Tuesday, November 6, 2012

au royaume des aveugles les borgnes sont rois ("in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.")

on sundays i don’t hide because i can’t.  they—the poor—don’t hide from me—the rich; so i have to drive and stare at their callouses while feeling the one inside of me grow harder.  we drive through their squalor, through the potholes and the fissures that threaten to ruin our daytime leisure of decadent grilled barracuda and plantains, where we fight the current rumored to have swept swimmers to a place where they gave up fighting and gave in to a fifteen minute death (drowning is a threefold process: in 2-3 minutes you lose consciousness, in 5-10 you suffer brain damage, in 15 your body follows suit). 

the children sometimes wear nothing but joy (i remember saving up $35 when i was ten or eleven to purchase a winter coat emblazoned with MI colors and logos—two other winter coats already in possession.).  the stray chiens are emancipated, always; still they are part of the beninois food pyramid.  the elderly and the disabled (or the ones who fake disablement) beg here with a tap on your car window—unashamed.  i ignore them and instead feel their shame for them.

these people undo me.  how do you live here and do nothing?  even more fearful to me: how do you live here and do something without being overcome with the realization of the person you really are?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"they aren't really sure how much time has passed since they moved...it's like they aren't really sure if they do live here.  they belong to nowhere, unanchored.  some of them like to imagine that they're just hanging out for a while, just running the engine on idle at a traffic light, waiting for the signal to change."

elizabeth gilbert

Saturday, August 4, 2012

a faith like yours.

a faith like yours (edited).

written by mayda del valle.

my tongue a broken needle scratching
through the grooves of lost wisdom
trying to find a faith that beats like yours
what secrets do your bones hold?
what pattern does your dust settle into when I beat these drums
inside my ribs ?
what color was the soil in your grandmothers garden ?

how did you pray?
what reservoir did you pull your faith from?
was it anything like this gumbo
this sancocho
this remix of rituals and chants sampled

from muscle memory and spirits
that visit my dreams that I struggle to stir into discipline
to honor the unseen

did you hold the earth in your hands and thank her for its fecundity
how did you humble yourself before your architect
did your lower yourself to your knees
how did you pray?

some say faith is for the weak or small minded
but I search for your faith everywhere
I need it to reassemble myself whole

from these shards of Chicago ice and island breezes
so I can rewrite the songs of your silence and pain

wish you could have shown me it's shape
but I know it is in every sacred breath
in the flicker of flames I stare into searching for what's divine
and I know my body is the instrument

my maker uses to rearrange the broken chords of your history
into a new symphony for my unborn children's feet to dance to
and I see you
gathering to chant the names of the living and the dead

and remind us all
that whether gathered in marble temples
around midnight fires or block party speakers
we have always raised our hands to the sky

wanting to touch the invisible force that
holds these cells together into a fragile mass

we are truly miraculous

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


He's in his mid-fifties, my father, but he is right now speaking with both the disenchantment of an adolescent and the paralysis of a man whom loss has thrust itself upon, as he tells us about the day when his own father fell from two stories up, his skull shattering, his pulse--miraculously still fighting for a life so suddenly and grotesquely slipping away.  It's been said that a tragedy, unexpected enough, traumatic enough, will stall a survivor's life, postponing normal growth, so that a fifteen year old mind lives in a thirty-two year old body.  I read that somewhere, sometime.  Now it's before me: I can feel the story of my grandpa's death in the pauses and breathes my father takes.  I can feel the breaking, the snapping in two, of a marriage as my grandma is cautioned she won't want to see the adulteration of her dead husband's face.  I can feel the earth give way and the ground-breaking shifting of change needle it's way into every pore of skin.  I can feel, too, sorrow for how my father remembers his father: I was never good enough for him.

I've mulled over this too much in the past year and a half of my life.  The process of moving and living overseas has heightened my fear of death tenfold.  I've feared the "someday", the day when the phone rings and they are lost to me, I to them.  I've feared depression and fear, and thus have been debilitated by both. 

Listening to the cracking of his voice, the story I had never heard, fear was there, yes.  But I am here, and I am called to be here, in this day, and to love myself and them for adapting to situations neither of us really wanted to be in.  I realize the gift of living abroad--that is, I do not take his morning falsetto, her tattered bookmark, or his discourses for granted anymore. 

I am not a tragedy survivor.     


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

excerpt from a letter to the creator.

excerpt from a letter to the creator.

written by Lindsay Irene.

maybe if i cry every bit of water from my body, it will wash me clean in the way that Jesus' blood used to. maybe faith means crying when it all seems too much and believing that the tears will come back as warm rain. maybe the way to heal is to hug my pain and tell it i am going to do everything i can to change you back into love.

i've spent so long believing that love is always soft. and i'm not used to love that stings more than it soothes, so i call it disruption.

Friday, March 23, 2012

foreign life in literary snapshots.

i.  piano trills--rapidly (think the wings of a hummingbird) played notes a half step apart--took me years to learn.  for the first time, my fingers seemed to realize they were independent appendages.  executing (truly the most apt verb in this case) trills felt foreign and always forced.  i had to learn to let go of control.


over frothy brews and midnight hors d'oeuvres back in dc, a foreign service officer told me her vomit-to-surrender story (these two metaphors [for the beginning and the end] will keep me awake many a night).  "during my first tour, i couldn't stop vomiting for the first months.  every day i struggled with living as a foreigner.  six months later, i broke.  that breaking point was my surrender.  and i woke up one day to a different me.  i had adapted."


two seemingly unrelated paragraphs.  the underlying correlations: time.  giving up.   i can grieve my way into adaptation.  i can pray my way into adaptation.  i can cry my way there.  but i can never force my way into adaptation.   

ii.  it falls, always, like cold water on skin, the pelting, unromantic realization: it is harder to forgive the ones i love than the ones i call enemies.  even more harrowing--love without forgiveness (i-am-just-like-them) is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

iii.  for some reason, despite the usual hum of uneventful routines, that day hangs on to my memories.  the window, pouring enough light to read my father's distinctive, illegible scrawl on the paper before me.  without vision, people perish.

iv.  beginnings have always been the hardest for her.  not for one moment did she feel herself to be anything other than wallpaper--antiquated, pasted to a world she couldn't (or wouldn't) escape from, mute.  always mute.  she felt voiceless, and if ever her voice was heard, it was becoming less and less her and more and more them. 

v.  here in benin, i find myself more and more daydreaming into normality.  i do this so i might escape reality and the abnormalities that haven't yet become palatable.  this, in itself, isn't the problem.  the problem is when i don't let myself do this in a compassionate way.  i am only human.  and i am in a place where the language (almost everything here is in french), traffic patterns, dress code, sanitation, religion, food, weather, recreation, time, social mannerisms, expectations, etc. have all shifted from what i've known my whole life.  daydreaming, for now, might be normality.       

vi.  "homecoming feels like vinegar in the wound.  it's a reminder of my failures: failure of foresight; failure to survive abroad; failure to love and be loved."  -koren zailckas.  ironic, these words are, coming to me during the days when i idealize america as the only bandage for my wound.  the wound--is it possible that the wound has nothing to do with location but with my perspective?

vii.  speaking to a native in their own language--albeit in tentative, disappointing, crude attempts--is one of the most rewarding surprises i've discovered here.

viii.  i am teaching again, turning the same pages, ritualistically driving the logic behind whole notes, bar lines, decrescendos, etc. into their open, slap-happy (right now) minds.  i am remembering the philosophy of my favorite educator John Holt (his How Children Fail is a must-read for any teacher)--if the teaching method doesn't work, throw it out right away.  and though i'm not one for change, their furrowed brows, robotic movements, and hopeful guesses tell me what i've feared:
  • Elvis' Guitar Broke Down Friday and Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always (the acronyms for the treble and bass clef lines respectively) simply does not work for the majority of children.  Their minds are too imaginative, too spontaneous to understand the concept.  And the reason why ineffective teaching props must be discarded immediately: the child before me, in discouragement, doesn't blame the prop; she blames herself.
  • The two most important aspects of music--emotion (when to indulge in it and when to restrain) and technique--i cannot teach.  these must always be, first and foremost, self-taught.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

more than 100,000,000,000 + ways to look at this.

100,000,000,000 : the number of neurons in my brain.

Even more spellbinding : "The number of combinations [between neurons] possible--and hence the number of possible different thoughts or brain states each of us can have--exceeds the number of known particles in the entire known universe."  Limitless mental possibilities.

So why do 95% of these synapses remain inert and unused?  The acrid ones--the ones I hate (Romans 7) and the ones that break my spirit--these, these fire and burn continually.  At night, they could dispel the darkness for miles.  The thoughts become reality and then REALITY; and I am left to believe we are always the product of our choices.

Which is so very easy to say.  But the truth is, choices begin as thoughts and thoughts begin in the will and (here's the problem) the will is the corruption in the system. 

The light is awakening : grace and crucifixion and honesty without agenda creates a new will.  This is a will that both breaks and sustains me and frees me to begin, awkwardly and painfully, to
think new thoughts.