September 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
“Reza did something, you know,” Malalai said, “that day when the air was soft and warm.” Professor Jalali had hung his jacket on the back of his chair and gone outside during our small break in his lecture. We were not allowed outside but the Professor could go outside and have a smoke or a drink of water. Reza went over to where the jacket was hung on the back of the chair, took out his penknife and cut off the Professor’s button. “No,” I said but Reza only laughed. “What do you think, Malalai? What do you think will happen?”
When the Professor returned, he put on his suit jacket. A Professor must look professional. He cleared his throat to continue his lecture on the cardio-vascular system and his left hand automatically went for the button. But, the button was not there. The hand flew nervously up to the next button that was there but that would not do—no, the hand flew back down to the missing space—where was the second button? This now too, along with the Russians and their bad teeth and their bombs and his beautiful, lost city. The Professor looked up at us—our blank, young faces. Reza was smiling. He was smelling the apricots—to hell with the Russians. The Professor looked at the students, his left hand trembling by his side. “There is something wrong,” he said. Malalai looked at Professor Jalali. She hated Reza for a moment—that boy who was not serious and only wanted to be a poet. Professor Jalali stuffed his lecture notes into his leather briefcase and snapped it shut. “I must go,” he said. “Class is dismissed,” and he fled. “We all ran to the window to see if he would truly leave the building. We saw him walking fast down the street passing soldiers lounging next to a store that sold cooked chicken.”
“What happened then,” I asked. Malalai said, “We went home.” Next Tuesday the Professor returned with a new button sewn onto his jacket. But, there are many mines buried on the road leading out of Kabul,” she said. “Many places where a boy who snips a button could step.”
September 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
This is a trial run of some short pieces. Maybe this will work; maybe not. I will publish the conclusion tomorrow.
It was Malalai’s story before it was mine and it started because I could not find the top of my pen. She had come to class and now was staying an extra hour to work on her composition. She was writing of her father’s house—the house she grew up in outside Kabul when the scent of apricots was in the air. This was before the Russians came when she was a child and the dusty roads were not filled with soldiers with their bad teeth and snarling voices. It was before the bombs. Anyway, she was writing this story and I was going over the sentences but I couldn’t find the top of my pen and if I couldn’t find the top of my pen, I couldn’t correct the sentences because the pen did not fit well in my hand. I said this to Malalai and she laughed. “I know this,” she said. “I know this thing.” Then she told me the story of the button.
It was when she was a student in the University of Kabul before she escaped and came here to the United States. She had this professor. We will call him Mohammed Jalalai. He was a tall and nervous man who would enter the amphitheater where the class was held and sometimes drop his papers or teeter the podium. Students must show respect so someone would help him and no one would laugh and Professor Jalalai would clear his throat and begin his lecture on the cardio-vascular system. While he lectured he would fidget with the second button on his suit jacket. It was a black wool suit jacket, frayed and faded for Professor Jalalai was not a rich man and the Russians with their bombs and bad teeth and snarling voices had taken over his city, his beautiful Kabul. So, he was not a rich man but a nervous one with this one suit jacket and he would play with the button turning it back and forth with the fingers of his left hand while he lectured. The students saw this every Tuesday morning at 7 o’clock in the amphitheater–Professor Jalalai lecturing and playing with his button, droning on about the cardio-vascular system to these young medical students while the Russians made patients that one day the students would try and put back together.
There was a wild boy in the class named Reza who was not a good student. He wanted to be a poet, he said. But his father wanted him to be a doctor. He had black, curly hair and very white teeth. But he was not a serious student and he didn’t care about the cardio-vascular system. It was Spring and the Russians were everywhere. Reza wanted to go for a picnic. He wanted to get out of Kabul and eat apricots.
September 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
Once as a child I lay in the tall grass
on the side of My Hill
as I thought of it then-
The earth’s warm flank
and the swirling sky above
In my eight year old skin
mine, all mine, I thought.
But, even then I knew
I could never cut through the fiery core
all the way to China
or net the shifting sky.
I only owned desire
and its fiercer sister-
September 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
Having returned from Nova Scotia two weeks ago, I have been pondering some way to re-enter this portal. I would like the words to be meaningful for the reader and the writer since if it’s meaningless to one than it’s meaningless to both. It should have something to say about getting my book out in the world and something about why that continues to be important. This is one of the perils of self-publishing. You become your own press although I have not, as yet, done the Whitmanesque trick of writing my own reviews.
While in Nova Scotia, a one-act play was produced in English and français acadien based on a melding of several sections of A Generation of Leaves. It was performed at the outside amphitheater at Le Village Historique in Lower West Pubnico. http://levillage.novascotia.ca/what-see-do One of the most moving moments was at the end of the play when Aubrey, played by Réal Boudreau, lifted the bugle to his lips and played The Last Post in front of a giant hanging of The Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium where the names of 55,000 men, including the central character in the book, are engraved. They are the WWI missing whose bodies during the battles surrounding Ypres were never found. The haunting notes drifted up and out into the stillness of the Acadian village and lingered over the marshes, fields and homes where the characters in the book had lived and died.
It might be good for us all to linger today as those notes lingered on the cost of war. Listening to the President of the United States last night, it is apparent that there is no war that ends all wars.