AUNT TOOTY OF RICHMOND STREET
Her American name was Aunt Tillie; I dont know its Hebrew derivation, but to me she was always Aunt Tooty. She was the beloved substitute for my own grandmother, her sister Ida, who died before I was born.
Aunt Tooty was one of three sisters who emigrated to the United States just before the Russian revolution took place. Along with Ida and Tilly came Paulie; they were said (by their own account) to be the most beautiful, talented, and sought-after girls in their shtetl. I believe it. The way they sewed and danced and laughed together, who wouldnt want to marry them? Besides, what other girls had the courage to secretly board a train and run away in search of a better life, as the three of them had when they were teenagers? (For three weeks, until they were returned home, their mother thought they were dead.) The three sisters were regal, imposing women. Tall and erect, their hair swept up on their heads just like the Empresss, they were formidable women who knew how to make themselves heard, noticed, and respected. But it was Aunt Tooty to whom I was truly drawn when I wanted a grandmothers love, Aunt Tooty to whose house on Richmond Street in Philadelphia I always wanted to go, Aunt Tooty whose large hands and long fingers I wanted to feel caress me whenever I felt sad or scared.
The house on Richmond Street was really an apartment behind my uncles appliance store. I loved the sitting room, with its bric-a-bracs and sepia photographs (including one of my mother as a child with a gigantic bow in her black hair), its tea cups on doilies, and its silver inkwell on the writing table. I loved the smell of chicken soup percolating in a pot in the kitchen, and the sound of Aunt Tooty pounding pastry on the wooden breadboard. I loved hearing her humming Yiddish songs and dancing around the room with me standing on top of her lace-up shoes. But most of all, what I loved was the armoire drawer I slept in when I stayed at Richmond Street. It was the bottom drawer of a huge piece of furniture from the old country that was pulled out to act as my sleeping nest. Lined with a deliciously soft eiderdown and fluffy pillows such as you only find in Europe, I felt absolutely safe and loved in that tiny space. In the evening when I grew sleepy, Aunt Tooty tucked me in to my special bed chamber, and in the morning when I woke, she was there to greet me, her ample bosom already adorned with its cameo, a lace handkerchief tucked inside her dress for emergencies.
It was in just that place on one such morning that I awoke to my beloved Aunt Tooty singing I have a surprise for you! Lifting me out of my drawer, she danced me around the room and then sat me in her lap. You have a new baby brother! she said. Isnt that wonderful news?
I knew that my mother was going to have a new baby, and I understood vaguely that its arrival was imminent when my father took me to Aunt Tootys. I also knew that everyone waited with baited breath for it to be a boy at 40 and with two daughters already, it was the least God could do for my mother. But I wasnt sure that it was wonderful news. Id wanted the baby, and was happy that my mother and he were safe. Still, what if Aunt Tooty loved him more than me? What if he got to sleep in the drawer, my drawer, and I had to be relegated to the couch or worse, a bed! What if I could no longer dance on my Aunt Tootys feet, or if she stopped slipping me extra fresh-baked rugela or humentashen because she was too busy cooing over my new baby brother?
I needn’t have worried. Aunt Tooty knew exactly how a three-and-a-half year old little girl might react to news of a special sibling. Now, you know, she said, this is your special place when you come to see me. This isnt someplace anyone else can have when they come here. So dont think you can give this drawer to your little brother when he is old enough to sleep here. Ill fix a nice drawer for him too, but not this one. Oh, no! This one is just yours. Is that okay, Shana? she asked. (I loved when she called me Shana, Yiddish for sweet, and short for Shana Maidela, sweet young girl). Then she swooped me into her arms and humming a Yiddish melody, danced me into the kitchen for some milk and mundelbrot. The smell of simmering soup already permeated the little room where she performed her miracles. Pulling the lace hanky from deep in her bosom, I began to suck my thumb, fingering her cameo with my free hand. The scent of her talcum reminded me of babies.
When can I see my new brother? I asked. I was ready to meet the long sought after son, who I now knew would never take my place, not in the drawer and not in Aunt Tootys heart. When can I see my new baby?
Today! she said. But first lets put away your bed. Next time you come, I want it to be all ready for you. She handed me a bag full of homemade cookies and I, in turn, relinquished her handkerchief . Then I went into the sepia sitting room to await the sound of my fathers big, black Buick, the sight of my mother, and the squalls of my new baby brother.
# # #
Elayne Clift is a writer, journalist and lecturer from Saxtons River, Vt. Her first novel, Hesters Daughters, based on The Scarlet Letter, was published in 2012. www.elayneclift.com
Loving Error, a painting by Alan Rayner
"Natural love of error brings wonderful relief and creativity. Idealistic fear of failure breeds horrific strife and cruelty."
relates to one of my primary personal motiovations in wanting to bring natural inclusional awareness into the world - and one that has been nagging away at me recently.
Idealism, whether in the form of 'rigidified focus' ('reductionism') or 'rigidified circumspection' ('holism') is a source of profound human pain and anxiety. It is painful to be an idealist, because no body is ever good enough, and it is painful to have idealism imposed upon one, because it engenders a profound fear of (being seen and treated as a) failure. It is at the root of our obsessive-compulsive modern culture. It is at the root of my personal 'obsessive compulsive disorder', which arises from having the fear of failure well and truly drummed into my natural sensibility and sensitivity by my upbringing and schooling.
By showing why, for BOTH intellectual and heart-felt reasons, this fear of failure is misplaced - founded on a false premise - natural inclusionality has the potential, if anyone can pause long enough in this obsessive-compulsive culture to listen to and and help to convey its core message, to bring enormous relief and release extraordinary creativity.
I have tried to express this in so many ways and on so many occasions, even before my explicit development of NI, for example in my novel, 'Design Fault' and in my attached painting 'Loving Error', prepared in 1998.
scientist in training gone mad
Ali Noel Vyain
Published by The Moon Publishing & Printing. Copyright 2005 by Ali Noel Vyain.
Who are You? — Who am I?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Is this some sort of game?
Are you supposed to chase you?
or am I allowed to chase you?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Are we just players
on a stage
acting the parts
someone else gave us?
Should we bow to master now?
or should we rebel?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Who is this master they tell us about?
Who is he, who some say,
Could God really be
Who are you?
Who am I?
Do you feel pain as
deep as I do?
Is it from the patriarchs,
who want us to live according to their laws?29
Who are you?
Who am I?
Are you hiding?
Am I hiding?
Are we separated?
Is that what they want?
Should we try to make a connection—
one that even the strongest patriarch
could never break?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Can we break the chains?
Will we survive?
Will we be truly free?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Are we forever tied
to the cultural script?
Will we ever break away from it?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Is there more to you
than what’s on the surface?
scientist in training gone mad
She sat at the lab bench wondering what to do next. All she had to do was come up with a method to extract the sapogenins from the raw plant material, which happened to be in the dish on the bench in front of her. She sighed. Heating the plant material didn’t help since it just burned the sample. So the only other thing she could think of was using a solvent on the liquid part. The plant had been puréed for her so she didn’t need to worry about that. But still, could she get the compounds she needed for her research without getting sick from chemicals?
She slid off the stool and found the isopropyl ether—the right solvent for the job. Then she added it to the plant mixture. She waited a few minutes to see what would happen next. Then she picked up the beaker and took it over to the hood. Once she set it down inside the hood, she turned around and picked up a pipet and a top to extract the solvent and the desired compounds from the plant material. She set those down in the hood near the beaker. Next, she grabbed another beaker and put it in the hood as well. Finally she set about to extract the solvent from the plant material.
It took a long time as she couldn’t do this sort of thing very fast. The whole time, she could smell the isopropyl ether and wondered why she was doing this experiment. Finally, she got the whole layer of solvent and just set aside the remaining plant material. She turned from the hood and walked about the lab in search of a hot plate. The next task was not one she looked forward to, but she knew she had to complete the job. So, once finding a hot plate, she took it over to the hood and set it down. Then she plugged it in and set the beaker full of solvent on top of it. She turned it on and waited.
She wasn’t done when she had to leave the lab and go home. So, she turned of the hot plate and turned away from the hood. Then she took off her lab coat, folded it, and put it inside her backpack. Putting on her backpack, she left the lab for the day and walked home. All the way home she could still smell the isopropyl ether.
The next morning she rose at her usual time. She got dressed and ate her breakfast. Then she gathered up her things and put on her backpack. She walked back to the University and attended her summer class of Physical Chemistry, even though she had no idea of what the professor was talking about or doing on the chalkboard. She sat through her class and wondered why she couldn’t understand the math proofs when she had taken all the Calculus that she was required to take. Once class was dismissed, she packed up her things with a sigh and strolled back to the lab.
Once inside the small lab, she set down her backpack and got out her lab coat once again. She walked over the hood and turned the hot plate back on. She watched as the solvent boiled and evaporated into the hood. She could still smell the isopropyl ether just as strong as ever. She sighed. It took the rest of the day for the solvent to boil off. But then it was too late to test the remaining powder to see if she got the desired compounds. So, she grabbed a vial off one of the shelves in the lab and a cap. Then she scooped up the powder into the vial and capped it. Then she went home again.
The next day after her class, she made arrangements with another lab assistant for the testing. She wasn’t authorized to use the NMR machine, so this other person kindly offered to do it for her. Once she had the results, she found that she had indeed extracted the sapogenins from the raw puréed agave plant material. She was relieved, when she saw the results because that meant that all she had left to do was write up the report. The writing part never took her long to do and so she gathered up her things and rushed straight home to write the report.
That night as she lay sleeping, a strange thing occurred. She dreamed that she was stuck in the small lab and she couldn’t get out. Dr. Frankenstein was busy putting his monster together and she noticed that the lab was dark and there was a thunderstorm approaching rapidly. She heard Dr. Frankenstein shout triumphantly, “It’s alive!” She just wanted to run outside in the pouring rain, but she couldn’t because the doors were barred with wrought iron and she had no axe with which she could cut through the wooden doors.
Then she could she the monster approaching her and she knew he wanted her…
She startled herself awake and rubbed her face with her two hands that she always had when she discovered that she had grown two new arms just below her old ones. She gasped as she wondered how it could have happened and just what she was going to do with four arms now. After all, she was a klutz.
If you liked this writing you can obtain a copy of the title from:—
Ebook ISBN: 9781937050351
Google Books http://books.google.com/books/about/scientist_in_training_gone_mad.html?id=QpoZCnT6n40C
Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/scientist-training-gone-mad-ebook/dp/B008IJO664
Barnes & Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/scientist-in-training-gone-mad-ali-noel-vyain/1103828215
Also available from Apple's iBookstore…
inTO the woods
Six thousand two hundred and forty steps deep into the woods at the fork that is more like a sword than a fork, so keep walking another forty-eight large steps. Look left. You will see the sign on the tree. The bag is beneath the evergreen eighteen steps to the left and reverse nine steps. If it isn’t there anymore, you’ve come too late. You’ll have missed your chance and likely be unable to return.
Ash and soot floated down to the moss in the woods surrounding the treehouse grandfather had spent most of his life perfecting. With the gentle sound of air rising up through bits of library, a chill. A stillness in the surround. Nature’s biophonic moment of silence. The insects, their larvae, the spiders and their babies, the small mammals he’d nurseried there in the forest, silent. They knew he was gone.
“The magic is over.” I whispered in disbelief. Not a moment passed and this scrap danced its way through breeze and raindrops down to the ground between my feet, the only significant string of words to survive the flames. They were scrawled in a hand that was not grandfather’s – rather, a wide angular pen. His had been a narrow, meticulous script.
What remained of the tree smoldered, groaned and popped. Stiff, and seizing with heat, the trunk released a plume of steam in the quickening rain.
4/12/13 Writer’s Workshop
with Matti Salminen
Report on Easter Sunday from Third Planet from Sun
In the secret rooms of the world decisions are being made the headless horseman rides again. This report comes straight from the third planet from the sun. We are the voices of the millennium the children whose childhood is abducted the children who kill and know not what they do because they are unconscious and the unconscious kill. Blood is being spilled all over the third plant from the sun as we spin in Chaos. Our voices will be heard. Our voices must be heard for they are the voice of the earth the dear sweet blue green earth where dolphins sang and now lie washed bleached upon beaches. This is the earth where mighty forests rose abundant and trees were guardians until they were stripped by machines. This is the earth your earth where rivers ran now dried to deserts and white majestic glaciers towered above the icy seas. This is the voice of the earth and the cry of the whales beneath the seas who sing across the depths to one another. We are the silver fish scooped against our will into threads of nets and choked.
This is the lost plant, the third planet from the sun where men kill one another and beat their wives and rape young girls. We are the girls sold into slavery to meet the sexual needs of men who come to Thailand. We are the millions in Africa who died of Aids because the big pharmaceutical companies care about their profits and refuse, refuse to save. We are the ones watching on the shore to see the whales migrate off the coast of Baja, California wondering why they never come. We are you. We are we. We are one. We are all those whose voices will be heard like the mighty waves of the sea that will rise at last in anger like the tired winds which have passed too often over blood-soaked earth where people kill and kill and kill one another because they are a different color religion race.
Oh you, the inhabitants of this sad earth today the day of EASTER the day of the resurrection of Christ may your voices reach onto the heavens and be heard all yea lost wanderers lifetime after lifetime that walk in darkness and worship the coin of gold. The ancient seers walk among you again and hear the voices of the billions rise in prayer onto the heavens this morning and plea for peace and warmth and food and safety and pray for one star left to wish upon as they watch black babies in Darfur thrown into bonfires and young girls knifed and raped and still the earth the good sweet earth upon whose grace we walk this day shoots forth green and salt and gives us bread to break and share and tells us not to squander what we have.
This is the third planet from the sun on the day of resurrection where millions kneel and pray. May all men rise today to a higher level of consciousness and be aware that they are one. May the killing stop. May the trees grow back and the soil stop eroding. May the ozone hole close.. May all those people whose voices are never heard, the ordinary people who wait so patiently to sit beneath their fig trees in peace with a crust of bread, be heard this morning in the highest corridors of heaven. May all rise through grace onto a higher level of consciousness before the headless horseman on his black stallion reins fire from the skies to melt our cities.
We are the voices of children whose spirit will never be lost because we came from beyond the stars and chose to come back here to save this small green and blue planet its dolphins and silver fish its willows and oaks and robins poisoned by pesticides. We are the new voices of the millennium among you and we will be heard. The wars will stop quite suddenly and a bell will ring to summon each and every one of you who are accountable for all that you think and do and know. It is not too late to stop. Be still. Listen to the music of the spheres. Do what the Father tells you are right. Let there be light and the doors of the secret rooms thrust open and those who hide inside plotting in darkness will be revealed and light shall shine brighter and still brighter till they grow thin and unsubstantial and fade as shadows in the light of the sun on the third planet, the blue green planet that wobbles yet spins. For I have placed you here for a reason and it is time to stop and listen to the voice you can only hear in stillness which certainly is not the voice of your Congressman or Senator of President or Vice President or lobbyist or corporation of government. Sit in stillness and hear the voice that has no words. The flame of faith shines steady on the darkening shores of the world where ordinary men kneel in prayer and although you cannot understand each other’s tongues there is a language within you will hear and hark to for you are come from my Son and he lives within you and since he has risen, you too can rise if you will.
You ask who I am. I am the nun in Florence who leaped from the window of the jail. I am the Jew who lies naked with twisted limbs on top of a pile of hundreds of bodies. I am Anne Frank who believed people are good at heart. I am the bread and the blood and the phoenix that rises from ashes. I am the old woman who has seen too much but cannot close her eyes. I am the spirit of Sheila who has not yet entered her body. I am your guardian angel dressed like a hunter who sits quietly under an oak tree and says he will never harm anything that belongs to you. I am your dream of the past and your dream of the future. I am the light that heals your sight greater than your lasers. I am the diamond you covet and steal and the race horse floating in the air held up by a harness while his broken leg heals. I am the healers among you and the herbs. I am the polar bear who drowns today because the ice is melting and he is so tired he cannot keep swimming. I am the mother from Cambodia thrown in the sea with my infant. I am the child unborn. I am the cell that multiplies and grows. Let go. I tell you let go of your greed of your need to judge others return to me today in the stillness of your heart and hear these words on the third planet from the little sun. Let the walls of the ego come down and stand before me as one.
What I Remember
When the earth split apart, there was no warning. Deep sharp crevices split the flat fields of grass.
Boulders thrust like acorns into the sky and an incessant angry rumbling came from the ground as well as the sky. The high rise apartment buildings had been hit, the staircases cracked. The residents had been evacuated at the first blare of the sirens before the glass panes shattered and the roof was swept off by the tornado exposing the twenty six floors of apartments so you could see inside the rooms, box after box filled with fat-cushioned sofas sodden with rain, refrigerators turned upside down, freezers, beds, dressers, books scattered like dust all over the floors. Suddenly it was important to have neighbors to save the cats and dogs. Those of us who managed to get down the cracked staircase with gaping holes knew that many were trapped inside and had fallen through the holes in the walls, splayed out like rag dolls with twisted arms and legs. As the rumbling continued, the sky grew ominously darker, darker by the second. I did not know which route to take except to run as fast as I could away from the cities where the buildings shook and crumpled in slow motion as new shock waves hit the ground. Hundreds of animals were racing in the same direction I was but on a different path. There were sheep mixed with wolves foxes cats dogs slews of robins flying overhead a frightened hawk a bellowing cow all racing north away from the crumbling cities.
Behind me my apartment on the l6th floor was opened like a box exposed to the sky. I had forgotten in my haste to leave to grab either the laptop that contained my life or the flash drive I had carefully prepared just the week before sensing something intangible indefinable and unnamable was headed towards us even though the politicians and newspapers denied anything unusual in the air. The thing was in the air. It hung in the air before it happened. It hung in the spaces between words like a picture that is to vivid to comprehend but can be glimpsed for a second before it fades into unconsciousness because you have never experienced anything like it before so it cannot even be imagined. I had to get back into the building even at the cost of my life to get that flash drive, but the staircases had gaping holes. The elevators were not working. It was getting darker. Why had I never learned how to use ropes to cross space or taken a survival course? Loudspeakers told the fleeing citizens that it was only a matter of minutes before the steel beams that supported the buildings would be reinforced. We would be able to walk back into our boxes and live our sheltered lives, but none of us believed anything the government said, much less its promises. The truth was conveyed in our eyes, in subtle glances, in a hand held out to a stranger.
What has seemed solid was air; the air was charged with electric particles that clung to our skin as we ran. It stung and burned. We were headed north. I could tell by the slant of the sun in the one remaining clear patch of sky …. hundreds of lemmings headed towards the cliffs by the sea and the ones behind would push the ones in front over the cliffs and no one knew why
I would like to tell you this was a dream from which I woke up, but now that my eyes are open it feels
more real than the birch outside my window whose leaves shine in the morning sun. There is something in the air.
Jumper I at the World Trade Center
If you saw me at all you must have seen me falling as a dark image against a white sky legs scissor out and wondered if you imagined me or if I existed like you but was falling through thousands of feet of air as if I were swimming towards the pavement through water as if there could have been a safe landing or maybe the second you caught a glimpse of me falling through the sky like Icarus you denied to yourself that you saw me because you could not believe you saw a person just like yourself on an ordinary Monday morning falling through the air and behind me others falling like leaves off a burning tree the metal buckling the thick black smoke the orange flames raging insanely the entire scene on your television must have seemed stranger than fiction or better just like a movie. I bet you kept the television on after you saw me fly through the air, but the networks never showed another jumper moving through the air so you wondered if that black image against the white sky with the orange flames was only something you imagined for an instant like a black beast in the underbelly or your own imagination. There was no choice with the heat and the flames behind us and our bodies moving towards the open window and the cool September air and I never was an athlete in high school and never imagined myself taking that flying leap into a rush of cool air where the flesh cried relief and the eyes blurred and the entire city spread- eagled below me and that sensation of moving slowly almost floating through a dark tunnel as the pavement moved closer like the palm of a giant hand to greet me. I was the jumper and I jumped just like you would because there was no other choice and there was no way out and I was taken off guard when I least expected it and forced to leave the desk where I had sat so comfortably for the last ten years and forced to see a window as if it were a door I had to push open because the heat behind me was moving closer and the smoke had begun to thicken so I could no longer breathe and that is how I jumped into the next century. It’s almost funny since I never jumped before and was certainly not athletic and no one could call me brave because I am an ordinary woman just like you and I was sitting at my desk when it hit imagining the pot roast dinner I would serve to our company Saturday night.
I was walking through the museum of my life
I was walking through the museum of my life and knew this had happened hundreds of times before. It was a dream but it was real. There were a finite number of minutes to walk through the rooms and get out the door into air before the building burst into flames. If I did not walk faster, I would burst into flames. The seconds stretched out. It was now and now was eternity. As fast as I walked, even faster, I had to stop and ask what I could take with me because this is it. This is the last time I will walk through the rooms of my life before they are incinerated behind me and I float into air less than flesh and ash more than bone to scatter in a sky bluer than the one I see or have known. I could not help but stop and linger staring at the walls wondering what I might thieve from the ancient collection that was not mine, even knowing that each painting, each sketch , each sculpture had an alarm behind it that would go off and mark me Thief and say, “You have stolen an artifact from someone else’s life.” All meant all so one object could not be taken from the wall.
I swooped up a pile of your photographs sketches letters since you were the womb from which I sprang although I knew you were a column of ash rising with a smile on the other side to greet me. Suddenly a chill wind rushed through the room and there were thousands of others rushing to get out into the air behind me pushing and shoving and the letters and photos and sketches flew like singing birds into the air and scattered on the floor like stones. I stopped at your ebony jewelry box filled with gold rings and necklaces wondering if there might be one piece I should take as a token of having been here but left the box untouched.
Earth,” I called.
Before me appeared the small narrow tunnel I must squeeze through to get to the other side. It was blocked. Thousands were pushing behind me so quick I pulled out the rags that were stuffed inside the tunnel pulled and pulled till the sheets billowed out behind me. Then I took a deep breath and made myself as tiny as I could and put my head into the tunnel going back going back to where I came from where you were waiting in the tunnel of ash smiling on the other side. I began the hard push back going with gray hair and wrinkles with births and abortions with surgery and divorce until with Love I burst through on the other side.
She is neither Madonna nor whore; her image fractures and cannot be caught in mirrors.
She is the model in Atlantic the famous poet adored whose face was shattered in an auto accident, the one who retired to a convent. She is the blond blue-eyed Parisian beauty who slept with famous photographers to get her photo on the cover of Elle and contracted syphilis. She is the eighty-year-old woman on the corner of Jerome Avenue and Fordham Road who begs for a dollar who the cops stuff in a body bag on the coldest night in February.
A woman possessed by a Muse cannot have an earthy lover. Her eye never blinks. She is the eye witness who records, the lens of the camera as it clicks, the rage hidden behind the smile, the damp palm upon the cheek, the unspoken word in a sigh, the relief of a sudden ray of sunlight upon a green leaf. She is the black cat with the green eyes who retracts its claws and stares.
She is the ruby ring that rests on the bone of the index finger of a Medici princess who died at l8 and lies buried in a church in Firenze. She walks under the blue moon down too many streets through light wind rain and fog.
The doctor tells her that the red spots on her flesh should be burnt off. In Medieval times they were believed to be the marks of a witch.
She tries to find a word, thin voice rising above bare stars and wonders how she has managed to come this far. Voices call softly clamoring to be heard. When did it begin and what can she remember standing in the middle of a dusty white road cast down and into a body, the sensation of being chained to the ground staring up at a high blue dome where a door opened into light. An emerald blade of grass in soft air, the thud of one ripe pear, parents… strangers chosen for lessons she needed to learn. Words shine and burn. They blaze like jewels. Real language floats between the lines.
Flesh withers, blackens, returns to dust. The moon is her father. He floats in the blue night above her. Awake and asleep she wrestles with words.
She is the invisible woman, the broken vase filled with light. She waits in silence and grief. She is the one they cannot fathom to whom they dedicate their books, but it is their own dream they worship. She is invisible. They see the mask they place on her face, Madonna Mother Whore.
She is the sixteen-year-old in the street who struts with small pointed breasts wears a bustier and high-heeled shoes. Her nails are painted red, and you see the outline s of her buttocks through her white lace underwear. She is Joan of Arc when the arrow pieced her left breast.
She is never one but many. She is the white dove covered with blood squashed on the pavement in the city. She is the one they paint. It is their own fear they try to subjugate.
She is the girl of five huddled in the closet who sees her mother raped and her father’s testicles hacked off. She is the one whose tongue was cut out for speaking her belief. She is the nun who leaped off the tower of the cathedral in Florence into the blaring sun. She is the one and the many and the one.
She is the four-month-old girl whose crib is splattered with blood in the Kibbutz on the border of Palestine and Israel who clutches her rag doll and the l9 year old journalist in Peru who was abducted by government soldiers raped and suffocated with a plastic bag because she published a book.
She is not one but many and cannot sleep when girls in Sudan are raped, when babies are thrown into bonfires, when a nun in China lights her life on fire, when politicians lie, when drones fly overhead, when the government of Syria murders and tortures children. She is the green pure stream running underground beneath concrete buildings and the branches of trees draped with plastic leaves. She is the graffiti on the walls of slums no one can decipher. She is the secret message.
She cannot forget the Trail of Tears, the buffalo that roamed the Great Plains, the white eagle feather she held as she danced, the red clay dirt that healed, the songs they sang, and how they buried the bones of each fish. She is the whale who sang before it was harpooned the dolphins who leaped in sweet air before the poisons came. She is not one but many and worships the Sun the Moon the Earth the Stars. She moves by fire water wind and air. She is not one but many. She watches the seas grow warmer, the ice caps melt, the cities flooded. She sits with a faint smile hands folded knowing green thoughts are one so we forever are.
How did it begin and when. At first I was alone wandering down the street looking for something. Then came the drums and shouts and horses and men. It was a big parade and everyone marching was shouting and all the men were shouting and the crowd was the one man and the one man the crowd. They held torches and chanted, and I wanted to lose myself and join them. Then I saw the mark on the sign they carried aloft, the mark written on their hands and arms, and it was the mark of Hitler and they were chanting, “Death to the Jews and Niggers,” and suddenly I was the Nazi and the Jew. I saw the Jews lined up who sat in rows with bent shaved heads, and I am the one who points the finger to send each one to death. I am the Jew. I am the Nazi and the Jew. I am me. I am you who point the finger at the Other. I am the Other, and when I die you die and when I fall you fall and when I rise you rise and none of us can rise when one of us falls. This is the only truth known in heaven and earth that is never forgotten and follows us from lifetime to lifetime and sticks to our skin though skin is stripped off. Although the terrorists come and drag you from your house and hack off your breasts and throw you into the bonfire screaming, “ No one left alive” and leave the village the town the house and city and leave the children of men in smoldering ashes, there is one who will remember.
I am the victim and the accuser. I am the Nazi and the Jew .I am you, and when I pass my grandfather who is a Jew as if I do not know him, I stand as the one accused not he who walks naked straight to the gas chamber. I am the Nazi pointing the gun and each child who falls. I am the Jewish girl with blond hair being marched to Auscwitch because her mother is a Jew. I am the label and the one who speaks labels. I am as filthy as the label and stand accused. I am the Nazi and the Jew who need opposites to play their roles lifetime after lifetime. Today I can no longer turn my head aside and walk away for the Lord has forced me to rise out of my bed and walk into the darkness down this path with you and you and you and you and beg that we hear HIM so that we no longer walk and live and breathe in sin. Do onto others as you could have them do onto you , and this is true since I am me and I am you and we are one who walks and cheats and lies and breathes and breaks and births on the third planet from the sun .
Notice how we date our lives before and after Christ and how we continue to turn our heads and walk past the one who sits quietly in lotus position with folded hands or climbs the mount and brings back the law on tablets of stone. Still we continue to worship the golden calf. Idols are deceptive and the devil we burn is the Other we cast out and burn because his skin race color is different. In the name of religion we kill. It is the third planet from the sun where men are mad, go mad for money and killers are given coins of gold and although we buy everything in sight, we walk in darkness not light. Last night you did not see me but remembered women sitting behind shades under light bulbs in the red light district of the Netherlands where men walk the cobbled streets and select a prostitute whose costume they like for a night’s entertainment.
This is the third planet from the sun where young girls in Thailand die of Aids, sold by parents to sleep with men, where some of us speak and have no price where Daniel Pearl had a knife held to his throat and we asked by a terrorist, “Who are you?” His last words were, “My father was a Jew. My mother was a Jew and I am a Jew,” and with the last word, the knife sliced his neck off and his head fell to the ground to be picked up by a man whose face was covered by a black mask. The terrorist held the head high up like a trophy cup to be recorded on a video distributed worldwide.
I tell you that the Daniels of the world have not died and walk among us on the third planet from the sun.
“Do you know where you can get a donut around here?”
I had the good fortune this morning to meet Don.
I was walking down to Mocha Joes for my morning coffee as I often do. There in the road, three feet from the curb, was a chap bending over to pick up a white flattened, littered cup. He put it in the pocket of his leather jacket and returned to the sidewalk.
I said, “hello, good morning.” He replied in kind, then he asked, “Do you know where you can get a donut around here?”
“Sure, they might have something down at Mocha Joes… I’m heading that way.”
Don asked when the snow was supposed to start. I said, “they say later this afternoon.” Funny how we often rely on they-sayers and not nay-sayers.
He explained, “I snuck out, well not really, but they didn’t want me to go out, because of the snow coming.” I asked who they were, and he answered, “the folks at the home where I live. Hilltop.”
Nattily dressed with a scarf, gray, wool sweater, and brown leather jacket topped off with a blue tweed cap, he looked fit enough for this morning’s jaunt.
I invited him to join me at Mocha Joes for a cup of coffee and a blueberry scone. We walked and talked. Don had nice steel rimmed glasses, and an easy full-faced smile… blue eyes lit up, and bright, healthy white teeth exposed inside a mischievous grin.
I was thrilled to be in on his caper, and to meet a new friend. I asked him how old he was, and he responded, “Well I was born in 1923, you do the Math.” He quickly added, “I guess that makes me 90 years old.”
Happily impressed by his vigor and gentle nature, we descended into the coffee house. I introduced him to Chloe… “This is my friend… uhh, I forgot your name.” He smiled and said, “Don.”
The blueberry scones looked fresh on the counter. I ordered two. When Chloe asked if he wanted something to drink, he said, “a small coffee… I take it black.” I asked for a 16 ounce, Mexican, organic, fair trade special of the day… I didn’t exactly phrase it that way.
We sat down at a small table in the center of the room. Don delighted in being out for a simple adventure despite the warnings of his caretakers. “I’m the only one who goes out… even just outside the door. The others feel safe and secure inside. Some will come out on the grounds in summertime.” “They’ve given up… just waiting out their days.”
Conversation was easy… his hearing seemed better than mine midst the growing din of hipsters coming in.
I asked him what he had done for a living. He replied that he was a music teacher at a high school. “Nice” said I. I briefly shared some of my work history then asked if he had any family. “Not really, a niece over in New Hampshire.” With a so-what explanatory shrug he said, “I’m gay.” “It doesn’t matter at my age”
Nodding with smiling understanding and respect, I told him I’d been married twice. “Might try again, they say three strikes you’re out.” The they-sayers again… that’s what I’ve heard them say… a cliché…. but a good-natured hopeful one.
Don smiled skeptically this time.
He returned to the joy of his ‘escape’. In the summer, he loved to get outside and work in the garden. However, he told me that his caregivers were always afraid that he would fall over as he bent to pull a weed, or to admire a flower with cupped hand.
His grin was conspiratorial once more. “I go out, and sneak around the house… it takes me back to my childhood days. They don’t seem to mind as much if I’m down on my hands and knees.
I love to garden.”
I asked him if he played a musical instrument. “The piano?”
He nodded a smiling affirmative.. He went on, “They have a nice piano up at Hilltop in the living room.” When I asked him if he played it, he matter-of-factly shared that he has trouble now. Running his right hand up and down his left arm, he explained that the connections weren’t that good anymore. Implied was that his age had diminished his synapses, the connectors from cranial melody to fingers on black and white keys.
I told him that I sang, played harmonica and was beginning to learn to play guitar.
He exuded jovial joy as he sang a little ditty from years gone by.
I said, “maybe you should try another instrument… a guitar’’. Holding an imaginary guitar and fingering its frets, he shook his head saying, “Maybe I could do that.”
The coffee was smooth. The blueberry scones their usual deliciousness! Don didn’t finish his and asked if he could get it to go. I took his plate to the counter and the other counter girl graciously wrapped it in a plastic bag. I brought it back to Don. He had trouble finding his pocket for a bit, but eventually snuck it in.
“Well, I gotta go” I exclaimed. He smiled thankfully and we ambled up the stairs to the cool gray day. I waved a “take care Chloe” goodbye. We paused outside the entrance. Don said he was going to head down to the COOP. “It’s still early, I don’t have to be back just yet.” Don loved his freedom, his joy of being out, beaming his humble pride of not giving up.
I crossed the street, walked a few steps then turned back to see how he was faring. He was tying his shoes on the Oasis granite step… first one, then the other. I watched in admiration with a good feeling. He began walking and his gait looked strong and steady… Old age slow, but pretty good for 90!
I knew he’d be alright, and if he wasn’t someone else in our friendly town would help him out… make sure he got home safe.
I turned to walk home and type this story, reflecting on a beautiful morning with a kindly dignified gentleman.
I have a new friend in town. His name is Don. I look forward to sneaking around the Hilltop house with him this spring to tend to his garden….I think we’d both like that!
4 New Pieces
From A White Page Demands Its Letters scheduled for publication by unbound CONTENT.
He was sitting cross legged on the floor perched on top of a pillow and had loosened his pants and belt.
“If you are lucky enough to be born in this lifetime with all of your senses intact, that very fact, that you have come here tonight drawn to study meditation and learn the precepts of Zen Buddhism, shows that you have already achieved a certain level of awareness. This may be the only opportunity to raise your spiritual consciousness. In the next lifetime you may not have this chance. You may lose this opportunity for many lifetimes.”
He promised that if we sat in the correct position, right foot placed in front of left , vowing first to save all sentient beings however innumerable, since meditation is not just a way to relax but a method to raise one’s spiritual development and help others, if we closed our eyes and looked downward with our thumbs placed against the fourth finger of each hand and hands placed on knees, if we sat in such a manner for ten minutes in the morning after we woke up and urinated and brushed our teeth and again in the evening , after the workday was done but before preparing dinner, if we followed our natural breath that was soft… we might have a chance.
The Guru was a Lama who had gone back to Sikkim. He said we could look forward to his next visit in 1983. He had studied Eastern and Western philosophy and was curator of a government reservation. He had learned herbal healing and studied with Woman of the Shaking Leaves who was a Native American.
He set up a small alter on a table with a photo of a golden Buddha, a bowl of pure water, a small candle burning in a red jar.
I closed my eyes to the world and wanted nothing and breathed and for a minute became no name nothing smiling in darkness.
My friend Peter came over that night and told me that the Guru had been married; his wife had given birth to a Mongoloid idiot whom he diapered and bathed. He said,” My child is not even educable.” The wife left with the child. Our Guru took a group of people on a nature walk in the woods and pointed out herbs and berries; he spoke highly of the value of nutrition and eating pure natural foods without preservatives. When the class took a lunch break, he walked into a nearby McDonalds and emerged carrying a bag of French fries, three hot dogs, and a can of Coke.
The finger that points to the moon is never the moon.
How it was when he left
It was like being a passenger on a ship pulled slowly by a tugboat up the channel of a river when you are busy breaking open a bottle of champagne and when you look up the ship is in open sea and you are standing alone on deck surrounded by nothing but an expanse of swirling gray water.
The house is drawn with fat wax crayons on white paper.
Smoke curls like a smile from the red brick chimney. Two green firs stand fixed as hope by the door. On top of each a bluebird sings or it might be an angel. I believed in angels then. In the right hand corner an orange sun grins. Its two brown button eyes spread a blessing. Everything is neat. A white pebbled path leads to the front door. On each side of the path are six red tulips and ten blades of light green grass. The front door is closed. A mother is waiting.
This was a house in my mind.
Your face, my child, is the light from a distant star
under which I wander formless
outside the frame.
Color me as you like.
Voices from Vietnam
How can I speak when there is tape across my mouth? I was shot in the head and thrown into a ditch.
How can I speak? I was the young girl the soldiers in Vietnam raped, made stand naked at the edge of a cliff, shot in the head. I want you to know I was 12 years old.
I am an old woman run over by a truck filled with GI’s who had nothing better to do were drunk as loons in the August heat.
I am the woman still striding across a mined field with bare feet and my infant strapped on my back. One straw hat is all they let me carry. I can’t go back. Everyone I counted on has been killed. The air is poisoned, the water poisoned too. All I can do is keep on marching. For God’s sake don’t ask me to make any speeches.
A New Novel by
Excerpted from Hester’s Daughters * (OGN Publications, 2012) by Elayne Clift
* A contemporary, feminist retelling of The Scarlet Letter
Hester and Arthur have become friends. They are sitting in a restaurant together on a frigid winter night. They have just been to a particularly moving film together -- Elvira Madigan, perhaps. The film’s theme music, Mozart’s haunting 21st Piano Concerto, has heightened awareness of their growing mutual attraction, so long and frustratingly suppressed. The table where they sit is small and round; the proximity to each other provides a new intimacy. His knee brushes hers beneath the white tablecloth; their hands touch inadvertently as they reach for their glasses of Chablis. Her eyes tear as she recalls the closing scene of the movie in which a man shoots his beautiful young lover and then kills himself because they both know a future together is impossible. Arthur is deeply moved by Hester’s weeping. Tenderly, he wipes away a tear from under her eye with the tip of his thumb. She pushes a wayward lock of hair away from her eye and taking his hand in hers, brings it to her lips, briefly, but does not kiss it.
“Hester,” he whispers, “It’s no good. I can’t go on without saying it. I love you. I love you so very much.”
“Don’t, Arthur!” she says.
But the floodgates have opened. Together, they are navigating their way to somewhere new, somewhere beyond the ancient, restraining locks. Boundaries begin to dissolve on the horizon. There is no going back.
Ice forms on the restaurant window, its crystals shimmering in reflected candlelight. Outside, snow falls and Christmas lights flicker from brightly decorated shop windows and apartments. The thought of going home, each to a solitary, cold bed, is unbearable in its starkness. So Hester agrees to go to Arthur’s apartment “for a little while.” He promises it will warm and cheer her, “yes, just for a little while.”
She trusts him, and her own strong will. He knows that he will regain control of himself once the cold air strikes his face. And so, together, deluding themselves on a white night in a season meant for sharing -- for connection, for giving, and receiving -- they walk together, silently, down the street.
At home, Arthur lights a bold fire. Its heat quickly warms them both. Rising from the hearth, he takes her into his arms and says again, “I love you.”
And because she loves him too – because she has loved him for years – she draws him to her. They kiss, gently and long, as if drawing sustenance, each from the other’s soul. His hand finds her breast, caresses its firmness, lingers there. She slides it under her blouse, pressing his palm to her heart as if to staunch its bleeding. Unwilling to break apart, they sink into each other, yielding to the desire they have each kept private for so long. There is no shame and afterwards, no regret. As they lie together, there is only release, and joy. Both of them know that in one brief moment, their lives have changed, sweetly, forever.
Did they only once yield to physical love? Was it then that I was conceived? Or were there more moments of passion before they agreed to end their physical liaison, maintaining only their deep friendship? The answers, irrelevant in the fullness of our lives, are Hester’s alone. But I wonder: Could there ever have been a greater passion from which to be born?
My novel, Hester's Daughters - a contemporary, feminist retelling of The Scarlet Letter - is just off press
The book is available from me http://www.elayneclift.com/
directly or via Amazon.com.
World Enough & Time is published by Bauhan Publishing:
Here follows a series of extracts from Christian McEwen’s new title World Enough & Time — On Creativity And Slowing Down. This material is with permissions from the publisher and is copyright ©
Planning starts about three weeks ahead of the festivities, as Maia and I struggle to clarify our thoughts with a long transcontinental phone-call. Where are we in our lives right now? What are we trying to accomplish as friends, as writers, as human beings? What colors are we drawn to? What attitudes of mind? Is there a special theme we’d like to focus on?
In September 2003, I celebrated the fall equinox in the south west of Scotland, close to Alastair Reid’s sturdy childhood manse. That year, Maia and I had decided to set ourselves a private task, tackling something we had never done before, something that had the quality of risk or daring. We also pledged to look at whatever seemed “off” or out-of-kilter in our lives, and to do what we could to restore the balance. Imagining a gray-white Scottish sky with seagulls wheeling, I decided to wear an especially brilliant red.
I woke the morning of the equinox to heavy drenching rain, and spent three hours at my desk, bent over a demanding piece of writing. Prospects for the ritual seemed grim. But then a long letter arrived from my friend Barbara, all the way from Portland, Oregon, and towards noon, the sky began to clear. By one o’clock I was ready to eat lunch, and then stop by to visit Alastair Reid, who was staying at a house just down the road. We talked and drank coffee together, and soon I was on my way to the little town of Wigtown, jolting along at 30 mph in a borrowed van.
I did not feel especially comfortable behind the wheel, but there were errands to run, groceries to buy, books to track down. I spent an hour on the library computer, answering messages from France and Spain and western Massachusetts. By the time I emerged, the rain had stopped, and the light was brilliant and exhilarating. In fact, it was such a gorgeous afternoon that I decided to throw caution to the winds, and drive down to the Isle of Whithorn, the very tip of the peninsula, to conduct my ritual.
The sun was dappling the fields as I passed through Sorbie, and glinting on the gray stone walls. The Isle of Whithorn was almost deserted, and I wandered about like a tourist, reading up on local history. The remains of an iron-age fort have been found there, but it is best known for St. Ninian, who brought Christianity to Scotland in 397 AD, and whose stone chapel, Candida Casa, still stands near the harbor. A little white-washed marker has been built to honor him, set on the hill above the bay.
Slowly I climbed the hill, pausing from time to time to look around. I was struck by the beauty of the landscape at that hour: the fields so bright as almost to seem lime green, the sea dark blue as watered silk, with little dashes of white foam. At its zenith, the sky was pure cerulean blue. You could see the Isle of Man on the far horizon, gray-blue and steeple-y, and when I turned to the left, looking up the body of the peninsula, there was a rainbow arching across the fields, gleaming over the pale blue sky and grayish clouds, as if pointing with one delicate finger: here, you belong here. A notice-board informed me that one could see five kingdoms from that little peak: England, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and – heaven itself. “Look, see, eternity is all around!”
I walked downhill into the fresh wind, the whole body of the earth shivering and glittering around me, and stood alone in the chapel, praying in turn to each of the seven directions: to the north and south and east and west, to the sky above and the ground below, to the place within. I prayed for my immediate family, for Maia, and for Rosie too. “Help me to let go of her,” I prayed. “Help me to find peace.”
The municipal notice-board confirmed that I was only one of many such pilgrims, each with her own urgency and pain.
Celebrating St. Ninian 397-1997
Inaugurated 11th May 1997.
You are invited to add your own stone
to this cairn as a symbol of an act of
witness which you have completed
or which you now pledge.
Obediently, I went searching for some stones. I found a heart-shaped one for myself; a small, milk-splashed one for my sister, Isabella; a stone shaped like a bird’s head for Maia; and a flat gray stone for Rosie, ringed with two white lines. Gently I placed them on the cairn beside the gate, pledging to bravery and balance and the habit of joy. And then drove home, via a little restaurant called the Steam Packet, where I ate a bowl of chicken soup; rumbling home just as the dusk came on, learning to work the headlights in the old white van.
Much later, I thought back over that day and realized how precisely balanced it had been, how entirely equinoctial. There had been the rain in the morning, and the bright sun in the afternoon; the privacy and diligence of my little house, and the beauty and expansion of the Isle of Whithorn. I had worked on my own writing, and received a letter from a friend; I’d sent e-mails out across the globe. I’d been quietly responsible in a daily way, and I’d also been attentive to the needs of the spirit and the passing of the seasons. And in doing so, I had arrived, as so often, at a place of peace. Why has this come to seem so difficult? After all, as William Stafford writes in one of his poems,
If you let the silence of
afternoon pool around you, that serenity
may last a long time…
This whole world is yours, you know. You can
breathe it and think about it and dream it after this
wherever you go. It’s all right. Nobody cares.
The author is available for talks, consulting and educational projects, go to www.christianmcewen.com
Write On, 2012
January 8, 2014 at 9:12 AM