New Year’s Eve, 1995 (Cut from an untitled work-in-progress)

 

(Cut from an untitled work-in-progress)

… In Los Rios, decent women don’t drink.

Yesenia drank beer in cantinas, and Eugenia told me she wasn’t decent. Norma told me she wasn’t decent. They cautioned me against drinking beer with Yesenia, but I never saw Yesenia do anything that didn’t seem normal enough. She would walk into a bar, order a beer and a small plate called a “boca,” and talk to the other people there. It wasn’t her fault they were always men. I never saw her do anything that seemed remotely indecent other than just simply be there against the rules.

Rumor had it that Yesenia’s daughter Iris was Enrique’s. This didn’t bother me in the least—at first because I didn’t know who Enrique was, and later because why should I be upset about a child conceived before I knew either parent? I couldn’t see the logic. Yesenia said the rumor wasn’t true but her denial was unconvincing. Either way, I didn’t care. I liked sitting in the bars with Yesenia once in a while, drinking beer until the room spun. Men bought us beer and told us we were beautiful. We smiled and drank and when we were tired, we went home. Yesenia could drink a lot more beer than I could. I was always the one to get beer-logged and heavy-eyed after a few hours. Everyone frowned on my friendship with this indecent woman, but I didn’t care. If she in any way deserved that reputation, she never demonstrated it while I was around.

I was with Yesenia the first night I danced with Enrique.  She asked me if I wanted to go to the New Year’s dance in Santa Barbara. I was dying to go. My other choice was to stay home with Norma and either watch TV or go to church—the two things she did in her free time. I put on my bright-colored new dress, my new terribly uncomfortable shoes, put some money in my bag, and split. I felt beautiful.

Yesenia and I sat on high wooden stools in the cantina across from the dance hall and drank the beers a fat guy named Orlando was buying for us. I wished we could buy our own beer because I wanted Orlando to go away and I knew as long as we were drinking the beer he was buying, he wouldn’t. I was hoping Enrique might come to Santa Barbara, and if he did, I didn’t want to be stuck owing another guy attention for having bought a bunch of beer. I wanted to drink with Enrique, and I wanted him to ask me to dance. I didn’t care whether Yesenia’s 7-year-old daughter was secretly their love child or not. I didn’t care whether or not he had a grumpy wife he fought with, and kids. I didn’t want to marry him.  I didn’t want to become his secret lover.  But if he showed up at the same dance as us on New Year’s Eve, I hoped he would reach for my hand at least once.

And then Enrique and Randy rode up on their bicycles and walked into the cantina where we were sitting.  They tried to act cool, but they both smiled widely when they saw Yesenia and me, and bought us each a beer even though out beers were full.

Orlando quickly figured out he wasn’t needed anymore and he went to drink at another bar. Enrique and Randy pulled up the last bar stools and sat down. …

What the Tree Trunk Said

Part 1

I don’t know what kind of tree it was or where it came from. Clearly, Hurricane Nate brought it.  Maybe the hurricane took it down and threw it into the sea. Maybe it was a fall from some other time that dislodged from its resting place in the current of so much water and launched downstream. If I were to guess, I’d say it probably floated to us from the south because hurricane winds seem to me to blow from the southwest. Although, I don’t know. This hurricane was like no other, and I wasn’t here. It was early October 2017, and I was in Milan in the middle of my own hurricane.

I came home to Tamarindo, a stunned widow, in November after five months that lasted five years. The sky in Tamarindo had cleared by then, the electricity was restored, fallen limbs were cleared away, and it looked almost like nothing had happened. I might have looked that way too, at first glance.

I went to the beach to gather my thoughts a little, and when I saw it, I froze and sucked in my breath. In the middle of the beach on the rock reef that juts out into the water, where tidepools form at low tide and fishermen toss their lines, was the dead body of an unimaginably enormous tree. The force of water needed to throw this giant up out of the sea onto the rocks is inconceivable. And yet there it was.

And there it stayed.

I thought surely the next 10 foot tide would move it, but no. Or maybe the next tropical storm system. But no. All of us picked our way across the sharp lava rocks sooner or later to have a look at this marvel. Tourists took their picture beside it. Novios carved their names or initials into it. It became part of our landscape, part of our story.

From the first moment I saw it, I felt a strange affinity for that tree trunk. I think it’s weird that at essentially the moment Pio died, a hurricane unleashed on Tamarindo. I’m not trying to connect the two in any direct metaphysical way—I promise I’m not. But in my mind, the two things are absolutely connected. Nobody who lives in this town will forget that hurricane. And neither will I.

I stared at the trunk of that dead tree on my beach walks. I felt sympathy for it–both of us, hurricane victims. Both of us washed up here in Tamarindo, waiting to see what happens next. Both of us getting pared down by sun, wind, rain. Both of us in the middle of the water, sand, and sky. I felt like if I could get a good photo of it, it would be my self-portrait. What is left of a giant thing after it is destroyed.

I’ve lived at the beach long enough to know that tree trunks, no matter how big they are or where they wash up, don’t stay there forever. Eventually another hurricane comes, or a big swell or a hard rain, and they move. Sand shifts, and they sink and are buried, only to reappear another year after we’ve forgotten where they are. I hoped I didn’t meet up with this giant in the surf the day it dislodged, that it wouldn’t harm any of the boats anchored nearby, depending on which direction it took when it rolled free.

Part 2

In September 2019 I went back to Italy. I already told you about that pilgrimage disguised as a vacation, so I won’t make you read it all again. It was an important trip and marks a turning point of some kind that I have not yet identified. I came back in the beginning of October, lighter in more places than just my wallet.

I went to the beach to gather my thoughts a little, and when I saw it, I froze and sucked in my breath. Impossible: my tree was gone. A September storm must have dislodged it while I was gone and took it away. I knew that eventually it would move, but I thought it was still to big and too heavy.  I thought I would watch it go.  But it both came and went during my two important trips to Italy.

While I was trying to fit that into my surprised mind, I saw something else that stopped me again, and right there under the mid-morning sun in front of God and everybody, I burst into tears.  Up ahead of me, the giant tree trunk was laying on the sand.

Out of the ocean, from its place half-in half-out of the water, onto the dry land.  I knew immediately and without a doubt that there is a message for me in this. And I knew exactly what it is:

If two years is long enough to move a fallen giant like me, it’s long enough to move you.

 

That’s what the tree trunk said.

Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel like no amount of time is long enough. But I always beg for clear messages and one thing is for sure: that was a really big tree.


Together

L’accento L’avrò Per Vita: Poesie in Italiano da CERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

Il sabato 9 novembre ho fatto una piccola presentazione del mio nuovo libro di poesia e ho letto 5 poesie primo in inglese, poi in italiano.  Il libro, CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON / CERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO e una raccolta di poesie sull’amore, la vita, e la morte.

Un mio amico ha fatto dei video della presentazione e oggi, qui, condivido con voi le 5 poesie lette in italiano. 

Non ridete. L’accento Americano l’avrò per vita.

 

1 di 5: Una poesia che descrive il mondo di “prima,” e finisce con un avvertimento

2 di 5: Sul momento in cui la malatia è scoperta

3 di 5: Una poesia che parla della morte e il primo momento (di momenti infiniti) di silenzio

4 di 5:  Contemplando cos’è che si deve fare quando hai gia fatto tutto quello che potevi fare

5 di 5: Una poesia riguardo i cenere, promesse, e il mare

Namaste

 

You Can Always Come for the Cookies / Videos from a Poetry Reading

On Saturday, November 9 at Tamarindo’s one and only bookstore, I held a small launch party for and reading of my new poetry collection, CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON. I think I had realistic expectations regarding how much of a crowd a poetry book about death might draw, so I was pleasantly surprised by how many people showed up. Thirty is the number I heard: old friends, new friends, strangers, other widows.  I sold all the books I have.

I made a lot of cookies and bought some wine for the occasion. Even if you don’t love poetry (not the biggest draw in a surf town), you can always come for the cookies. I’m good with that.

A dear friend of mine videoed my presentation in short segments, which, today I am sharing with you. Following, is the introduction to CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON, and each of the 5 poems in English.

A neighbor who is also a poet made this comment to me after reading CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON:

“You say it’s a book about death, but it isn’t. It’s a book about life. You use shades of black to show us all the other colors.”

 

INTRO 1: HOW THE BOOK CAME TO BE, AND HOW IT CAME TO BE IN TWO LANGUAGES

INTRO 2:  WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK?

POEM 1 OF 5: A poem that paints a picture of “before” and ends with a warning

POEM 2 OF 5: About discovering sickness

POEM 3 OF 5: A poem about death and the first (of an infinate number) moment of silence

POEM 4 OF 5: On what you must do after you’ve done everything

POEM 5 OF 5: Later, contemplating ashes, the ocean, the idea of going home

Namaste

CERTAIN AS AFTERNOONCERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

Echo / Eco

this poem
opens its mouth
to ask for something it wants but
then there are no words

the hole in its heart
is perhaps too deep to fill
too strange
a cave with too many chambers

it’s a poem that has learned
to adapt to anything
it can become a cricket
or a whale
it can vanish completely

but when asked what it wants
it only echos

* * * * *

questa poesia
apre la bocca
per chiedere quello che vuole, ma
non le vengono parole

il buco nel suo cuore
è forse troppo profondo per riempire
troppo strano
una grotta con troppe camere

è una poesia che ha imparato
adattarsi a qualsiasi cosa
può diventare un grillo
o una balena
può svanire completamente

ma quando gli viene chiesto cosa vuole
fa solo eco

A Heart the Size of Your Fist

Excerpt from Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie
Workplay Publishing, 2018
pp. 174-175

 

I knew that letters were going to come but wasn’t prepared for what happened when I found one lying in my campus mail box. I flashed hot, then cold, then nauseous, and I had to go somewhere to read it—somewhere that is not home. No one must look at me.

Across campus on the other side of the railroad tracks that run behind the theatre, there is a tree I sometimes climbed. It’s a scruffy old pine with branches that are naked near the trunk—a hiding place I discovered last spring before I met Tom, when the guy I’d been in love with all year started going out with somebody who wasn’t me.

I rode my bike to my tree with the letter in my pocket and climbed up to the seat where I mourned that other heartbreak.

Don’t cry. Whatever you do, don’t cry.

I didn’t want to go home with red eyes and snot on my shirt.

Don’t cry.

The problem wasn’t my housemates. It was Tom I was hiding from. Obviously, at our house you could cry if you wanted and you didn’t owe anybody an explanation. But Tom would expect one. One I didn’t have. When he said he loved me, I said it back. And I meant it. I did.

 

I didn’t cry.

I read the letter, and read the letter, and read the letter. I held it to my face. I pressed it to my arms, to my cheek, to my heart. All I could do was think about breathing. All he asked was for me to come back, but I couldn’t move from that tree.

 

Can you love two people? If you love two people, is one fake and one real? Which one? Or are they both lies?

Can you fracture into a thousand pieces on the inside, and outside no one will know? Can you die and still appear alive? Can you live without understanding anything?

What is happening to me? Why can I not let go? Why does it matter more than air? How will I live my life?

Can you ever be alright again, ever, after you are absolutely broken? How can so much pain fit into a heart the size of your fist?

 

It was like the day in Los Rios that I reached from the shower for my towel and was stung on my pinky finger by the scorpion hiding there. I stared in dumb disbelief at my hand, as a blinding pain surged through my tiny finger and exploded into the entire room. It charged the air around my body like electric and shook the walls of concrete. All the while, my smallest finger looked exactly the same.