Saturday, April 27, 2013

Urban City Snapshot

I have locked myself out of the car. I borrowed my husband’s ignition key for the weekend — since I left my keys at work Friday afternoon — but was ignorant of the need for a separate door key. While I wait for my knight in shining armor to come, I watch the world go by.

I face what once was Denver’s main street. As in most cities the main drag was long since bypassed by the interstate and the need to rush around the city. Further east there are blocks of dilapidated Motor Hotels with quaint western themes; they are a glimpse into a bygone era when a road trip was a family adventure rather than a trial of togetherness. This far west I’m in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, an eclectic mix of grand old homes, dive bars, and newly fashionable restaurants, all with a fantastic view of snow clad mountains rising above downtown.

Last week’s snow has cleansed the city, leaving an empty sky and emerald grass. Trees are reluctant to leaf out just yet so the finches, sparrows, robins, and magpies stand out as they weave fences of song. Squirrels hang upside down on those same trees like diurnal bats. I have little use for them, although I concede their fuzzy cuteness. Gray squirrels were introduced to my city a hundred years ago by a homesick Chicagoan. I loathe them for driving out our native fauna and fear the bubonic plague they carry. Still I chuckle at their antics as a pair chase round the base of a barren elm tree most likely planted before their kind came.

Traffic is leisurely. Roaring engines and impatient acceleration will come later in the day, when the drivers have woken to the urgency of getting somewhere. For now they’re all still sleepy or perhaps enjoying a cup of coffee with the window down and spring blowing in.

Cyclists shrink-wrapped in logo-spattered spandex roll slowly to a red light. Their muscles are drawn long and lean. Green light. Standing above their saddles they thrust forward, a melding of man and machine, ungainly in the first strides but picking up speed across the street. They soon are out of sight.

A fire engine bustles past, impatiently shouting its way through traffic to aid an otherwise forgotten man who has collapsed. I wonder who called for help, cynically imagining the restaurant owner phoning in, desperate to rid himself of the homeless nuisance diverting customers. The sun warms my shoulders and then my heart and I hope instead that passersby offered assistance to a fellow just a little down on his luck.

Before me rises a modernist apartment cube. The building is clad in large rectangles of matte blue gray aluminum, lending it an air of space-tech. There are balconies for each residence. I watch as two men, most likely strangers despite their proximity, mirror exactly each other’s movements. Mr. Seventh Floor South is a stocky, bearded black man in a vest and do rag who is obviously enjoying his coffee. Tenth Floor East is lean and muscular and white and confident enough that he stands in just bicycle shorts. They simultaneously lean on the black iron railing, looking out like satisfied kings surveying their tiny kingdoms. They stretch and sip and turn and lean again in an unscripted ballet that — more than any work of art — speaks of our common humanity.

The grumble of my husband’s truck draws my attention down to the parking lot. I trade him a kiss and a doughnut from the bank for the key and we each drive away.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Superior Neutral

For +Aaron English

I took a silly quiz today about what kind of Dungeons and Dragons character I would be. Apparently I'd be a Lawful Good Human Sorcerer, 6th Level. That factoid is essentially useless to me as I haven't participated in any Role Playing Games (RPGs) since fourth grade, when I actually did play a little D&D. I was struck, however, by the "Lawful Good" part. It might be a little too true. I like law and order. I have faith in our government and our justice system. Not completely -- I'm not a fool. Still . . .

I am not just an optimist. I am an idealist. As I've gotten older I've been mocked for my shiny outlook, as if I don't see the injustices that are perpetrated in our country. I do see. I am wounded by the pain they cause. Yet I continue to believe that people are innately good and I try to be a Good Person. I am trying to teach my children the same.

Perhaps as a result of my positive outlook, I believe that most of the laws that have been enacted are reasonable efforts to provide safeguards for the general citizenry. I (mostly) abide by them. True, there are a couple rules I flaunt. Speed limits. Right turns at red lights. Others I can’t think of right now. Generally, I am a Lawful Person.

After I posted the results of my quiz I was challenged with the following: “So yesterday I was wondering about the spectrum between lawful good and chaotic evil. Is there a superior neutral?”

I’ve been pondering that question for hours. I keep thinking about the countries that remained neutral during World War II, and the US attempts to remain neutral through the beginning of World War I. In both instances neutrality was posited to be the superior choice. Non-combatants were idealized as above the fray. In reality, though, by not participating they made possible the harmful actions of the aggressors. Inaction was – as far as I am concerned -- a morally bankrupt choice.

Thinking about that my conclusion was that of course there is no superior neutral.
Then? My children started fighting. I have no idea what it was about – probably having to time-share our iPad and the game in which they both are engrossed.

I chose not to engage. They are old enough now that it is up to them to find a solution. They are (generally) past the point of causing each other intentional physical harm. They are invested enough that they’re unlikely to damage the “toy” over which they are fighting. As a parent I want them to learn how to negotiate a settlement. Life skills, I call it. Also? It’s too damn petty for me to care.

Eventually they came whining to me, pointing fingers and complaining. I stayed above the fray, removing the object of their mutual desire and setting them both to another task. They also were required to come up with a proposal for how to avoid the situation in the future.

So, for all my optimistic, law-abiding, moralistic worldview, I guess I’ll have to tell my friend that there is a superior neutral. At least in my home.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Border Crossing

Billy pushes on the door marked "pull" at the Midvale School for the Gifted
24 hours after I left my passport at the bank I was in police custody at the border. All because I couldn't figure out how to open a door. 

Actually, the entire semester I lived in Budapest, Hungary I couldn't figure out how to open a door. Living in a country where you don't know the language is challenging. It's not the big stuff that's hard. There are guidebooks to get you from point A to point B. There are phrasebooks for medical emergencies. But in all the tourist literature, there's nothing that tells you which bathroom to use. (For the record, női is women's, férfi is men's. You're welcome.) In my case, I spent five months unable to read the push/pull signs on the door. So regardless if I was entering or exiting, I did it wrong. Standing on the street I would pull and pull until I finally realized it opened inward. And when I left? I'd automatically push, and wind up walking right into the door. BAM!

I have an excuse. In the States, by law, all business doors open outward. This way in an emergency folks can easily stampede through the exit rather than piling up like cattle and dying of smoke inhalation. It happened. We fixed it. Eastern Europe, however, was either fine with a little population control or figured they'd behave better in a panic situation. Either way, throughout Budapest the doors opened inward, and I couldn't get used to it. 

Anyway. The day before we went on a weekend field trip to the Czech Republic I exchanged some American dollars for Czech koruny. Now, I'd walked smack into the big glass door every single time I left that bank. Glass doors are the worst, not just because passersby laughed as my whole body smushed up against the glass, but because that kind of door makes a particular ringing sound that draws the attention of everyone in the room. I'm pretty sure -- after seven or eight incidents -- that the bank tellers were taking bets on if I'd make it out okay this time or knock myself completely silly.

Thus I was concentrating so hard on which way to open the door -- and hoping that for once I'd get it right -- that I forgot to pick up my passport.

I still got it wrong.

That evening as I was packing my bag I realized what I'd done. I called the embassy to report my missing passport. The nice Marine there told me they'd been expecting my call, and I could pick the passport up from the bank on Monday when it opened again. Distressed, I phoned my professor and explained the situation. Pepi was a happy-go-lucky guy, and he wasn't really concerned. "You have a photocopy of your passport, right?" he asked. I confirmed. "Just bring that. It'll be fine."

I didn't believe him. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn't NOT go after he told me to.  So the next day at 5 a.m. I met my classmates and Pepi at the train station and we boarded the express to Prague.

Eastern European border guards were not friendly in the 1990s. I can understand. They'd been through a lot. Soviet occupation, the cold war, insane amounts of pickled vegetables. Foolish American college girls who attempt to cross the border with a photocopy of their passport? Apparently that's even worse. They waved large rifles in my face and yelled loudly in Hungarian. My Hungarian at that point was limited to nouns including "dentist" and "hippopotamus" and "figure skater". (We took Hungarian language lessons every day, but the teachers had been hired from an elementary school. Can you tell?) I cowered. They pulled me off the train.

Fortunately I had a guardian angel. My classmate Maria spoke near-fluent Hungarian (she was living with relatives that semester) and she volunteered to stay with me. Not that her services were really needed. The police didn't speak to us again for six hours. The train chuffed off and we were walked at gun-point into a small dim cinderblock police station. They pointed toward some chairs and we sat. 

Nothing further happened.

I lie. I actually underwent excruciating torture at the genial hands of a nice elderly Australian couple who also had been pulled off the train. I'll get to that.

As far as Maria could tell, we were going to be returned to Budapest on the next train headed that way. We just had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

We chatted a little. It turns out the Australians also were on their way to the Czech Republic, but they hadn't gotten a transit visa through Slovakia. Oops. After a while conversation dwindled, and we waited some more.

We grew hungry. Neither of us had any food, and we had no idea when the train would come. Our stomachs growled. We fidgeted. The guards stared stoically at us. Time didn't pass.

Mrs. Australia sensed our discomfort. She was a kind woman, and she suggested that we share her meager meal. We gratefully accepted her offer.

There have been millions of debates about which country has the strongest, toughest citizens. Russian Cossacks are said to be fearsome. The Zulu held off the British using only cowhide shields.

None of them compare to the Australians.

Mrs. Australia handed each of us a piece of bread smeared with Vegemite. She cheerfully ate hers, and started prepping another. I ate mine.

My tongue died.

Friends, Vegemite is a salted yeast paste with other savory additives like onions and celery. Eating it is akin to rubbing your tongue vigorously with a beef bullion cube until it bleeds, then holding the whole mess in your mouth. Forever. Except worse.

My mother raised me well. I choked down my "treat", smiled and said "Thank you." But I had to avert my eyes as that sweet old lady made another, and ate it. My respect for her ratcheted up with each additional bite. If Australians can handle that, they can take over the world. I no longer worry about nuclear annihalation. I have nightmares about being forced to eat Vegemite.

My tongue began to revive. That's when the real torture began. Remember how I said salted yeast paste? I had nothing to drink. There was no bathroom in which I could rinse my mouth. The savory bloody yeasty taste lingered and grew. It transformed repeatedly, sometimes highlighting a metallic aftertone, other times bringing out the onion. And through it all, salt. Dry, dessicating salt. My mouth was parched like the Sahara. I felt like I'd eated the Gobi desert. My eyes began to sink into my head. My fingertips shrivelled. I hallucinated fountains and bathroom taps.

Still we sat, waiting. I could not longer speak -- my tongue wouldn't function properly. I covertly eyed Mrs. Australia looking for horns or other signs that she was the devil. Vegemite still coated my teeth.

Finally the train came. It was a local, stopping at every town. Somehow Maria was able to find us each a soda. I have no idea what I paid. However much, it was worth it. 

I have been in some scary situations. I've done some stupid things. I've given birth twice. Nothing compares to four hours of sitting in a foreign police station with no water and the taste of Vegemite on my tongue.

Oh, and when I got back to the States? I went to the bank and made an ass of myself trying to pull the door open. Apparently I'd finally gotten used to Hungarian doors. Yep. It's the little things that are hard when you travel.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Can I Do?

The search was particularly tragic. A boy, maybe ten years old, had run down the trail ahead of his family as they descended from a mountain picnic. His tracks ended near a bend in what should have been a stream, but that day -- of all days -- it was a furious creek, powerful with fresh snow melt between its confined banks. We knew he was gone, as did all the other Search And Rescue teams. Still, we had to try. It was the only comfort we could offer his stricken family.

I was seventeen, living in a boarding school. We were required to do some sort of community service; I joined SAR. Our dormitory doors had red crosses taped to them signifying where to knock when a call came at three or four a.m. to mobilize. I kept a gear bag ready by the door; I think we all did. Within fifteen minutes we'd be shuffling, yawning, around a basement classroom lit by humming flourescent lights, waiting for assignments. In teams we'd dole out gear -- tents, stoves, food, first aid kits, rope, maps, walkie-talkies -- then slump down on our packs and each other, waiting for details. Sometimes we just loaded into vans and rode through the dawn to the search site.

NMSAR was a tight-knit, well-organized program. I'm sure it has changed significantly with the advent of GPS and cell phones. Twenty years ago, though, teams arrived at a command center, received instructions, and set out to search. New Mexico is high desert, stark and grand and empty, and when hunters or hikers or cheerful little boys went missing it took hundreds of people to cover the grid, seeking traces. We called out as we hiked, always hoping for a cry back. We marched six feet apart in straight lines, eyes to the ground for tracks or torn clothing, or, worst, a body. Teams from our school never found anyone. We'd gripe about how we youngsters always were sent to the least likely area, but felt a current of disappointed relief upon hearing the announcement that the search had been called.

They found the boy's body a few weeks and twenty miles later, caught in reeds at a slow part of the river.

I don't remember how often we were called out. Every few weeks, maybe. Between times we practiced. We climbed peaks wheeling specialized mountain stretchers up the trail. We learned our knots so we could belay down cliffs to damaged people in deep ravines. We hiked at two a.m. on trails barely lit by headlamps. We crossed deserts in the high sun, moving steadily at four miles an hour with fifty pounds of gear on our backs. We held practice searches and rescued terribly "injured" schoolmates from hidden locations. And we learned how to fix them. Wilderness first aid is special -- injuries are often drastic and resources scarce. Compound fractures with bones protruding. Impalements which puncture lungs. Burns and hypothermia and deyhydration. Our instructors covered everything. Small cuts and scrapes became inconsequential when we learned how to treat someone who had been hit by lightning then carry that person fifteen miles in the dark down a steep trail through rain and snow to a place of relative safety for evacuation.

I was only involved in an actual rescue once. Ironically, it was our wilderness instructor. He  fell while crossing a fence during a winter practice search. I happened to be team lead that day, so I ran first aid while coordinating the evacuation back to school (all of three or four miles). We already had a sled. I bound and braced his twisted knee (eventually they found a torn ACL) and treated him for shock. We packed him in sleeping bags and skied him down to medical care, then returned to complete our expedition. Later he told me I'd done well. That praise still is a medallion I carry near my heart.

I loved Search And Rescue. The surety of purpose. The knowledge that I was strong and capable. The sense that I could help. So often during crises people feel helpless. We stare at the news wondering how we can make things better, to fix what's wrong. I felt that way watching the stories from Boston this week. I've been meditating on that question: what can I do to help? I try to spread love and understand and tolerance. But those are such ephemeral things, unmeasurable in their effect. I give blood, although honestly not as often as I probably could. That effort can be measured, pint by pint. What else, though? What could I do in the case of a disaster? 

Then, I remembered. I have training. Not the wilderness first aid from those years ago. Yes, that's important and the lessons run deep. What I mean, though, is that today I am fully certified by the American Red Cross in First Aid, CPR, and the use of an AED. It sounds silly, I suppose. I got certified in part for my everyday life when I see children in the nurse's office at school. Applying a bandaid to a pinched finger is tiny (except, of course, to the wounded child) compared to applying a tourniquet to a severed leg. Still, if some horrific something happened, I have enough knowledge, enough practice, enough confidence, that I like to think I would be one of those running toward, not away. I could be one of Mr. Rogers' famouse helpers.

You could too.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Off-Hand Comment

I was reading the requirements for a poetry contest the other day (long story, but no, I'm not submitting anything. I don't think I'm ready) and one judge commented that the submissions should "... not be prose all chopped up and called a poem." 

That caught me by surprise. I was embarrassed. Is that what I do? Do I just take sentences, impose random line breaks, and call them poetry? Am I a hack? But, I said to myself, sometimes words just want to come out that way.

I didn't write for a few days.

I also thought a great deal about off-hand comments, and how deeply I have been affected by a few of them. A boy I adored in high school told me once, "You sound like a frog when you sing." I didn't sing again (even in the shower) until I went away to school, and then only in a choir. Even now I have little confidence in my voice, although I've mostly overcome my silence. Instead I joke that I make up in enthusiasm what I lack in quality. I sing because I love to, but that off-hand comment still catches me sometimes.

"How are a carousel and a fat girl similar? They're fun to ride but you wouldn't want your friends to see." I overheard that "joke" long before I qualified as fat. I didn't realize that, of course. Even at my skinniest adult weight -- at the end of high school when I was working out every day and could count my ribs -- I was still a "giant" size 12. Shame came quickly and lodged deep in my soul. I may never completely believe that a man would want to see me in a sexual way, even though I see other women who look like me -- mama belly and all -- and think they are beautiful and sexy and, yes, desirable.

I turned forty a few months ago. Some find that number mortifying. I find it liberating. Along with wrinkly hands and gray hairs I seem to be growing the ability to dismiss nonsense I once took to heart. Step-by-step I am freeing myself of chains I built out of other peoples' words.

Which is why, even if it is just chopped up prose, I wrote a poem yesterday.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Sliding sideways into melancholy
Voices in my ears don't help
Minor key songs with broken words
Evoke barely stitched wounds.
Sleep might salve a raw heart
but pillows echo the
sad thoughts that slip
out through tears
Until my dreams are
too damp and cold
to light.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Third Floor

In response to a review by +Bliss Morgan of the scent Attic by Solstice Scents

The house was a grand old Denver square with a musty treasure-filled basement and fancy rooms like a den and and a pantry. The living room had huge pocket doors at either end which were open every day except Christmas. On those mornings I would creep downstairs to find the tree and stockings and presents barricaded. The hours until the adults woke were spent peering through first one, then the other, keyhole, trying to count and allocate the piles of gifts. Most days, though, I passed directly into the kitchen where I was greeted with wondrous grandparent delicacies like grape juice from the brown ceramic pitcher and raisin toast with butter.

Though my aunts and uncles had moved out, leaving plenty of bedrooms free, my mother and I still stayed in her old room on the third floor. It wasn't an attic at all, the third floor. It was completely finished with a couple of rooms -- two bedrooms, I think, and one sunny library walled by books. There also was funky bathroom whose toilet was on a raised platform about 12 inches high. My mom called it the Throne Room, and sitting up there I could look out over the roofs of Denver like a little queen.

The third floor was hot, far hotter than our home up in the mountains, and it smelled of sun warmed dust and books slowly burning from the inside. I don't remember much furniture up there, except that my bed was in the corner. I do remember the stairs, though.

Sometime in their teens my uncles had painted the walls of the stairwell black. The steps were white, I think, creaky wooden things. But the walls were a deep, flat black. There was a door at the bottom that was kept closed and the only light switch was at the top. Somewhere along the way I'd gotten the idea that there was a vampire who lived in the stairwell. I would say goodnight to my grandparents and mother, then head upstairs, alone. I couldn't tell them about the monster; he couldn't get them if they weren't aware. Each night I had to brave that gauntlet of darkness, racing through the darkness to the switch at the top, then rush into our room. Occasionally the dog would join me, but she made it clear that she was doing so out of a hostess obligation rather than love, and she'd retreat to my grandmother as soon as was polite.

The city was strange to me. At home our little town settled quietly around nine p.m., and aside from an occasional dog it was quiet enough to hear the faint song of moon and stars. Those nights, instead of going to bed or even reading, I would sit at the window overlooking the street. Sirens sounded in the distance. Cars drove quickly by. Sometimes, rarely, people chatted past, unconscious of the child drooping out of the window three stories above. I breathed through my nose, inhaling the scent of cooling asphalt and sun-blasted trees. The night was orange with sodium lights below which insects danced in dizzying circles, and their random impacts mixed with other city sounds to create a symphony of adventure and far away places.

Monday, April 8, 2013


From a prompt on G+: Your name. Where did it come from? What was it like to live with your name? Would you change it if you could? If so, what would change it to and why?

I always interrupted the teacher during the first roll call of the year. It was easier than having her first stumble over my given name and then, desperately, switch to the last name as if it might be an escape. “Ilyanna” I would say. “Just call me Yanna”.

It was an odd duck name. But that was okay – I was an odd duck. Still am, really. Back then, though, my name really stood out. I grew up in a small rural town in the mountains, mostly white folks. Some were well-educated, but it was a working-class town with an industrial heart. I studied alongside the kids of ranchers and miners, and for all my family’s pedigree my mother owned a small blue-collar business, too. Which is why my name seemed so very exotic, even when shortened.

I’ve travelled a fair bit since then: all over Western and Eastern Europe, down into Mexico, Russia (well, back then it was the Soviet Union) and even northern Africa. When I’m travelling I use my full name. I roll it out, playing with the consonants, exaggerating the vowels, making it fit the accent of my current locale. My name is a geographic chameleon, similar to a local name everywhere I go. If I say it right folks think that even if I’m not native I’m still somehow related.

I didn’t always love my name. My mother balanced the odd and the pedestrian, and for a short time I tried on my mundane middle name. It didn’t fit. By then I’d begun to believe that people grow into their names. Small names, like Bob, are reassuring, but don’t have long horizons. Syllables are challenges for children to overcome, stories to build. I’ve found that an unusual name is a delightful key with which I can unlock a personal conversation with a stranger or identify a fellow traveler.

More than once I’ve broken the ice with a joke about having a difficult name. With that laugh I can set people at ease. And I always have a story ready to hand. “My name?” I respond. “My folks had a deal. Dad got to name a girl, Mom got to name a boy. Dad won – thank goodness! I don’t think I’d be a good Jason.” That’s never the end, though. “Dad told us that he grew up next door to an Ilyanna. He’s gone now, and his family says they’d never heard the name before me. It’s a mystery.”

It was a delicious mystery to a weird child in a small town. I learned that there was a Princess Ileana of Romania, and late at night I would stare at the moon and imagine I was a princess. Even today I carry that association of nobility with me. My friends and family call me Yanna, but when first meeting someone I stand tall and give them my full name. It’s who I am.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Small Moments

As prompted by Jocelyn: Write ten significant, specific, moments of your life in a micro-narrative form.

The plain cardboard box didn't seem much of a birthday present until I noticed it quivering. Peering in I saw two kittens huddled against the light. I was allowed to cuddle them for just a moment, then release them into the house to explore and become familiar with our home. I didn't see Rumpleteaser or JennyAnyDots again until the middle of the night when I awoke to needleteeth chewing on my wiggly toes.

My first parakeet didn't recognize the safety of his cage in a house with two cats. I came home to find a single clawed foot, band still around the ankle, lying amid drifted feathers in the middle of the floor.

Dodgeball had filled us all with adrenaline. Some, the athletes, strutted aggressively into the locker room. I trembled on a bench, grateful that the stinging welts on my legs and back were fading. A girl stormed in and berated her teammate for costing them the game. She cowered. I breathed that it wasn't a big deal. Within seconds I was face-to-face with a challenge to fight. I raised my fists and held my breath. She waited. I lowered my hands and walked away, not sure if I was cowardly or courageous.

I tried several churches and even a synagogue, but never could find a spiritual home. My best friend grew up with the surety of a Lutheran pastor's daughter. One afternoon as we rode the city bus home she turned to me and said "I love you, and it makes me terribly sad that you are going straight to hell when you die." 

My mother directed me into the back when I got to the shop. Standing by the counter on which the numbering machine sat, she hesitantly told me, "Your father is dead. He killed himself. I don't know much more than that." Relief surged through me as I realized our dear friend, who had been hospitalized two days before, was okay.

The postal worker locked the door behind the last person in line. Until the final transaction was completed there would be no leaving. One by one we massed by the door, waiting compliantly while the remainder were served. A man stared at and paced toward me. He started mumbling about people of the sun and people of the snow; as he drew nearer his voice grew louder and he stood taller. "WE!" he shouted at me, "are the PEOPLE of the SUN! YOU! are people of the SNOW! And we will DEFEAT you!" I looked around as he harangued me, the only white person present. The clerks continued nonchalantly selling stamps. The other customers edged to the windows and turned to face the spectacle. The man loomed over me, shouting that my kind was POISON, that our time was OVER, that it was TIME for the SUN to RISE. When I could retreat no further, when violence seemed imminent, a bystander finally said "Hey man, that's enough." My abuser settled back into himself. We all grew bashful and waited with eyes averted until the clerk unlocked the door; everyone was silent as we shuffled out.

The plane slid sideways, and back, then sideways again like a leaf drifting down a breeze. One valley cut sharply between peaks to my right, and sun glinted off a meandering river to my left. Snow had recenly fallen, leaving knife-like ridges starkly black against the white drifts that climbed above timberline. Settling down into our valley, we came to a surprisingly gentle stop on the tarmac. I leaned my head against the cold plastic window as tears of homecoming joy leaked from my closed eyes.

I read the word twice, then spun around and read the sign on the other door. Ferfi. Noi. I turned again to see if there was any indication as to which door I should choose. Defeated, I minced back into the dining room -- still desperate to pee -- and asked my guide which word meant "woman".*

I was looking out the window when he boarded the train. In my lap I had fresh bread, cheese, and a sliced tomato from which I'd made my supper. I was alone in the compartment. My feet were curled underneath me, my hiking boots were on the floor. I'd been staring into the blackness wondering if I'd aced or failed that morning's exam. I heard a rustling by the door. The intruder was rat-like, narrow in the face and lost in the army coat he wore. He was shaking; I wondered why he was so cold. His smile was superior and possessive. I realized that he wasn't chilled. He was masturbating while staring at me, fly open, hand frantic. I clutched my pocketknife and reached for a boot for additional defense. His eyes closed. He spent himself on the floor, then grinned at me as he tucked his penis away and left. All that remained was a small white puddle by the door. A passing conductor saw the mess, glared at me, and continued down the corridor.

The technician moved briskly, making easy small talk while she prepared. She dimmed the lights and rolled the sonogram apparatus toward the table. Lifting my shirt she squirted cold jelly across my abdomen and placed the wand above my belly button. Focusing, she began sliding the device left and right, up and down. My husband and I waited quietly, not sure of our role. She smiled as a rhythmic sound came through the speakers. "It's like the cavitation of a submarine propeller!" my husband remarked. He held my hand and we silently listened to our child's heartbeat for the first time.

*The Hungarian for woman is női

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Making Dinner

Your singing, tuneless
There was a man named Michael Finnegan
Sweeps out from beneath
A curtain of hair
He had whiskers on his chinnegan
falling across some indescribable
childhood masterpiece.
The words
His beard grew out and then grew in again
A cheerful soundtrack
To the sizzle and chop 
Of dinner preparations.
You glance up.
I am smiling
       at you
Could I 
(old as the hills, you think)
possibly know this ditty?
Poor old Michael Finnegan
In answer I stop my 
busyness (for once)
And belt out a line.
You join in
Begin again
Faster and louder
There was a man named Michael Finnegan
faster and louder
He had whiskers on his chinnegan
Faster and louder
Until we are shouting joyfully.
The song sublimates 
to laughter.