The spot that fixes me
to the ground, floats.

Lost in the birches
and pines of the Baltic,
following the storks south,
to nest in the bell towers
of Castillian churches,
I´m finding my way home.