Friday, May 26, 2006

Leaving soon...

I leave in a day and a half for Panama with the VIDA group. I look forward to these trips the way I always used to look forward to going to North Carolina -- and for the same reason: I always have felt that my life - my real life - was there. I felt like my real self there. Being at the beach, feeling the sand beneath my feet: cool and hard by the water's edge, hot and falling on the shore, grainy on the wooden stairs, ticklish in my sheets. And the shower...outside...shielded by glistening soft dark wood walls, but not cocooned. Air and sand at my feet. Open sky above my head. Diving into the ocean at night, its dark, frightening waves making love to me before bed...the roar and lapping in my head all night long, its caressing sounds in my ears as I wake, and slip out to meet it, to wait by its edge in the morning and be alive as the sun rises.

In India, I wear flowers in my hair, and loose clothing that's light as the wind. And I walk gently, demurely, my back straight but not proud, and I put my hands together and bow and smile gently in greeting. I feel safe there. I feel like a woman there. Like no woman I've ever been here. Just soft. Every woman should feel what it's like to be that soft. And I wake to the sound of turkeys and roosters and the humming of the people and the bugs and the water in the air. The air has weight there. It's smell and texture wake me up, and I follow it outside to the veranda where I find my way through a labyrinth of brightly colored clothes that hang in the still air of the morning.

And in Mexico, I awake on a hard cement floor, cold and stiff, to the sound of chickens pecking and dogs barking and shouted calls for "plantanos y tortillas!" over the loudspeaker of the van that drives the dusty streets every morning at 5 am. And it was hard to get started in the mornings in Mexico: stiff from the cold and the work of the day before, but you keep moving, and the sun heats up, and the dust begins to rise, and work begins again. And soon, I'm dressed in a mud-splattered t-shirt and work pants, surround by children and mud and straw, and though it hurts, my hands keep working the adobe. Working the adobe. Arriba...abajo... up... down. The straw stabs at open wounds, but then one batch is done and the next is started and the dry airy dirt is shoveled into the barrel, and then the cool water pours over your aching hands, and then as you mix it, the heavy wetness eases the cuts and scrapes and and the soreness, and the work sing and you talk and laugh with the kids and each other, and you keep working. It goes on.

It's the children, more than anything else. I love the children. And then it's the waking up early. Waking up unafraid. Knowing that I'm alive. That I'm doing work I love. That I have people to love, and that will love me. People who don't even know me as well as people I've known for years back home...they will look at me, and they will see something that few people at home seem to see. And I can love without fear and without reservation.

I'm afraid to go to Panama. I'm always afraid before one of these trips. What if it's different this time? What if the magic fails? What if I feel like a foreigner? A stranger? Will I know who I am then? When I'm in India or at the beach...I feel the self I never could be back home. I'm afraid: what if I go...and I'm not there? Will I ever feel at home then?

I sat out in the hammock tonight for a while, just staring at the stars...listening to the leaves shiver in the breeze. It was a nice night. I should have been in bed. There's so much to do tomorrow before I go. But I just couldn't. And there's so much I'm not saying. This work/these places/these people are close to my heart, but there are other things closer. And in these areas, it's not so clear what I'm doing, whereas on these trips I know what I'm doing. Maybe that's why I love humanitarian work so much. It's not so full of questions.

As I lay heart aching for who knows what reason...the sky spoke to me. Peace covered me like a blanket, settling on me from somewhere outside myself, interrupting my thoughts and objections and cries like a gentle hand to my lips. It was a peace I couldn't deny...couldn't ignore, and my soul was quieted.

I kept thinking: "Whom do men say that I am...?" "But whom say ye that I am?" (Matt 16: 13-16)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

“I will, then, be a toad…”

When Dan told me tonight that he almost gave me a “bah! update, update!” comment, I knew it was time to dig in and get it done. Besides, I’m leaving town soon and I didn’t want y’all to have to stare at the trains poem for too much longer. Really, I was just leaving it up to give you a chance to get it memorized. Anyone succeed?

Memorization is such a lost art. I used to memorize a lot. I was pretty good at it. It’s crazy how fast I can memorize…and how fast I lose it if I don’t keep up.

I memorized hundreds of scriptures on my mission, and a few since that time. I started doing it because my mission president asked us to. But then, I began to understand and appreciate having the scriptures more accessible to my memory. I can’t remember how many times, but I know it was many, that I had scriptures come to my mind when I really, really, needed them. And there was comfort in “hearing” the words in my head – not just a vague idea of what they said, but word-for-word.

I memorized poems before, too. I haven’t done it in a while, though. Some of those I memorized (at least in part): “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (T.S. Eliot); “plato told them” and “thank you, god” (e.e. Cummings); “The Road Not Taken”, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, and “Home Burial” (Robert Frost); portions of “Leaves of Grass” and “O Captain! My Captain!” (Walt Whitman); “Think as I think” and “In the Desert” (Stephen Crane); “I Like to Think of Harriet Tubman” (Susan Griffin) – I did a dramatic reading of this, once – and though I’m a really terrible actress, this is one performance that seriously left them shaken – I blew my professor away, too – and as self-critical as I can be, even I had to admit it was good. That’s all I can think of. I’m sure there were more, but alas, I’ve forgotten them.

I found a new Stephen Crane today: “I Saw a Man”

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
"It is futile," I said,
"You can never--"
"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.

Gotta love that Stephen Crane.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Everything Looks Perfect, Part Two

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line--
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it's best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person's reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you're not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another--one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column.
One bath may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple--this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother's bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter's bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother's
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when "I love you" suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when "I'm full of doubts"
Hides "I'm certain about something and it is that"
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look aroundWhen you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you're asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you'd have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

One Train May Hide Another
Kenneth Koch