Thursday, September 25, 2014

Golden Poem

A new poem of mine is up in the latest issue of Literary Orphans. The poem is called "Golden Day." It's a short one, so I hope people take a minute to check it out and give it a read.

This latest issue of Literary Orphans is the Ingrid issue, after Ingrid Bergman. So I submitted a poem that was partly inspired by Bergman's great performance in the classic wartime love story, Casablanca. If you've never seen Casablanca, well...what's wrong with you? Here are a few scenes to give you an idea of the movie's complex and honest emotion:

The other inspiration for the poem was some extraordinary footage and photography of Serengeti lions released by National Geographic about a year ago--and with which I've been obsessed ever since. One of the snippets of video is titled Golden Day, and it's my favorite. I've watched it over and over, fascinated by the sense of timelessness and heaven on earth it presents. I suppose Serengeti lions and classic black-and-white movies make for a strange mix to inspire one poem--but what can I say? The mind is a wonder.

Photo credit: National Geographic

Whatever you think of my poem and my ideas, though, please check out Literary Orphans' Ingrid issue. There's loads of beautiful work on offer. I recommend reading Will Viharos' note on Ingrid Bergman as a starter. This is the second time I've had the honor of being published by Literary Orphans. All my thanks to LO's editors and founders, Mike Joyce and Scott Waldyn, for their support.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Where The Flowers Grow In Mexico



These pics are from a place in Mexico called Xochimilco.The pictures were taken in February 2010, when I was taking a 2-week course in the city of Cuernavaca. Xochimilco is a place outside Mexico City and an ancient place, built long before Columbus ever came to "the New World" and changed it forever and for better or for worse. Xochimilco means "where the flowers grow" in Aztec. Long ago, the indigenous people of the area built floating gardens out of rafts piled with mud and branches that took root in the bottom of a large lake. They called these floating gardens or little islands chinampas. They grew flowers and crops on them and shipped them via canals to Mexico City. Over the centuries most of these canals and chinampas have disappeared, victims of urbanization. But some remain, and both tourists and locals from Mexico City like to visit them, cruising them on beautiful, colorful, gondola-like boats called trajineras that are given women's names and painted with flowers. The trajineras are steered by men with long poles who push them up and down the canals as riders drink beers and soft drinks and greet the other boats traveling by. Mariachi and maramba bands hop from boat to boat to perform a few songs for riders, and small children and old men and women drift along on small rafts selling flowers, tacos, tortillas, sweets, and chiclets and offering to take photographs of riders with ponchos, sombreros, and flowers.

Xochimilco, like much of Mexico, is a magical place. Anyone expecting a tourist trap will be pleasantly surprised. You never know who might drift by you on the water at Xochimilco--families, wedding parties, teenage lovers kissing passionately on the floor of their hired gondola, old lovers re-creating the scene of a first date, drunken revelers, picnickers, tour groups, Americans, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, photographers, flower sellers, magazine and newspaper merchants, musicians, singers, animal handlers, romantics, cynics, maybe even the ghost of the great artist Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo at Xochimilco in 1937. Photo by Fritz Henle
All this is to say, I went to Mexico for 2 weeks and loved it. Loved it. The colors, the smells, the sounds, the people--everything impressed me. I visited Xochimilco with my classmates and instructors. We had a great time. Someday I will go back. I will buy some flowers and let my hand touch the waters of ancient Xochimilco. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Just About A Year Ago

This picture was taken about a year ago, September 2013, on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. It was on the women's tour I led for my old travel company. We'd been lucking out with the weather on the tour, but it was especially important that we have a good day for the full day we were to spend touring the Dingle Peninsula. And we got it. These two ladies were both from Seattle. Carol and Kathy. One is Japanese American, born and raised in Hawaii. The other is Native American, born and raised on a reservation in Washington state. They were great travelers and a lot of fun. Neither had been to Ireland before, and one of them had never been out of the U.S. I'm glad they had a beautiful day to spend in Kerry.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bus Stop In Chicago

This is in Chicago in the summer of 2008. It's me at the corner of Clark and Edgewater in Andersonville, a neighborhood on the far north side of the city. Andersonville got its name from all the Swedish and other Scandinavian immigrants who had settled there. These days Andersonville is home to one of the largest lesbian and gay communities in Chicago. It's funny that I'm standing at the bus stop looking up at the sign (and I don't know why, because my friend and I weren't using the buses that day) because only a few months after this I would be leaving Chicago and riding Greyhound buses all over the country for a month. I don't remember if I had already made those plans when this picture was taken. But I know I was making plans in general. This picture was taken by my friend Marco. I miss him.

Bolivian Road

This picture was taken in South America, in Bolivia, in August 2010. It was on the way to the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flats. I was on a 3-day tour. We traveled from Oruro to the salt flats all the way down to Chile in a Land Cruiser. There were at least 8 of us crammed into the vehicle. We were supposed to go through Uyuni the city, but an internal political problem in the country (a quarrel over a silver mine between the departments of Potosi and Oruro) had caused blockades that spread from Potosi city to Uyuni and forced us to take a back-door route to the salt flats. We were stopped when this picture was taken because we encountered another vehicle that had broken down. There was nothing and no one else around to help. Though this road pictured was one of the more sophisticated roads in Bolivia. By the 2nd day of the tour (this pic is on day 1), we'd find ourselves in territory where a road was pretty much wherever you want it to be.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grandfather Poem, Prairie Poem

A poem of mine is now live at Eunoia Review. Thanks to the editor of Eunoia Review, Ian Chung, for accepting it and publishing it. The poem is called "Transference (Middle West)" and it's about my maternal grandfather and the place in the world where we grew up, the American Midwest--which was once the American prairie.

My granddaddy re-visiting the schoolhouse he went to as a child in Iowa
Chicago skyscrapers, looking south from John Hancock Tower
My grandfather's name was William Collins but everyone called him Bernie after his middle name, Bernard. Bernard was also the name of the town (if you can even call it that) where he was born in Iowa in 1900. Where he was born and raised is west of the Mississippi River. He had 3 siblings who survived. He grew up on a farm but his own father lost his farm shortly before the Great Depression. My grandfather found work east of the Mississippi, in Illinois in Rockford, not long before marrying my grandmother, who came from Otter Creek in Iowa, in 1926. After marrying, my grandmother moved to Rockford with him but they didn't stay in Rockford long. My grandfather's boss was a Swedish man who would knock the Irish in back-handed compliments to my grandfather ("Are you sure you're Irish? I never knew any Irishman who worked hard like you.") and my grandfather couldn't tolerate that. So they moved to the south side of Chicago, near Visitation Parish, where it was all Irish, and my grandfather worked in a plastics factory. The stockyards were still around then. My mother says she can still remember the smell.

Railroad work in Iowa. My grandfather is among the 4 down on the tracks, second from right.
Hay making in Iowa
My grandma (second from left) with her parents and some of her siblings in Iowa. Cornfields in background.
In the city now. Chicago, Van Buren Street, southwest side. My grandparents (center) with two religious friends and my aunt Lois, about 1928.
Eventually my grandfather moved his family to the northwest side of the city (where I was born), which was mostly Polish at the time and closer to the city limits. Chicago was already mighty and lively in those days (the 30s and 40s) but it didn't yet have the skyscrapers and the great skyline along Lake Michigan that it's known for today. The skyscrapers would start to come in the 60s and 70s, in my lifetime. My grandparents had moved back to Iowa, to Dubuque, by the time I was born in 1972. We visited them at least twice a year. My grandfather kept a large garden in his backyard where he grew corn, tomatoes, and beans. He had raspberry bushes and a tiny vineyard--just a few grape vines, really--from which he made his own wine. Beer too. Their backyard also had a horse chestnut tree that attracted bats and lightning bugs in the evening. We all loved to stay out in the backyard until dusk when the bats came out.

Granddaddy in Chicago with his 3 daughters. My mother is on the left. My aunts Lois and Betty on the right. They were working class but the fashion and hairstyles were still very different from those of their country cousins back in Iowa.
Chicago skyline in 2013, view from boat on Lake Michigan
Granddaddy with my youngest brother, Eric, and sisters Arla and Bonnie, around 1970. In Iowa alongside a country road, with long prairie grasses still growing on the hillside.
My grandfather died in 1980 when I was 7 from prostate cancer. I admit that I have few real memories of him. I mainly remember him when he was dying, in the hospital and such. I was in the 3rd grade and my teacher made us kids write in journals every day for a half hour or so. When my grandfather was dying, I wrote in my journal about it and said I felt sorry for him. I didn't know what cancer was at that age so I wrote "I think he has the flu." I have some memories of his wake and funeral, the first I ever went to. At first I thought I'd write down some of those memories here but I've decided to keep them to myself, except for the memory of seeing one of my parents (my mother) cry for the first time in my life, during the funeral service, and how it worried me.

We had moved out of Chicago to the suburbs by the time he died. Years later, his wife, my grandmother, would come to live with us after a stroke. Chicago and its suburbs stretched forever by the 80s and stretch even farther today. We have no bats in our area of Chicagoland--but we have cardinal birds (the Illinois state bird) and lightning bugs. We have a horse chestnut in our backyard. 

Chicagoland, looking northwest from the Sears Tower
Prairie garden in Lincoln Park in Chicago
There were still some farms and open fields when we moved out here from the city, but they are long gone today. You have to drive longer now to reach the farms. The prairie is mostly gone except for some preserved sections here and there. The people who lived on the prairies before Europeans came are mostly gone too--either assimilated, killed by whites, or pushed north and west onto reservations. In Chicago, there are parks that have tried to revive some of the prairie grasses and flowers that once grew all over the Midwest. In Lincoln Park, for example, you can stand and cast a shadow over prairie flowers while the Hancock Tower stands and casts a shadow over the north side of the city. 

The John Hancock Tower downtown with Lincoln Park prairie in foreground
I wrote this poem months ago when I was looking forward to the coming of spring and summer after a very long and even-colder-than-usual winter. This year it seemed to be taking forever for winter to hand the reins over to spring. I suppose I wrote about my grandfather in this way because I don't have too many of my own memories to call upon. I am the youngest of all his grandchildren so there are only a few pictures I can find of me with him. I knew him the shortest amount of time. So I wrote a poem that draws out time in images of what's changed and hasn't changed in the part of the country where my grandfather and I come from. Here's the poem (the link is in the words).

Me sitting on my granddaddy's lap and my grandma, at their 50th wedding anniversary, 1976

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Every Picture Tells A Story

Posts on this blog have become few and far between. Life has slowed down considerably for me in the last year, and in the meantime it can take months before I hear back from a publication about something I submitted. I have a poem coming up this week at Eunoia Review, and I've also got a post in the works about another site where I'll be contributing from time to time. But to keep this blog from getting too dusty and dull I thought I'd start sharing a travel photo every few days on here. Some of the photos--maybe even most of them--will be ones I've already included in previous posts. But they may have been shared a few years ago, or with a bunch of pics at once, thereby getting lost in the shuffle. So I'll give each picture I share its own post and its own chance to tell a story. I'll give just a little information about each pic, where it was taken and such. You can supply the rest.

Here's the first:

This is on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. In the El Bierzo region, somewhere between Ponferrada and Cacabelos. I walked the Camino during the harvest season, in October 2011. I passed through many a vineyard in full bloom, so to speak. This was on a particularly dusty and empty road with vineyards stretching wide on either side. These buckets were left on the road with a few piles of grapes around them, and not a soul in sight, not even far off in the fields.