Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Okay, I saw this T-shirt in a shop window on the Hauptstraße and wondered, wth? At first I thought it was some idiot attempt at English and then I decided to research it on the web. Turns out this phrase is quite popular in Deutsch; it's considered highly amusing and is often plastered on T-shirts. It translates loosely to "Caution: When you get on my nerves, I will put you down the drain, close the lid, and you will never come back to the daylight!" It's interesting how often you hear a hybrid of English and German spoken here in Heidelberg; they are incredibly fluent, though their grammar is sketchy.

Frailty, Thy Name is Mother!

I've had one of those weeks: the kind that make you feel like a total failure as a parent. Looking back, I would say the vast majority of my parenting experience has felt like a failed experiment, and I've only been a parent for 5 years and 4 months. My son has been in trouble at school this week because he showed his penis on the bus. Most parents would keep this information in-house, but I'm going to broadcast it, because, well, it's just funny as hell; And I want other parents to know they aren't alone, kids do some very embarrassing crap. My son and one of his friends thought in their 5-year-old brains that showing their butts and penises would be hilarious. One of the little girls on the bus didn't find it hilarious, and went home to her mother, who called the school principal, who called me in. And what am I to say? I mean really, when I relate this story to grown men, they just laugh, because apparently this is hilarious even when you are an adult man.
This isn't the only embarrassment he's caused me recently. A couple of weeks ago, we were at the dentist, and when his Korean dentist spoke to him in her heavy accent, he replied rather irately, "Speak English!!!" Of course, she was speaking English. I wanted a hole to open up in the floor so I could crawl in and die privately of embarrassment. Thinking about it later, I realized his reaction is the result of living in a foreign country and having people speak to him in a language he doesn't understand. He's already really tired of hearing German and feeling like he's on the outside of whatever is going on here. I'm tired of it too, if I'm being honest.
These two anecdotes alone could serve to prove my failure as a mother. Why haven't I trained him better? Why haven't I coached him on proper behavior; why haven't I foreseen the situations he would be put in and all the possible actions he would take? Why? Because I can't. Because we never know what our children are going to do until they do it. And that's the beauty of parenting children; they are these incredible amazing layered trifle dishes, each dip into them reveals new things. I've finally realized I'm not responsible for all the impossibly varied personality traits and quirks. And I really want to glory in this diversity and the surprises my children present.
This spring I took a class called "Life Writing" in which we wrote personal essays and then workshopped these pieces. I wrote an essay called "Mommyhood" which I've since re-titled "The Job That Took Over My Life" (I'm going to post this essay when I have a chance to type it out here on the blog). This essay was met with such resistance by the female population of the class that I was shocked and dismayed. The essay was meant to be humorous, a meditation on how motherhood has changed me; it was snarky and sarcastic. The first line is, "I hate being a mom." This was supposed to set the tone for a sarcastic look at the woes of motherhood, but the women in the class were horrified. How can you hate being a mom? How can you admit such a negative emotion about the highest calling women have on earth? Even the women in the class who are not mothers attacked me with vehemence, which I found both amusing and absurd. I was really hurt by the reaction, but it was a good experience for me, because my workshop experience is limited and I needed to be reminded not to take critique so personally. I've pondered the polarizing effect my essay had in the class (the males were immune to the rage; they thought the essay was funny and accurate) and my conclusion has been that women take mothering very personally because it says something crucial about their selves. A woman sees motherhood as more than an identity; she sees it as an expression of her innermost self. The child becomes a mini-me in which to mirror my finer points. The problem is when the child disappoints, embarrasses, loses. If you've ever seen the mom who is gussied-up at the mall with her toddler daughter in tow, wearing a matching outfit and gaudy lip-gloss and nail polish, you know what I'm talking about. If you've ever seen the agony of a dad on the sidelines of any sporting event when his son makes a crucial mistake, you know what I'm talking about. If you've ever seen the shame of parents when their teenage daughter gets pregnant or they find out their son is addicted to meth, you know what I'm talking about. They way we react as parents is so crucial in these moments. If we see our kids as mini-me's, our self-image will be shot. And our parent-child relationship can be damaged for a lifetime.
For me, I'm slowly learning that I have to be my own person with my own life and my own interests, or I can so easily fall into the trap of obsessively living vicariously through my children. I'm also learning to let my kids be their own divine little souls, with their own spark of fire, entirely unique to them. And when that spark flares, and embarrasses me, I try to remind myself of all the ways I embarrassed my own parents, and all the times they graciously ignored the little fires I set.
Blessings upon you, Mom and Dad.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Rhyming Part

I've never been afraid of giving.
As a small child I would sit in the back
of our wood-paneled station wagon and sing
to whoever would listen. I can dream, seem,
beam, reem, feem, deem. I'll sing, ring, ling
to the ding dong fling!
O, how I'd sing!
Until the day I sang to my sister,
You're a bad meanus, renus, lenus, penis!
And then my mother said I must STOP!
I didn't know what I'd done wrong.
I was only sharing my heart in song,
and so the rhyming part crawled back
to its hole and shivered. It waited
a few years and crept out again on the page
of my first diary. This time it sang about a boy.
The words were all wrong and overused,
all cliché and confused, but I didn't care
for they sang my secret joy, gave voice
to my delight. Longing felt less lonely.
Every once in awhile, to my chagrin,
I feel the urge to rhyme again. It's not
very mature, I know, and I fight it
until I'm lost in the music once more.
The future seems less unsure; The past
a little less regrettable, unforgettable,
terrible. It is redeemed and bearable.

Monday, December 7, 2009


The couple in the corner booth stares off into space,
they exchange no words, speak to the server when spoken to.
She texts rudely under the table while he stares into his glass
sadly, visibly relieved when the food arrives.
Chewing is such a goddamn relief.

They are so cliché, if they only knew.
So forty-something and plain, so slightly overweight,
too rich to be happy, too childless to be fulfilled.

At the bar, the lonely blonde leans in, breasts grazing the counter,
she fingers her hair and nods her head, forgets what she's said yes to.
Forgets what her heart longed for when she was twenty-two,
forgets the dream of a husband and baby to hold, reaches out
and strokes the thigh of a man who will never love her,
never see her after her apartment tonight.

It's kind of pathetic, really. And a better woman, a righteous one,
walks by outside the window pushing her stroller and dragging
a toddler smothered in a babygap sweater. She forces a smile,
nervously begs her boy to behave and coos to a crying baby.
One day all the pressure will reveal tiny cracks around
the edges of her eyes. Her husband's fat paycheck won't stop them.

I go home, watch a movie, escape to fiction where fact plays out.
Sadly see myself in the actress' bit part.

The last thing I wanted was to be so stereo
But this is what I've become.
So don't come to my door
Cry foul or ask what for. Wait.

Wait and you'll see me carve myself out of this old plot line.
I'll be brilliant, I'll be the author, far better than the star.

I'm working on the screenplay, in fact.
(You're the bitch, and I'm the whore)
I'm busy! I'll say with a grin
to the buzz at the door.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My German Life: The Player Stops Playing

Have you ever grieved for something that you never had? It's a strange feeling isn't it? Like mourning the death of a person you never knew, and who therefore never died. Sometimes I grieve for abstract concepts. The one I'm yearning for right now is authenticity. I feel like I've noticed a lot lately the lack of this quality; people seem to spend a lot of time avoiding honesty. I was walking to work the other day (substitute teaching at the high school) and a man walking the sidewalk in the same direction asked me how I was. Such a common question, "How are you?," often said in passing and without the expectation of a reply. I didn't reply, because he was a stranger, and this is Germany, and Germans mostly just ignore each other on the street. Besides, it was early for me, and I'm never sure how I am before noon. But the stranger persisted, "You know, I ask people how they are, and they don't reply because they think I don't really care to hear the answer, but I do want to hear the answer." I laughed and reminded him this is Germany, where strangers do not speak. We fell into easy conversation then and parted ways at the kaserne gate, I feeling lighter somehow. The authenticity of his approach to connection was really refreshing; it is so rare to meet someone who actually makes you feel like they care, about this day, about other people, about life.

I noticed this disparity of authenticity when I was subbing that day at school too. Something seems to happen between 9th grade and 12th grade; there is a mysterious falling away of optimism. I taught various classes and grade levels that day, and I noticed the stark difference between the silly but endearing excitement of the freshmen and the moody ennui of the seniors. Whereas freshman boys were sitting in girls' laps and making inappropriate comments to the substitute, the senior guys were self-conscious and silent. The girls had changed from talkative flirts to pensive emos. Honestly, the seniors bored the hell out of me. I had a blast with the 9th graders, because they had not yet learned to self-edit their thoughts. They just said whatever they were thinking to whoever would listen. I pondered this difference all day and came the conclusion that too many heartbreaks dot the landscape of high school. By 12th grade, students have learned to believe their ideas don't count and their feelings are unpredictable and often destructive. Who teaches them these things? I suppose their parents and teachers are somewhat at fault, but mostly the problem is each other. Humans can be so ruthless to each other, and this ruthlessness seems to flourish in high school.

So we learn to self-edit. To say what we think others want to hear. I think back over 2009 and realize how much I've honed my own talent for omitting the truth. I've found that as my beliefs have changed, my authenticity has waned, because I know my audience, and my audience will not embrace my changes. And that begs the question, Am I an actor playing to an audience? Am I simply speaking the parts, delivering the expected monologue, wearing the required expression? I don't want to be an actor. I've never longed for dissimulation. I want very much to always be aware of my true self and honest about who I am. I'm done mourning. I want to walk into 2010 wide awake, aware, desirous of authentic connection with others, and willing to do the hard work of being real. Do it. You will feel better :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

My German Life: Is the Air Thinner Up Here?

I haven't been blogging much lately. I could think of a host of excuses. I've been plagued a lot with the feeling that the world has nothing new to offer me, and I certainly have nothing to give to the world any more. But mostly, I've grown tired of my own voice; I have to listen to that whiny bitch in my head all the time anyway, and listening to her rants on a computer screen is sometimes more than I can handle. So I've turned to fiction lately; I've been working on a story and still have a hard time erasing my own voice from it and creating an entirely new voice for my protagonist. Perhaps I need to try nonfiction, and so for this blog entry I will turn to history, or at least to my own musings about it.
This past week we traveled to the Bavarian Alps for a few days. We enjoyed the luxury of one of the military's premiere resorts, Edelweiss, set at the foot of the alpine mass that holds Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak. It really was breathtakingly lovely there. My husband is from Colorado and therefore believes nothing holds a candle to the Rocky Mountains. I beg to differ; the Alps are stunning because they rise up out of nowhere; we are practically at sea level in Germany, and the almost 10,000 foot peaks are a sharp contrast. There are no miles of plains, plateaus and foothills leading up to them, and so their appearance is a wonderful surprise when the viewer beholds their snow-capped splendor jutting out of green valleys where the villages lie.
We took a cable car up to the top of Zugspitze and gazed over four countries: Innsbruck, Switzerland straight ahead, Italy and Austria surrounding. It was a heady moment, I felt delirious with the beauty that no words could describe, and slightly breathless from the high altitude. It's hard to think clearly up there.
The next day we traveled to the famed Neuschwanstein Schloss, the castle that inspired Cinderella's abode at Disney World. We spent time touring the castle and learning about Ludwig II, the king who designed it. I felt a kinship with Ludwig immediately. Those who know his story will laugh, for he is often called "Mad King Ludwig." I certainly can claim my share of crazy. As many southern writers have noted, simply being born in the Deep South entitles one to claim insanity, there's always a few crazies in the bloodline. But back to Ludwig, he sort of fell into his reign at age 18 when his father passed, and he was utterly unprepared for it. He was a romantic to his very core, and he attempted reforms but since he had a parliament to wrestle with, he found his plans mostly thwarted. And so, like most of us, he just gave up. Retreated. It's so much easier to escape, and so he focused on art, poetry, opera. He had fabulous castles constructed, such as Neuschwanstein, which he had frescoed in scenes from Wagner's operas. Tristan and Isolde, Guinevere and Arthur; they haunt his halls with all their tragic passion. Ludwig seemed to be madly in love with the unattainable. He wanted his cousin, Elisabeth, but she was married to the Emperor of Austria. All of this wanting and not getting seems to have sent Ludwig into quitter's mode. He held no court, entertained no guests, was engaged to another cousin but broke it off. He began to sleep during the days and spend the nights awake wandering the countryside, engaging in sport, or gambling away the royal coffers. An eccentric recluse, he stopped caring about taking part in government or producing an heir or any of the normal offices of a king.
Life is most often a slow toiling away for us as adults. There is a lot of daily grind and very few mountaintop experiences. For some of us, this threatens to depress the hell out of us; I am one of those who'd rather just escape. This isn't an answer to any of our challenges, however. Be you Bavarian king or just a housewife, abdication really is not an option.
In the end, Ludwig was deposed from his throne on unproven charges of insanity. One day he went walking with his goverment-appointed physician and never returned. His body and that of the physician were found on the bank of Lake Starnberg. Suicide or assassination? There was never any conclusion. HIs beloved cousin Elisabeth lamented, "he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams, they might have treated him more gently."
Sometimes the world will not treat us gently; sometimes we won't treat ourselves gently. But then there will come a moment when everything around is blinding beauty and clarity as far as the eye can see. The air will feel thinner, but the struggle to breathe will make everything feel more intense. For a moment you will be suspended, floating in that highest of clouds. Hold to that moment. A moment like that can carry you through the grind, and remind you that life is still worth living.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Through yellow eyes you watch me,
you Omen of worse things to come
knowing there's poison in this cup
but blinking your silent assent
There are worse ways to go.

You slink away through iron fences
leave me to wonder about lost spaces
all the lampglow from other windows
simple chit-chat or hearts breaking.

Tick, tick, tick sings the insect above.
I take another drag and pollute
but the wind joins me, erases me.

Yellowed leaves twist, break their necks,
and fall.

Go Home. Go. Run Home, the wind whispers.

But I can't remember where it is.

On the Other Side of Anger

I was feeling the pang of each contraction,
the muscle-clenching, grunting, hissing pain
and I couldn't stop to analyze my rage
I could only struggle, kicking the hands
supporting my knees, squeezing the fingers
I could reach, digging nails deep until I drew blood.

It wasn't cruelty, just the longing to survive
that made me fight so hard, and the need to protect
what was mine, what I had come so far for.
I felt myself drowning in the waters, something
Was twisting chord-tight and I felt frantic
reaching for him, my prize, and finding only water.

I woke up, there was no pool surrounding me,
just sweat in the small hollow between my breasts.
I saw sheets and coverlet all crumpled in a mass
and realized I had been kicking against invisible goads.
I looked for an enemy, to fear, to fight,
and found only another warm body in my bed.

I exhaled.

Inhaled at the realization: I'm not afraid anymore.

I press palms in prayer. Close my eyes.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My German Life: Emotional Breakdown

I knew it was coming. I mean, eventually the rosy glow would wear off and we'd be seeing life in Germany through plain old every day glasses. We'd been doing well without a car, the new world of public transportation was fascinating and exciting at first. The thrill of riding buses and streetcars has been exhilarating not only for the kids, but for me as an adult, trying to understand the systems and navigate them. I was even beginning to think I'd rather not have a car, hopping on a strass is so fun and you get to people-watch the whole ride without having the stress of driving.
Last week I finally took the driver's test. Our car was due to arrive this week from its long cruise across the Atlantic and it was time I stop procrastinating and learn the German street signs. I took it, and failed it. Of course I was very upset that day but since it has something like a 70% fail rate I decided not to beat myself up too much. Okay, I'll just be honest, I failed both the written and driving tests in Oklahoma and had to beg Georgia to just renew my old license. So I wasn't expecting to pass a test in a different country right away.
This week I had to go back and take the test, and the only reasonable way to get there was to ride my bike. I have not ridden a bike since 1998, the summer before I went to college. So when my husband got my bike all ready to go and expected me to just hop on and hit the streets, it scared me to death. Bike riding here is serious business. Germans take classes and get licensed to ride their bikes when they are pre-teens, which makes sense considering they are riding on the roads with cars and following the same rules. After a couple of practice runs around my kaserne, I was finally feeling ready to hit the real streets. So this week I followed Joel over to the licensing office on my bike. We crossed bridges and intersections, weaved off the bike paths and into car traffic and made it through a roundabout without dying. I know that sounds totally dramatic, but right before we left Oklahoma, a guy we knew was riding his bicycle one day and a woman in a minivan hit him and he died on impact. For me, biking is a seriously risky mode of travel now.
But I have to say, I absolutely loved it. Riding through Heidelberg with the sharp October wind biting my face was both terrifying and exhilarating. I don't think anything has excited me this much in years. Even the rides at Hershey Park and Disney were no competition. The fact that I could in fact get mowed down by a strassenbahn made it all the more thrilling (Apparently this happens a lot over here; it's a very popular method of suicide, so the strass drivers don't feel bad if they hit a biker because they figure that's just the way he or she wanted to go down).
Not having a car is the strangest experience and yet it has been so liberating for me. There are, however, the inevitable moments where you wish so very much to be part of that privileged class that is jetting around in their heated automobiles. Like the other day, when I carried a very heavy box (it contained a bike trailer for the kids to ride around in) from the bus stop to our apartment. I carried it as far as I could, gave up, ditched it on the side of my road, retrieved the stroller from my house, loaded the box onto it and pushed it, cursing, all the way back to our place. I was really angry at all the people who watched my struggle and never bothered to stop and help me. And then there was today, when Helen and I tried so hard to catch the last bus to the PX, and because of her potty issues and tantrums and a thousand little things, we just barely missed it. I even waved pathetically at the driver as he pulled away without me; he stared off in the other direction in a very German sort of way, as if to let me know my problems weren't his problems.
I snapped at Helen that she made us miss the bus, and she broke down into tears. She wept and wept and when we arrived back at the apartment, she made a big show of running out into the street and wailing, "Bus! Bus! Bus!" I picked her up and held her, tried to explain that we missed it, but it really was okay. She cried some more and I felt like crying too; we had been defeated. She finally cried herself to sleep in my arms and I placed her in her bed.
Life's like that. Missed connections. Loss. Lots of weeping for what you think you've missed out on. But I don't believe I've really missed out on anything. We may have had an emotional breakdown, and my love affair with life in Germany may be waning, but what is the truth? Life is still rich and full of surprises, regardless of the setting or the circumstances. Tomorrow will yield its own treasures and as for today, well, we just received notification: Our car is here! We can pick it up today! The transportation gods have smiled on us.

PS. I did pass my driver's test the second go around :) I am finally licensed to drive in Germany.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My German Life: My Life as a Recycler

For the record: I'm a lazy person. Yep, Mom and Dad, I said it. I have always been the shirker of my family. Growing up, I'd head straight to the bathroom after meals to avoid helping with the dishes. If anyone disturbed me, I'd complain I was having a difficult b.m. and to leave me alone. I was actually reading. I'd hang out in the bathroom for an hour if that's what it took to shirk my dishwasher-loading duties. This is probably too much info for the masses, but at this point my sisters are reading this and laughing that I just told the world about this idiosyncrasy. My husband is laughing because he knows I still do this as an adult.
Seriously. I really hate cleaning. Ask anyone who has ever lived with me and they will all have stories about my ability to get out of cleaning (sorry, Beth). My laziness also extends to any activity that is tedious, time-consuming, or just plain boring in my estimation. I like to establish a framework of low expectations when I meet people. I do this with my son's preschool (and now kindergarten) teachers by failing to complete the first project they send home with him and being late at least 3 out of the first 5 mornings of school. I do this with family and friends by never calling them or replying to their emails. I do this with neighbors by forgetting to pick my son up at the bus stop. This way I can't really disappoint people because they've given up on me from the get-go. They just shrug their shoulders and figure "That's Kim, she's a real space cadet." Or slightly worse, that I'm incorrigibly lazy.
When I moved to Germany last month I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that they recycle. A lot. In fact, "the Germans like to think of themselves as the world champions of the environment" ( There are whole websites dedicated to explaining the complex process of sorting your trash in Germany; really, google it. Somehow I missed out on this information before I came to Heidelberg. When I arrived, other Army spouses immediately complained to me that the only difficulty adjusting was getting used to recycling. I thought they were just exaggerating, you know, being lazy.
We moved into the apartment and I was handed a very detailed list, outlining the SIX categories into which I was now going to sort my trash: Yellow trash, Paper, Compost, Glass, Rubbish, and Hazardous waste. Yellow trash (the bins outside are color-coded) goes in the Yellow trash bags and includes such items as aluminum foil, plastic bags and milk cartons, but DOES NOT include containers made of paper only, diapers, or adhesive tape. This sounds somewhat manageable until you actually try to do it. I do not have a disposal in my sink; all food waste must go into the Compost bin, which DOES NOT include bones, oils, cigarette butts or sanitary pads (duh!). Really, each category lists what it does include and then what it does not include.
So I laminated the list and put it next to my kitchen sink. I went to IKEA and bought more trashcans. I now have THREE under my sink, and the small compost container on my counter.
Nothing has ever made me feel as neurotic and OCD as recycling in Germany. I was informed that I could be fined for not sorting my trash. If you fail to take your batteries to the proper place for recycling hazardous waste, you are breaking German law. I wanted to freak out and run to the bathroom and hide away with my September Vogue. Instead, all these threats and the detailed nature of the list sent me into trash-sorting overdrive. I would spend thirty minutes staring at my various cans trying to decide which one the toy packaging with plastic, cardboard, staples and adhesive tape should go in. Finally I would painstakingly pull apart the packaging, putting the plastic in the Yellow can, the cardboard in the Paper can, the staples in the Yellow can and the tape in the Rubbish can. I am not lying. Ask my mother, she was there. I yelled at her for mixing it all up. I almost cried over whether or not to dump a few coffee grounds out of my french press into the sink, or to scrape them out into the compost with my fingernails.
After a few days I started to get the hang of the process and to notice it less. And then a new feeling started to invade me: pride. I began to take pride in what I was doing. I've never recycled in my life. I've never lived anywhere in the US where we had recycling pick-up, and I sure as hell wasn't going to go out of my way driving my crap to a recycle center to save the earth. But now that I have to do it, it makes sense to me. There is something so pleasing about knowing that the food my kids waste and throw on the floor is not going to a dump, but being turned into nutrient rich plant fertilizer. I really do feel so much better about the the things we throw away now.
I know I'm waxing poetic about trash, and this makes me sound like some lunatic Greenie. But for a girl who has always been incorrigibly lazy, it just feels good to put a little effort into something for once. It's just another reason I'm so glad I moved to beautiful Deutschland.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My German Life: Downtown

As a kid, I remember listening to my mom singing along to the B52's song, "Downtown." You know, the one that goes, "When you're alone / and life is making you lonely / You can always go Downtown / When you've got worries, / All the noise and the hurry / Seems to help, I know, Downtown." This song never made sense to me growing up. I lived in suburbia and we went to the air-conditioned mall. Downtown was a wreck of a place, littered with drug dealers and gun-toting gangsters, and every respectable merchant had long ago deserted it. As an adult, I've moved quite a bit, but always to southern suburbia, with air-conditioned malls and no character. Until Heidelberg.
A couple of days ago I hopped on the strassenbahn with Helen and her stroller and we headed downtown. In Heidelberg, the old song just makes sense. There really is something magical about strolling the Hauptstrasse (main street) all the way down to the heart of the city, the altstadt (old town). This was the first time I'd gone to town alone and I reveled in the experience, the strange way being alone in a crowd made me feel so NOT alone. I tried to slow down a bit and notice things I hadn't before: the smells for instance. Downtown smells like tobacco smoke and food. The ubiquitous Turkish kebap stands send our their aroma which mingles with the traditional smells of schnitzels and bratwurst. The sounds are varied by the day of the week, traveling bands set up on the hauptstrasse and play music from their native Spain or Turkey, or stringed quartets pay homage to classical greats. On this day it was a lone accordian-player looking for a few euro cents. The sights run the gamut from exquisite to disturbing. There are beautiful German students and fashionable Italian tourists. There are alleys holding secret gardens and fountains that beg for company. There are shops bursting with ethnic goods from all over the world. The architecture in downtown is really stunning for its detail, and I noticed you can tell who the tourists are because they are the ones looking up, staring awestruck at roofs corniced with knights and walls stuccoed with mermaids. But there are not-so-lovely sights too, beggars dot the Haupt, displaying missing limbs and horribly frostbitten legs in hopes that the horror will bring more euros from tourists.
Being alone in downtown affords one the ability to chat easily with strangers in shops; I suppose I looked approachable as a young mother with a bubbly little girl. I ended up at my destination, a Morroccan shop that sells wall-sconces I wanted. The dear old shop-owner tried his level best to speak English with me. "No sprechen sie deutsch" I apologized. "French?" he questioned eagerly. "Nein" I was embarrased to reply, and so he soldiered on in English for me. He kept apologizing for his "not-so-good English" as we negotiated our terms for the sale and I laughed to think he knows at least two and a half languages and I know only one. A customer came in and he helped translate for us, and I left the shop amused and fulfilled with my interactions. People are so fascinating for both their strangeness and sameness.
The air took on a different scent at this point, the smell of rain. And then it began to sprinkle lightly, as it does on many a German afternoon, but instead of dispersing the crowds, it seemed to heighten the mood of the streetgoers. People seemed to be smiling even more, as if we were all now part of each other, a single body snaking the strasse, enjoying a cool mist on our collective face.
What is it about a new place, a foreign place, that lightens the heart? Why have famous authors like Mark Twain and Henry James tried so hard to convey their delight in their travels? I know I haven't really described Heidelberg for you. You were not there, and cannot know the way it really feels to walk the cobblestones. Just as Innocents Abroad fails to touch my heart, I suppose my blogging will not touch yours. You must experience it for yourself. You must come to Heidelberg some day. Call me, and I will meet you at the Bismarkplatz in ten minutes :)

Bethanien Krankenhaus

I watch you pushing her and you make a lovely pair
until I look closer and see your expression.
I try to decipher it, make conjectures about your pain.
She is so happy, so embarrassingly happy to be with you,
to escape her room and be wheeled past the strass,
wind ruffling her grey feathered head as she smiles at you.

But you are pained by this stroll and I wonder what she did.
Leave your father when you were a little girl? Leave you?
Did she force her dreams on you? Give you no latitude for your own?
Or did you just live as strangers, never sharing the heart's ticking?
Perhaps you are simply torn by your choice, to wheel her chair
back to those tight white walls and leave her there.

I inhale my cigarette deeply and then crush it in the flowerbed,
The bakery's bench a too-short respite from my own walls.
I watch you forcing a smile for her as you pass graffiti,
"LOVE" (or is it LONE?) in jagged letters on the wall.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My German Life: Identity Crisis

When I was in college (the first time)it was quite fashionable to randomly drop out of school and strike out on one's own "to find oneself." I was recently flying alone and was seated next to a college student who had just spent 8 months "finding herself" while globe-trotting. Europe is usually the hot spot for American students and post-grads to find themselves, while Europeans favor India and southeast Asia.
I moved to Germany two weeks ago and realized that moving overseas really is the perfect place to "find" myself. One step off the airplane, and it was painfully clear who I was: an American. Before my move I had tried to prep myself on ways to avoid being the gauche touristy American. I practiced German phrases (my pronunciation was way off), armed myself with scarves, and coached my children on not being loud and offensive in public. My sister, who already resides in Europe, in the very chic city of Vienna, tried to warn me, "Kim, they will know you are American, you can't hide it."
I've always prided myself in being more fashionable than Mollie so I swore I would wear the right shoes and swath my neck in a scarf and wear my dark-rimmed glasses so I'd look more stern like a good German. Two days after arrival, my feet were blistered and swollen from my fashionable but uncomfortable shoes, and I gave up and started sporting my beloved flip-flops. I had more than one man eye my feet in disgust that day. Totally unmasked scorn. Over my shoes.
I felt fairly confident about my German until I actually had to go into a store and buy something. Interaction with the locals proved I was a total moron. I couldn't understand simple phrases, no matter how slowly they repeated them. My credit card only works half the time here, so I went looking for an ATM. I confidently walked into a bank, inserted my card in the machine and nothing happened. I kept trying but even when set to English, no money came out. I approached the teller, who politely informed me that was not an ATM, but a machine to give their customers account information. The geldtautomat was on the other side of the lobby. "Oh, ha-ha," I giggled, embarrassed, and got my money out of the right machine.
Making an ass out of myself is a daily routine. I have bought the wrong products at the apotheke (pharmacy), bought the incorrect ticket for the strassenbahn (streetcar), been unable to say "excuse me" when I ran into someone with my stroller. But this has been a great experience for me. I tend to come across a little overly self-confident, and this sort of routine pride-check has reminded me that Americans really are the most absurdly arrogant tourists in the world. I have met Germans who speak German, English and French. Latvians who speak Latvian, German and English. Swedes who speak Swedish, English and Norwegian. But Americans speak English, and only English, and living over here, I can tell you, that will only get you so far.
Germans are a very stern sort, and often feel the need to put you in your place. One day I was checking out at H&M, and I heard the clerk say to her co-worker, "auslander." I couldn't understand everything she said but that one word, and she repeated it several times. I wanted to shriek at her, "I'm not stupid! I know that auslander means foreigner!" Of course, she may have only been referring to my foreign credit card not working in her machine, but I was slightly offput nonetheless.
In spite of all of this, I love Germany. I love knowing who I am again: I'm just me, an American of average intelligence and not much style. For the first time in my life I'm somehow blessedly alright with this knowledge.
Europe is a lovely place, mysterious and aged. I am daily beguiled by the lovely gardens on my Kirschgartenstrasse (Cherry Garden Street) and by the Deutsch men and women gliding by on their bicycles. Each alley is a new adventure to be discovered. Germany is like a woman who appears a bit cold and curt at first, but her veneer is soon melted to reveal her true loveliness. Her mysteries haunt me. I am in love again :)

July on the Gulf

I caught sight of a head
bobbing in the whitecaps,
was drawn down the beach
to examine it, to ascertain
that it was not human.

I stared at black hair spread
and trailing over boiling waters
as you floated facedown.
I was mesmerized, rooted there
by the sick feeling in my stomach.

But I found my eyes were soon drawn
to other sights, the lights
of distant boats and the fabulous
towering flames eating an oil rig
and I wanted to burn up too.

I heard a small cry and turned;
my daughter was running, lost
in the dusk and crying for her mother.
I turned from you then, stopped lying
to myself that I care enough to save a stranger.

I'm human too, and no heroine.
I want to preserve my own flesh.
You were really only driftwood
or perhaps a seaweed-bearded buoy
anchored in the rolling filth.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

To Dogma

O my Dogma,
How I miss you! nights
when the clock keeps me awake,
blinking through the shade of my lids.

Your embrace was so sure,
I thought it was for life.
You were the pins in my bones
holding me together, tight.

When I found myself,
simply a cold steel trap,
one by one I pulled the pins,
I loosed the jaws, unclapped the lips.

Now I rattle around,
a skeleton drunk
with a contented smile,
a gun called Apathy at my hip.

Miss May Grows Older

After Margaret Atwood's "Miss July Grows Older"

How much longer can I be this hot?

I hate men who call me "hot"
and mourn for a time when men cooed
to a woman, "You're lovely, beautiful,
radiant, gorgeous," or when they simply stopped,
stared, and were left speechless.

But back to the question at hand...
How much longer can this go on?
The moisturizer, foundation, concealer,
blush, lipstick, eyeliner, brow liner, mascara,
eye-shadow, tweezing here and there...

Not to mention the waxing, veeting, shaving,
lotioning, painting. And don't get me started
on the plasti-boobs. Only for special occasions,
I assure you. I do wonder who I am doing it for.
Don't get me wrong: I love the feel of putty,
Man-putty in my hands. But, O God, how I tire of it all.

When I was out on the ocean, riding my raft,
I had this moment, just a moment, mind you,
of peace. All the mascara had washed away,
my damp hair was matted to my head,
I lay there, free of underwires and spandex,

And I swear, it felt so good to not be "hot."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Favorite Poems (ever evolving)

1. Seamus Heaney, "Punishment"
2. Elizabeth Bishop "One Art"
3. Gary Snyder "The Wild Edge"
4. Patrick Rosal, "On the First Meeting of Your Father & Your Mother on a Train in Australia"
5. Robert Hass, "Meditation on Lagunitas"
6. Adrienne Rich, "Diving Into the Wreck" & "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning"
7. Pablo Neruda, "The Fable of the Mermaids and the Drunks"
8. Sylvia Plath, "Fever 103degrees"
9. Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays"
10. Anne Sexton, "Her Kind"
11. Robert Lowell, "Dolphin"
12. Robert Duncan, "Passage Over Water"
13. May Swenson, "In Love Made Visible"
14. Kenneth Koch, "To Marina"

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Amateur Widow

There was a certain reverberating quality to the doorbell that morning. It had called to her from far away, and she swam slowly to the surface, taking deep breaths to reassure herself. She always left behind her dreams with relief and marveled at the sanity of conscious thought. Her dreams were always the same: dreams of lonely men, the lonely women they'd left behind, and the children who weren't yet aware of their loneliness.
The doorbell sounded again as she pulled on her white bathrobe. She staggered toward the door, glancing at the digital: 5:58 AM. Oh, my God. It hit her with a breath-strangling certainty. This is it. It's happening. To me. Nobody else would come this early in the morning.
The stairs felt strange; she'd heard of vertigo, but now she knew what people meant. Things were shifting, and she could see now, through the beveled-glass on the front door: men in uniform. Each step felt forced, long and exaggerated. She reached, fumbling, for the handle and cracked open the door, peering into morning darkness; the one with the cross over his name advanced...

As she passed her son's room she saw him sleeping through the cracked door, his blond hair tousled sweetly, pouty lips slack. She couldn't stop now, she had to keep moving. Movement meant something. She reached her bathroom with its large mirror-paneled walls; three sides, three ways to view one's self. She let the robe fall off her shoulders and surveyed her body. Her profile, her back, the 360 degrees the world viewed her in. She saw from the back view her imperfect thighs; she stared reproachfully at her stretch marks. She felt for the first time she was really seeing herself under this florescence. She'd spent so much time with her face pressed close to the mirror, examining microscopic flaws, applying mascara, tissueing mistakes. It occurred to her that she'd never seen the person he had loved. Had loved. Loved. No longer loved.

The two weeks he'd spent at home on leave seemed a distant memory. Instead of a second honeymoon in the Virgin Islands, they'd spent it trying to patch up all the little holes leaking air out of their marriage. They'd married young, were high school sweethearts and the harsher realities of life had taken awhile to set in. Marriage counseling with the battalion chaplain made her feel like an exposed organism in a petri dish. Under the microscope they had become the poster children for all that was wrong with Army life. They'd been given strategies for communication in their sessions but strategies seemed unequal to the task of long-distance communication. There had been blackouts, when she didn't hear from him for a week. She'd spent those days running up credit card bills at the mall, trying to forget her fears.
It seemed strange that she was thinking of herself at a time like this. She felt guilty for how much she'd thought about herself and how little she'd dwelled on his daily routines. But she was alive. Not dead.

The sound of gunfire fell, muted and distant on her ears. Crows scattered to the sky, strange and near. She pulled her black three-inch heels out of the sod again and tried to stand up straighter as the man with the flag approached. She knew how she should appear at this moment: there should be dignity in her bearing, pride shining through her tears. Instead she felt unsure of her appearance, intensely aware of the valium in her system, so ashamed of her need of it. There was the vague pressure of her mother's arm, and there was an awareness of how cold March felt. She thought how ugly Mount Pisgah cemetary was in early Spring; the sky grey and blank except for crows; the trees were bare and empty of brighter birds. The phrase "Sorry for your loss" kept striking her face cold as the wind as she received the mourners. Michael, the 38-year-old single cardiologist, hugged her familiarly and told her he was available if she needed anything at all. She felt her mother's approval and it turned over in her stomach. The skin on Michael's neck was already starting to sag and it bothered her to think what he would look like on the other side of 40. But she reminded herself that he represented money and security and things her son needed. She supposed it wasn't so bad to be 25 and attractive if one had to be a widow. Good thing he doesn't know how things look underneath the pantyhose.

Her lighter flamed and ate the end of her cigarette as she drew in a little too deeply. Oh, but it felt good: to hide away by the creek and flee the oppressive sentiments of her relatives. She smiled a little to herself as she thought about them all sharing macaroni and cheese, wheelhouse salad and KFC. She could just see her 93-year-old great-grandmother rocking in the corner, mumbling in her deranged fashion, "There's a lot of muddy water under that bridge...whole lotta muddy water." Great-Grandma always spat out "muddy" like it was a bitter secret. It had almost frightened her when Grandma turned and gazed at her and repeated those words, "Whole lotta muddy water." She felt the bitterness biting into her own spirit.
She stared down under the small footbridge into the creek water, reflecting the old light of stars. She drew in clarity as she relaxed with her cigarette. The house had made her feel anxious, claustrophobic with people eyeing her; she could feel them wondering about her future. She lit a second cigarette and thought how her throat would hurt the next day if she kept on going. But she would not deny herself these small pleasures any longer.
She cocked her head to the side, and viewed the planks, 13 of them, from a horizontal angle. Things were shifting again, coming into focus now. The dead grass on the banks of the creek was long and unmowed. She reached for a clump and lit it, watched it flame up and felt it embrace her face with its momentary warmth. She grabbed more grass and lit it.
She built up a small tepee of fire on the rotting planks, and gazed with satisfaction as the flames burned tall and mesmerizing. She reached into her ski jacket and removed the lump next to her heart. She gazed at the stripes and then placed the triangle-folded flag atop the flaming planks.
She walked off into the dark night toward her grandmother's porchlights.


You and I
And Grandmother
Dance to this drum

We turn our bodies
Fringe and ribbons
Blowing into cold wind

We mirror each other's steps

They speak of blood brothers,
But you and I and my mother
Have a deeper bond

I felt you, little fish,
Swimming in my womb
And when the time came

My mother held my arms fast
As I squatted and pressed
You downstream

There was the smell of blood
And the comfort of my mother's eyes

And there you were, little fish:
My blood daughter.


My children have these beautiful legs
I don't know where they came from
(They are a mystery of consummation)

I wake each morning to these
Exquisite limbs crawling me
And wonder how they came to be

When did their eyes grow so blue,
Their legs stretch out so long?
Who are these magnificent creatures?

I didn't know! at twenty-three
That you could crawl from my womb
And grow into my life: Fixed,
Rooted, our legs entwined.


"And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question..."
- T.S. Eliot

It's Springtime now,
Or near enough --
And cherry blossoms are falling at your feet,
She is engulfing you in her cherries sweet,
She is keeping watch for the hatching hour.

You waited for her
long, those cold years cracked dawn
and you felt the early stirring
of the crocus, yearning
flashing, yearning.

And here it is:
The moment has come
for that fateful stroll, the one where
questions that matter will be asked,
Revelations will be addressed.

Do you burn when she says the words?

I think not.
For I am Sun-set,
latent fire crackling, stirring --
a different yearning.

I am the burning bush of your desire
flaming up with my own incandescence
bidding you come and singe your wings,
The soul-scorched Siren
singing things I can never mean.

Version: Virgin

She's a version of virgin
The original faded,
But she likes the patina
She feels safe in her skin shawl,
Though the threads are wearing thin
And holes begin to form within.

She wants to thaw
And feel the spring,
Or a version of it, a facet
To emit the blue fire within,
To love the Virgin and the Son
To believe in old miracles again.

But versions of scripture
Tell her diverse things,
One prophet says "Avoid the storm,"
Another, "Let him clothe you in white."
And one says, "Virgin? Not at all."
Candlefire? Blessings? Miracles? Not tonight.


I opened my door a hair
To find myself invaded
You swam in, oily,
Regaled me with testimony,
Falsified results.
Ma'am I assure you,
You won't be disappointed
Your Rainbow will be the envy
Of this lovely subdivision.

A few sweeps of my rug
And I was hooked.
After all, you want
Baby to breathe clean air!

I sat in your pew weekly
To endure your assaults
Your intonations, intimations
About what I should be
And how I should give
Close your eyes and bow your head
Reach deep into your heart
And ask yourself this question:
What would the LORD have me give?

You offered, I drank the kool-aid
You commanded, I scribbled the check.
Truly I say to you: It is hard for a rich man
To enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

You made your way in
You Worm with your sins
With sleight of hand,
Glamour, illusion, levity
You held me fast, Mesmer.
I love you and would never leave
For better, for worse
You can trust me,
Till death us do part.

When I woke from hypnosis
The naked aspect I wore.
Now I will snap my fingers,
And you will remember Nothing.

The Unfinished Woman

She sits alone at the piano
Her face in shadows,

She writes the lyrics
No one will hear,
She breathes her fire,
Then scales it back

She doesn't finish her songs
Doesn't record her fears.

Life is like that you know,
A chord progression
That doesn't feel right.

She sits alone at the piano,
Her bird doesn't take flight,
Her step is out of rhythm,
Her heart out of tune.

If I could tell her,
Face in shadows,
We're all unfinished
Our ink is blurred

But somehow, alright.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Frail this Flight

We search for other words for love
and speak in code to deny devotion
For this is mystic speech, too sacred

It is faith in flying
a rush of jet fuel and metal wings
we lift off and a small miracle takes place

But no one wonders at the miracle
or applauds the pilot's magic
as we race through stars full steam

We are hurling through darkness, headed
home and homeless, all at once
We are hovering in a dream

Choosing not to question the magic
Pasting wax and feathers to frame
Relishing the heart's departure from the sane

Behind Eyelids

Basalt images paint their electric
Patterns across my mind's eye
As the synapses fail to fire
The circuits fail to sphere

So this is what it feels like
to let science do its deed
This is what it feels like
to be the one in need

You can never say never
and so I hail the chief
The metaphysical thief
will no longer be my companion

I'm walking the wire again
No more falling through air
The red tape has been cut
and I have been declared sane.