Frenchman's Bay, Maine

Frenchman's Bay, Maine

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Praise the Unlikely

I wrote this poem a few years ago, in response to an assignment given by my Portland writing group. Wendy said, "why don't we write a poem in praise of something unlikely..." and I thought of the incubator where I spent a month as a newborn. Not that I remember anything -- but my parents recall plenty and have shared the details with me. So here it is.


You’ve seen old-fashioned isolettes—
glassed-in box, simple warming element,
spartan decor. Ohio, the Bucyrus Hospital
nursery for premature babies. In JFK’s
and Jackie’s era; their son Patrick, born
early, lost to hyaline membrane disease.

Oxygen piped in, titrated, but the outcome
uncertain on infant retinas. Bleach scrub,
pHisohex, the whiff of dirty diapers,
and my newlywed mother, permitted only
to stare at her naked infant— flushed,
bawling. The nineteen-fifties, when preemies
were to be seen, not touched. Echoes of
that lady from church & her pronouncement,
“your baby could be blind, or slow, or both.”

Finally, a month later, mom lifting
Laura, hardly bigger than a hamster,
from the incubator – peach fuzz hair, powdered
flesh – dressing her daughter for the first time
in a pink smock, embroidered socks,
rubbing each scrubbed knee and toe, making sure
to memorize every curve, every bump
before the long drive home to Oregon.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Instead Of TV

When I was a kid in Burundi, we didn't have a television or phone. About the most advanced piece of technology in our house was a shortwave radio--on which my folks listened to news and received word of missionaries or nationals needing medical attention. My father worked as a doctor at the Murore hospital, and since medical facilities were far and few between, people from hundreds of kilometers around came to Murore for surgery, lab work, and any necessary care.

After mom finished a morning of homeschool with me, I often ran down the path to the brick hospital, greeting dispensers and nurses, weaving through lines of brightly-clothed mothers with toddlers and babies waiting for immunizations. If dad was in surgery, I scrubbed up, put on sterile coveralls and face mask, and entered the operating room to watch the latest childbirth, skin graft, or hernia repair taking place. Much more entertaining than television! There was a wooden crate which I'd drag over to the operating table, turn over, and stand on--that way I could see better. It never occurred to me to be squeamish. Dad kept my interest by describing "now we're cutting through the fatty layer of skin" or "to sew her up, I'm going to use a special suture..." and it looked like the human anatomy pages in Worldbook Encyclopedia, come alive.

Looking back, I realize the unusual privilege of being able to observe how each person is "fearfully and wonderfully made," of seeing patients in life and death situations, and watching a team work together to repair wounds and bodily pains. At the time, it just seemed normal. Maybe that's why in college, I started out pre-med, although after the first year I switched majors. I wanted to recapture some magic from my childhood...and, truth be told, I just need to close my eyes, and I'm in the O.R. again, hearing the anesthesiologist calling out the level of sedation, watching the young man's chest under the green drapes, rising and falling, rising and falling in rhythm, as steel scalpel and gloved hands flash before me in a steady pattern.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

This Is The Sun's Birthday

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

--e.e. cummings

This is how spring makes me feel. Thank you e.e., for writing poetry! I walked beside freshly plowed fields this afternoon, passing other individuals and couples out for a stroll in the unexpected sunshine. An old man wearing a black beret and dark sweater cycled slowly past, sitting straight and tall on his rusted bicycle. At his age, I hope to be doing the same.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Book I've Been Waiting For

Currently Reading -- Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global -- this just arrived in the latest mail, and I can hardly keep my hands off it! Authors include Isabel Allende, Pat Conroy, Pico Iyer, and Ruth Van Reken. Once I'm done with the book, I'll let you know what I think.

Spring Has Sprung?

It’s finally sunny again after a few weeks of snow and mushy grey clouds. Yay! Even though I’m fighting the tail end of a flu-ish cold, I walked to a small grocery store a mile away, just to savor the fresh air. Normally, there’s an Edeka shop a few blocks away which I prefer, in part because I enjoy the two elderly women tending shop and their good-natured banter, but today was a day for stretching the legs…At the rival store across town, I browsed among numerous sausages in the fresh meat case, including plain bratwurst, herbed bratwurst, lamb and beef sausage, and about ten more varieties, for good measure. Germans and their bratwurst addiction, what can I say. The counter woman was patient with my still-halting Deutsch, explaining ingredients and helping me figure out how long to cook each piece of meat. That done, I added fresh sesame brotchen (rolls) to my cart, passed by the always-extensive wine aisle (we have plenty left at home), and bought a pack of Wrigley’s grapefruit mint chewing gum, something I’ve never seen in the States. On my way home, I noticed crocuses are beginning to bloom. This is the time of year I love.

Another sign of spring: the miniscule gelato shop up by the markt platz just re-opened, and soon we’ll be taking evening strolls (after dinner, of course) for a serving of spaghetti eis – strands of vanilla ice cream squeezed out of a machine to look exactly like noodles, topped with pureed raspberry sauce (resembling tomato sauce), then sprinkled with shavings of white chocolate (the parmesan!). A silly and marvelous taste treat.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Like A Child

A few days ago, I bought a children's song book in German from the local thrift store--and I've enjoyed browsing through it, recognizing words here and there, looking up many others in my handy compact dictionary. It's easier for me to retain new words when I see them printed, with an illustration alongside as reinforcement. Hence, picture books make up a big chunk of my new Deutsch library! (a great excuse to continue buying them, now that my youngest is thirteen in April...).

A few of the books I have in German:
*Meine allererste Bibel -- My First Bible
*Die Entdeckung -- The Discovery (a graphic novel from the Anne Frank Haus)
*Mein Schneemann -- The Snowman (a wordless book by Raymond Briggs; ok, this one is purely for the illustrations!)
*Madeleine -- good old Madeleine, she sounds a bit different when she's speaking German instead of French

Now, I need to find a good children's poetry book in German. Any suggestions? Ideally, one that's originally been written in German, not translated from English or another language. I guess the best place I can start is by asking my neighbors, "what did your mom and dad read to you when you were growing up?"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Where I'm From

I found a great poetry assignment at Blogging In Paris -- you might like to try it yourself. Here's my attempt so far, it's been fun thinking back on my origins:


I’m from deep-fried samosas,
sweet potatoes and manioc root.
From the northeast border
of Burundi, high hills,
papaya trees, red dirt.
I’m from the clock-making Mauthes
and the China mission Cornwells.
From “Practice your piano!”
and “God is great, God is good."
I'm from Hyena Cave hikes
and Mount Bachelor weekends,
from Grandma Dorothy's
crossword puzzles
& Grandpa Dan, speaking German
at home, English at school.
I'm from anise-seed wafers
at Christmas, fresh string beans,
stir-fried kale with tofu.
From the antique cookie jar,
the brass Buddha in a corner,
and Dad's Africa slides --
malaria patients and burn victims
cheek by jowl
with burnt sienna sunsets.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

And The Snow Continues

Here it is March, and we still have snow. OK, I admit it, I'm a cold-weather-wimp. But it can't be long until the first flower bulbs start to pop up, right? A few days ago, a lot of pavement spots had invisible ice...anyway, Jeff took it slowly on the autobahn entrance, but accelerated and spun out on the hidden ice at the end of the ramp, hitting the guardrail a few times--the car did a 180. His car has dents front and back, basically totalled it, but Jeff's alright, so that's the best part.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Strange Occupations

There's this boy in my daughter's class whom I really enjoy, in fact I've been thinking he's a great kid since last year, when he was in my group for the Christmas market fieldtrip to a nearby town. We spent a few hours walking around the market, looking at candles, pottery, woven scarves, and a ton of other gift choices. The entire time, K. (the boy) kept saying, "I want to find just the right present for my mom. We can't leave until I find something good." Eventually, he settled on a framed silver and black etching of zebras, and carried it onto the schoolbus, making a victory salute to his buddies. And that, of course, won my heart--ever since then, I've had a soft spot for K., because he loves his mom and *gasp* talks about it in public. Pretty unusual for middle school boys.

A few days ago, my daughter came home from school and told me what the seventh grade did this week for language arts: pairs of students interviewed each other about what they wanted to do when they grew up, and then reported to the class. "And you'll never guess what K. is going to be!" she said.
"What?" I was really curious.
"Well...(long pause)...he wants to be a poet." Oh, I knew I liked that boy!
"Or else... an assassin."
"And if he can't be those, then a psychologist."
Hmmm. Might be needing one of those in the future.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion--
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God's love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

from To Live In The Mercy Of God -- by Denise Levertov

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Learning to Read...

Yes, I'm learning to read...utilities, that is. And I do feel like a five year old trying to piece together lines on a page to form a word or two!

Having been raised in the tiny country of Burundi, Africa, I thought I had a good amount of empathy for people who move to America and start an entirely new life there--after all, hadn't I entered American society first as a ten old, clueless to many of the customs and expectations in "my" culture? Well, yes, that experience certainly made me more understanding of those who must adjust to a strange land and to new ways. But I'll tell you, after moving to Germany a year and a half ago when I was forty-six, I have even more admiration for the many who immigrate to the US and begin anew, especially grown-ups. It's just harder to do as an adult. Also, I knew English already when my parents returned to the States--a big advantage.

For example, this is my project today: I'm trying to decipher various key words in a letter from the local German utility company. Fortunately, the letter has color illustrations and an example, helpfully filled out. And I've consulted my Heinemann/Harrap German dictionary multiple times. Everything just takes three times as long to accomplish! When I'm more fluent in the language, it will be easier. But for the moment, I muddle along. Here's what I'm working on:

Also, my German neighbor, Frauke, has been of great assistance. She willingly translates letters and papers for me, and answers queries such as, "Do German doctors mind being asked lots of questions about their plan of action & diagnosis?" (She says "yes" in case you wondered.)

Oh, there's an online translater I like as well--BabelFish.