I had a great time at my grandson's school, Joan and the Giant Pencil with Jeremy Bleich, hot off his fabulous music composed for Circus Luminous. We performed for 75 4th graders and five teachers.
I felt rather high after the great kids and questions and the fun of reciting poetry to children, and so I decided on a pedicure, my second in the birthday series of cash from my dear sister-in-law, and third that I remember in my life. You may know that my mother had a beauty salon for forty years and I spent many a day there. Manicures I recall, the pink slip of soap in the molded dish. The colors I got to choose, heady for a girl. I always get a whiff of mother when I enter a beauty emporium of any kind.
Once, when my mother visited my writing workshop Alexia LaFortune said to her, "Beti, my Jungian analyst said the beauty shop is the last temple to the Goddess." My mother, not missing a beat, and not know what a Jungian anything was, said, "That's nice." She also responded promptly to Natalie Goldberg who asked her if she was a feminist. My mother reported, why yes, she was the first woman on the Pennsylvania board of Cosmetology. Also, she let operators wear Bermuda shorts to work on hot days.
So here I am, toes in the water, the only one in Linda's nails. There is a Vietnamese soap opera on the TV and lots of conversation I haven't a shred of an iota of a clue about. I had told the kids that morning that poetry is written in many languages and cultures, all over the world, and read them poems from Spain, New Mexico, Chicago, New York, and the Pacific NW. I said to Jenny, my person of the moment, isn't it amazing all the languages?
The next person to come in the nail salon was Francine, a woman who had taken my writing class
twice. She sat next to me and I told her this was the real experience, sitting next to a friend, our feet in the hands of strangers, mine the woman called Jenny (note: that was my Hungarian grandmother's name, surely not her original one either) and a young man called Hung for Francine. The weird coupling of privilege with pleasure is comfortable to some, but not to me. I wandered off to let my toes dry and I overheard Francine saying the nicest things about me. When I came back to chat with her she had found out that the man doing her pedicure was a poet. His real name is Dzukaka and he could not be published in Vietnam since his poems are political. Poets don't make money, he informed me, and so this was his livelihood. He asked me if I worked full time at university, and I don't. I asked him if he knew any poets in Albuquerque where the van of people who work at Linda's commute from, and he said no. There are, according to Hung, 10,000 Vietnamese in Albuquerque. Hung began writing at age 10, is now 28 and has been in the US 12 years. He wrote about 10,000 poems. I am wondering if the number 10,000 means "a lot" as in 10,000 joys, 10,000 sorrows of Buddhism.
He recommended the Story of Kieu, the most famous poem in Vietnam and 300 years old. You can look Dazukaka up and see his blog in Vietnamese. I also found a site, "How Vietnamese are You" and found out I'm not so much Vietnamese, but I do share a sense of humor. We talked a bit about the difference between personal and political poetry. He finds the personal boring. I mentioned PEN, and organization that is international in scope. Who knows if his poetry is strong, since I don't have even the flimsiest pink soap of a clue and Google translator may not be enough here.
I felt again that poetry connection I live for, from the kids, head to foot. Francine and I met for lunch, her favorite restaurant in town which is, but of course, Vietnamese. Though my friend Robin Reider spent a cold year teaching English in Vietnam, I did my form of travel. Foot in hand, shiny red toes, a little bit curious and not so patriotic as matriotic again. Here's my poem for Dzukaka:
It's everywhere, the urge
I felt it with my foot
in another's hand, scraped,
painted, like a new car, the odd
and kind pedicure. I treated myself
to time, my foot as an excuse.
A woman sits down next to me, a friend,
feet she cannot reach in the hands
of a young man. On TV a Vietnamese
soap opera on loud, perhaps the volume
another language has in our lack
This young man here twelve years
seeking asylum in a city as odd
and kind as Albuquerque.
He is a poet, writes political poetry,
no interest in love and its scrapings,
odd and kind and in broken
language over both our feet, we talk
money and time. All the while
the show on the shop TV, my mother's own
shop long gone and Vietnam, that war we
protested while death fought death and shriek
of Agent Orange. Fate and geography.
I write of love, uncomfortable, pampered
love. He promises to send me poems
in a language I can't read and Hung,
that is his name, Hung takes an hour
to complete her feet. After, she and I meet
for Vietnamese food. She treats.
My husband joins us. All the old ghosts,
chuckle in their loud green language
of greed and loss. Now laid to rest.
Loud as soap opera from the past.
Mint, cilantro, lime, a sauce for dipping.
And Hung? 10,000 toes. 10,000 joys and sorrows.