The place is so not done with me. It seems since my return that I am more influenced by Georgia that when I was there. She has this way of getting under ones skin; she lures me to her mountaintops, her music. She is my Brigadoon this enchanting place. Perhaps I will return and fine her gone; perhaps I will stay state side and never put eyes on her luscious beauty again. But suspect she has altered me and given me gifts beyond what I may imagine. She has nourished my art. Here is a piece I wrote while there, a work that has meant so much to me that as I wrote it knew I would endure ever hardship just to have birthed this narrative she gifted me with...
The rains were not heaven sent.
They were wrenching like a compulsive’s relentless cleansings, leaving raw flesh. The night torrents were a discordant lullaby that spurred sleeplessness. The barrage beat unabated against the tin roof. Day dawned dusk like. She rolled over chaffed by the scabrous sheets. Yearning for escape she rubbed her flesh flintingly.
Mirage like memories of the heat Grand Canyon during her hike sustained her. It was incubator hot, survived only by traveling from shade to shade. The cavernous hole loomed like the earth’s womb. Fierce heat seized flesh, only endured by seeking refuge in the shade of a cliff’s overhang. Now in this damp purge she longed for that fiery hole. Sun. She promised herself when the sun shone itself she would walk. Walk always. Walk away, walk like prayer. Pilgrimaging not to a site but to the earth, to soil that did not slip from under her gait.
The rains capitulated. The clouds parted like a biblical sea, the lights glimmer an invitation. As if in celebration her friends phoned and invited on a hike. Giddy with freedom she rode the local transport to their village. All were gladdened for the reprieve from the rains and from their volunteer teachings, further balmed by conversing in their native tongue.
Nothing is easy in this land. It claims itself Europe. It is Asian in history, a door to the Silk Road. The world thinks it Russia. The borders are murky. Black gold needs a route to the sea. All bicker over her boundaries.
She, the woman, thinks it Oz, with marshmallow ice cream snow-capped mountains and chattering trees. Nothing here is like before. She knows not this land, this life. At first she battered herself against it. But remembering the canyon she understood that at times it is best to take refuge in the shadows. Dark slivers had become a haven. In those hours when life grew dusky, she no longer bolted, but solaced herself in veiled light.
In the thrashing rains, in a land not hers she felt herself fallen, from the skies. A twenty-two hour plane ride and hours on a yellowed white van brought her here She had come to this place to still the noise, the noise that resounds in caverns and empty places. The constancy of her life had the making of madness. She longed for Technicolor dreams unblemished by her past. The seasons too strict in their demands, routines had become a life sentence. Her rituals tethered her to a dreamless place.
She was upended. Her middle-aged life had catapulted her to trauma. Her employer bid her goodbye; seasoned and expert teacher’s were deemed too costly and coerced into retirement. Her lover and her pet took walk abouts, never to return. No brown eyed pup, no ever-dancing man looked to her for touch. She had seized hold of life’s minutiae as though they were sacraments, till she choked on the tediousness recoiling from her own dullness. Too much spit. Too much polish. She was tarnished, dulled from over use. She left her suburban world to volunteer as an English teacher, wearing again the only skin she knew. She was placed in a peasant village near to the Black Sea.
Her terrain the sea, a Tuscan colored school and craggy hills where farm animals roamed freely. The soundtrack a rackety family whose mother bruised by the premature death of her husband made the home a refuge for all foundlings, or good witches, like she, who fall from the sky.
This visitor was tended to like a beloved. The farm wife warmed the kitchen with dense, dark coffee and offered the camaraderie of shared cup. A spoon waited for her stirrings as she added sweetness to the bitter. Tableware laid in her honor, her soiled laundry cleansed. Her domain no longer, she was a sky visitor. Decades of cooking, cleaning, choring had worn her. She had been in domestic servitude to some standard defined by empty. Perhaps her dog and her lover had become weary of this rigidity. The farmhouse was designed so that heat/fire, the meals, gatherings were in a first house. Sleep was in its separate house.
The unremitting rains had stolen her new dreams. She had been in the cooling shade too long. It held no comfort. Rolling from side to side, a ship cast in the seas she decided at all sun she would walk. No more hovering in shadow. Having endured Noah’s purge, she would always, anytime the skies did not spit their rebuke, walk as freedom.
The soil clung to her shoes and bade her welcome as she climbed. She and her fellow volunteers (a dark haired spirited coltish girl and the anachronistic British fella) had been freed from the stultifying monsoons. They walked four miles to the mountain monastery, past an ancient cemetery. At the summit in the churches courtyard sat a group of young men with their priest. He looked like Santa. Sin was a garment that was visible to his iconic eyes. Though fearing she would become lost in his vision she dares to look to his eyes. Indeed it was love that dwelled there.
Blue mirth sparkled in his twinkling eyes, as he demanded water of his acolytes. Crystal glasses were filled with mountain spring water. All drank heartily of the mountains’ gift. Gazing out to the valleys expanse, their prayers rise like wisps of wind to heaven. On this day they were like their ancient brethren nearer to the celestial realm.
They entered the ancient place, the church. They were enveloped by the suns gleam trickling through the stained glass window. As she entered the young one donned a headscarf, attiring her with reverence that did not inhibit her Moorish ancestry. Mary enraptures her, transfixing her to an image.
Mary holds the elder as well. She succumbs to the icon of Jesus’s dead mother. She never thought on the death of his mother. In prayer the apostles gathered around the entombed woman. In this a state of repose, her alabaster arm stretches heavenward to her son. He awaits her in the clouds. In his arms is a miniature version of his mother all swaddled like a babe. He holds her close to soothe her with his heartbeat. At the end the mother is held. This traveler, this elder remembers what she never knew. She remembers that she has a home. It is over the rainbow, cradled in the arms of the divine.
All exit the church. The priest and his attendants have departed. Their prayers and the absorbing view silence the climbers.
A bell tower beckons. Ascending the steep wooden ladder, she feels herself an interloper to a holy place. Amber light radiates over the distant valley. The mountain castes the suns’ rays about with seeming intention, polishing the pasture more golden. Reverently she touches the three-caste iron bells. The bronze all worn from the century’s announcements of invaders, birth, marriage, and the deaths. She longs to pull the rope, ring the bells, Quasimodo at Notre Dame. Be alert. Be alarmed. (The witch had imprisoned Dorothy in a belltower, “I want those ruby slippers, my pretty.”)
The woman descends. Anointed, her palms tingle from the touch of the bells.
Navigating against gravities lure the travelers descend the mountain. Childlike they toss sticks from bridges and race to the other side to see whose has traveled the river currents safely.
They walk, miles, many miles, with no sustenance but memory. No water. No food. On a rugged paved roadway all talk is of food. What is it they crave? In this land far away with only simple foods, what do they long for from home?
In the return all be the same. The prairie grasslands will give steaks. The taste of home, the familiar may awaken them from this dream. But this woman, she thinks she is not hungry,
These pilgrims are really the most ordinary of folk. The elder, the woman has been a teacher, wife, sister, mother. She has shopped at big box stores and driven interstates where exits feed her generic cuisine. She likes walks, movies, bike rides, the Oscars, and singing. She is ordinary. (It is true though in life she is often brave. She is the lion bellowing when incited, all bluster.)
The man is cerebral, constant, and steadfast. When given the book, Willa Cather’s, Oh Pioneer’s, he kissed the cover. He has great heart, yet yearns for love. He is the tin man.
Dorothy, the girl, though still blooming is luscious with much wattage. She plays ukulele, sings, and creates harmony. A child/woman who dwells in that in between place though not quite formed exudes and alludes to all. A student of acting she had intended to spend her life in the floodlights, in a land of lullabies. But she has encountered many witches. Dreams spurred, she has come to this land recalibrate. She thinks on form, structure, words dance in her head telling her stories.
They are really not extraordinary folks.
Stymied they have sought to awaken themselves with a journey, really no more. They make plans of eating. On this enchanted path still they dream of Kansas.
The woman, the elder is rigid. At home in the US she does yoga. Flexibility for her must be practiced. “Coffee!” She perseverates. It is like the witches broom, there will be no peace, until her need of caffeine is granted. Hunger and thirst quicken their steps. The path is yet long. Spent, their steps are punishing.
From behind a filigreed gate, a man gestures to them. He does not have their language, yet he urges them in with a chant. “Café, Coffee?” he offers.
In this nether land where there are many ways to say yes and few to say no, one learns to say yes. Entering, they walk the labyrinth of foliage, persimmon trees, and grape arbors. They step through the door to kitchen/ dining area. A wife brews Turkish coffee. The host, the husband brings forth a crystal decanter of the same amber hue as the sun on the mountain valley. The bottle promises, sunrise and sunset. The cognac had readied for two decade, waiting. Waiting perhaps these who need promise and hope. With ceremony the last light of summer is poured into bejeweled glasses. Bread from his ovens and honey from his hives grace the table. God’s nectar’s and foods are presented the earth has given her best bounty. Perhaps they have fallen. Perhaps they slipped into a tomb to another world. Perhaps she should have rung the bells announcing their arrival to the celestial realms.
A toast is offered. He is the tomada, the toastmaster, following the prescribed tradition and protocol. In his own language he speaks. Holy Spirit fires of understanding give common tongue. Passionate words flow like the rivers rush.
No common language, yet all raise glasses in, “Garmajos”. “All good to all.” He stretches his arm, reaching. They toast, the incantations continue with ardor and love, imbibing life itself. The ancestors have been revered; countries loved and sealed in peace.
Wet eyes become liquid, blinking his tears he offers a toast to fathers. He falters. He is a father. His daughter with the lively black eyes sits nearby witnessing humanities family. His ebony eyes so wet they are like vats of oil, shimmery. Now we will toast the fathers. Libations are changelings. Cognacs, whiskeys poisons that turned he own black-eyed father into the bogyman. Her heart weighted, she recoils. The past paralyzes her. Yet in this land oppressed by invaders men become like the geography. When rain torrents’ pummel so one cannot gaze in dreams. When weathered by the elements one must crawl to the earth’s crevices for shelter, to see the strains of gold that might fingers through rock. She thinks of dashed hopes; her father grows both small and big.
“To fathers.” he repeats. Much energy had been spent in not loving. “To fathers.” He stands for the toast, his arm to the heavens where earthly and heavenly father await. She listens imagining his words. (To men who sought to restrain loin’s longings. To father’s, those men who in faith said yes to love. Yes to God. To fathers, to men who bent their knees in prayer. To men who bowed their head reverentially, to hide the tears as they begged the almighty for forgiveness.)
She raises her glass, looking for her father in the smoky haze of the spirits. A trickle of the sun filters through the lacy curtain. A life measured in decades, she lived long, and long enough to know what a heavy heart is. Now though her heart expands, reprieving like canyon shade. Fire to her lips, the burning scent singeing her nostrils and tongue, a burn and as she swallows, the bleed cauterized.
Her heart grew five. She loves her dad as she did then. He was all-powerful. He tempered the Germanic ordered world of her mom. He was exotic, smelled of Old Spice. On a whim he once purchased a vintage (rusty, old) limousine. Candies always filled his pockets and dispensed liberally on his return from Sear’s and Roebuck Company. He understood that ice cream is to be stirred till it looked and flowed like the snow on the mountaintops.
She loves him, how after the workday he trudged up the sidewalk home. All grew excited. His tattered work clothes a hero’s garb. She would run to his arms. He would tousle her golden locks. Tousle them, as Jason must have held to the fleece. He rooted his soul in the brushing of the golden tendril of his child’s hair
His own father went missing to Lou Gehrig disease and St Peter’s untimely call. Just after his dad died they claimed him man enough to carry body bags in the Pacific in World War Two. He longed for a pedestal. All not forgiven. Confusing life longing with lust, he struck out, shamed her. She turned herself to stone, dressed his in loathing. She grew herself blind, dreaming of a place where troubles melt like lemon drops.
Love grew tainted. Men whose eyes sparked wanted her breath. She spent her life crawling in and out of holes. No time for shade. It is all black or white. She wants only the wind to tousle her hair. If one does not love, does one hate?
She had unhinged her armor but had not disbanded with It., stood at the ready for invaders. Burdened by weight, it no longer shielded but encumbered. Locks faded and sparkling eyes turned to crinkles. The father long dead.
Once he was a man who would have stood at the gate, beckoning strangers to his table looking to others to bring life to him. His demons supplanted in her.
“Garmajos”, implores the toastmaster. “To our father’s.” Altered by the honey’s sweetness and ensconced in this fresh heart of a man who seemed her father’s doppelganger, she felt the armor fall. She raised her glass high, and allowed to the elixir to trickle past recriminations.
The sun moved to shade, the day was leaving; the travelers scurried to the road. The host gives all a persimmon and hugs them closely, just Jesus held the mother in painting in the church. All hearts kindled by hazy hope. They sated pilgrims took to the road.
The kind man, all oiled took the lead. She was not unsteady but she could not walk. He took her hand, palm to palm childlike and navigated her down the highway. Guiding her, assuring her steps, steering her subtly like a dancer, a slight pressure-indicating move left, move right. She was foggy; the lion come awake from the poppy fields slumber. Proselytizing about love, she urges the tin man to embrace his hearts’ desires. She made much noise. Being the lion she understands petting and wooing. “ Seek love”, she implores. Still he leads her, complacently, tenderly tending to her missteps and preaching’s.
Catching up with Dorothy who had ambled on ahead, they speak again of food. Really they speak of hunger, food the mirage that spurs them forth. Onward they step.
The woman was reconciled. This night had been sacrament. This night she loved her father wholly, mended. He cast no shadow now. The bleeding chamber of her heart healed. Unburdened by debris, her blood flows cleansed, cascading like the river. She had pilgrimaged with tin man and Dorothy. She had seen the sparkle of Glinda’s fairy dust in raised crystal glasses.
Yet the balloon rose and departed without her, to that land where the stars are far behind. Her little village was unattainable. There was no bus/marsuka home. This seeker was stranded.
Earlier at the monastery the tin man had been reticent to enter. He stepped tentatively into the knave; his ginger hair in the sunlight seemed a halo. His humility and kindness anointed from the skies. Perhaps he was not godish, but he was indeed saintly. He would find her a ride from his town to her village. He would prevail in her plight. Again he led her childlike by the hand to a taxi stand. Unsteady, with no currency, her equilibrium swayed. He arranges funds and negotiates safe transport with a local taxi driver, and departs into the night.
The cab door shuts. This driver had capitulated to her plight, discounted her fare, and agreed to travel beyond limits to take her up to her mountain village. The scent of man, work fills the cab. The bulky driver fills out his form with muscles. Even in the dark of the cab his eyes spark with energy. She warms.
Longing lurks in the space between them. There is sparse language but in choppy phrases they find common voice. This man wants to know her religion. This question presses on his heart. He must know. “Are you Catholic, Orthodox?” (This land had been pillaged in not in the name of God but religion.)
She replies, “ I love God”. He too loves God. He tells her of his great love of God. Though few words they have intimacy, knowing more than they could. They have no shield, no barrier. They are course, raw.
“Kargi kali, kargi kali,” he says” (good woman, you are a good woman). He is a good man. “ Lamazia!” You are also beautiful. It is long since she has been a good or beautiful woman. She has been masked by her armor. This night she has no fortress.
He drives the blackness, along the coast of the Black Sea, up the hill; up the rutted road and pulls to the gate of her pastoral home. They turn to face each other, sparks flow still. Really they lust, lust for God and nights where longing lurks and the heavens open. They bridge through a kiss, chaste. Then tentatively the truth of their empty reveals on their tongues.
They are not young. They are seasoned, the kiss unburdens. No past. They seize to a sliver of light in the dark, clutching with ardor, hunger, and forgiveness. She was too naked. Her truth aroused him. So many kisses. So many lips, so many men she had grown calloused. Her fears had left lacerations on lovers. They had left her scarred. This night though her father rests in peace.
She understands now. She understands hungry men, their coursing loins. She understands men who genuflect and kiss the gold gild of the cross, men whose hands and souls’ are stained. Wanton with longing, excavated, they kiss deeply.
This driver is an everyman. All men who baseness she had recoiled from. His longing no sin, her yeses neither. She grasps fiercely, brazenly. She had been brave this day. Brave in her prayers and climbs to the church. Brave in kisses. Brave in in libation illumined forgiveness.
She loved this driver man deeply, with abandon in that moment. He loved God; she loved God. Oh holy union.
Sated, they gazed out to the night. A cow peered back at them lowing softly. Placid brown eyes gazed at the lover’s.
Once, years before at a different sea, in different arms, a young man had kissed her, a memorable kiss by which she measured all others. They’d a yearning so great that love’s decorum was forgotten. In an abandoned roofless cottage at the seas strand with the clouds and all dreams floating above, he tenderly, with promise took her young lips to his, etched himself in memory. A man with sea colored eyes whose accent fell like music to her ears had kissed her ardently. He kissed with intention. He spoke of how they would live here by the sea, raise a brood of babe’s, and wake each morn to the chanting of the tides. Further he kissed, holding her fast so she did not slip away like the ceiling of clouds. In a lyrical accent he gave her a refrain, a lyric that lived through the decades, even to dark cabs on rutted roads in far away lands. “I could kiss you till the cows come home.”
Perhaps there is an afterword in life. Perhaps dark nights, cows, and love float until the kiss is consummated with hope.
Once home all agitated and aroused she phones across time zones to a friend. These woman are six decades old, yet still they dream on love, longing. But they are not prattling schoolgirls. They understand that it is not the lover’s they long for, but to embody their sex, their womanness fully. So many no’s, too many no’s, and the no’s that were discarded as yeses. Longings shelved, dreams deferred, these women are believer’s in fairy tales, and redemption and the glorious canyons of woman self.
On this night she had not said, “yes” to the man, rather she had this time said yes to herself. Yes to the sangria of the verdant lure the canyon, yes to the self, the holy woman self. As flesh sags, souls soar. The sister friend wishes sweet dreams, sweeter dreams.
Spent she slumbers. Dawn comes to this dreamer. She touches to the damp of self; shame and remorse is her tainted afterglow. She has sinned. Penitent, she walks the mountain hills, gazing on the matted grasses from the grazing cows. She peers to the mountains of the south seeking the monastery. She is dirty. Resonant noise of loathing cascades through her every thought. Sullied she believes she will loose the ruby slippers. Her mind murky with small thoughts, Her father’s epistles, sermons, and chastisements resonate. Hell awaits her. She dwells there now. Seeking she turns down the valley to the cemetery. She rests on a marble bench by a tomb of the father/ husband of her host family. Etched in granite, immune to time, the man smiles. His arm rises skyward with drink in hand. He toasts, “garmajos”. He stands tall, virile, his youth, and zest encapsulated in the image.
Life lust had not yet been exorcised from his spirit. She imagines his last wish, imagines that as he lay dying on the roadside he longed for one touch of the flesh of his beloved. Perhaps just one more kiss.
One night as the woman sat in the damp kitchen a song came on the TV, sparking memory in the farm widow. Grabbing her guest, she said “Bossa Nova? “ They danced in the kitchen. (Surely this farm wife swaddled all in black had not been held since her husband died. Surely this visitor had been untended by love. ) They danced to music mooing cows and clucking chickens.
Love must not be enshrouded with the dead.
At the grave she sits, embraced by the sun and the image of the husband. In the rustling leaves he speaks. “ What you have been dreaming for is what you need believe. There is only one way home and that is through belief in your goodness.”
No regret. Kiss and kiss again. Kiss relentlessly with fury.
Her father rests now in peace. Memory will not be exhumed. She burns with love. Her father excised, all is holy. Hurt banished, burned in the swallows of drink and the ministering touch of a fellow believer. Innocence is revealed; she is five to his heart again. Unscathed now he is welcomed back.
She weeps, grieving not only her daddy but freed from the abyss of hatred. She has been spun through the sky. All seems the same but altered.
She has been to Oz, the sacred mountain. She had left Kansas so that she might come to love it. Unburdened by baggage, liberated by yes’, and led by sacred guides, she was now free. There are rainbows to the incessant rains and Emerald City roads, though arduous, ultimately lead homeward. In the most unlikely places one may be entranced and led to an Elysium landscapes where the bells toll out, love.