Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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Prayer on the Wind: Day 24 of the April Poetry Challenge

Yesterday I learned about a new form of poetry: Tanka. Tanka is like the big sister of Haiku, a little bigger and maybe a bit more grown-up. Although I understand the syllable count is not a strict requirement, the Tanka adds two lines (each of 7-ish syllables) to the 5-7-5 structure of the Haiku. While offering more freedom, Tanka is also more focused – presenting an image from the natural world and then expressing emotional meaning through that image.

I read that description and immediately knew I wanted to try it. Thankfully the day’s weather offered a perfect manifestation of the natural world to inspire me. The picture window off my dining room presented the picture of a warm New Jersey spring, but the wind that wrapped around my legs and tossed my hair the moment I stepped outside felt more like a mistral – the cold, strong gusts that tug at the Mediterranean coasts during this seasonal transition.

It was disappointing. The Winter that greeted our return to New Jersey has been so cold and long and – frankly – unwelcoming, that I am longing for Spring to really and truly arrive and tell me that this is where I belong. I don’t want to be blown back across the Atlantic when I am trying so hard to build my life here.

But then a memory of another Mediterranean wind blew into my mind and stopped my grumbling. It was the Summer wind that enchanted my daughter and I on the Greek island of Tinos and inspired one of my first ever blog posts. (That post is still one of my favorite things I have ever written – click here if you are curious). Sometimes the power of the wind cannot be measured in physical force.


 

Prayer on the Wind

 

The wind blows today

harder than I want, but then

I remember when

island wind blew through her hair

and taught my soul a prayer.


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The Smell of Isolation: Day 16 of the April Poetry Challenge

I caught a random segment of NPR this morning while I was driving to a meeting. The reporter was interviewing the author of a new book of “tips and etiquette” for getting around New York City. It was an entertaining interchange that was mostly fluff, but one throw-away comment struck a nerve with me.

Beware the empty train car – there’s a reason it’s empty.

Having recently resided in a major metropolitan city for nearly three years, and having travelled regularly on public transportation, I immediately knew what that comment was about. And it made me uncomfortable.

I was instantly transported back to a half-empty tram car in Milan — it was the back half that was empty. It was an experience that occurred at least six months ago, but it is still hanging in the back of my mind, like a musty old overcoat that was put away before it had the chance to air out from the damp walk through clinging, rain-soaked, autumn undergrowth. There’s an off-putting smell that demands attention… much like the empty train car.


 

The Smell of Isolation

 

The odor was not what registered first,

squeezing onto the crowded tram,

the crush of strangers’ bodies and voices,

eyes darting for a vacant seat,

a corner free of elbows and oversized bags,

where my little ones could safely sit.

The vacant row is what I noticed,

the wide open sanctuary at the back of the car.

Only one stranger

quiet,

legs spread wide,

eyes closed in his haven of space.

The crowd pushed back,

toward me,

or away from him,

but I pushed forward,

toward the long empty row

little ones in tow.

Not until we are seated.

Not until then did I recognize

the heavy scent of unwashed skin,

the wave of oder the pushes out

pushes against the crowd.

Insisting on an indecent distance.

 

I swallow hard

against the cloying taste hanging in the air;

and against my own reactions of disgust.

He is God’s child too.

repeating the words,

like a mantra, a prayer

to my closed eyelids.

They have shut

almost involuntarily

shut out the image of that pregnant cocoon of space.

 

I force them open,

but they still turn away.

Instead they scan the faces

of those pushed to form the surface –

the human portion of that wall –

all curling lips and furtive glances.

I do not want to join them.

the smell pushes on my nostrils too,

causes them to flare, to flinch.

But I do not want to join that group,

do not want my lips to curl in mirroring disdain,

do not want my body to lean away.

But I am leaning.

not away, precisely.

I lean into the space between

a human shield for little noses, little eyes.

It makes no sense.

My body cannot block the smell,

and curious eyes will seek to find

any image they notice me conceal.

But still I lean,

and leaning in my own eyes notice something… comforting?

They. are. oblivious.

Can it be their little noses have not learned disdain for human smells?

Or is it

Please, God, let it be

they have not learned to judge their fellow human beings

by such corporeal matters

as personal hygiene.

 

I do not know the reason,

but I pray fervently that the fruit of knowledge

with not come crashing into their little Eden

on that train.

And while they squirm and giggle in their luxury of space,

I spend the ride tied up in knots

that have nothing to do with the nausea that assaults me

with each inhalation.

Five stops. I count them:

Disgust.

Anxiety.

Pity.

Fear.

Shame.

I ride in a prison of empty space and shackling emotions.

 

But.

There he sits,

eyes closed,

legs spread,

arms folded across his barrel chest,

forbidding all who would approach.

A king upon his solitary throne.

 

Perhaps he has made his peace,

refused the shame,

of the smell of isolation.