Anhelo

The sun winks
As he turns toward night,
and blush washes over
the breast of thin clouds

Thick velvet mat of treetops
are shot with shining
green threads woven
through by busy lighting bugs

I breathe air
thick with mist
of time, and think
I hear my name

I roll the base
of my glass in its
puddle of sweat
on the table

the raspy, low voice
of flayed earth
calls me across the miles

the sound falling like
grains of sand down through
leaves fish-scaled up to the sky’s
watery surface

the outside edge of my soul
misses the open arms
of desert galaxies
that echo with song

and winds adornment
around the waist
of a yearning not numbed
by spirits.

~LD

Advertisements

Well-Fletched (with Kahlil Gibran) — NaPoWriMo #8

The bow was shaped in a rush,
But there was time
to cure a bit of sinew for the string,
test the weight against youthful biceps,
and the aim of ancient eyes.

The fletching slightly skewed from hurry,
still she’s flown far, the little unexpected arrow,
and swift like the wind
under the sparrow’s wing.

Though the quick, green bow dried and broke,
Life’s longing lights her path
as it lengthens.

~LD

I wrote the title for this about two years ago and have been thinking on it ever since. I like the result, though the alliteration in the last stanza may be too heavy for the rest of the poem. I used Kahlil Gibran’s “On Children” from _The Prophet_ for inspiration. You can find it here, if you’re interested.

P.S. Thanks for all the reads, visits, views and comments! I can’t believe I’m up to 129 follows! ~LD

Er-Lie in the Morning

I did not take this photo. It's from roadtrip62.com

I did not take this photo. It’s from roadtrip62.com

The open freeway is a kind of sea
At sixty-five, maybe seventy, miles an hour
black sails roiling against asphalt waves
that rocked our white pick up ship past
two-thirds of
Texas seas:
desert
oil pumpers
plains
small towns
escarpments
highway
Stuckey’s billboards
and finally city trees.
We sang pirate shanties
for hours
from the back seat, but no pirates, we.

~LD

* * *

Today’s prompt was hard, “Write a sea shanty.” I know a couple of them, and it was too hard to get away from those other people’s words. So, I gave the prompt a bit of a twist and wrote about learning the sea shanties that I know, on the road. To be entirely repetitive, I found this piece hard, but these are curiously happy memories, though I always hated that drive as a teen. I wanted the title to sound like we sang it when it’s read; I don’t know if this worked, you can tell me in the comments. Looking forward to a new prompt tomorrow. Have a great night, y’all! ~LD

Mexican adventures with Mom

The chanates (grackles or crows, whichever) were making their usual spring ruckus in the tops of the trees while I was making oatmeal muffins, when Mom came in and said, “I thought you were in here frying bacon, then I figured you probably don’t eat bacon.” I registered the racket from the park across the street and laughed, “Of course I eat bacon, but not often, and alas, not today.” Mom and I drank tea and ate hot oatmeal muffins before heading over to the park to take a look around.

While I filled her in on the general agenda for my one and only skip day of her trip to TRC, she identified plants by their names in English for me and (I’m guessing) tried to take in the familiar, the unfamiliar and the long unseen. The morning was leisurely, and eventually, the chanates flew off to scavenge the day.

About midmorning, Mom and I trundled ourselves into Jose’s cab and went downtown to the Museo Arocena with a plan to have an early-ish lunch at the Copa de Leche, an old diner-style restaurant downtown that I’ve been going to ever since I first moved here almost fourteen years ago.

Mom goes to TRC and finds COW.

Mom goes to TRC and finds COW.


Writing about a museum visit leaves something to be desired, but I will say that we talked about Mexican history (Oh, how I wished for Mr. Miranda, our History of Mexico teacher!), were fascinated by the Arocena House with its hand-pieced parquet wood floors and stained glass windows. We oohed and ahhed over the “portable” desks with all the accessories from the early 20th century that make a desktop computer with screen look positively featherweight. Almost as an after-thought (we were getting pretty hungry at this point), we remembered the Jorge Marin sculpture exhibit, where we lost ourselves again in considerations less historic and more spiritual, philosophical and Newtonian [Please go to Marin’s website http://jorgemarin.org/ where you can find a gallery of his work]. We even made a cursory tour of the bookstore with mental notes for a return visit if needed.

We beat the lunch rush to the Copa at around 12:30 or so, but we were both pretty famished (we had missed almuerzo which is usually around 10 or 11 am, and lunch proper isn’t until 2 or 3 in the afternoon). We ate, talked and browsed the pamphlets we’d picked up at the museum. The bolillos [French-style bread rolls] with salsa instead of chips was a hit, and lunch (chile relleno for Mom, and huevos a la Mexicana for me) was delicious.

When we finished, I had the bright idea to walk down to the Mercado Juarez, where I promptly wound up walking us in circles until we ended up back at the museum. We took a stroll around the Plaza de Armas — lately armed at catty corners by big Mexican Marine Hummers full of young men in fatigues carrying big guns – grabbed a cab and headed back to my place.

The Mexican Flag at the Plaza Mayor in Torreón, Coahuila.

The Mexican Flag at the Plaza Mayor in Torreón, Coahuila.


Because a trip to the Comarca Lagunera is incomplete without a trip to Chepo nieve, on Sunday I decided we should head over to the Alameda where there’s an authentic Chepo franchise (for the uninitiated, the “original” Chepo is in Lerdo, a couple towns over) as well as the pulga, a public library, and a 7-11 where the restaurant Chihua’s used to be. We ate our lime, coconut with strawberry chepos on a bench in the square and watched people, listened to a student banda de Guerra (war band – drum and bugle) practice. The morning was exactly perfect, sunny but not hot, with a breeze, but not windy.

We spent another chunk of time in the library. It’s really a pretty little library. Cluttered around the edges, but the stacks are orderly, even if many of the volumes are outdated, threadbare and scant. There is even a media center with five or six (ancient but functional) computers for free Internet use by patrons. The stained glass window in the library designed and produced by a local artisan and a local glass company took our attention for several minutes as we deciphered what the window depicted.

Finally, we decided to head over to a little restaurant a colleague had told me about on the opposite corner of the Alameda. At El Sureño, surrounded by colorful paper maiche, clay and wood masks from all over the world, we enjoyed a lunch inspired by foods common to the southern part of Mexico. But not before our waiter plied us with a long list of various tequilas and mezcal. We demurred, asking for limeade with mineral water. Even I couldn’t fathom tequila on a late Sunday morning. While we considered the menu, we enjoyed black bean dip and a couple of kinds of salsa with our totopos. Once we had asked one hundred and one questions about the menu, we settled on tamales in banana leaf and a kind of empanada stuffed with fried squash flower, all drenched in cream and cheese. I don’t think either of us was especially in love with the empanada (the cream was a little sour and unexpected — it might grow on you with practice), but the tamal was MUAH! Absolutely amazing. Something about the flavor the banana leaf adds to the cornmeal changes the nature of the tamal completely. Our lunch that day was long, slow and delightful and bracketed by the library, a few gift purchases in the pulga, and the waiter who was pushing Sunday, late morning booze, and the intriguing masks all around us.
El Sureño masks
El Sureño wood masks
The rest of the week we spent at school. The first morning, I pointed in the general direction of things of interest on campus, walked Mom over to the elementary office and went about my business. By the end of the day, she’d been “roped into” (I don’t think this was a particularly challenging roping job) substituting for a second grade teacher on Wednesday, and wound up as an emergency substitute on Tuesday, as well. We came home at the end of that first day and Mom told me all about the first graders she had worked (played?) with, trying to remember names and picking out personalities when she couldn’t remember names. All week my seniors and sophomores hassled me, “Where’s your mom?” they asked with a slight whine (a la first grade) in their voice. “We want to meet her.” Naturally, when they finally got to meet her, on Thursday, I think, most didn’t know what on earth to do with her. I had to laugh. One student needed no introduction and hugged her when he saw her in the hallway, intuiting that she’s family by extension.

Finishing up their proof of having actually learned something.  I have the best students. (I only included this photo and not the others because I didn't really want to post recognizable people without permission. Y'all don't be mad.)

Finishing up their proof of having actually learned something. I have the best students. (I only included this photo and not the others because I didn’t really want to post recognizable people without permission. Y’all don’t be mad.)


I see this view everyday; occasionally with less haze.

I see this view everyday; occasionally with less haze.


3rd floor CAT_southwest
In the afternoons after school we mostly crashed and burned and then made dinner, but we also did a few other things, like visit the pottery shop where I’ve been going all these years for super cool, genuine Mexican things (like ceramic, hand-painted house number tiles). Mom got most of her loot there (a ceramic lizard, her house number with frame, a time pig for the youngest grandbaby, a ceramic plaque reading “Casa de la Abuela” – serendipity is everywhere), and I was pleased to see the señor owner who had been absent last year. One afternoon after class Mom had the dubious honor of hearing me rehearse an Art Festival song with the band made up of other faculty members, far more skilled than I. Mom was duly impressed. Luckily, I have pretty decent day job that I actually like.

When I went with Mom to the airport on Saturday morning, I pointed out the places she needed to know and talked her through what came after we checked her in. And then I left her there and made the mad dash back to my house where I made all the calls to all the people who needed to know that she was safely deposited at the airport and would soon be back within reach. And then, I had a little siesta. ~LD

P.S. I am terrible about taking photos; even if I carry the camera around with me, I forget to capture moments. I hope these will give you an idea in spite of me. ~LD

Knight of Dada (with apologies to Salvador Dalí)

Sometimes, as I walk around out in the world, I feel like I am the only sentient creature here. The lovers in the park are wind up dolls repeating the same embrace again and again. The cashier behind the register is a cleverly programed artificial intelligence with a great smile, glittery eyes, and glowing wit. The cars driving by on the narrow streets are merely battery powered playthings. Even the crows’ and mockingbirds’ and sparrows’ songs are canned, coming from somewhere outside a line that looks like a jet contrail across the too blue sky.

I’ve been set down here on this sidewalk, only gaining awareness as my feet settle onto the rippled concrete. The desert sun on my skin doesn’t even warm me yet, and I sense that if I could just turn around fast enough, I would see giant, childlike fingertips disappearing behind the perfectly white, wandering clouds cut out of cotton batting and then sprinkled stingily overhead.

I clutch my left arm with my right hand: flesh and bone, warmish to the touch.

Occasionally, the sense of surrealism becomes so strong that I can hardly wait to return to the weird waves of dream where at least I will see people I know and everything will be familiar, even the utterly unknown.

Last weekend I danced a salsa with a handsome man who laughed when I fell out of step, but never lost his own way. When I looked down, the ceramic floor beneath our feet had turned to ocean waves. Sometimes, surreal is sweet. Even if it means the timepiece is dripping, deliciously – like melting chocolate — over the edge of a barren landscape.

~LD

Happy Thanksgiving, Peppermint Patty!

Well, I’m not quite the blockhead Charlie Brown was trying to grow out of being, but make no mistake, I’m among his crew.  Not as cute as Snoopy (my ears are too short and I’ll never be Joe Cool), I pick Peppermint Patty. We are similar in temperament: a little too eager, but admirably “go thing do.”  I have high hopes that we will not be reduced to popcorn and toast. Such a reduction would be particularly disastrous, as I have neither popcorn for popping nor bread to toast.

I do Thanksgiving dinner (potluck style) for my Mexican friends / adopted family every year, and every year I’m sort of vaguely terrified there will not be enough food to go around.  My usual invitation list is around ten people total including me.  Usually a few less.  This year I invited something like fifteen people.  Actually, I’m not sure how many I invited because there are at least two ways to figure the numbers: with kids and spouse, and without (also, with kids, no spouse, and with spouse no kids – too many variables.)  So Saturday, after sending out the “official” invite, I was beside myself with mathematical conundrums.

Here I need to digress briefly to apologize for still not having adjusted fully to the metric system. Early on, I made some rough equivalents for temperature, weight, and volume that worked reasonably well to get by and then I never really did anything to incorporate the “new” system in a more realistic fashion.  So when it comes to temperatures, I know that 32°F is 0°C, 32°C is roughly 90°F, and anything over 37°C is over 100°F.  When I cook, if the recipe is in one of my US cookbooks, or if it’s out of my memory, I have to get online and go to a temperature converter to get the right oven setting.  When it comes to weights, it’s very little different. To get a pound of hamburger, I buy a half kilo.  On a day-to-day basis these estimates have worked fine for me. But Monday when I went to get the bird, all went awry.

I was still in the midst of doing all the math to count guests when I went to get the official bird on Monday morning.   The first confusion was figuring I needed about a pound per person, so I was looking for the wrong sized bird to begin with.  To exacerbate matters, I looked at the weight of the (big busty beautiful) bird, but I “forgot” how important the decimals are, so I only looked at that main number.  A lovely, round eight.  My favorite number.  About 16 pounds, very big, but not out of the realm of reality. Actual weight: 8.773 kilos or 19.3 pounds.  Swift would be proud.  I bought the turkey equivalent of a small child. Naturally, by the time I realized, I was home and the bird had been in the fridge thawing for two days. Swiftian turkey it is, then.

The next conundrum I would have had regardless of the turkey’s weight.  I have a half-size oven.  Even a decent sized roasting chicken is a trick to squeeze in there.  A couple of years ago, to combat the problem of a small oven and a cook with delusions of grandeur, I studied my cookbooks, consulted my official kitchen assistant (Mom) and figured I could cut the bird into six pieces and strategically pile them inside the browning bag so that the fattest pieces sit on top of the breast to keep it moist.  The bird does fit, sort of, into the oven in this way.  But I have to be sure that the door closes completely and that no little bits of browning bag are sticking out anywhere, and that there’s a little room at least above for the bag to expand. But I get ahead of myself; first the bird must be cut up, and since I bought it at a store without a butcher, I have to do it myself.

Remembering the disgusting mess that I made of my kitchen last time (you really don’t want to know; suffice it to say I’m still not convinced that all the turkey flesh is off my kitchen walls and window from that first experiment), I made a plan.  I sharpened my knife. Though much too small for the job of cutting anything more ambitious than veggies for soup, it is a good little kitchen knife. I got out the carpenter’s tape and two big trash bags.  I moved the dining room table into the middle of the dining area (away from the books and walls), cut open the trash bags and taped them to the tabletop.  I got out my two, two-gallon soup pots to put pieces in as I worked, and then I went for the bird.

I will spare you the details, but I’m happy to report that it only took forty-five minutes and a little patience to cut the bird into the pieces I needed, pull up the icky-fied trash bags, mop the floor and deposit bird pieces in the fridge.  As we speak, the bird is waiting patiently inside the browning bag for the hour to arrive.  The magic hour is 2 pm.

Around 1:30 I will retoast the cheese puffs.  They won’t be warm when folks get here, but they will at least be revived and a little crispy.  They’re good cold anyway.  I’ll have a nap before the game starts at 3. Around 4:30 I’ll begin the negotiation with my microwave (it only works in 30 second spurts; sometimes I can coax it into running for a minute at a time) to reheat this year’s experimental dish: roasted pumpkin with rajas (strips of roasted poblano pepper), seasoned with toasted cominos and served with cream.  I tried it.  I like it, but it’s very very different.  Standing in line, ready to go are the American-style queso dip, a pecan pie, an apple crisp, a platter of olives, pickles, and cured meats. Someone is bringing rolls, someone else mashed potatoes, there’s a salad, a cheese tray and I don’t know what else.

As folks start to trickle in around 5 this afternoon there will be enough to keep our fingers and tummies busy and happy. The company will be great and I will be wishing that you all could be here, too.  Come on over from Tel Aviv, from Mozambique, from Singapore, from Springfield and Kansas City, Missouri; from Abilene and Fort Worth, Texas and all the other places in the world where you are and graze with us and laugh, play a little guitar and sing.  As I’ve gone about all the preparations this week, I’ve thought of all of you in different ways and for different reasons and I’m glad you were here with me in thought.  I wish you all the blessings of this Thanksgiving Day, whether you are dining on turkey and fixings or popcorn and toast. ~LD

Carrying Desert Roses

My paternal grandparents’ home in an old pecan orchard was filled with mystery and delight.  In every cabinet, drawer, closet and bookshelf were great treasures of books and record albums and dolls and fabric, statuettes of famous works of art, dresses, pieces of old quilts and a hundred thousand fragments of someone’s delicious memory that we cousins and neighbors pored over and dreamt about and built whole imaginary lives around.

I loved rooting around in the records in the built-in stereo cabinet and playing whatever I could find that I could sing to.  Frequent favorites were Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I knew how to pull out the turntable from behind its amber cabinet door, set the shiny black record on the wheel, and place the needle on the first groove all by myself without scratching the record (usually). The music filled the living room and tickled the bottoms of my feet, rushing up into my throat as I sang and danced along with Julie Andrews, Sally Ann Howes and Dick Van Dyke.

In retrospect, I think some of our favorite places to treasure hunt we were probably not “allowed” to get into, but get into them we did. As a pre-teen, I found a paperback copy of The Other by Thomas Tryon hiding in a dresser drawer. I devoured the psychological thriller on the sly in one night that left me sleepless with terror; somehow I made it to church on Sunday morning.  In that instance, the consequence of my illicit “treasure” hunting was its own punishment.  If I remember right, I snuck the book back to its hiding hole in the dresser and said not one word to anyone, ever. I think such natural consequences were customary, though I’m sure we occasionally got a “whoopin’” or a least a good lecture when we got caught in places we weren’t supposed to be or with things we weren’t supposed to have.

The most common treasures, though, were the permitted ones. “Lora, get the placemats out of the hutch. No, no.  The good ones.  Yes, those.” And when I was older, “We need more tea glasses from the hutch.”  Or napkins, or serving ware, occasionally a serving dish or platter or some other treasure of the hutch.  It’s where the stationery and stamps were kept, and where my grandmother displayed her beautiful china and crystal. I remember standing looking up into the four framed-glass doors above the main cabinets and drawers while Grammie looked down at me — her blonde hair expertly done with a streak of white at one temple — and told me about the dishes there.  I don’t know how many sets of different varieties she had, but the shelves seemed crowded with several patterns plus the crystal. I must have been terribly young, probably barely school aged or perhaps younger. Even as a little girl, I knew what I liked, and I liked the ones with the pink flowers and scalloped edges. Because I knew what I liked, I simply asked: “Grammie, can I have those someday?” No sense of decorum, no sense of propriety or correctness.  Just the question. I can still see her face as she answered me, but I can’t hear her exact words.

a new home

The original hutch, in its new home; I stood before it as a child looking up into the lightning through Grammie’s hair, wishing over dishes with pink flowers.

I know Grammie remembers that moment, too.  I know she remembers because the Wedgewood Franciscan Desert Rose eight-piece place setting (I haven’t actually counted them, but there are more than four) has been mine since she and Pa had to move from the pecan grove.  The set languished in plastic tubs in my mom’s garage, my sister’s shed, then back to my mom’s garage, for far too many years before Christmas of 2011 when I decided I could no longer live without them in my life, every single day.

I agonized a bit over how to get my dishes home to México.  I considered shipping them.  I considered packing them in my checked luggage, carefully wrapped.  I considered putting one dish at a time in my carry on each trip to Mom’s.  I finally did something a little bit brave and a little bit daring, and only a little bit more satisfying than one plate at a time.  I carefully wrapped two dinner plates, two dessert plates, two saucers and two teacups and packed them into my carry on.  I picked the first pieces carefully because I figured if I were going to lose pieces, I wanted to lose the ones that were already cracked or chipped or otherwise less than perfect.  I wasn’t sure if they’d even let me through airport security with them.

“They” didn’t so much as ask about the dishes in my carry on.  So I boarded the plane, squinched my eyes up tight, and practically held my breath the whole flight.

While waiting for my luggage to appear at airport baggage claim, I peeked into my carry on and kind of jiggled the teacups, the most vulnerable Desert Roses, and they were whole.  Still, I kept my fingers crossed. That bag still had to go through the customs x-ray machine entirely unattended.  Two feet away was much too far.

I arrived home breathless, and unpacked my carry-on before my regular luggage.  Every plate, every cup, was as whole as my memory, maybe more so.  I set the dining room table with my treasure, as if I were waiting for company.  Dinner plates topped by dessert plates, and saucers and teacups offset to the left corners of the dinner plates.  They are the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever seen.  I thanked Grammie in my heart right then from here, so far away, for honoring a childish wish, and for still being around to hear about it, eventually, when I got brave enough to tell her how I was getting them home. I made it home with another set of twos safely this summer. And plan to bring another set of twos home at Christmas.

Photo from crystalclassics.com. Not my photo, but these are “my” Desert Rose dishes.

I open my kitchen cabinet every morning and I see the scallop-edged plates and reach past the teacups for my random gigantic ceramic coffee mug; a little thrill runs across my arm all the way to my belly button as I think of all the work, focus, and determination it took for Grammie and Pa to build the life that permitted them the luxury of a maple china hutch filled with beautiful things from all over the world, and a life that permitted them to be able to give me the gift of “my” dishes. As I pour my coffee, I center my thoughts on the work of the day, with thanks and the blessings from the cabinet over my shoulder.

Today, as I finished up my grocery shopping (tomatoes, chiles, avocado, bell peppers, milk, cleaning supplies, new flip flops), I decided to take a swing through the housewares section of Soriana. On offer in a central aisle were juice glasses with a colored base: bright blue, bright green, or dark lavender. They were typical Mexican-style glass: thick, short, and bubbled with minor flaws. I liked their slight angle, and the weight of the base – not too easy to knock over.  I considered the colors, and decided the lavender was pretty close, a nice complement to the pink of my Desert Roses.  For about eighty cents, I bought just the one in case I was wrong about the color.

I set the table for company when I got home, even though none was expected, and included my new glass in the setting.  It’s not what one might call a precise match, but the lavender draws on the pink from the plates, and turns it into something new and sunset-like.  I will get a full set of the glasses to go with my “new”, but very old, Desert Roses.  I served myself a dinner of sliced tomato, rosemary grilled chicken breast and a piece of toasted, buttered Ezekiel bread on “my” dishes. I think I’ve never eaten better in my life.

Thankfulness for the charmed bounty of my life takes interesting and intriguing forms that keep me awake, that make me think, make me remember, and help remind me to look ahead. I am a Desert Rose: born to withstand the harshest sun, the deepest drought, the wildest winds.  My roots run deep, all the way down to the richest of pools. ~LD

Independent of the Rain

Frog park across the street from me...

As usual, I missed the total lake photo, but it’s the desert, you have to be quick on the draw, and I’ve no camera of my own…this is late in the day Friday, September 14

Well, we finally got real rain.  Something like twelve hours straight of full-on downpour.  The streets became rivers and the parks became lakes, and most of the buildings I know about became harbors for scattered indoor showers. Most schools cancelled class, but not ours. When my taxi driver called to tell me he was stranded with his car kaput, I stood out in pre-dawn trying with my cell phone to find a ride to school. I heard the toads wailing in the park across the way, under the white noise of steady rain.  I could have stood listening to them all morning. We desert rats have spent the last forty-eight hours plus in a delicious and disorienting haze of water and cloud.  The roads have been so bad, and drivers so inept on the inundated by-ways that whenever possible, the best option is to stay home.

My cats were happy I was home when the thunder rolled through again.  They crowded onto the arm of the official chair, purportedly to supervise my blog reading and writing, but all three of us knew the real reason.  As more creatures of the desert than even I am, they are scared spineless of thunder. I, on the other hand, am comfortable far away from tornado alley and enjoy the occasional bouts of heavenly racket that blanket me in inspiration.

To my surprise, words didn’t “just come” with the rain this week.  I sat here on Thursday and Friday nights and again most of the day Saturday with a blank word document waiting for the inevitable outrush, but nothing happened.  Since I don’t buy into the concept of writer’s block, I knew that wasn’t it. I considered writing a book review of a book I’d read long ago, but it was a non-starter as I didn’t have the book at hand. I tried to write a rain poem, but somehow with the rain coming down both inside and outside, the realized wish didn’t have the same effect. I tried just a letter, but no matter how exotic it may seem to my loved ones, my day-to-day life is thankfully, remarkably, dull and ordinary.

While waiting and exploring my mind, I got vaguely political about the teacher strike in Chicago and actually posted a reaction on FB to a one minute TV news report in which parents’ scrambling for childcare was mentioned three times while only one of the teachers’ actual points of contention was mentioned one time (and that was, of course, the non-starter contention of inadequate pay).  I have long since learned to have a healthy mistrust for such reports. So much is revealed in what is left unsaid. As my post was reposted — and responded to, with greater and lesser amounts of venom — on someone else’s FB wall, I was reminded of Enlightenment thinkers and writers who “posted” in 18th century pamphlets and  the nearest thing there was to newspapers, with abandon and even delight.

Swift would do well to rewrite, with minor tweaks for locations and names, his “Modest Proposal.” I was glad to remember another time when political and social discourse was heated and far too often hateful. Swift wrote,  “I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country.” How his essay drips with sarcasm and hyperbole! How admirable his ability and willingness to talk back to lesser wits who could not wrap their brains around the power with which Swift wielded the pen.

I first consciously realized the manipulative (and restorative) nature of language following my senior year in high school when I travelled to Germany and lived there for six weeks in the summer of 1986, five weeks after the Chernobyl accident in the Ukranian region of what was the USSR. (My folks were sufficiently spooked by the threat of radiation that they almost didn’t let me go.) The first “real” expression I learned in German, and have never forgotten, was “nach dem regen kommt die Sonne” [after the rain comes the sun]. That year, the Germans replaced “regen” with “Reagan” — a wholly political commentary – the first I’d ever heard (really heard and understood) against the US. I struggled to wrap my brain around the Germans’ distaste.

That summer I also witnessed my first ever, political protest in the market in Saarbrücken: a protest against nuclear armament and in part, against nuclear power.  Katja and her mom and I carried our hand baskets full of fresh vegetables and fruits (I mainly remember the strawberries) while people my age marched around the perimeter of the market with placards I could not read, but with “Reagan” appearing on most.  Katja and her mom explained the protest as best they could in the car on the way back to Riegelsberg.  I blindly struggled to “get it.” But “getting it” came to be part of who I was before I understood intellectually what I was struggling for.

***

“99 Red Balloons” was still popular in the US and in Europe that summer, perhaps in reaction to the Chernobyl disaster. The day that I bought Nena’s 45 single in a record store in downtown Saarbrücken, I saw the album art on The Scorpions’ Love at First Sting and even though it was a “bit” out of my price range, I decided I needed it too much to just walk away.  A few days later at a biergarten fest, I heard, mixed in with polkas and other local favorites, a cover of “Still loving you.” My listening repertoire never quite recovered my long-time favorites of Simon & Garfunkel, Barry Manilow and Judy Collins.

***

Articulation of who I have become since, and as a result of that trip has proven difficult to nail down, at best. But occasionally, when it rains I can come close. Borders and nations are imaginary constructs jealously guarded by those that would have us believe in them. Folk songs and music in general, cross borders without passports or identification in a way that we mere humans can only dream of. As sure as we may be of our political, religious, social beliefs, there is always, always another way to see everything and it behooves us to keep that in mind anytime we have a conversation about anything remotely emotionally charged.

I read Burdick and Lederer’s The Ugly American before I went to Germany that year.  And somehow I still managed to insist on a liter of Coca-Cola on every shopping trip, despite what I know now was an outrageous price.  There is a photo of me standing in the Wegener’s kitchen in my morning glory sweats with the liter bottles of Coke on the counter, and I can’t help but feel a little sick at my stomach.

In my 21st century kitchen, I keep a 4 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola for days when my tummy is disagreeable. And when it rains, here in the desert, I remember that after the rain, comes the sun. ~LD

there I was

The coffee was great, but I always wanted my Coca-Cola.

Letter Home — prose part 1: A Rainy Morning

Every weekday morning around 6:10 or so, I open my front gate and hand my things to José, my regular taxi driver for the past four years.  The independent, headstrong part of me still finds his insistence on walking my bags the five measly feet from the gate to the car annoying and somewhat insulting.  I pass him my bags with a “Buen día, José,”  in any case — reminding myself that his insistence is more about his culture than it is about any weakness, real or perceived, of mine —  and lock up while he loads the car with my lunch bag and messenger bag overburdened with the laptop and the student papers or administrative paperwork I brought home the previous workday.

I fold myself into the front passenger’s seat and buckle up. The morning is dark, that darkest moment just before the sun comes up behind the backs of the mountains all around, surprising them from their slumber. As we begin the twelve-minute drive toward the colegio, I look up to and count a remarkable number of stars for a city sky. Lately, what I assume to be Mars has loomed large, sharp and bright near the ragged, mountainous, eastern horizon.

José’s kids returned to classes nearly a full week after my students did, and he tells me of their various adventures. Their first day of classes, it rained, a frog-strangler that came just as José was dropping me off that lasted until right before the first bell rang an hour or so later.   I stood in the hallway outside my classroom with the yearbook camera trying to capture the sheets of rain in the floodlights above the campus quad, while across town, José’s three kids offered to walk the last blocks to school because the line of cars was impossibly long. He made them stay in the car, and told me that he told them that being late on the first day wouldn’t be that big a deal, especially not in the rain.

After giving up my feeble photographic efforts, I walked down the hallway to the teachers’ room and made myself a cup of coffee, and returned to the open-air hallway to sip liquid wakefulness and absorb the rain with my senses.  Later that day, I knew, when the rain had run out of the clouds, the sun would turn dampness into smothering humidity, but in that moment, with the sun barely peeking through the clouds over my shoulder, it was cool and there was time in the Chihuahuan desert morning to think, to feel and to breathe safe in the embrace of the Sierra Madre.  I would deal with the heat when it came, and marvel in the sketch of my shadow on the damp sidewalk as I found myself home again, wishing we could have a little more rain. ~LD

from EL DESIERTO NO ES PARA COBARDES
by Carlos Reyes Avila

“En el desierto todo tiene el mismo nombre
Díos y el diablo viven juntos
y andan de puntillas correteándose las sombras…

…vivimos demasiado cerca de dios y del diablo
hay que echar solo un ojo a la laguna
para ver la forma en que se dibuja
tu sombra sobre la arena…”

http://www.artecomunicarte.com/ObraDatosPAD3_L.php?Obr=16

from The Desert Isn’t for Cowards
rough translation (by me)

In the desert everything has the same name
God and the devil live together
And walk on tiptoe harassing the shade…

…We live too close to god and the devil
Just take one look at the Laguna
To see the way your shadow
Is sketched on the sand…

(Many thanks to Julio M. for the reminder about this poem, and the inspiration it brought today.)

Letter Home — a poem

my tree

first flowering after the big freeze of 2011 — this tree is now less than half its original size, but flowering again. Anyone know what kind of tree it might be?

The workaday world winds its way in wonder,
wilty-eyed workers drive on
Under whistling stars and winking moon

my inheritance 2012

Taken from the roof into the Mike and Amanda’s back patio…this sun is hanging in my dining room now, sans duckie. =*(

Fine, just fine
The way the sun comes up
Behind the backs of the mountains
Who roll back over and return to dream oblivion
They’ll never know that there was anything to miss

In full sun, the dusty haze of autumn
Begins to collect in the valleys
‘tween here and the ancient hills
behind the steam rising from my coffee mug

Grinding away at stones
We meet and greet
Smile and nod,
We understand and sympathize
Adolescent voices all a-clamor
Adolescent bodies reflect against
each other all unknowing
Like electrons and heat mirages

All summer’s sins sink satisfied against
cliffs’ skin, before the winds sweep in
Brush of winter chill hovers near
Cooler days to come
Will clear the dust from the air
Leaving the day to day
As it always was

the rainy season

All three of these photos are mine, and I accept all blame. =)

The workaday world winding its way in wonder,
wilty-eyed workers driving on
Under whistling stars and winking moon.

~LD