Friday, March 28, 2014

Heartbreaks and Betrayals with Tanka and Madame Butterfly

Here she is, Madame Butterfly, so in love with Mr. Pinkerton, who left her with a baby, and returned with his American wife to claim his son and leave his crying mistress all alone. Susan Dobay's digital integration artwork is inspiring and touching.  Let's see...

Madame Butterfly - by Susan Dobay, 2013

sometimes it comes back
his memory, her softness
their reckless flight
his baby, their child, his firstborn
half-orphan outside

You will be able to see some of this beautiful art at Susan Dobay's next exhibition, "Regeneration" that will be held at the Shumei Hall Gallery in Pasadena and will open on Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 1 to 5 p.m. There will be a concert, too, though not of "Madame Butterfly".... 

Rock Cherries - by Maja Trochimczyk, 2014 

I wrote three tankas for a presentation of Susan Dobay's artwork inspired by Madame Butterfly, Puccini's immortal opera. The presentation, with the accompanying chapbook was one of the string of events associated with the California visit of an extraordinary Japanese poet, Mariko Kitakubo - held at the Altadena Library, and including Mariko's poetry, a segment on Madame Butterfly and Dobay's art, and a Japanese tea ceremony. Since two were included in that performance, I presented the third one here. 

Broken Heart by Maja Trochimczyk, 2014 
Why do we still care about Madame Butterfly? What's most attractive and bewildering in that opera is the perennial conflict of cultures, and betrayal.  The jilted lover commits suicide, like so many others, who could not imagine life alone.  Heartbreak can kill, literally. 

The topic of heartbreak has recently attracted the attention of a young poet, Karineh Mahdessian, who solicited contributions for and published an anthology by women, called "Heartbreak" and featuring "ache" on the cover. There are 80 poems in the book, written by  a diverse group of poets, ranging in age from high school graduates to grandmothers. Some poems are the very first publication of their authors, others are penned by experienced poets and writers with extensive teaching and publication careers.

Karineh's own heartbreaking story inspired her to find compassion and comfort in the words of her spiritual sisters. Her method of compiling the anthology was unusual: she asked poets to send her three poems so she could chose what she liked.  Her choice was only revealed in the final publication. At the reading on March 16, 2014, in La Puente, poets got their copies of the anthology, in burning orange and yellow.

Heartbreak Anthology by Karineh Mahdessian

When leafing through this volume,  bursting with stories of grief and loss about children, mothers, fathers, as well as all sorts of romantic heartbreaks, I realized that my own poem - indeed all poems I sent - were not really heart-breaky at all. It is hard for me to write about things I do not feel and I understood the assignment" to relate strictly to romantic heart-break, as in : </3, or the complaint of a jilted lover. My response to emotional distress of this kind is, by now, of someone who's been there done that, and knows the arts of coping, grounding and self-soothing (or pretends to know).  The point of losing a loved one, or a love interest, is to learn to say, with Hiob, "God has given, God has taken, praise be to God." 

Easier said than done, of course. But ultimately, serenity and contentment are our goals, reached typically in old age. I remember that British study of happiness that discovered that people are the happiest in their seventies, when the ranging storms of passions have passed, the life's work is done, and they spend hours of contentment in their gardens.

New Spring - by Maja Trochimczyk, 2014 

Gardens - the ancient Garden of Eden - the small patio gardens and large botanical gardens - are the true medicine for heartbreaks. Walking, photographing flowers, listening to birdsong, people-watching - all this medicine is contained right there, in the gardens. Those who know how to heal have spent hours digging into the rich dark soil, pulling the weeds out, planting a new flower, a tomato, or a fig tree... Then, they watch the plants grow, and finally enjoy the fruit of their labor - a blossom, a fruit... Perfect! A heartbreak? What was that, again?

Ice Cream Street

Days come and go,
the earth keeps turning.
You left. I am still.

You drive down my street,
come back for another look.
What do you want to see?

Love is not an easy thing
to manufacture.
I make it in large dollops,
served like ice cream
in cups of kindness.

I package it in dulcet tones
of good memories.
It is expensive,
also quite refined.

It is perfect that way.
The world is, too.

Oceans breathe.
Stars do not ask questions.
Night trees sleep
with birds in their branches.

The mountains
 grow more distant,
settling into calm.

(c) 2008, reprinted in Heartbreak from Rose Always (rev. 2011)

Desert Blossoms - by Maja Trochimczyk, 2011

Now, that serenity was not an instant discovery, but a result of years of hard labor. I had to write volumes of distress out of my system first.  Some of this confessional "poetry" is not really of any interest to anyone, except another woman with a broken heart. Somehow, in hindsight, getting these long strings of complaints together seems really selfish. When crying, we do not see the world, for all the tears needlessly spilled.  But at a moment, when the heart is broken, it really seems broken. The world comes to an end. 

As Karineh and her colleagues so eloquently wrote, a heartbreak leaves one feeling literally "broken-apart" - torn and destroyed.  

i entered broken world
i broken entered world
i entered world broken

~  from Karineh Mahdessian's "breaking" in Heartbreak

the words now hardened and metallic in my mouth,
I feel our shared language disintegrating in my hands
dust between the pages...

~ from Alexandra Hohmann's "English Major Breakup" in Heartbreak

the agony of drought
the swagger of flash flood
day after day, no grass

~ from Ruth Nolan's "When Rain Can Kill," in Heartbreak

Fence Geography - by Maja Trochimczyk, 2014
Sometimes, there's a good reason to cry: the mother, child, or husband dies. It does not seem fair. Grief-stricken parent, daughter, lover screams in anguish, gets in a fit of rage, simmers with anger, falls into despair. It is easy to accuse God of being evil at this stage of dealing with a heartbreak. God's indifference... does not God see what's going on? Why is my beloved taken? 

I wrote some of those types of poems after the death of my father who was shot by robbers in his summer home and never recovered, finally succumbing to a long, wound-caused illness.  A bullet tore through his abdomen, spleen, liver, intestines. A miracle he lived through the sepsis. Another miracle: he lived through the multiple surgeries. Seven drains, living on IV food for four months. And then, still alive, a year after that. Through that time, after being released from the hospital, following a six month stay, half of that time in an ICU, he could only eat unsalted mashed potatoes and chicken broth... My mom, who lost one third of her lung to a bullet, cooked and cared for him. His last call: "Majusiu, you would not believe what happened. I changed into a vampire. I live on other people's blood." It turned out his own spine marrow stopped producing red blood cells and he had to have a transfusion every two weeks, and a dialysis, the kidneys were not working either... 

His body fell apart, and our lives fell apart with him. For a long time before that I felt as if I was all splintered inside into a thousand little pieces, pierced by a bullet. On my desk, I even had a hologram of glass breaking apart, forever held together, forever breaking in that image... Then, the bullet, the breaking became a reality.  When I went to an art exhibit at REDCAT once, I saw a mirror mosaic "Resist Resisting God" that did the same to me...

Mirrored by "Resist Resisting God" - by Maja Trochimczyk, 2012

Eloe 6

grief is a thief
and a stupid one at that

he stole your life
when God was not looking

(too busy –
concocting colors
to paint the canyons, stars,
dabbling in sunsets)

(c) 2008, reprinted from Miriam's Iris (2008)

Sunset by Maja Trochimczyk, 2012

There are many kinds of grief and loss, many reasons for heartbreak.  Those caused by others we have no control over: evil neighbors, evil "tribes" - wars, hatred, discrimination, a bullet piercing the skin... Those caused by others we belong with in our immediate communities and families - family disputes, divorces, deaths after a long illness, fading away with cancer...  Those caused by the two persons intimately involved - one person leaves, the other one stays, brokenhearted...

All victims of senseless crime know the first type of heartbreak. The criminal does not know them, yet they suffer, their loved ones die... Here's a different example of the first type of heartbreak, from a post by Carla Tomczykowska, about the family of her husband,a child of a mixed marriage, refugees from Europe: "Polish AND German were his first languages although he was born here. His father, a Polish survivor of Auschwitz, after the war met a German woman and they got married!!!! When they finally settled in the Polish community in Baltimore, she was reviled for her nationality, and as a young boy, my husband suffered from that hatred at the hands of Polish relatives, neighbors and even the nuns at school. This affected him so much, for he loved his sainted mother dearly, that he totally blocked out the Polish language and refused to speak it anymore.... My husband's dilemma as a post-war child was a two-edged sword - he suffered from both being a child of a survivor of a concentration camp (this is a recognized syndrome) and also the stigma (within the Polish community) of being the child of a German woman, being called a 'Nazi.' It has taken him all these years to recognize and deal with these traumatic emotions formed in his childhood."

This is a peculiar, I'd say "linguistic" variant of the loss suffered by refugees and displaced persons around the world. They were not welcome where they went after their homes were destroyed and their lives broken. Not this kind of loss... 

The Heartbreak anthology does not go into these sorts of heartbreaks - consequences of war, famine, crime, natural disasters, floods and fires. Instead, the stories in Heartbreak are about human grief over human loss of just one person, a loved one: a daughter, son, mother, father. The loss of a love. A lover who left, a husband who was not faithful, a child who will not send a mother's day card. 

Mother's day
an empty mailbox

~ haiku by Jan Benson, from Heartbreak

What do they know?
Do they know your smile, your laugh?

~ from Tairy Barrie's "One Tear" in Heartbreak

While reading about so many passionate, depressed, enraged, and disappointed women, I thought I should at least try and write a truly angry "heartbreak" poem, if only to feel young. But I could not quite feel very serious about it, so it came out as a comedy of errors. Enjoy!

The End

I imagined you dead
and me, your widow
dancing in black veils
purple lipstick, amethyst
nail polish.

But you lived.
You came back to stab me,
pour salt water 
on my wounds.

Enough. Dosyc. Basta.

I can't stand seeing you
laughing at my weakness.


I hang my bra 
on my bathroom door.
I pull a blanket 
over my head.
Listen to a chorus of frogs
pairing in the wet darkness
of spring chaparral

Enough. Dosyc. Basta.

It will dry out. 
There will be fire.
It will turn into charcoal,
flames dancing 
with the shadows
on the rim of the valley - 
dying, gasping
with the last breath
of my love.

(c) 2014 by Maja Trochimczyk

Imprisoned Heart - by Maja Trochimczyk

... like a long trail 
that they leave on
me ripping 
open my 
wounds once

~ from Toti O'Brien, "Queen of Hearts" from Heartbreak


  1. beautiful and delectably rendered, Maja, a lovely weave of heartbreak poetry and poetesses, of languages and cosmologies and varied topographies in the land of love and loss. Thank you for crafting this indelible weave!

  2. I love the overall musicality of your blogs (interesting, how you make music without sound) - pulse of images and thoughts - interlaced in moving cadences. I like reading them - usually without leaving comments : they are inherently complete...
    Thank you

  3. My Dear Maja,
    I truly enjoyed reading your philosophy on " HEART AND LOVE"
    Your photos are just wonderful!!!! You have so much to share with the world.
    I would be very proud to be your mother , but it is nice and I can be proud and happy for you as a friend. LOVE Susan

  4. Ruth - thanks for the very kind words and understanding. The old prayer said "from sudden and unexpected death, protect us..." and we have not been protected well, but we manage, smile in sunlight. Toti, thanks for reading, I love the painting you gave me, with the various circles and repetitive patterns. 18 years of sweet relief. Susan - you are a true friend, we connect in spirit...