Friday, May 10, 2013

The Spring with Birds and Susan Dobay's Art from China

April showers, May flowers... and birdsong. During the Village Poets reading at the La Crescenta Library, my fellow poets formed a chorus of birds, using children's toys from Poland - little bird sculptures that are half-filled with water and whistle like birds. These poetic birds provided a background and refrains to my poem, inspired by Susan Dobay's painting, "Musicscape 12" - the same painting was also featured at the "Co-Inspirators" reading at Pasadena Public Library, organized by Rey R. Luminarias.

Reading with Musicscape 12, Scenic Drive Gallery in Monrovia, 2012

See, how we dance?

~ inspired by Susan Dobay's "Musicscape  12"

Simon says – “grow”
and our roots reach for water
our branches for the sun

Simon says – “blossom”
and our pink petals open
in a gold mist of newness

 Simon says – “sing”
and we let the breeze whisper
with hummingbirds, jewels, leaves

 Simon says – “fly”
and we turn and turn again
in swirling clouds, voiceless music, dancing

This poem is published in Poets on Site's anthology, "On Awakening" edited by Kathabela Wilson (Pasadena, 2012),  and on display at the LitFest on May 11, 2013 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pasadena’s Central Park. 275 South Raymond Avenue). For schedule. The LitFest will feature panels, readings, performances... You will meet Kathabela and Poets on Site. You will be able to paint a poem on Just Kibbe's car...

At the Pasadena LitFest 2012 with Kathabela Wilson

The month of May, honored by so many poets as the month of love and romance, is not considered a good month to be married in. Apparently, the romance of May is short-lived; for the marriage to survive you have to tie the knot in June or September!

While reading an exceedingly bizarre treatise by a 19th century Swedish mystic, Swedenborg, I was struck by his vision of Heaven in which eight-limbed creatures float by; these creatures consist of couples that found their perfect match and are blended into one being while the ones that are still single frantically search for their better half. How far do you have to go to find an ideal person to share your life with?

Sometimes very far, sometimes you’ll meet that person in high school or earlier. The partners in one of the best marriages I know met in seventh grade Another happily married octogenarian admitted that every day she feels a flush of joy when she hears the key turning in the lock when her husband comes home. Her friends who long ago stopped talking to their husbands and are now living in a marriage of “suspended animation” or a “permanent truce” laugh at her “silly infatuation,” but, she says, it took years of hard work to get there. Someone else said that the secret to a happy marriage is “compromise” – how distant from romantic love! How close to the “arranged marriage” of so many cultures!

Arranged or not, each culture has different wedding customs. For instance, in China, the bride’s traditional shoes, veil and other wedding clothes and symbols were red (red is also used in India). There even was a special calligraphy symbol of “Double Happiness” that decorated wedding gifts, to bring joy and happiness to the newly-wed couple. What would happen if you leave that tradition behind?

 During her trip to China, Hungarian American artist Susan Dobay saw a bewildered looking Chinese bride in a white, Western-style dress and used the picture in her artwork, called Bride on the Rock. This image gave rise to my poem and here it is…

Vision, Unveiled

“Why are you leaving us?”
Chinese characters dissipate in the air

Clouds descend
Down the waterfall of jade

Clouds float down
The slopes of aquamarine

“Where are you going?
Why are you doing this?”

Centuries of crystal
Petrified traditions stand silent

Watching over
The white tulle of a Cinderella dress

The dark-haired bride
Is anxious without her talisman

Lost without the red hue
Of prosperity, crimson joy she hides

The sign of double happiness
Marked in blood-red ink

 Under the pristine silk
 Of her bridal gown

They cannot see – she listens
To the whisper of the crevices

Her veil flutters
On the breeze

© 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

Since the path of the bride took her away from her roots in Chinese tradition, I decided to add a poem about a young girl who went in the opposite direction – towards the wisdom of her ancestors, symbolized by learning to count in Chinese. It is important to find a balance between staying connected to tradition, and making a new place for yourself in the world. Sometimes it takes a lifetime…just like a good marriage.

A Skipping Lesson 

One Two Three 
En Deux Troix 
Ein Zwei Drei 

she learned to count
like the foreigners

she skips up the steps
and stops at the top


she listens to stories
of her ancestors
deep within
her veins

Yee Uhr Sahn 
Suh Woo Lyo 

blood circling
from her heart
to her breath


she'll learn to count
all the bright red hats
on the way through
the city

in Chinese

Yee Uhr Sahn 
Suh Woo Lyo 
Chee Bah Jyo 

(c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk
“A Skipping Lesson” was published in Quill and Parchment, March 2013.

The three stages of life - childhood, adulthood, maturity receive different degrees of attention in  Western society.  Our gaze stops at the peak, the bride at the summit, the young man at the top of his prowess. We look in fondness at children, give too much attention to adolescence as a distinct and different stage in life (replete with its own, highly commercialized culture), and tend to devalue the wisdom of age.  "What creature walks on four legs, then on two, then on three?" Asked the Sphinx? The answer - a human being, crawling, walking and shuffling along with a cane...

A friend of mine, in her mid sixties, complained with exasperation how she hates being patronized by people in public spaces, ignored, disrespected, belittled, like a child. "And hare we today, dearie..." "Aren't we flustered..."  She's talked down to by silly teenagers, shop attendants, nurses, as if she were already senile, useless... In China, the ancestors are revered, Confucianism places a premium on proper respect and obedience to the elders. The wisdom of the elders is also recognized in Native American traditions. Tbe women's wisdom is the key to survival, endurance, no matter what. Sometimes very hard, sometimes it is the only way.

My third poem from the "Women's Trilogy inspired by Susan Dobay" deals with the wisdom that old women share with the youngsters. If you learn, you will survive, if not, you will become a forgotten part of history, that little corner that someone might once discover, for it was not written by victors and is of little import on the public stage. This poem is published in the current issue of The Statement Magazine, a literary journal of California State University at Los Angeles. Come to the publication party on May 16, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. in the Golden Eagle Ballroom of CSULA.

... Too Bold 

The ancestors’ weight heavy on their shoulders
The ages’ wisdom embroidered on their skin

 Bend down, bend down 
 You will not be broken 

Tall stems of rice bow low before the wind
Slide through the onslaught, a sudden surge of war

Young mothers whisper silence to their daughters
Girls watch, repeat the gestures of their kin

Bend down, bend down 
You will not be broken 

You have to learn the art of disappearing
Invisible, you will outlive the strangest times

Be still, be patient, breathe the longest hours
You have to do it all and remain unseen

Women alone survived in our village
Into the river silver tears have flown

Bend down, bend down 
You will not be broken 

Bend down, bend down 
You will not…

 © 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk