Monday, September 19, 2011
Where I’m From
Bumpy bitter melon hangs from the vine,
Roses nod their red velvet heads
as I pluck beetles from scented petals
and tuck them into a glass jar.
I ride city busses and a subway with wooden seats;
Play in parks with lakes and cherry blossoms,
Shop in bakeries with onion rolls, miniature danish and knishes,
Walk through the museum and sit in the library, marble quiet cool and calm
while the streets outside rumble with rebellion.
There’s a raggedy yellow teddy bear sign at the corner auto repair shop.
Cardboard Coca Cola Santa’s hang from the ceiling of the corner store.
Speedy Alka Seltzer’s on TV, Good Humor men sell ice cream from bicycles and the Sinclair Dinosaur sign hangs at the gas station.
Pastel pink and lavender Thunderbirds park like butterflies on crowded streets.
The twelve o’clock whistle signals the end of Saturday cartoons and the TV shouts, “Out of the blue of the western sky, comes Sky King.”
“Lazy hazy crazy days of summer” and “Sukiyaki” play on the radio while
women at the lake with petaled organza kerchiefs covering their pink rollers
lie on blankets to tan, smothered in Coppertone.
We sing in the back seat of a blue and white Buick Special,
“Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and “Soldier Boy.”
“The M.T.A” and the” Merry Minuet” my bothers and sister,
mother and father on the long ride from Newark to Williamstown on Friday night
after taking rolls of wrapped coins to Vic’s candy store to
trade for bills so we can buy the gas to go.
During South Jersey summers before the casino’s come
we eat Sotanghan and Pancit,.
can peaches and pick blueberries.
Moths flutter around the back door light,
as we try to dance the tinikling without smashing our ankles between sticks of bamboo.
We sing with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents
long into the night
while my uncle plays the guitar
We catch frogs in the swamp near
the ruins of an old scout camp in the woods,
Dig for blue mason jars
and bits of broken plates at a long abandoned dump
and find an inkwell
with a metal top. My sister still has it.
Back home in the city,
I play Double Dutch and clapping games.
Sing the Sanctus and Agnus Dei at mass,
but only boys are allowed in the choir.
Nuns who teach us everything we know at school,
in church just deck the altar with flowers
while the priests run the show.
My first phone number is Bigelow 3-7452
and the Pope’s is Et Cum Spiri 220.
Before Mr. Zip moved the mail I lived in Zone 8.
Abad’s, Acutanza’s, Balot’s, Carbonel’s,
Dimacali’s and Europa’s.
Quilban’s, and Relova’s. Filipino family names
by way of the four Gallagher girls.
Potato pancakes and sugar cookies in the house
Where a WWI vet named George Sackmann sings
With tears in his eyes, “There’s a long, long trail a winding into the land of my dreams,”
with me on his knee. He takes me for walks to look for money
on the street. (we always find some.)
I read Taro Yashima’s Momo, the little girl who got rain boots and an umbrella
for her birthday and waited and waited for the rain to come
and when it did it was the first day she walked to school
without holding either her mother or her father’s hand.
Wanda Swoboda and the girl with only one dress to wear
to school but a hundred dresses wallpapering her bedroom walls.
Thomas Wolfe’s, “You Can’t Go Home Again”
no matter how many times you try (‘cause it isn’t there anymore)
and Tennessee Williams who understands
that human beings as fragile as we may seem
have an almost limitless capacity to endure pain and still live.
“Look,” he wrote, “'The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks!'
Posted by Diana Balot Frank at 10:33 PM