Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Yes, there are green eggs!

Bear with me, I’m on a trip through memory lane. This is how I started my autobiography eight (yes that’s 8!) years ago. As you can see, I didn’t go beyond a couple of paragraphs!

August 2002:

By then I had been in the field for three years, first in various locales in Hungary, and, at the time of the picture of puzzlement so clearly kept in my memory, in Switzerland.

The image of puzzlement is as follows: I sit at a huge dark long wooden table. My legs are dangling from a dizzyingly tall bench. The room is huge, it’s really a hall, arrayed with several of those long tables. I am all alone. There are rays of sun filtering through the slats of the wooden shutters on the tall narrow windows. Yes, I'm all alone. I am looking at a circle of greenish white on the table in front of me. In the middle a filled round of green. The ensemble is at once translucid and opaque, there are mysterious ripples and shadows inside the white circle. I don’t have a clue as to the nature of the artifact or the purpose of my contemplation. Was my puzzlement due to an abrupt change of language, the classical failure of communication encountered in the field? Yet I can’t remember any inner dialogue in any language. I can only remember wordlessness....

It was only after earning my doctorate in anthropology that I was able to resolve that puzzle. I was starring at an egg, fried sunny side up. I deduce that I must have been left in the dining hall to make me eat it, though I also deduce that the thought, or image, of eating it never crossed my wordless mind...

Perhaps I should have put that in quotes because I’m probably no longer the same person as I was eight years ago. Actually, my sense of self is a bit fuzzy right now but my self always had pretty permeable boundaries anyway... Identity is still one hell of a mystery to me, the more I try to elucidate it the more mysterious it gets (cf. my post on strange loops: “Oh it’s you, no it’s me”).

So let me explain this fried egg memory: My mother made it to Switzerland in 1945 after waiting for weeks (six, I think) at the Austrian border –it seems we were pretty hungry and also got infected by lice. My head had to be shaved and that’s why I have very short hair in my early photographs in Switzerland.

My mother was going to import Hungarian stuff in partnership with her brother Zoltan. They had some money and the conditions of entry in Switzerland were that my mother put my brother and me in an expensive boarding school and she stays in an expensive hotel. The conditions changed one year later (or was it a year and an half?) after she met a civil servant in the visa department in the train going to visit her kids and she started to cry when telling the story of the enforced separation –and a few days later, oh miracle, it all changed and she was allowed to rent an apartment and bring her children to Zurich with her.

The boarding school was in Gstaad. It was called Tante Flora’s, and was frequented by the children of very wealthy people, as for instance the Shah of Iran...

I remember my brother crying his heart out when my mother first left us there. I didn’t cry, I don’t remember any feelings, but I remember my glasses falling off my nose –perhaps they were new? (At some point they thought I was autistic, but I’ve made up for it since! Though I obviously had been traumatized by our previous adventures. When we were underground, we had to move every few weeks and even spent some time in a Catholic boarding school where my mother thought my brother and I would be safe, but she found out otherwise as the nuns were getting suspicious, so she had to take us out... Lest this be misinterpreted against all nuns, there was a religious order whose members risked their lives saving Jews. When my mother worked with Raoul Wallenberg that nunnery was a place of refuge and hiding where she brought Jewish families in the middle of the night...).

I remember an egg hunt, and the eggs bore their recipients'names and a kid who was very clever couldn’t find his and eventually it turned out hidden underneath lose tiles in the empty swimming pool.

I remember having to take my afternoon nap in my bed and watching the patterns the sun made through the blinds. Once (or twice?) I got to take my nap with the bigger kids outside on the chaises longues in the veranda....

Tante Flora’s followed the latest hygienic strictures of the time. You couldn’t get another glass of water unless you ate a whole other plate of food –gasp! You also had to produce a turd in the toilet every morning. For some reason the ski instructor slept nearby and it was up to her to inspect the toilet and note (in writing!) that the subject indeed had pooped..

Now I was terrified of this ski instructor. She was very tall (from my three year old height ) and wore her hair in a bun and had a large red headband and I thought she was a man. I was also terrified of flushing, but less than I was of her. So I remember a couple of mornings when I wasn’t able to produce anything I flushed and then ran like hell before the toilet could swallow me. I told her I mistakenly flushed my poop before she could examine it and I remember her yelling at me... (Is this why I’m always attempting to write? You know, produce something?)

What else? One image that's still in my mind is hanging for dear life on the back of a sleigh with my brother up front and going very fast and winning something. My brother in that year learned to ski as well as he walked... and we both learned French, but in Zurich we had to learn the German dialect spoken in Switzerland.

(Of Hungary, only one image remains. My brother and I were on a farm with Etel Neni. Auntie Etel –the subject of yet another even more amazing story. She was not a real aunt but Hungarian kids called adults their families were close to “aunt” and “uncle.” There was a wooden platform and huge pigs below (well huge compared to my tiny size). I was on the ground having left the safety of the platform and the pigs suddenly came in my direction. I started to howl, and Etel Neni picked me up and brought me to safety.... that’s all.)

Well here's a real trip through memory lane, from one ear to the other in this case....It's funny, at least in parts, so give it a chance...

Tinnitus in A sharp

There’s a racket in my ear
a ruckus a fracas
a grind a growl a gasp
knocking and knocking and knocking
in between
the rattle of small bones

there there
says the ear
it’s just your ear

This ear
a canal a passage
through the middle
an orchestra forever
tuning its violins
then through the drum’s misbeats
to the inner vertigo where
I plummet
to a forest darkness
muted flashes softly zap
and zip peregrinating
along knotted ramifications
twisty grey branches
Welcome to Memory’s Mist Road
says the ear

First in water I dwell
hands seeing blue softness
the Danube where my mother swam
while I swam in her
But noise pushes me out
crawling eyes opened
into fear’s archives

The war is still here
hidden at a farm from the hunters
killers (I must have done something?)
I so small
on uncertain legs
myopic crossed eyes
farm beasts chasing me –I think
sueeeeeeeeeeeeeee sueeeeeeeeeeeee
till auntie picks me up
there there

And next I find –what!
Shame --but I got rid of it so long ago?
Why is it still lurking
its strangling permeating
tentacles regrowing
as they’re cut
weed killer doused
draino burnt
reason graveled
common sense smothered

In fear’s archives
waking dreams of nameless
eight legged gigantic
dark creatures
rustle and scrunch
on terror road

But I escape again
right next door
to the fornication sector
zzzips and zzzaps speed up
into viscous electronics of body parts
toes elbows cunts pricks
and and
almost despair? --till black ink floods my brain
into silence into forgetting
there there

Midpoint is the earth
spinning sparkling on the dark road
a blue and green marble
I played as a child
here a corn multitude dances
back and forth with indefinite grace
to the blue trees’ wind music
here fountains slurp
watermelon juice
chocolate cream
and inside out swirling rainbows
I too spin my dervish dance

Train train of memory
across my brain tonight I gather
all the faces and bodies to keep safe
--I must have entered love’s archives--
life itself? –till words fail me
there there

Sui sibi se se sui sibi se se sui sibi se se
the Latin I flunked
three times in the tenth grade
pursues the train
in my tired counting
languages penetrate
one and other
egy kettő három vier fünf sechs sept huit neuf –Ten!
sui subi se se sui subi se se sui subi se se
one two three four cinq six sept eight nine
and and

I wake to the train whistling
through the multitude
in concert for the earth
fields of hands dancing back and forth
with indefinite grace
to the planet’s silent music
till the volume turns up
the sound of a single piccolo
arabesquing in between
pings of a silver triangle

there there
says the other ear
It was just your ear

Poem copyright 2008 by Catherine Tihanyi
Photo: Kati 1945

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Playing Hopscotch in the Hospital? (2 poems)

March 4 is my mother's birthday! So here are poems about mothers and daughters


Sur les amandiers au printemps
Ruisellent vieillesse et jeunesse.
La mort sourit au bord du temps
Qui lui donne quelque noblesse.

René Char

[Over the almond trees in the spring
Flow old age and youth.
Death smiles at the edge of time
Which gives it a sort of nobility.]

‘tis written in the wind
‘tis written in the trees
so tightly gripping
the sky’s empty slate.

At my lover’s house
the wind writes
with tall pine trees
Furiously it bends their tips
and writes its plot
on the heavy clouds’ slate

At my lover’s house
the words of the wind
are the storms of the rain
The wind writes its plot
with ferns trembling
over my body’s slate
and into the green black woods
in my dream I am erased.

‘tis written in the wind
‘tis written in the trees
so tightly gripping
the sky’s empty slate.

At my mother’s house
the wind writes
with the shimmer
of flowing eucalyptus
It writes an invisible plot
on the sun’s blinding slate

At my mother’s house
they always look to the sea
But the words of the wind appear
in the shadows of the trees
where already the black bull
lies in wait.


At my daughter’s house
the wind cradles a sort of smile
in the crook of the almond tree
It writes its plot with pale blossoms
and showers petal ciphers
on the green grass slate

While the parade of school children
tubas and flags its way to the arena
where thin poplar trees
write the wind’s hurried plot
on the field’s cinder slate

‘tis already written in the wind
‘tis already written in the trees
But she arrives with the clamor of the crowd
to take her place in the relay race
Her outstretched hand
captures the baton
And over the cinder track our daughter runs
faster than the wind.

(Copyright 1989 by Catherine Tihanyi)

Hopscotch in the Hospital

Hospital paved with square tiles
undulating down hallways
till intangible lines reveal
a game of hopscotch
its skipping numbers jutting
to corridors’ ends
whirling rectangles
dizzying up the walls
then falling to the ground
again and again

Like blood lines perhaps?
Like my baby’s veins
curly and deep and thin
so the needle must be twisted
again and again in one arm
then the other
while in pain’s silence a single tear
runs down her cheek
you’re not alone you’re not alone
says the mother’s hand holding
the daughter’s foot

Yes she played hopscotch
a beached child’s soul
stuck in atmospheric grit
inner compass lost
to so many circuitous roads
landed in Brussels (why not)
long ago
schoolyard lines
of chalk squares numbered
throw your marker and hop
to oblique victory
but she preferred
making pretend houses
sweeping fall leaves into maps
the bedroom the livingroom the kitchen
she should have been an architect!

Trains make lines too said her mother
in her long ago hospital
sailor dress pigtails
hopscotch in the street
singsonging in Hungarian
squares drawn with a stick
in the dirt no cars
to speak of
I was very good
a champion hopper
won lots of games
In pain’s silence
a single tear runs down her cheek
was she alone was she alone
says the daughter’s hand
emptied of the mother’s foot

And my daughter
with the curly veins
didn’t she play hopscotch
in Berkeley USA
after I too wandered her
(a bad habit) too long
there was no shortage of chalk
in the schoolyard then
but she preferred to study
the underside of things
hanging upside down on the monkey bars
for hours till falling down
head first in the sand

Am I really hopping in this hospital?
on one foot and the other
in endless corridors of hopscotch squares
I can feel my foot lifting off the ground
I’m a spring
flying yes I’m flying
coming down on two feet in the double squares
turning around hopping to the end
my marker always hits the mark
what fun!

But what marker is that?
asks her spiraled brain
playing a snail shaped
hopscotch game
you hop to the middle
and if Escher allows
you hop back again
her brain convolutes
on the marker a dot
and her inner gaze
finds in it
another snail shaped
hopscotch game
with a dot and a hopper
again and again
oh, so that’s the game
in wonder she moans

The hum of a morphine drip
while in pain’s silence
a single tear runs down her cheek
you’re not alone you’re not alone
says the daughter’s hand holding
the mother’s foot

(Copyright 2008 by Catherine Tihanyi)