Sunday, April 28, 2019

Spring is in the Air, with Mockingbirds and Plum Trees

I saw two mockingbirds in a battle with four large, black crows that came to eat their babies out of a nest in the oleanders. The mockingbirds were less than half the size of the crows, they were outnumbered yet they fought fiercely, fearlessly.  They led the crows towards a big tree across the neighbor yards. One after another they flew at the crows to peck them with their sharp beaks. It lasted for more than ten minutes. I would help them if I could but I cannot even throw stones, and definitely have no guns around, so what is one to do? My heart went out to the brave birds, so beautiful with their white stripes on their tails and open wings... They are my favorite residents in the garden, I love listening to the infinite variety of phrases in their liquid melodies, flowing, like flute improvisations, clear and there sparkling in sunlight.

The next morning only one crow returned, and was chased away by the mockingbird. Then, I saw another couple in the same dance as I was going on my morning walk. The same dance of love of your offspring, fearless love, fighting with the lazy crows, who did not seem desperate or hungry, just filling their time with something to do...

Everything is in bloom. The roses are huge and the rainbow of hues richer than ever. I added more fragrant bushes - Grande Dame, Double Delight, more Love, silver on the outside and vermilion inside. Some I did not save the name-tags for, though I should have, now I do not know what to look for, after they prove themseves, blossoming in the garden.

My peach tree had dark mauve flowers, but they came and went too quickly. There will not be many peaches this year.  At my friend's house a plum tree blossomed and was so pretty with the pink-white blossoms with darker stamens, that it became a spring poem:

The Day of a Plum Tree

Like a pink anemone 
at the bottom of the sea
stamens dance in slow motion
Plum flowers open and stretch 
towards the sun   -  the sun   - the sun

They drink the dew and juices of the earth
flowing up the roots, the trunk, the branches

Their petals like layers of crinoline skirt
 fold and unfold, re-arranging themselves 
around dark plum-hued heart of hearts 
Dancing stamens wait for the bees 
to make honey and fruit out of 
their passing beauty

Soon, breeze will rise
among branches - pink blizzard 
of swirling petals                              will waltz         

                    through the air 

to the ground                  to the roots            into 


The flowering 
of the plum tree 
once again

(c) 2019 by Maja Trochimczyk

I've been working on my folk ballads series, their designated readers are in prison, locked up, rejected by society whose rules they rejected first.  More complicated verse might go right above their heads, rhyme makes things easier to remember.  After the Ballad of the New Sun, the Ballad of the New Star, the Ballad of the Heart, and the Ballad of the Golden Scroll, time for The Ballad of Angels.

The Ballad of Angels

If I were an angel,
I’d know how not to cry.
Everything would be perfect
In my gold-winged life.

If I were an angel,
White star within my heart,
My path, the space around me
Would sparkle in the night.

If I were an angel,
You would not hear me lie.
Truth is so simple, always
It teaches us to fly.

Oh, wait! I am an angel
Wrapped in a rainbow glow.
I dance like crimson sunbird
In clear skies high above.

I am God’s light servant.
I speak, I walk in truth.
Dazzling, resplendent quetzal
turns dark to dawn to noon.

Angels are all connected
To serve the greatest good
So every living creature
Is happy as they should.

We too, can be angelic,
Filled with the divine grace
If we throw off our burdens
Of guilt, of shame, of vice.

Our path is clear and narrow
Don’t seek forbidden fruit.
Follow the guidance given
Step onwards, foot by foot.

We’ll reach our destination
Our wings grown wide and bright.
Hearts soft, like dove’s feathers
We’ll dance high, in the light.

I'm not quite satisfied with it, maybe rhymed work does not suit me, it seem too rhythmic, too clodding. It does not have the rhythm of dance, of poetry, it is more like heavy steps of a prisoner. So maybe it would fit and have an effect where all else failed?

Who knows, what I can do, the only thing I can do, is write.  Workshops are great to fix poems, I like bringing first drafts to workshops, not finished poems, because then I get  help in correcting errors, or finding things that I have not seen, such as using the same word twice in close proximity or adding a "punch line" to a poem that does not need one, for it is not a joke.

Here's the new, improved version of what was once "A Poem of No Name" - and is "On Landscapes: A Guidebook" - the reference to Baroque poetry with all these Capitals is purposeful, as is the allegory.  

On Landscapes: A Guidebook

First you cross the Salt Plains of Rejection
into the Desert of Abandonment.
Mount Disappointment lies just beyond
The Valley of Regret. This is a huge country.
You lived there for decades. You explored
every nook and cranny; path, boulder, crevice.

Ever since your mother disappeared
for five months and a year. Ever since
you learned to write at six to send her
your desperate pleas: “Mommy, come back.
Mommy, I love you. Mommy, why don’t you
love me, any more?” You re-lived this story
time and time again. In every marriage, romance. 

Now you know too well how it feels.
Now you can open the enchanted book
and say the words of magic.

You pour out a River of Molten Light –
dazzling, white hot, yet cool to touch –
over the chaff of broken feelings, the dust
of memories you wish were not yours
to keep and gather for the Ancient One.

The chaff burns.
The shadows flee.
You find a grain of gold
Under your feet.
Smooth, shiny, polished,
It is yours to keep.

Is it a grain? Look closer, a golden acorn
rests in the palm of your hand. Plant it
in Guilt Valleys. Plant it in the Deserts 
of Despair. plant on Fear Mountain slopes.
Plant on wind-swept Plains of Sorrow.

It grows so fast. Soon, a magnificent oak tree
spreads out its gold leaves and boughs.
New life in your Landscape of Desolation. 
Look through its branches. Be mindful, 
attentive. What do you see?

Here: the Fertile Fields of Bonding.
There: the Rainbow Meadows of Connection.
Look carefully now. See the Pristine Peaks 
of Fulfillment, the Sun Garden of of Gratitude? 
Filled with every kind of fragrant blossoms, 
the heady perfume of rose and jasmine, 
delicate scent of lavender and forget-me-nots, 
liquid melodies of birdsong in the air.

This is not a mirage.  
This is your own world 
to conjure up, delight in.

Here. This gold grain is for you. 
Will it become an acorn or 
a pine cone in your hand? 

Come. Let's plant it 
and watch it grow.

(c) 2019 by Maja Trochimczyk 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Farewell to My Brother, Slawek with Gold Hands

Slawek and Maja with baby tiger, 1960.

Once upon a time, in a faraway country my brother caught a tiger, a baby tiger, with cute fat paws and a big head. He held it tight, thought it seems that the tiger did not like it particularly. I looked on with a mixture of fascination and fear. I would not touch a live tiger, would I? That thing had claws! And big teeth! That's my favorite portrait with my brother from a trip to Warsaw Zoo. We know now it is not nice to the tigers to have them held by strangers, but then people did not know better and kids posed with baby tigers, like we did.  Our mom made our clothes, the stores had nothing interesting. 

My brother, Slawek, had cute face, blue eyes, beautiful smile, and curly hair. When we went somewhere together and I wore his old overalls, as I often did, living in his hand-me-downs, hand-made by Mom, people thought he was a girl, I was a boy, with my straight, almost white hair, cut short for convenience. . . 

Slawek and Dad on an autumn walk in the park, 1961.

So, now my brother is dead,  only 18 months older than me, he died of brain tumor on April 12, 2019, (born on July 25, 1956 in Warsaw).  His name was Radoslaw, "praising joy" but we called him Slawek for short, from "praise" or "fame"... I have not seen him or talked to him since our Mom died in 2013. It seems we had nothing in common, nothing to talk about, no common ground as adults.  But he did come to me to say his farewells in a dream. Well, he did not say anything but I dreamed of him and Dad, for the first time since 2013, and we went picking mushrooms. We were on a narrow strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street in front of the main wrought-iron gates to the University of Warsaw, on Krakowskie Przedmiescie. There is no such strip, it WAS a dream. 

There were birch trees and young oak scattered here and there, and a variety of mushrooms grew between patches of grass and dead leaves and pine needles. Red osaki, kozaki, kurki, golabki whit whit stripes underneath, maslaki, slimy and shiny, with leaves stuck to their "hats" and one huge porcini mushroom, "prawdziwek" the size of two palms together, partly buried, almost white, opalescent like a huge baroque pearl. I pulled it out, underneath it was all milky white, pristine, perfect. My brother and Dad came up to see what I found and Dad said, "Oh, look Majusiu, for once you won and you found the best mushroom. Of all the times you lost, now finally you won!" 

My brother did not say anything, just smiled. and nodded. Of course, he knew Dad was right. I won "for once" because Slawek was the master mushroom picker and could follow me in the forest and find beautiful prawdziwki (porcini, or king boletus) that I missed, distracted by birds, leaves, flowers, and by just being in the forest, with sunlight filtered through the branches. 

It was so nice to see them both in my dream. Dad was involved and talked to us and was not buried in a paper or a book (that's why I started reading so early and read so much, I wanted his attention and I got it if I sat by his feet reading huge spreading weekly papers, too serious for a young girl - Polityka, Kultura, Zycie Literackie, and something satirical, Krokodyl or Karuzela, forgot the title...) In my dream, my brother looked well, we were both in our sixties, as we are now, but Dad looked solid and serious as when he visited me in California in 1999, before he was shot by robbers and got so sick and weak, and tired of living... We were so eager to win his approval, like little kids. Nice to see you, thank you both for the visit. 

My good memories of my brother are mostly from vacations in the country, sailing, staying on family farms of Grandparents, in Trzebieszow, in Podlasie (Lublin district) where Aunt Basia, only 9 years older than Slawek, was our chaperone during trips to the narrow and shallow river Krzna, with both sides covered with forget-me-nots and yellow "kaczence" (buttercups) and in Bielewicze  (10 km from the Belarussian border) where the mushroom picking was the best, for the real forest was close by....

The forget-me-nots had sky blue small flowers, and grew in dense bunches, but had to be left where they were, they did not like being picked and put in a vase. Then, they wilted.  They liked humid shady spots, and we had to be careful while walking by, on our way to the "swimming spot" in our stream, which had sand and not mud on the bottom, for nettle often grew near forget-me-nots, and it was easy to be stung by its leaves. . . Walking on a sandy field road, through fields, meadows, under the soft blue sky with a skylark singing above, that was a delightful part of our adventures.  Perfect memory of perfect summers. The water in the stream was not deep, but clear. We had to be careful there, as well. There were leeches under the banks, and my brother picked crayfish sometimes. As with the baby tiger, he was far more adventurous than I. Yet, I ended up in California, in an entirely different world, different language, culture, and he stayed at home. . .

We spent an awful lot of time together during these summer vacations with Grandma and Grandpa. Once, Slawek found an old rusty rifle, leftover from one war or another, thrown in, wrapped in a rag, between the fence and a barn. Grandpa quickly took it away and hid it in a different spot, telling us to forget this dangerous thing. Often, when it rained, we went into the attic, to eat fresh walnuts, peeling yellow skin from the white flesh, and admiring the brain-shape of the nut. We read old papers, and played cards out there, or listened to adults below, who sometimes forgot, where we went. . . We run wild, spending days exploring, climbing trees, finding things, making up stories. Walnut trees were the easiest to climb and sit in their wide branches, talking. Cherries were forbidden, their branches too fragile to support even the weight of a child. Instead, we had to help Grandma remove pits from cherries, for her famous cherry confiture, the best ever - from her own sour cherries.  We ended up with hands and faces covered in red cherry juice...

She came to stay with us in Warsaw for over a year just before I started school, after our Mom took off, somewhere with someone, leaving us behind in that wooden house in a garden with sweet cherries (we could climb those and eat the fruit off the tree), and a lilac bush right outside our window.  We had fun together even in our Warsaw house in Jelonki, a subdivision for university staff.  Our bedroom was divided into two by tall bookshelves, but we could talk late into the night, while the nightingale sang in the lilac bush right outside. You could not go to sleep in those fragrant nights of May - the lilac scent was intoxicating and the nightingales, though sweet, so loud! Their song is really complicated, maybe that's why my first published scholarly paper was on birdsong in music? I even analyzed the nightingale's portraits by various composers across the ages... I love the nightingales until today, when I never hear them, only mockingbirds during the day, here in California.. But the scent of lilac carries for me the memory of a happy childhood.

School photos at the end of first grade of Maja, second grade of Slawek

I discovered exactly the right kind of lilac in Descanso gardens. So delightful!

Those were the times when children were to be seen not heard, and had to help when asked, without protest. So we peeled potatoes, pitted cherries, brought wood for the stove, or simply sat in the kitchen, watching Grandma or Aunt Basia cook their amazing dishes. We were banished from the house when the softest yeast-dough babka was resting before or after being baked. Any noise could startle the dough into collapsing. So we went  across the street to the orchard to eat apples straight from the tree (papierowka in July, kosztele in August were the sweetest), and to play with chestnut leaves, making weird patterns. We would look for softest, ripest klapsy pears, surrounded by wasps, who loved their sweet juice as much as we did... Or find flint stones on the sandy pathway. These were white and blue and had weird, twisted shapes.  Anything weird was worth notice.  Such was the childhood with my brother. The good times. 

In Bielewicze, when we had to climb to the loft in the barn or stable, to look for runaway hens, who made themselves nests up there to lay eggs undisturbed, Slawek was the one climbing up, to hunt through the dark corners full of hay and insects. I waited below for the basket to be carefully taken down. Some of these eggs were bad already, and if they broke the stench of sulphur would be nauseating, so we were careful in taking them down. Grandma knew how to tell, shook them and listened, threw away any suspicious ones.  These hens were quite wild and devious. They went everywhere on their own, and rarely settled into their own henhouse, it was fine as long as the dog kept foxes away. Up in the loft above the cows and horse, it was safer for them, anyway. Slawek was the one to bring cows from pasture; they were too wild and dangerous for me. Once he even rode on a ram, just for fun, while, again, I was watching from the safety of the porch.

Everything was wilder there, stranger, out in the Belarussian "colony" - where houses were half a mile away from each other, at the edge of tall fir forest, with massive old trees, with a row of ancient pine trees marching down along the driveway. There was a nest for bociany made from a wheel on the top of one pine, struck by a lightning it had just the right broken branch on the top for the nest. Their clacking noises woke us up at 6 am, in time to go mushroom picking in the forest. There were so many different forests - the area where blueberries were thick in the undergrowth; the pine grove on sandy hilltop where you could find "goose mushrooms" if you dug in the sand, and "chicken mushrooms (chantrelle) that were visible from far away. There was a path framed by dense hazelnut bushes, and clearings full of wild raspberries and wild strawberries.

You could tell what kind of mushroom to look for by the types of trees and undergrowth. Oaks meant porcinis, prawdziwki. Birches provided shade to red-headed white "osaki." Pine on sand meant "gaski," but in wetter areas, there were lots of "maslaki" and "kozaki" in the grass. All children knew how to tell a poisonous mushroom from its edible look-alike,and we had lessons on each trip to the forest. If it was raining we stayed at home; Slawek liked carving boats from thick pine bark, and we put water into a big bowl and tried out our pine-bark boats. Sometimes he put a mast with a sail into one of them. He really had golden hands, could make them so well. Mine were always crooked, and listed to the side or capsized when I pushed them to go faster...

We went mushroom picking in Trzebieszow, too, and near Warsaw. Once, we took a train to the Kampinosy forest, and on the way back to the station, walked across a meadow, where the "kania" mushrooms were a foot tall with a foot-wide cap; each mushroom was the size of a pancake when we fried them in butter later that day... We felt like Liliputs in the land of giants, when we came across these enormous mushrooms. They are typically up to 10 cm tall and wide, and the patterns and shapes are very similar to the most poisonous white mushroom of Poland. Tricky...

We did not talk much during these wanderings in forests and meadows of the countryside. There was no need to talk. It was enough to listen to the breeze in the tree tops, to the birds sometimes singing, sometimes silent if a bird of pray was nearby... It was enough to be there, together.

We loved water, too, the lakes, swimming and sailing. We had a family sailboat with a cabin, and would occasionally take a trip to the lakes. Sleep on the boat, rocked by gentle waves, eat food cooked on the bonfire, mostly burned noodles in tomato sauce, and fried bread with melted cheese, the sailing staples.  Again, my brother was the captain, and I - a sailor, who tied knots, rolled rope, balanced the boat in the wind, and followed the lead of the captain... One "vice" I picked up at 16 and dropped at 18 was smoking, which I did only to prove I was a grownup, I hated that taste of an ashtray in my mouth. But it proved useful, when starting a cigarette for the captain on the boat. You had to sit with you back to the wind to even burn a match... My poem, "The Lake of Claret" from Grateful Conversations (recently reprinted in Quill and Parchment) was about him and those sailing adventures on lakes in the Mazury district, about the dark forests on the shores, waiting for us with berries in the thick  undergrowth, about our "grateful conversations never had, but now taking place..." 

The talent of my brother for carving pine-bark boats, grew into the ability to make furniture for his home, fix things, and work with his hands. He stayed in Poland and helped Mom with the summer house; I left for Canada and then for California. He was the one working hard and serving our Mom's whims, always at her beck and call. I was stubborn and distant. I did not even write too often. Yet, I was always her "Princess" the most beloved child, and he just Slawek, nobody special... Of course, he was special in his own right, with a talent for making things, building things, fixing things. I had a great brain, but two left hands, hopeless. He, less academically gifted, had magic hands. 

Here, a digression about trees. According to the Celtic Calendar of Trees my two "patron" trees are Birch - with white trunk, delicate triangular leaves shivering in the wind, golden in autumn - and Apple Tree - humble, and fruitful, with white pinkish flowers, and being of service to people. I eat apples daily. The favorite cake of my kids that always turns out great and I bake at least three times per year (for their birthdays) is "Szarlotka" - apple cake, a kind of apple tart, based on my Mom's recipe.  In Bielewicze we used to climb a tall ancient birch tree with Slawek and sit on the branches near the top, watching the world - flat fields, sandy field roads, edge of the forest, and clouds in the sky - from the elevated vantage point.  My parents planted a copse of birches on their plot of land at the summer house, and grew mushrooms there, too, wild mushrooms, to have their own mini-forest. 

My brother's two "patron" trees were the stately Elm (bold, beautiful, harmonious, well organized, and open, full of passion) and the Holly, green year-round, with hard wood, smooth, shiny yet prickly leaves, and beautiful red berries, its bright hues gave rise to English Christmas colors, of red and green. Holly meant firmness, endurance, stability - all traits of my brother.  And to think of other signs, in Zodiac, I am Capricorn, he - a Lion. No wonder we did not get along as grown ups.  In Chinese Lunar Calendar, I am a Fire Rooster, vain about clothes, passionate, with a quick fire of intelligence and a talent to lead (who knew?). He was a Fire Monkey, mischievous, intelligent and clever. So we did have something in common, after all, besides our blue eyes... Fire! 

Sitting by the bonfire, singing sea shanties and Polish songs late into the night at the lakeshore... Or, back home, dancing all night, rock'n'roll style, as I'm flying through the air, with my wide skirt twirling around, and he holds me firmly, the best dance partner ever, my brother...  The first dance we shared and I still remember was in Trzebieszow, when Grandpa played mazurkas and obereks on his fiddle and we danced around him, full of joy and exuberance, while our shadows danced on the walls around us. (This image made it into a poem, too, "How to make a mazurka" from Chopin with Cherries, reprinted in Grateful Conversations).

So that's how I want to remember him. Remember only what should not be forgotten, forget things that no longer matter, who was wrong who was right, who was loved, who was not...  Death is the great equilizer: once done with this school of life, we are done with making choices, having opinions, and being better or worse, wrong or right.  There are no winners or losers anymore. No regrets. No sorrows. Everyone wins. 

At the funeral of our Mom, Henryka Trochimczyk

After a hard life, too short and too hard, my brother found his rest. He joined our parents, and now I am alone, and far away, and living in a different world  from what they knew or were a part of. The world we lived in and shared is gone. Chernobyl put an end to mushroom picking in Bielewicze: too much radioactive cesium.  Deaths of grandparents and parents emptied the ancestral homes.  The sailboat burned in a fire, I think. Let me finish this farewell to my brother with a childhood rhyme:

"Niezapominajki to sa kwiatki z bajki
rosna nad potoczkiem, patrza modrym oczkiem
no i szepcza skromnie: nie zapomnij o mnie"

"Forget-me-nots are flowers from a fairy tale.
They grow near streams. They look with blue eyes
and they whisper, humbly: please, do not forget me."

For farewell, since he never visited me here in California, was too busy, working too hard,  taking care of things in his life without time for vacations, I posted an album of spring flowers from Descanso Gardens, with lots of lilac and cherries.  Here are some more paths we did not walk together, benches we did not rest on, side by side. Farewell, my brother. 


NOTE: Most photos are from California, Descanso Gardens and the High Sierras that stand in for Mazury lake district. Julien pear orchard replaces the klapsy tree (different type of pear though), Descanso birches among azaleas and forget-me-nots stand in for Polish birch trees. I did not have a camera of my own in Poland, and there were no cell phones with cameras then either!