Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for March, 2011

Traveling With Pomegranates

Traveling With Pomegranates
by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor.
(Penguin Books, 2009)
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

A mother and daughter travel to Greece, Turkey, France and home to South Carolina and provide their respective perspectives on the experience. Sue Monk Kidd (the well-known author of The Secret Life of Bees) is reflecting about her life and turning 50, while her daughter Ann navigates periods of depression, self-doubt and uncertainty about her future, her career and sense of self-worth. The consistent and similar traits that hold the story together, as well as both authors (one to the other), are the love; respect and admiration each have for the other. Sue writes, “The laughter has cracked the heaviness that formed around us like tight, brittle skin, and even now delivers me peeled and fresh to this moment, to Ann, to myself.”

Traveling With Pomegranates is a combination of memoir, journal writing and travelogue, which takes readers to places that will be familiar (externally and internally) and others that seem to fit for the author’s reflections alone. There are times when the prose is engaging, such as when Sue is speaking about turning 50 and says, “The spiritual composition of the Old Woman, not through words, but through the wisdom of a journey” is an apt summation of how she is seeing herself at that time. Many may find it hard to think of 50 as “old”, but it is used in this context as a starting point to look at change, old age, death and birth. At other times, it seems as if the writing should have been left in a private journal or in letters shared between mother and daughter. Not because of any private content or big secrets, but because it had no weight or meaning for a larger audience.

Sue has long had a kinship with the Black Virgin and used it as metaphor and object throughout her novel The Mermaid Chair. She speaks of it in length once again, on their visit to see the statue of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour in France. “As I look at her, my throat tightens and I dig through my bag for the travel-size Kleenex. Just in case. I’m not sure what moves me about her, only that she’s beautiful to me. Someone vacates a chair, and I sit down, staring at the flinty old Virgin until the tears really do start to leak. I rub them away and focus on the back of Ann’s brown hair. Ann’s fingers, I notice, are curled around the stubby piece of chain, and I wonder what she has decided about it. What I will decide about mine… I know suddenly what moves me about the Black Virgin of Rocamadour: She’s the Old Woman. It comes with some surprise, as if the bird on the altar has just pecked me on the forehead.”

While her mother is having the previous insights and feelings, Ann is writing about hers. “I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth? The two of us praying like this to the Black Madonna suddenly washes over me, and I’m filled with love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough. I look up at Mary and concede what I am coming to know. I will become a writer.”

It is obvious that traveling together and writing about it were important for the author’s lives. Whether their reflections and insights are also of relevance for those outside their family will have to be left up to others to decide. This reader has mixed feelings about Traveling with Pomegranates, and doesn’t expect those feelings to be any less cloudy in the foreseeable future.

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Rahula, Savarna & Bodhi

Excerpt from the novel Buddha’s Wife.

Historically, Rahula was Yasodhara and Siddhartha’s son. Siddhartha was later known as “The Buddha” or “The Tathagata”.

Chapter Thirteen

“Run! Run!” shouted Rahula, as he picked Bodhi up under his arms and headed towards an impression in the hill. Savarna was close behind. He turned and yelled at Savarna again. “Hurry; they’re getting closer!”

She hitched up her sari and ran alongside her husband and son. The sound was like thunder. Their feet slid and bounced on the ground as it heaved. They plastered themselves against the shallow crevice just as the stampeding elephants ran by, their eyes wild with fright.

They had avoided bandits by following Rampal and Moksa’s advice. They had traveled in numbers and kept to the center of the plains. Now, just as they were about to traverse their last major obstacle, the Aravalli Mountains, some idiot had tried to catch a baby elephant. His attempt had angered the herd. People scattered to safety, but Rahula and his family had found themselves caught in the gigantic mammals’ path with nowhere to turn.

As the last tusked male lumbered by, blowing his trunk, Bodhi coughed violently from the wave of dust. It was so thick they could barely see one another.

“Bodhi.” Savarna covered his mouth and eyes with her sleeve, hoping that would alleviate the irritation. His coughing continued and they tried to comfort him, to no avail. His cough had worsened over the last several days and this was not helping. It was deepening and dangerously persistent.

“What happened?” Rahula exclaimed, after the last elephant had passed.

“We’re lucky,” Savarna reasoned, as her breath returned. “I didn’t think we would make it, did you?”

“I wasn’t sure,” Rahula panted, gasping for air.

They all rubbed their eyes, blinking to wash away the dust and dirt.

“We’ve got to find him a doctor,” Savarna insisted. “It’s getting worse.”

“Yes, I know,” Rahula agreed. “Let’s go back to Kanpur.”

“That’s a two-day journey,” Savarna exclaimed. “We can’t wait that long.”

“I doubt if there’s an herbalist int he village we passed this morning,” Rahula reasoned, “but we can try.”

Carrying his coughing son on his back, Rahula and Savarna backtracked and asked everyone they met if they knew of a healer in the vicinity. Late in the afternoon they came upon a woman washing clothes at the river. Her children were close by. They expected her to reply like all the others, that there was no help in the area.

“Yes,” she said, as she rung out a shirt on the rocks and yelled at one of her kids to stay away from the river’s edge. “Let me finish and I’ll take you to her.”

Rahula and Savarna shared a hopeful glance.

“Here,” Savarna said, “let me help.” She got down on her hands and knees, took a wet sari out of the basket and pushed, twisted and shook it in the wind, then folded it neatly and placed it on top of the other clean clothes in the adjoining basket. The women smiled and quickly completed their task.

“I am Henna,” the woman said, as she picked up her basket and called to her children. “Come. I will take you to my mother.” She looked at Bodhi, who was clinging to his father’s back and coughing. “She can cure anything.” They followed Henna towards the small village.

“Your mother?” Rahula asked.

“Yes,” Henna replied, “my mother.”

“I am Rahula and this is Savarna,” Rahula said. “This bag of rice on my back is our son Bodhi.”

Heena stopped short, as one of her youngest bumped into the back of her legs. “Did you say ‘Bodhi,’ like the tree?”

“Yes,” replied Rahula, “like the tree, strong and wise.”

“The Bodhi tree is the same one under which our Lord Buddha of Gotama awoke to his true nature,” Henna said.

“Yes,” Rahula said sharply, then saw the admonishing look from Savarna. “Yes, so we discovered.”

“Are you followers of the Tathagata?” Henna inquired, as she lifted the basket onto her head.

“No,” Savarna answered, before Rahula said something to offend their guide. “But we have hard of his great deeds and compassionate heart.” Rahula looked away as Savarna came alongside Henna. “Are you a follower of the Tathagata?”

“Yes,” she smiled. “We became disciples after hearing him speak. I was just a little girl, but my mother remembers him well.”

They walked the rest of the way in silence. Rahula wanted to find a remedy for Bodhi’s cough but hated the fact that it might come from a disciple of his father.

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His Mother’s Arms – Part 3

His Mother’s Arms. Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

His Mother’s Arms – Part 3 (Conclusion)

When Jon and his mother made their return visit to the hospital, Jon let slip a comment about his mother’s headaches. The doctor, a young, auburn-haired woman, named Sally Shapiro, quickly questioned Clarisa. “When did she first have these headaches? What was their frequency and how long did they last? What was the pain like? Were there any stressful events in her life? Did anyone in her family history have similar ailments?” The last question unloaded the cart.

To her surprise, Clarisa found the attention comforting and was relieved to finally reveal her private world of apprehension and fear. She made an appointment with Dr. Choate for tests the following week. To her delighted and infinite surprise, the tests discovered nothing other than high blood pressure, which was successfully treated with medication and a change in diet.

Jon’s feet pushed hard on the rubber pedals of his new used bike. He broke free down the straightaway and didn’t let up rounding the corner towards home. His mother was in the front yard with Grace and little Mary playing in the flowerbed. Clarisa was planting spring bulbs and chatting away when she heard a holler.

“Hey, Mom! Look!” Jon yelled with delight. He felt like the sky had lifted him from gravity’s grip and pulled him, flying, up the driveway. He skidded to a stop and stood beaming like sunlight. His mother clapped her dirt-covered hands and ran to his side. She gave him a long hug, pulling his head to her tummy and exclaimed, “That was fantastic! You’ve gotten so good! Your father will be very proud.”

Unfastening the strap to his helmet, Jon unconsciously felt above his eyebrow, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and basked in his mother’s presence and praise.

THE END

Part 1
Part 2

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His Mother’s Arms – Part 2

Hist Mother’s Arms – Excerpt from Children’s short story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Hist Mother’s Arms – Part 2

The nurse, Bea, washed Jon’s forehead with yellowish-brown betadine that ran behind his ear. Bea’s brown face was surrounded by straight, thick black hair. The rest of her body was covered in white. She kept smiling and repeating, “That’s a good boy.” Her soothing voice put him into a matriarchal trance, as name-calling, rocks and falling took an afternoon nap.

Grace stood close by, rocking Mary side to side, like mothers’ of young children do. She was trying to put on a good face and comfort Jon, but he could sense her aversion to looking at his wound.

A tall mustached man, in a hospital coat, suddenly loomed over Jon.

“This is Doctor Patrick,” voiced the nurse, in a hasty introduction.

“What have we here?” he questioned, without expecting anyone to answer. He took the pad off of Jon’s eyebrow.

“Don’t touch it!” Jon screamed with fright.

The doctor ignored his outburst and stated matter-of-factly, “Pretty good one there buddy.” Turning towards the nurse he said, “I’ll need a butterfly suture set.” The nurse already had it ready and placed it in his hand.

Jon eyed the doctor with the hair on his lip, as he opened the suture kit and seeming to speak to the plastic tray said, “Son, I’m going to give you a little poke. It will sting.” Nurse Bea handed Doctor Patrick a small syringe. “Then I’ll stitch you up so good you’ll never know what happened.”

Doctor Patrick moved closer. Jon could feel his height. He looked at the doctor’s black belt and buckle, when his white coat fell open, then felt a sharp sting. He started to cry.

“The next part won’t hurt,” the physician’s monologue continued.

“It’ll just feel like someone tugging on your eyebrow a bit.”

“Son,” Jon repeated to himself. It sounded like his father’s voice. He knew his dad would want him to “be tough” so he bit his lip, counted backwards and closed his eyes. He longed for his mother’s arms and cried out “Mama!”

“All done,” chuckled the tall, black-belted, mustached man. “You can open your eyes now.” As he put the tweezers back in the tray, Dr. Patrick turned to Grace, who had just opened her eyes and said, “You have a brave little guy here.” Jon wiped away the tears with his dirty sleeve.

Before Grace or Jon could say a word, the self-absorbed doctor had gone to the next bed and disappeared behind a sliding beige curtain. Bea looked at Grace. “He’ll need to come back in a few weeks to get those removed.” She gestured towards Jon’s forehead and smiled her bewitching smile.

“I’ll tell his mother,” Grace replied, then helped Jon off the gurney and held his trembling hand out to the car.

CONCLUSION TOMORROW

His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

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His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

His Mother’s Arms – Excerpt from children’s short story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

The squeaking bicycle wheels turned with mechanical persistence, as Jon pumped triumphantly across the neighborhood asphalt and rounded the bend towards home. It felt like the sky swooped down and pulled his excitement into the air. He was flying down the flat, familiar road of his substandard, military housing project.

It was Jon’s second week on a two-wheeler and his sixth year of life. He never, ever believed he would be able to ride his bike without the help of his loud, grating training wheels. “Baby wheels!” The older kids would tease.

“Now, they’ll see!” he said to himself. “I’m not a baby!”

As the cracked, weed-filled driveway to Jon’s yellow-walled, dilapidated garage came into sight, a flurry of devilishness was unleashed.

“Hey, four eyes! Over here!”

Jon glanced to his left and saw fifth graders Biff, Manny and Dennis rising behind the barren bushes of late winter, arms flexed like baseball pitchers in their windup with fistfuls of delinquent angst headed his way.

Fear jumped through his arteries, as his legs strained to provide escape. Rocks and gravel pummeled his head, neck and shoulders. The bike seemed to melt away, as the gutter made friends with his face. Anxious, laughing voices hovered nearby. “Let’s beat it before he goes crying to his mommy.” They mocked.

He looked up through a fuzzy blur. Something wet and warm was dripping down his forehead and into his eyes. He felt for his glasses but they were gone. He looked at his hand and saw red streaks on his fingers and palm. Pain made a dramatic, sharp entrance, as tears merged with the stream of bloody discharge cascading over the side of his nose and cheek like a miniature waterfall. Before he could cover his mouth, a cry of nature erupted. “Mama!” A long, sick silence followed; then he heard it again, “Mama!” and felt his lips close around the last vowel.

Without his thick spectacles, everything looked lopsided and out of control. He stood with a groan and fifty pounds of embarrassment clinging to his back. Without knowing his camouflage pants were ripped to shreds and his bike a modernist rendition of mangled metal, he carried his torn body up the driveway, through the garage and into the kitchen to find the comfort of his mother’s arms. “Mama! Mama!” he cried, moving urgently from room to room. Leaking blood along the hall carpet he finally smelled his mother’s presence and opened her door.

Clarisa, Jon’s mother, was lying quietly with her eyes shut softly when Jon entered. Her forehead wrinkled with pain at his sudden intrusion.

“Mama!”

“What?” she said, without moving or looking his way. “I’ve got one of those awful headaches again.”

“Mama!” Jon sobbed. He walked clumsily towards the bed.

Clarisa turned her head slightly and reiterated. “Please, be quiet.” She reluctantly opened her eyes and exclaimed. “Oh my God!” Jon’s face, hands, arms, shirt and pants were covered with blood and dirt. Clarisa flinched involuntarily. “Don’t move!” she said sternly.

“But . . . “ Jon pleaded.

“Don’t move!” she repeated.

As Jon froze in mid-step, Clarisa began to rise. Her head seemed to contain a ton of throbbing iron. She inched, like an antique tray of china, to the bathroom. Jon stood shaking; restraining his primordial need to throw his arms around his mother’s waist, bury his head in her soft belly and wail.

She returned with a rolled up green towel and pressed it gently above his left eyebrow to stop the bleeding; making sure to keep her freshly washed red and blue blouse from her son’s crew-cut head of filthy, oozing fluids.

Clarisa was awash with agony. Jon’s bloodied entrance had cracked the temporary sea wall she’d erected in her quiet bedroom harbor, to keep the stormy waters of her aching head at bay. She called her neighbor, Grace, and asked if she could take Jon to the emergency room.

Grace, a stout, big-shouldered woman in jeans, was there in minutes, her one-year-old, Mary, clamped on her hip like a spider monkey. After her initial shock at seeing the dazed and dripping boy, she donned her best Florence Nightingale tone of voice and whisked Jon away with repeated self-assurances. “Everything will be OK Jon. Don’t worry.” Jon laid in the back seat of her car and held the towel tightly to his forehead. “It’s nothing,” Grace continued. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

Once Grace had left with Jon, Clarisa sank back to bed with guilt and blame bombarding her already shattered head. “What kind of a mother am I?” she thought. He looked so scared.” She moaned in pain and placed her hands on her temples. There was nothing she could do. Her migraines crept from the back of her skull, like a creeping vine, thick with thorns, once or twice a week and literally dropped her to her knees. They had increased in frequency since Jon’s father, Alex, left for another six-month naval tour in the Indian Ocean.

She never mentioned her ailment in her overseas letters. They were always short and sweet, filled with everyday occurrences and concerns. “We’re fine. Jon is riding his bike whenever the weather permits. He’s getting much better. It won’t be long until we take off the training wheels. He’s doing pretty good in school. They learned the cutest song last week. I’ll try to remember to have him sing it for you when you get home. We both miss you tremendously. Take care sweetheart. Love Clarisa.”

Clarisa’s potent fear of what her “migraines” may reveal, were batted away like an annoying mosquito. Her father had died, at the age of fifty, from a cerebral aneurysm. Her mother had soon followed suit with a number of massive strokes. She had only been nineteen when her father made his quick exit and a tender twenty-three when her mother was ungracefully removed from her life. She viewed doctors as messengers of death and hospitals as corridors of contaminated grief.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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Leave Some for Me

Excerpt from The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales

Leave Some for Me as told by NSHINIYIMANA Dativa (10 years old) at the ROP Center for Street Children (Rwandan Orphan’s Project)

There was a young couple that had a child called Imanway. The couple had a field of maize next to their home. When the father found the maize was ripe, he brought it to his wife who cooked a delicious meal.

Her husband said, “I am full. That was wonderful. It is so wonderful, I don’t want this feeling to go away. Maybe, if you wrap me in a mattress (a traditional mat made out of reeds), give me some more food and carry me to the forest, this feeling will remain.”

His wife and child wrapped him in a mattress and left him in the forest with his food.

It wasn’t long until an animal and her animal children came upon the man and his food.

“You are alone in the forest with all this food. I am going to get some of my friends to come eat the food you have,” said the animal. She told her children to stay with the man, but after she left, the man dropped his mattress and ran away with the food.

When the mother animal came back with her friends, she found that the human had run away. She asked her children, “Why did you let that man with the mattress and food go? Now we will have to eat you instead.”

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Watch Your Ass & Testify

Excerpt from Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest.

Watch Your Ass And Testify

In the midst of his conflicts on base, Dr. Leff received a letter from his good friend Dennis Wolter, who wanted him to be the best man at his wedding in March. Dennis had been running the motorcycle shop he and Arnie jointly owned in Cincinnati while Arnie was in Thailand. They had always been like brothers.

Not long after the invitation to the wedding, he received a reply from Senator Fulbright inviting him to speak before the Foreign Relations Committee, whenever he had an opportunity to make it to Washington. He decided to do it all in one trip and was granted a two week leave for the end of March, beginning of April, 1970.

It was soon after being granted leave that the military’s paranoia kicked in. Because of Captain Leff’s views and activities, he was seen by the Air Force as a trouble-maker and threat. They were certain he was smuggling drugs because of his contacts and visits with anti-war personnel and civilians at the base in Korat, and also thought he was the ring leader of a subversive, anti-war movement who was fermenting racial unrest.

“All untrue,” he states, “except for being anti-war. I had smoked marijuana the first few months I’d been in Thailand, but by this time, I had quit altogether. It was too risky in my position. I was a doc and didn’t want to lose control. I also stayed straight because I became aware of the informants.”

Colonel Mellish, the wing commander, had the Special Investigations unit put the captain under surveillance and planted informants in his adjoining bunk. Whenever he returned to the base from spending time at The Bungalow, there was a new man sleeping one cot over.

More than likely, the brass was aware of Leff’s intention to speak before the Fulbright Commission and knew he was gathering information to do so. Intelligence officers had told him of orders they’d received to change captions on reconnaissance photographs from “village” to “communist stronghold,” even though there was no evidence that the village had harbored communists or not. Leff also discovered that the US had Green Berets in Laos who technically were not there. His Air America (CIA) friends gave him photographs of their base in Laos. Fred Branfman had given him his report, including photos, places and names of villages and people who were being killed and maimed by U.S. bombings.

Captain Leff was certain he had enough information to delay, if not stop, the illegal attacks in Laos, if he lived to tell about it.

“I honestly believed my life was in danger,” he says. “The guy that ran the office of special investigation was alcoholic and for $500 he could have had a local guy snuff me out easy as pie. I really believed they might go that far… stranger things had happened.”

CONTINUED IN: PAGING DR. LEFF – PRIDE, PATRIOTISM AND PROTEST.

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