Sunday, June 26, 2005

Unpoem#3: For Pooms

An old man crawls by the kerb,
Careful not to spill his memories in the street
And make a mess- for the decent people
Are walking, are walking,
For the decent people are walking to discounts and cold bagels
And don’t need distractions this Thursday morning.

An old man sits on the corner of a park bench,
A shiver begins in his arms, under his spine and he curls up more
Holding his brown paper bag full to his chest
A human bent crook against the ongoing scenery of the decent people
Walking, still walking,
Walking towards bus tickets and coin slots and pull the chord when yer ready to leave, son.

His bag holds, as he knows and crow knows--
(who was the only one who saw him, who cawed to him,
When old bones curled and gasped down the park’s stone stairway
When paper sighed and opened its lips and a few escaped that day blinking into the light.
Crow saw, Crow cawed, man crawled
To pick and put all blinking things back in, to then crawl some more and sit
Under tree, gasping and blinking now, its his turn)—
His bag holds as he knows and crow knows,
Useless, leftover bits that time had picked all the meat out of.
Things like broken words, and ink stained postcards.
One odd shoe, the nose of a kangaroo
Pieces of silver, pieces of lead
Menu cards and a used maiden head
Which was cut out of a magazine, way back in ’75.
A button off a coat, among other things of note
To this old man, who sat, curled, waiting to get used to the cold.

Waiting does not get easier with age, whatever your grandmother might say.
Old man poked a finger into the air of his bag, and felt around:
Hoary worm out of cold ground some September morn.
Leathery powdery fingers pulled a picture from within
Old eyes looked around the edges and then in the middle
Fingers touched the still shiny surface, leaving footprints as they had before
Often, so often.
Eyes trembled, then squeezed shut crying… tears which nourished a crack in the old leather
To open and smile upward, then down again, upon the picture he sat holding
On a bench along the side a busy street with people walking, talking.

A face looks back into you, smiling the way it always used to
Holding a flower that once lived, wearing clothes that were once worn
[and still are, at times, when on a Saturday morning you smile and say why not, not going anywhere.]
Your eyes are forever beautiful, love, and red and orange and vermillion still your colour.
I cannot forget, old as I am.
And you will be loved, old as I am.
Your tears I still keep here in this bag of mine,
Though it often makes the inked words runny.
Your laughter too, though it threatens to run away with my bag and my curled back
And pulls me away to the highest cliff to leap and live like Pan, just once more.

Your eyes, so warm. Your hands- How often, how many days and nights dearest
Have they soothed and questioned and kept and hugged into caring?

Flower blossoms like your hair fall over grass like this, over your shoulders, this gently, this womanly.
I cannot forget, old as I am.
And you will be loved, old as I am.

Against the flat grey street,
A curved bent back, shivers, but still sits.
Bag clutched, Crow caws.
Another day is gone down to dusk, threaded with with lights and the dreams that the very young
Decide to throw away.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Every thorn has its rose

And every so often, on a thorny hedge where nothing appeared except a cynical old slug... a rose opens its eyes and sighs at the door of the night that...

yeah well. You ge the idea.

Today, two of my fellow residents went for a walk. On my way to the library, I saw these two young men --one moroccan and the other japanese-- come stepping up the gently rising hill, their faces lit by the still bright evening sun that shines over Portland, roses in their hands. They stopped, with time looking over its shoulder and smiling in their eyes, spoke with me, and then I came here.

A yellow rose bud lies here before this dell keyboard, and I wonder at what it means to be a grown up and a man or a woman in this world.

In morocco they get angry if you pick the flowers.

But just this once, here, its ok.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Two red doors

In downtown Portland, there is a building with two upper rooms. Every afternoon, these rooms fill up with men , some of whom are trying to leaves their own personal Hades, with the sounds of alcohol and drugged footsteps calling back to them. I use the underworld metaphor, because these men are told by the people who run the building with the two upper rooms that it is The Light they must walk towards. Redemption and a meal are promised if only they praise the god of baptist america. In the rooms, the men watch television, play pool, and discuss next week's laundry schedule.

On saturday morning, us international scholarship students were driven to this building with two upper rooms, in order to paint the walls of the two upper rooms a pale yellow, and the doors of the two upper tooms an earthen red. A thing that we found ourselves volunteered to do. Brushes and overlarge T shirts given to us, kindly instructions on how to pour paint followed. But rid yourself of the illusion that I disliked the idea- There was stories to be heard there, and so I went. Why pale yellow and earthen red? A breathless, blue eyed art student in a red coat assured us that they were psychologically proven to be colours that made people think happy thoughts of sharing and caring. Ergo, pale yellow and... yes, well.

Roll brushes are fun to paint with, especially if you have a nice colour and a rough surface. My compatriots laid siege blissfully to the bare walls, and finished most of the work in 2 hours. I did not paint walls. For the breathless, blue eyed student in a red coat told me there were two doors to paint an earthen red. I felt my hand go up when she asked for a volunteer.

I did this because of the thought of my grandmother, and two paintings that never lived because of me.

[I wonder at this constant need for coming full circle on all things, at this need for finding a cap for every permanent marker. Bear with me. Sigh.]

Red coat-- whose name is Rebecca-- Showed me how to open the paint tin, the degree to which you tip the thing so red goop spills out into the waiting pan. Plastic covering all things that were meant to stay unreddened, and I let the roll brush travel slowly down its first burnt sienna track on the white door.

The instinct of the hunt, that belongs to wolf and man. There is something about a tool of change in your hand, and surface area that will not fight you. Red gash at the place where thumb and forefinger meet, red glare in my sight, and the second stroke was a frenzied side swing, hard and bloody against the white wood.

My mind pulled me back to those thoughts that had me pick up the red brush first. Summer 12 years ago, and ammuma trying to teach me to bring life to tree bark on paper. It was in the stroke, the amount of water, the mix of colours, because nothing was ever solid poster paint out of a 30 ml bottle. I refused to listen, and walked away to the balcony rails, to stare moodily at the rain tree who was laughing at me. A few years after that, and the same thing happened again, except it was oils this time, not watercolour.

The red glare faded, and memories of karate kid II and the old man telling the kid to paint straight up, down. Steady strokes. Memories of ammuma telling me to not over-layer the ochre on the burnt sienna, to dry the brush more, to use longer strokes. And I did, conciously feeling ham strings and knees protest and then give over to the work they were created to do- Start from the top with a dipped and shaken roller, slow bring down, filling in edges and corners with the bristly brush.

At lunch, tattooed, moustached, weathered men, large & small, silent and loud stood in a circle, waiting for us volunteers to start with the soup before they did. Grace-- For yes, that Had to Be Said-- was 2 words from each stolid receiver of His Gifts. They said thanks for many things, like sandwiches for lunch, and volunteers who volunteered. There were some that made me say amen with toes getting a little deeper into concrete: things like "thank god for another chance, every day", "praise god for living" and "praise god for the universal power of music". Big men, alone except for their fellow tatooed and alone big men, who waited outside this rescue mission for food twice a day, who sometimes went on sponsored fishing trips. The coconut cream pie made it only more Hallmarky. And yet, and yet...

One of them, with burnished locks, bristling moustache, straight nose and piercing blue eyes sat opposite my colleagues from Syria and Morocco and proceeded to genially ask these two arab boys why they weren't eating the meat. Lesser, wiser and more non-confrontational mortals would've claimed vegetarianism. Not Adel and Bilal. In that den of bible-readers, with a salvation army outpost next door, they said the meat wasnt halal and they didnt eat meat that wasn't halal, because they are muslim.

And the beauty of the thing was that the darkest and most horrible of evils in the world today was sunning and curling itself in front of my eyes, over sandwiches and salad, in a christian rescue mission home in downtown portland. So damn simple, and so delicately done. No trumpets, but there for those who wanted to see, to see.

What ensued was no forced exorcism, no burning at the stake, no mass prayers- Just a theological debate, man on one side of the long table, boys on the other. All was said: the need for tolerance, respecting differences, living in harmony, principles differences in doctrine, a shared root holy book. Needless to say, the boys left in about 2o minutes, affronted and enraged. The man genially shook hands.

Apart from the fact that such debate is pointless, and often damaging to one's own faith in one's self, and one's perceptions... Apart from the fact that the guy in charge said the man was homeless coz he didnt have any social skills, do ignore him... apart from the fact that claiming vegetarianism or deslike would've ended the discussion then and there... Apart from the fact that I took gleeful delight in seeing the levels and onioned layers of how different people offend-- for like all 21 year olds, they do offend, these colleagues of mine-- and are offended... Apart from the fact that I still believe the boys were so pissed off due to the fact that they weren't the ones who left with the last word- Apart from all of this:

what I saw was Fear. Fear of being untolerated, fear of being prodded and poked, and noticed for being different. The need to protect, desperately, one's faith, one's self. Fear has an ugly nose, and laughs a lot.

Pie eaten, boys driven back, I returned to my red doors. I wish my grandmother could've seen the finish on them. Bends and corners and coats led up to me standing there and feeling happier than I have felt in a long time, with something I "did" in realtime.

Its hard to listen to anyone telling you how to do a thing. You fear your own right to it being taken away. Its hard having to listen to anyone tell you in a quiet and sure voice of the beauty of the god he or she believes in, who died for love, and who then asks you to talk about your god. Its hard feeling not good enough.

Adel and Bilal painted walls like heroes till lunch though. And sang arabic songs out loud while doing it. The doors are red, without any signatures, like the walls. People will use them to come and go...

As we all do. As we all do.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sacagawea means "boat launcher".

The one who aids a journey. But she was also once known as "Bird woman", according to the French Canadian trapper who bought her. Charbonneau the trapper.

"Bird woman" was her name in the Hidatsa language, and looked like this- Tsakaka-wias. And yet she is more popularly called Sacagawea today. Boat launcher.

The one who aids a journey.

For that is what she did. Read more about this woman here, but for now it suffices to say that without her, the two explorers Lewis and Clark would not have found their way across, over and into the American north-west as easily as they did. With her baby son on her back-- her son who was born five days after me many years before, her son who was born on the trail-- this woman travelled with them, interpreting directions and their needs, though she was only one of the wives of Charbonneau, the actual hired guide.

This college prides itself on the spirit of discovery on which it was founded, and there are bits all over college about these two men and their team who went about charting the pacific north west.

One such bit is a statue of Sacagawea, a weathered bronzed face, with a baby on a straight back, the little face also peering with his mother's towards the horizon. Or as it is, towards the manor house, away from my dorm, away from the chapel near by.

The dorm is red brick, with automatic doors, a glass-walled lounge with a tv, dvd and a pinao missing 3 black keys, and our rooms with flags of different nations painted on each door.

My door has a defunct Angola painted thereon. It misses a sickle, so now looks a simple gothic work, on which I hope to stencil a dragon: Ich Will, sig heil, and such.

The chapel is built like a native American woman's hat, with a suspended pipe organ which goes perfectly well with my dragon idea, really. Think phantom of the opera. And that vertical perspective. Lovely. Outside the chapel, there are four granite totem carvings, meant to represent each of the four elders.

But Sacagawea's gaze goes further. I find myself walking by her often. Wondering, often, at this woman, who was bought and sold, who had a white man lift her son from out between her legs, who saw once again her land, who did not drown, who told stories of her life, who accompanied Lewis and Clark, who finally gave her son into their care for his education and upbringing, who has lakes and creeks and mountains named after her.

This college is beautiful, you know. Everything has been planned out, the only things that grows according to their own 'ich will' are the trees. Youngly ancient connifers--only a couple of hundred years old-- that stretch their bushy eyebrows up into the clouds. A lot of these trees grow in the ravine, on the edge of which stands Sacagawea.

Everything is planned out. From the oldest building on campus, the manor house, you can see the reflecting pool that shows you the icy coldness of the calm sky here, with dancing sunlight across the noses of those clouds, and the stretching, mumbling trees. Further, looking as the woman with the baby on her back does, you can see a snowy peak on a clear day.

From down by the pool, further down by the rose garden, I can see the path to take to leave the cold behind and enter my dorm. It goes by her, and the ravine.

Around me, there are bushes and portly trees, some holding their blossoms close like old ladies playing bridge, some letting them drop like sighs into silk-shorn grass, damp with rain below, silent, because the little creatures live elsewhere where the grass is not cut daily.

The flowers that drop silent are not alien. There are those in madras that fall on early summer mornings and shadowed evenings with a sweetness that makes you stop transfixed by the exquisite pain that comes from the waste of such beauty beneath feet that pass.

I picked the pretty ones that had fallen, up from the ground- much like the old lady who wrapped her sari around her tight did, bending carefully, holding gently. Only those that had fallen. Never from a branch. Never one that was not ready to go. Looking straight ahead, there was the well-planned, picturesque path back.

Feet over and into the grass, a handful of pale purple and white and berry-pink gentle softnesses in my hand.... a blossom here is as soft and moist as a mouthful of rasberry low fat yoghurt, as gentle as a woman's first kiss.

Evening came down as winds spoke and greeted through the eyebrows of the senior trees. One of whom had a lonely face on its bark.

Much has been said by me and others of land, and language. Dont blame nostalgia. It was something about this woman, Sacagawea, who was ready to go.

A blossom, made of toughest bark and root and stone, that went where the wind and water carried her. Some blossoms refuse to ever fall. They prefer being tightly held till upon a green branch one evening, they close their eyes and fall into themselves.

Some choose to fall while alive, and no matter whether they travel or not, for any way the wind blows.

I took the handful of those that chose, and left them at Sacagawea's feet. The wind blew sudden, eyes closed and lights came on in the city below.

Now I am not afraid to walk alone and unguided in nights which are cold and where the sidewalk lights are far away- Here, amidst old trees, and by a murmuring pool.