Sunday, October 30, 2011

From Grief to Thanksgiving

I have written a lot about death and sorrow - too many poems, I think. It is what I lived through, not just the death of the loved ones, the loss of the family, of home – also the worst death, the death of hope, the death of the soul itself. Those of us who have extended, loving families may not understand the sentiments of my poem, “For Sale.”

For Sale

© 2009 by Maja Trochimczyk

Can I sell my life at a swap meet?
I do not want it. Nobody does, who knows.
Tattered, it has big holes
Where happiness used to be.

Can I sell it, then? Or trade it, at least,
For a better, less worn model?
You know – four kids, a minivan,
Home on the golf course.

Not this broken set of mismatched
Memories, fit for a thrift-store shelf.

My mother had a suitcase
Full of fabric pieces she cut to shape
And never made into dresses.
A seamstress’ cemetery
Of abandoned dreams.

The hue was not right,
She said.

The life she gave me was not right either
It faded into a dark, hollow green
Losing its luster in one country
After another, as I moved on
Hauling my treasures –
A stack of papers, ready
To go up in flames.

Can I sell it on E-Bay?
Or just give it away
To a more worthy keeper?

There are so many of these signs now, littering our streets. And nobody’s buying. What do you do after you lose yourself – to grief (as I did), to drugs, or despair (as so many other still do)? One way out is to look closely at the world around you, to actually see the fuzzy petals of the iris, to forget about the existence of everything else just for an instance while contemplating the strange beauty of a flower, bewildering in its fragile complexity (“Black Iris” reproduced in the previous blog). Still, it is tempting to see the desert landscape as saturated with sorrow, while waiting for the new life of rain.

The Waiting

(c) 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

Nothing but rocks grows here
On this plain of sharp yucca leaves
And sand –

Lavender hills draw sorrow
From the air, waiting for the clouds
To burst open –

Heavy with rain, they bring
A promise to each seed, hope for the roots
Of new life –

Another way of moving beyond grief and ennui, feeling too tired to live, is to learn the two key virtues that saints master and mere humans sometimes reach: compassion and gratitude. Since November is the month of Thanksgiving, and I’m immensely grateful for the beauty I have seen this year in the High Sierras, in Paris, and, of course, in Sunland, I think it would be good to end with a thanksgiving poem of sorts, inspired by a Buddhist amulet box, with a mini-Buddha inside (“A Box of Peaches”). If you want to hear me reading it, call the Pacific Asia Museum, 626-628-9690, and dial 455#, to hear me and Rick Wilson on the flute. It is also posted online by Poets on Site. I thought it would be nice to illustrate it with a picture of a very happy apple.

A Box of Peaches

© 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

You locked your Wisdom in a gilded box
Placed dainty copper flowers
Where metal bars cross, to hold them

You made a window for Compassion
To look out onto the silent world
Glowing with the Unseen

Would the talisman of the Smiling One
In your pocket save you? Draw luck
To your game of cards?

Let it be. Let the ancient words fall
On a carpet of bronze petals on your path
Dappled with tree shadows

Walk slowly through the magic
Orchard filled with an avalanche of peaches,
Ripening in scarlet sunrays

Stoop down to pick one, feel its warmth
In your hand, taste the mellow richness
Beneath the fuzzy, wrinkled skin

Say to no one in particular
The sun maybe, or the tree, or this late hour –
Thank you, yes, thank you very much


Once, just once, I visited such a Buddhist orchard, filled with overripe peaches and the golden glow of afternoon sunlight. The friend who took me there died merely three weeks later, so I never wanted to go back. It is enough to look at pictures. But, at the end, the best thing to do is to count the blessings, the little ones, and the big ones. The time we have here is borrowed, we have to give it back, and to give an account of how we spent our capital of gifts, abilities, families, friendships, talents...

I must say I am very grateful this October: so many nice things happened to me. I received amazing signs of public recognition - as a community volunteer and activist. All these endless hours of working without pay and, often, a proper "thank you" have been rewarded by the kind words of the entire City Council of Los Angeles, City Controller, City Attorney and City Clerk.

Councilman Richard Alarcon sponsored a resolution that recognized my 15 years of volunteering on behalf of Polish-American community in Los Angeles, and my contribution to promoting culture in the local community of Sunland-Tujunga as the area's Poet-Laureate. The recognition, associated with the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Modjeska Club, was also recorded in the city documents, keeping track of such honors for countless community groups and activists. For someone who arrived in California merely 15 years ago, this is a great joy!

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich added his Commendation, and I can finally bask in the joy of being truly appreciated for all this volunteering that I have done, often questioning my sanity. Who does so many things for free? Would these recognitions, once for all, prevent a return to the doom and gloom of "I want to sell my life at a swap meet"? Maybe not, but they will certainly look great on a shelf in my office.

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