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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Old Poem about a Man I Once Loved Far, Far Away

Googled "cross cultural love" and found this. Source
But I was really looking for this. Disney's "It's a Small World" Photo by Peter Pan fan. Source
This is an old, old poem I wrote a long time ago.

I was trying to convey three things.

One: the cross cultural weirdness of being a working class Polak-Slovak Catholic loving a bourgeois, Midwestern, WASP Buddhist while living in the only Hindu kingdom on earth.

I was also trying to capture the totality of our goodbye. There was never a way for that Midwestern WASP Buddhist and me to connect outside of that pocket of space and time in Nepal.

That void hurt, of course, but I was also trying to convey how hunger is a form of keeping faith.

When I wrote this poem, my relatives in Slovakia really were still peasants, and they really did still remember me. Now I see many are white collar and they probably don't remember me at all. They'd probably still feed you, though.

This poem recently appeared in an online publication, Looseleaf Tea, visible here.

Nepal. And as spectacular as the photos are, they do not capture the Nepal I knew. Source
Hunger is a Form of Keeping Faith
My people in Slovakia are still peasants.
Go there today, mention my name,
and they will feed you and house you
and you will be fatter when you left
than when you came.

I was born your third year in the special school for
experimental chi –
No, the experimental school for special children.
We didn't have such stuff; though nuns experimented on us
enough. But for a mother to call her son special – oh –
that'd be a curse.
There wasn't much food in the house.
Apa was drinking again.
Momma had to go back to the factory right away.
Your dad ran the factories,
in a flat corn state
far away.

At a key stage in your adolescence you would not fight
and nobody liked you.
I could.
I downed a guy twice my age when I was seven.
Both of our reputations interfered with our relationships.

You went from crew cuts and laid out shirts to San Francisco.
I was cleaning the bathroom the day you arrived, sore
to run down the woods
soon as the floor dried
smelling green and mud through
You lived communally; with one big family;
I slept and can still feel Toni's elbow in my ribs.
You made acid. I made bologna sandwiches,
biked them to momma lunch times,
vowing I'd never end in the factory. You ended the war.
I sat on the stoop with my dog Tramp,
watching fireflies,
awaiting puberty.
You went to India. I went to High School.
When you were 24, a woman you truly loved hurt you, and you changed.
When I was sixteen, alone in the woods, a soldier stuck his tongue in my mouth.
You took a shot at divinity school.
I became confused about mass, and especially confession.
Something called, but not a bat, we could not quite locate it.
A guru met by chance on a blank beach directed you to
I broke down and took the job in the factory.
Up ahead, they had me scared: my brother, on drugs.
My brother, back from Nam sad.
My brother, suddenly religious.
My brother, suddenly dead.
I read, secretly, on breaks: Proust, Thoreau, "The Anarchist Cookbook."

As your circle was closing, hitched in a backpack, I hit the shoulder
of interstate 80, stuck out my thumb, to leave Jersey and cabbage and kitchens
forever. San Francisco my destination, I slept through your home state.

I was looking for you.
I wasn't told that you had gone.

Momma says, "When we came to America, it was just a mess to me. I didn't know what we were looking for; all I knew was what we lost. What we found we couldn't name, so we couldn't ever own it."

Momma says the unpluggable gap with her American children is hunger.

"You'll never know what hunger is, not in this land. You get better garbage here than we had some Easters. 'Buy'? There was no such a thing as 'buy.' Some years the sap snapped and you had to hold the gone cherries in your tongue for four seasons more; we did. I tell you after hungry so long, the food bites you! Keep the whole damn supermarket; leave me the taste of one sugar beet cake after sixteen hours in the fields."

They taught us hunger to hold us back to give us need pleasing things were held from us to make a hole inside as our inheritance.

She wasn't pretty, but stable, and you were tired. You did the same form of meditation.
A series of black matted chests and muscles earned in factories. Members of a quieter generation, we screamed privately.

When I couldn't abide the hunger any more, I had to turn to you.

I caught up in Kathmandu. You were my teacher.
You told me, earnestly, about Buddha.
It told you, in detail, about the latest hairy chest.
Never having met anyone quite so white, bored in class, I played at making you sweat.
After several years of meditative abstinence, you drank your first liquor.
No matter what you tried, I wouldn't reach enlightenment.
No matter what I tried I couldn't make you strike.
You laughed.
I felt known.
You encouraged me to come to class on time.
I danced.
You watched.
Suddenly you said, "Your spirit made me come."
Steadily, I worshipped you.
You laughed. "If we'd met as kids you would have beaten me up."
"But I wasn't born yet."
Your wife served tea.

I was Catholic, strong and good. You were enlightened, above all this. For years.

Among all else the Germans did, they denied their victims graves, so the living could have no place to go to work out what one must with the dead. Today flowers blow and candles melt on sewer drains where resistance fighters died.

No addresses were exchanged.
And I still wonder,
am I not supposed to mind because
We were American
or I was working class
or this was the real world
or this was not
or you had transcended
or you had not?

Somewhere now bowed off my map you may still be.
But I never indulge:
how the shades have fallen in under your eyes
Do you still see beauty you once showed me?
Is your jelly sweet in the morning?

A material girl I am back in Jersey,
scoring hairy chests when I can
seeking work with good dental benefits.

And the women still wear babushkas, as they did when momma left. They hold to the strange, American face that holds lines of a good-bye two, no, three invasions ago, and cry. "I remember. I remember. The flowers on the oxen. Don't you worry. We are here. Come and you will always be welcomed. We remember."

By Danusha Goska
Dedicated to Dwight, who inspired the poem, and Pam McKenna, who read it.

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