Thursday, January 22, 2009

Literary Interlude: "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London"

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

-Dylan Thomas

Meanderings: That Final Tear

My mother died this Monday. She was gravely ill, but the speed of her passing took us by surprise. My brother was on a plane here at the moment of her death. I, however, was by her side. She went gently. Her death spared her a considerable amount of suffering. You will not find my family weeping and gnashing teeth by the funeral bier. There will be no ripping of cloth. It is our custom not to mourn death but rather to celebrate life. And she had led a full and passionate one.

I could deal with it all, as that river flows on carrying our griefs and joys, our suffering and our elation, if it were not for that tear. Just before she began leaving in earnest, a big, fat droplet escaped the corner of her eye and began running down her cheek. It is that tear that haunts me. Earlier that morning when it looked like she was going, I had whispered to her unresponsive form that my brother was on the way. I had asked that she hold on just a little while longer...if she could. Her breathing became more regular, and it looked like she would make it. But by afternoon, she could wait no more. I embraced her still warm body fiercely, as if a daughter's love could reach her where she had gone.

Was she saddened that he would not be at her side? Or was that tear because she would be leaving me alone to face the world? She had always been my ally and my comfort, as well as my friend. Saddest of all is the thought that it was a final pang of sadness at leaving "the confines of the day." I'd like to think that it was a tear of joy, that those shrouded eyes were gazing on my father and her parents as she took her first steps toward paradise. But there were no indications of the supernatural. Just mortality.

I've found comfort in the thought that it was probably a purely physiological response. I suspect she was long gone by then. I've researched it on the net where I found that it is called Lacrima Mortis and occurs in about 14 percent of dying patients. So as I wonder whether I did enough, realize in hindsight that I should have taken the whole week off last week and not just part, even as I know I was by her side through it all, I will consign that last effluent to the emotional neutrality of science. In the meantime, I will discover what it is to live without my mother by my side.

I picture her now the way she was when she and my father danced at the Club in Vertientes, with luxuriant raven hair, ruby lips and movie star eyes. Clad in spangled evening dress, she looks over the shoulder of my father, her rock, in his white linen suit with his hair already thinning and smiles as they dance to the strains of Beny's orchestra. Who am I to begrudge her that?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Legacy of Loss

I recently came across this heartwarming human interest story which appeared in the Sacramento Bee. Maria Celia Garcia is making a movie of her parents' life before and after the revolution, including the trials of attempting to flee the regime. Now, I have no idea how old she is. But not two days later in a conversation with a young student filmmaker who is trying to make a movie loosely based on the Anguilla Cay incident, we agreed that when pundits, politicians, and the press talk about a "generational shift" among young Cuban Americans, they misread their tea leaves.

Whatever their everyday concerns, their political predilections, I'll guarantee that just about each and every child of a Cuban parent has inherited the awful sense of loss, of the wrong done. It is something my generation, the first born or brought up in the United States, picked up directly from our parents and grandparents, and which we in turn have passed on to our children. Perhaps it does not manifest itself in protests on Calle Ocho; but here and there, it surfaces, whether in a movie or a review, a book or even a school project. There is a need to say, "This happened."

So while some celebrate the passing of the "hard-liners," the first exiles, they underestimate the upcoming generations, who- standing on the shoulders of their wronged forbears- are making their way up the ladder of American society in every field of endeavor in even larger numbers. They are our own fifth column in the propaganda wars, this generation of Americans who carry the exile in their hearts. We will not forget, and I suspect they will not let them forget either.

Cross-posted at Babalublog

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Sunday, A Monday, A Tuesday

String Beans. Reading this one about Bush's last press conference by Ted Anthony had me checking to make sure I wasn't on the Huffington Post and not Townhall. I know Bush disappointed a lot of people, but there's something wrong when we sound like MSNBC. See what you think here.

Spaghetti. On a lighter note, in the life imitating art category. A 10 year old Indiana young man found his tongue firmly attached to pole after rising to a dare. No word on whether he'd ever seen A Christmas Story. Story at Fox News here.

Soup. Seems there is or was life on Mars after all. The Sun informs that plumes of methane gas on the planet indicate the presence of microorganisms at some point. Check out the NASA video here. Also from the same source, an outbreak of plague struck down an Al Queda training camp in Algeria. How positively medieval. Read it here.

Roast Beef. Can it be, Obama and Chavez already engaged in verbal fisticuffs? You, betcha. In a Univision interview, Obama characterized Chavez as a hindrance to Latin America, while in reply Chavez maintained that Obama smelled. I kid you not.

Some Disturbing Images

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Assortment of Reads

Since I've been spending my time in the kinds of places without much to do, I've managed to read a book here and there. First was Prince of Fire, followed by The Messenger by Daniel Silva. In both Silva puts a different spin on the standard spy suspense genre. His main character is a fine art restorer/Israeli operative named Gabriel Allon. A reluctant assassin, Allon provides a vehicle to explore the corrosive effects of the Israeli/Arab conflict on those who wage it. Torn by what he has done in the name of duty, yet fully committed to fighting the evil of terrorism, haunted by the family he has lost, while reaching out tentatively at a new life, he is a fascinating character. Silva keeps up the pace throughout. I'm looking forward to the latest installment, Moscow Rules.

So I manage to sneak a half hour to go to the library when I spot a title in the stacks, Fresh Kills.
Now for the uninitiated, Fresh Kills is a wetland area in Staten Island, NY which in a supreme twist of irony became home to a landfill so large that it rivaled the Great Wall of China in visibility from outer space. My interest aroused, I pick up the volume and note the author, Bill Loehfelm. Wow, who'da thunk it? Billy Loehfelm published by Putnam. Of course, I turn it over only to find the grown up, head shaven and goateed young man who was once a student and later a teacher at my old stomping grounds. That the cover mentioned "gritty, blue collar Staten Island" just sealed the deal.

I don't know what I expected...I mean he was a smart kid, but.... Anyway, it starts out as a something of a modern noir but as his wise-cracking main character comes to terms with the death of an abusive father, it becomes something larger, harder, and better still, leaving it neither in one camp or the other. This novel tackles the kind of emotional contradictions those in dysfunctional families know well. I enjoyed it, if enjoyed is the word.

On a related note, he captures the essence of the Staten Island in which I grew up, much of it Irish and unostentatious, bordered by bohemian flair of the Northern fringe, and infused with the small town ethos just a hop, skip and jump away from the Big Apple. Those whose perception of the island is limited to Working Girl or MTV won't recognize the place. It is a place and time rapidly disappearing, which lingers in pockets if at all.