Pietà

“Mr. Bradford? Here, they’re on the line.”

The ICU nurse hands the telephone to Randall and I listen, sitting next to him on a chair I have pulled over from the wall. She is very thin, the nurse behind the reception counter, Diet Coke lean with highlights and a tan.  Her wrists are sinewy and she wears no wedding ring though I remember she mentioned having a son. In those last minutes around the gurney when we’d called in select friends and family to pray, sing and say goodbye before we turned off the ventilator, she had mentioned, this nurse trying to be casual and conversant in the thickness of sacred silence, how handsome our son was. Almost the same age as mine, she had said.

Working ICU in Pocatello to put the kids through school. A loyal girlfriend to many and street smart, her face told me.  There to witness the last assisted breaths of the son of this woman wrapped in a blue hospital blanket that an earlier nurse had brought  from room seven.  There to stand at the foot of the son of this woman who had been singing church songs in different languages and had been reading from her scriptures into the left ear of her firstborn.

During those thirty-six unspeakably holy ICU hours, I’d pulled myself only four times from the gravitational suction that held me inside of room two and next to my son who lay first on his face in a neck brace, tubes running into his nose and down his throat, then on his back when they’d  turned him over a few hours before Randall was to arrive.  We had been on the telephone at least a dozen times or more off and on in the last twenty-four hours, Randall and I — from my parents’ in Provo to our apartment in Munich, Utah’s Interstate-15/Germany’s Autobahn,  Pocatello/Munich International Airport, Port Neuf Regional Medical Center/Philadelphia International Airport — although I had wished we could have spoken constantly.  Impossible from over the Atlantic.  As never before in my life my body yearned to have his body next to where mine was, next to our son.  He stagger-burst through the ICU doors in his navy suit jacket, gray-skinned not from that round-the-world flight from Munich but from horror, the crazed end of passion, the heart-melt middle of devotion.

One of those times I  had walked into the hallway I had felt the abrupt difference in air quality, as if I had passed through a gelatinous film  at the threshold and stepped into a one-dimensional, vibration-free world. Flat. Tinny. Void of resonance. I had walked through the door, with the reception area off to my left as I had made my way to the right, to the bathroom.  The desk was the place where folks congregated, professional folks like doctors and paramedics and people who live daily around other folks’ deaths, where they read X-Rays and check stats and chat about room six or five or two, and about when their shift was supposed to end, maybe about their worthless lawnmower or about how bad this stupid coffee is. Who brewed this cup of crap anyways?

I had passed them.  I had smiled at them, a Polite Girl reflex.  Had smiled at them while my son with his trademark smell and full lower lip and the tiniest almost invisible mole on the tip of his nose, while that son  had lain dying or really, had probably already long since died.

(Did you see how I just wrote that? Those two words with “D”? Not even a flinch? Five years and I still cannot say those words or any version of them. Cannot hear them associated with my son without feeling my spine revolt and turn titanium.  But write them? Cold fingers don’t taste the metallic flavor of the words, so I type them quickly just like the rest of the string in that sentence. Mole. Nose.  Dying.  Already.  Died. . . See?)

I had passed them, smiling on my way to the bathroom.   And whatever had been their internal joke that had caused the one doctor to slap the other  guy’s shoulder and throw his head back in a chuckle, it had been doused by my presence. Friendly banter with coworkers, that’s all, so the other two nurses had just dropped their heads ready to let out a laugh. Then there I was,  Mom From Room Two.  Out in clear sight.  Strange, nervous soberness and elbowing among the five there behind that counter of Formica.  A woman with a face mask hanging down around her neck starts shuffling papers, turning her shoulder a bit from me.

And now The Parents From Two sit in front of that same lightly speckled Formica reception desk.  And the thin nurse who is a single mom, I’ve decided, with the son my beloved son’s age is handing us the phone and my husband is going to do the talking while I watch my  legs and hands  and even my shoulders and ribs begin to shake, quake as if all the cold of a distant and soundless black universe has now inhabited my limbs.  My teeth chatter. My nails are blue.  I wrap the blue blanket more snugly around my thighs, pull it higher over my shoulders and push it up around my neck.  My husband’s voice is paced, warm, and the nurse steps away, eyes following the top of my husband’s head as he nods and agrees to the voice on the line.  He is, even in this ice block of time, an impeccable — though decimated — professional.

He will take the questions from  Organ Donation.  He will repeat to me in fragments the impossible litany of queries this interview  requires.  This Organ Donation interview scheduled out of necessity within two minutes of when room two turned off  life support.

My mind stretches to that room. I can still feel its heart beat from over my shoulder.  Room Two. The door is left ajar. Family has filed out. My brother, ten years my junior with a physique normally the mirror image of his favorite nephew now lying inside that door, looks ninety-seven.  He is hunched head first against a wall.

“Has your son ever used recreational drugs?” the voice is asking my husband through the receiver.

“Never.”

“Pot? Meth? Ever abused prescription drugs?”

“No, never.”

“Has he abused alcohol or even drunk socially?”

“Never.”

“Sexual activity, Mr. Bradford. Was your son sexually active?”

“No.  He has never engaged in sexual activity.”

“Mr. Bradford? Um, can you be sure of that? This is to rule out any chances of STD’s or AIDS, you know. We can’t use his organs if there is any chance of those in his system.  Any activity? With women, Mr. Bradford? Or with men?”

“No. None. I know this for sure.”

“Okay then. Ah. . .yeah, okay, next question, Mr. Bradford. We still have quite a list here. . .”

While the voice from Organ Donation asks for a detailed profile, I watch another nurse walk toward my son’s room.  This is the same son whose strong back I’d hugged in the full-blown sun just three days earlier, the one who is lying still warm under a crisp sheet of white, but whose life is no longer supported there. Whose last struggling breath I’d stood by and watched. From where I sit, watching Randall, watching my body quietly convulse, I can not see what this other woman is now doing. But there she goes.  Into that room. With my son.  I have no strength to follow her or the thought any further.  And part of me is trying to be here in this plastic chair so I can love my husband through this disorienting phone call.

“Where has your son lived during his life, Mr. Bradford?  Idaho, right?”

“For nine days, if that counts,” Randall answers.  “And Utah. And Hong Kong. And Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Versailles then Paris, France.”

“Whoah, okay,” the voice laughs lightly,  “Moved, I see.”

“And Norway.”

“Norway?”

“Oslo, Norway.”

“What year would that have been, Mr. Bradford?”

Years.  From 1994 to 1999. We lived five years in Norway.”

“Ok. Mr. Bradford, can you just please hold on for a sec?”

Randall looked at me and tucked the blue blanket up under my chin, up behind the nape of my neck. I smiled at him, but not out of some polite reflex. It was love as never before.

“Mr. Bradford. Seems there’s a problem.  Government records show that there were three cases of mad cow disease in Norway during those five years you lived there. This means your son’s organs are unfortunately unsuitable for donation.  But we do thank you for your time, Mr. Bradford.”

I was in this gummy state, all senses on hyperdrive but by soul tuned to fold-into-origami submission. All my joints , though chilled through, were limp, my will utterly pliable. So we can’t even give his organs, I thought.  He’ll be unhappy about that.  Unable to move myself from this hospital chair with its aluminum legs, I stared at my hands. Randall’s hand reached over to mine. We had to find Luc, our youngest. Had to tell him. We made our way to the room where he had been waiting in the lap of our dear friend all these hours.

And this is when my brother, who has since turned from the wall,  saw what he saw. He told me all this later.

She walked into room two, this gently efficient woman, wearing her scrubs, her brown hair in a pony tail, ready to do what she was trained to do. She walked right to my son. To the body of my son.  My handsome — my gorgeous, my sweet — son on the gurney.  Those were his feet whose toenails I’d taught him to trim.  His hands I’d marveled at in the delivery room the minute he was laid on my chest, hands he’d pushed up against my breast when I nursed him all those eleven months.  He’d pushed and pushed with those miraculous mits, routinely kneading my flesh as he suckled life from me.  They were the same hands whose callouses and blisters he’d shown me proudly after all those hours spent pummeling his djembe with his Tunisian and Algerian buddies on the steps of the Trocadéro facing the Eiffel Tower. School exams, pressure, finally over. It was early summer in Paris, his home, and now all of life lay ahead of him. So he drummed and drummed till his palms and his knuckles bled.

Now this stranger, this woman with white nurse’s shoes and a metal rolling trolley was walking toward those hands, hands with callouses she could not read, toward an entire geography of flesh and blood she could not know. Nothing but foreign soil to her.  And then with everyday grace softening her movements, she proceeded with the speechless routine of turning and lifting, wrapping and bending, of dipping a cloth in cool water and tracing a limb with it. Wringing it out, that hospital rag, in a utilitarian metal dish. This unnamed woman, cradling my son, following the curve of his mortal landscape, sharing with him his final sacrament.

Pietà

 

Toth was his name, Laszlo Toth: the death man

who one midmorning charged Saint Peter’s sanctum

lunged with frenzied hammer at the polished Madonna

frothing at the mouth

shouting he wanted Him as his own

cracking with mallet swing the curves of submission

breaking her soft hold on the dead Son.

The camera crowd gaped then contracted

wrestled him to the stone floor sentenced him

deported him declared him deranged.

Have pity on him.

Hard it is, to insanity hard, to behold a son’s graceful bow

In the hold of another (doctor, technician, nurse, mortician)

to glimpse quite by mistake through the sanctum doorway

as another cradles the warm form wilting, folding under death’s weight

as the gurney sheets must be removed from this side

and the tubes extracted from that side

and the limbs placed neatly at his sides

and machines are rolled away into shadows

as the muscles  melt

twisting the stone sturdy man in the

ultimate capitulation:

deference to death.

Hard it is, to derangement hard,

to not swing a mallet or hammer, to not fling oneself

onto the stone floor,

to not break into sharp marbled shards.

Have pity on me.

**

Printed first in Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets, ed. Tyler Chadwick

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Global Mom: Barnepark

Another excerpt from the forthcoming book, Global Mom, A Memoir.

Here, I have been advised by my new Norwegian friend, Johanne, to enroll our two barna (children) at our local branch of barnepark, Norway’s ubiquitous outdoor preschool. This is early January, an American’s season for hibernation, hunkering down.  But this is Norway, where weather is only the poorest excuse for escaping.

Besides, after a full week in this new country, I’m already  feeling compelled to go native.

I’ll let my children go first.

Norway, view from our window, 1994

**

Global Mom, A Memoir.

Norwegian Wood, January, 1994

Before petitioning the barnepark, as Johanna had suggested, I first set up a stealth surveillance post. Atop a hill and from behind a pine tree close to Blakstad barnepark, I  hunched behind my steering wheel, warm in my down sleeping bag and earmuffs.  Parker and Claire wore their hats and coats and were wrapped in a massive feather comforter while they read books to each other in the backseat.  I dissected the social experiment playing itself out before me.

Photo credit: Flickr

From this outpost, I spied a trio of red-suited adults (only later did I discover that they were women) standing sentinel amid fifteen to twenty or so small bodies that played in hip-high snow and chased snowflakes with their tongues. The women in red stood there, removed from the activity in the snow.   Unless there was real trouble like the random child stuck head first in a snow bank, limbs flailing wildly for help, the women stood far away, stamping their boots every so often, clouds of breath rising from their faces.  Occasionally, they would sip from thermoses or slap their mittened hands on their thighs. This same silent movie repeated itself all morning long, the sun never really rising very far into the sky, dusk a constant backdrop on those limpid midwinter days.

Photo credit: Flickr

At midday, and with the ring of a hand-held bell, all the children would gather into a small wooden barrack for an hour. After the hour, they emerged again. Repeat of silent movie. All afternoon. I would later learn that this was the pattern, day in and day out, sleet, hail, snow, hell or high water, all year long, for three years of these children’s lives.

And everyone in Norway did this?  Everyone?

Just watching the ice slides made me choke on my swig of peppermint tea from my big green Land’s End thermos. Some of those kids were whizzing so fast down slides packed so hard with gray ice, they looked like upholstered torpedoes shooting out of polished marble barrels.

Claire Bradford, Blakstad barnepark, January 1994

One tiny figure in particular (to whom we still refer today as Hannah the Human Bullet) seized my attention.  She might have been three, but a small three.  Her snowsuit was red as was her little knitted cap that looked just like a strawberry, green twig stem and all.  From where I huddled in my unmarked car, I could just make out her mounds of cheeks; two buffed pinkish apples in a grocer’s crate.  She was either intrepid or on Phen-Phen.  Circuit after circuit, she hiked the slick path to the top of a handmade precipice where she flopped herself prostrate, planted her mittens to get some traction, and like a teensy pebble out of a sling shot, exploded down the steep incline.  Sometimes she landed on her belly.  Sometimes on her back.  Always, she caught some air. No one, least of all Hannah, seemed to flinch at the peril, the astronomical potential for lawsuits, the sure threat of injury.  I, on the other hand, was left winded and jittery just keeping up with her above my dashboard.

Photo credit: Flickr

Kids were roaming about, gluey noses scarlet with cold, all those clouds of breath hanging over their heads like empty thought bubbles in a comic strip. The tall red suited adults only piped up every half hour or son, maybe, while all the children kept doing normal kid-in-snow things like pelting each other with snowballs, grabbing the littler guy’s shovel, constructing elaborate fort and tunnel systems.

When they were whonked over the noggin or got stuck in the frozen tire swing, no one came rushing with theatrical rescues and apologies for the misery of it all.  No one came most of the time, in fact.  Generally, a tall person’s hooded head raised itself a bit, I would hear the faint holler, probably reciting a rule, and the child maneuvered itself to safety or self-consolation.  Once or twice a big person split up a knotted wrangle of clawing cubs, barking in about four syllables something that shut down the scuffle like a lid over fire.

This?  No-sir-ee-sir, my two would never survive.

Photo credit: Flickr

I had raised Parker and Claire — my treasures, my snoogly-wooglies — to be softies. Like me.  Accomodating, even obliging, sensitive.  Freaked by speed.  This Nordic system, as I watched it agape and gasping, would make them hardy, that’s for sure.  But in the process it would give me a heart attack. Putting them here would be like tossing them into a doggoned menagerie, I shuddered, more of a farm, even, than any well-organized playpen.  I second-guessed myself.  I second-guessed the Norwegians.  I was back to second-guessing Norway as a whole.

Parker, Norway, 1994

After a couple of days of playing driver’s seat anthropologist from an unmarked Saab, I slipped into my best jeans which I tucked into my fancy red cowboy boots, a big hit when I’d worn them in New York City, and they made me immediately identifiable as The Girl From Utah.  I pulled on a padded but flattering and therefore actually not so padded and therefore totally useless down parka, and checked my foreign newcomer smile in the mirror while drilling my Norwegian lines. I’d written them out phonetically while Johanna had coached me over the phone. With a prayer in my heart and one bundled child on each hand, I waddled gingerly all the way down the slope to the Blakstad barnepark barrack.

Mother on a snow stroll with children in tow
Note the attempt at a flattering pose. . .

It might have occurred to you that the soles of cowboy boots are meant to slip easily in and out of stirrups, an advantage while roping calves in rodeos.  The relative slickness of the soles helps cowgirls slide in and out of stirrups with ease, even elegance, so they can win big trophies and custom-made chaps.  But this engineering factoid never crossed my mind before I stepped out onto my first Norwegian iceberg.  Lesson learned? Aerodynamically designed boot toes and high-gloss soles are no help on a 70˚ angle of black ice.

Parker, Norway, 1994

Slush-splattered, a massive bruise forming on my left hip and limping lightly, we arrived.  I’d timed our entrance for noon, knowing this was the children’s lunchtime, a prime opportunity to beg for dagbarn plasser.  A few whacks on the wooden door and a very tall, attractive brunette woman wearing several layers of woolen sweaters under a lumpy red snowsuit unzipped to and gathered at her waist, opened to me.  Her pronounced, flushed cheekbones pointed right to her broad, sympathetic smile.  Behind her shoulder I caught sight of a spartan but cozy interior filled with a whole picnic table of ruddy-cheeked children, most of them toe-headed, leaning over small bundles of what must have been sack lunches.

In silence they examined their strange, shivering visitors.

Blakstad barnepark, Norway, January 1994

Two other blonde women, also in half-zipped red jump suits, appeared to be manning the lunch break.  The interior looked so soothing after the piercing cold outside. Claire, shy and clingy in new situations, was gripping my brittle fingers so desperately I thought they’d break. And both children really needed a toilet.  I was afraid.  Afraid for them.  Afraid for me.  My feet were searing with pain. My rump was soggy and sore. I searched inwardly for my first line.  This is where my years as an actress kicked in, shoving me through stage fright.

The woman waited, smiling.

I was frozen on all levels.

I licked my lips to defrost them, but they remained immobile.

Out of a mouth that felt like two stacked Goodyear radials I forced a smile and the following in halting Norwegian:

“Good day.  Sorry that I disturb.  We are Americans.  We inhabit house not far.  We freeze.  Have you dagbarn?”

Tall, gentle tante Britt, as I later learned was her name, responded in Norwegian-For-The-Learning-And-Hearing-Impaired, and drew me at once into the barrack and into a wobbly but warm conversation.  All this was done while the two blondes, (whom I was later to know as tante Eva and tante Anna) invited Parker and Claire over to sit on a bench and sing nursery songs with the others while I beat my hands back to life.  They smiled, my two, a bit stiff with fear of separation and all-eyes-on-us self-conciousness.  But that lasted less than five minutes.

Picnic time, Blakstad barnepark, Norway, January 1994

My hands began thawing. The palms started itching like crazy.  I watched my two wriggle into a place between other children on the bench. Claire’s cheeks a flaming shade of fuchsia, Parker’s bangs matted and angular after he tugged off his thin American beanie.  A spot in my lower torso felt ignited, heat-filled, by the sight of my two crammed in between a girl, maybe four, and another, not much older. The first sat next to Claire and secretly put her hand on Claire’s thigh, smiling, whispering something Claire of course could not understand, but to which Claire nodded a bit sideways.  This is where that torso hot spot took quiet flame.  I honestly felt warmer. My eyes must have been defrosting, I knew this, because they were leaking down both cheeks.

But my fingers remained concrete.  I never did get blood to them, in fact, but I nevertheless managed to sign, in runic alphabet, the sheet of paper that admitted our two as dagbarn the next morning.

Parker Bradford at barnepark

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Thunder

Was awakened at about 4:30 this morning by the blast-shwoosh-bam of a thunderstorm.  It rattled the shutters, shiiiisssshed and teased in eerie whispers while the sky shook to the blinding flash of Zeus’ wrath.  Those veiny, scraggly arms of lightning, slapping the face of earth. I had covers up around my ears, eyes like ping-pong balls bouncing in that last little trill when you hold them against the table under your paddle. Skittish. A grown woman gone infantile.  All thanks to thunder.

Photo credit: Seekingalpha

The Swiss version of a thunderstorm is meek compared to the rip-roaring variety in Singapore, the kind I miss, the kind that uprooted a 30 foot-tall palm tree right out of our yard and laid it, like your toothbrush falling out of its holder, right across our neighbor’s roof.

Neighbor woman no happy.

So to avoid a lawsuit, which she threatened, that very week we had eight trees (four of which were towering, elegant palms) pulled out of our garden.  Had a team of sweat-shiny men come with their trucks and power saws and clear out nearly all the foliage around our home.  Man, did it look stark afterwards, like those odd altered pictures of celebrities without eyebrows.

But we did keep up neighborly relations.

I missed my palms.  And I still miss Singapore thunderstorms.

Photo credit: 123rf

But I cannot experience one anywhere, and neither can Randall, without thinking immediately of the most heinous and life-splitting thunderstorm in our memory.  Actually, it is in Randall’s memory, not mine, as he’s the one who lived it.  I have only heard him tell the story.

At the moment of that storm he was fast asleep in Munich, Germany and I was in Provo, Utah, probably tucking our two youngest, Dalton and Luc, and their cousin, Wesley, into sleeping bags on my parent’s basement floor.  It was Thursday, July 19th, and I’d arrived in Provo just that Sunday, eager to be with the children, who had gone ahead to camps and family in the American west, while I negotiated the move with Randall from Paris to Bavaria.

Claire was with her best friend, Caroline, at a youth camp called Especially For Youth on the campus of Brigham Young University.  They were sleeping in a dorm room. Caroline’s cell phone, by a stroke of inexplicable fate-luck-blessing-divine intervention, she’d left on all night long next to her dorm bed.  She would get a critical call on it in just an hour or so.

I had spent the day before, Wednesday the 18th, in Rexburg, Idaho, (first time there in my life), where I’d spent the afternoon with Parker just a week into a program at university called Freshman Academy.  It was a scorchingly hot afternoon, but we hugged and laughed and walked around together meeting other students and joking with Dalton, who was trailing his big brother, whom he idolized, showing him his most recent comic sketches.  Parker was the perfect older brother then, all complimentary and aglow.

We went to Wells Fargo Bank to open an account and dump some money in to get him through a week or so. The bank officer there, I can remember this scene in slo-mo, had turned his computer screen around to show us images of a “real cool place.”

“It’s the best place to just cool off. Not too far,” he’d told Parker. “Have to ask locals how to get there, though. Kinda middle of nowhere.  But every one goes there, ‘know? Engagement pictures, Family Home Evening groups, the works.  You been there yet, Parker? To Monkey Rock?”

He had. Once already. Which made me shake my head. Something about the place, those black lava rocks, the white froth of the 15 ft. water fall, the soupy lagoon, the canal. I’m not sure what, but it made my stomach turn.

Can I say it looked foreboding? Will you say this is retrospective sense-making, that I’m projecting my horror for that place on my memories? Will you stop believing me or anything I write altogether?

Still I insist: it did look foreboding.

In fact, Parker asked me while the man behind the desk went to get some forms for us to fill out, why I’d shaken my head at the man and had said, “That place. . .I don’t like it.”

“Mom, it’s their favorite place.  Don’t want to diss it. It’s great for them, you know. Besides, I’ve been there. It is cool.”

Right then, Dad called for Parker on my cell phone. He was calling from Munich, knew we were together in Rexburg, was jealous and eager to chat. Parker stepped away, walked up the small carpeted ramp that feeds to the back entrance of the bank, and stood there in his jeans and royal blue T-shirt.  (The one I still sleep with.)  They talked for a minute or two, I watched Parker laughing and doing the quick run down with his Dad.  I was the one who motioned he should get off.  We had these important forms to sign.

That would be the last time Randall would hear his son’s voice.  At least his human voice.

Because the next night there would be a water activity organized at Money Rock.  And in Provo, Mom would be tucking in two little brothers after a day with their cousin at the public pool.  And sister would be sleeping in a dorm room with her friend’s cell phone serendipitously turned on.  And Dad would be sound asleep in Munich, dreaming, maybe, of his flight scheduled for a day and a half later, the trip that would make for our family’s surprise arrival, several days earlier than Parker expected.  In Idaho.

What happened at this moment no one can explain, but Randall speaks of it in tones that change his color.  He slept soundly in that dark apartment.  The windows were ajar for fresh summer air.  There were no city sounds to disturb. Soothing, slow-breathing sleep.  Then instantly, the skies split with the light and sound of an air raid crashing across Munich. Bombs, firebombs, wall-shaking eruptions literally shocked Randall’s heart, throwing him to full sitting-up attention.

Thunderstorm. Unlike anything he had ever known in his life.  It pounded and howled, going right to his bones.

Alone and shaking, he flew out of bed, running through the rooms closing and checking windows, the huge explosions of light electrifying his movements, perforating the darkness, stabbing the eyes.  His heart raced.  The reverberations grabbed the old building and yanked it, it seemed, by the shoulders, like a furious bully manhandles a thin victim.  The rain flew sideways, debris flying with it, and hit the windows with metal-whip sounds, whipping, whipping.  And shriek-yowling.

It was 4:37 a.m.  The din lasted less than an hour. Then it drained away, leaving dripping sounds and big branches and soggy trash plastered all over Munich. When the sun would rise, the town would look like it had been in one of those little plastic snow domes you shook as a child. Only this dome was full of leaves, newspapers and your random sweatshirt wrapped around a plank of corrugated roofing.  Roughed up.

But Randall would never take notice of the branches or trash at sunrise.  Because after he would fall back asleep — big day ahead at the office, you know, regional meetings, he’d have to pack for the weekend flight, lock up the apartment, change some Euros to dollars, probably — after he would fall back asleep for a couple of hours, he would get a phone call from his wife.

“Honey?  You awake?  Something’s happened.”

Randall’s voice, in spite of sleep lost to the storm, would be crisp and alert.

“What is it?”

“No idea, but it’s serious. . .”

Minutes later, a follow-up call and the serious news became more detailed, much much more serious, and from that second and for many hours on end until he landed in the middle of the night on the Pocatello, Idaho airstrip, Randall would only run and run. Weep and weep.  Pray and pray.  The wife and the husband would meet each other in an ICU at the regional medical center. There, they would become, in the space of time it takes for one shaft of lightning to travel to earth, in the space of time for the clap of one thunderbolt to burst an eardrum, different people forever.  Struck, burnt through, electrocuted.

They learn that at exactly 4:30 a.m. Munich time (which would have been 8:30 p.m., Rexburg time), there was another kind of electrical release, a transfer of energy, we’ll say, taking place in the cross-cut canals feeding over the falls and into the lagoon of a common water hole called Monkey Rock.

Photo credit: naturedesktopnexus

Thunder

4:37 a.m., Munich

8:37 p.m., Monkey Rock

“. . .The sound that follows a flash of lightning and is caused by sudden expansion of the air in the path of the electrical discharge. . .”

—-N. Webster

At that exact hour, galactic detonation.

First, the splatting, cracking, then the sky above,

like the water below,

churning, foisting up,

whirling, dragging particulate matter into a current

surging, slitting with stiff slivers, splewing and spitting out,

Discharging at its will.

He who sleeps, sits up straight.

His heart hammers like the

rains that bludgeon in silvercold diagonal planks.

Rain, like those metal sheets rattled to make theater thunder,

wails and splutters, like a river

splatters as it hits stone.

Where you are.

Where he is

through the core of the earth to the paired side.

In this splitting instant

 creation is alarmed.

God’s dome claps an acoustic ka-boom

congealing in this sky-and-earth-quake

this subatomic shockwave,

sympathetic timpani—

(On earth as it is in heaven)

which fires currents through the sphere, shaking nature,

unhinging it.

Something big is being done.

Something big is being undone.

He who is awakened, sitting up, will lie back down.

He who is standing, grabbing hands, will lie down.

With thunderous voice buried under thunder—

a silent, glorious roar—

he will be sent to sleep.

And all at once, things are distilled.

Evanescence.

A sudden expansion of thunderbolt voltage bursts the threshold and

shoots into that pellucid vastness—

sends soaring above this banal torrent—

a flash of reversed lightning.

Startling.

Enlivening.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Global Mom: Snow Angels

As promised, a short teaser for Global Mom.

This comes from early in the book, soon after we have moved from the Bright Lights of Broadway to the Northern Lights of Norway.  Randall has been invited with his new team at work to attend a week of the Olympic Games in Lillehammer.  I am with four-year-old Parker and two-year-old Claire, holed up in a snug wooden home in the mountains west of Oslo.  There, I’m learning two basics for becoming Norwegian:

Snow and Speech.

***

This, from my journal:

I spent over two hours shoveling snow in the middle of a major snowstorm this morning.  While Parker and Claire stared on from the safe warmth of the house, their rosy faces pushed against the window next to the front door, I snorted and huffed away like a rabid mastodon packed into neck-to-ankle lycra.  The craziest thing about this is that everyone else on the street was doing the same thing, although perhaps not in lycra. Not a one of us exchanged as much as a greeting, and in silent, sober duty we jammed our shovels, heaved the weight, and moved mountains.  Half sissy, half Sisyphus, I clenched my jaw, doing my part to build neighborly solidarity. 

As another meter of snow fell (and we all knew another two more were forecast for that night), we scooped and piled, scooped and piled for a couple of hours at least.  Our monuments grew much taller than the tallest man I could spy at the bottom of our hill, digging and lobbing in the unbroken rhythm of jab-heave-heave-hurl, jab-heave-heave-hurl.

I’m not sure exactly what it is yet that I am learning in this new lifestyle, but I think it has something to do with discovering the inherent significance buried in the mundane. I’ll keep digging.

Photo credit: UK Telegraph

Sometime after that storm blew over, the sun shone brightly for an exceptional six days straight. This was just long enough to cause a crisis when the ice started to thaw. One morning, I found that the entryway ceiling was streaming in several synchronized tributaries onto the floor.  Seems I’d been distracted by snow removal from the shoulder down, and hadn’t noted the glacier accumulating on the roof.

I should have known to climb on the roof and shovel off the weight, my tall neighbor from the bottom of the road announced flatly as he took to the roof in two long strides (the snow was so high it met the bottom edge of the rafters) and, in a dozen or so brusque gestures, attacked the slushy beast with a pick and spade.  A couple of muscular kicks with the toe of his hunting boots and my roof was dripless.

“Always clear the roof”, he offered in an accent I now recognized as coming from northern Norway, and he stabbed the shovel into a snow mound before leaning his bony elbow on the pick.  “Next time the whole roof could fall right on your children and—” he made a fierce sound like a polar bear winning at Go Fish.

You can bet that after every storm that followed I was the first from my neighborhood to shimmy up the drain pipe: The Shoveler on the Roof.

This was at about the same time Randall was on something euphemistically called a regional business retreat at the Olympic Games.  He called often from Lillehammer, feeding me with color commentary and cultural play-by-plays, always spilling over with details about this high-pitched initiation into the Norwegian spirit. At noon, he’d be yelling to me over the explosions of cheering spectators right and left; at midnight, he’d whisper like a spy, reporting dispassionately below the rowdy drinking choruses gurgling in the background on whoever was at that moment spread out cold under the table.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I took copious notes.  I envisioned the scenes.  Breathlessly, I’d pummel him with questions and prod him for more.  And I hung a bit, I’m embarrassed but not too proud to admit, on those calls. There was a big world out there.

Not that I wasn’t keeping very busy in my small world at home.  I used that week to invite over a steady string of little friends—Jesper, Eirik, Knut, Karolina, Per-Ole, Louisa—to the Bradford house.  Bringing Norwegian under our roof in galloping, knee-high form was, as I’d hoped it would be, better then Berlitz. I was the half-mute kneeling hostess, crawling everywhere the conversation went, hungrily watching the kids’ lips, mouthing sounds with my brows furrowed, questioning kiddies on every expression, every turn of phrase.  I tell you, I never want to know what those children told their own parents about that new mother who mostly crawled and wrote down every word they said. Because most of the time they’d  look at me with their noses crunched in a bundle, and say, “So. . .you’re not Norwegian, are you? Because you do speak a little weird, you know that?”

That tots who couldn’t even pull on their own mittens could spew flawless phrases like that in Norwegian kept me on my knees.  I was their humble boot-licker.

Photo credit: Kim Rormark

During a few of those uncharacteristically sunny hours in early February, I hosted our own preschool Olympics.  With ten guests I staged an activity that left my whole backside plastered with snow that fell off in slabs when I lurched into the house to grab Randall’s telephone call. I’d been in the yard with a dozen children making snow angels. I was pooped. The sun was fading (it was almost two o’clock, dusk in a Norwegian winter), which meant we’d soon be coming inside.  The very thought of undressing the whole fleet of mushy astronauts made my spine go floppy but my jaw go rigid.

“You wouldn’t believe it, sweetheart” Randall laughed, “but there are trolls everywhere here. Huge troll statues, little troll dolls, troll sweatshirts, troll oven-mits, troll bumper stickers. It’s a total troll-o-rama.  Wish you could see the poor guy we saw in head-to-toe troll gear grilling meatballs. Incredible!”

I tried to conjure the picture.  Jesper needed to go to the toilet and had to be totally undressed.  Hard, with a phone pinched between ear and shoulder.

Randall kept feeding me images:

“And we just passed the biggest ice sculpture I’ve ever seen.  Solid ice.  Gorgeous. Mammoth. A Viking ship.  Or a polar bear or something, I think.”

“Not a troll?” I asked, unzipping Jesper who now lies flat on his back on my kitchen floor, and I don’t have the Norwegian words for, “Me your slave?”, and I’m tugging at his rock solid Cherox snow boots so I can then pull off a couple of layers so he can now waddle, dripping a trail of snow, to the toilet.

“No, a moose, maybe.  Anyway, I’m thinking winter’s not so bad here after all if you can do it like this every time:  the press, the cameras, the celebrities, the perfect blue skies.  I guess—“

I couldn’t’ make out the rest of his words for all the noise on his end.

“Where are you?  What’s all the yelling?” I wondered as I adjusted the phone in hand, mopping up Jesper’s mush tracks with a rag under my foot, all the while keeping an eye on the happy scene of several very sweet angels indeed, including my two, flapping and chortling outside on a mantle of diamonds.

Randall was on someone’s cell at the ice hockey rink where he was sitting only rows—“only rows, honey!”— behind Hilary Clinton, who’d swung through Norway to support the U.S. hockey team.

Up to that point I was smiling, though sweating, on my end of the conversation.  But in an instant something stung and deeply.  The collision in my mind of those two scenes–the Olympic, versus the Neighborhood Games—pinched a nerve in me.  Just then, the hockey team made a goal and pandemonium from that end of the line covered the silence on my end.

Jesper was now standing forlorn in the kitchen doorway.  His below-the-waist bareness and wide open stare said he needed toilet paper.

“Mel?  Hon? You still there?  Hey, I got you a great sweater. Please tell the kids I’ll bring them back real troll hair.”  (Laughter.  A roar for a missed goal.) “Honey?. . . Mel?”

Some moments say more than one can grasp in the instant they strike. This was one of those moments.  There I was in bigger-than-life Norway, the momentary focal point of the globe. Important people were discussing important things; and even if they weren’t, at least they were discussing something.  It was then that I feared what loomed on the horizon: that our two geographies, Randall’s and Melissa’s, would from thenceforth be cloven down the middle, distinctly and necessarily disjointed. Just like the bucket seats of our very first, poor student car, a V.W. bug: Driver (gear shift, and) Passenger. Instead of sharing that joint adventure with Randall, I was afraid I’d only get the adventure second hand, across a gear shift or through the irritating filter of a cell phone exchange. Instead of being there, I was here.

“Thanks, sweetheart, for the sweater,” I said. And I meant it.

But he hadn’t heard my words over the hockey rink bedlam.  The Finns had just made a goal.  And I was busy handing a roll of toilet paper to Jesper.

“Well, can’t hear you so well,” Randall yelled,  “So if you can hear me, Thanks, hon.  I miss you here!

Click.

On the raw pine floor, a puddle of snowmelt spread in a dark pool round my boots.  Lillehammer was only two hours’ drive away.  But impossibly far from my world where tottering, snow-encased trolls were now lined up outside along the floor-to-ceiling kitchen window smashing their pug noses and smearing slime on a frosty pane that barely muffled the new music of Norwegian banter.

Photo credit: norskogarchiv notam02

I watched a row of children, soft faces pressed to transparency, mouths and nostrils expelling little gusts of spirit that clung to glass like ragged circles of moist gauze.  Their shrieks and pantomime jarred my stupor, and I waved back as they turned into the sunlight, plopping into their custom angel prints.  It was only then I noticed this amazing thing: Parker and Claire,  heads bobbing naturally while their mouths spoke simple Norwegian phrases, mixing in with these others from whom they are virtually indistinguishable, those small bodies weaving in and out of light and shadows.

Like all births, the births of my two were at once common and astounding events, universal and unique. Now I knew I needed to turn my focus to the everyday protracted labor of rebirthing them—these two,  these extremely important people — into a new world.

Actually, no.

What I first needed was to turn my focus to boiling a dozen hot dogs.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

In Amber

After eight years in Paris, our family was moving to Munich.  A big move, a bit of a sad move, but not an impossible move, given that we were sending Parker off to college at exactly the same time, and this seemed like a practical juncture for turning in a fresh direction on our family’s ongoing international track. Besides, we couldn’t just keep on enjoying Paris without the one family member who loved Paris as much as or more than any of the rest of us.

You know by now what happened during that move.

It was a logistical tight rope for about two weeks as all six of us straddled continents: our goods had just landed from Paris in Munich where I had been setting up house; the three youngest  we’d sent two weeks earlier to the States to be with relatives; Parker we’d sent ahead to something called Freshman Academy at college only a five-hour drive from my parents’.  And Randall, who was setting up Internet and cell phones and getting traction in his new job, I had just left behind in Munich when I flew ahead to the western U.S. to rejoin our children and visit Parker on his campus. We all kept in touch every day with wildly flying texts, emails, and phone calls.

Randall and I were on the phone several times a day, in fact, plotting what was going to be his earlier-than-expected arrival that Saturday, July the 21st.  We would show up at the door of this oldest son’s first college apartment, Randall and I snickered on the phone, all five of us, swim suits in hand, since there were all these “fun swimming holes” in the area, Parker had told us, places all the local kids had taken the newly-arrived students to.

A big family surprise on Saturday morning.  That had been our plan.

We were all together that Saturday morning.  That much was true to plan.

But under such circumstances as to make my fingers shake even today, five years later, when I try to type them.

So I won’t try to type them.

Only days after Parker’s funeral we found our family of five stepping off a Delta flight in Munich’s airport. New home.  New world.  Alien world.  Cold world.  Death-drenched world. The apartment we had chosen before major tragedy blew the floor and ceiling out of our universe, had been strategically situated for our planned needs. It was in the center of Munich.  A short bike ride to Munich’s Univeristät.  A block from the adjoining English Garden.  Our plan had been that I enroll in a Ph.D. program and in December Parker would return to us for Christmas.  He would wait the few weeks or months for his assignment as a missionary for our church. He would share a part of the apartment with Claire, his best friend and sister, who would be slaving away at the International Baccalaureate at high school.  He could help her.  He could also be close to student life at the nearby Universität.  He could cross country ski with his little brothers across the vast English Garden.  We could soak up being all together again before his two long years of missionary service. Those were our plans.

And by now you’re beginning to understand the relative uselessness of plans.

Plans.  They can blow up in shrapnel and smoke, and underneath those plumes of dust and debris, you finger through ruins, making up something new.

But “fingering through” is misleading as a figure of speech, since what really happens is more of a bloody-knuckled scraping and bare-handed shoveling, which demands full body-and-spirit engagement. It saps you.  And because it does, you spend a great deal of time lying down.  And sitting.

Randall and I walked, when we could, throughout the English Gardens.  And more often we sat.  There were many dedicated benches throughout the garden — “Für Mutti, zum 70en Geburtstag”, “Helmuth und Brunhilde, Immer Liebe.”  We sat on these tributes to the living, most of the time exhausted by sorrow and by the work of just breathing.  The work of just sitting.

Along a tributary of the Isar River in Munich’s English Garden

One day, I envisioned a bench in this park. For our Parker.

Randall and I found our way to a small yellowish converted home in the  middle of the park, the office of the one and only gentleman whose job it is to oversee the installation of dedicated benches. Herr Barthlemes was lanky in his worn beige corduroy trousers and heavy rubberized walking shoes, his bony shoulders poking like the angles of a metal clothes hanger under an olive-green sweater with five dark leather buttons.  As we walked the garden, this man, my husband and I, talking quietly about where to place a bench for our eldest son, Herr Barthlemes wrapped and tucked a plaid woolen shawl in orange and mustard around his neck, a neck as lean as the trunks of the trees that looked underfed and desolate as they shed their fall colors.

Fall.  The dead season. To my grieving eyes, absolutely everything spoke death.

“Normally,” Herr Barthelmes explained as we walked slowly along the pathway that encircles a big open field smack dab in the garden’s heart, “we only put the dedication plaques on the backs of these green painted benches.” He pointed to six benches placed along the path we were walking.

“And if we understood correctly,” Randall said, “we have to choose a green bench that’s already standing in the garden, is that right?”

“Right,” the gentleman nodded. I thought then that if he spoke English he might make a good Jimmy Stewart from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“But. . .what if we’re thinking of a place other than where these green benches already stand?” I asked. I had thought of something maybe close to water, even next to the small canal-like river. A place by a waterfall? Was there a lagoon? Anything that looked like Idaho?

View to the Grosser Wasserfall, English Garden, Munich

“It depends on when you want this finished, Frau Bradford.  You mentioned February 20th? Is this your son’s birthday? You want to surprise him?” Barthlemes smiled softly and winked.

Randall and I looked at each other. We all kept strolling.

“Herr Barthlemes, you’re right.  That’s our son’s birthday,” Randall said. “But it won’t really. . .it won’t be a surprise for him.”

The trees were dropping leaves –- ochre, burnt red, even some bright green ones — as I listened to my husband explain to this tall German stranger the story of our boy. I’d never noticed until that moment that green leaves fall, too.

As Randall finished, Herr Barthlemes stopped in his tracks.  I looked at him. His face was different from the face of two minutes earlier. Melted. And his eyes seemed larger.

“Herr Bradford, das ist ja doch etwas ganz anderes.”

Now that’s something totally different, he said.

Very close to February 20th, Herr Jimmy Stewart Barthlemes, whom I never saw again and whom I have never thanked in person, hand made a handsome one-of-a-kind brown bench —an etwas anderes, or something different. He had told us he wanted to do this for our son. We ordered an inscribed bronze plaque, delivered it to his little office, and he had it affixed, the whole thing weatherproofed, then installed in an ideal spot as a gift for what would have been our child’s 19th Birthday.

The bench stands right next to the tributary of Munich’s Isar, a place where two canals converge, pass over falls, and get swallowed up under a bridge.

I wrote this poem in increments sitting, at times, on that very bench.  It is there right now awaiting others who are maybe crazy in love (I’ve seen them kissing there), weary from life (I’ve gathered the discarded cigarette butts myself), or exhausted by sorrow, a natural counterpart to love, a natural part of life.

Photo: Rob Inderrieden

In Amber
Ezekiel 1: 4-7
Im Englischen Garten
München, November 2009, All Souls” Day
Für Christa B.

Go straight toward Himmelsreich,
turn right into Paradies
cross into the tunnel upholstered in
the gingered patina of brocaded taffeta.
Tread the suede elegance of fallen flames,
bind to your soles these hieroglyphs of silence
which draw you deep into muted fluorescence.
You are rapt.
You are in amber
Or Bernstein, burned stone born of
interior clefts in injured trees.
You are in resin,
that umber ooze of congealed spirit
spilling out of hurting hollows.
You are lured,
captured
You are saved
as were nature’s relics 320 million years ago. . .

Two years ago
(same month, same trees, same branches and tunnel)
this was not the same. I saw only desolation.
Haggard branches scratching for air, cadaverous,
grisly. Gasping their last breath of death.
I walked this sodden altar piled with sacrificial scabs
in elegiac tones
(bruise, gash, decay, corpse)
as the dank air clung to my neck
like ashes and dust.
Since then, no whirlwind nor great cloud nor fire infolding itself.
Just this load of despair like moldering foliage
which has soaked my soil, seeped through sediment,
spread to root, been incorporated
a mineral swell compost
so that today
this All Souls’ Day
I have grown new ears for flamboyant hymn-singing trees
and eyes for upthrust birded limbs, celebrant and winking
throngs of happy timber
and out of the midst thereof
in the midst of voluptuous shade-fire
I could swear we are captured
every last living thing is enclosed
in this furtive moltenness the color of burnished brass
so that all things are present,
preserved in amber.

***

For a related post I wrote on this topic, please refer to:

segullah.org/daily special/all-saints’-day-all-souls’-day/

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Bottled Fruit

My mother inspired a poem that I wrote. Actually, she has inspired a number of poems I’ve written, either directly or indirectly.   Come to think about it, she’s actually inspired everything I’ve written, indeed all my writing comes from her.

Because I do.

She is not a writer herself, my Mom.  Instead, she’s a soprano, (an operatic leading lady), a vocal coach, a former member (for 16 years) of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and an international lecturer on the arts, specifically where lyrics and music intersect.

(You’re right: I grew up hearing The Three Tenors from the kitchen radio.  And hiding my Three Dog Night LP albums under my bed.)

Besides being a gifted musician and stage performer, my Mom is also a skilled driver.  She shuttled four children to ballet-piano-cello-viloin-viola lessons.  In between, she ran for a local political office, taught elementary school, quilted, did calligraphy, was artistic director for a number of operas, weeded our flower beds, battled a career-shortening and life-threatening case of scoliosis, cared for her aging mother-in-law until that grandmother of mine passed away, and she bottled fruit.  Some of it she even grew in our own backyard.

Sadly, I didn’t inherit any of her goods, I don’t think.  Except, maybe, a fraction of her musicianship. I did, though, inherit her insatiable love for words.

But I don’t know the first thing about bottling fruit.

Every year on my birthday, I like to thank my parents for giving me the gift of life and other gifts that make that life rich and satisfying.  I did just this a couple of years ago by writing a poem dedicated to my Mom, Donna, and the next year that piece ended up anthologized in a noteworthy volume entitled, Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets. 

So this year I am posting that piece here to thank her — thank them, Mom and Dad — for showing how to harvest, savor,  and bottle life.

Credit, both photos: Flickr

Bottled Fruit

 For Donna Charlene Glazier Dalton

(and T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes )

 

There are museums alive under my mother’s house, quiet

life-giving mausoleums, loden and loaded with their chilled secrets,

cement-walled vaults with jugs of holy jewels,

amber pendants round as halos lining the walls.

Crystal caskets crowded with dense-fleshed

soldiers, salute!

Cheek-to-topaz-cheek they nearly breathe

in their neat ranks, awaiting orders.

No withered raisins in the sun here, no, but

muscled suns afire in blackness: promising,

pulsing practically,

still half alive,

still life.

 

Let us go then, you and I, to visit those cellars

of all my mothers and their mothers and mothers,

who considered shelf life over self life, who

frankly shelved their life to bear and bind themselves with

that fleshy, sinewy fruit of the womb.

 

Let us see them at the kitchen sink which heaves with sultry harvest,

let us watch them ply their mothers’ genes, cradling fruit

like a bronze planet in each palm, slicing its dense flesh at equator,

making two hemispheres with silk-slick skin

taut against engorged roundness.

Plump little breasts.

These, they slip two-and-two down the throats of jars

until they cannot fit a single other,

and baptize them en masse:

a ladle of sweet, pectiny waters.

 

In such rooms the women come and go, talking of Mason jars, Ball and Kerr

and none dares eat a peach. But to satisfy her hunger, postpones it,

puts up for the eventual quelling of a someday craving,

saves, replants the pit, stocks this immediate abundance,

preserving it, holding on to life.

Man, with his wristwatch, might claim there will be time,

there will be time, indeed there will be time

for all the works and days of hands, time to know and gather enough

the tender seasonal berries of our fragile human yield.

But the mothers are unconvinced.

They weep and fast and weep and pray

against the measured minutes left together

while all the late afternoon long they hear the voices dying and the

music from a farther room.

 

Gone too soon from their slippery hold, these dazzling passion fruits

with their every pungent plushness and immediate délice,

these pears with their translucent skin the color of liquid bone

and veins of laced filigree.

Firmest fruit like buffed and bottled riverstones: these are their proving rocks

touchstone testaments of existence,

their innermost fruits

which fill deepest chambers against the time

when they might nourish—or might outlive—the mothers.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Prom and Publishing

Photo Credit: AllPosters.com

I never went to Prom.

Prom, for those of you who don’t know, is an annual high school dance and an American cultural institution. Its name is short for Promenade, pointing to its roots: those who get to go to Prom get to promenade or parade a bit.  They parade as couples, from which line a Prom Queen and King are elected. The most preferred of the preferred.

Photo Credit: Tumblr

I was naturally never a Prom Queen, either.  But all my friends seemed to be. Because, as I said, I never went. Never was invited.

Oh.  Did I write that already?

Photo Credit: Facebook Prom

There are reasons behind why I never went. It might have had something to do with having been hospitalized for a good part of one high school year, having been in Salzburg another, and having essentially dropped out of high school for the better part of my senior (or graduating) year.

So all right. A bit of a hard catch.

Photo Credit: picstopin.com

I made up for that Prom famine by living in Vienna in my late teens — in Vienna, where there’s a whole two-month-long official Ball Season, as you probably already knew. If you’re in Vienna from January to March and if you have a hankering, you can go to every possible sort of Austrian Prom your heart desires.

Every possible.

Photo Credit: 1957timecapsule.blog

You can salsa at the Mexican Ball.  You can hip hop or even bunny hop at the Rabbit Breeders’ Ball.  You can cakewalk at the Bakers’ Ball.  My heavens, you can break dance or do the limbo at the Orthopedists’ Ball, belly dance at the Gastroenterologists’ Ball, foxtrot at the Hunters’Ball, do the gallop or the pony at the Race Track Owners’ Ball, work on your java at the Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball, do the jitterbug at the Exterminators’ Ball or the volte at the Electricians’ Ball. Learn the kurdish at the Cheese Makers’ Ball.  The bossa nova at the New CEO Ball.

You can even do the can-can at the Plumbers’ Ball.

Endless options.  If you want to have a ball.

And which ball do you think I went to? With the likes of Jürgen, Franz, Adalbert, and a man who for hours explained to me the finer details of how to make pork sausages, I, a quasi-vegetarian, polkaed the  night away.

At the Butcher’s Ball.

But I never, ever went to Prom.

Photo Credit: AllPosters.com

(These are not, as you’ve noted, my own Prom pictures. Since I don’t have any of my own to insert.)

Which never bothered me. I am being completely honest. It never fazed me at all.  Really.

Until last spring.

Last spring, I was this close –- this close — to having an important and substantial manuscript go to press.   (It was not this one, not Global Mom, but another one with my whole soul pressed flat between its pages). Indeed, the very week that volume was scheduled to go to press, the publisher and I— Prom date and moi, to build a metaphor — broke up.

The French call “breaking up” a rupture.  The best word, since it did feel like something burst in me.

My bubble, I’m thinking.

In Prom lingo, the cancellation of an intended publishing undertaking meant that I wasn’t going to Prom at all.  This, after having said yes to the fancy invitation, after having bought the dress, after having involved a fair number of sharp friends and family and other seasoned Prom-goers in the jubilation for My Very First Prom.  After having stayed up night after night for weeks and months on end preparing for said Prom. After the boutonnière, the up-do, the limo, the music, even after walking out onto the dance floor. . . After all that work and fervor, my Prom date and I stared at each other.  Did a double-take.  Decided his tux and my gown just did not match.

And we walked out separate doors.

Aw. . .

Kward.

And disheartening. Enough to make you swear off Proms forever.

I was flat-out sad for about twenty-four hours. “Flat-out” meant lying flat on my back and reasoning with the ceiling while I let tears slink their silent way down my cheekbones and fill up my ear reservoirs. My ceiling, to its credit, listened. It was also rather bossy.  It insisted that this was a kink in the road, not the end of it; that there was not, as I told the ceiling, a cosmic moat around the magical fortress of the publishing world; that taking up learning how to make macramé birdhouses now was not, c’mon Melissa, the wisest place to rechannel my talents.

“Talents? Ha-hoh!” I groaned right then to the ceiling, “You used that word! Not I!”

(I’m editing out here all of the loving and overbearing —the loverbearing, I call them — pep talks I got from my dearest friends who believe in me more than I do. They were the ones who happened to be on my phone with me while I was communing with the ceiling.)

In spite of them and the vaulting promises from that ceiling, for a week or two I was done with writing.

Done. DONE with it.

Then a friend set me up on a blind date (back to that Prom metaphor) with a man named Christopher Robbins.  OK.  I was told he was a great guy, really loyal. The former CEO , I learned, of a prominent regional publishing company, Gibbs Smith, and had just launched his own media company, Familius, which meant that he just happened to be looking for seasoned authors who had writing projects underway that met with his company’s vision and mission statement. He was interested specifically in my writings about living internationally as a family.

Translated into Prom-ese, that means he just happened to be looking for a date.  And preferably one with a gown a lot like mine.

The idea of a fresh, cutting-edge publishing company looking for manuscripts on global living was just enough to get me to sit up in bed.  And take my eyes from the ceiling. And point them in the direction of my wrinkled Prom dress hanging dejected on the back of the bathroom door.

Via email and Skype, Christopher was competent, engaging and unquestionably involved in all aspects of the publishing process.  He was super savvy.  He was also snappy, getting back to my many concerns and queries in a day or less, unusual if not utterly unheard of in the publishing business.  He was scrappy, too, working feverishly with numerous other authors on a long list of projects ranging from film festivals to vlog launches.  And in next to no time, significant results were already sprouting up among his authors’ titles.

Just last month, in fact, two Familius titles were listed among the top of Amazon’s “Favorite Reads”. Merited results, I’d say, especially for a Skypey, savvy, snappy, scrappy and happily married father of nine  (nine!) who didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked him if, for our second Skype session, he wouldn’t mind, (Uh, this might seem just the teeniest bit bizarre, Christopher), wearing his tux?

Just so I could be sure we match.

And now Global Mom, A Memoir is in the Familius pipeline slotted for a top-of-2013 release. I’m writing on a full-time schedule, as writers with contracts and book covers must.

Having a private little ball here all by myself, now.

Thank you from my tender heart for your kind support, readers and friends.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Blogglobal Mom

. . . Which should not be confused with Bloggable Mom, a different concept entirely.

A bloggable mom is a gal with children whose life is worthy of the kind of online pics and self-narrated captions that other people, for all sorts of reasons, “follow.”  Blogs have followers, I have only learned very recently, and ardent followers of blogs, (which I am not because I’m still so new to this blog world), know by instinct what is bloggable, blogworthy.

My son Dalton, I’d say, seems to have an instinct for what is bloggable.  He’s the one who came up with the name for this blog,  as a matter of fact, and subsequently feels part owner of its intellectual property, partly responsibile for its content.   Lately, he’s telling me a little too often for me to be comfortable, that the thing we just did (or saw or heard or burped) was a full-on “7” on the bloggable scale of 1-10, (10 being CNN-worthy).  Or it’s just a paltry “4” on the bloggable scale. Hardly worth having lived in the first place.

This is Scary with a capital “S” — also for Scream and Strange — and is worth returning to in a separate post.  For now, I’ll just say that this tendency to live with an imagined audience always in your peripherals, was the #1 reason I was one of the planet’s last blogging hold-outs. It took 10 years from the first time someone suggested, “You should  really have a blog,” to the day I launched this one.  Kicking, though politely. And Screaming, but with a lower case “s”.

(Ha.  Fancy that.  Particularly after my last post that was sooooo long, so “into it”, a friend and reader told me he’d have to sue me for damages.  He had to scroll so much he got reader’s, not writer’s cramp, and swears following my blog has given him an irreversible case of carpal tunnel syndrome.  I told him I was so terribly, truly sorry that I’m no lite blogger.  I do have a weigh with words. )

So, these 8-on-the-bloggable-scale topics Dalton is suggesting?

“Why not Cow Cat?” he asks me today at our kitchen island.   Cow Cat is this vagrant, overstuffed , black and white cartoon of a Holstein feline, a blimped out Cat in the Hat sans hat, that skulks across our low stone wall every afternoon at 4:50, reaches the same spot, stops, sits, stares. Lifts his tail to the air like a sailor lifts a finger checking for wind. Then Cow Cat sniffs.  Turns.  And skulks away just as he came. “Cow Cat, Mom.  He’s bloggable.”

I would surely hope not.

“Then what about the trash, Mom?” Luc asks, dropping his apple core in the compost bin, his cracker wrapper in the colored plastic paper bin, and his crushed-and-firmly-lidded water bottle in yet another  bin.  Which would be the crushed-and-firmly- lidded-water- bottle bin. “Swiss trash is serious,” he says. “It’s bloggable, dontcha think?”

Serious, yes.  But I would never put you through that.

Randall yells from the living room. “How about one on plugs, honey?”

“Plugs? What do you m–?”

“You know? About how I’ve had to cut the plug heads off of all our electrical appliances every time we’ve moved countries? Then splice the wires? Rig all those new heads? For the different plugs in every country? A post, honey. It’d be great. About all these chords, you know, that keep getting shorter and shorter?”

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask, leaning around the corner.

Then I see what he’s up to: cross-legged on the living room floor, paring knife in hand, six lamps —two short, four tall — lined up against the wall, their wires a tangle of what looks like your little brother’s bangs when you trimmed them with your round-tipped Crayola scissors.  Frayed ends everywhere.

“See?” he says,  holding up a white triple-pronged plug into which he’s trying to feed the wires of a shorter-than-normal chord. “There should be a blog for this.  And some mathematical equation for the correlation between the number of countries you’ve lived in and the number of inches your lamp is from the wall.”

He’s got something, my handyman. And it’s now I see that our table lamps have turned to floor lamps, and our floor lamps to wall lamps, shoved up to one socket like skinny boys at a junior high school dance clustered as if glued next to the light switch in the gym so, while they’re not out there dancing, they can get their jollies by switching the lights on and off.

(Those guys were in your junior high school, too?)

Electrifyingly bloggable or not, I’m not going to invite you all the way to this blog just for minutia. No plugs and sockets, nuts and bolts from me, friends.  Oh, no.  I am a Gesamtkunstwerk kind of blogger, if you hadn’t noticed. No sippy cup posts from me, I’m afraid.  If you come, plan on having to guzzle.

Unless, of course, there’s a fig tree in sight.

‘Cause figs? You bet. At least a 6 for bloggability.

Still, still. Bloggable Mom is not what this post is about.

It is about Blog Global Mom. About Blogging about Global Mom. About my forthcoming book, to get to the point, which has, as publication looms closer and closer, finally found its official (and not just “working”) title: Global Mom.

No. Not Earth Mother.

And no, not Mother Earth.

Global Mom, A Memoir.

Well. Sorta Kinda.

Global Mom, A Memoir: 8 Countries.

Yes, something like this. . .

. . .And this. . .

 

. . .And this. . .

. . .And some of this. . .

. . .And this. . .

. . .And this. . .

. . .This. . .

. . .At times, this. . .

. . .Others, this. . .

. . . Many times, this . . .

Never once like this. . .

Sixteen Addresses.

Yup, plenty of this. . .

. . .A few times, this. . .

. . .Once, as I recall, like this. . .

Five Languages.

. . .English, French, German, Norwegian, Mandarin, and . . .

One Family.

That’s some birthmark, lady

This is the book I have been writing in fits and starts on every possible surface and at all hours underneath all the living that has crammed these last many months ramping up to this, our 16th big move.

No, actually, it’s the book I was writing with a fountain pen on the graph paper of an orange Schülerblock thirty-five years ago when I was first a student in Austria.  And with a Bic in a spiral notebook twenty-four years ago when Randall and I lived in Hong Kong.  Then on a big awkward desk top Apple computer twenty years ago when we first arrived in Norway. Then on my oversized lap top fifteen years ago when we moved to France. And on a smaller lap top years later in Germany. And on my iPad years later in Singagpore.

And now, on a sleekish MacBookPro (or, when sitting in a waiting room, on my iPhone) in Switzerland.

I guess I was perhaps always writing this book.  Now, finally and thankfully, I’m not going to be the only one who reads it.  (Luc, at least, has promised he will.)

All of this segues us back to Blog Global Mom, because the whole reason I launched this blog in the first place, if you recall, was to introduce you to the book (then called 21st Century Mother, a title my publisher and I have concluded was not in harmony with the scope and color of my narrative), as well as to get daily practice honing concepts, exploring narrative styles, building chapters, and above all, getting your expert readerly feedback as to What works? What rings true? What reaches you, my readers’, nerves, minds, guts, hearts?

Blogging about Global Mom helps me to know what to  graft into — or take out of — my material before November 1, when the full submission is due and then the furious work of editing gets underway.

All leading up to a top-of-2013 publication.

Which sentence, as I reread it on my screen, makes me, oooooh, it just makes me want to blog my heart out.

Next post, I’ll tell about my publisher and how I found him.  I will also share with you, once a week for the next several weeks to come, trailers of Global Mom, A Memoir.

Just one last thing: “Blog Global Mom” should not be confused with Bloggobble Mom.

Or with Blogglowball Mom.

Both of which are something else. Entirely.
**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Cold-Coping-Play-Haven

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Melissa Dalton-Bradford (MDB):  Dalton, Luc, it’s post-show, the flash and buzz have dimmed a bit, you’re both already deep into a new school year.

But before we get too far away from it all, I want to be sure to nail down your feelings about Coldplay and their concert. I hope I got some good shots and I know Dad got some great iPhone footage.  So, how about we sit and chat about how you two felt about the Coldplay concert. Sound good?

Dalton Haakon Bradford (DHB) and Luc William Bradford (LWB) : (In unison) For the blog, right?

MDB: Well, uh-huh, for the blog, yeah. But for me.  And for you, too. We call this “processing,” sons.

DHB: Okay, fire away.  Process. (He settles into his red beanbag chair, clears his throat, tucks his hands between his knees and stares at me. Intently.)

LWB: (Looking at brother, flops on bed, twiddles a dozen neon-colored rubber wrist band in his fingers.) Go for it.

MDB: Luc, what was your favorite moment of our trip to Copenhagen?

LWB: You mean favorite moment of the last year, maybe, or yeeeeearsss? ‘Cause it was the Coldplay concert, of coursssse. Nothing better than thaaat.

MDB: Dalton, you agree?

DWB: (Eyebrows raised, head cocked forward, hands open with palms flat toward the heavens like, “You serious?”)

MDB: Right. So, can you answer the question, Dalton, Why Coldplay? What’s their magic formula?

DHB: I think that to see a band grow so big that originally — they started way back in 1998, I think — that at first was very meek and intimate-sounding, that’s part of the formula.  You know, the formula isn’t that complex or anything. It’s not a big band, it’s got just these four everyday kinda guys, not a whole team of back up dancers and ten different wardrobe changes in a single concert.

LWB: (Still lying flat on his back on the bed. Arms spread wide and spindly over the edge. Oversized feet making a 90˚ angle out of his profile.) Except they changed out of their sweaty T-shirts a couple of times.

MDB: And thank goodness, is what I’m saying.

DHB: Yeah, but no flashy stuff, right? No synchronized dancers and lip-synching and dresses—

LWB: (He whips his head toward his brother.) They wear dresses?

DHB: I mean, what I was gonna say was no dresses out of raw meat. For instance.

LWB: You getting all this, Mom?

MDB: (Clickety-clickety-clickety. . .) Dalton, continue.

DHB: If you see Coldplay now, as a band — as a unit — they haven’t changed so very much from the start. Maybe Chris Martin has evolved some with a stronger voice and a greater focus in lyric writing. But as a whole they’ve perfected their talents and brought out what they can do best. They’re still with that original one-plus-one-equals-two formula, but they are arguably the biggest, most famous band in the world right now.

LWB: And we went to their coooncert! (Arms flopping all directions, Luc imitates an eighty-five-pound caterpillar being turned on a spit.)

DHB: Luc, seriously. We doin’ bidniss here.

(Just one of the thirteen-thousand random quotes our family seems to interject into every conversation.)

MDB: Dal-ton. Con-tin-ue.

DHB: The Coldplay formula is by and large nothing short of pure raw natural talent.

MDB: Okay, so no raw meat, just raw talent.  And talent for. . .?

DHB: They can play each other’s instruments, for starters, but they still do their own roles really, really well. Will Champion, the drummer, also plays like every last instrument on the planet—

MDB: Lute? Harpischord?

DHB: Mom. Rockband. So once, there’s this concert when Chris Martin [the lead singer with steal blue eyes and an irrepressibly affable persona and a wife named Gwyneth Paltrow and children named Apple and Moses] says at one point, OK, this is the moment we show you how good our bland really could have been. And so right then, Will Champion takes Jonny’s [Jonny Buckland, their lead guitarist] guitar and he sings a song he wrote.  And it’s really good. He can really sing. Really play.

LWB: You serious? (He’s raised his head.)

DHB: Serious.

LWB: (Groans and flops face first into the pillow.  From the depths of mattress, he mumbles.) Okay, like I only play some piano, some drums and the clarinet.

DHB: Kinda.

LWB: Mom?!!  (Meerkat springs up at full attention, eyeballs protruding like billiard balls, that behold-how-I-have-absorbed-the-villan’s-cosmic-affront look quivering from every muscle.)

MDB: Guys.  The blog. Dalton, what do we say?

DHB: Kay. Sorry.  But kinda.  And still better than me.

MDB: Better than I.

DHB: Mom. The blog.

MDB: Coldplay’s formula, men. How does it work?

DHB: There’s no unnecessary pizzazz, no wacky costumes that fashion designers have thought up to capitalize on this “artist’s” career, kind of like parasites, you know, making their designer career bigger on the back of someone else’s music career. Like Coldplay, think about it, what did they wear?

LWB: Homemade T-shirts.  No logos, even. Mom would have even let us wear that. And they wore baseball caps. Which Mom wouldn’t have let us wear. (Preteen evil eye.)

DHB: Like the band members could have been the audience members themselves, you know?

MDB: Hmm . . . so . . .  do you think that’s a gimmick? A strategy? Trying to stay right on the level of your audience? Play the Jedermann?

LWB: I don’t even think Will Champion plays that one.

MDB: No, that means Everyman. Trying to be your Joe Schmoe off the street.  I mean, these guys are multi-millionares now. Ultrafamous. Scary big. They could wear flashy jumpsuits like Elvis.  They could be Elton John.  Or Lady Gaga.

DHB: Gross. Never.

LWB: Gag!  Gaga. (Writhes and squirms, gripping throat with both hands.)

MDB: Actually, let’s go with this: Why a Coldplay concert over a Lady Gaga concert, guys? She was on all those posters in the middle of Copenhagen. Should we have gotten tickets to her thing instead?

LWB: No way! Coldplay all the way!  (Up on his knees on the bed, now, pounding fists into his thighs with every syllable.) Lady Gaga’s concerts are strange, vulgar, yicky.  They don’t make sense, and all in the wrong way, and she says everywhere that she’s just being unique, but she’s just being a . . . a . . . spectacle.

DHB: Good word, Luc.

MDB: Nice compliment, Dalton.

LWB: But Coldplay has meaning we can relate to.  (Standing on bed, posing oddly and speaking in a girl’s voice), “I’m just so different, so born this way.”  First of all, (one finger extended) no one’s born with horns implanted in their head. Second of all, (two fingers for emphasis), I think she’s just copying Madonna—well, going beyond her.  For some people who are really way, way out there and forgotten by the world, that might feel comforting. I dunno.  Horns and meat dresses, you know. But you can always, always relate to Coldplay.  This music is smart. Lady Gaga’s just . . .not.

MDB: Luc William Bradford, you willing to go on record with that statement?

LWB: Print it, Melissa Dalton-Bradford.

Back row, stage right, Luc’s concert dinner metabolizes into a halo

MDB: Because, well, I think Lady Gaga’s pretty darn smart. She’s sure got something figured out to become a person whose reputation has spread as far as a small village in Switzerland where we who don’t really like her or her music that much, are talking about her.  So she’s unquestionably smart about something. Right? At least about marketing.  You think?

DHB: Then why are we even talking about her?

MDB: Moving on.

DHB: Still can’t beat Will Champion for musical instruments, though.

MDB: Yeah, not going to be seeing any lutes or harpsichords in Lady Gaga’s act soon, either. Bummer.

LWB: (Eyes half closed, pointer finger in warning position like a grandpa hoisting himself out of the sunken marks of his old living room LazyBoy recliner) Ah, but you might. (He releases the pose then flops back down.)

DHB: But see, you could [have lutes and harpsichords] with Coldplay, and it would make sense.  But it wouldn’t be for spectacle.

MDB: Got a point there, genius.

DHB: It would be for the sake of musical inventiveness and to support the lyric.  Because they don’t need spectacle.  Their show augments what is already excellent, excellent within its genre.  Doesn’t depend on the spangley stuff or pyrotechnics.

MDB: Pretty darned good spectacle at this concert, though, I’d have to say. I mean, we were at the same stadium, weren’t we?  Or am I the only one who remembers fireworks, tons of butterfly confetti. . .

. . . Huge helium-inflated glow-in-the-dark orbs being tossed around the audience?. . .

. . . The titanic-sized hot pink graffiti-drenched hearts?. . .

. . . No spectacle? Really?

DHB: Of course there was.  But not to mask weak music or to compensate for mediocre talent.

MDB: Ooooo. Touché! Way to take a stand, Monsieur. Um, speaking of lyrics, what about Coldplay’s?

LWB: I like that they never swear in their songs, I like that a lot.  Most other bands these days do, even if just here and there. Bands that people these day are huge fans of, obviously parents are probably just saying that the swearing’s okay ‘cause their kids’ll hear worse stuff at school, and maybe they think the kids aren’t listening to the words, they’re just there for the beat.  Which isn’t true. You get the language. But Coldplay, you can enjoy without all those swear words.

MDB: But I’ve heard some of today’s music. It’s not just the crass language, but the dumbness. Like ding-dong emptiness — that’s a concern. But what’s worse is the violence and the suggestiveness. Well, not even suggestiveness.  Just pornographic.  And so soul-draining.

DHB:  Coldplay’s completely clean. And intelligent.  Their lyrics aren’t only curse-word-free.  The most suggestive lyric I’ve ever heard is, “Its not easy when she turns you on.” That’s it. Not steamy, They aren’t trying to be controversial. They aren’t trying to prove themselves. They’re doing what they do best.

LWB: And, can I just say, I like “Charlie Brown.”

MDB: Who can not like him? Or that song? You know, they do some tricky things with time signatures in that song, did you notice?

DHB: Really?

MDB: Oh, yeah, shifting back and forth all over the place.  Not simple stuff.

LWB: Personally, I loved the way the wristbands blinked with the exact rhythm of the music . . .

. . . How the animated walking man appeared on screens.  I just felt so incredibly happy in that moment.

. . . Like, okay I’ll say it. Did anyone else feel like they could have cried? Sorta?

DHB: OK, ‘cause I thought you just like “Charlie Brown” because of the lyrics: (Dalton sings):

When they smashed my heart into smithereens

I be a bright red rose come bursting the concrete  (Luc joins him):

Be the cartoon heart, light a fire, light a spark

Light a fire, a flame in my heart.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBGI8-4puV4&feature=related

MDB: And what’s the “deepest” one of their lyrics, do you think?

LWB: “Fix You.”

DHB: “Fix You.”

DMB, MDB, LWB: (We sing it together. Because we have before):

When the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you.

MDB: Luc,  what does that one say to you?

LWB: It’s a hard topic everyone can relate to at some point, maybe, I think. About losing something, someone, and wishing so hard you could get that thing or person back, then having someone else try to fix that for you in some way. Or maybe the someone you lose is the one trying to fix you.  With lights.  Maybe they are the lights.  Guiding you home.

DHB: But my favorite song is “Paradise.” Just this morning on the bus ride to school, I was listening to it, and had to conclude right then that it undoubtedly will be one of the greatest songs of the decade.

(Here, Dalton sings a riff.  Then beats a drum phrase on his thigh. Then compares it all to a Beatle’s riff.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGzbeEOWYgc&feature=related

DHB: If you didn’t have the bass riff in “Paradise” for instance, it would be empty.  Unsupported.  You have the full use of strings, synths, right? (He acts out strings and synths.) Then this impossibly huge explosion (he explodes) and this strong, I’d call it forceful melody. (And he launches into full air guitar version of the forceful “Paradise” melody.)

MDB: (Resumes typing.) What do you think of Alex Boyé’s and the Piano Guys’ version of it?

LWB: Ahhhhhwesome!

DHB: They took a great tune and added another dimension to it. All the lyrics are in Swahili. “Pepo-pepo-peponi.” (He begins singing the chorus.  He moves like Boyé. On a mountain top.  Luc starts fake playing a piano from the bed.  I add the cello. )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cgovv8jWETM

MDB: But someone, your grandparents, for instance—

LWB: Omi and Opa?

MDB: Omi and Opa might argue that these lyrics are repetitive. Mundane.

DHB: Strong, language, young lady.

MDB: Well?

DHB: Look. You need repetition so the whole stadium of 50,000-plus spectators can sing along. Remember how that was? How incredible?

MDB:  Well, no kidding.  Of course I do.  You bet! Hey, you don’t need to convince me. It’s Omi and Opa — the opera singer  and the music professor, remember ? You have to convince them.

DHB: Right.  See, there are other popular lyrics like “Bay-by, bay-by, bay-by, ooooo”, which are  repetitive,  you could even say “universal”.  But who wants to chant about wanting a Baby, Baby, Baby over wanting Paradise? Case closed.  I’d say there’s a difference.

MDB: Point well taken.  Luc William, your favorite moment in the concert, sir?

LWB: The second our wristbands went on the first time.  WOW.  And when the wristbands blinked in time to Charlie Brown. Then those confetti butterflies.

I don’t know, the whole thing was just an all over big human experience of happiness and togetherness.

MDB: And Dalton Haakon? Favorite moment?

DHB: OK, Hard question. Maybe it was “Warning Sign”, which is not so well known, and Chris Martin even said once he thought it was too boring and “internal” to be marketable.  But that he himself liked it.  They played it at the concert without percussion, pretty naked, musically.  To tell you the truth, it’s the song that won me over first:

Come on in
I’ve gotta tell you what a state I’m in
I’ve gotta tell you in my loudest tones
That I started looking for a warning sign

When the truth is, I miss you
Yeah the truth is, that I miss you so

A warning sign
It came back to haunt me, and I realised
That you were an island and I passed you by
And you were an island to discover

And I’m tired, I should not have let you go
Oooooooo

So I crawl back into your open arms
Yes I crawl back into your open arms
And I crawl back into your open arms
Yes I crawl back into your open arms.

LWB: And what was your favorite part, Mom?

MDB: You interview me now, is that it? Good enough.  I’d say everything you two have just said, but there’s something that’s way above all the rest.  You don’t know this, but I have a kind of particular connection to “Viva la Vida”, and so when they finally came to it in their program, I don’t know, I just wanted to fly out of my seat and run through all the rows, hugging every single last stranger in that whole loud stadium.

LWB: We are so glad you didn’t.

DHB: Yeah, good thing we were packed in in that top row up there, right, Luc?

MDB: And when Chris Martin collapsed, remember that? Hello, this is a difficult yoga move, I wanna point that out.

. . . And we had to keep singing the chorus over and over and over to get him off the floor? Remember?

DHB: ‘Course.

LWB: Yuh.

MDB: I really got that moment. I think I might have had — I know I did  have — tears in my eyes, guys . . . So . . . anyway . . . Anything you might not have liked so much about the concert? Anything?

LWB: Ah, well, there was a bit of beer and cigarettes a few rows from us. That’s not so great. But I kept clear of the smoke.

MDB: Did it make you feel uncomfortable, though? You know I’m not a big fan. At all.

DHB: Since Copenhagen is the Carlsberg beer capital of the world, I sort of expected some drinking at a big concert like this.  How do you avoid being around it?  I’m just glad you never get that at Music and the Spoken Word.

LWB: I just focused on the music and all the people around me who weren’t drinking and were still having a great time, singing together and smiling for real and being part of a fantastic, incredible, awesome experience.

MDB: You mean the worst part wasn’t walking home afterwards?  Walking for two hours all the way across town? Without toilets? Without food? Getting home at 2:00 a.m.?

DHB: That was “savor” time. Didn’t mind it. I was in another world the whole way, really.

MDB: And last question, gents: If you were somehow magically granted back stage passes and could talk to Chris Martin and his crew face-to-face, what would you want to tell them?

LWB: I’d say, “Brilliant, it was the best concert I could have imagined—even better than that — and I’m thankful I was one of the people who got to be there. You made me so happy that night.”

DHB: Backstage passes?!! That would be the most surreal scenario.  But if you’re thinking up some plan for the next time you spring a big move on us, then I’d go with it. Seriously, I would want to talk to all the band members at once, by myself, face-to-face, no interruptions, quietly. Like that, alone and private, I’d tell them that my big brother Parker knew them before they released “Viva la Vida” in 2008. And that song came out the year after he passed away. I would say to them, “My big brother loved your music. Before you were ever huge.  Thank you for making such good music so that I could love it, too.  And be right here.”

Coldplay Warmup

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Long before I ever married or had children, I theorized about my future family.  I would have children who played the lute and harpsichord, I thought.  They would also speak Latin (if only to themselves), and Greek (because it’s just slightly more useful than Latin.  But still a classic!)

They would sing medieval polyphony (since we’re all squared on what that is) while doing science experiments, and on dates, which they would go on with crisp, brainy partners wearing head-to-toe parochial school garb, the kind of kids who also just love nothing more than reciting the whole periodic table of elements.

Backwards.

To the melody line of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Adding polyphony right about when they hit Thungsten.

They’d eschew anything “popular,” my hypothetical children, preferring encyclopedias and troglodyte reading cells.  They would, (but only because they were lucky and didn’t inherit my mathanemia), probably play calculus-o-rama  on Friday nights and would, if crossing town after their junior high camp at the Sorbonne, muse on which was greater: the weight of the air pressure around the Eiffel Tower, or the weight of the Eiffel Tower itself.

Fun stuff like that.

Reality is different from theory.  Over the span of 20 years now, Randall and I have been raising four adorable yet complex and distinctly individual individuals.  And surprise, surprise: Not a pluck of a lute or harpsichord, not a lick of Latin or Greek, not a hint of cerebral or aesthetic esotericism in a one of them. Not in a single one.

Among these four real kids, instead, we have one legitimately gifted drummer (Parker), who could tear it up on any kind of percussion instrument, including his djembe that he played with his African buddies.  Two others who barely tolerate Hanon piano exercises, and one who tolerated only Hanson. (Anyone out there remember “MMMBop”?)

Three multi-usage athletes. One giraffe whisperer. One aspiring chef.  One who knows by heart every last Disney animated film lyric ever written. Two impersonators.  Four life-of-the-party funny people.  Four speakers of a few living tongues including Swahili, French, German, Norwegian, Mandarin Chinese, and now Italian. Two who think math is “fine enough.”  Two who’ve said it’s a language they’ll never speak.

And all are perfectly fluent in popular culture.

And they love the alternative rock band, Coldplay.

Which preamble gives you some context for that concert I’m going to tell you all about.  It also suggests why, when I saw life-sucking sorrow in my kids’ faces about leaving behind a life where they were thriving, I dove straight for Coldplay. Jolt of happiness.  Tonic for loss.  I know this probably sounds indulgent. I do know this.  But I’ll tell you: Coldplay worked for them.

Like it had worked some time ago for me.

I recall in detail a certain evening in Munich.  It was nineteen months to the week after Parker’s drowning which means it was, coincidentally, the week of February 20th, what would have been his 20th birthday.  I was on hyper alert and had also been keeping a copious journal all those months, so I can recall what I was wearing, down to the socks and shoes. How my heart felt when it got a jump start.  How I sweat.

And also that I’d noted toward the beginning of that week that that very day had been the first day in nineteen months when I had not cried at all.

That’s right.  Until that day, I, (a former non-crier and resister of all things soupy), had cried daily. At first, it seemed I simply bled tears for most of the day, gushing for hours on end, as if amputated and left on a gurney to drain my stump dry. Raw, shredding howls. With a splash of cold water to the face somewhere in between.

After several weeks, I’d cry for only a part of the day. Strange, rib-bruising gulps for air. Eventually, tears for just an hour or two. With my head between my knees.  I popped lots of the capillaries in my eyes that way.  As often as I told myself, “Alright, girl.  Today, dry all day long,” a whiff of something, a passing thought, or a slant of light would hurl me into the Gulf of Yowl.

I could not help but sob — stiff and utterly silent — in a back pew at church. It was as if walking through the chapel doors alone twisted open a faucet.  I cry-prayed nonstop in the car on the 45-minute drive back home after dropping off the children at school in the morning. Standing alone in a remote corner of Munich’s vast English Garden, caught in a chilly downpour, pleading to the trees in low half-spoken murmurs, I wept like a lost soul.  Or a lost mind.

Leaking for an hour, maybe, without the slightest flinch in my face in the hairdresser’s chair. On the doctor’s table. Cross-legged on the floor in a reading circle with Luc’s 2nd grade class.  In the mechanic’s waiting room.  In the frozen food aisle.

And every time I tipped my head forward to pray.  Like a water pitcher.  Pouring spirit blood without reserve.

Friend, let me tell you.  That’s quite a lot of saline.

But then there was this one day. The first day I did not cry.

So what did I do? I marched right out the door and bought a gym pass.

I had hardly been able to walk quickly, let alone run, in that year and a half, something totally uncharacteristic for me, a former 10-k racer. I’d tried, I tell you, but I found it hard to synchronize my tears with breathing steadily and deeply.

But I now knew I was ready.

“We’re gonna what?”, Claire asked when I announced my plan.

“Bond through our sweat glands, darling.”

“Ohhh kaaaay. But you haven’t even been walk—“

“I know. Right. Yes. Well, we’ll just change that.  We start tonight. Here’s your card,” I said, handing her the Eltersport Familienpass and some lycra.  I tried to look sporty as I walked away.

Part of me kept prodding: I had only eighteen months left with this child at home. But the other part of me was wiser.  It knew I didn’t “have” eighteen months at all.  Not with her nor anyone.  Those eighteen months were an illusion.  I only had the moment I was standing in, a slice, wafer thin, that could vanish at any second with one simple disorienting phone call.

I had to live.  And if I was going to live, I had to live with vigor and total engagement.   Which seems like a tidy enough proposal, except that the bigger part of me was stretched toward heaven with such yogic yearning, and the leftover part of me was working like crazy on this planet to be neither paralyzed by the fragility of this life, nor sucked under the quagmire of the listlessness and despair that typify major grief.

(Not depression. No, not depression.  Depression I can talk  about one day, if you’d like.  At least a little bit.  But this is not depression.)

Grief.  The dark, wide-jawed, devouring beast.

Not giving into which has been by far the greatest and most exhausting temptation I have ever had to withstand.

In my whole life.

We biked to the little gym around the corner, Mom and daughter. We worked out. We were the only ones there the first couple of nights, so it was strangely quiet. Because I didn’t like hearing myself thudding on the treadmill, I considered putting in earplugs.

Not for music, mind you.  But to block out the sound of my own feet.  Exercise music I couldn’t do, I knew that.  For a year and a half I hadn’t listened to anything but the most quiet classical music, if anything at all. Beyond that, I hadn’t watched television. I hadn’t seen a movie. I hadn’t listened to a radio.  I hadn’t read a newspaper, magazine or flier off the street.  No Internet surfing.  No advertisements.  Nothing that would distract me from the hard work I was doing just to keep vertical and attentive to the family.  And nothing that would possibly break the crystalline spell I felt connected me with heaven. With the spirit.  With Parker.

So that evening I pulled my hair back in a ponytail, stepped onto the black rubbery band of automated track, and put in earplugs.  And began chugging along. Running felt good. Claire, I knew, was watching me cautiously from a far corner where she was biking.  I reached up at about kilometer two or so to increase the speed, and instead clicked on the treadmill’s T.V. screen.

Up popped Germany’s MTV.

It felt not so much illicit as it did inane and heavy with shadows.  I was instantly repelled by everything I saw and heard and so I was trying to turn it down, change the channel, or turn it off, when this one video came on.

From somewhere I recognized the tune.  Orchestral. Heavy, martial beat.  Maybe I’d heard it in town at a store?   Or from a taxi radio? Point is, I instantly knew it.  And the name of the band as it flashed at the bottom of the screen: Coldplay.

One of Parker’s favorites.

“Which one’s this one?” I’d asked him three years earlier in Paris, tugging one of the earplugs out of his ear and trying to listen to the music myself while he’d dropped his back pack in the entry way of our apartment after school .“Who is it? ” I’d asked, “Green Card?  Yellow Play?”

He’d laughed and tossed his sweatshirt toward the coat rack.

“Cold Day?” I’d peeped.  Face it:  I was never going to be cool. Or get those band names straight.

“Coldplay. Ca-old. Puh-lay, Mom,” he’d said, smirking while passing me and heading straight for the kitchen. “They’re incredible,” he’d said, calling back to me as I’d hung the sweatshirt properly.  “No one really knows them yet. But you wait, Mom. They’re gonna be huge.

In this MTV video that’s just starting and to whose powerful beat I can already tell I’ll run really well, there’s this lead singer.  He has me transfixed with half a phrase. Eye color, Parker’s gray blue.  This pleading, desperate voice. Half cry, half clarion call. In-your-face intensity, something that looks like hurt.  And something urgent, warning.

And then a faceless drummer. Hammering, as Parker did, hammering hammering hammering non stop on the timpani. Like the heartbeat of the universe.  A give-your-all, no-holds-barred, unapologetic pummeling boom-boom-boom on the kettle drum.

I ran with it.  And listened closely:

I used to rule the world

Seas would rise when I gave the word

Now in the morning I sleep alone

Sweep the streets I used to own

I listened even more closely:

One minute I held the key

Next the walls were closed on me

And I discovered that my castles stand

Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

The visual was huge plumes of curdling smoke and dust, like the  aftermath of massive destruction.  I could relate to that.  And flashing chunks –- just suggestions — of a canvas, fuzzy and floating.  They were fragments (could this be true?) of Delacroix’s massive painting, “Liberty Leading the People”, which hangs in one of the main galleries of the Louvre.  A piece and a painter to whom I have a bit of a private and special connection. I had tried to sketch that canvas more than once, sitting on the worn leather bench right in front of it, because even back then I was fascinated and touched by the idea of a woman leading the suffering and sorrow-filled sprawl of humanity. She is vulnerable herself, the woman, stripped so that her vital heart is exposed.  But she’s stepping over ruins and the bodies of the dead, strewn as they are so brilliantly painted, in a tangled heap.

I couldn’t make out every word, but caught these:
I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing

and

My missionaries in a foreign field

Something about a

wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in

And the

Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become

Something with deep meaning was going on, my gut knew it, and beneath it all, beneath all sorts of holy and historic references, there was this  boom-boom-booming of that darned drum. A primal call to engagement.  And then a church bell rang repeatedly, compelling, moving forward, like the woman Liberty, guiding a revolution.

Whew doggie.  All this revolution  and revelation and a workout, too?

By this time, my heartbeat had revved.  But not for the running, which I hardly noticed I was doing.  I knew a little something in my spirit had loosened, thanks to this earnest-faced guy with steel blue eyes wearing a T-shirt and begging me to listen as he pulls me into that puny treadmill TV screen in the corner of an empty health club.

He was calling to me.  He was calling me to live. 

And if you’re gonna do it, (he seemed to be singing), do it with every bit of you in the gamble, with your eyes open and searching, voice sailing and true, arms stretched wide even if —especially if — it means your heart is fully exposed.

And the drum? It simply said: Move it, lady!

Then this wrench-everything-loose, everyman’s chorus.  A wailing arc of Oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhhhhhh-oh, repeated oooh-ver and ohhhh-ver again, that drew the skin back taut on my forehead and made me, (Claire looked on from her Lifecycle, concerned ) sprint.

At the machine’s highest setting.

The video ended with all the band members turning and, slowly, dissolving as if in flakes. Of deep red.

Life as loss. The poetically ephemeral.

Then the caption with the song’s name: Viva la Vida.

Long live life.

Just as I reached up to turn off everything— I’d seen and done what I’d come for— the German MTV announcer gave the name of the album:

Viva La Vida Or  (he continued in his English with a strong German accent),  Death and All His Friends.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP00t5wgOos&feature=fvst

Now.

We’re ready to go to their concert.