Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A poem since what is there to say?

We always need a disclaimer for life- I'm not anti-immigrant (I am the result of my parents' escaping WWll and meeting in America).  I'm not anti-Moslem. I've been working for years with Moslems.  So here is my Isis poem.




Soft,
not teddy bears, baby blankets,
Targets, move in scope's eye,
Heart pounds,
hide under table,
across your lover.
Shrouded wives,
widows stoned,
Christians burned.
The not you, the other,
Shot.

Monday, October 19, 2015

These Days

     I'm sitting by the small manmade lake in the next town over.  Shadows of leaves reflect on the water and an egret lifts one leg, steps carefully in the water.  What's wrong with this scene?
     The jarring blast of a leaf blower reverberates across the neighborhood.  This is the most American of all devices.  It's loud, it burns fuel, and it doesn't really solve the leaf problem.  It just blows the leaves off the property onto the street to be dealt with by someone else. 
     What happened to rakes?  I remember combing  grass and piling leaves high enough to jump into.  They were never as soft as you could imagine but there was a warm earthy fragrance I can still catch in the ancient part of my brain.  My apologies to my friends in the north who have had their first dusting of snow.  I'm still in fall here in this most alien of lands- the deep south. 


Here's my poem- the title has no connection to the song:


     These Days          


These days I reject
that summer could end,
that frost covers window panes,
that you could die.


I head to school each day
fill minds with words
take a train
back and forth
while bigger battles are fought.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The New World of Work






Recently my first novel was published and that has been a wonderful event!  I’ve been on an intense learning curve ever since.

The writer’s world no longer resembles what one imagined- the writer sitting at the computer and churning out page after page of prose.  That may be the most pleasurable part.  Then what  happens is editing.  Of course, every writer knows editing and rewriting are essential parts of the process.  Now to add to that, there is copywriting and proofreading.  Years ago when I lived in New York I was a proofreader and though it wasn’t the most exciting job, it was necessary.  These days the writer must submit a ready perfect text. Apparently, proofreading is a profession like so many others that has fallen by the wayside.

There are too many to count.  Do you remember when travel agents found the best deals for you and you didn’t spend hours on every internet site comparing flight prices and trying to figure out the best day to book a trip?  When you didn’t have to check out your own groceries?  When someone pumped gas and cleaned windshields? 

After my novel came out, there was something new that has entered my life.  Marketing.  I almost need an MBA to figure out how to keep my novel from totally disappearing.  Even large publishing houses can leave a big part of that up to the writer.  At a book fair I was next to a writer whose publisher paid for only half of his book tour.  Will that leave only the independently wealthy or the extremely lucky able to write?  I don’t have large expectations for my novel.  I only hope that readers may enjoy it and perhaps find something in it that has some relevance to their lives. 

 

Here’s a link to a flash fiction piece that just came out:

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Unexpected Change for the Better


Sometimes there is a pleasant surprise in a world that is increasingly complex.  I never expected the Berlin Wall to come down in 1989 nor did I ever imagine that Latvia, my parents’ homeland, would ever be independent again.  Or that Nelson Mandela would be president of South Africa.  Finding this article in The Guardian was also a pleasant surprise.

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/sep/19/medellin-colombia-city-not-dangerous-but-lively

 

The year I spent in Medellin in the mid 1980’s could not have been more different.  Here’s a poem I wrote about that time.

 

The Escobar Years

Cross Medellin square. Man in paddy wagon shouts. Out next morning, amigo, no problem I say. I make necklaces of seeds. and stumble home from caf├ęs where beggars play guitars and men with open sores crawl the sidewalk, a procession straight from God. Slices of green mango served with shots of aguardiente, my only food. Gunshots at night, hide under table. Thick with age, these are my war stories.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How did you come to write "The Shadow of Silver Birch"?

     My novel is coming out in print and I couldn't be happier.  Yesterday, I was asked where the story came from.  These days with the popularity of memoir and the general belief that all writing is autobiographical in some way, it's not a surprising question.  I like to refer to an interview that Carlos Ruiz Zafon gave in El Pais when he said there were two types of writers- those who lived what they wrote about and those who imagined it.  I'd say the answer lies between the two ideas. 
      Years ago in Barcelona I met a Spanish nun whose mother was from Latvia.  How did her mother end up in Spain?  How was that possible?  I knew no Latvians that could travel in the days of the USSR and after the Second World War it seemed even less probable.  She had some letters from her mother that she had never been able to read since they were in Latvian.  I set about translating  them and my curiosity was piqued. 
    Her mother met a soldier from the Division Azul.  I began reading about the division established by Franco and found more questions than answers.  On one website, children of soldiers began to ask me questions though my knowledge was as limited as theirs.  One interesting fact stood out and that was some soldiers were sent to Russia to fight to avoid prison for their part in the Civil War.  Thus, my soldier, Juan, in the novel, was given a direction, an idealism, and a purpose.
      Though the figure of a nun became a minor character in the novel, I will always be grateful to Eva Ledero for sharing her story and providing inspiration for a large part of my novel.
      The aspect of what one has lived was the experience of growing up as a child of immigrants who never quite fit in- the outsider always looking in the window of a room she can't enter with ease.  It was that very lack of ease (in Spanish the word would be inquietude) which would bring me to writing. 
     So on this eve of the book launch I am grateful for this opportunity to share my work. I hope it can bring some enjoyment and food for thought.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Reunions and mysteries

      Recently I met up with friends from school that I hadn't seen in decades. They are still beautiful, still full of life and stories.  At one point we were talking about how we exchanged high school rings.  My friend repeated my name and I realized how long it's been since someone knew my middle name or could pronounce the "ei" vowels of my last name correctly. 
     I wondered what I may have missed in all this time.  A sense of connection to the person I once was and still am?  A connection to friends who populated my life in my early years? A new nostalgia returns though my teenage years were not my happiest.  I plodded through the illness of my mother, the isolation of a small rural town and emerged safe despite forays into dangerous and not so dangerous places. 


Here's a piece that's in it's earliest form:




The eternal Ibizza like party
of my forebearers
immigrants lost all,


AM bodies fallen
from reveries


A grubby child
 sent to church
to be an angel on
the life raft of God


Who's been saved?
I peek from under
folded arms,
only my hand unraised,
my arm slack. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Gladiolas in the summer

     In the novel, "Purge" by Sofi Oksanen, one of the characters calls gladiolas the Russian flower.  Since the character is Estonian, that is a disparaging comment on the poor gladiola.  Curious that my father, who was Latvian, planted a circular flower bed with pink  gladiolas every year.  These were the only flowers he ever paid attention to and he watered and weeded the bed with great care. He had grown up in Siberia so there may be some truth to the Russian quality of the flower.
     I never liked them- they either stood straight or flopped over from their own top heavy weight.  Then there was the problem that the parts of the flower never bloomed in unison so part of the flower had dead blooms while another part was fully open. 
     There was something funereal about them.  They were the predominant flower sticking out in almost every flower arrangement around the casket at every funeral I went to.  Typically they were red and imposing, vaguely reminiscent of blood.
     Years later a friend I visited in Lucca, Italy, had a huge vase full of glads dramatically presiding over the entire flat.  They were beautiful and I was impressed.  Back in Barcelona, I tried growing them on my terrace, but the heat always caused them to come up scraggly if they did come up at all.  Here in Atlanta, the glads coming up in the vegetable garden are small and cute.  So here, where it is summer, I can indulge in flower reminiscences. 












And the poem for my father that appears in my second chapbook:


Father’s Day


 


Green spring erupts,


the kittens,


wild, frantic,


tumble


over each other


racing in the barn.


His touch tames.


He presents them


like the  peas he shells and


lines up.


 


The lull never lasts,


wind whips through cracks of


closed windows.


He’s the one I search for


in shapely dark madness.



Friday, April 17, 2015

Mala beads, rosaries, and Anne Bradstreet


Mala bead and rosaries

 

            I was recently given a gift of mala beads- 108 lightly scented sandalwood beads in a silk pouch.  In the center is a larger bead, called the guru bead, which serves as the starting and ending point for mantra recitation.  There are a surprising number of rules involved in using the beads.  The index finger isn’t used and when you reach the center bead (guru bead) you’re not supposed to cross it, but you flip the beads and start again.  There are 108 repetitions of a mantra because 8 are dedicated to god.

            In the Vedic tradition mantra recitations bring magical outcomes like good health, prosperity, and removal of difficult karma.

            But how different are mala beads from the rosaries that filled drawers in my childhood home?  I never got beyond trying them out as necklaces.  Of course, the crucifix at the end, made that impossible.  I never knew what prayers constituted “saying” a rosary. Having grown up with rosaries makes the mala beads far less exotic than they might be to someone from a different tradition.  Since saying the rosary didn’t bring my mother any miraculous benefits (at least, not that I was aware of), I’m skeptical about the great promises the Vedic practitioners claim.  That shouldn’t stop me from using the mala beads as a meditation tool though I’m not sure I have the discipline I need. 

 


I’ve been taking a free online course called 10 Pre-modern poets.  It’s been great fun.  I’ve also found it interesting how so many of the poems can be so relevant to life today not to mention how each reader  brings a personal story and background to each interpretation. 

 

What writer hasn’t felt like this at some point?  She was 38 when this poem was published.

 

The Author To Her Book    1650

BY anne bradstreet

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Roses, lions and meaning.

     Asking one of those typical ESL questions designed to generate conversation, I was taken aback by the answers.  The question was- What do you think is the perfect age to be? Silly, I know.  As this was a group of 20 year olds, I expected the answers to be close to their own ages. After all, that's what the media bombards us with- the images of youth and beauty.
     One young woman said, 8.  Ok, I thought- that's the age of reason.  Another student said 12.  Before the heartaches of adolescence perhaps?  The most surprising answer was a young woman who said 3.
     Hadn't they heard of Alice Miller?  Were their childhoods so idyllic they clung to a world of little or no responsibility?  Or was it a fear of what the future will hold?  I suspect it's mostly the latter.  They are living in a world fraught with so many dilemmas that may or not be solvable.  We aim for an idealistic view of the future but what surrounds their tech saturated world is nihilism.  Meaning comes in small devices that are always at hand or in memories of a carefree time.


     My fight for meaning lies in poetry.  Here's a poem I'm working on.


                         The Rose Darkens


The rose darkens,
softened by time,
blood red petals
slide off,
lie on the white table.


The lines unfurl,
in snarled words,
an ancient breath
of sound
in my ears.


I long for the simple,
the tall grasses
where zebras melt
in motion,
A lion poised,
ready to leap.







Saturday, March 7, 2015

Women's Day!

                Happy International Women's Day!  Years ago when I was teaching at the University of Barcelona I remember wearing purple in honor of this day.  Do women still do that? In Latvia it's a day for honoring the women in your life with flowers.  It's a national holiday in China and many other countries, but sadly here in the US, I have never seen much evidence of celebration on a wide scale.  In fact, when I google the day, Forbes has a list of articles in honor of women which  include "business wear for women." 


Gender equality?  Still a long way off, I'm afraid.  And the biases are ever present.  http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/12/09/gender_bias_in_student_evaluations_professors_of_online_courses_who_present.html


This article has the title of-"Best Way for Professors to get Good Student Evaluations?  Be male". So there we have it.  Still a long way to go. 


Here's a poem I often open my readings with since there is usually some tragic event involving women around the time of the readings.




Birthright


Past knots and tendons,


 


I look


 


to bone


 


and see,


 


 centuries past.


 


My face shrivels


 


as flames rise higher.


 


The point of a sword


 


slashes my belly.


 


Today, head to toe in black,


 


I barely breathe,


 


walk the requisite


 


steps behind.


 


The open hand


 


of my husband


 


reddens my cheek.


 


In  India and China


 


girls form


 


the Greek chorus,


 


and chant,


 


never born,


 


never born.





Saturday, February 14, 2015

This Dear Life


 This dear life....

            When was the last time you heard a “sir” or a “m’am”?  If you haven’t, you aren’t living in the south.  One of the most surprising aspects of my life in the South is the degree of politeness I encounter, even among college students who aren’t known for possessing that quality.  In my present job in a private college, I can’t count the number of times people have held an elevator door open for me or personally shown me to a room I can’t find.  All my NY City and Barcelona training begins to melt away.  There I was the one who always found a seat on a crowded subway.  I was the one who laughed at an American roommate in Barcelona who told me she couldn’t get off a crowded bus.  So here I am, in a sea of politeness, not quite sure what its significance is beyond making day to day reality just a tad more pleasant.

            Of course, not all is flowers and light.  I’m in a right to work state where highways rule and along with the Bhutanese refugees, we’re the only ones who walk anywhere besides to take out a dog.  Little by little, I will try to adapt and find a way through it all to an understanding and acceptance of the idiosyncrasies of life.  And no matter how far I go, I still find the people who are suffering.  Instead of the refugees I worked with in Buffalo, here I teach a young woman whose dreams and life were shattered when her husband fell into a coma and she has to take care of him.  It makes me wonder if I would be capable of the same.   So, like before, my heart is shattered at what life can bring.

 

            So here’s a poem from my second chapbook, written after acupuncture treatments I had for an injured knee.

 

Kun

 

Between the first and second

crease of the finger

is the measurement of me,

to impose

On gristle, fat, and bone

to find where the Chi,

of the Chinese flows.

 

The circles on a tree trunk

mark the years of want,

the distance between yellow and black

of a bumblebee

predicts  the hard winter’s arrival.

 

Measure to measure,

life to life

needle to pain,

past to passion.

This space

ties me to all things

alive and beating.

 

 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Show, Don't Tell

February 1st and I am in a new land, a new life.  No more winter storms (can I admit I miss them a bit), just a forest of pine surrounding.
I was reminded by FB that I haven't posted on my page.  Like a nagging parent, I am controlled by the media around me or is it that I just succumb to easily?  I was doing research on Pinterest for a story I was writing.  Next thing I knew, I had several people following me.  What was I to do?  Post some pictures of course.  One more distraction, this one visual!
     So to obey the media that is cracking down, here' s a poem I reworked.  We are in Mercury retrograde so I can re-do, re-work, and re-write. 




A Mother’s Tale


 


                        Show, don’t tell,
repeat the writer’s mantra.
Tell color, taste, smell the details
like the name of the ship,
General SD Surges,
leaving Bremen Germany


 in deep fog


heading to


                       America, 1949.


No smashed champage send off,


                       no rolls of crepe.



Grey sky, grey sea


melt  into one space.
Salt caked on lips, in hair,


                        the sweet scent of milk,
leaking from your breasts


                        for one lost and one left behind.





Saturday, January 3, 2015

Betwixt, Between

      There's an interspace that exists between one experience and another, or one place and another.  You're between two spheres of reality.  I left Spain and am back in Atlanta, but not quite yet.  Decades ago the trip across the Atlantic was long enough so that adjustment to time and space took place over a week or so.  Now you wake up in one country and go to sleep in another.
      Hence, I'm reading a day old Vanguardia newspaper with my head still buzzing with the noise of an airplane engine.  In the days when I lived in Spain and made the trip in reverse, the intensity of the change and the jetlag was even worse.  That's when I discovered the novels of William Gibson (I have to read his latest).  What I was experiencing- a help conscious, half exhausted place was reflected perfectly in the virtual darkness of his novels. 
      In just a short time, my trip will be a memory, fading fast, so for these last hours I can cling to the languages, flashes of places and people I saw.  In the same way we are leaving behind another year that we can't cling to but can  remember with joy. 


Here's a poem from my first chapbook:




 


What I´ve Lost  


                          Leaving Europe                  


 


Paths lead


from town to


medieval town,


cathedral bones


stick out,


bells toll centuries.


The solemnity


of a saint´s day


procession,


We crowd to touch


the body of christ


while drums


pound out


God´s arrival. 


 


Ocean jet buzz


brings me across


to America,


empire of things,


following the white


highway line


into deep deep sleep.