Since waking

December 23, 2009

Here are the things I have thought about since waking:
Whether birdsong would stretch like taffy, or echo like whalesong, if our atmosphere were thicker.
Whether prize-winning hogs, teutonic midwesterners with fast food habits, and pick-up trucks would all have evolved for balletic flight were the atmosphere thicker, and whether a group of WASPy Minnesotans, soaring above, casting sturdy, Germanic shadows on empty fields below, would be referred to as a herd or as a congregation. And would it cost even more to power the flying pick-ups, because certainly we would HAVE to have them.
Then this thought sprouted: Did he regret it, with the ‘he’ and the ‘it’ being specific–though having small-town-sized sets–correlated temporally, more cemented than by the bonds of bloodlines by virtue of being past.
‘He’ might have been, for instance, Richard whom we referred to as ‘Richard The Rapist’ after he drugged a drunken friend of ours before helping down his pants. He was a little guy, but the chemicals she’d ingested had breathed lead into her extremities so that when she came to, intermittently, she couldn’t muster enough force to shove him off of her.
Did he regret it? Or did he merely flee the city because of the tattooed bodybuilders (who thought of her like brothers) and he knew his rabbit scent had filled the air, that ink stained knuckles, and possibly a steel pipe or baseball bat or some other instrument had been imbued with a new purpose that might be his back or might even be his skull, because who can predict these things that happen in the heat of the moment of the possible and fueled by alcohol and chemicals? (Though certainly he could say a lot about the aphrodisiac of opportunity.)
But, as if our sprout now began to veer toward the sun, my thought returns to the original ‘he’ of the morning and I answer myself with more, if agonizingly incomplete, certainty: No, people like that don’t regret things. They conjure absolute certainties and then use these to build a scaffolding life that haloes their actual life: certainties about who they are, what foods they like, which movies suck, whether I am the type of girl to cheat, which of my friends are intolerable and which merely inexplicable.
My life has been full of men in possession of what I might now call ‘abcertainties’: There was one, borderline child molester, with that hipster disease that insists (without irony) that there is some higher form in the obscure. A superiority apprehended only through a love of bad seventies films and Japanoise. In essence, this is the poor man’s snobbery.
This bastard, when he wasn’t taking ecstasy and making sex tapes with fifteen-year-olds to show his skater pals (he was in his mid-to-stale twenties at the time), would puff on his cigarette and insist that Joy Division, for instance, was a ‘great’ band, objectively better by far than Bauhaus (in spite of the latter being more prolific, innovative, lyrically challenging, and skilled at playing their instruments.) He was full of such pseudo facts. Belief in God is silly. Conservative commentators are evil. Bands begin to suck when more than three people like them.
And I think of him: how, in just this way, such men ‘know’ many, confounding things:
In his case: the rightness of his thoughts (as a starting point), and the concomitant lack of any thing known as rightness or wrongness when his actions were considered wrong. The utter intelligibility of the primacy of the self, except where that self is another in need of his being kind or decent or reasonably moral, or a self to whom he is somehow historically obliged because of an outmoded and probably religiously generated notion of responsibility or reciprocity (in which cases the world reverts to its amoral state and waits for him to do something ethical or sense some society-wide injustice (ie people who drive suvs, conservative politics (again), Darfur, Fox News, etc, in which moment morality will skitter from its shell and snap its claws before being thrown in the roiling pot waters). (Morality is the most obedient of creatures.)(Hobbes works out really well when you are a young white dude in America–provided you avoid camping trips.)
Later, and at this point I am out for a jog, I thought: E, don’t be one of those people who is certain of everything.
Don’t follow one philosopher or another. Consider the limits to what privileged, elderly white men can tell you about a world full of lives which are, overwhelmingly, bounded neither by privilege nor whiteness (nor even old age.) Sure, you can say: these men knew suffering. In the prefaces and the biographies much is made about the influence of their sufferings on their thoughts. Losing a child to cholera in some drafty Roman hallway. Etcetera.
I agree. But where is the preface that asks how much their thoughts on the world were stunted by the dimensions of the windows from which they viewed it? That is to say that we celebrate and elevate all the pedestrian trials of these men, ignoring, perhaps, that the starting point for all philosophy is the acknowledgement of ordinariness. The socioeconomically elevated life is less rational, or at least more imbued with a sense of fate, of entitlement, of better-ness. If reality were democratic, this would be a vast distortion. If there is alterity between men, these men are the heart of otherness. On top of the other heap. Is it brilliance, or mere access? How can they have your welfare in mind, my daughter? They who would steal the peasant God to justify having teenaged lovers.
I mean, you can and perhaps should ‘believe’ in whatever. Season your life with beliefs, even. Believe the first boy who broke your heart was a bisexual sociopath; that fervency in atheism is ultimately indistinguishable from what is in the hearts of the attendees at the tent revival; put on the kaffiyeh and march to the capital chanting ‘free free Palestine’ or else comb your hair and wait patiently outside until the hall opens up for Netanyahu’s talk.
Or believe all of it, at different moments, depending on how much wine you’ve drunk or what company you’re in or what paper you must present.
But never be certain. Instead remember, and this is the key to happiness as I see it: Remember the doubt of Descartes, who taught us not to trust any certainty completely beyond that we exist. That the material world has betrayed us, and that the fraction of it that we are capable of perceiving, much less of grasping, is unknown to us, so that neither belief nor disbelief is half as silly as certainty.
You may also recall that Descartes was a devout Catholic until his death, and so, apparently, more opposed to certainty than belief.
Ex nihilo nihil fit.
Or remember as I do, in this order: That we are all flickering specks on a whirling pebble, itself destined for the intergalactic orphanage. That we are titans to cells. That we are unknown to ourselves.

Dear E, Texas Visit II

December 15, 2009

It is 7:25 on Tuesday. I am sitting in the front room of the red brick house that we’ve rented from your auntie N’s mother. The sock to my right foot seems to have been a casualty of my battle with sleep, so now the right foot is feeling the nip of temperature, the cool resistance of the wood floor and the whole of its pedestrian universe without a silencer. Its like having only one ear pricked.
The sky is milk blue and milk gray and one, continuous feather. The spiky blue whip of which the weatherman warned passed over us like wrath in the night, plundered the air of its warmth, and left behind an unruly wind to garrison, turned the urban avenues into harried corridors, conspirators, and it is currently obliging the autumn leaves to waltz in bright funnels the height of children before their bodies bend and press on into adulthood.
How I love your little bean body–all clean, round lines. Your first undiscovered territory–this month you have chanced upon your nostrils and your fingers burrow in. You have pulled over to explore your bellybutton. Sometimes, with open palms, you beat your belly like a drum. Like a new car owner might proudly slap the hood or the tires.
But then living is an act in perpetual search of new frontiers. It doesn’t notice anything else.
And you have been sick since our arrival, with a cough and with hives and with general stress. I feel guilty, as if life is something I am ramming down your throat with these travels, rather than letting you wade in, rather than giving your body time to regulate to these new climates. Your vocabulary is a now a collision of Italian and English, mixed together indifferently and as needed.
You are a wonder to behold.
We are on a street only three or four blocks from that on which I grew up. Only a few minutes’ walk away, your biological grandmother has come down with cervical cancer and is recovering from a radical hysterectomy. In the same house where I grew from the corners like a poisonous moss. Where I fled beneath the furniture like a grasshopper. To live was to chirp, was involuntary, to live was to be vinegar in the well.
Should I take you there?
If she dies will you resent me for not introducing you to her?
Will I later be an even greater villain than teenaged years require?
Will you squirm, as you do now from your car seat, from the confines of my explanations and chart your own path to the truth?
She didn’t love me, E. She was very frank about that. “I don’t love you. I only keep you around for child support…and to clean the house.” And I did, alone, every Sunday after church. From top to bottom. Vacuuming, polishing, windexing, ajaxing the tubs and sinks.
A toothbrush, according to her, was required to clean the bathroom crevices: the gummy white junctures between the blue tiles mildewed imperturbably brown.
I shrunk from the fifty year old vacuum cleaner which weighed the same as a nursing calf and was as reluctant to be dragged through the sumptuous beige carpet. The vacuum had been her mother’s vacuum. It had a fat metal body and little rubber wheels which would slump off and lay on their sides before they would consent to rolling anywhere.
I would stop, fit them back on, begin again, and repeat every three or four minutes for several hours, as my sister played catch with her father in the driveway and my mother sat, propped up on a hill of pillows on the waterbed, eating ice cream and watching soaps.
“Make sure you do a good job, because I’m going to give it the white glove treatment and if you miss a spot, you’ll have to start over.”
She didn’t actually have white gloves. She would simply run her fingers along the high landings of the armoire, which I would have climbed onto a kitchen chair to reach, or else the sloping wooden paws of the kitchen table, or the armpits of the windowpanes.
But we’d end up, ritualistically, before those immovable stains in the calking between the tiles. She was convinced that with just a little more elbow grease I could get them out. This conviction would come out in a winding, epithet laden monologue that concluded in my banishment to the bathroom to continue scrubbing until she was satisfied (forgot I was in there.)
It’s not that I think she would make you clean the house on Sundays, E. Nor even the fact that she couldn’t love you. I just don’t want to be that person if you’re in the room. I don’t want to be with you in the room where I was that person. I don’t want its corners to tug at me nor its shadows to powder your perfect blond curls.
I want you to live solely in the world I’ve built in anticipation of you. The one that was born on the judge’s pronouncement requiring my mother to stay so many feet from fifteen year old me at all times. Far enough that this wind would gut her curses and leave her dreams a hollow mumble from behind the glass.
And we all try to make those nearest us fit into our dreams. The dreams of adults are children’s most fearsome predators. It is interesting. When I was growing up I thought this neighborhood, Allandale, was a poor shithole. My mother called it a shithole. Yellowpine was a shithole.
I return, misshapen by the pounding and erosion of a sea of years, and find a little American paradise, blossoming with spacious brick houses in rust and moss and hide; cyclists whipping by in those embarrassing little outfits which identify them as taking-this-seriously; gardens that pool within lawns overseen by charming, if-unused porches. This is still America, after all, and we are pretty sure you are a child abductor or serial killer or both.
For years now, a period has materialized preceding my returns to Austin in which I’ve envisioned my return through a queasy hesitation. I am propelled by those friendships that have plowed along for decades. People in whose contented adulthoods I revel. But this city is menaced by the me whose stirring causes the grass above her to purr, Hermes of the barbarian years. Plunged from pleiades, tearing heaven in two. I would keep her from you.

Dear E, your second trip to Texas

December 10, 2009

Up above the world so high, peering at Nova Scotia through that narrow, almost oval airplane window. Powdered earth, gnawed on by the blind slugging of black ocean. I had visions of the bright, undifferentiated magma below: The throb and tumble of liquid fire.
And later, you lay sleeping, head in my lap: skin a mottled ballet, rose in cream’s embrace, lips plump and prone, how like a doll. Exactly like a doll, I thought, definitely a doll except for that bright impossibility of magma below the surface.
And what a pedestrian disaster, in every instance, when a crack opens and the light and heat evacuate.
We flew first from Fiumicino to Heathrow’s new terminal 5. Trapped in a valley, with luxury shops rising all around us and great floor to ceiling windows from which it is impossible to fling oneself, or even reach out and let one’s hand gather a glove of mist.
Instead there is Shopping. The phenomenon of shopping as pastime: a parasitic sport played out on the fields of boredom and exhaustion to a captive audience.
Your father asked if I needed some diamonds from the Tiffany store. Probably I should be the kind of woman who has other than short nubby nails and sands the callouses from her palms before I graduate myself to diamonds. So, no.
Maybe this is just because I don’t fully understand why many expensive things are so expensive. And maybe that is just because I am not aroused by the competition of having.
I changed you in a changing room with a mother from Britain and another from Ghana. We exchanged small hopes, longing for our charges to be unusually sleepy.
Your father and I ate an assembly line breakfast at a place dressed up like a jungle. Sloppy eggs, wooden sausages, smoothies comprisd mostly of sugar. The place advertised itself as kid friendly, even put crayons on the table, but was mostly occupied by businessmen with fixed grins enjoying
breakfast cocktails, and surly waitresses in their late youth, who aimed in their serving to demonstrate that they had better things to do, bigger dreams than this.
I know lady. I’ve been there myself. But in reality, you’ll never leave. No matter where you go, even if you win on Britain’s got talent, you’ll still awake there at 7:30am. So just try to be decent while you pass your time, because we’re all right there with you. And my husband has not had a smoke in ten hours.
At moments like this, I see the realist bent of the tip-based service industry.
And your father was nervous and nicotine deprived. It was probably not the time to lecture him on the advantages of getting himself unaddicted, but I did, tactlessly.
He’d just been furious at the British guard who made us unpack your three bottles of formula and three jars of food, open one of each (plus your pear juice) and eat/drink them.
I had anticipated this, and was only angry that she made me render one of your empty bottles useless by forcing me to fill it with the opened formula before I drank it.
I’m no princess. I can drink it straight from the bottle, I told her.
No. You must pour all of it in. Fill it up.
Her lips jammed together.
But then the empty bottle will be contaminated. And we’ve still got about 20 hours in the trip, on planes that dehydrate, with a baby who is only so-so with a cup.
No.
I shrugged and followed her instructions. Your father fumed, said the British are just assholes. Everyone (Italian) knows that. It wasn’t that she insisted we ruin the bottle. It was that she showed no sympathy, and would not deign to explain why it was necessary either.
Don’t make a scene. I just want to get out of here.
For the next hour everything was a sleight against him. The time it took the waitress to bring his syrup. The length of the line at the Starbucks coffee stand. The jostle of passengers rushing by.
I have to admit though, Terminal 5 beats the rest of that Godforsaken hub.
We went through Heathrow on our last trip, your father insisted. No, we did not. We went through Frankfurt on Lufthansa or maybe American or maybe from Rome to Chicago (neither of us remembered exactly). But it wasn’t Heathrow because I chose the tickets and only go through London if absolutely necessary. Fantastic city. Nightmare of an airport.
On the long plane trip, you slept an hour at the offset, waking, naturally, at the precise moment I peeled the tin lid off my pre-packaged airplane meal.
You went back to sleep, just as predictably, seven hours later… as we began our descent into Houston.
In the interim, you provoked a camraderie between your mother and the BA flight attendants, who were exceedingly kind. Mothers themselves, with affection for you and suggestions for me. Try drinking cold milk in front of her, she’ll want to try it, and then maybe you won’t have to heat it for her every time…
You made friends with the passengers who stayed awake, notably the two Italian men across from us, the man with the discolored face who smiled brightly every time I strolled by bouncing you down the aisles, and the elegant young woman at the end of our row, in knee high leather boots and a mustard colored wrap. When we sat down, she had not proffered the cursory plane smile, meant to say: I’ll try not to fart if you don’t hog the arm rest. I thought she might be dismayed to have been sat next to the curse of a traveling family. But then, when you laid on the filthy airplane carpet near her feet, she reached one long, manicured hand down, wordlessly, and tickled your belly.
The customs check at the Houston airport went smoothly. I explained about the complexity of the foodstuffs I had brought. Telling enough of the truth to save myself from culpability, but not enough to invite a check. It had been almost 24 hours. Your father really needed a smoke, and you a new diaper. (Mammas don’t need anything. It’s good to know this before you get with child.)
We made it onto the highway by 9:30. It was all ink and mist and great trucks in great lanes whipping by us at lightning speed.
I could take no more. With the city crumbling into countryside around us, we stopped in a Hampton Inn behind an IHop off the highway. You woke at just past 3am. We made it to San Antonio by the next afternoon.
I am sure there is more to tell, but suffice it to say we will remember this time in which city we changed planes.

Haircut

December 2, 2009

I get my haircuts at a little shop in the Talenti neighborhood where G’s parents live. Apparently this is a fascist neighborhood. You can tell by the graffiti. And by the fact that this is what G told me and my friend Lucia confirmed. But also because Italian graffiti is frequently political.
For instance, the anarchist squatters who occupied the abandoned building in Piazza Sempione, until their recent eviction, were probably responsible for the “Freedom cannot be given, only taken” slogan. This was brandished across the wall between the pizzeria and the antique store. Take that and put it in the bag with your new China set!
In the Talenti neighborhood it is mostly stuff about ‘red pigs’ (who ever heard of red pigs?!) and then some swastikas, presumably to clarify (oh, THOSE red pigs).
So anyway, this is where I get my haircut. The place is called “Hair Point” and the stylist and shop owner is a middle-aged Sicilian woman. She flits around the store with a moth’s determination, more black hair than head atop her shoulders. I love her. And I am pretty sure she is a fascist.
Why, you ask?
1. Her haircuts are forceful, borderline violent. They would never splinter off beneath the weight of internal bickering about their authenticity or cultural relativism. My neck propped uncomfortably on the lip of the wash basin, water is sprayed directly into my ear-infection prone ears, as if to let me know that if my ears aren’t fit enough to survive, they have no right to be here. In the chair, my hair is yanked and snipped while she talks on her cell phone. Its position in the hierarchy clarified, it says nothing.
Most of her cruelty, however, is saved for the post haircut styling. Her sure little hands slap my scalp, as if trying to rouse my hair from a drunken stupor. This happens simultaneous with the blowdrier, turned up unnecessarily high, swooping down and scorching my vulnerable skull, all while the round brush pulls and teases relentlessly.
Such delicious agony, I presume, is meant to test my hair’s endurance and so its potential for heroism, by which it must be motivated to be respectable.
2. She makes me look like a rockstar…but from the 1980s, maybe early 90s, when, after all, fascism was in its last throes of stylishness. This is also most of the reason I visit her. Once a month, I get to see what I would like if I had been born a boy and grown up to join Ratt or Warrant or one of those bands. Although today there was more of a Farrah Fawcett bouncy to me. Farrah Fawcett with sallow skin, dark eyes, and a big frown.
In any event, my hair is a symbol, there to remind people of a foregone era, one when fascism still meant something important to a handful of boys, themselves with overly short hair, who hung out at the mall, where they could buy their military paraphenalia, usually at the big sporting goods store in the back.
3. She is short. Nearly child-sized. And short people have overcompensation issues much better suited to fascism, with its domination/empowerment/control bent, than to communism, which thinks we are all equal (good-looking 20 year-old boys with ponytails wearing Palestinian kaffiyeh being significantly more equal than chubby, middle aged soccer moms. Another motivation behind her choice, no doubt. For what mom in Italy can be other than a soccer mom?)
I can’t come up with any more reasons, other than that she is good at what she does, no matter how aesthetically despicable it might seem to some.
In other news, E has had a cold for three or four days. Time in which she has shared (occupied entirely) my pillow (she drains better propped up), snored in my face, stuck her fingers in her runny nose and then directly in my mouth, wiped her snot on my shoulder and coughed directly into my lungs (practically). Only right now am I starting to feel that terrible tickle…

Ode to Blemishes (in Three Haiku)

December 1, 2009

Like some larval soul
Encased in a milken pearl
You rise, ingrown hair

Because when ripe you,
Vesuvial, test our will
Little red pustule

Past the comedo
Furuncles and carbuncles
protein seas below

Happy as a Trans

November 24, 2009

Autumn has shrugged off its timid petticoats and allowed its leaves to bleed from the trees and the vines in candlelight and cranberry.
Italy is abuzz with news about ‘Trans’ which, for the unitiated, is a term referring to transsexuals. All of them. Specifically the five who live in Rome.
The Italian version of People magazine from several weeks ago, which sits on the plastic trashbin at my in-laws’ house, wantonly in reach of the commode, displays an elderly man, smiling, cheek-to-cheek with a heavily made-up drag queen above the no-nonsense headline: “I have loved a trans.”
(I am guessing he has also paid a trans.)
Another ‘trans,’ with whom a well-known politician was recently ‘caught,’ was even more recently murdered. And so has received her share of the fad a bit belatedly. She was an immigrant, with a strikingly anglo name which I can’t recall now…Darleen or Marsha or Ann Coulter or something.
In the kitchen, where we stand together before the mini-tv that sits on the counter, my mother-in-law points at a goateed young man on Italian Big Brother and says matter-of-factly:
‘Trans.’
Davvero? I reply.
(Well, he/she really looked like a dude. Unlike the trans who waited on me once in Austin, with that straggly, obvious chin hair. She wasn’t fooling anybody.)
Si. And the gay boy doesn’t like him doing this.
And then she offered me crack. Which I was disappointed to find out was a cracker.
You should know that my mother-in-law is a saint. Or, minimally, one of those super good people quietly wending their way through the saintly bureaucracy.
I know what you’re waiting for: some mother-in-law lament (she calls me a puttana behind my back; she’s teaching the baby to eat only marzipan and pork; she keeps initiating divorce proceedings on her son’s behalf, etc. )
But actually, she’s kind of awesome. She remembers everyone’s birthday and their saint day and buys them presents on your behalf and then that person thanks you even though both of you know she did it. It’s sort of a running joke in the family. If it is possible, she loves the baby more than I do. She makes blankets and calendars and t-shirts emblazoned with giant Edda heads. I keep expecting a hired blimp bearing Edda’s face to appear hovering over their building.
Also, she keeps the mountain of baby clothes active and erupting. I must cull the baby clothes every other months to ensure we do not die in our sleep beneath an avalanche of onesies.
For all of this, the baby shows her gratitude by looking like her, requesting her every day and generally being more delighted to see her than she is me, a fact which I accept with grace. They are in love. The Nonna has even been so kind as to become a source of manipulation for me:
Edda, do you want to see Nonna?
Si.
Then you have to put on your shoes. Nonna doesn’t want to see you unless you let mommy put your shoes on…
(C’mon, it’s at least partly true.)
Oh, and she does a magical number of things on any given day: three course meals, espressos and laundry, trips to the pharmacy and phone calls to the wife of the second cousin recovering from a headache– all materialize as if delivered from the Italian nonna dimension; in the meantime, cigarettes are smoked, crosswords completed, and the world’s most amazing limoncello is made. She even goes to church, according to her son, so that others may spend their Sundays sleeping in. And, in all of this, she finds time to find the world of the trans compelling.
I remember a conversation that occurred one sunny Saturday on a patio in Trastevere. It was a few months after Edda was born. Giulio and I were out with my friend Erika, and it must have really been just a few months because Erika is one of those enviably long and lithe women, whereas I was still swollen as a fertility goddess. (I remember because both of these facts seemed striking to me in that moment.)
Erika not only studies Italian culture, but is married to Renato, my former undergrad, co-op roommate. People thought I let Renato move into my room because he was a ridiculously handsome Italian doctoral student. Little did they know, it was for the discount.
So yes, Renato is an authentic Italian himself, making Erika an authentic member of his extended family–a differentiation which does not seem to exist in this culture.
That afternoon, as we sipped our sangria, she said something that has stuck with me ever since:
Whatever you do, do NOT try to compete with the Italian mamma. You have already taken her son from her. Don’t edge in on her dominion. You’ll think you are being helpful, but it won’t be taken that way.”
Wise words indeed.
In our case, I don’t think I was perceived as a son stealer. Or at least by providing the grandchild before becoming a daughter-in-law, you could argue, I went in with a human shield. Not to mention that my existence ensured that their continent-hopping cad (potentially gay) son would stay put and multiply, trans or not.
But the dominion part turned out to be true. It was ten dinners before I learned to stop offering to bring something. The one time I made a meal (Mexican food on Elba), she hovered in the doorway of the kitchen, a paragon of empty handedness. That was that. Now, I have given over to requests for my dirty laundry when staying with her. I’ve accepted that polite gratitude every time she makes me tea and carries it into the dining room on a neat platter is not appreciated.
Not only could I not compete with this demi-goddess. I would not.
And yet I wonder about her: Who is she? Is she happy? Are her wishes truly fulfilled by fulfilling those of others? Do they appreciate her and does she need to be appreciated?
My feminist instincts scream: She’s not an astronaut, so clearly, she shouldn’t be happy. The little voice, which I consider a side-affect of Sex and the City sniffs at her non-death defying heels, where television tells me she’s too old to exist at all.
And yet there she persists, somehow magnificent.
In my encroaching old age, I’ve begun making more of an effort not to presume my needs and reactions are any more those of others than are my opinions (not at all). And so I admit to not knowing.
I even go so far to wonder if there isn’t something I could learn from her.
I imagine, knowing our common Catholicism as I do, that she was taught that humility and service to others are universal keys to true and transcendent joy. I know as an individual, that I’ve long suspected there is a good deal of truth to that, even if it is notionally eclipsed by what society tells us is more imperative: the self as an individual, our needs, our blogs’ needs, our bank account’s needs, the need for a Starbuck’s blondie, which sometimes overwhelms me personally. (Or is it not usually the case that self-fulfillment projects tend to put all the weight on the left side of the hyphen, likely to the detriment of the right?)
I also know the feeling that radiates from beneath the weight of my sleepy child’s head on my chest: A more pervasive, layered, unpolluted joy than a grey whale full of blondies. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not just the falling asleep part, it is also the love I am too shy or stoic or protective to confess to. A terrifying love. No smile of mine has ever been so effortless as the one which replies to hers.
And I know that loving and serving and providing for her physically, emotionally, and intellectually is the most satisfying thing I have done with my life–if not the only nor the easiest nor the most exciting thing I wish to do. But if I could have only one love, it’s true, it’s the kind that has come from service.
So then I think, yeah, maybe she’s happy. Maybe happier than I am. An idea as new to me as a trans to a Ligurian shepherd.

my ghosts

November 17, 2009

How many visits I’ve paid you in those unclaimed minutes on busses, in checkout lines, or alone in the bathroom after too much wine. Oh, the talks we’ve had where you explained it all, in my sleep, and set my heart at ease.
Spindly in suits you never owned,
to my cherrywood pantheon you’re retired.
Ever dazzling…if frayed, in daylight,
where frothier demons alight to expire.

Dear Edda at 18 months,

November 10, 2009

One and a half years since you entered this world: a howl traveling through the overbright glow of the operating room. The doctor who brought you out of that muffled space was a funny guy, I’ll have you know. As I lay, anticipating my turn on the table, in a frantic corridor beyond the hall where your father and aunt and grandparents waited, this man approached to calm me. And to use his English.
Mostly to use his English.
After some smalltalk about the places he’d visited in the States, this thin, gray surgeon inquired: “Is this your first c-section?”
“Yes” I said, probably breathlessly. Wondering why the gravity of the occasion eclipsed noone but me.
“Don’t worry.” He grinned. And then, pointing at an ancient husk of a woman lying comatose on a gurney across the hall, said: “This is her hundredth.”
“You’re terrible” I told him, smiling in spite of myself.
The things I remember most: the sight of my torso and legs, bared comatose and unwieldy as boulders, reflected in the lamp above the table; the kindness of the nurse who held my hand, held my gaze, and told me everything was going well behind the thin, green surgical curtain as I lay there in a panic; the pressure on my belly, which echoed through the veil of drugs, as they pulled you from your first home; and then your wail, high and feline, like no other cry a human emits. A nurse bobbed you before my eyes: a shock of reddish hair, a round head, eyes pinched closed.
Now, just eighteen months later, you are unrecognizable. I thought babies stayed babyish for much longer than you have.
In this small gathering of months, yours is a transformation like no other I have witnessed. Your mane of blond curls reaches ever further down your neck. Your pupils: bands into which the clearest skies have fallen and been trapped. Your cherry of a face and wide, peasant mouth, outsized milk teeth hustling for space.
Your vocabulary of twenty plus words.
You identify your familu: nonna, nonno, mamma, dio (which is what you call your father, much to my dismay–I mean, he’s awesome, but Dio? Really?), zio, zia, Tita (Alice), Helway (your first identifiable word)
The things you know best from our outings: nina (your name for the passegino, aka stroller, in English), ciao, meow, baubau.
Most recently have arrived terms of negotiation, specificity and propriety: si, no, grazie, eccoci, cookie, cooka (cracker), tutto, quaqua, puppy, ciucio, and last and most lamentably “mio.”
And these are merely your recognizable words. You had your own, parallel language for a while: cuddaculee and cuddaloo were the summation of your curiousity.
You are a child of boundless energy. The other mothers, nonnas, nannies, in the kiddie park have observed. “She’s really very active” they say, sympathetically, as you climb the red plastic slide for the fiftieth time in a row, sometimes to slide, sometimes to climb back down. The other children, older children, linger around the periphery, mount the yellow, plastic ladder hesitantly and with encouragement. You, in comparison, fling yourself at the slide, indifferent to my hovering, and at the abandoned foosball table, and at the bicycle with training wheels and basically at all things much bigger than you. Which is increasingly not much.
You are a tall child. Taller and more outgoing than most of your peers. While some huddle with round, frightened eyes around skirt hems you grin and wave at even the most surly passers by. I see rugby in your future.
In the park, you run, fall, gather yourself up again and begin running anew. The other mothers gasp when you crash to the ground, direct me with their glances to hurry, to pick you up and comfort you. But they don’t know you. You would wave me off. You have waved me off. And don’t want any help getting back up. A high whine will rise from you if I try and lift you to your feet. And much of my day is devoted to avoiding that whine. So I do nothing. It’s a Pavlovian sort of thing.
You go on. Run and fall and run until the day has withered beneath your onslaught and finally, reluctantly, fling yourself onto the bed to begin the battle with your body’s need for sleep. You kick, roll around, sometimes sliding off of the bed. Your eyelids plunge and spring open and plunge again as the battle progresses. I sing to you, run my fingers across your scalp.
“Mamma,” you say, in mid-song. “Yes,” I answer and then begin singing again. “Mamma!” you repeat. Annoyed. And then, at last, fall to sleep.
Your father wants desperately to believe you are asleep during the skirmishes. He closes the bedroom door and reaches toward me for a relieved embrace. I tell him
‘wait.’
A moment later the door slides open and you appear in your pajamas, curls springing askew from your scalp. You will climb one last time before sleep takes you.
But you don’t merely run and speak. You have other activities.
You dance. You dance your dance. Swaying, clapping, turning, bowing from your undifferentiated waist and then only from your neck. You like the radio music. ‘Delinqueint ed Modna’ is the first song I ever saw you really dance to. Your father plays his sad ballads and dances with you. I play pop music, sometimes classical. But never the stuff I myself listen to.
There are your nursery songs: ‘La Bella Lavanderina’ which commands you to jump, turn in a circle, look up and down, and finished with a kiss (a chi vuoi tu). You follow it precisely. The same with ‘Giro, Giro, Tondo’ the Italian version of ‘Ring Around the Roses’ you are in a hurry with that one and collapse on the carpet before the end.
You bring me books and then crawl into my lap to be read to. Your favorite involves a mole, named Talpa Granello, whose friends take him to see the view from a tree top. He’s a vero pantofolaio. I have a feeling you do not need a lesson in the danger of an unexamined life.
You also like ‘Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?’ Not to give away anything, but basically he sees a lot of other animals looking at him. This baby bear has some ego.
Rarely are you patient enough for everything the Very Hungry Caterpillar feels the need to gorge on. You like a book about an egg, called good egg, with mechanisms in it to move an paper egg around on the page. Unfortunately, you ripped all of the eggs pasted into the book out, so now it’s just sort of a surreal set of commands. When your father reads it to you, his accent and enthusiasm give it a comic air.And there is a book about Italian food. You hate that book. I can’t get past the first page before you toss it away.
You also like to eat, to bathe, to play with the dog. You understand my meaning when I ask you to fetch your shoes, or a book, or your little red ball.
You open and empty every drawer. Your grandmother fights you with tape. We fight you with hideous blue plastic flowers bands from Chicco. You hide things. Important things. Your pacifier. My keys. The remote. You are amused by yourself in the mirror.
You hate being strapped into your stroller, put down for a nap, being told no.
And you have transformed me, in this short time. I loved you desperately from the moment I knew of your existence. And it has only gotten worse. I was not depressed before meeting you. Far from it. But I did see my life as somewhat expendable. I’d had what I considered more than my fair share of adventure and accomplishment. Less than my fair share of things to which I might feel attached. It was a recipe for indifference. I could imagine the world without me. Didn’t wish for it, but it didn’t seem to be an even remotely revolutionary idea. And now, with you, there is something I cannot imagine ever being without. Posterity paints mother love in these pastel, rocking chair tones, but I have never felt anything near this ferocious, visceral, marvelous and, at times, terrifying. I am eternally grateful to you for that.
Happy year and a half.

Is Left-Progressive Morality Enlightened or Schizophrenic–ask Natalie Portman

November 2, 2009

‘Free Roman Polanski’ is the title of the petition signed by Natalie Portman. For all you troglodytes out there, the facts of the case are: A thirteen-year-old girl was left at a private residence with this then forty-something film director to do some modeling.
Yes, he knew she was thirteen years old.
RP made sexual advances on the child. According to the victim’s testimony, she: told him ‘no;’ cried; ran from him; and asked for her mommy to come get her so she could go home. He ‘soothed’ her with half a depressant pill and some booze, and then, once sedated, raped her vaginally and anally and performed oral sex on her.
Polanski admitted to knowledge of the girl’s true age and to the ‘sex acts.’ Presumably because of his fame and cooperativeness (as well as our long-established indifference to sex assaults on girls and women as committed by wealthy men), he was then convicted of lesser charges, served a short part of a short sentence for psychiatric evaluation, and while on release, fled the States for Europe where he’s been living and working for the past decades.
Now that he is facing deportation to answer for this rape/molestation, Hollywood heavyweights (if virtually noone else) are rushing to his defense.
One of these is Natalie Portman. The reasons I mention this are two: 1. Because J blogged about it and I am a notorious piggy-backer.
And 2. Because I wanted to add to her very humorous observations that, when obnoxious Fox news commentators rail on about the moral schizophrenia of the left, this is what they mean.
And for once, lamentably, they are correct.
Take Natalie Portman. She is a very visible liberal, particularly vocal on behalf of animal rights. She has written that eating meat is basically an abominable, moral offense. Apparently, though, child rape, hmmm…maybe ok as long as it has been awhile and you are a “brilliant” director. And not a priest. Nor a drifter. Nor poor. Nor a person of color. Nor a teacher. Nor basically anyone other than a great director.
Ok, fine, but my request to Portman and the other signatories behind this rather astounding petition, is that they offer the rest of us some criteria for determining just which ‘brilliant accomplishments’ entitle you to just which moral liberties.
For example, what does one get for scoring more than a 2100 on the SATs: is that forcible sodomy level accomplishment, or maybe just simple assault?
If I had pushed that guy hitting on me at the bus stop into oncoming traffic, as I considered doing, could I offer my IQ test performance as a mitigating factor? Could I also maybe get free donuts for that?
Since, like Miss Portman, I was accepted at Harvard, if we were to get into a bar brawl, would we then have to offer our complete CVs before the police could determine whom they should arrest? Or would we both simply be set free?
And is it only brilliant film directors who have rape license? Because probably we should give it to authors to, what with their tendency to “glugglug”–just to be safe.
OH, and how good does a movie have to be before it’s considered a rape-worthy accomplishment? Like, on a scale from Ernest Goes to Camp to The Godfather, how high do you have to go before Hollywood will rally behind your child molesting?
And, if like me, you don’t really like movies, can you petition for exemption from achievement related assaults for yourself and your children, or counter them with your own (admittedly paltry) academic or professional achievements?
Just a few questions to mull over while those of us who feel obliged to defend the left from charges of moral incoherence try to clean up the most recent dump taken on our case…

Damned if you do…

October 29, 2009

The first thing I love about Hitchens is the fact that he looks exactly like Harry Potter actor Timothy Spall (and thus frequently transforms into a rat in my imagination.) The second thing is his childlike lack of self consciousness when it comes to his anti-religiousity. With this new piece for Slate, he has officially succeeded in both misrepresenting the majority of Christians in America as literalist/fundamentalist (backward, intolerant shrews) and now, since he has gone out to debate within the community at large, and found it much less monolithic and hostile than he imagined, in deciding that these believers–while polite–are veritable pansies for not being sufficiently backward, intolerant and/or shrewish!
He seems to be saying: ‘What kind of Christians are you, unprepared to condemn homosexuality, reading Biblical stories as ‘metaphor,’ unprepared to damn me to hell, where are the believers I wrote about!’
Well, Hitch, err, those wimpy attitudes and positions you cite happen to be characteristic of most Christians (outside of your imagination and maybe certain towns in Texas.) And there is nothing self-abnegating about them! For instance, there is no requirement to read the Old Testament literally. In fact, as historian Karen Armstrong has pointed out, literalism is a rather modern phenomenon. Treating the passages as metaphorical is actually the dominant, traditional method.
As for evolution, the biggest Christian sect in the world–Catholicism–has been teaching this as bona fide science in their grade school science classes for at least three generations. Trust me, I still have flashbacks of the dissected monkey corpse wheeled into our junior high class, plus I Wiki’ed it to be sure.
And as to deciding who goes to hell–great scourge though you may be (at least to the principle of measured restraint)–Christians are taught that they are not in a position to judge the behaviors of others and that they further have no knowledge of God’s verdicts. Suffice it to say, it would be heretical to render a verdict on the matter of you. Though we realize that this is what it is all about, after all.
I know what you’re thinking: “but they do judge! Just look at Salem and the Inquisition!” (which is definitely how thousands of years of religious history should be summed up.) That’s true, but harsh judgment (‘othering’ for you grad students out there) is an element of human nature, and not one particular to the religious either. Think it’s only sectarian? When was the last time you let a hipster see what was inside your iPod, or turned on Project Runway?
As for congregations being just a form of community which followers do not elevate to infallibility…well, um…duh? I know Catholics are kind of weird about this institutional stuff, but then that’s how we got Protestantism.
Ironically enough, it occurs to me that most (non extremist, non fundamentalist) religious sects leave their believers more room for doubt and questioning of God’s existence, than you do His inexistence.

To Hitch’s admirers, I ask you to consider whether this man wants to spoil the grounds for belief, or is merely spoiling for a fight (and the dollars that flow from sexy, reductionist polemics.) If you, as a consumer of infotainment, are desperate for something trite, I’d say save your money, go to the movies and watch Rambo shoot some bad brown folk. At least then you won’t be burdened with any tedious ‘triple entendres’…
He’s an interesting cat, but on this matter consumed in the fires, if not of hell, then of his own, overweening faith.