Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cherished Chopin & Poets Cafe

My October 2010 interview for Poets Cafe (KPFK 90.7FM) found its permanent home on the website of Timothy Green, editor of Rattle who graciously supports KPFK's initiative to document poetry life in Los Angeles.

Lois P. Jones, an amazing, spiritual, insightful, and incredibly talented poet (I forgot sensuous and erudite), is a fantastic hostess at the Poets' Cafe, airing on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 p.m. She prepares well for her interviews, reading poetry, talking to her prospective guests, asking them to bring a lot of poems. She is warm and lovely and then... ambushes her guests with completely unexpected questions. Thrown off their planned path, guests have to reveal more about themselves than they knew they would, or would have planned to. The hosts laughs with them, shares her favorite lines of their poems, and leads them into a deeper self-understanding and, might I say, enlightenment. Well done, Lois!

After my hour in the studio, that was to be about the "Chopin with Cherries" anthology, but turned out to be all about the poetic me: Who am I? Why am I here, in Los Angeles? Writing in English? What and who do I love? How do I capture the ineffable in words?

Interview: Maja Trochimczyk on Poets Cafe, hosted by Lois P. Jones and broadcast on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, on March 30, 2011.

Our lovely friend, Kathabela Wilson organized a listening party for the broadcast date of the interview, on March 30, 2011, which she did not know for I did not tell her, nor shared it with Lois, was the 25th anniversary of my baptism during the Easter Vigil at St. Martin's Church in Warsaw, Poland. That miraculous night opened the way across the ocean for me, a Californian by choice. Ultimately, it led to a level of illumination that only now I'm slowly beginning to grasp.

I read one poem from the "Chopin with Cherries" anthology - the title poem, a memory from my Polish childhood, spent in the villages where my grandparents lived. That one is dedicated to my maternal grandparents, Stanislaw and Marianna Wajszczuk who settled in his ancestral village of Trzebieszow in the Lublin region after escaping from the area taken over by the Soviets during World War II. My mother was born in Baranowicze, now in Belarus. Each house in the village was surrounded by gardens, neatly divided by fences into sections where children were allowed into (orchard) and those they were not (flower and vegetable gardens). Children were like pets, or like livestock, in their capacity for destruction. My grandmother took no chances with her crop of tomatoes and strawberries...

We were not allowed to climb the cherry trees, either - the branches were too fragile, cracked easily. But the ancient Italian Walnut tree, with a smooth broad trunk and a perfect spot to sit in, with a book and a cup of cherries, that was something else.

The walnuts, first covered in smooth green skin, and completely white (if you peeled off the yellowish skin off each bitter-sweet nut), were scattered to dry in the attic. Full of old clothes, spinning wheels, weird instruments, and bunches of herbs hanging from the rafters, the attic was my refuge on rainy days. I'd read the old weeklies or books, and eat the walnuts or cherries, or whatever other edibles could be found, scattered on old newsprint. Who said, children had to watch TV or play video games to have fun? All you need is the rain, and a little bit of Chopin.

A Study with Cherries

After Etude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 1 and the cherry orchard
of my grandparents, Stanisław and Marianna Wajszczuk

I want a cherry,
a rich, sweet cherry
to sprinkle its dark notes
on my skin, like rainy preludes
drizzling through the air.

Followed by the echoes
of the piano, I climb
a cherry tree to find rest
between fragile branches
and relish the red perfection –
morning cherry music.

Satiated, sleepy,
I hide in the dusty attic.
I crack open the shell
of a walnut to peel
the bitter skin off,
revealing white flesh –
a study in C Major.

Tasted in reverie,
the harmonies seep
through light-filled cracks
between weathered beams
in Grandma’s daily ritual
of Chopin at noon.


I was ready to read two other poems from the Chopin anthology, but Lois moved on, first to my "Ode of the Lost" - about the pain of emigration, dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz of the Great Emigration generation of Poles who settled in France after the fall of the November Uprising of 1830. An Ode of the Lost was published in The Cosmopolitan Review, in a special issue about immigrant experience in poetry that I edited, based on materials from a session at the Polish American Historical Association meeting held in San Diego in January 2010. Since that version (The Cosmopolitan Review) did not include any line breaks, I think it will be nice to see the poem with its stanza divisions.

An Ode of the Lost

~ to Adam Mickiewicz and all Polish exiles

Tired exiles in rainy Paris listen to Mickiewicz
reciting praises of woodsy hills, green meadows —
distant Lithuania, their home painted in Polish verse,
each word thickly spread with meaning,
like a slice of rye bread with buckwheat honey.

“Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie.
Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie,
Kto cię stracił”
— he says, and we, homeless Poles
without ground under our feet, concur,
sharing the blame for our departure.
There’s no return.

Are not all journeys one way? Forward,
forward, go on, “call that going, call that on.”
The speed of light, merciless angel with a flaming sword,
moves the arrow forward. Seconds, minutes
stretch into years. Onwards. Go.
The time-space cone limits the realm of possibility.
If you stay, you can go on. If you leave—

Can you find blessing in the blur of a moment?
In a glimpse of soft, grassy slopes shining
like burnished gold before the sun turns purple?
Can you learn to love the sweet-fluted songs
of the mockingbird, forget the nightingale?

How far is too far for the lost country
to become but a dream of ancient kings—
where children never cry, wildflowers bloom,
and autumn flutter of brown, drying leaves
whispers of the comforts of winter?
Sleep, sleep, eternal sleep,
in the spring you will awaken…

Note: Quotation from Adam Mickiewicz’s Invocation to Pan Tadeusz, or the Last Foray in Lithuania (“My country! You are as good health: /How much one should prize you, he only can tell who has /lost you”), from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, and from the author.


Quickly moving through time in an interview that became my best portrait, I then came to my California inspirations. I read one poem from that strange novella in verse, "Rose Always - A Court Love Story" that preoccupied me from 2005 to 2008 (and still echoes in various love poems I write from time to time, they are all related!). Published just with a number (76), but often entitled just "The Music Box," this poem is the most miraculous, I feel, of the whole interview.

The magic comes from an actual music box, the one you see in my portrait above. I bought it for five dollars at a garage sale from a neighbor on my street. A white porcelain box with a pink rose in a gold frame on the lid, it plays a lovely song. I found it and then the poem just wrote itself, as I put this and that into the box. I do have a weakness for music boxes: my collection is not large, maybe ten or twenty boxes, mostly carved from wood with decorative inlays and carvings. The white china box, delicate and elegant, was a perfect expression of the nostalgic tone of the poem.

The Music Box

What the world needs now
is love, sweet love…

My china music box plays a song
from your childhood.
Under the lid with one pink rose
I keep my sentimental treasures –
the miniature portrait
in a grey enamel frame echoing
the color of your tank top
worn in defiance
of my sophistication.

The white tulle ribbon – a memento
from my wedding gown?
It held the ornament up
on the bough of the Christmas tree
after that second, numinous summer.

My broken ring, bent not to be worn again,
with a deep scar from your blunt saw,
a shape marked by the strength of your fingers.

It was a moment of liberation –
I don’t have to – anything – any more.

The three little diamonds –
faith, hope and love – embedded
in the scratched gold, still shine,
though not as brightly as the forty three
specks of light surrounding your face.

The missing ring piece hit the ceiling
when it broke off with the pent-up energy
of unwanted love – the marriage that wasn’t.
It is still somewhere in the corner
of the coldest room in my house.

What else?
Three brown leaves from the ash tree
that grew by itself and died,
unwelcome. The Cross of Malta
waiting to shine on your chest.

* * *

What the world needs now
is light, God’s light. . .

My music box plays on. I make up the words
just as I made up this love of clay and gold,
the dust of the earth and starlight –
partly fragile and partly eternal.


If one were to look for a poem, amidst all I wrote, that better defines me, not as a music scholar, nor an administrator, nor a award-winning historian, nor an usher who's always late for Mass, nor a mother who only cooks for holidays, nor even a poet, but simply as a person, this is that poem. T.S. Eliot ended "Little Gidding" - the fourth of the Four Quartets, with these prophetic words:

"And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one."


PHOTOS: Maja with Lois in KPFK Studio, October 2010. Maja with Lois at Kathabela and Rick Wilson's Salon, summer 2009; Collage art by Barbara Koziel Gawronski in a California landscape (Tujunga Wash in Sunland) photo by Maja Trochimczyk, and portrait of Maja Trochimczyk by Jolanta Maranska-Rybczynska.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Wishes and Awakenings

Who said that Easter is about pastel flowers, cute rabbits that lay eggs and are made of chocolate, and fluffy dresses with matching hats? Medieval sculptors, carving the emaciated body of Christ, covered with realistic wounds and blood droplets, had an entirely different vision. Mary of Magdalen had a vision, too: the gardener, she thought, but it was He, and she realized her mistake only when He said, "Noli me tangere..." - "Do not touch me..."

Our love wants to be physical, fluffy, tangible, warm, sensuous. It is very hard to imagine a different kind of love, something greater, unique and universal, human and divine, always the same and always new. The true colors of Easter are the intense reds of the blood spilled on the Cross; the intense purples of coagulated droplets and the sorrow of Good Friday, a day of absence; the dazzling gold shine of flames of a new fire during Easter Vigil; and the brilliance of Easter bells ringing, ringing up to Heaven on that astounding, joyous morning, when all, finally, is well, once for all.

Instead of Easter wishes this year, I wrote a poem about the end of the world. It is really Harry Mulisch's fault. He should not have written that novel about the Discovery of Heaven, which is, actually, about the Discovery of Hell - unseen and distant God takes His Commandments back from the unfaithful, sinful humanity, leaving the traitors to their chosen fate in the Kingdom of Satan. That's what Mulisch's imagined and convincingly described. In the novel, the astronomer who finally discovered Heaven is killed by angels with a meteorite, so he fails to share the secret.

His son becomes the new Messiah, finds the stone tablets, as blue as the lapis-lazuli of his eyes, and takes them up to Heaven, floating in the air, surrounded by a whirlwind of Hebrew letters detached from the holy precepts that were ignored and disobeyed for far too long.

Here's my "Easter Apocalypsis" illustrated, appropriately, with a fading, dying rose.

Easter Apocalypsis

~ After "The Discovery of Heaven" by Harry Mulisch

It is coming. The angels know.
They dwell in their Piranesi castles,
twisted spaces where outside
is inside. They are not indifferent.
Not too smart for their own good.
Not cruel. They don’t tell us.

The end is coming, it is near.
Not death, mind you, not that
Ugly spinster without its twin.
No. The end of the end. Finis.
The satin fabric of a wedding dress
Trails behind the steps of a beauty
Gliding towards her beloved.

The river’s end tastes of salt
In its own mouth, opened widely
Into the waves of the ocean. Nothing
we can do will stop it. Just stretch
Your tired fingers, let the water
Cool your skin.

Why resist? Heraclitus
Dipped his toes in this river.
Shape-note singers praised it.
Saints dove in and swam around,
Luxuriating in incandescent glories
That passed us by.

The end is coming,
Flowing down the slopes.
Let’s sit on the porch, doze off
In honeyed sunlight, before it
Disappears, transfigured.

Let us believe there will be
Light, enough light inside us
- That kindling of kindness,
A half-forgotten smile -
To keep us afloat in the final flood
Coming, coming to erase the world
And remake it, anew, bejeweled.

Now, it would not be fair to all the chocolate lovers out there, if my Easter wishes were limited to this brief vision of the end of the end, a cosmic catastrophe that we will survive only if we allow ourselves to focus on the unbearable lightness of being, the heart of the heart. That happens when we awaken from non-being to an awareness that only what's within truly lasts, that the least tangible of our possessions - a fleeting moment of kindness, a gesture of compassion and comfort - is an eternal treasure, a sapphire hidden in ashes and dust.

I found a treasure this year, I found a friend. I also found a poem in a painting by another friend - a painting I like so much I would love to find myself inside it. Susan Dobay, a Hungarian artist is both spiritual and earthly, a hostess who laughs with her guests and feeds them regional specialties, but scolds them for being too loud when a poet reads something she'd like everyone to pay attention to (even if she is sometimes too busy making sure they listen, to do it herself).


~ after a painting “City Whispers” by Susan Dobay

First to wake: the maple tree.
Up and up, sprouting from a seedling.
With a crown of burnished gold, white
diamond crystals for winter –
It slept through blizzards to flourish
dressed in pinks and celadons.

Second awake: the girl.
Watching the trees from her bed
Or her wheelchair. She cannot go far
Into the streets, filled with noise.
Protected by smooth glass panes
She sees the buds on each twig
Fill out until they burst
Into carmine, wrinkled bows
Small and shiny, maturing
As they change into the green.

The third: a robin calling out
To his friends, dispelling darkness
With his shrill fluted motives.
The spring is woven from his calls,
Warmed up in red feathers on his chest.
He came late to scratch the ground
For a worm to peck, a beetle.
The looping birdsong measures
The coming of days. It floats up and up,
Above the rooftops.

The girl touches her curly blond hair
Growing longer, straighter
As the nurse braids it each morning.
The life, the light, she wishes
For this power to come in.
Make her walk, yes, make her walk.
She stretches up and up.
Outside, city whispers.

It was a distinct pleasure to read this poem while being accompanied on a flute by Rick Wilson: his music rose up and up in the middle two stanzas, appearing after a silence and allowing the tranquility of the sick girl's room to speak for itself at the end. In some way, it was my best reading with music. Rick was truly inspired. Susan Dobay and Mira Mataric said they identified with that handicapped girl, whose longing for wholeness and health is our longing, at other times expressed in the search for perfectly decorated chocolate eggs, tulips and the new spring dress for Easter.

In Poland, we used to say "Wesolego Jajka!" as if an Egg could actually be Joyous. Maybe we have to return "ab ovo" - to the beginning and start anew, with a rediscovered capacity to experience real joy? Before God takes his Commandments back and leaves us all to the dreadful fate of non-existence, without the source of all being? You know, that one: Beauty, Goodness, Truth.

Let the Easter bells ring, ring, and ring.

Alleluia! Pangue lingua gloriosi...

Pangue lingua sung by Coro de Cámara Abadía



Photographs of flowers (C) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

Susan Dobay's Painting "City Whispers" - the poem "Awakenings" is a part of Kath Abela Wilson's poetry book project dedicated to the art of Susan Dobay.

Two recordings of bells from Il Duomo (Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence, Italy. From