Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wedding, Rai Style

To have been married two years already and to have a wedding party already makes the celebration somewhat of a farce, but that was just the beginning. When my son was not yet a year and it was April or it is June, whatever it is not yet summer and we were in Sig, Algeria at my husband's childhood home. A lamb was purchased and slaughtered, the band from the Sahara was hired, and the invitations went out - which is to say that the kids ran around the neighborhood inviting people and some phone calls were placed to family who lived out of town. And, AND a girl was hired to dress me, pile on the make-up and in general, prepare me for the photographer who was hired.

A thing like a wedding party is dizzying anywhere, but in Algeria, where no one tries to prepare me in the slightest for the coming events, no matter what they are, it is dizzying.

(A trip to the hammam, for example, no one told me I should keep my underwear ON while pouring water all over myself and scrubbing off layers and layers of dead, black skin. No one told me that on the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him) children spend the day shooting off bottle rockets and into the night sweet cookies powered with almonds and hot mint tea in which the gunpowder green unfurls (stars).

She came late in the afternoon with her roller suitcase of cheap, red plastic and I was ushered into the bedroom we had taken over for ourselves (ourselves being, my husband and I and our baby). Where and how she had found this red sari, Hindi costume jewelry, including a fake nose ring in Algeria where not even children's glue is readily available is beyond me. In all, she had maybe five changes of clothing for me. She had pancake pale make-up for me, along with bright red gooey lipstick, thick mascara, black, and eyebrow pencil.

We are on the third floor of the house, in which my brothers-in-law live, one with a wife and their six kids, the other unmarried and seemingly along for the ride. More on them later.

Downstairs on the first floor is where the kitchen is and women have been slogging through onion tops and discarded fat from the lamb and filling huge platters with first the steamed couscous (spread around, smoothed out with a hand that arcs around the plate as if to scatter). Over the couscous the pieces of lamb, the prunes, the rough cut carrots which have all boiled for hours in a thin, saffron broth flavored with ras- el-hanout (market mix of spices) and cilantro and burning black pepper. The arrangement of the meat and vegetables and sweet soft prunes is an art but done quickly because before the women will eat on the 3rd floor ten platters go to the men on the 2nd floor. All the while, there is music, enormous drumming and clattering tambourines that go way, way beyond the gentle Kumbaiya of my hippie childhood. There is a certain rhythm that is played for all weddings in this region of Algeria. It lifts you up and makes it impossible not to join in, not to get swept up in this thrilling moment of union.
So, this music has started outside the house and has moved quickly past the women in the kitchen, who are not wearing their hair scarves, but ignore the men from the Sahara as they move towards the 2nd floor and don't rush to cover their hair because, somehow, these men don't count in the way a male guest does. Drumming blistering up, loud, oh, LOUD, around and up the staircase to the 2nd floor, where the men are beginning to reach for their spoons and jockeying for the best cuts of meat (always the ribs are a favorite, tender the meat pulls away from the slender bone and the salted fat slips past your teeth and down).

I am getting dressed. And my sisters-in-law are tugging off their rings and unclasping their heavy, gold necklaces and placing them over the velvet dress, blue and brocade, garnished in gold thread (not real, of course, because this has come out of the cheap, red suitcase the girl someone has hired has brought for me). And over the dress comes strand upon strand of costume pearls. And then the jewelry that everyone loans me. Every finger is ringed in gold, my neck is circled many times over with gold. And I am crowned and wrapped in a shawl that glitters and photographed with Larbi.

In each picture I freeze, no smiles. How could I? With the din of drums and my baby is screaming and pulling from the arms of his aunt. He is in no picture, I guess because wee are pretending that this marriage has not been consummated yet. No one offers to add him into the frames and I don't ask for him.

I am sure there is more to tell, but I just want to put this into the world, because so often I start to write and then middle-through I stumble and give up and it sits in scrabbly piles of papers or in the chaos of computer files that elbow each other on my desktop.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Breasts boulder

When did I ever think about nursing before I had kids? I guess never, really. You think about playing with your baby, imagine sleeping next to your baby, but nursing isn't something you can predict, or explain to any one else what she will experience. And for me, especially the first time around, with my older son, nursing came to dominate the first months of my motherhood.

After birth, when I could barely walk, was stumbling around in my disposable underwear still gushing blood, when my stomach was still puffed out but I had the baby, my baby, my son, in my arms jittery rocking him, watching him breathe in his sleep, my milk came in. Engorged is the word the baby books prepare you with. Bullshit. My breasts doubled in size and not in a sexy way. In a bulbous, fast way, ripping stretch marks over their swollen rims. They were so painfully hard, in a way I imagine fake tits would feel - but never having felt them up myself...not too sure.
I pumped out milk to ease the pressure but that just made more and more milk. So but Week 2 I was sitting on the couch with loads of towels to soak up the extra milk spurting out of my breasts. When I sat there, my top off, trying to feed my baby, I would let the milk shoot out, just for fun. It could easily hit the coffee table 4 feet away.
When in this place where a small, baby whose penis has been twisted up and skinned with a screw in a circumcision that everyone except God tried to talk me out of, when white gauze tries to ease the loosening of what is left of the cord that connected us, when his eyes are blue but turning brown, when sleep comes almost not at all as night and darkness bring new panic into me: has his breathing deepened or stopped, is that a cry to be fed or pain. And I am trying to feed him the only way that will do, the only way I will accept as right but he is biting down on the nipple because so, so much milk is overwhelming him and choking him. And then it is that my nipples are so raw that when he latches on, when his small mouth covers the darkened circles, the very outest ledge of what have become my breasts, I am brought to tears.

And beyond this, are the hormone rushes that it brings. Again, what The Books say: nursing can bring a sense of relaxation and calm, often sending a new mother into a peaceful nap. Yes, there is that. But here it is:

Nursing Him

Belly to belly
He's under my shirt tails
nagging away my layers
reaching around,
scraping his mean-edged nails over my hips.
Pushed from it's lacy cup he claps on,
lips untucked, tongue thrashing in a rhythm for the letdown
and the milk comes
breasts boulder: Porno Beasts,
the bite rolls through my clothes over the flannels
stinking up the room with my animal.


Do you feel that? Sometimes I feel that if my voice could be linked to the poem, to each poem, that my voice should read each poem and THEN everyone will get it. That can't be true, but it seems that it should.

The crazy thing is, I nursed my older son for 2 and 1/2 years and now, my younger son, I stopped nursing him after more than 3 frickin' years. So, yeah, I made my peace with it. And it is something powerful that I both received gifts from and sacrificed for.

I have nursed other babies and donated frozen little bags of milk to babies for their mothers to thaw and mix in with their formula, doses of immunity and fat balance and secrets that are yet to be uncovered are hidden there. Here in the US, most women freak out about the very idea of another woman nursing her baby. But in Algeria, my sister-in-law asked me to nurse a new baby in the family whose mother was having a hard time getting her milk going. We were all staying in the same house and soon I was waking at night when I heard his cry, because my body was responding to him as if he were my responsibility. Not my child, don't think that. That is what women fear, I think. That the woman who nurses her baby is taking some away from her the role as mother. But that small baby boy whose fingernails were dipped in henna and whose poor, tiny limbs were over-wrapped, guarding, guarding always they are, their babies against a chill, even in African heat of July; this tiny child could not be my own but I could give him a sweet taste of perfection that his baby formula of questionable brand could not give. And I was proud.

The easiest thing was that. I couldn't figure my way into lining up bottles and and a row of nipples and a row of caps and sterilizing. Draping my violet scarf over my chest and pulling out my breast saved me from hysterical baby fits on the subway, it made my life easier for those early years of confusing motherhood. And then again, when trying to be a mother of two impossible creations at once, it eased the way.

But there is more to this.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

and the day in sig passes slowly in the heat
they pressure cookers have a sharp ping to them like the buzz of a tv and they are furiously boiling the evening meal
the meal is a process that takes the whole day
she paces herself
first the soup and the main dish: small balls of koofta meat set into the heads of artichokes and boiled in broth with chick peas
later if it is cool she will knead bread maybe white and maybe whole grain too just barley flour and yeast and salt and water set to rise and then shaped and thrown onto hot black pan to cook and its best when it is just a bit burned by the heat and the grains inside are soft and full

but if there is no bread or if there is bread she will take a nap in the heat sleeping on the long couches that line the living room whose fabric changes with the seasons

because the afternoon is long even if you have 6 of your own kids plus 2 not your own plus a husband and his brother and the man who watches the building going up night and day and night again so the steel beams don't get stolen but whose only company is the many stray cats who crawl under the high metal fence for a quiet place to eat the sardine they stole from the dust where it fell

what have i gone with this§


what i am saying is my sister in law has so so many people to cook for she jokes she has a restaurant and its true that she has the oven from one where she roasts three chickens for dinner and then bathes them in their own fat and dusty spices she hums as she looks for in the wooden cabinet falling off the wall

one of the people who comes every ramadan meal is an old woman who dresses in the traditional white cloth when outside
she wraps it around her waist it falls behind and tucks it into the waist band of her skirt
the fabric is not a white though but a cream that has passed thru summers dusty with the wind from the sahara and fought off the winter that brings only icy rain but no snow
women have worn this cloth this way
after they have wrapped it around themselves the old women the women who learned from their mothers while the french where still here these women bite the last fabric in their teeth so that their faces are sort of shielded though not hidden all the way
this is the algerian way
the way in sig
but so few women do this anymore

this woman lives in an apt without windows she tells me
her face is so leathered and wrinkly and she is skinny and talks with phlem behind her voice so that i barely understand her and try to nod and add in generic phrases that fit into almost any conversation here
phrases that always almost contain some sentiment about the power of god the goodness of god or thanking god

on her forehead are old black tattoo stripes going down to just between her brows

L tells me that parents did this to their daughters in the time of the french so the french wouldn't find them beautiful and lust after them or ask for them or i am not sure what life under a colonial power would be like when france thought of algeria as france except with these natives that wont quite be trained the way they would like

can she really live in an apt without windows
no no
it is just that the window is only in the front of her apt and that is the kitchen and the window is large and opens very wide but all the way in the back of the house when the air is still in the afternoon before the fresh breeze from the back hills of sig returns
and she rests there but gets no relief until she comes to this house just before the adan calls for sunset prayer and the air is rushing thru the hallway where she sits on the prayer rug and waits for it: prayer and the glasses of ice water that will follow one after another

so the day finishes sitting next to this woman pouring her glass after glass of icy water she lifts with fingers of old knuckles buckled and swollen up

the day finishes with her putting the leftovers in her margarine tubs she brings with her so she can eat later before she sleeps because she will not eat from the time you can see a thread in the dawns light until the call of the sunset prayer and it is august and the day is so very long

the day ends with her drinking her coffee with four sugars and again wrapping her cloth around her and taking the stairs carefully down again because she is already 84 and is sick in the way every woman in algeria past the age of 65 is sick and can take up the whole room with her health complaints that are both vague and seemingly life threatening

the day finishes with S and Z going with their cousins for lemon sorbet

the day finishes and i have had enough and long for my own bed and my terrace and my own coffee pot that i wash and fill as i wish


but the next morning after i had been in sig three days i woke and decided enough was enough and even if i had to be alone in the apt at least our apt in oran was blessedly blessedly cool and a view of the sea and my very own coffee pot i am free to use whenever i choose
but it is awkward here to be alone at home
there are dangers that wouldn't emerge at my door of b4 in astoria
but those i will have to tell about another time

i woke up and decided that once again i needed my own space and that the raging fury in my head of heat needed to be soothed

so here is what i had to do to get home:

send S downstairs to tell benouda that i wanted to go home this morning

S comes back to tell me that we should stay until night time when he can go to the mosque for the evening ramadan prayers and then race off to eat fresh lemon ice cream with his cousins and then play ball
basically Benouda tried to convince S to stay in hopes that he would convince me

i send him back down again and he comes up with another reason for us to stay and i send him back down with this: if they do not drive me i will walk back along the highway with my kids in the dust until i can hitch a ride with a trucker

so they bring me back home again

and in the morning i wake with all the heat rubbed out of my head and i throw water over my terrace floor and i put my feet up and i sink into the view of the sea and sky and the whole city around rising up behind me

Saturday, August 14, 2010

to be in sig

to be in sig algeria in the house of my brothers in law is to close myself in to a world that is heat and heat and ear splitting heat in the day
all day all day is ramadan
i pretend i am not eating so i hide in the bedroom that is our when we visit here and munch apples with the door closed
god how i long for coffee
during nap time which is for everyone not just children even though one of my children the older one never ever naps but i do
during nap time i sneak to the kitchen and steal stale bread from last night%s feast

the day goes something like this
i wake up with the kids because the light is coming through the blond glass windows and the sound of the motor bikes are taking over the streets below
i guzzle water and wander out to see who is awake and if maybe i can somehow manage to pour a cup of coffee and get back to the bedroom before anyone notices
i am so afraid of being caught i still after three days have not found to courage to try out this plan
the floors are all tiled in large brown and or blue squares that when they throw water on them later will be insanely slippery the only major deterrent for boys wandering through the house to avoid the room being cleaned
this might be a choice that the women have made without knowing
this slippery floor tiles that are hard and perfectly melded to each other not at all like lynolium in my apt
but as i know that it is my brother in law who choose the floors for this house this cannot be true
already i am ready to go back to sleep
i lay in bed thanking god for the air conditioner that is fixed to the wall
i have been here sig algeria in the august heat when they did not have an air conditioner and the pain that is evident in my head now was so so much worse
the kids have nothing to do until their cousins wake up so for now i try to entertain them by reading magic school bus and harry potter alternately
the day proceeds with exactly nothing to except pretent to offer my help in cleaning but dissapear when the actual work is being done by my two oldest nieces yamina and fatima
i am hiding in the bedroom with the ac on and the door closed when i hear the bottle of soap being flicked over the floor
splat in quick jumps the sound falls on the floor
then will come the buckets of water and the foudwar which is a long handled squeegie thing is pulled along the floor directing water toward the bathroom door where there is a hole in the tiled floor that the water goes down and the huge water bugs come up
the floor will dry and then i will come out and stand by the door to the kitchen where my sister in law is beginning to cook already
already she has placed in the pressure cooker two frozen tomatoes two frozen carrots a handfull of flowering cilantro and parsely flat leaf meat is of course lamb and i am sure it is frozen too tho i cant tell exactly
the spices are little stars and colorant and ras el honout and salt and heavy pinches of black pepper that is so much spicier here than in the usa or spain or elswhere i have eaten black pepper
there are two onions chopped into four parts each and maybe a zucchini
the fire is high under the pressure cooker that has a sticker that reads secret in cooking is fast
the chinese really abuse the fact that this is not an english speaking country when they print their labels for products sold here
i often read the instructions on the ac universal remote or the instructions on how to put together a toy and laugh out loud and have no one to share it with

so my son is going crazy here so i have to go maybe more soon now that i have somewhat figured out this insane keyboard but not the punctuation so for that i am sorry

Sunday, August 1, 2010


To people watch in Alicante is to find all mannor of elegance and sweat, elegance and buzz cuts, elegance - the high-waisted skirt fitted to the slim woman, now past children, now in a phase of her lfe she has found power and confidence in her straight spine and sure of her beauty

when the theatre opens the seniors are lined up, older women in eyeshadow and gold hoops with silk scarves and loneliness- B. would love it here. People do not get old and fade out, shuffling through their last decades with degradion and solitude- they go to the beach with their friends, sporting a new red poka-dot bikini, their beach chairs and coka in hand. they dress up to walk BLVD Espana in a shift dress and low heels, hair curled and smart, colorful glasses framing her face, bringing out the green hazel in her eyes

I love Spain. the quiet evenings of green olives and salted fish, the buttered toast and cafe con leche to open the day.
the men here are not without style either. While S and Z played on the playground of trains and planes and automobiles. a gentleman walked by with a crisp peach shirt, short sleeves, top white button undone. sunglasses shading him from the last Med´n sunlight

The market here, indoors at the top of the city. 1921, the 1st floor you enter on in all meat but no smells of the dark edges, the slit of fur from fat here. just gorgeous meat, neatly arranged and seperated. Maybe I am a sucker for the organization of the state. the cleanthliness codes and control regimes/ if I can buy four types of heirloom tomatoes, tigre babies, sweet fat cherries, marbled that just fit in your palm and firm bathing beauties, so be it. bring on the power of the state.
there are dried mushrooms and fresh- oyster and portabella, so many I don´t have the names for/ I´d simply point and order / grill with deep green olive iol, crumble of sea sale and serve.
the artichokes and fava beans, the white donut peach- donut peach I´ll rename olympus peach-

we wander to the fish and such silver fresh sardines brigh and luster dazzling in a way the frozen ones I buy in NYC have lost- sunfish and emperor and the impossibly strange lemon fish- a great Red Armored fish with its mouth puckered an even deeper monsterous red- the size of a huge belly of an old man- the thick red skin with seeminly no scales-
the skate a light, virgin pink and white sliced and spread /

we buy black figs and white peaches, raw and salted sunflowers and when we leave an hour has passed by under the vaulted ceiling and thick cooled walls/
Ah, Espana
Ah, Viva

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!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Postcards from North Africa

Postcard #1

Oran, Algeria

The lion is Front de la Mer, squared by all the ice cream parlors of Oran.
Kids run circles round it, climb and slip down its Parisian green back while their parents push back,
scraping the aluminum chairs and settle in, scooping up bright, bright ice cream.
Even in the dark the pink and yellow, slippery blue shine through.
This is summer in Oran and the children run wild until the last prayer calls
on all sides and its time for home, home, home.

Postcard #2

Marrakesh (what the postcard doesn’t show)

small sputtering tan mini-taxis fouling the streets with their old diesel engines,
the street crowded with Moroccan girls walking shoulder to shoulder,
shirts cut off over shoulder just above the curve of belly
hips swagger, and looking.

the Moroccan Men-boys with their cheap jeans slung low
hair oiled back
loafers shine in the night heat

the old women waiting at bus stops,
their bulging woven shopping bags torn in corners sprouting cilantro’s muddy ends,
earthy carrots, turnips for the Friday couscous

these are the people here
not those not those women sitting in spotless white caftans and gold hoops,
watching a fantasy happen far below their starry hotels’ rooftop terrace

not these pasty Germans in earth-tone sandals sitting in bleeding heat getting stung by the black venom henna paste that curls round and in and round and out
while the sellers holler cool cold juice orange juice impossibly cold and pulpy in the furnace of the square, calling out greetings in every language

these are the people who live here, young boys of gangly legs and just a hint of fuzz on his upper lip and the old man who approaches, pushing his white hair back but not nervous, not really.
this, too is a trade, here.
he is shopping. just as I finger the glittering sequined slippers, the hint of sheep still in the purple leather he is tentatively he
he hesitates and then traces a single finger of the boy as they walk away together.