Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses staining her fair feet,
My soul takes leave of me to sing all day
A love so fugitive and so complete.
—-A Memory of June by Claude McKay
No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds –
– Thomas Hood 1844
Babies grow up. Technology advances. Dreams become memories. But November in the northern climes is always November.
A late night nattering with wine and tea and the following challenge put forth: Tell your ten favorite moments. Rather trite, yes? Well, maybe not. I thought of a few and in thinking of those moments my self-pity, self-doubt, and feelings of inadequacy evaporated in a small, foul-smelling puff of steam.
Those moments of joy I discovered rattling around in my memory made me fond of myself! They even came in categories, these moments of joy: nature, which is the source of all random acts of beauty; childbirth and one’s children, the most amazingly inescapable responsibility there is; performance, when you know you have communicated something special; performance again, when you are enchanted by the performer; art, the moment you love your creation and the moments you spend adoring another’s creations; friend; and family; and the sweet feel of childhood when ignorance and wonder kept you safe and warm.
My number one, most amazing experience was watching sea turtles lay their eggs. It was a beach on an island off the coast of Georgia and I was with a local lad who knew just where to be and when. I’m sure he would have told the Park Rangers, if they had thought to ask. So while they waited on a beach around the bend, we sat behind a large rock not more than 8 feet away from where the turtles would come.
The moon was full and the seaside was bathed in gentle white light. We waited for hours until suddenly and slowly six large magical creatures emerged from the shallow water. In synchronicity the powerful and independent creatures were driven by the same ancient instinct as they moved slowly and persistently across the sand.
They all stopped and dug at the same time and the same distance from the sea. Their flippers carved nesting places in the sand. Then they were still for ages it seemed. Then they all covered their nests, turned back towards the sea and lumbered over the sand into the water and went away. Only the moonlight was left, and six little mounds of sand with a trail of flipper marks leading into the sea.
I was brought up to understand that you were never to speak ill of, and you were never ever to judge, the Jewish people.
I dated a Jewish boy in high school and one evening his grandmother told me she would never let her grandson marry a dirty shikse like me. I knew she was right because even though my dad was a first generation German Jew, my mom was an Episcopalian. And of course my boyfriend’s grandmother had been in a concentration camp so she was allowed to say anything, especially to me who was not a member of the tribe.
A number of my dad’s friends had been hidden children or in concentration camps, and Ellen was one of them. She came over, like most of his friends, every Saturday for dinner, a grand cooked-at-home-by-everyone dinner, the apartment full of arguments and food smells and people sitting around reading books or talking.
My girlfriend lived down the street and her dad was German. One Saturday he came by for dinner but Ellen was very unkind to him, berating him for not having done something to stop the Nazis. Finally it got so bad he simply had to leave. There was nothing else he could do.
The next day I was at my girlfriend’s house and her dad brought out a big picture book. He opened it and showed me images of German cities after the war. There were ragged fields of walls standing tenuously at different heights and lengths. The spiky remains of corners higher than the lengths of stone and plaster. Piles of rubble stood among the building remains and the landscape was dotted with familiar household objects. My friend’s father pointed to a stone wall with the remains of a window sill in it. He told me that was where his bedroom had been. He had only been a boy during the war and his father was a postman, who didn’t vote for Hitler.
Until that moment it had never occurred to me that there were any casualties of World War Two other than the Jews.
Curly, thick, dark hair that makes ringlets and frizz, tangles and brushing and pain.
When I was very young my father avoided brushing my hair, so after a summer with him it was hours before my mother got out all the tangles.
When I was older my best friend braided me and said girl you don’t have white hair, you have bristly, nappy hair, feel it, it’s nastier than mine, feel how soft my hair is. Her hair was soft, so soft. I loved being braided, the feel of my hair being pulled so hard my eyes watered, and the cool air on my scalp, and the fingers and wrists pressing my head and the closeness of another person.
When I grew up I got an office job and straighten my hair, every day with a heated round brush. But when it was humid the tell-tale frizz formed by my scalp, and I was not the only one. In the women’s room we took turns waiting for the outlet so we could touchup our hair.
One day a man came into my office. The Clinton campaign was coming to town and my boss was a big supporter, so I was to help this advance man arrange things. He was a small pudgy young man who was very sure of himself. He sat across from me, looked at me, and asked if my family still owned slaves. I paused and wondered at his nerve, but answered that no they didn’t and what makes you ask. The hair he said, one can always tell from the hair.
Somewhere along the way it became taboo to talk about certain types of hair.
But yesterday I was in a bookstore when a woman said to me that she wished her granddaughter had hair like mine, and she began to describe her granddaughter’s hair. I said that yeah sometimes the mix works out and sometimes it doesn’t. The woman agreed enthusiastically, and then her granddaughter came in and her granddaughter’s hair was just the way my daughter’s hair had looked at that age. So I was able tell her not to worry the curls would probably come at puberty.
It made me feel safe and comfortable to be able to talk about hair with someone who understood.
I walked comfortably along in today.
It was the continuation of yesterday.
It led to tomorrow.
It was orderly and serene.
Logically built out
of all that happened.
Before it was the past.
Until the past
was there before it:
Out of order, in today.
When you left,
you brought yourself,
but when you stayed,
you never left,
the past behind you.