Thursday, July 15, 2010

And did I mention that I didn't convert? That I am not so much a Catholic as I once was but definitely NOT Muslim? But it pains me, some. That I am not really either, that I have the confirmation of my Catholicism, the christening of my girlhood, the blood of Christ and his body still lodged in the folds of my throat, but that has been so long ago now that I even forget the ritual of the Mass.

No one really asks me about that, except my dad and even he's given up that ghost, it seems. Of course, one is never Not Catholic, one is always an ex-Catholic. It stays in the blood stream. Especially mine, having been quite literally born in a convent, played with saints' teeth sewn on little green velvet pillows, and entered puberty so, so harshly in the halls of an Opus Dei school. There are so many stories there, but they will have to wait. No one asks me about them any way.

It is the other religion in my life that gets the most queries.

So, how does that work, that he can be Muslim and you haven't converted? she asks. Well, a Muslim man can marry a Christian or Jewish woman. She doesn't have to convert. But the kids have to be raised Muslim.

But somehow, the question not directly stated is, how can your lives mesh to one? How can he pray five times a day and follow the rhythm of Islam and yet you are not.

This song on the radio today. Traffic on the LIE, the trucks' crawling through the cloudy morning and this girl is singing she misses how they breathed together, how they dreamed together. She wants that again.

In my marriage we have our breath together but also our breath apart. Even if I were Muslim I wouldn't go with him to the Mosque, like my parents went to Sunday Mass at St. Edmunds. Not in Algeria, any way, where the women for the most part don't go to the Mosque, but pray privately, at home. Not here in Astoria to the Mosque Larbi goes each Friday. For most Algerians, the Mosque is men's space. It's different in other Arab countries, and of course there are women who go the Mosque in Algeria but this is about me and my experience, so maybe I should stay away from those phrases "Most Algerians." It too much reminds me of people saying, "Most Arabs" and then always something nasty follows.

But it hurts me a little. To be excluded from that part of his life and now that my son is getting older he's going to the mosque, too, to learn Quran, to learn formal Arabic. He's entering that space and I'm getting left behind. More left behind.

It isn't like I haven't considered conversion. There is so much about Islam that draws me in, starting with the language of the Quran. The poetry is achingly beautiful. The rhythms capture me and the rhyme! The creation story is WAY better than the Christian one. But there is more to a religion than it's sacred text, no?

Early in our marriage I had a dream I was under blue calm water and Larbi was just above me praying. It soothed me and I awoke so refreshed and calm. The prayer and the water, always my element of peace, were telling me something.

But I didn't convert.

Look, I don't want to go into all the issues that I hear over and over and over that may or may not play a role in why I am not Muslim. Of course, there's the ever popular debate over how Muslim women should clothe or not clothe themselves. This debate is SO fucking old now and still it rages on, being held on behalf of Muslim women but, on my radio and on the TV and in the papers anyway, not BY THE WOMEN THEMSELVES. Was that too loud? It's just that this whole, "We have to save the Muslim women from the sick Muslim men trying to control them" thing has been around for a long time, way before any of this 9/11 Terror Wars on. And I am sick of it. To totally inappropriately quote Amy Winehouse: "My stomach drops and my guts churn." So to hell with it. I am not going to discuss it here. Right.

There is also the part of me that likes to be a bit removed, to keep a bit of myself as I have always known myself intact. So much change come with marriage and babies. I have always loved to reinvent myself. I break me apart so I can start all over again. When I was 16, I'd dramaticly say: Because my whole world shattered, my poems showed that. They were choppy and made only some kind of filthy picture but blurry and crawling. Because that was what woke me sweating in those early Denver dawns. But, I would say, I am slowly putting myself back together and my poems reflect that. I've even written a poem, 'A House Called Beauty.' I'm coming together again.

And no matter how many times I shifted my shape over the years, I've always used the same pieces to put myself back together again. I make myself whole again into a face I come to recognize as my own again. And if I were Muslim, I am sure where I would put that piece of my puzzle and if all the other parts of me that I know to be true about myself, would they all click into place again?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

getting ready for our trip to algeria every year is like preparing for the end of days. i go prepared for life without: tampons, zip lock bags, contact solution, packets of miso paste, my favorite pilot precise fine rolling pens in black.
today i went to target and bought calamine for the mosquito bites. i got 24 crayons for the plane. i got a ridiculous microphone for us to yodel into at the beach house.

the kids and i get nasty big misquito bruisey bumps at night in our apt. our apt is way, way up high on the last street before the crashing cliff down, down to sea and port. we have the 11th floor with no one above us and and look far out into the med. sea and the ancient port- russian ships docking and spanish ferries leaving, their lights trailing behind in the ending smoke of sunset.

our balcony is huge, an extra room, really. our apt is the only one with this. the apts below us have another bedroom in its stead, but i'll take this space a million times, yes! it's floor is smooth red tiles you might see in an oven. there is a faucet and every morning while the kids and larbi sleep i wake and fill bucket and then bucket and crash it over the tiles. i pull the long-handled squeegee to sloose the water down the drain. i sit and watch the sky and the silence that is long in oran, algeria, where the work day schedule is flexible, when it gets done at all. i wait til the tiles' lighten and dry off then i go to boil the coffee and spiral cookies on a plate, sniff last night's left-over mergez sausage and wilted peppers.

but the mosquito's. i wanted to tell you about the mosquitoes. the water supply is kinked up by the government. stops and starts without warning. sometimes, two, three days the faucets pant hot air before they gush again. so everyone keeps these huge barrels of water. and small pots and out on their balconies (and there are so many balconies in this city that is like a broken, crumbling paris in its architecture). so mosquitoes breed and breed and there are no screens on the huge windows that open out or up or both in tricky ways that only a few old men even understand how to repair anymore.

so, yes. mosquitoes wait and hide during the day and when the lights go out they feast. yes, really, they hide. before we go to bed larbi and sofiane will hunt them. they open up the closets, and, balled up t-shirt in hand, aim and fire. sofiane loves this and larbi really kills a lot of them. 'kelba,' (bitch) he says after every kill. why is it always she, i ask? seriously!

we have to bring plenty of deep-woods OFF. the other kind that is supposed to be family friendly or some shit DOES NOT WORK. the algerian mosquito's use that stuff for deodorant. it bothers them not in the least. every night i spray down the kids on the balcony with a sinking heart, trying to ignore the threat of cancer and whatever else that crap can lead to.

so, lots of OFF is always on my shopping list. i am going to Costco for that tomorrow.

larbi is kind of a one-man santa show in his family and every year he insists he isn't bringing much, but that is always FAR from the truth. he packs the presents he brings for his eight brothers and sisters and all their kids and all their grand kids in between my striped dresses and pink swim suit, between my hair conditioner and flip-flops. yes, he is the only one in his family living in the USA and, yes, he is looked up to by all the siblings as the peace maker, as the successful one who made it, but the mountains of stuff he feels he has to bring, or that he just wants to bring, i don't know, each year drives me crazy.

maybe i'm jealous that his generosity goes beyond me, maybe i want all that attention for myself and when we're there, his sisters, especially his sisters swallow up most of it. here in new york i get him all to myself but over there i am not at the center of the family any more. we cross the atlantic and the earth has tilted and the family structure is shifted.

i am not one for searching anthropology to better understand my life with larbi. my life is not an experiment and it is not a chance to rub shoulders with 'the other.' and anthropology separates too much what is a contiguous fabric. But. An anthro. professor of mine at columbia once told me that in algeria, the family unit is the patrilineal line, not the nuclear family.

so when we are here - larbi, sofiane, zakeria and i - we are a family but when we go to algeria, it is HIS family that is central. i feel it and it makes me so pissed. it is not our apt., it is the house of his sisters' brother, his house. i am tagged on as an afterthought. a baby machine. not that i feel my husband thinks of me in this way. it is just the climate of his family that i only come to understand in bites and fits, starts and screaching halts.

thank goodness you have a boy, my professor told me. at least his family can't harp on that. and it gives you status.

how did i get into all this? i started out writing about my lists of essentials to pack and end up no where i wanted to be, opening up parts of my life that take too much out of me to explain except in sweeping strokes and i give up feeling that i've entirely misled you.

memory of my sisters cooking

chicago kitchen

fried orange cheese they
flip with spoons
two small girls, tall on stools
leaning over the stove.
Spring rains leveled the grass,
lifted the trees and....
I was running through the constellations,
running blessed by michigan summer of lighthouses and blueberries and
welts on my legs ghost in the graveyard running past cat tails
spring rain leveled the grass
and it was into the hollow of the summer/

it was night when the storm of stars overtook us.
and pumping cool icy well water onto raggedy andy's face
and losing my shoes and walking quietly through the house
with all the windows shattered
his blond voice towering over me

lifted the trees but spread me out wide in my tom boy shorts in my
snuggle t-shirt

spring rain leveled the grass
and its between the plum trees wicked black toes
and between the elms rotten sad trunk bowed as a circus elephant
between the briers of gooseberries: thin worms bloat and wait for
their tunnels to clear before they return underground.
i wait next to them.

spring rain leveled the grass and lifted the trees
and heat's open mouth was wide as the oven's
and when it swallowed me only the green fan could save me
the fan that started up by clearing its throat and lolling its head
and then beat itself into such a frenzy.

OH! to sing into the blades of the heavy metal fan, liberty green!

The joy of the reverb!