Thursday, February 16, 2006

Gulya wore her heart on a sleeve

The world was a morning that became the afternoon
in which children ran all over the meadows and
in and out of the small ravines.
Of course the banks of the river
hung precariously over dreams of an
unsupervised time that should have been
a school day but was an entertainment for
somebody, I don’t know who, as the adults
nervously got together, worrying about how
they looked and what their kids were going
to do, which they had already done and were
getting ready to do again, as playground fantasies
became real trees and streams in the mountains
with the same bees and ants making
small, soft brown flesh to have the same red bumps

Busses and classes and kids and cars
and everybody segregated so we could be watched
by each other, always not noticing what
someone was doing, everybody always
in ever changing groups except the adults
who were already overdressed for the wrong event
and anyway I brought my samovar, so strange
that the one foreigner should have an
object so common, it should have belonged to
somebody else but the strange man who
visited the English classes (after the kids had
done a forced march through two weeks
of dialog memorization – you know, the usual talk,
which nobody ever has) had agreed to be there
and wanted the impossibility of being a part of the thing,
which he was, but not the part that drooled on his pillow
or chatted with the other guests who were parents of
the kids who were sneaking off in plain sight everywhere.

Everybody was doing a different time, the afternoon
was already too long, we should be getting back, Pavel and
Slava had found a path down to the mountain stream,
not fast anymore but broken into a hand with, intermittently,
too many or too few trickling, snow cold, clear fingers, so that
Katya was telling Roza we couldn’t go back yet
because they had to get there, that place they always
go to but hadn’t time to get to yet. Wait a minute
so we can sing folk songs in Russian and the fool
can sing Strangers in the Night in English to
the absurd afternoon gathering and
they all smile and clap, no one understanding English
but the teacher of the English class who was trying
to keep me from feeling so strange
in this setting just like I might have done with my own kids
in another time in some place on the other side of the world
not feeling so different and not needing any
hot tea, cold day, parents and teachers, kids running everywhere samovar.

I kept trying to escape so naturally I was really trapped
The children kept wandering further away
And were so preoccupied with every anything
finding joy in being able to get away from each other together
that I saw my chance and looking at some dangerous branch
wandered off to save the children from their freedom
created by the society of adults I so desperately
needed to escape and they, of course, were glad,
what was I doing there anyway and there is so much
to talk about only not now because, although his
Russian is really bad, he might get the gist of it
and we are trying so hard to make him comfortable
I think the English teacher’s going to have
a nervous breakdown and what is she thinking
about anyway, oh, thank God, he’s across the ravine now,
I hope the kids are safe, how will they talk with him?

What do they need to say? As everything is obvious anyway,
even though it only looks like what we think it is,
just as we only think we know what it looks like,
and that is why the kids are all so busy looking around
and the adults are trying to avoid it at all costs as
the little corners with the rips in them and the
frayed places in the processes of fooling ourselves
where we have grabbed them too tightly for too long
and the holding on to them has worn everybody out,
especially the kids, but they are not so desperate,
you can hear it because they can still laugh and
it doesn’t sound like a policeman dragging a table
through a crowded bazaar when they do.
I’m obviously trying not to be noticed and the kids
understand that part because that is why they are also
wondering around out here in plain sight where
people can hardly notice them. I’m getting lucky at it, too,
which is a relief, as the strain of being a happy adult
was starting to fit me too tightly like too small underwear
and all the smiling and nodding was just the basest bit
of something so thin and fragile you are afraid
to hold it any longer. The kids did and didn’t understand.

They just made it so I could be there and it wouldn’t matter
(which was something impossible for the adults)
and I began to look down and up and around, finally
starting to see brown leaves and spider webs and ugly little
round pebbles everywhere and there was sparkle on the
wet, grey stones where it didn’t belong, just as it
had always been. I was so relieved to see it again
that I wasn’t prepared for the next moment when the
whole mirror cracked and the kids came and got me
to show me that he whole view had changed and
everything was back in place now, just as they
had always known it was but I had just started getting used
to fooling myself about it again. They silently brought me to
a cold and clear and fast flowing bit of stream and
stood there wordlessly waiting for me to see it where it was lodged
against a big round stone that was pressing it to the bottom.
A young woman’s arm, neatly severed at the elbow,
sat there like a dully grayish pink bit of trapped driftwood.
The fingers were relaxed and rounded as a handshake but the skin on
the tips of the fingers had been abraded in some places
as it had tumbled in the water down the steep mountain.
Her fingernails had been neatly trimmed but had no polish.
It was surprisingly light for being waterlogged. I used dead
branches like chopsticks to remove it from the water and hid
it behind some rocks on the bank where it would remain
among the fallen leaves and traveling stones like history.


Cocaine Jesus said...

oh man oh man. what a story. a story that flow like a prose poem and fools you with its munificent beauty only to poke you in the eye at the end shattering the whole illusion with one swift sentance.
what a triumph!

Russell Ragsdale said...

Enormous thanks CJ! I've been wating to get this on paper for several years. I'm so glad this was pleasing for you. Thanks for the great comments, my old friend!

Sue hardy-Dawson said...

Definately a roller coaster- caught me conpletely off guard-the rescuing of the children really touched me too I feel we do this so often these days at what cost we will later find out

Russell Ragsdale said...

Great thanks Sue! Glad you got a good ride. It can certainly take your breath away to find out who is rescuing who sometimes.

lometa said...

They just made it so I could be there and it wouldn’t matter
(which was something impossible for the adults)

I'm a teacher too and sometimes I feel as if I have a foot in each world. I can really identify with the phrase, as well as, when a cruel reality injects itself into their world.

Russell Ragsdale said...

Great thanks lometa! I'm glad you came for a look and big thanks for the thoughtful comments.