Poem: Sailing to Manti

Manti LDS Temple, SAnpete County, UT. Photo archives David Dalton ©

          Manti LDS Temple, Sanpete County, UT.                              Archives David Dalton ©

 

SAILING TO MANTI

by Melissa Dalton-Bradford

(To my husband, on the anniversary of our
 December marriage in the Manti temple)

 

We sail the vein:

Perforated, gray southbound highway

Down

From dawn’s perch

We approach,

Splaying this languid stage of sagebrush

In two

Vast contours, undulating,

Old rocky chronology seeping left to right,

Largo to sostenuto . . .

Bending beyond peripheral vision

Curling,

wrapping,

enfolding

Heaven,

Her mist-mottled crepe curtain

Whispers,

Torn,

As ragged hem reveals enough:

Mountains, their triple depth in

Slate then ash then dust

Hang an ageless opaque canvas.

Drawn, we aim.

 

Trusting, we offer

Hands stretched through a veil.

 

We sail.

 

==

 

 

A year after I composed the above poem, tragedy struck our family and I wrote a companion piece, Thistle Valley, describing a different drive southward to Manti. You can read that poem in this post.

 

Holy Friday Procession, Warsaw

My last post from Easter Week in Poland.

IMG_2529

Poland (March 2013) 048

Why was I determined to bring my family to Poland during Easter? From a previous post, you know we’d considered going to a warmer, closer place for that week. Italy, for instance. Just across the fence from where we live in Switzerland. Or Spain, only an eight hour drive. Southern France, four hours even with a couple of rest stops. There were clearly options.

But I was set on Poland. Colder, farther, reputedly austere, and expecting an unseasonably late squall.

If you’re new to this blog, you might think I wanted to visit Poland because it’s overwhelmingly Catholic, and given my dozens upon dozens of cathedral photos – Oh. You noticed all the cathedrals? – you think I must be Catholic, too.

I’m not.

(Devoted Christian and by nature something my close friends call “spiritual.” But not Catholic.)

Complete cathedral carved by hand and out of rock salt hundreds of meters below the earth's surface.

Complete cathedral carved by hand and out of rock salt hundreds of meters below the earth’s surface. Largest salt mines on earth lie outside of Krakow.

Neither am I Jewish. Although you’d think from all the posts on my fascination with things Jewish that I must have been bat mitzvahed. I’ve spent much of my adult life studying Jewish history and literature, particularly literature born of the Holocaust, (and yes, I’ve sung at my share of bat mitzvahs), but no, I’m not Jewish. I didn’t go to Poland only because of its once considerable Jewish population.

Warsaw's Monument to the Ghetto Uprising. On Palm Sunday, dozens of busloads of Israeli youth gathered here for a memorial service.

Warsaw’s Monument to the Ghetto Uprising. On Palm Sunday, dozens of busloads of Israeli youth gathered here for a memorial service.

Next morning, we went there again with the boys.

Next morning, we went there again with the boys.

Umschlagplatz, where over 300,000 Jews were herded into crowded freight cars, which took them to Treblinka and other camps

Umschlagplatz, where over 300,000 Jews were herded into freight cars, which took them to Treblinka and other death camps

Common Jewish names, memorialized on the Umschalgplatz monument

Common Jewish names, memorialized on the Umschalgplatz monument

My youngest two, entering Auschwitz

My youngest two, entering Auschwitz

I went to Poland because my spirit feels drawn to the history – both devoutly Christian and devoutly Jewish – and the energetic culture that has arisen from that complex, contrapuntal foundation. Through the week spent traveling, I revisited my archives of Polish and eastern European writings associated with the Holocaust. Late on Holy Friday evening in Warsaw, in fact, I was sitting in my pajamas in bed in our hotel room reading some of these poems. The boys were over there, listening to iTunes; Randall was over there, working on his lap top. And I was in the middle of this especially sparse verse:

Crucifixion
Anna Akhmatova
Translated from the Russian by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
1940-1943

I
A choir of angels glorified the hour,
the vault of heaven was dissolved in fire.
“Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?
Mother, I beg you, do not weep for me. . .”

II
Mary Magdalene beat her breasts and sobbed,
His dear disciple, stone-faced, stared.
His mother stood apart. No other looked
into her secret eyes. Nobody dared.

**

. . .And right about there from somewhere behind or above or outside, I heard (I thought) an angelic chorus.

In my head?

(Okay.  I’m not that spiritual.)

“Hon?” I spoke lowly. “Are you hearing – ?”

My husband looked up from his work. “Whuh?”

“You hearing. . .? Okay seriously. Are you…? Hearing. . .Is it just me?”

Then I heard a full musical phrase. Randall, however, did not.

So I swung my legs out of bed, and ran to the window. I waved to Randall to come quickly.  Bring his iPhone. We saw this:

Dalton rushed out the door pulling on his coat and slinging a camera around his neck. He arrived at ground level just as this happened:

From the street, he was able to capture these images:

IMG_3578

IMG_3612

IMG_3584

IMG_3605

IMG_3622

In the context of all we were ingesting, with the backdrop of all I have shared in the last posts – Final Solutions, genocide, death marches, gas chambers, freight trains and firing walls, toppled statues and draped Swastika banners – against that incomprehensibly murderous epoch, what can we make of this street scene?

What meaning or relative value is there in a procession where hundreds of people, strangers to one another mostly, simply drop to their knees and worship? On the icy asphalt, in some odd splotch of street lamp, a child in the arms or crutches under the arms – what practical, verifiable, enduring, elevating purpose is there in getting down on one’s knees? In bowing one’s head? In submitting oneself to something as “insubstantial”  (again, considering the immeasurable loss and the evil engendered by the Holocaust) something as impractical, one might say, as is faith?

I will not answer that here.

But I’ll leave you with this poem. First, the poet’s notes:

In 1945, during the big resettlements of population at the end of World War II, my family left Lithuania and was assigned quarters near Danzig (Gdansk [in northern Poland]) in a house belonging to a German peasant family. Only one old German woman remained in the house. She fell ill with typhus and there was nobody to take care of her. In spite of admonitions motivated partly by universal hatred for the Germans, my mother nursed her, became ill herself, and died.

IMG_3067

IMG_3057

IMG_3076

With Her
Czeslaw Milosz
translated from the Polish by Robert Hass and Czeslaw Milosz

Those poor, arthritically swollen knees
Of my mother in an absent country.
I think of them on my seventy-fourth birthday
As I attend early Mass at St. Mary Magdalen in Berkeley.
A reading this Sunday from the Book of Wisdom
About how God has not made death
And does not rejoice in the annihilation of the living.
A reading from the Gospel according to Mark
About a little girl to whom He said: “Talitha cumi!”
This is for me. To make me rise from the dead
And repeat the hope of those who lived before me,
in a fearful unity with her, with her pain of dying,
In a village near Danzig, in a dark November,
When both the mournful Germans, old men and women,
And the evacuees from Lithuania would fall ill with typhus.
Be with me, I say to her, my time has been short.
Your words are now mine, deep inside me:
“It all seems now to have been a dream.”

African Pied Beauty

I doubt Gerard Manley Hopkins ever made it to Africa.

DSC_6286

In fact, I’ve checked. He didn’t.

DSC_6293

But his poetry could have been inspired by the rhythms of the continent, by its dramatic landscape, by its preposterously diverse (read: deliriously kooky) wildlife.

DSC_5691

Out in the middle of the Serengeti, bumping along in a camo-colored jeep, I found myself reciting Hopkins as a backdrop to the vast and dappled (a Hopkins word) canvas surrounding me.

DSC_6555

Glory be to God for dappled things –

DSC_6157

For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow: . . .

DSC_6438

I wondered: Who thinks up creatures like the flamingo? Honestly. Hot pink? Double jointed?

That loopy neck thing going on?

Who dared submit that design to the board?

DSC_6789

And the warthog? We’re serious?

DSC_5708DSC_6183

The dung beetle? (Read that one again.)

(Slowly.)

DSC_6903

Did no one want to test it before just putting it on the road?

DSC_6763

All things counter,

DSC_6339

Original,

DSC_6545

Spare,

DSC_6492

Strange;

DSC_6782

Whatever is fickle,

DSC_5923

Freckled (who knows how?)

DSC_6019

DSC_5943

DSC_6048 DSC_6104 DSC_6864

With swift, slow;

DSC_6747

Sweet,

DSC_5882

Sour; 

DSC_6560

Adazzle,

DSC_6518

Dim;

DSC_5817

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

DSC_6421DSC_6259DSC_5576DSC_5526DSC_6374DSC_6540DSC_5770DSC_6356DSC_6265DSC_6810

DSC_6837

Praise him.

DSC_6580

Paysage Intime

Today, another walk.  Tonight, a different poem.

Paysage Intime

Melissa Dalton-Bradford

 

Reckless fecundity this spherical here

with its fugal loop of falling and fruiting

and its persimmon tree’s jeweled danglings of rubbery flame

and its pregnanted soil so upholsterously greening

the moss tresses draping over

worn gutters racing into

ancient creeks gushing for the

spongéd earth’s guzzling.

 

The whole scene a blister, haute pression

its elastice the very verge of burst.

The whole seen by eyelidded roofs of shingled browns

like these horses whose manes streak and rust with the spill of rain

neighing, newing

and the succulent heifers astroll on the bosky ooze,

stepping, steeping

silvered nostrilling through this plein-air mysterium.

 

And here, I must stop before the resilient silence of pliant

row after row after row of crucified pommiers

who grow to yield, seed to cede, stretch to droop,

leaking their burden.

Heavy drops of red eversoak our distended-unquenchable canon.





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.

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.

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.

House For Rent

The title of today’s post might be a bit misleading if you are one of those who is following this blog and has just come from reading “Finding Home”.

Today’s post, in spite of its title, is not about rental properties.  At least not literally.

Nor is it a continuation of my list of What I Will Really Miss About Singapore.  (I will return to that list, have no fear.)

It doesn’t even have a logical link to my forthcoming book about the in’s and out’s of international living and raising our children to be global citizens.

It does, however, have to do with raising.

Or razing.

Today’s post is a poem, a poem about the razing of a house, a poem with which I wish to introduce to you  Melissa The Poet.

(And does that ever sound heady.)

I have kept that Melissa over there in the corner all the while I’ve been spreading rather personal prose across your screen. I have kept that Melissa private, sitting in the shadow on her satin pouf, quill and parchment in hand. Sipping mint juleps.  Wearing whatever you imagine a poet wears. All white, maybe? Or an ochre-colored velvet waist coat? Pantaloons? A Tibetan robe?

Or maybe a purple and orange tie-dyed muslin tunic with Mao trousers made of hemp and a large, macramé peace sign hanging around the neck?

I am, in fact, a poet who writes in all sorts of apparel, very often in my bathrobe, or in comfies on airplanes (which should be no surprise, knowing me as you now do), on the backs of napkins in cafés, at 3:47 a.m. on Post-Its kept in my bedside nightstand, in the several neat little notebooks I get as gifts from my husband and other friends. I write literally everywhere there is a flat surface and a source of ink or graphite.

Or lipstick. (Once, yes.)

I need silence to write poetry, since the delicacy of poetic language does not mix well with ambient noise. Even my own breathing gets in the way sometimes, and I realize I’ve been holding my breath for too long as I work through a phrase. (It occurs to me only now that the breath-holding might be behind the hallucinatory effects of my writing.)

When I write poetry, it is often because I have experienced what I call a poetic moment.  Something big or miniscule or multilayered is going on, symbols align, there is a sudden simple clarity, and, well. . . I know it when I am in it.  It stings me then spreads out like the swell of sweet venom, and with that swell, images or clusters of words come all at once. When they come like that, I find I have to grab something quickly to pin them down in this world. Like planting them on the page. Then they start to bloom almost on their own.

(Almost, I said. This is not magic or Chia Pets we are talking about.)

Other times, I write because I am overcome with an emotion, or undone with the beauty of things, or unhinged with outrage.  Or I have a question grating at the underside of my cerebellum, and I hope weaving together a poem will help me see the pattern inside of which an answer might glisten. Like the one white silk thread in a tan linen cloth.

I write in black or blue pen, then I always return hours or days or months later with a red pen and make changes, condense, strike thorugh completely, or encircle the word or turn of phrase that I feel is true and necessary. And start again.  Poetry —to make it vibrate — generally requires a great deal of work.

Often — alright, always — the finished poem surprises me.  It comes up with its own references and connections that I could never have thought of myself. They somehow found me.

And then I send a copy of what I have come up with to a friend or two who know and appreciate poetry, and ask them, “Is it just me, or does this make any sense to you?”

Or, “Too wordy again, right? :-)”

Or, “This I wrote for your sweet mother. It might not be so good, but I mean it from the heart.”

Or, “Does this ring to you?”

Or, “Should I try tossing this into a contest? A poetry journal? The trash can?”

Years ago, when I realized my husband was the man for whom gift-giving was tough, I decided to write him an album of poetry for Christmas.  Then on Christmas Eve, I rolled up each poem which I’d printed on white paper, tied the scroll with a red satin bow, and placed each one between the branches of the tree. I had additional copies made and printed them on thick, sensuous, handmade paper, which I then had bound in a book. I boxed the book and placed it under the tree.  He seems to have loved this personal gift with all my irreplaceable love poems to him. And what’s more, he could not return any of them for another size or color.

The first Christmas after we buried our Parker, that brittle gunmetal winter of 2007, I was burning with poetry —poetry of outrage, of evisceration, of longing, of amazement, of revelation, of gratitude, poetry of The Void — but had no energy to print it out.  Or roll it up. Or put it in a tree.

I had no energy, in fact, to have a tree at all that year. No energy for a single, thumb-sized decoration. I had no energy to face the boxes of baubles and mementos my oldest son had helped me open only twelve months earlier.  I could not for the life of me — or for the death of my son — generate enough energy to face Christmas at all.  As I considered the birth of the Savior, the heralded grandeur, the coming of the Son with glory round about and shepherds sore afraid and young innocent wide-eyed Mary cradling him, her splendid firstborn, I wanted to wail at the top of my lungs, “But you will lose him, Mary! You. Will.  Lose. Him!!

But I had no energy for wailing.

I did have energy, though, to write the following poem. It has already been published in the literary journal, Irreantum, and has been anthologized in Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets, where its peculiar — and necessary — line spacing can be found.

(The exact format cannot be duplicated in a blog, unfortunately. But you can see it if you get your hands on that anthology.)

Since you have made the trek all the way here, I offer you a private reading.

HOUSE FOR RENT

To George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis

(Response to MacDonald’s “living house” allegory, as quoted by Lewis in his Mere Christianity)

 

Imagine, they suggest.

Imagine yourself as a living house

and God comes in (here comes the allegory),

God comes in to rebuild that house

and to rebuild, He destroys you.

Splits you wide open.

Knocks you down to shape you up.  Blows you away to bring you forth

as mansion, His dwelling.

 

Imagine?

Imagine: a structure well beyond any

apt literary construct;

Imagine the literal natal invasion,

factual inhabitation, indwelling, the magnifying internment;

this alive thing with its lush, essential interior,

nautilus of distended tension,

gourd-like terrarium, loamy abode,

an incubation for cumulus nimbus,

spirit under my ribs

or cosmos

in the veiled universe of my belly.

What, kindest sirs, might you imagine about a living house

but what woman need never imagine?

Tell: can you conceive of it?

I am the aquarium,

have known (four times) the thrumming oceanic drag,

fulsome tidepool slosh in pelvis;

sweetest ferocious confined Leviathan

stomping inner tympani,

boom-boom-blooming to omega.

Four times nine moons—

(a moon myself, pneumatic,)

holding that glowing orb

or the finest delicacy:  shrimp-on-wafer hors d’oeuvre in salty brine

burrowing in our shared cell.

Most intimate inmate.

I am the accommodation, the occupied real estate

(most real of all states),

a fleshly floorplan, walls torn down for the guest wing thrown up,

placental planting , deluxe plumbing, organic annexing for the increase.

I am that natural habitat for humanity,

an address for razing and raising,

strung taut with that sturdy umbilical pull until (and after)

birth.

Now, that’s some moving day:

Nude little lord, prodigious squatter, long since incorporated, moves out

trailing furnishings, clutching soul (whose? my own?)

in bloody wash,

the old self eviscerated, inverted, and that

humanangel image (past imagining)

multiplying  upon itself forever

ever

ever

ever. . .

To be such a sanctuary of conception,

to be asylum for small gods and sovereigns, who swell, crown,

Rise to rule and risk life!

At such risk.  At such risk as one can never. . .

 

Can one imagine those same living quarters drawn and quartered

when son-brother-cell mate—

(the one who moved within,

then out of you,

your heart still raw in his hold)—

when that oblation grown lustrous, thunderous, launch-ready,

Is ripped        (with               that                 riiiiipping                   sound)

away?

Hard, benevolent wounding, whose frayed fibers hang,

sodden shreds post-rupture ,

and you, true house, are rent

the cloven enclave,

rent in two, or into

two billion splinters:

tattered scraps of love’s sabotage.

Imagine yourself as this living house, haunted in its

boney scaffolds where memory whistles its blue wind

and you are apart-ment

living house split leveled:                                                                                         he there,

you here,

fetal-curled in your own basin;

or a bunker: hunkered in poetry;

or a ranch: speck on the shadowless prairie, barren and boundless;

or a lean-to:  whole halved to make a whole, now wholly halved.

And now. . .

God moves in

though there is no palace for Him here;

only rubble round the crater,

wreckage ringing the hollow.

But He, soft-handed, (the hands, gored)

comes inside (the side, gashed)

to silently,

sacramentally

recreate from laceration Lazarus

and is at home.

 

**

 

© 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.