Sometimes I wish the prose on my page could float out from my lips like musical rhapsodies that catch people’s ears like the bird-songs at dawn, the chords of a busker at the foot of the Bart elevator, or the well-orchestrated song number by the singer/songwriter I’m currently listening to (nada que ver with this posting, but actually today it was this).
But my calling is for a different art form—that of a not-so-melodic poetry— something people have to make an effort to come to and read and understand for themselves (including myself). Sound grasps at your heartstrings and acts as the taste buds to your emotions whereas words printed on a page have to be digested and one has to find their own rhythm, something of a chewing and digestive exertion built on inward properties.
The other day I was reading a comment by an old writing instructor of mine and in one short story I wrote he said something to the effect of “This is not a story! There are a whole bunch of scenes here that describe a variety of situations. Pick one scene and dig deeper.” I value this advice and I realize that I am a bit of a schizophrenic writer, easily uprooted and always trying to find new ground, even in the same piece. At the same time, I find some pleasure and satisfaction in flirting with a variety of scenes in an effort to explore the different emotions and sentiments taking place in every moment. If we are going with the digestion metaphor, the intestines are long tubes and though they don’t cover much ground in our bodies, their length is quite impressive and there are many bends and turns, nooks and crannies, to explore. The following poem speaks to this varied exploration and maybe my next piece will be something more in depth, but today, the present reality dictates something different.
This ode goes to my grandma (and me) as we end and begin our travel around the sun.
My Grandma shares a birthday with this guy’s dad I met at the bar the other night—his name was Fausto and he’s from Brazil. His dad, he tells me, was a Gemini and he died a couple months back of liver failure. I express my condolences and say that I’m also a Gemini and my birthday is indeed the same day as his late father.
I’m my grandmother’s oldest grandchild. In fact, the day I was born (early in the morning) my dad called her and said for the first time, “Happy Birthday, Grandma!” And the world saw a third generation born. The day I first opened my eyes outside of the womb in a faraway land, she turned a year older, no doubt a little wiser, and became a grandma.
In her house, years later, I smell the coffee brewing from my bed, my mattress crumples beneath with springs that have held the weight of an array of bodies, giving way further and further each time. I listen for the voices of the grownups that had, just the night before, lulled me to sleep with the assuredness of their smooth, steady, and consistent cadences.
I picture my grandma, already dressed—dark slacks, a soft red turtle neck, a fitted vest resting right above her hips, and a necklace that hangs just below her concealed collar bone with an air of a story waiting to be told. Her painted red raspberry* lips later describe the tale of how it came to rest around her neck.
She sits with coffee cup in one hand and a yellow #2 pencil in the other and diligently and effortlessly fills out the daily crossword.
I see her a couple of times a year. On Christmas she gives my sister and I jewelry pieces passed down from her father or other family members. She jots down stories in her familiar long and eloquent penmanship, like old men with top hats parading across the card, and now I wonder why I didn’t save each of those notes as obits to treasured pieces changing hands, necks, and earlobes. The jewelry, cold, and hard, and metallic, softens with the stories of wear. One day I will bring each piece back with me to Grandma’s house and record the memory so I remember where my jewelry came from and so the narratives are recorded for the next generation.
Grandma is a good-natured lady with somewhat stern qualities (par for the course given the fact she is a Gemini…always trying to find balance in the duality of her person). One moment she is caringly asking what I want for breakfast and the next she is recounting a story of how one her many brothers got into trouble and she had to bail him out.
A parliament of owls dwell in her ranch-style home. Each owl gazes at you in a knowing way and stands firm and steady. If owls had leaders, the one in my grandma’s house that would lead them all, is a crystal masterpiece, large and with a great wingspan perched on a dead tree branch and encased in a glass shelf. One wing is a phantom wing—no longer there. It broke off at some point, but my Grandma still keeps him around. It keeps the myriad owls, resting around the house, safe. Just by being.
My grandmother understands you without you really having to say anything, it’s like she senses what you are going through and she is able to pinpoint it with a single question or a solitary statement that gets to the heart of the matter. At the same time, my grandmother, like an owl, has an assertive side and she doesn’t hesitate to use her wits to settle an argument or give her two cents. She stands up for what she believes in and uses logic, curbs conflict, and argues persuasively.
My grandmother is an owl—serene, sometimes reflecting, on the prowl, and a protector of the truth. And I, in case you were wondering, I am a platypus—shy, sometimes solitary, trying to integrate into society by also trying to keep the mainstream at bay. We are both curious and leave no stone unturned.
One year for my birthday my grandmother gave me a book where I was the main character in the story. I went to a fairgrounds where hot-air balloons pumped full of air hovered off the grass ready for flight. In the story I got to jump aboard and go for a ride. One of these days, I imagine a journey that my grandma and I take in a hot-air balloon. Riding above the tree-line we take it all in and smile at each other, knowingly, two creatures in flight.
*I have to admit I know nothing of lipstick colors so maybe my grandma can give me some insight into what color she would actually wear with a soft red turtle neck.