Friday, August 1, 2008


Notes toward a journey to Sain Shand

Will sugguested I write a completely new poem.
Good advice.

In the bright morning we board the train among throngs of country-bound Mongolian families in their deels. As we wait to board, Tuya's mother wipes sleep out of Tuya's eye as we wait for the aunt before boarding. Tuya responds in kind, a soft but firm swipe of the thumb over her mother's closed lid in the sunlight.

Tuya gives me a back rub and knows to press hard and pinch. I remember for short moments to just be there with the precious mama bodies around me in the train compartment. Accept the gift. Feel the train rumbling under and encasing us. They nudge me hard in the train corridor to get me out of the way of the mop. In my broken times, she told me, I wanted to go into a white room and have someone leave food at the door. Just lie down and let the leaves cover me. I know what she means, watching the Gobi pass by on the eastbound train to Dorngov. I finally realize what it reminds me of, camels grazing in the sandscape in front of an abandoned power plant: a Dali painting. Living inside the surreal. How comforting, the blank, to a heart that hurts. Those days when the heat lifts, working the skin but relieving the duty to move.
Tuya's aunt, the one with cancer, on of the reasons we are headed out, smiles at me. She says my yellow hair is pretty. The train attendant points me to the bathroom and winks when I walk past. I grab Tuya's fingers softly from where they hang off the top bunk, play piggies with them. the aunt with cancer says I'm cute. I bring her coffee from the samovar at the end of the train car.

Salkhi saikhan unertej bain. This and the comfort women last week drive my heart apart--of course it hurts, that tearing, like growing pains, what he called being time. Tuya hums and waits for me to finish in the outhouse. A year ago she was acting as a guide for her Swiss friend Felix, who was always scaring off young Mongolians in remote regions with his difference in looks, big white mustache and earring, and his odd language.

In Sain Shand, the capital town of Dorngov, an eastern province in Mongolia, an overnight's train ride from Ulaanbaatar, a young man of about 17 approached Tuya and Felix at the monastary. He was curious about Felix. What language was he speaking? Could he speak it some more? Where did he come from? Would he like to come back to their ger for some dinner? He looked intently at the nose ring, listened to Swiss-German. This young man, a carpenter, had a son 1 year old and a wife who was 20 years old with a painful hip injury from giving birth. Felix never forgot the family, and he asked Tuya how to help them. As it turned out, the little family lived in a ger that belonged to a badhearted mother who was always asking for it back.

In the morning Tuya comes in and feels my feet after a night of being a chilly caterpillar. They said I would take the bed while Tuya's mother and aunt took the floor and for once they listened to my no. on its way to sleep my brain incorporated the sounds of their sisterly slumber party chatter retroactively somehow, convinced itself the sounds figured into its reasoning. Next morning the sisters clucked and cuddled in bed like babies, peas in a pod, smiling up at me with their moon faces.

I ask Tuya in the other ger what kind of cancer her aunt has. Woman cancer, says Tuya, with the eggs. It is khortai, not khurgui, with cancer, not without, so the doctors cannot take it all away. Ondog, the young wife says to the husband so he goes back into the new ger and comes back with eggs that she puts in the big pot of water and the last thing I see before sleep is the salt she pours in a waterfall in the morning light.

When I awaken the day is much too bright and the monk has come and gone. He talked and read from a book, the aunt tells me. I am crestfallen. I wanted to see the new ger blessed. I have dreamt of fighting with a family member again, leaning in and saying things.
Tmuulen, the little boy of the household, helps me feel better about missing the monk. He gets a pot of water ready when he sees me reaching for my toothbrush and waits outside with it, pouring a little water on the brush when I need it, patiently waiting as I brush. He is 4. When I venture out to take pictures of the monochrome desert quiet, he is in the neighbors yard where there is a dog and a mother with a rash faced baby, the yard which is so silent and distance, the yard;s depth and distance affected like heat mirage. Past the yards a chorus of bones, sanitary pads wrapped up in bright blue plastic, pieces of khadag. It occurs to me that I was with the monk, or he was with me, when I puke dreamed up the things I needed to let go of. I awoke in my own sweat, the fever-need to release, and in the ruins, or what seem like ruins but it is just litter and dust, a younger person stands with what presumably is their grandparent, the older one dressed in purple and praying. Either praying or drunk, I guess, but when I come back through they're gone.

I hold back as I always to around children--not sure how to discipline in a way that's healthy--and he comes and lies down with me a while. Tuya cuts vegetables and onions in a confetti. The sunlight doesn't stop in this desert slow like molasses, the quietude of ever.

(some squiggles)
this was done by Temuulen when I asked him to draw a picture. he looked over at the book I was reading, Oyster Promises, and pretended to read what it said with purposeful authority and copy it down into my journal.

Temuulen feels the big middle of Tuya's mother, chatting with her about the babby he decide must be inside because she is so large. His mother and Tuya alarmedly beckon the newly bald 2 year old girl back into the ger since she tripped on her way out and that means loss of money. She has a butterfly sparkle dress on.

May 9th, 2008

The only geographic forever I've ever seen--dawn--sleeping grannies--one of them absconds with the sangria that would have been so much better heated up--unbound from time--it's a biological lattice--"order"--the young mother and father emerge from the ger into the snow with concerned looks, question the driver about why he left five women, two of them grandmothers and one of them with cancer, in a car with no heating in the snow--"what's this brown bird?" Mongolians ask their boys of their little penises, and this little boy answers, "my soldiers license!"--drums and prayers beads made from the skulls of dead monks--in the cave where he made his songs it takes forever to light an incense and a man carries his child like a log over his shoulder up the steps--the grannies shuffle down the dirt hill after going through the rock womb--Sometimes it is a walking soldier, sometimes a running soldier, sometimes a sleeping soldier--"it's my camel hair jacket!" temuulen says proudly--his mother turns back to the haasha after burning-after seeing her boy was coming to me and that I knew it, though there's always that distance where someone bobs up and down hills and one can't tell if they are coming or going--his mother shuffled around the ger with her one-two injured gait, sniffling, as the driver cursed and thumped the car hood outside--snow, hail, sun; the train back to Ulaanbaatar is fake wood paneled with red pleather seats-the flooded train car--the colors especially--my oldest nightmare--and the camels in front of the abandoned power plant on a frozen desert scape--living inside the surreal--a dog's vertebrae, half its spine, and then a snout still covered in fur, still showing the fangs--how to explain to a child that their word for apple or table is just a word, is inert--the first time one hears another language spoken, what to say? People everywhere have separate words for things--Temuulen walked along the wasteland with me, chattering, picked up a bluish horn--desert sand beneath us, and over is trach dump and treasure trove both--this is the thing about brightness in fissures--Temuulen's poverty, his mother limping from an injury birthing him (her stretch pants say "Malibu" on them--the creative act springing out of an absence of mind for what the mind would describe a moment--I stood in my blue jacket tasting the gusts of wind, heavy rain clouds and below them some fenced compound and a tower, a guard looking through the window--if anything, the perception of grimness is an attachment to form--the form of the mother, limping, of the muted earth colored felt tents--after spending more time in "ugly" places than first-impression time--"what's a camel?"--"camels also wear wool sweaters!"--it's all here, vibrating--at the stupa (cream colored rocks turn out to be hugs boulders covered in hardened milk offerings, layer after layer of droplets of milk--the offerings sprinkled us as we circled them, sprinkling us--the sun rose as we bent our heads, but we only knew it through the whiteness of dust storm getting whiter--the grannies held their hands up in the direction of the "boob stupa", palms out, and sang--the morning was terribly cold and the dust wind wouldn't stop--next to me was the one with cancer--the temples looked made of pearl--as temuulen's parents fought with the driver I thought about how suited Mongolian is to fighting as I passed them to use the outhouse, thought then about how fighting is a universal sound--Mongolian is also well-suited to a mother whispering her child to sleep--the young mother's silver shirt brought out specially for the ger-warming party--Temuulen shakes his hips and fingers with perfect rhythm to whatever the TV is playing, an no one knows where he got it from--he is my teacher, filling the present with his light--as we pull out his father pours milk into a spoon his mother holds, and she throws it up in a shower into the air after our retreating car.

1 comment:

samraat said...