Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I just lay down and it goes away.
Unlike most people I know, I hate exercise; it’s exhausting and it’s boring. What’s the point of running nowhere? When I get in a swimming pool to cool off on a hot day, I float on my back watching the cloud formations in the sky until I lose direction. Then, I get out, lay on a chaise lounge, and enjoy a vodka tonic with lime. I just don’t get the point of swimming back and forth in a lane. Since I quit the gym I feel so much better; relaxed, and rested.
I believe in economy of style; I always take the shortest route from here to there. Where is the elevator? Working up a sweat doesn’t feel good to me. I agree with Robert Browning: “less is more.”
Exercise may be good for you; I’m not so sure it’s good for me. The most productive thing I can think of is to lie on my bed and contemplate the ceiling. Living a “healthy” lifestyle adds years to your life, I agree. The quality of life is what is healthy, and what adds years. Lying around reading, eating and drinking, listening to music, seeing a play or a movie, and laughing at the cosmic giggle adds quality. Studies show that laughing reduces stress and adds years. In fact, there are actual “laughing clubs” where people just stand around laughing and building up their 6-pack abs. I fear those same folks also worry too much about what they eat and probably deny themselves biscuits and gravy.
My best friend tells me not to stand in front of the microwave, not to drink anything alcoholic and drive, have water with me at all times and drink plenty of it, not to overspend, get a flu shot, wear sensible shoes, and always look both ways when crossing the street. She loves me.
Like a dutiful citizen, not only did I vote this week (correctly of course), but this morning, I went for my annual flu shot. So, two good-for-me-and-the-world healthy things in one week!
While waiting in the clinic for my turn at not getting the flu, I couldn’t help but notice all these young, pony-tailed, perfect-bodied, flip-flop-wearing, yoga mat-carrying, women. Where did they come from? I guess I need to get out more often, huh pal?
Okay, so healthy food choices: Macrobiotic? Organic? Vegetarian? Vegan? High fat with no simple carbs? No sugar? Balanced diet from the four food groups? Gimme fatty meat, preferably red; plenty of cheese and butter; french bread; and sweet, greasy fried carbohydrates, ice cream, and a Hendricks martini with a twist.
The great philosopher, Redd Foxx, once said, “Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying around in hospitals, dying of nothing.”
This is my first submission to any publication. Audrey Ferber’s class in the OLAD program has changed my life from a political junkie to a creative writer. I am endlessly surprised at what comes out on the page as I discover my own voice.
Yousef is a queer artist who grew up in Iran. After immigrating in his early twenties, CCSF became his home. He found an international community of students, and traveled to different parts of the world. Yousef is a storyteller and his work is inspired by mixing different cultures and traditions.
The following is an interview by Thomas Hesketh, Poetry Editor of Forum, with Athena Kashyap.
What’s it like to be named after a goddess?
Well, the thing is it’s not just any goddess, it’s a Greek goddess. A lot of Indians have the names of goddesses. Growing up in India with the name of a Greek goddess is kind of unique, but I think that my mother liked the name and she also liked to do things that stood out. I have a whole essay devoted to what it was like growing up with a Western goddess’s name.
Can you bring us up to date as to what your present situation is?
I grew up in India and I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 to study. I lived here for twenty years. My husband and I then relocated back to Bangalore. We’d never lived there as adults. We were there for seven years. We thought it was going to be just a year or two, but it ended up to be seven years. Then we came back two years ago and have been here ever since. We moved back into the same house we lived in before. So, it’s all back to square one.
Do you consider yourself bicultural?
Oh, absolutely! I was in India until I was eighteen. I turned eighteen, and a day or two later I left to continue my education here, and I’ve been in the U.S. most of the time since.
How do you begin your poems?
You know, with poetry, I actually work on a computer, but my advice to young poets would be to just find a poet they really like, and study them, and maybe try and write a couple of poems in their style. That would teach you far more than any other thing, to really get inside the head of one poet. They say that really good poets find one poet that they can learn from, and then are able to do their own thing, to have their own voice. So I think finding that one person is a key point and then learning the craft well enough so that you develop your own voice outside of that.
Do you write for a particular audience?
I would like to that I say that I write for a general audience, but I find that when I went back to review my choice of titles, and what I put underneath those titles, and then definitely in my recent book itself, Sita’s Choice, I had to keep in mind that the audience does not have any background in Indian culture. While writing the poems I didn’t do that, so then I had to add in relevant background information.
The Glossary at the end of Sita’s Choice was very helpful when I was reading the poems. As the title suggests, it is evident the collection revolves around Sita, the Indian goddess, and her story. Is this a prominent theme in your writing in general or just true in this collection?
That’s true just in this new collection. My earlier collection, Crossing Black Water, was about borders, and all kinds of borders, actual physical geographical borders, borders of mountains, rivers, political boundaries, such as Pakistan versus India, and also psychological borders between life and death. So, in both these books, I took on a big idea as a theme and linked poems, which is why each of them has taken me so long to complete.
I notice you used the term “linked poems” in both your last response and in your Introduction to Sita’s Choice. Did you decide on a theme for the book and then write the poems or did you write a collection of poems, and then cull those poems to include ones that matched a theme?
That’s a really good question. I think with Crossing Black Water I had a number of poems already and I saw an underlying theme, and that’s when I pushed that situation a little bit more to complete a book. With Sita’s Choice, I had a couple of poems about women. I had about three of four that I had pulled out from my first book before it was published, because I had this idea I would write a separate book about women. The second book took me a little longer. I’m not sure I would do that again, because these books take so long, because you cannot manufacture poem about something on demand. Some are a little more manufactured or constructed that I would ordinarily have liked!
How do you practice your craft as a poet, and what themes interest you?
Well, for me it’s the idea, I get an idea about something, like in my first book, Crossing Dark Waters, I have this poem about the new wilderness, and this is a poem about how we lost the wild. I always write a lot about nature, but we’ve lost the wild in us. There’s no wilderness anymore; the only wilderness there is, is in our minds. Books have taken the place of woods and trees. I’ve had this notion for a long time, and I didn’t take notes on it. I didn’t take anything. I just had it, you know, permeating in my mind, and then finally one day I wrote it. That’s after I had been thinking about it so much. I think that some of my good poems, without question, some of my better ones have been a result of that process.
Another example is that I have a poem about my father’s death when I was nine years old, but that poem came after so many years of letting the emotions sit, and then I wrote it in one sitting. Some of my better poems happen after an idea or emotion has percolated for a while. I find since I just started writing again, my poems are very different than before, and I’m very excited about them because I’m working more with tone. I feel a lot of my older poems are very serious poems and are not very playful. Now, I’m working more with tone and play, but also issues such as, what does it mean to be an ex-pat in India, and then, vice versa, a Westerner really into yoga. These cultural juxtapositions are really interesting to me now, and I feel that I can really play with them.
To the extent that your poems speak broadly about women’s rights and the women’s situation in India, are your observations meant to be limited to India or do they extend worldwide to the status of women?
I’ve taken the example of India, but I think all women can relate to the feeling, maybe the burden, of taking care of the house and children just on her own. Certain gender roles, and violence against women, are universal, which I tackle, and I also think the village-city dynamic that happens, that is very pervasive in India. You can look at it in a universal light. Farms have been becoming non-existent for a while now in the U.S. I think they have been dying out at the rate of several hundred every day since the fifties. They are still a part of life in India, but they are on the verge of contracting. So, I would like to think that my poems are universal to the condition of women.
Who do you claim as an influence in your poetry, starting you to write?
While when growing up, we went to English inspired schools, British inspired schools, so we had a very heavy Shakespeare curriculum, and a lot of the old classics. I particularly liked Shakespeare’s beat, the iambic pentameter. When I first started writing, I would have that beat in my head, and I really liked the poetry we were reading. When studying in the U.S., I liked Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I liked a number of the American poets as well, such as Sylvia Plath, but now my interests are turning to Indian writers who also write in English, and I’ve found that I’m particularly drawn to the ones who are most solidly bilingual. I’m looking to them more for inspiration.
I really like Arun Kolatkar who spoke only Murathi until he was about 15 or 16 years old, and then picked up English on his own. That’s what I mean when I say bilingual. They have a very Indian kind of world view because they’ve spoken their regional language, and then they’ve embraced English.
Your themes have some political connotations to them, don’t they?
Well, it’s political in the sense that everything has become political when it relates to myth and religion and in India. Myth is still religion, so people had fought and killed over Ram’s birthplace, Ram from the Ramayana. They have been trying to prove that his birthplace is actually Ayodha under a Muslim mosque. It has created a lot of unrest and murders.
The poems that I’ve read in Sita’s Choice include settings that are both rural and urban, and women in both contexts.
My Leela poems. She comes from the village and moves to the city. I was looking at the Leela poems and Leela as a modern day Sita because she has connections with the land and I was thinking that about that connection.
I’m entranced by the adoption of the goddess Sita as a pivotal point or point of departure for your poems and I’m interested in whether you wrote poems about life and about women and then adopted Sita as a common unifier or whether it was the reverse?
I had some ideas and Sita seemed to fit into them. I do feel that the idea of going back to the land, which Sita represents, is a universal kind of movement happening right now. We’ve gotten so distant from the land and our food production. I think this idea in the Bay Area is very big, right now, the whole movement of going back to the land, and even in the Obama White House, everybody having a back garden. Consciousness of getting back to the land and being close to the source of our food, was an idea already here, and Sita happened to be this wonderful person in mythology who pulled it together. She was born of the earth. Her mother is Mother Earth, and she goes back to the land. I kind of saw that as a great rallying cry for not only women, but for people, the human race, to go back more to the land as opposed to getting further and further away, the way we eat being distant from the actual way food is produced, so I’ve always been interested in food and how it is produced. I think that some of those ideas were percolating. When I teach a class here at CCSF, in one of my classes here I focus on food, so I always have that at the back of my mind. Sita has brought it together.
In Sita’s Choice, you’ve divided the collection into several different groupings: “Sita’s Septet,” then there’s “Body,” “Seed,” and “Soil.” I think you’ve just spoken to that, but did you write the poems thinking of those topics, or did that arrangement occur to you after you had reviewed the poems that you had written?
Well, I had number of pregnancy poems and then poems about little children, and one thing Sita is really revered for is her being this amazing mother. A lot of Indian Hindu women really look up to her for being an amazing mother, so I had these children poems, a Seed poem, and then I had poems that were more cultural. Actually, the Theyyams poem was a major part of the Soil section; because it is coming back to tradition, part of Soil means coming back to tradition, some aspect of it. And, then I had Body, like the physical manifestation of sexual harassment. It has to do with the physical differences of body and gender. So, I had these, but coming back to your question of whether what preceded what, I think I had the poems and then I tried to write one poem that spelled it out. It was Body, Seed, and Soil. Might have been too deliberate!
You have graced us with allowing us to publish “Theyyams” and you have said that you had intended to include it in Sita’s Choice and you did not. Is there a particular reason for that?
Well with “Theyyams,” I had labored on it, done a lot of work on it, and I was going to have it with my Soil section in Sita’s Choice because it’s coming back to the land, but it’s a very interesting poem in other ways because you have male actors dressing as females and seen as female goddesses. They’re very empowering female goddesses, so much so that, you know, everybody bows down to these goddesses, and like Markkam, who I write about, she was subject to total sexual harassment. In the myth she was accused falsely of adultery, just like with Sita, and then they murdered her, but she came back as a goddess, so I thought these were wonderful poems that would kind of highlight the themes in Sita’s Choice, but I felt the book was just getting very unwieldy. It’s got a number of poems, of pages already, and I didn’t want “Theyyams” to become too lost in it. If I had to do it again, I would have included it, because, as I said, I had put a lot of work into it.
Is there any practice you would advise students to avoid?
Yes, I would tell them not to write when they are not inspired. I’ve written many a bad poem when I’m not inspired (Laughs).
What are your sources of inspiration outside of poetry?
I love history. I was a history major. I read a lot in terms of magazines, now. I always enjoy reading literature, fiction, so I read a lot. I find I actually start writing more poetry when I just do more general writing. So, I think writing begets writing.
What would you recommend to community college students studying if they had an interest becoming a writer in general, perhaps with an emphasis in poetry?
When I think for a poet, a general round education is a really good one, because poetry deals a lot with ideas, and I think having a background in history, taking a number of courses across disciplines, and then also reading the newspaper, getting up to date with current events, and generally broadening the mind. All of this helps in becoming a poet. Reading about science, anything that matters in our world today.
Poets were the original philosophers. Poets deal with really tough questions, with life and death, with science and matter, so depending on what area you focus on, you can get really deep in that. You can take a lot of sociology and anthropology classes to talk about the culture, the clash of culture, but a poem can do that just as effectively.
How do approach organizing your poems for a small collection?
I would suggest there are two ways of doing it. One is to do it in a highly regulated, organized way, the way I organized Sita’s Choice, with Body, Seed, and Soil. It was very systematic. The other way is completely arbitrary; you simply toss up the poems and let the randomness speak for itself.
I’ve organized thematically. I’ve also used what I would consider the stronger poems initially, followed by the . . . you can look at it as a musical score. You want to entice people, initially with some stronger notes, and then you can vary it; you can sometimes ask yourself am I getting too heavy, so then I would intersperse it with lighter poems.
What draws you to the prose poem?
I just find more intense writing that is not really in a more common poetic form, because it’s not condensed enough, but it’s a little more intense than I find myself writing within my prose writing. So I would consider that in a prose poem every line is weighted, and so it is not condensed enough to be a poem. I think a poem is reductionist, in a way. When that doesn’t happen, but the writing is distilled more intensely than regular prose, that’s what falls into a prose poem.
When you edit and revise your poems, do you work with a group of people that you trust?
I have a poetry group that helps. My husband was a big support because he has a really good knowledge of mythology, so he was able to provide some missing information that I needed. My poetry group has been helpful as a first response and it’s helped me a lot to have someone respond to my work, to see how what’s working and what’s not.
Athena Kashyap is the author of Crossing Black Waters (SFA Press, 2012) and Sita’s Choice (SFA Press, 2019), both collections of linked poems exploring borders and women’s issues in India respectively. She was born in India, but currently makes her home in San Francisco, where she teaches English at City College of San Francisco.
Growing up I avoided birthday parties, so I didn’t have to play 7 minutes in heaven with Victor or so I didn’t have to pretend I was excited to kiss Evans during spin the bottle; but mostly so that no one would see my accidental smile when the bottle landed on Michelle, and everyone screamed, “Do it! Do it!” I’d pretend I didn’t want to and play it off as if I was daring, but it was one of the only feelings I was able to recognize as my own. The only feeling that made me feel like being me was okay. That feeling also made me feel like I was turning my back on God, that I traded my faith and sold my soul to his brother.
For a really long time I believed that all the bad things that happened to me were because of the one piece of me I couldn’t deny, and when I’d meet with my the pastor he demanded that I speak the “truth”, rid my insides of my filth, clear my holy spirit from my sins; even though they were just thought and feelings. He was more focused on the perversions of my mind than on the perversions of the men in my life and our secrets. The devil came to collect, often.
I was 15 when my mom first saw me kiss a girl. She watched from her car as the girl, who walked me home, believed it was safe enough to put her lips to mine and there I was…leaning in. I was breathing in full breaths, steadily and my mother was choking on all the moments she thought she failed me.
I was sent to live with her sister in the middle of Bumble Fuck Nowhere, Colorado. Falcon High School was predominantly white, but I found brown bodies that waved me over at lunch. This could be my do-over. This is where I could ask for forgiveness, and mean it. When she asked if I liked girls I stared at her with the face of disgust, the one I learned from my mother. When her white cheeks turned hot pink and her face fell I said “But I’d never tell,” and when she reached for my hand I suddenly wanted to cry and smile at the same exact time.
My mother’s sister helped me get ready for a school dance. She put my hair in curls, dabbed lipstick on my cheeks, and asked if Paul would be there. He sat with me on the bus, and sometimes we played tag on our quads, and I had suddenly realized…he might be there. I gave my aunt a smile while hoping he wouldn’t find me so that I wouldn’t have to hold my breath in lieu of crying when he placed his hands on me.
My safe brown bodies made room for me, and laughed when I wouldn’t take a sip of the vodka they snuck in. They didn’t know that the other me had been getting stoned since she was 12 or that the current me was in the middle of repenting to God.
A hand turned me around by my waist, and my eyes found hers, complimenting her entire being. In my group she was met with dismissal, still she grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the dance floor, where I was excited to have that moment and I wanted to live in it, but was too scared to even touch her. This time we weren’t underneath the school bleachers, alone. We were in a crowded room and my friends were watching, and Paul…and God. She was brave enough to step closer to me, I could feel her breath and even though our lips never touched, I felt that silent kiss, lingering in the space between us. My body felt like it had been set on fire, and God was watching me throw away all of his good graces to dance with the fucking devil.
I found Paul eating chips and swapped her out for him instead. I let his hands explore places mine hadn’t even deliberately gone before. I let him kiss my neck, and when she stormed off in tears I pretended I didn’t know why; and when Ebony said she thought she was a dyke my only defense was that she wore “skirts” because apparently girls in skirts can’t be gay. When I found her again she was being slammed into a locker, and they were screaming “dyke” into the air like they were performing an exorcism. I could hear the moments their hands made contact with her body, and I could feel the sting of my mother’s discipline. Instead of trying to help her I was frozen with fear and drowning in my shame.
I called my mother’s sister to pick me up early and during the entire ride home… I had hoped the car would crash. And that I would be the one who didn’t survive it. That entire ride home I prayed to God and said that I couldn’t live like this anymore. I couldn’t be two different people in the same body and that I was certain his brother poisoned me, like he did Eve, came to me in the form of freedom and said I could run with it, all while he held onto my lungs.
I called my mother, told her that I was straight again, cried and asked for her forgiveness and promised what I hadn’t even been able to deliver to God. I was almost 16 when I returned home. I was quiet and I didn’t complain anymore when she bought me pink shirts and jean skirts. I hung out with older boys, who were legal enough to buy me Bacardi and who took me in when she put me out.
I was 16 the first time I had slept underneath a slide because “boys will be boys” and I had too many hangovers. I was stoned enough to decide to bargain with God. I promised that I would talk to him every single day, that I would believe in him, but that if he wanted my faith then I needed to trust that as long as I was honest, giving, as long as I was respectful and strong, that as long as I was forgiving…he would not penalize me, for the one thing I just couldn’t “get right”.
I have been queer since.
I have endured the death of my relationships with people who celebrated my existence before I was even born. I have done my walks of shame in the high school hallways and scrubbed the slander off my locker. I have been met with judgement from my own lgbt community and I have had to mold and remold myself. I have remained patient throughout the growth of my society, and I have grown the sharpest backbone, and the thickest skin. In my challenging God, I found safety in my grandmother’s arms, and a shield in the form of a baby sister. I found paper and pen and in my refusal to give up I have experienced a love that swept through me, giving me an infinity of hope; that has proven time and time again that there is always a rebirth.
Sometimes it feels like I’m at war with both God and the Devil because not everything can be accounted for, not every moment is a predestined one, and not every single thing happens for a reason. I know this because sometimes children are born lifeless, and sometimes an entire race has the skin on their back split open, for the vultures. My life happened because I was born. The things that happened, happened because people took advantage of my uncertainty and my trust. Not every struggle comes with a lesson, though I wish they did because it would make it easier to be less angry about them sometimes. Forgiving isn’t up to God, neither is Karma. That’s the Earth’s decision to set the balance between time and chance sometimes. It’s up to me, and how I choose to react and what I choose to forgive.
My queerness is not up for debate these days. My queerness is not a bargaining tool. It is not something that happened to me. It is not something that requires repent. It is not a dysfunction in my brain. It is not boredom. My queerness is filled with an abundance of love that surprises even me sometimes. It is not an afterthought or a decision. It is not dirt on my skin. It is not the determining factor of what happens to my soul when I leave this Earth. It is not a ball and chains at my feet. My queerness has no definitive line, no boundary. It allows me the capacity to pardon my memories, and it gives me the strength to wake up every day and be myself without shame. There is nothing shameful about love. There isn’t anything shameful about being alive and wanting to live.
Christine Alicea Gaan
I’m a queer, Boriqua-Indian from Jersey with a bit of a potty mouth, who believes actions & words should be considered lovers, & in actively standing up when you know something isn’t right. My attitude will never depend on how you treat me but on who I want to be.
This little Hebe flower is one of my favourite San Francisco blossoms. Its a close up shot with a macro lens on my Google pixel.
Josh kept repeating what he could fit in his mind while his mother lay in an assisted living center 450 miles to the south, where hospice care was now assisting her dying.
It was the hospice nurse who called Josh’s home office in San Francisco on a Sunday in January. “I think you should come down here if you want to be with your mother.”
Josh packed for a week, Mom should live at least that long. His wife Sally kissed Josh goodbye after dropping him at the crowded, fog-challenged airport. He hadn’t cried yet, but there he almost did.
The plane descended into the balmy smog-lit winter tropicalia of Long Beach. What a contrast to venerable gray Brooklyn, where Mom had grown up in a noisy expansive rowhouse, with ten siblings and half-siblings who sweltered and shivered together through all those early 20th Century summers and winters. What a change for Mom from the crisp clean coast of Maine, to which she and Dad had escaped sixty years ago to raise Josh and his two brothers. After Dad died and Mom had grown older and lonely, she’d let herself relocate to the Good Samaritan Assisted Living Center in Oceanside, California.
It was an ironic placement for an ethnically Jewish woman who’d learned to label all religion as the opiate of the masses, but she was summoned there by Esther, the youngest of her half-sisters, who’d long ago relocated to Oceanside from Queens with her husband Abe.
Josh picked up an airport rent-a-car, switched on the air conditioning and the Long Beach jazz station, and headed south. The freeway flirted with views of the Pacific, all along the way to San Diego County, where Mom was now at least near another ocean. Josh had grown up loving his seaside strolls with her, on Maine’s Atlantic coast. Unlike the land, and the people who’d built their lives on it, the sea never changed, it was maybe eternal, a place you could always go to, no matter what.
At the end of the 90-minute drive, Josh parked, signed the log at the Good Samaritan, and nodded to the grand piano in the lounge, a gift from a benefactor. Mom had made her own since arriving, offering up impromptu concerts for one and all till as recently as a week ago. Her captive audience would miss her fearless virtuosity.
Walking into Mom’s room, number 146, Josh also entered his memory of the bedroom at 7 Atlantic Avenue, some fifty years earlier. Mom had always seemed regal in that private place back then, particularly in the early morning after Dad had gone off to work at the Laboratory, leaving her undistracted, except by Josh. Was he her favorite son? She’d worn a quilted robe, her already graying hair streaming down her back. She’d always have something to say.
Now she was silent beneath the covers, her head and pillows slightly elevated, her eyes waiting for something to watch. Josh waved to Juanita, the hospice nurse, who was sitting beside the bed, glad for his arrival. He drew close enough to see the sparkle in his mother’s gray eyes, and then leaned in to kiss her brow. She reached up towards him, speaking very softly.
“Hi, Mom. I’ll be here for a few days.”
“Good, darling. Juanita has been keeping me company.”
“I know. I brought you some music.”
Josh pulled a cd album of Schumann’s Papillions from his shoulder bag and put it on Mom’s portable player. He smiled to see her extend her arms along the top of the institutional comforter and begin moving her swollen fingers to the music. She seemed happily both awake and asleep, like the drifting figures in the 19th Century music.
Rachel dozed herself back to livelier times.
Joshie is a toddler sitting beside the piano bench, smiling up at her, listening attentively, but watching his mother too, watching and wanting. Wanting to dream Schumann’s pretty dream with her. Rachel plays back to Brooklyn, where her own mother, Beth, and the mother of her eldest half-siblings, also named Beth, sit in the living room of the rowhouse, as Rachel performs Papillions for them and for several of their many children, several of who are also Rachel’s piano students. Two mothers, living and listening under the same roof.
“Ahhhhh,” the Beths murmur to each other in Yiddish, “Rachela should be playing for big money at Carnegie Hall. She should.”
The evening lingered outside the windows of the Good Samaritan. Inside room 146, not much was said, the lights were switched on, and it came time for dinnertime. Josh bid his mother and Juanita good evening, and drove to his Aunt Esther’s handsome home, in a well-kept development up against the scrub and cacti.
Inside and warmly greeted, avorites, Joshie,” and she helped him settle into the spare room before serving up a delicious supper. Josh put the soundtrack from Kiss Me Kate on his aunt’s cd player. Esther has always loved musicals.
“So how did your mother look to you, Joshala? I’ve been up to see her every day, you know, sometimes twice since she got the congestive heart failure diagnosis, did she look okay to you?” Esther the concerned little sister.
“Well, she didn’t have much to say, but I brought her some music, some of the music she taught me when I was a kid.”
“Good, she would have liked that, it’s important to her that you’re here with her now. Whether or not she shows it. And she never saw enough of you, but even if she had, she wouldn’t have been able to tell you that she wanted to see you more. That’s just the way Rachel is.”
Nephew and aunt went off to bed early, glad to be keeping each other company under the same roof with the same mission, but glad to have some relief from that mission for a few moments.
In Josh’s dream he’s in a house like one of the ones the rich folks owned back on the Island in Maine, right along the Shore Path. Mom is there, but no one else. They wander together, from her regal bedroom to the kitchen where she often overcooked the pot roast to the living room where her Steinway always stood waiting for her. But she doesn’t sit to play there. She stays standing, waiting and wistful. Josh knows it’s his role to make Mommy laugh, no one else is there to. But his efforts are gagged, he only mumbles. Mom isn’t laughing. There isn’t time enough.
Josh pulls himself awake, then wonders if he should have stayed in that dream house with his mother. But there’s a shower and a smiley breakfast of bagels and lox and orange juice with his aunt waiting.
His aunt smiling beside him, Josh drove to Good Samaritan through a sunny suburban Monday morning. Dad would have called this kind of community ‘bourgeois’. Dad had labeled Josh ‘bourgeois’ once, in a stupid argument at the dinner table over how much time his son was putting in on extracurricular activities at the high school, when he should be studying. Josh called himself a liberal, a champion of the rights of women and minorities. While Esther chatted with her bedridden sister in Room 146, Josh followed hospice nurse Juanita down the hall to the cafeteria for coffee.
“It’s good that you have come to her at this time,” Juanita said. “You are so important to your mother.”
“I was surprised she made me her executor,” he said.
“I am not surprised,” Juanita responded, “but that is really not what I mean. She is not talking much now, no, but she has told me about this special thing she feels with her second son, with you, Joshua. Sometimes it sounds like it is a music thing, sometimes it sounds like it is a love thing, I don’t know. But it is there. So, I prayed for Rachel, your mother, last night, Joshua. The doctor has said she will not be with us long. Her heart, it is not reliable any more, it is weak, and it is skipping beats. I prayed for her comfort. And the doctor, he is feeding her morphine through those tubes, to help her breathing. I prayed for you too, Joshua.”
“Muchas gracias, Juanita.”
Back in the room, which the Southern California sunlight was also visiting, Josh put the Bach Two-Part Inventions on the cd player. Rachel’s heart begged to borrow the strength of the beats, and the warmth from her son’s hand, as he sat on the bed beaming at her. All that and the morphine drip lulled her into a dreamy sleep.
It’s a smokey Brooklyn morning, and Rachel is holding hands with Harry, that intense boy with the dark hair from a few blocks away. She’s a normal school student, dancing in the auditorium with him. They’d met at the Young People’s Communist League, where she couldn’t really tell how much Harry might be falling in love with her and how much he might already be in love with Karl Marx. Ha-ha. And he’s so smart, this Harry, he studies science at City College. Science and scientific socialism, Harry tells her, will make the world right. It’s all too exciting. The shouting about the Manifesto and the coming Workers Revolution in America, a cure for cancer, the big band music, it all makes Rachel’s young heart beat better than it ever has. This is the way to go out into the world. They’ll elope, her family doesn’t have to know about it, they don’t much care for Harry. “He’s just too serious,” both Beths say, “and a communist? What are the communists doing with our people back in Russia?” “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rachel responds, tears in her eyes. She’ll get her stuff and sneak away with Harry, when the family isn’t looking. “But what about the piano? What about the lessons I’m giving my little brother? “ “Don’t worry about your brother, Harry replies. He’ll become a bourgeois pharmacist just like his father. He’ll be just fine.”
“Aunt Esther? I think Mom is dreaming.”
“Well, she is starting to smile, Joshala. I’ll bet she’s dreaming about you. So I’ll get a taxi back home, you call me if anything, okay? And you and me, we’ll have dinner, okay?”
“Okay, Mom looks pretty happy right now, it’s probably music in her dreams.”
Rachel dreams an adolescent Josh onto the piano bench beside her, on Atlantic Avenue. “We’ll play through the four-hand transcription of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastorale.” “But Mom, I’m supposed to be getting with some of the kids from school, we’re putting together a talent show at the Casino.” “Tell them to start without you, Josh. You won’t have your mother forever, but you will have Beethoven forever And you need to practice.” “I can’t tell them something like that.” “Tell them something else then.” “Okay.” “Good, you play the primo part, you’ll be the melody, I’ll be the secondo, supporting you.” “But Mom, you’re so much louder than me.” “I’ll try not to be, and you try too, Josh. Try not to get in the way of all the brooks and rainstorms and rainbows that Beethoven put there, let them shine and be heard. There’s even a dance, your friends should appreciate that.” “Does Dad ever appreciate this kind of stuff, Mom?” “Well, your father is his own man, he does play some clarinet.” “He never was the one who wanted to have kids, was he? It was you, wasn’t it, who wanted us.” “We shouldn’t be talking about that. But I suppose he never really felt he needed children. And me, I knew I did. And I’m not sorry about that. I came from a big family, and I wanted a family of my own.” “I will too, Mom, some day.” And you’ll want to play piano for them, so let’s play right now. For us, for you and me. And for them.”
Rachel woke to the ring of Josh’s cell phone. She felt happy, his hands were beside hers on the covers. His ringtone was the sound of seagulls, it reminded them both of Maine and of the ocean. The call was from Mitchell Bros., one of the mortuaries Josh had contacted on recommendation from Good Samaritan. They did cremations, and that’s what Rachel wanted, just as her husband had. Josh had to drive over now to make the arrangements, maybe he could can get a little lunch along the way.
His mother started to speak, more than she had so far during this visit. Josh thought about calling the place back, and cancelling the appointment. Why make arrangements, why should he be leaving her now, why would she be leaving?
“Go and do what you should do, Joshie. I’m happy that you’re here, you know? How is your wife? How are my grandchildren? Are they making music?”
“They are, Mom, whenever we can get them to stay put. They’ll want to come back down and visit you during school break, they’ll want to hear you playing that grand piano for them again. They don’t get enough classical music in schools these days. And they’re so proud to have a grandmother who’s a virtuoso.”
“I could have been that, Joshala, but I had to support your father, you know. I know. And I had to be a mother.”
“You still are, Mom. And you gave us all a lot of music. I’ll go do this, and we’ll listen to some more of your favorite stuff this afternoon when I get back.”
“Alright, darling. Kiss me. I’ll probably be sleeping.”
Josh waved goodbye to Juanita, who looked like he felt, about to cry, but not yet.
On the way to the mortuary, he picked up a taco to go. It was warm and spicy, but it settled cold into his gut, where it remained as he parked and walked past the stucco columns into Mitchell’s, which looked like some Southern California office of the Department of Death. Josh had no appetite for the magazines in the waiting room, with their glossy posed covers. He was wide awake, but he felt like he was back in his little kid’s dream, abandoned on Main Street, with a long wait and nowhere to go and no why about being there.
At the Good Samaritan, in room 146, Rachel took a sip of orange juice, looked long into Juanita’s teary eyes, and then settled into her pillow. She’d agreed to this whole hospice thing, but she really didn’t understand it, she didn’t want to think about it, or about what the doctors were saying to her about her body. Harry could have figured it all out, he was the scientist. But neither Harry nor Karl Marx would have had much to say about death. Or memories, or music.
“Your son is such a good boy,” Juanita said, even though she knew that Rachel was falling back asleep, and that Josh was in his sixties. “And your son brought you such nice music. I think I will put this one back on the player.
It was Schumann’s Papillions again. Juanita had never heard of it before Josh’s visit, but she was already humming along with its pastel swoopings.
A man in a suit and tie with a preternaturally anesthetizing voice flipped Josh through the pages of a big book with pictures of pseudo-Greek urns and lists of services above four-figure total charges. Mom would never have known what to do with this kind of thing. Dad would have, but of course he would have judged it impossibly ‘bourgeois’. Josh made a choice, signed the papers, wrote a check, and headed back to his rent-a-car, still suspended out of place and time.
Rachel’s voyage in room 146 is serenaded by the gossamer loveliness of Schumann’s pianistic fantasy, written early in his short life, and by old Juanita’s alto hum. Rachel flutters with the butterflies. They fly beyond the science of socialism, beyond the science of medicine, beyond the fond bonds of family, far beyond the gardens of memory, even beyond the primal pulse of the heart which had long ago become hers and hers alone, inside the womb of her mother. This heart, not now needing any body, stills and stops itself after the last of the ageless chords.
When the seagulls rang on his ride back to the Good Samaritan, Josh was afraid he knew what it meant. Juanita told him the news, and after he’d gotten there, she sat with him by the piano in the lounge while his mother’s body was prepared for transport to the mortuary.
“It is often like this,” she told him. “Our loved ones will not go while their loved ones are beside them. They will wait for them to be away, and then they take their own leave.”
“Was she okay?,” Josh sighed.
“I think so. She was listening to your music.”
Josh was almost ready to call Aunt Esther when he saw his mother wheeled motionless to the lobby, awaiting the imminent arrival of the van. That’s when his tears came to him. He wanted to water her face with them, as if that would give life to her, or at least grow something of hers that he could take with him. Juanita was there to warm him with a grandmother’s hug.
Next summer in Maine, there were tears again, this time with a glint of joy and the taste of salt spray, as Josh stood on the granite outcrops flanking his hometown, just where Mom had told him to go, beyond the Shore Path. He opened the urn and tipped it, and as the tide slowly surged, in and out, Mom’s ashes waltzed away in the wind and out across their ocean.
With this semester, Jeff Kaliss has published fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and playscripts in Forum magazine and blogs. Jeff holds an MFA in Creative Writing from SFSU, and is a longtime entertainment journalist and author. He reads at open mics, showcases poetry with jazz, and hosts a CCSF poetry podcast.
I’m Eunbin Lee from South Korea. Studying digital photography at CCSF as an international student. Currently living in Nob Hill in SF, trying to take more photos of my neighborhood and around me.
The wind is too cold to smell like anything.
All it carries now are secrets.
Not the kind of secrets everyone thinks of first:
Spies with disguised loyalty.
Instead, the secrets of tiny, perpetual revolution:
Skepticism lodging in the slums of the stomach
Unsatisfied yearning driving the eyes
Unfaceable loneliness turning a warm night cold.
The emotions that other emotions hurry to soften.
The trees in the frozen forest
Where you left me
Are masters of these secrets.
The humans are
Wandering servants of them.
Which am I?
When your words seep
Fearfully into the snowy ground
Contaminate the water
Find their way to my roots.
Which parts of me
Bend without breaking?
And which parts
Break without bending?
Matt Luedke is pursuing a Creative Writing Certificate at CCSF. You can often find Matt either hiking, heading up a steep hill on his beloved sticker-covered hybrid bike in the easiest gear, or bundled up at one of SF’s cold beaches with a notebook and pen.
I like Jewish boys with Jesus tattoos
And the ones who challenge Christian taboos.
I like nasty boys who always smell
And the ones who promise not to tell.
I like pretty boys who cannot dance
And the ones who hurry to take a chance.
I like angry boys who carry guns
And the ones who pray like old, pious nuns.
I like goofy boys with faces big-beaked
And the ones who beg to have their nipples tweaked.
I like lost boys who don’t want to be found
And the ones who leap dreams in a single bound.
I like skater boys who are baggy-jeaned
And the ones who like to get tag teamed.
I like butch boys with their legs in the air
And the ones who pretend not to care.
I like pimply boys with overused brains
And the ones who wear underwear with stains.
I like queenie boys with swishy hips
And the ones who don’t declare their tips.
I like risky boys with jagged scars
And the ones who believe in life on Mars.
I like wasted boys who cannot stand
And the ones who roll over on command.
I like naïve boys who swallow my load
And the ones who get kissed and remain a toad.
I like rejected boys in a lot of pain
And the ones who run naked in the rain.
I like corrupted boys who like roleplay
And the ones who have nothing to say.
I like hungry boys who are skin and bone
And the ones who get drunk on their own.
I like muscle boys with butts well-bubbled
And the ones who remain deeply troubled.
I like funny boys with tear-stained cheeks
And the ones who fall in love with freaks.
I like damaged boys with hearts of stone
And the ones who go to movies alone.
I like nerdy boys who love to read
And the ones who know how to safely bleed.
I like sissy boys who are total tops
And the ones who will question where gender stops.
I like gifted boys with a hairy crack
And the ones who break hearts and never look back.
I like handsome boys with low self-esteem
And the ones who dare to live their dream.
I like blue-collar boys who act like fools
And the ones who live to break the rules.
I like intelligent boys with bald spots
And the ones who remember camps and cots.
I like hopeful boys with open hearts
And the ones who like to smell my farts.
I like crazy boys who are confused
And the ones who laugh at being abused.
I like Buddhist boys with their shaved heads
And the ones with AIDS who refuse their meds.
I like chaste boys who always have boners
And the ones who get off on poems by loners.
I like faithful boys who blow their brothers
And the ones who grow up hating their mothers.
I like lanky boys with size fourteen feet
And the ones who order their Scotch neat.
I like shy boys who cry in the shower
And the ones unimpressed by power.
I like straight boys with a wandering eye
And the ones who let it all out and cry.
I like lonely boys with wise, old souls
And the ones who finger their own holes.
I like Bi boys who have secret friends
And the ones who know when a story ends.
I like honest boys who know what’s right
And the ones who walk away from a fight.
I like wicked boys with devilish grins
And the ones who ask God to forgive their sins.
I like desperate boys who need to steal
And the ones who have layers I need to peel.
I like quirky boys in black knee-high socks
And the ones who think outside the box.
I like addicted boys lost in rehab
And the ones who vomit words that stab.
I like poor boys with no definition
And the ones who love without condition.
I like rent boys who will pay for sex
And the ones who cheat with their wife’s ex.
I like caged boys with mental illness
And the ones who find a needed stillness.
I like strong boys who sometimes cower
And the ones who smell a little sour.
I like surfer boys who are purple bruised
And the ones who have tempers and are short-fused.
I like writer boys who tell a great lie
And the ones who look forward to when they die.
I like dainty boys with jungle red claws
And the ones who sip their drinks through straws.
I like scary boys in camouflage shorts
And the ones who have genital warts.
I like ginger boys with pubes of fire
And the ones who call God a lovely liar.
I like pasty boys with skin so pale
And the ones who rejoice whenever they fail.
I like rich boys with library cards
And the ones who make a living mowing yards.
I like shifty boys who know their bliss
And the ones who have died and I’ll always miss.
I like any boy who thinks like me
And the ones who close their eyes to see.
I like any boy who loves like me
And the ones who make me their fantasy.
Edisol Wayne Dotson
In addition to Forum, Edisol Wayne Dotson’s writing has appeared in Christopher Street and Art & Understanding. He is the author of Behold the Man: The Hype and Selling of Male Beauty in Media and Culture.
Jalil Kazerooni is an Iranian artist. He infuses his art with his passion for archeology and history. He sees his work as a way to reveal stories that lie all around us, hidden in cracks and rust. you can find more of his work at https://www.instagram.com/jalilkazerooni
It took peeing on a stick
To confirm your place
Inside of me
But souls have a way
Of rushing through
Of superimposing on cells
Acting as platelets
All that to say
No stick could prove
I had two souls
For a short time only
It was proof for his eyes
As they scanned mine for you
Unable to see
What I already knew
Unable to feel the kind of joy
That comes from two
In one shattered home
Not one part of you was for him
And I knew that
As we used his cream
As a necessary ingredient
My body the mixing bowl
The oven and the gloves
My body the teeth that would eat
to continue the cycle of nourishment
it was cloud walking
knowing I was two
instead of the one
the world took me for
knowing I had this window
to walk stronger
until at two in the morning
you rushed out of me
as if you were running
from a broken home
and I couldn’t put you back
because I hadn’t become acquainted
with your form yet
you were too wet
too slippery to cup and hold
you were soaking in
the fucking bedsheet that
was decades old
and time seemed to
lose its mind
because it couldn’t comprehend
my love, I thought we had time
I thought I had time.
Charlie Amore is a Jamaican British Queer Non-Binary Writer. They were born and raised in South-London and currently live and work in San Francisco. They write about Queerness, Relationships, Trauma and grief – with trickles of humor. Their work is informed by personal experiences as they strongly believe in owning your story. Find them on Instagram: @wordsofcharl
“What are you doing?” Martin asked. He was a portly man with a bad combover, half-hidden behind an oversized city map.
His wife Dee waved him away, as if she was swatting away a bee or fly or some other pest she didn’t care for. She was short in stature, neither fat nor thin, but oddly shaped like a chemistry flask.
“Panhandling for bus fare. What’s it look like I’m doing? Excuse me do you know where–”
“Dee, stop, we look like tourists.”
“Oh you’re one to talk with that ridiculous looking thing.”
Martin grunted, wrestling with the map as he struggled to stretch it wider.
“Besides, we certainly aren’t from here, that’s for sure. Look at these people.”
They were coming off of a short set of steps onto a pathway in Bryant Park. A sea of grass was surrounded by a moat of slated concrete and gravel that crackled beneath the other pedestrians’ shoes. The pathway was littered with flimsy, forest green tables and chairs, occupied here and there with couples drinking overpriced coffees and families eating home made sandwiches. A troupe of street performers banged on bongo drums alongside men who danced fiercely for a semi-circle of easily captivated tourists, eager to soak up a less-than-authentic, real New York experience. A pair of college-aged women sunbathed topless on the grass, alongside other groups of young people grazing in the unseasonably warm March weather.
“Doesn’t mean we’ve got to look as naive as the lemmings,” he said, gesturing to the tourists engaged by the amateur street performers.
“Well what should we do Martin? Just pretend we know everything and hope our destination appears before us like friggin’ Narnia?”
“Relax! I know my way around well enough. Came here everyday for twenty-five yea–”
“And never once,” she interrupted, “deviated from the rigid routine of going from the train to the office, and then back again.”
“I sure do remember doing so, and you, bitterly complaining whenever I had a social engagement.”
“Oh sure you did, because when I think New York party animal, I think Martin out on the town, describing the evening as a social engagement. That’s why the Empire State Building is in the wrong place according to your map from 1986. Would you put that thing away already?”
He cleared his throat, “Just because this map is old doesn’t mean it’s not good.”
“The old map doesn’t bother me. The old man, on the other hand, too stingy to up the data plan a few bucks a month for an $800 phone does,” she shouted, waving her iPhone high in the air, like she was showing it off. “What do you know! Google Maps. Still…Not…Loading.”
“Do me a favor. Just stop. Just for today. And put your phone away for Christ’s sake. The bongo drummers could take off a week if they get their hands on that thing.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she rolled her eyes. “It’s New York. My phone costs about the same as three cups of coffee.”
“Fine, but don’t complain to me when they–when your phone is pilfered–Whoa.”
A greasy-haired teenage boy on a skateboard weaved his way between them.
“Sorry dudes!” he offered. He moved swiftly, and was long gone before they could respond.
Dee looked at the boy longingly, and started sobbing. Hard. Her shoulders moved up and down with each weep, and she hid her face within her hands. She seemed to get smaller as her body shook, like she was melting.
“Dee, it’s okay… You’re right. I’m sorry,” he came closer to her, and his hand hovered awkwardly above her moving shoulders. “I overreacted. Here I’ll put away the map. Let’s just compartmentalize until after we see him, okay?”
“It’s not that. What if- what if he won’t see us?” she stuttered, wiping her face, spreading her mascara everywhere.
“He asked us to come.” Martin pulled a handkerchief out of his breast pocket. “Here, you look like you just got out of a coal mine.”
“What-oh, thanks. But Martin, he asked us to come last time and changed his mind. Oh and we got lost then too. I don’t know about this, I’m starting to feel nauseous. Maybe we should go back,” she said, taking a step in the direction of Grand Central.
“What are you feeling nauseous about?”
“One doesn’t feel nauseous about something, Martin,” she quipped.
“The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”
“Can you just not today?”
“Not be so goddamn pedantic, throwing around Shakespeare quotes!”
He chuckled, shaking his head.
A breeze ruffled the leaves on the park’s few trees. It wafted the stench of a man affected by homelessness, pushing a shopping cart full of trash–all his possessions. Policemen on horses examined the man, but seemed to regard him little to not at all. They trotted on.
The couple moved over a bit to let him pass, covering their noses.
“Why don’t we sit for a moment?” Martin suggested.
Dee nodded, trailing behind Martin like a shadow. He pulled out a seat for her first, dusting it off with his sleeve, regretting the loss of his handkerchief. It seemed that the trees had begun releasing pollen early this year, along with the premature warm weather. His once white sleeve now looked like it was covered in some sort of algae. He made a face similar to a toddler being confronted by a taxing piece of broccoli.
“We got lucky with the weather, not a bad day to be lost in New York, eh?” His eyes tried to find Dee’s, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her head was turned slightly, towards the direction of the dancers. Her eyes moved back and forth, like she was reading. One of the dancers, was doing something that Martin considered more along the lines of Olympian gymnastics than any sort of dancing he was acquainted with.
“It’s amazing a human being could move that way without cracking their head,” he commented, shaking his head.
“How can you be so cavalier?” she responded, still not making eye contact.
“How else would you like me to be?” he said, straightening up in his place, like a small child trying to stand taller to get a seat on a roller coaster they just didn’t measure up for.
“Damnit Martin.” She shook her head, finally focusing on him, tears welling in her eyes once again. “For so long, me and you both. We– we were so ignorant to what was going on, right under our roof!”
Her right arm was resting on the table. Martin reached out, cupping her hand within both of his.
“Dee, we’ve been over this. You’ve got to stop beating yourself up.”
“We could’ve done more!” she said, yanking her hand out of his.
“Don’t do that– accuse me, I’m not doing anything. The situation is upsetting. Reality is upsetting. Our son–” she trailed off, looking away, this time down at the ground.
“Even if we did more. Checked in more. Really pressed the question of things like how was your day today, all of the experts, the doctors agree, it’s not something people can easily know.”
“Jimmy seemed to think that better parents would have known.”
“Even if we were the world’s best parents, whatever that means, we couldn’t have known.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. You can never know what if, so why torture yourself?”
“So it doesn’t happen again.”
“You don’t know that!”
A family speaking in a language neither of them recognized stared at them as they walked by. The two groups did their best to avoid eye contact once they noticed each other.
Martin sighed, “It wasn’t a fair thing for Jimmy to write all that in the letter, to plant that idea that we were at fault. You have to forgive yourself even if the day never comes where he does.”
“You sound like Dr. Moskowitz.”
“Hey that Jew has had a few good points every now and then. And he better. If there’s any couple who single handedly bankrolled his second vacation home.”
“Shush!” she whispered, loudly, looking from left to right. “We’re in the city, there are so many of them here.”
“Oh come on, I didn’t mean anything by it. I like the doc. Honest!”
“Like bypassers would know that.” She shook her head.
“No one’s listening to us.” He frowned, and then began projecting, loudly, like a teenager playing the penis shouting game, “I am being serious! I really do like him!”
“Shhhh, okay, stop. You win,” she laughed, throwing her head back.
Martin seemed pleased with himself.
Dee said, “Please, you’ve never liked a doctor, ever. Our entire lives, it was easier to get Jimmy to mow the lawn then to get you in for your annual.” Her face fell and she sighed. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”
He smiled, and lifted her chin up with two fingers. “I’m not either, if I’m being completely honest.”
“And you’ve never admitted something like that,” she said, grasping his hand.
“That you’re afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” he insisted, leaning back in his place.
“Okay,” she snorted.
“I’m not, I’m just not sure I’m ready.”
“I think we should decide,” she announced, rising from her spot. Martin followed.
“Well, no, I think we should go, I’m just not sure if I’m ready, ready. You know, psychologically.” He searched his pockets for his old map.
“No, no, no, I get that. We’re on the same page. I meant if we’re ever going to get there, we should probably decide if we’re going to ask for directions.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Hey–” he trailed off.
A man in a three piece suit holding a briefcase walked by. Dee got his attention with a quick wave.
“Excuse me sir, do you know which way’s Bellevue Hospital?”
Francesca enjoys reading and writing poetry and short fiction. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, walking dogs, and frolicking in the grassy knolls of Golden Gate Park. She is terrified of birds.
I am a tea drinker. I’m not fond of coffee. During the early part of my life I drank Orange Pekoe black tea. I had it with lemon. When I graduated from high school, I got a gift from my elderly neighbor – a fancy cup and saucer with painted yellow flowers and gold trim. The cup survived several moves, but eventually it got broken.
After I moved to San Francisco, I went to the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park in the spring when cherry trees were in blossom. At the Tea House with purple wisteria hanging over the roof toward the pond I had green tea. It is important to drink it when it is fresh, because it becomes bitter if it sits too long.
In 1971 I moved to London, and in winter my English boyfriend took me to a country inn and it had snowed. The inn was several hundred years old. There we had “high tea” in a large cottage like building with a low ceiling. Tea came with trimmed cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Black tea was served with cream and sugar.
Jonathan, my English boyfriend, has been to Morocco before, but this time he took me with him. During our stay in Marrakesh, in the mornings we would go to the open air market where the food was prepared. We would get fresh doughnuts and take them to the tea stall, where we had mint tea. It was made by taking a handful of fresh mint, twisting it into a tall glass and pouring hot water over it. Brown sugar was chunked off a large cone and put into the tea. This was in autumn and all of the colorful harvest was in the market square.
In 1971 I was in Afghanistan when it was peaceful and ruled by the king. We would travel in the country on narrow roads, and would come upon three sided tea shacks and have tea. I remember one orange tea pot with white polka dots that was broken and put back together with big brass staples. Clear tea was first poured hot into and around thistle shaped glasses to sterilize it. This tea was thrown on the mud floor. The second glass of tea was for drinking. It was best to drink hot tea, because the water was boiled and therefore safe to drink. Tap water in third world countries is dangerous.
Sometimes in India I traveled by train. When the train stopped tea sellers would come to the train windows bringing tea in wood fired crude clay cups. The clay cups contained tea that would have smoky taste from firing. When we finished with the tea, a cup would be thrown out the window to break up on the roadbed for the train tracks. This was very ecological, leaving no trash on the tracks. In Northern India the traditional chai, Eastern name for tea, is made with milk and spiced with cardamom. This is a usual regional drink.
I traveled on to Nepal. At the outskirts of Katmandu there is a Monkey Temple. This is a large square white building with a sizable four-sided triangle on top painted with a large blue eye on each side. There was a concession stand that sold tea in disposable cups and snacks like a samosa, which is dough stuffed with spiced vegetables such as potatoes and peas. As I was sitting about to put a snack in my mouth, a furry paw with long claws snatched it right in front of my face. When looked into the monkey’s face fangs were bared. He took the snack and raced away, leaving me with only the tea.
In the fall of 1985 I traveled with a group of 19 friends via the anniversary tours. We went to Japan, the Soviet Union and Mongolia. We flew to Tokyo and went to the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Arts and Crafts. Since there were 19 of us, a traditional tea ceremony was performed for us in a small room with a painted scroll that usually depicts the season. There was also a flower arrangement and a charcoal cooker for hot water on a straw mat floor. A woman in kimono crawls toward the seated guest and proceeds to make tea for him. A fine powdered bright green tea and water are poured into a tea bowl and stirred with a fine bamboo whisk. The tea bowls are each individually made and many are kept for generations. Some are made in the following tradition: they are covered with paper when they are fired, so it makes an iridescent pattern that is unique to each one.
We took the bullet train to Yokohama where we boarded a ship that took us too Nakhodka, Russia (that was Soviet Union in 1985). We boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway train in an area that is called the Far East. We were in a car to ourselves with an English-speaking official guide. We traveled first class, but it was called “soft class”, and second class was called “hard class”, because they were classless communists. We were treated to beautiful fall colors as we went through and endless forest that went on for days. In each car there was a large tea maker called “samovar”, tea was available 24 hours a day. Black tea was served in tall glasses contained in a fancy metal cage like holder with a handle called “podstakannik”. Sometimes the wealthy had ones with a silver holder. 2 cubes of sugar were wrapped in paper showing the Trans-Siberian Railway. I brought some of them home to show my family and friends.
When we reached Lake Baikal, the deepest fresh water lake in the world, we transferred to a Mongolian train. We progressed to Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital of Mongolia. Third of the people there had high walls around their yards with a yurt inside. Our seven-story hotel, which was the tallest structure there, looked down upon the city. We went to a very old Tibetan style Buddhist temple in the fall with that seasons leaves in color, and we took photographs. The temple had sloping roofs that ended with sculptured animals. Next day it snowed, and we went back and took what looked like a winter scene of the same temple. In the Mongolian city museum we had tea. Blocks of large disks of tea in the far past were used as currency. The national drink is fermented mare’s milk. Next is tea mixed salt and butter, useful in high harsh Himalayan environment, because they need fat and salt in their diet.
After returning home to San Francisco in 1985 I continued to drink tea. I have a classic iron tea pot with a removable screen cup that is used in Japan. It is important to remove the tea once it is brewed, because it becomes bitter. Sometimes I make jasmine tea that has little fragrant flowers in the tea. Jasmine tea was created in China. Other times I drink Japanese tea that is made from roasted rice. Some of the rice grains pop like tiny popcorn. Sometimes roasted rice is mixed in with green tea when it is prepared. Currently I drink black tea with cream and sugar most of the time, which is a habit that I picked up in England.
B. Lynn Craig
I was born on March 9, 1942. My father was a beekeeper. I graduated from San Francisco State in 1976 cum laude. I worked as a social worker for the city for 10 years, did private counseling, worked on a doctorate in Human Sexuality, and was a professional dominatrix.
When we seek everything that we have lost,
Back traveling to old, but finding new.
Not knowing if those steps were worth the cost,
So slowly did Time shift our precious view.
Thine eyes do fail to see thy fated wrath,
As if the unknown would be obsolete.
The pain of loss brought by the aftermath,
That lovely sight so quickly gone–so sweet.
O Time doth grow, till all we know is true;
What has been lost by you is lost no more.
Till this inconstant stay like changing hue,
When all is done, Time doth ensure…restore.
When all is found, thou shalt hold true indeed,
All is returned: no more the need for greed.
Hi, I’m Gary and this is my first full semester at CCSF, and I plan on obtaining a degree related to mathematics. I would like to thank David Hereford who helped edit this, as this was my final project for his high school Shakespeare course.
Matt Luedke is pursuing a Creative Writing Certificate at CCSF. You can often find Matt either hiking, heading up a steep hill on his beloved sticker-covered hybrid bike in the easiest gear, or bundled up at one of SF’s cold beaches with a notebook and pen.