My sister and I shared a small bedroom when we were teens. We opened up the studio couch at night. After arranging the sheets, pillows and blankets on it, we settled down and tried to sleep the uneasy sleep of girls separated by a sooty wall from garbage cans and other unsavory realities of an inner city apartment house alley.
We had an old credenza with surprisingly graceful in lines, where we kept clothes, accessories, ribbons and most of our other scant possessions. A filmy large mirror rested on its cluttered top. I don’t know if it was just faded from age or because we never dusted anything. We were, after all, teenagers, busy with school. Besides, our mother seemed to do all the housework, even though she worked full time and was not in the best of health.
Funny how I never felt guilty about this until much later in life when I had my own children. But that is another story. Today, I remember attempts at poetry, attempts to look beyond the sad and dreary apartment meant for the ‘super’ of the building. Father had been a professional man, but war and circumstance brought us to a land where anything was possible, a free land. A new country also meant a new start. And a new start usually began at the bottom of the ladder.
Teenagers, however, sometimes want to skip a few of the stark realities of life. I certainly had dreams much bigger than could ever become real. I scribbled some lines, fully intending to write a poem of great value and worth. It began with “The dust was sitting on the crock, the hour was ten, twelve-thirty said the clock.”
It was true that everything in our little room had a gentle film of dust on it. After all, we had more important things to do, like writing poems. The clock, which I often wound too tight, usually was not accurate. Who knew then that it would take a lifetime before I wrote any more poems?
My life turned into a long string of obligations, responsibilities and challenges. There was no time for poetry or much of anything else except trying to keep the wolf from the door. Eventually, some loved ones died, some moved away. In the end, I was alone. Time came to begin looking back.
How did those early poems go? Would I remember, if I tried really hard? Since life took me to many places, I certainly did not save anything from those days. That poem is lost and gone forever. Perhaps it is just as well. In my teenage years, I was a romantic and dreamer, but my attempts at writing were embarrassingly juvenile.
I recalled when a boyfriend took me down to the park by the river. We would have a picnic with wine, bread and cheese. That was certainly a poetic situation, right? Well, that’s another fragment of a poem the rest of which I will never know. It started with “The willow touched its branch to ground, the evening breeze died without sound.”
My sister asked me about this poem the other day. She did not remember any more of it than I do. Actually, she was writing poems then that were really good and has continued throughout her life to pen fabulous verses and stories. I, however, am a very late bloomer in that department.
Since my days are now much calmer I have many hours to think and remember, my mind went back to those willows in that park so long ago. Suddenly I decided to take a stab at writing something dealing with that time. As the first words came forth my mind spread in wondrous directions. Those awkward attempts to form relationships, usually ending unhappily, now became precious memories, mixed with feelings that only surfaced much later.
Images from “Winken, Blinken and Nod”, a story I used to read to my young children, began to blend with bottles of Chianti wine and clumsy kisses. I could see starry fishermen in the sky tossing out a net to catch the sparkles of young romance down in a park by the river. The poem became something charming and pleasant, unlike the awkward, painful and eventually heartbreaking experiences that most of my teenage love affairs turned into.
Fragments. Fragments. Were those hazy teenage efforts just a young girl’s fancies? Or did they mold and define my life as surely as dust will settle on a crock?