Chang’e

when the sky was hung
with ten suns
(the story begins)
that terrible era of ash

& air so thick of bone
& spice of ginger root
how they got there emblazed
until all was yellow and grey

no one knew not even
the blind crones with
wood for teeth banging

bowls at their feet
the days of ten suns
precluded no night

no relief of blooming jasmine
wrung around a lattice
rivers & wells shriveled
to scorch of hair

to clap of dry thunder
& fusing metals
all the land a hostage

but nine too many —
farmers shook their
glistening heads

phoenixes drifted out of
cages trailing soot
& no love-making occurred

throughout all those years
generations at a stand-still
it is possible to die

from too much light
possible the obliteration of
entire chronicles of war

of nations by nine suns
too many, so to begin
new histories of rancor

even then, she says
from her lunar perch
in which shadow melts
into shadow

even then was a time
though of no resplendence
of something material:
fever & strange winds

& stranger cravings
for fruit & tears &
docile daughters

until her husband
archer among the ranks
of men, with his ardent bow
and arrow struck straight

the nine oppressive orbs
(which ones counterfeit?)
& they came tumbling fast
down to Earth smothered to ash

& the grasses grew
& horses cantered by streams
swelling up again the banks
& oceans fierce with tide

the moon is no comfort
how I would’ve died then,
she says, for a stretch of
twilight, but the journey

was inexorable —
the elixir mistakenly swallowed,
the rise and pull up into
celestial abyss, black hair
streaming in vertigo
of absence

which is the same
vertigo now as she sits
under the leafless cherry tree
sprouting from luminescence

of moon rock,
where the Earth from afar
is so changing and blue
here where dark and light are
one and the same darkness

(P.S. Wifey, I think it’s interesting [or predictable?] we both titled our poems the names of our folktale women, and that they also both have inner monologues. <3)

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“From Madrid, to heaven”

Where’ve you been? Tell me, where’ve you been?
I’ve looked all over the city for you
And couldn’t find you
Today I buried the kisses I gave
Now I don’t have to wait anymore,
Lost in the street,
Lost in the street

– Taxi, “Perdido en la Calle”

I love this song and this video because of the girl who is moving forward through the streets of Madrid while everyone else is backtracking through time. It makes me think of my time in Madrid, and how much of my four years there has involved a similar de-synchronization of my life from that of family and friends at home. I felt like I was leaving not only those people behind while they went about with their lives, but also my early 20’s, the other me.

This, of course, was not the case my first year abroad. I loved everything about Madrid when I first arrived, the people, the parties, the coffee, the nightlife, my roommates, my classmates. And above all, the feeling that I was not at home, I was in this crazy place where people took siestas regularly and I had to fend for myself in the mire of English-teaching, Spanish-learning, Spanish bureaucracy, and Spanish boys. And I loved every minute of it.

But after awhile, I remember it all got a little tiring. I began to miss home a bit, particularly New York City. I would miss the big skyscrapers and the way they made me feel anonymous and small; I missed college, reminisced about living in the city and the adventures I had. I continually compared Madrid to New York and was sometimes annoyed by its shortcomings — like why did people stare so much? Why is nothing open 24 hours? Why are there no cute hipster coffee shops where I can vege on my laptop all day? Why do people party so much?

Yep, when I arrived I couldn’t get enough of going out, and by spring I was already tired of it all. Things were becoming so familiar, the avenues, the restaurants, my classes. I began to wish it were a more beautiful city, or perhaps grittier, with more places to hide and burrow myself into while I was missing home. I found it difficult to have moments like the ones in college, sitting on some stoop in the Lower East Side, feeling strange and poetic and on the verge of vomiting a poem. In New York, things were never predictable and people were never complacent.

I think this is one of those cliche cases of not appreciating things until you lose them. This spring, my friend Allison visited me, and I took her to all the usual places in Madrid — Retiro Park, the Palace, Plaza Mayor, etc. I had never really admired the city aesthetically, but her amazement with Retiro and everything else I showed her made me think again. Yes, I had this gorgeous park a bus-ride away, these old beautiful buildings all over, and so much history that I just simply took for granted. And then there’s the neighborhoods that are such treasure troves of la vida madrileña— Malasaña, Bilbao, Lavapiés, La Latina.

On our evening walk through the Palace gardens, she asked me, “Why would you want to leave this?” And I had second thoughts again. Yes, why would I want to leave? I was starting to feel pangs of regret while we strolled under the Palace lights. I thought about all the walks I took through Sol, the shopping trips on Gran Via, the hours on the Metro, the beautiful springs and the fun nights. And I had to agree with her. I had never admired Madrid the way I did these last couple of months. I began to sincerely say to people that I loved Madrid, that it was an amazing city.

I had built my life from the ground up these last four years there, made great friends, maintained the longest-lasting relationship and adventure I ever had, and grew up, a lot.  I wish my college self had known what I learned in Madrid. In Madrid, I became more outspoken because I was able to navigate life in another language. I figured out the kinds of people I wanted to keep around me, and was okay with not pleasing everyone. I learned how to live with who I loved.  And I was able to develop those things I loved to do — read, write, travel, be with good people. From my old roommate Judy, from Janet, from Cynthia, John, and Isa, from many people, and of course from Javi, I learned these things, and I couldn’t be happier for the times spent with them.

Being in your 20’s and in New York — it always constitutes a lost, romantic condition. I think my disillusionment with Madrid was the lack of this. Days were always sunny, every bar was always full of people, feelings didn’t seem as complex. And perhaps that is why I couldn’t find that in Madrid, because I was never lost there. I always knew, in the back of my mind, what I wanted; that was also a part of the growing up. And I knew, when I returned to Madrid last Christmas from Philly, that it was time to go home.

I was excited when I made the decision. I thought of all the people I’d be seeing at home, all the things I could do once I got there and began living life there again. All the pho I would eat. But when the time came for me to stuff two huge suitcases with all the clothes, shoes, books, and keepsakes I’d collected in four years, I couldn’t stop bawling my eyes out. It was, of course, an impossible task, so I’ve left half of my life there waiting. Madrid will always be my other home, and I’m certain that I’ll return one day.

When it all started, I was 22 and alone, dragging one large suitcase down Paseo de Extramedura, asking people in sloppy Spanish for number 146. And when I had to leave, I didn’t want to leave. But I knew I had to, so that I could reconnect with my other life on the other side of the big pond, and so I could grow up even more and do the things I want to do. It was always hard juggling these two sides that were completely different; it was draining and confusing and made me wish life were simpler. But I feel as if I’m on the right track now, and on the road to piecing them together.  Thanks for everything, Madrid. I love you.

De Madrid al cielo. From Madrid to heaven. 


Arrival!

I’m finally here! After some intense luggage-hauling on the metro, up the metro stairs, back and forth through my neighborhood (where the average age seems to be about 60), I finally found my apartment number, 146 on Paseo de Extremadura. My landlord, Jose, and his wife were extremely welcoming and accommodating, working with my rusty español and drawing me maps of the neighborhood. The apartment has four bedrooms, a kitchen, a nice lounge area, a hallway, and two bathrooms (pics to come), and the other roommates will be arriving next week, so I’ve got the place all to myself for the weekend.

First thing on the agenda: grocery shopping. I got introduced to a cheap grocery chain called Día around the corner, and I’ve already been there twice. Food here is surprisingly cheap, so the roommate grocery shopping competitions here won’t be as brutal 🙂

Second on the agenda (very boring but the highlight of my weekend it seems): the grueling hunt for a new voltage converter so I could plug in my dying American electronics and since I discovered that mine was broken. I had to carry the broken converter around, explaining what I needed to about 5 different confused people before a Brasileño in an internet cafe finally understood. He took me to about 3 different tiendas, most of them strangely enough run by Chinese folk, but to no avail. Then, a trip to Plaza España by bus, to the shopping mall Corte Inglés, to 6th floor electronics. And now I am whole again with a charging laptop and phone.

Okay, interesting things now: I am always surprised by how welcoming the Spaniards are and how they’re always willing to help out lost little tourists. And they are always pleased when you make an effort to speak their language. Central Madrid seems so much less brutal in comparison to New York; rather than bulldozing their way through the streets, the people saunter hand-in-hand down the criss-crossing avenues. The kind of strolling that I have a hard time getting used to. After spending some time in a neighborhood café with a cup of coffee, I’m already starting to feel a bit more adapted. Even after one day, I’ve grown more comfortable with speaking Spanish and have even learned some new words by watching daytime TV. I have another day til my class begins…this means I’m off to free Sundays at the Prado art museum! =D