Without You Here

This post, unlike others, is more of a declaration of both certain and uncertain events. Tomorrow, by now, I will have arrived in Europe for the first time and unloaded my way-too-heavy suitcase from the baggage carousel in Dublin. From there: Holyhead, North Wales, Stratford, London, Holland, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Versailles, Burgundy, Lucerne, Florence, Pisa, French Riviera, Nice, then finally, Barcelona. I’m only passing through some during transfers, but I couldn’t have asked for a better adventure. Wish me luck and leave me love. I’ll be trying to post little updates while I’m gone, but for 25 days I will be out of the country, and hopefully enjoying myself too much to visit an Internet cafe. I’ll leave you with a little poem dedicated to the people who’ve made this trip possible. Grandma and Grandpa, I miss you.

An on-the-spot poem for Elayne and Warren.
Wherever you are, I hope you know how thankful I am for all you’ve made possible.

Before my feet hit ground
they used to dangle;
little toes like bells
and I,
so regal on my seat,
would clap my heels together
because there was no place like home
without you in it.

I realized this,
when my feet were no longer mid-air,
toes somersaulting from the trapeze
of a high stool’s crossbar.

They felt heavy,
falling from the bar of the stool
like an angel,
from the gravity or from the thought
of never feeling at home in a life
without you in it.

Thanks Living

I woke up today not knowing what I was going to do. I hoped for the vibrating hum of my cell phone or the ping! of an instant message. But nobody’s around, nobody’s calling. It’s just me, my computer, and my washer and dryer; us against the colder world outside. It is because of this lack of purpose, it is because I know I still have two days left of my long weekend, that I have taken this day to walk around in my gray hat with the light blue pompom and accomplish nothing. I cook pasta in the afternoon, sing Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” as I wash my hands, search for Black Friday deals then give up because the sites are running much too slowly. I am truly, utterly, spectacularly bored.

But today, in a way, is special. We’re supposed to ponder over what we were thankful for yesterday, and to wish we’ll have more to be thankful for next year. So I am thankful for this quiet time, this alone time. I’m thankful for these moments that require nothing but a winter hat, PJs and fuzzy leopard slippers.

But I am thankful for more than the chance to take a step back and breathe. I am also thankful for the mistakes I’ve made (because you can’t learn anything from your life without them), I am thankful for my stress (because it keeps me grounded), and I am thankful for my occasional tears (because it means I am far from mechanized). I am thankful for the people I will meet tomorrow, the next day, and in years to come. I am thankful for my parents, my brothers, my cousins, my aunts and uncles and extended family. I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for the people who have said, “I love you, Alexa” and meant it. I am thankful for all of it.

I know I talk about my grandma a lot, but I want to share the poem I wrote for her during undergrad. It is my way of giving thanks to her:

Untitled by Alexa L.
written in April of 2007

Her life was poetry defined:
her heart, its rhythm,
her strength, its beat
like visual music,
pages upon pages of verse,

feminine rhyme,
whispers in iambic pentameter.

But I could not have written better poetry,
than that of which she shared with me;
her life
in stanzas
to be read over and again
because her life was more than words and proper grammar.

Her life was a symphony of sound
and if you looked close enough,
read between the lines, you would see

that though her life could try to be expressed
she meant more than merely words to little me. 

Happy Belated Thanksgiving.  

Lucky Like Elephants

I used to collect snow domes—incorrect terminology, maybe, because I’ve heard them called snow globes, too—but I collected the glass and plastic domes, a reminder of every road trip up the east coast, every vacation taken, every birthday, every Chanukah, every everything. Some shattered. Some collected bits of dust among the fake bits of snow; so I threw them away, glass shards scattered on the back of my father’s black car signifying the death of a home. When my grandmother passed away, I stopped collecting them.

My grandma collected elephants with their trunks up. In undergraduate, I wrote about her often, and once suggested that the trunks made elongated salutes toward Heaven. I talked about her collection, the elephants made of glass and porcelain. And when I moved to Boston, pieces were lost, elephants broken. They sit on a shelf, some one-eared, some with missing tusks. And I wonder: What is the point of collecting? Does it bring the collector closer to something? The fact is my grandma’s gone, her hundreds of elephants strewn across the country, given to family members and placed in cabinets to collect dust. We are missing the tales of acquisition, the history gone with every distributed or discarded pachyderm.

I collected snow domes at first because I thought they were beautiful. I received my first one before I ever saw snow, pushed the turnkey ‘til carousel music played, and shook. I considered it my first winter. I was a collector then, like my grandma. We shared this in common, and I never realized that until now. Maybe the difference is in the organization. My grandma was hyper-organized, her life in files and memo books. I have her lists of gifts received at weddings, birthdates, caterer schedules, expenditures, brunch guests, and catering receipts. Her college courses at Brooklyn College, Barry College, and Florida Atlantic University. I have her grades. She was normal. On occasion, she even got a C. I have her school records, teaching records, a wedding guest list from 1948.

And in one of the miniature binders I found a poem to my dad (whom she adopted):

Not flesh of my flesh
Not bone of my bone,
But still miraculously
My own
Never forget
For a single minute;
You didn’t grow under my heart—
But in it.

She wrote the poem out in her practiced, even lettering; each blue stroke so careful. And these lists and these elephants and these snow domes—the more I throw away the less I have left of her.

I’d rather stay a collector.

An on-the-spot poem about my grandma’s miniature binders
written October 28, 2010, in about ten minutes

you got a C in abnormal psychology
in 1949,
spelled lasagna
with a z,
and kept a list
of every greeting card you mailed
from ’59 to ’82.

I never took abnormal psych.
I spell lasagna
with an s.
And I don’t send greeting cards,
just e-mails
or texts.

But if I knew the address
to Heaven, Grandma,
I promise
I’d make
an exception.

Thinking of You…or Why I Hate the Itsy Bitsy Spider

We wouldn’t be talking like this, you and I, if it wasn’t for her. You know her. We all have a version of her. And when she’s gone, we can’t replace her, and you’re aware of this, so maybe you sympathize and you tell me it’s all right. But you know it isn’t. I know it isn’t. So we cut a deal. We stop talking about it. But this is what we do when we want something to go away. We stop mentioning it and eventually it doesn’t hurt so much. But it never goes away. And honestly, I never want it to go away.

I was waiting for a delayed airplane. I don’t remember the airline or the flight number. I just remember being upset that I wouldn’t be on time and that it was going to be too late at night to visit my grandma. The plane came eventually, as planes do, and on the flight a lady sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for a free drink. Or maybe it was a man. But when I got off my plane in Ft. Lauderdale airport, all I could remember was my dad telling me he’d been holding in the news: my grandma died before I ever left Orlando. My dad and I cried in front of flight attendants and airport employees on the floor of that airport. I don’t know how he held it in. I held nothing.

Now it is approaching almost half a decade later, and I am here in Boston, remembering my grandma, Elayne. Happy Birthday, Grandma. I miss you. So much it hurts.

My grandma was a media specialist at Hallandale High School and introduced me to books when I was very little. She read to me before bedtime (I had lived with her through most of my youth) after watching Jeopardy and playing solitaire. I’d rummage through her fake jewelery and cover my arms in large-beaded bracelets and gems and wood-carved cuffs. I’d set the table and stick little neon pirate swords into cut fruit because she asked and when we made French toast, I’d crack the eggs and she would dig the dropped shell pieces (because I always dropped them) out of the bowl. When I wrote poetry, she praised me. She pushed me to enter contests and join chorus. She went to my plays and my recitals. She bought me dance shoes and leotards and thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles and my first pair of glasses. When we visited my aunt in Maryland, we’d walk the streets of D.C. and enter museums both large and small, miniature aquariums and monuments and buildings that reeked of power. On road trips, she would bring my pink blanket and count the signs with me to South of the Border. At dinner, we named the states. I always forgot at least five. In Vermont, she raved of the beauty of the trees in fall, and how someday I’d get to see them.

She was right. I saw the leaves change in Boston and they were beautiful.

The pictures below are of my grandma and me. I had to take a photo of a photo, but I wanted you to see the woman responsible for the person I’ve become.

It is also important to note that today is my brother Jeffrey’s birthday. He’s getting so darn old, but I thought I’d provide a picture of when we were tiny.

Happy Birthday to You.

Be Kind, Revise…or the Importance of an Imaginary Knife

You rewrite your poem, perhaps because you are forced to; or maybe you feel it just doesn’t sound right. But there is always something that can be changed, a “the” that can be removed for the sake of punch. So the poetry below was the product of both a class assignment and a forced rewrite. A Sleepwalk required specific elements, such as a utilization of the five senses and a line in a language not your own. Deep-Sea Denial is, of course, the chopped version, cut and sliced with the hopes I’d bared a little bit of me by shedding the unnecessary skin of wordiness, of too much. I hope you enjoy both of them.    
A Sleepwalk, written January 25, 2007
by Alexa L.
The blue glow, it guided me forward— 
a lighthouse glow that let me wake 
beyond the waves of carpet, 
and my feet were sinking. 
My feet were afraid 
of the carved notches in the floorboards— 
diamonds that would never shine— 
the rough sandpaper couch beneath my fingertips, 
and the absence of sheets rustling in my grandma’s bed. 
I heard the clock tick and thought of the blue light 
and how the Atlantic seemed so small now. 
But my feet were brave, 
not freaked out by the shadows beneath 
because if you curl your toes, you fall in. 
The cool water of forget is like drowning. 
The smell of grandma’s baked apples and cinnamon falls down, 
Grandma’s heart as my head lay on her chest beats— 
The smell of detergent, my nose sinks in to a newly washed cotton shirt— 
into the depths of cream-colored fabric. 
“I’m so proud of you,” she whispers. 
But the phone rings and my grandma moves along the corridor— 
My left hand grasps the wall, nails scratching at paint 
that looks gray, but I know it’s white 
as it scratches back. 
And I know I will be scarred by it 
and Sweetheart didn’t want to hurt. 
She wanted flotsam dreams— 
jetsam-soaked ambition. 
I am filled with driftwood from broken ships 
Les bateaux se sont cassés. 
The phone cries out “save the captain.” 
But I am sinking— 
Now on to the revision:
Deep-Sea Denial, written April 18, 2007 
by Alexa L. 
I was not dreaming. 
I was not 
sinking into the waves of carpet 
of my grandmother’s house, 
into the old, graying threads 
that tied my feet 
like seaweed. 
The ocean 
seemed so small now 
against the scent of baked apples, 
the touch of sandpaper couches, and when my feet, 
like hesitant fishermen, 
hooked into the carved floorboards, 
reeling themselves into 
I was not forgetting. 
I was not 
swimming in a sea of flotsam 
and jetsam memories 
of a house 
where I learned to appreciate 
where beauty rested 
in a bed with blue sheets and 
a flower-printed comforter. 
I was not 
I was not 
I was not.

My Kisses…or Shadows, Grandma, Grandpa, and Fish

A little poem about little me…
My Shadows written November 30, 2006
by Alexa L.
Opening the book, she said
“My Shadow” and smiled.
She looked down at me,
little me—and read—
line by line
and I followed
word by word. Breaths taken;
her hand shifting toward the corner
and my hands tucked together
at my grandmother’s side.
But her hand still lingered upon the page’s edge,
hands that moved with practiced grace,
browned spots speckled over the backs,
wrinkles embedded like trophies of experience
flipping pages.
And my hands stayed tucked away,
until I moved them to the corner too.
But I grew up.
My hands grew older.
The pages grew heavy
and the books and shadows crept to the end of a newer bed.
Nearing the edges of sleep,
I gazed at the twinkling lights outside the window
and thoughts shone through in glimmering specks of stardust:
If only life were so easy as to be almost overlooked
that we could sit as stars do.
Shine and die.
But we are not so lucky.
We do not die, we fade away
like shadows of the universe,
words from the lips of a grandmother,
or a fish that’s escaped a child’s hook.
And so I dreamed,
my mind wandering backward to where the lake
that lay behind the old house sat,
waiting for me and Grandpa.
I walked to the edge of the wood and leaned
over the water, searching through the shadows
that hid under the dock.
I smelled the fish, but couldn’t see them,
as if they were tucked between the shine of the onyx water
and the depths below.
My grandpa handed me my fishing pole,
bright red under the sunlight,
and I whipped the line outward,
beyond the shadows and the smell of fish—
to the center of the world.
I held my breath and pulled my pole back toward me
in an awkward hug,
furiously winding.
But all I caught was my shadow
and the sunlight that reflected in the eyes of me—
little me. I smiled.
Back in bed alone,
The stardust lost into the depths of night,
I woke to nothing.
My book was hiding in the shadow at the end of the blanket
and my grandmother’s hands were in her own bed,
in the shadows of her room now miles away.
But my grandpa hid beneath the dreams—
in the shadows of my past.
Note: I wrote a lot about my grandparents all through college, and even now. What can I say? They raised me.