Category Archives: history

brick by brick, limb by limb

oh yeah

poetry in progress

 

brick by brick, limb by limb

i)

i was born into a country

divided by a wall that:

cut through people’s breaths and yet

straightened their shoulders like a spine;

i was born into a country with

a cast grown tightly around (and into) its body:

half-disease, half-remedy

ii)

finally, the fall came:

as the trees began to shed their leaves,

the wind picked up brick after brick and

carried it away;

it left us with a new kind of emptiness that

made my father tear himself apart:

he took limb after limb and threw it against

that same brick sky until he was no longer my father but a

tiny white spot in the distance

iii)

most wars won mean several battles lost,

no big victory comes without defeat on both sides

keep in mind the bigger picture, i hear you sing –

your catch phrase:

keep in mind the bigger picture,

we are making history, we are changing things for the better

(battle after battle, defeat after defeat)

iv)

sometimes I open an old book and some of my father’s

fingertips or eyelashes still crumble

out from in between the pages and fall into my lap;

we all keep in mind the bigger picture, of course

but you should know that in order see it clearly,

most of us have to stand on each other’s shoulders,

that’s why some of us fall and break their backs.

 

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Post-holiday musings on yellow phone booths (or: How my grandfather didn’t have a phone for a long time).

before smart phones, cell phones, and other species of personal phones: the phone booth!

Christmas has passed, on quick and quiet paws. My parents and I went to see my grandfather for the holidays; I can’t even remember the last time we did this. I usually simply spend Christmas at their house. The last time I’d actually seen my grandfather was a year and a half ago: my grandmother’s funeral. When I was little I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, yet somewhere between moving to the other side of the country and growing up, there was only little time left.

Long story short: I was really looking forward to the trip. Because of my grandfather, but also because it meant getting away from everything else for a couple of days: restricted internet and cell phone use, please! Merry Christmas to me. However, the 21st century quickly caught up to me. As much as I’ve been trying not to give in: Santa replaced my somewhat crappy vintage phone with a brand new smart phone. Gosh, thanks Santa! I kissed my old phone good-bye (and, possibly shed a tear or two) and welcomed the new one into my life. My software’s never felt more updated.

As my dad tried to explain the basics to me, my grandfather seemed somewhat bemused. He looked at the little device and shook his head. When I still worked at the jobsite, it took me half a day just to place a call, he said, only collect calls back then, and there was only a phone at work. He shrugs, worked fine for us. The government had been too distrustful, cheap – or simply too incapable to provide phones for every household, that’s his explanation anyways. And then in the end (when the government didn’t make these decisions anymore but the big companies did, much like anywhere else), I even got a phone before you, my mom smiled.

I remember how we used to walk to the yellow phone booth together to call my grandparents. How I sat huddled between the phone and my mother as she was talking. I don’t remember, though, how, before the yellow phone booth, my mom had to go to the post office to send a telegraph (like that one time when our car broke down and we couldn’t go see my grandparents. Because it was a Saturday, of course, and the one repair shop was already closed). In times of text messages, e-mail, twitter and the like, it’s hard to imagine such a thing.

All of this makes me thankful. I’m thankful than the idea of sending a telegraph somewhere is only familiar to me from books and movies. I’m thankful than I’m able to prevent people from having a heart attack when I don’t show up when and where I’m supposed to in the blink of an eye. I’m more than thankful that I’m able to communicate with people spread out over many countries (continents even) so easily.

Yet, I’m also thankful for some perspective: I put my smartass phone away at once – it’s back to restrictive internet and cell phone use. Because between moving to the other side of the country and growing up, there’s too little time anyways, and with the important people right in front of you, for a while, you don’t really need a phone, I guess.

A Piece of (Personal) History.

Monday’s children.

Part of the Berlin Wall – painted by artists after 1989.

Birthday Wishes.

I was born on a Saturday. Twenty minutes to midnight I came: no beautiful dress to show off, just one of the smooth glass slippers, the left one. Old spells seem to wear out much quicker these days. Even on your birthday. Old superstitions, however, never do: my mother always says she would have wanted me to be born on a Sunday. If only you could have taken these extra minutes, she’d say, you’d have been born a Sunday’s child – born under a lucky star, as they say. Maybe then, things would have been a little different, she thinks (and sometimes my mother must have wished for things to be different). That’s probably what she’s really wanted, for a long time (but there’s no spell, not even an old one, that can turn back time) – you just never understand these things when you’re younger. On the other hand, maybe things wouldn’t have been that different after all – but who knows? (I don’t.) Probably a lot of babies were born that Sunday, and possibly, all of them lucky– but again, who knows? (No one does.)

Written in the Stars.

I’m quite sure, though, that all the babies born on the Monday after, they were born under a revolutionary star – born under a night sky lit up by candles, torches, lanterns; born to the sound of raised voices; born to the smell of autumn; born to the bittersweet taste of frustration paired with anticipation. Every time my mother sees a shooting star and wishes I was born on a Sunday, I close my eyes and wish I was born on a Monday – I would like to be a Monday’s child. I would raise my candle, torch, lantern and leave a mark: a dab of light, like a tiny hole in the dark sheet that covers the earth at night. There’s more to life than simple luck; more than old spells that wear out even before the clock strikes twelve, more than old superstitions that leave you hanging on to things that could have been. You can’t change the past, but maybe, if you try, you can change the future.

Zeitgeist.

Sometimes, in the short moment before falling asleep, I feel the light of candles, torches and lanterns warm on my skin; I hear people chanting; I can smell fallen leaves and I’m overcome by a sullen feeling, quickly followed by a feeling of hope. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel restless. It’s nothing I could ever explain, it’s just something that is. If I had to try to find words for it, I might simply say that I’m a child of my times. We all are.

Hearts and Cages.

Even now, the idea seems so strange, so unnatural, that I can’t wrap my head around it. No matter how hard I try. No matter how often I try. Sometimes I look at a map and trace the borderline with my index finger. With my scalpel, I cut through a city, an entire country – I become a surgeon. I take out half a nation’s heart (pincers!), just like that (swab!), and it’s bleeding all over me. Desperate people behave in ways that scare me. They get that frantic look in their eyes that always reminds me of a caged animal. And maybe that’s what they are: caged. Trapped in their despair.

Solidarity.

We’re all people. We’re all in this together. We’re all created equal. But then: How could anyone be so mean (cruel)? How could anyone be so indifferent (inhumane)? How do you sell an entire country for a breadcrumb’s worth of power? How do you barter with millions and millions of people’s fate? Everything’s going to be okay, they said. In the end. They’re all liars; or blind and dumb and deaf. Or all of that. The upside : They’re also solidary like nothing else: you didn’t even have to kill yourself – it was done for you (working men of all countries unite. Unite, unite, unite. Shoot, shoot, shoot.). Once there was a man. He looked at the grey concrete, the barbed wire and the men with their nice uniforms and polished guns and he realized: you have to run. For freedom. Whether you’ll make it or not – you’ll be free, everything’s going to be okay, in the end.

Dancing.

I don’t know whether my mother was truly happy about the fall of the wall. I once asked her if she remembered what she’d done the night people were dancing on it, if she’d been dancing as well. I probably changed your diapers, she’d said, and that was that. My mother never was the dancing type – but maybe not because she didn’t want to dance, I often think the world just wouldn’t let her.

Aftermath.

The sudden feeling of liberation might have been too much to handle for some – as anything that comes down on you so unexpectedly and overwhelming. The wall came falling down in front of their feet and then the ground fell out from underneath them. Maybe it was that feeling that scared away my father. Or maybe he was just high on freedom and so he went to find some more, another fix. And I don’t think anyone could have held him back, not with any luck of the world.

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