Thursday, March 3, 2005

Soon this space will be too small

I diagramed my life the other night: a small, two-dimensional square.

Several years ago, I collaborated with my friend Lyn on a recording of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence.” She read/interpreted the poem over my original piano accompaniment.

Always, after I’ve come full circle, the final stanza reverberates still:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.
For the past week, I’ve been officially mesmerized by Lhasa de Sela’s The Living Road; the last track particularly speaks to me:
Soon this space will be too small
And I will go outside
To the huge hillside
Where the wild winds blow
And the cold stars shine
I will put my foot on the living road
And be carried from here to the heart of the world
And I’ll say the three words that will save us all
And I’ll say the three words that will save us all
My veins and bones will be burned to dust
You can throw me into a black iron pot
And my dust will tell
What my flesh would not
When I hear her voice, I retrace my steps across Montreal, knowing that that is where she lives, steps I took so many springs ago to visit a friend, Salam from Lebanon—whose name means “peace.”

When I hear her words, I’m standing atop Thursday Hill in Lublin looking out across the horizon. There, the neo-Gothic castle; there, the death camp Majdanek; there, the chapel with the ancient frescoes; there the bus station and Gypsy market. And here, my feet planted firmly on terra nova.

When she sings about the cold stars, I’m standing on the roof of my apartment complex in Shimonoseki watching the constellations unfold across the spring sky with the scent of cherry blossoms hanging in the humid air.

And yet I’m still here. Tutaj. Aquí. Здесь. Тут. For a minimum of three more years I’ll be here, blooming where I’m planted—thanks, sister, for that constant reminder and implication! (Now if only I could get my exes to stop sending me emails desperately asking, “Are you in Dallas still? Where are you?” constantly reminding me of my other lives so many miles from here....)

The trick, no? is to find Salam (that inner peace) where I am (not in Montreal) after taking up the journey on the Living Road. And yet in my Latin lesson this morning, I read Seneca’s “Vita est iter”: life is a journey. And the more I stay here, the closer east gets to west. And it takes more than three words to save us all.

I can’t even find Salam these days, even on; and we’re no longer friends. My friendship with his analogue Jihad from Damascus (though possibly living in Toronto these days) is more than over as well. I think I need some strong Turkish coffee—if only I could remember Salam’s recipe—and a puff or two from the opium pipe to get me out of my own head. To get me away from here. If only for an hour.


  1. I found this info and I thought it might help. I guess you'll just have to go to the Balkans to buy that "dÏezva."

    Turkish coffee refers to a traditional method used to brew coffee. Part of this method includes using a specially designed pot called a "dÏezva" (pronounced jezva) to brew the coffee. This pot varies in size and color although it is shaped similar to a large ladle with an extended handle on whose end a cup with a pour spout dangles. Originally, these pots were constructed from brass. Nowadays, they are made from enamel and can be commonly found in grocery and department stores throughout southern Europe and the Balkans.

    To make Turkish coffee, besides the proper pot, you also need to purchase roasted coffee beans whose taste, when ground, is slightly harsh. Additionally, these beans should be ground on the finest possible setting. If you want to purchase pre-ground coffee for use in making the Turkish coffee, make sure that coffee's label indicates that it can be used specifically for making this type of coffee. Otherwise, do not use the coffee, as it will not yield the proper results. Instead, purchase whole beans and have them ground.

    To start making the coffee, if you want to produce four cups of coffee, for example, add four cups of water into the pot. If sweetened coffee is desired, add 1 teaspoon of sugar per 2 cups of water. Bring this mixture to a boil over a stovetop. Once the water is boiling, remove the pot from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of coffee for each cup of water in the pot. Stir the coffee in the water and place the pot back onto the stovetop. At this time, do not leave the pot unattended, as the coffee will boil quickly once more. When the coffee begins to boil again and a layer of foam appears towards the top of the pot, remove the pot from the heat and set it aside for a minute or two to cool. This allows the coffee grinds to settle on the bottom of the pot. Once a few minutes have passed, you are ready to enjoy the coffee.

    Hope you enjoy it to the last drop!

  2. Frankie-
    After a day that included finally quitting a job that has sapped my soul and made me wonder if I'm much more than flotsam, but nonetheless provided me with the first real financial security I've had as a single person--I'm alone and scared of the future--wondering if I'll ever be planted, much less fucking bloom. Thank you for this poem--I'd never read it. I'm grieving tonight over deferred dreams of so many loved ones and wondering how I got here. However, my friend, our spaces do not have to be small forever.

    Here's to all of us who still seek Salam.


  3. Last night, laying in bed randomly learning new words by flipping through the dictionary, I came across travel and its word history: "The hardships of making a journey in earlier time is reflected in the etymological identity of the words travel and travail. Both are derived from Old French travailler, which originally meant 'to torment, to trouble,' and later came to mean 'to be troubled, to be in pain, to work hard.'" To travel or to travail, that is the fucking question, no? And yet staying put is just as hard as taking that first step, putting one foot in front of the other, back in the olden days. Congrats to you, Special K! Those boots were indeed made for walkin'.

  4. Ya know...what's not to love about a blog where someone uses the words "etymological", "travailler", and "fucking" in the same post.


  5. Hey Babe,

    Call me and let's do lunch SOON. If we are going to be malcontents...we might as well be malcontents together for an hour or two.

    And I can give you the list of all the people who are glad you are back where you were planted, if only for awhile, and even if we never make time to actually get together...