H. tells me that my mother’s mother is reverting to her childhood
now – the temper tantrums, the unresolved needs
and frustrations. Angry like me, like she once must have been.
She was my only mother—is my only mother—
—like mine, her mother’s absence is
the continuous thread of a running stitch—little fists
cramped fingers pulling a sharp needle
through a matriarchy. When my second son was born—
when I gave birth to my second son, the midwife
sewed my torn perineum without anesthetic. That was easy.
When the mind peels back time, what happens to the scars?
My needy mother’s mother—is she raw again with hurt?
Undone, unformed, amorphous? Little fists
cramped fingers tearing down a carefully constructed life.
There is something about singing alone, loudly and wildly, in a car, with the windows rolled up on a deserted road while driving too fast--it exorcises a being.
It only takes one random, perfect note--the one that is the catalyst for a physical and metaphysical flushing. Some preternatural organ below the heart contracts, pumps for a brief time.
It is the note that musicians know, and dare to sound publicly in a deliberate seduction.
An object of experience flushes a being, too. The same way fear, creeping or pouncing, floods us with a single, overwhelming experience that makes us sweat, overreach for metaphors to communicate, take someone by the hand and lead them to the spot where they will also be forced open with ambivalent intention.
The perfectly smooth curve of an ornamented banister that fits deliberately under one's palm; the cleanly beveled edges; its solid forced existence are the artisan's legitimatization to bring to question "art" as nothing more than a definition of context, a social licence of means--not ends: the whore of the flesh, the courtesan of the imagination.
There are moments, too, like twisting knives, to pry our shells apart. These are the moments that poets know and dare to sound publicly in a deliberate seduction.
It isn’t a matter of being happy, but experiencing happiness now and then. Like a sudden, warm gust of wind. It has nothing to do with contentment, which is motionless in its complacency. Happiness pushes you like the Santa Ana wind, and almost knocks you off your feet as you walk home from the 4th grade after a good day. A day when Mrs. Mullins stamped your science test with her big, red “Good Job” stamp and scribbled a capital A that looked like a star. A day when you managed to land beautifully from a cherry drop - from the high bar—while Todd and Pam were watching. A day that makes you wish everyone really did break into song like in a Disney film, and that you could be Lesley Ann Warren with a pet alligator, and a father who wears lettermen sweaters and smokes a pipe. And you sing into the warm Santa Ana wind about a bullfrog named Jeremiah.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a moment of celebration. It’s not about the achievements. It is the feeling of—if not entitlement—the rightness of your place in the world: life is good. It’s a certainty that blows through your heart.
And then leaves you cold.
These nights I watch the thick, fluid occupations of my life compartmentalizing and consolidating like the ooze in a lava lamp. I feel amorphous and free: buzzing like an 18 year-old, or like a stoner walking the fine line between exhilaration and panic.
It's like bloodletting: the writing.
And I dream that my son owns the mask he has shown me -
It once belonged to a 17th century plague doctor.
01:07 and still spouting a tickertape of the day's frustrations against my husband's naked back. His grunts of random affirmation punctuate the old dog's growl-moan coming from the foot of the bed, "Sleep, woman."
Two days without running and I am a scattered statement, a whiteboard with poetry magnet bits: "woman", "purple", "moon", "ly"...
I am wanting to carve directions into my arms. Wanting to pack up my books and my papers and go all Greta Garbo somewhere in a white apartment where I can write on the walls with sharp number 2 pencils.
I want my shrink to play like my friend and my friends to stop playing shrink. I want dogs for friends. Big St. Bernards who need nothing from me, slobber warm on my shoulder, ignore me when I bore them, but bring me earth-scented barrels of whiskey: Kentucky bourbon to remind me of Grandpa's La-Z-Boy, and hands and words that do not instruct, nor judge, nor push.
I want to give in.
To the fricative consonants of the rain. To the white noise of a big city that can suck up a scream and break it down into a prefix or suffix in some larger story.
It's ten-thirty and the pile of winter duvets in this attic room is breathing. I watch the rise and fall of respiration. The wooden banister gives slightly.
I think I am dying. It's an unhappy, but calm thought. It's a scent, a flavor, a movement in my chest. Familiar.
But I just observe tonight. I recognize this place, this room of disorder that I will try to walk through like a visitor, like a tourist in a land of breathing duvets and of dancing rhinoceros skeletons that will fade into the Venetian blinds while I look them head-on - for long enough.
My private diagnostics:
How loud is the white noise
How cold is the creature in my chest
How long does it take to stare down the skeletons
Among writers, appropriation is an accusation tinged with racism and other repugnant mind-sets. Whose story is it to tell? Whose pain? The us, the them and the in-betweens.
My youngest son was confused today when he heard me say that I felt like I belonged with the Norwegians during the torch procession. It’s not surprising after hearing me, all these years, say that I am not a Norwegian and never will be. Even though I am no longer really an American.
According to something I read once in a magazine, every cell in my body has now shifted out 3 times since I left my homeland.
My homeland now has something called Homeland Security.
Last time I was in Chicago I had a Fudgecicle. It didn’t taste like I remembered it. Or, rather, it did, but my palate has changed. It didn’t comfort me like I thought it would.
Asparagus used to make me wretch, now I like it. Of course, it doesn’t have anything to do with Norwegian asparagus. I was an adult when I came here, but I have gone through changes; I have grown while living here.
On September 11, 2001 I was taken by surprise to discover my countrymen naturally excluding me from their “we” and their collective grief; I still felt like I belonged there.
And when, on July 22, 2011 my son called to tell me what he was watching on the news, I still thought more as an American than a Norwegian. The Norwegian regjeringkvartal had been bombed. I thought the word regjeringkvartal (government quarter), but my mind naturally prefaced it with Norwegian.
The absurd truth is that the mind and the heart can live each its own life.
As the events of the day unfolded in front of us on the news Friday, my mind worked slowly. Facts. Sorting the ugly facts. But my hands shook uncontrollably and I found I couldn’t talk without crying.
Because my children are Norwegian. Not American-Norwegian. Norwegian.
Like the Norwegian children hunted on the island.
My oldest began thinking aloud about those friends and acquaintances he knew might be on Utøya. My youngest got a call from a classmate who was in Oslo a block from the building when the bomb went off. I sighed with relief remembering that my two politically active students this year belonged to different parties and would not have been there. My mind raced over all of the students I have had over the years.
These past few days my uss and thems have tripped over each other as I spoke and wrote. I would start talking from a distant perspective - of the gruesome fairy-tale quality of the drama - and then my voice would shatter.
Earlier this year I decided finally to change my citizenship. For practical reasons, not emotional ones. I committed to living here for the rest of my life and, after 12 years of teaching at Norwegian high schools, accepted a permanent position.
I was an American. My thoughts are still rooted in that American.
I am not a Norwegian. I have said that often.
But these past 19 years, my body has changed: my heart has changed. It belongs here. With these people, this landscape.
This is all I have today: this navel-gazing. Because I am in-between and don’t know which perspective is rightfully mine: heart or mind. Which story is mine to tell.
Today I went to the beach to run. To cry. The tide had washed up a plastic-wrapped head of lettuce.
And that may well be the allegory for what happened here on Friday anyway.
No matter what sense we try to make of it, there is no sense in what happened. We will try to give it meaning, try to twist it into something we can pretend to learn from, to hold up as a guidepost towards a society without prejudices and hate. It is what human beings do in the face on unfathomable horror: try to infuse it with meaning, to contort it into beauty.
We try. That is beautiful in itself.