Friday, June 20, 2014

The Fourth of July - Commemorations of Freedom, Life, Death...

It is a year already since my Mom died on the Fourth of July, 2013. I was riding in the Village Poets Car in the Fourth of July Parade in Sunland.  Her manifold illnesses have finally caught up with her.

The Color Guard

Above the hills' crooked spine, clouds dissolve
into the azure. A red rose lazily unfolds.

It blossoms by the birch tree, petals
glowing with the innocence of lost summers.

White bark hides among green leaves,
pale oleander spills over the picket fence,

shines against the deepest blue of the iris.
Its yellow heart matches the sun's golden glow

bouncing off the brilliant sphere of stamens
wrapped in the bridal silk of matilla poppies.

My garden presents the colors at noon
dressed in the red, white and blue of the flag.

At night, the fireworks tear the indigo fabric
into light ribbons and multicolored sparks.

The visual cacophony echoes the loudness
of sound explosions imagined by the genius

life insurance salesman, Charles Ives.
The orderly march of brass anthems

scatters into the joyous chaos of laughter -
a child's delight - the Fourth of July.

 (c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

The fireworks of the Fourth have ended. My Mom is gone, buried with my father in Warsaw's Orthodox Cemetery, among beautiful ferns, tall chesnut, maple and linden trees, their canopies filled with birdsong. It is a luxurious, peaceful place; both elegant and melancholy. You think of death there with gratitude for the full, rich lives well lived. I visited it again this week, upon arriving in my home town for the Fifth World Congress of Polish Studies held at my alma mater, the University of Warsaw.

I still have two phone messages from her, recorded in early June, a month before her death. When the recorded voice tells me they are old, I save them again. She called me to wish me a Happy Children's Day (June 1). Her voice was feeble, coarse. She sounded frail. She did not have much energy left. I have walked this earth for more than half a century and I was still just a child to her, a lovely, beloved child. A spoiled brat who wasted many gifts. A grateful daughter.

I celebrated the memories of my parents in a strange way soon after that: by writing down their most painful war memories of deprivation, hunger and a multitude of horrors. I made them into a book of poetry, "Slicing the Bread" - with a subtitle "Children's Survival Manual in 24 Poems."  It is a tough, rough book, without my usual sentimentality, sensuousness, and warmth, without the delicate spiritual inspirations that have been a hallmark of my poetic style.

This book of 25 poems, had already found a publisher, but I'm wondering what to do about its cover.  Should it be a medal on the bread?  It is about hunger and slicing, saving bread, after all. Should it be my mom's engagement ring on a slice of bread?

The publishers also asked for pictures of me. Should I have a new portrait made in Warsaw, with my beloved city in the background - a slice of an Old Town, or a wall still covered with bullet holes, perhaps? Or the greening of the linden trees? Filled with honey bees? They buzzed, alive with the promise of sweetness, all summer long in the village of my grandparents.

I have not written any "regular" mother-daughter poems; I could not write yet about her death and suffering, not about hospitals, not about the bullet that pierced her lung, an inch away from her heart, not about the blood pooling on the cement floor of the basement after she was shot and slipped in and out of coma. I should write about her sailing adventures, her travels around the world, her delicious cakes and gourmet stews, and wild parties, dancing all night, making that unique New Year's Eve's dress right up to eight o'clock, in time for the party... She loved picking mushrooms - a harvest of "prawdziwek" in a oak and birch forest...

Hmm, mushroom picking, I picked up that passion from her. She also spent her free time taking thousands of photographs, developing them in the darkness of the bathroom with a checkered blanket covering the window, a purple light bulb casting an eerie light on our faces, images slowly emerging on the paper soaking in chemical baths...Now, I'm a photographer, with a digital camera and colorful online albums.

No, I am not ready for a true memorial poem yet. Here's one poem about a gift from her, then, a tribute of sorts to her personal taste and flamboyant style...

My Scarf  (An Assigned Object)

Wine-red and grey, embroidered, sparkly –
I’m safe embraced by its warm hug –
I'm elegant adorned with its rich patterns –
I'm dressed in a new persona.

My scarf came from a high-fashion world
Of folksy make-believe
That trickled down to discount stores
–  Made in India –

It brought back my Grandma’s shadow
With her wool chustka of a Polish peasant,
It came out of my Mama’s suitcase
Gifts of handmade comfort
And exotic splendor

It carried a distant reflection
Of a silk white shawl
That covered my shoulders with light
At the end of my baptism

It was a foreboding of the shroud
That will wrap me to burn when I die.

© 2007 by Maja Trochimczyk

After the funeral, I brought her favorite off-yellow patterned silk scarf with me to L.A., I wore it with a black dress, wrapped myself in the scent of her perfume. In vain. There were deep gaps in the scarf already, shredding in the corners, torn. It was beyond hope last year. Now, the fading silk is just a limp reminder of a former subtle, supple beauty, slowly disintegrating in my closet. I cannot throw it out. No. Not yet.

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