Friday, February 25, 2005

Lamentation and Resurrection

by Zinta Aistars

to my son Markus on his 22nd birthday

Your eyes shine with hope
even as you deny it –
how quickly we erect the veneer,
wrap ourselves in ever thicker
and tougher hides,
walls constructed of hardened chips
of broken heart and cheated soul.
Spirit sandpapered down
to a smooth sheen,
your eyes wander a horizon
you’ve come to believe unreachable.
Still, it’s there: that pale glimmer
of light preserved, stubborn
in its beauty, not releasing,
a heart that wraps like a fist
around its nugget of gold –
a faith that will prove
you wrong, shake the dust
from your hidden reveries,
kiss them soundly on the mouth,
and wake the charmed princess
from her restless slumber.
Drive the knight inside you
clamoring for the chink
in its armor, proof of your humanity,
to place newly baptized heart
boldly on white sleeve,
bruised but whole,
believing again.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Viva la Blondie

by Zinta Aistars

Inspired by my daughter Lorena, my Blondie of the endless dream, who surely teaches me at least as much as I can possibly teach her, more, calling me from assignment with AmeriCorps in Iowa just as she was called in for disaster relief by the Red Cross on Mother's Day 2003 to Alabama... Blondie, you are my hero. Teach me to believe like you believe...

Teach me, baby, take my hand
as I watch your first faltering step,
I learn again to walk -
you show me fall and rise,
and rise again, without end.
This spark you have,
this viva la Blondie,
electric giggle and verve,
intoxicated with your own youth,
and the universe reborn
precisely for you, bundled light –
this is how one takes the bite.

Little girl, teach me, to grab hold
as you do – with stubborn belief,
insatiable gusto, bottomless appetite,
lick life clean to the bone
and suck the marrow,
even when impaled
with growing pains, you stretch
and stretch beyond
the last possible snap,
then take off again.

Is this how it’s done?
Baby, teach me to walk
over glass, under hail, on fire
and skimming the water,
show me to dance,
now when I tire,
teach me beauty and faith
of fairy tale style:
good will overtake,
the dark forces succumb,
when I’ve been losing
too many battles with fading sight
through the darkening shadows
falling over my eyes.

Child, teach me a miracle,
that way that you have
of knowing, simply knowing
with steely belief
the seas will part
if I only learn to take
that first impossible step.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Homage to a Young God

by Zinta Aistars

To Markus, my son, joy and ache of my heart, a wonder I have watched grow from a cherub to a young and life-hungry god eager to shape his own world. In honor of his 21st year...

Tasting the wild, you had your own
game rules to follow, your own
authority to respect, code of honor,
chosen lines and boundaries,
designated limitations –
I could only watch in wonder.
Round peg in some squared off opening,
you chipped away at its edges:
this is who I am, hear me roar!
Hear my name, hear my hungry heart
beat like a hammer, hear my blood boil
with yearning and divine rage,
hear me command my own destiny.

I hear you. I am listening.
Your voice rises and cries
a siren call that makes
even my old blood sing.
Young and beautiful god, straight shouldered,
with fiery eyes but a gentle hand,
the world is your oyster and you
its pearl. My treasure lies
in your smile and my lesson:
resist the lure
of convention. Break the rules
if you must. Pay the price
but remain proud, as gods do.
Lay your head on your chosen guillotine,
your second coming will arrive
painted in its own hues,
framed by your own summits,
singing with its own choir.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


by Zinta Aistars

Would you recognize paradise
outside its garden? Bitten apples,
chewed to the core, a few worms,
a stray serpent coiling on a tree limb.
This apple orchard on the edge
of suburbia, two streets beyond
the gas station, the bakery,
the mechanic's garage -
here the fruit hangs ripened,
heavy with juice, slightly bruised.
In this paradise we coil
in our own dance -
at moments my zigging
where you zag, while you zig
against my chastened zag.

The Garden Father watches
over us, an amused flicker in
His golden eye -
we are the vintage love,
paradise regained,
knuckled into pretend submission.

Trace my scars, dear heart,
with a fingertip, and here:
kiss. We are old wine
of bruised apples, giddy
with renewed hope,
intoxicated with history,
once banished, now transformed
into a metamorphosis of Eden.
We are bliss, stolen
back from the serpent.
We are the next Genesis.
We are the seed
of a bright and shiny
red apple.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


by Zinta Aistars

Even the memories
finally turned
to a fine chalky dust
on my fingertips, prints
left on a shirt sleeve,
translucent whorls, patterns
smudged on a window pane,
illuminated at dusk
like a hundred thousand
loose dreams
at morning light.

But the heart
is a restless beast,
hungry and wandering
its own stony path,
resurrecting at will,
diagramming histories
into unfolded palms,
entangled with lifelines.
This you will remember.
This will color your days.
This will bruise your nights.
This will grab your heart
like a fist, and squeeze,
just when you thought yourself


Hello, you.
Beast of a heart, yes, you.

We match appetites,
seated across a table,
my flushed face to your fisted
challenge, palm to palm,
muscles knotted for battle,
my lifeline to your scars,
armwrestling my future
out of your bloodied past.
Pound you back into dust.
From dust you rose,
into dust you shall be
pummeled, vanquished, jammed,
wrenched, disjointed, adjusted,

I have my fugitive dreams
to rescue.

Full moon rising - and my blood sings.
Flare of lightning, storm,
air vibrating with crackle
and sting of electricity,
tangle of wind
in whipping limbs,
pebbling of rain.
Fallen trees like road signs
pointing: this way -
horizon -
line to separate
my world
from yours.
The earth between
wet like birth,
and the edges

Grazed by a silken ache,
we dance in that moonlight.
We dance.
You sing, sweetly, softly,
silken-voiced, and I
listen, smiling.

The indigo sky is brilliant with stars.

Not this destiny, not this life,
not this convoluted path
I trip and travel, stumble,
trace and retrace,
and negotiate,
old enemies or old friends,
can never quite tell.
But I am too old to give in
any longer
to fear.

Polish the table,
clear the surface smooth,
stand back,
give me your hand.
I will wrestle you
for dust.


(Photo is from Riga, Latvia - one of my deeper lifelines.)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Lunch with Magalie

by Zinta Aistars

(Magalie at far right with brother Olivier and sister Sylvie)

In 2002, I decided to become "mom" to an exchange student visiting Kalamazoo College, where I work as editor and writer for the alumni magazine, from faraway Reunion Island...

I check my watch: seven minutes to noon. I have a lunch date. Precisely at noon, she bounds into my office on the third floor of Mandelle Hall. Youth, I think with a smile, ah youth! Three flights up, no elevator - most of us here on the third floor arrive in our offices each morning trying vainly to disguise our gasping and wheezing. But Magalie breezes in with a smile, her cheeks flushed with the excitement of life itself, and not at all with the exertion of three flights of stairs.

My anticipation of this lunch with my "adopted daughter" is in part for just this exuberant joy of life that Magalie brings to our table. Magalie Fontaine is a 22-year-old exchange student on the Kalamazoo College campus for the academic year. Home is Reunion Island. While she is on our campus, I have volunteered to be something of a "substitute mom" - a little human piece of home away from home - as part of the College host program, run by Holly Wingard, associate director of the Center for International Programs. Many members of Kalamazoo College staff and faculty volunteer to host students who arrive here from around the world. It is part of the exchange of ideas and experience that crosses all cultural and ethnic lines that we work so diligently to foster here. Our hope and our goal is that it might turn into a seed of what becomes a farther journey beyond a textbook education.

But I am more than a little aghast to realize I know nothing about Magalie's home. I have never heard of this dot on the map - Reunion Island - before our meeting, and I am far from geographically challenged. I have one foot on this continent and the other across the "great pond," holding dual citizenship in both the United States, home by birth, and Latvia, home by heritage. I am forever explaining to others where my second home lies on the Baltic Sea, same spot it's been for 2,000 years. Still, many do not know where Latvia is, or anything of its ravaged and colorful history. Bilingual and multi-cultural, I pride myself on knowing my way around the globe.

"Reunion Island?" I wince when Magalie grasps my hand in introduction. "France has an island?" I blush. I haven't a clue. Over our first shared lunch, Magalie spreads open the pages of a book of photographs illustrating her faraway home. I am taken aback by the lush beauty of this tiny island nearly 700,000 people call home along with Magalie. It lies glittering off the coast of Madagascar, and from her bedroom window on its shores, Magalie can float her daydreams on the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The island is created out of mountains, some of them bubbling into live volcanoes, and its sandy soil produces uniquely flavored mangoes and pineapples, orchids flamboyant with color, Creole spiced foods on beds of rice, and the musical sounds of the French language in daily speech. She explains quickly something of the island's history and culture, enthralls me with her exotic French accent, and then tugs at my heart with photo albums of her family that speak of families everywhere. This is her sister, here is her brother, his arm protectively draped around her shoulder, and there behind her stands her father, and here… I lean in closer… here is the pretty face of Magalie's mother, pride and maternal love giving a warm glow to her eyes. How must she feel, I wonder, to have her daughter a continent and an ocean away? I think of my own daughter, almost exactly Magalie's age, and my heart twinges with an ache of compassion. I study this faraway woman's face as a mirror of my own.

Magalie and I talk incessantly over lunch. She tells me of language labs she will be teaching at Kalamazoo College. She is not only a student here, but will learn by teaching also. She speaks of her wonderment at seeing her first snowfall. We trade recipes. She asks my advice about a boyfriend who sometimes grows too quiet and distant, and I speak in soft tones as I would to my own daughter, and I listen, far more I simply listen - as I know her own mother would. We share a joke. Her sense of humor is a little different than mine, but I explain the punchline in a bit more detail and she catches it, wham, and bursts into giggles. She talks of homesickness, and I nod knowingly. Magalie speaks of her love of travel, her appetite for adventure, her dark eyes widening in the telling. Oh, I understand. We are, after all, speaking the same language.

This is what we do here. This is it, what Magalie and I share over a lunch table. I promise someday to walk the sandy shores of Reunion Island and wave at the bedroom window that must be hers. She promises to return to this enchanted brave land of America. We will remain a kind of family.

I glance at my watch. Well past the end of my lunch hour. I glance at my plate. I have forgotten to eat my lunch. But Magalie and I leave the restaurant arm in arm. I send a mental message, a soundless whisper, across the continent and across the ocean, from one dot on the map - Kalamazoo College - to another dot on the map - Reunion Island - to another mother: all is well. Our students are not the only ones taking a farther journey, I know. I can speak for a couple of well-educated mothers who have yet to meet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

High Inducement

by Zinta Aistars

"Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another... It is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another's sake."
--Rainer Maria Rilke

There I seek: in the rich and the ripe,
plump with harvested wisdom – a seed,
heat of life and love
contained inside.
I seek: in the cool sea jade of your eyes,
there in the warmth
of your open palm, fingertip
tracing the kink and curl
of your finite lifeline.
The things one remembers:
your open lips soft over my open lips
as the length of you settles
against mine. Air blown sharp
between the edges of your teeth
at that moment of infinite sweet.
Love is like that: curve against
curve, angle inside angle,
yin to yang,
the mistaken turned pure.
Love is less and more,
attachment unfurling, release of the thread
broken, then another, another, still
another, until we hold
by gaze alone, by thought, by common
goal, by focus trained
on the same tiny point
on a farther horizon.
More: a simple swirl
of light circling, slow and sure,
beacon blinking, a guide
through storm and stillness alike,
the time-stopping moment
when you wake at dawn,
pale rimmed and flushed,
with but one thought, one only,
that of the way your name takes shape
on the curve of my honeyed lips.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

This, The Utmost

by Zinta Aistars

For Guinnez

This moment pressed between
blank pages of unfilled days
- what treasure here?
Glitter of promise,
spangle of hope,
soft paunch of prosperity,
scent of dreams on a breeze,
warm, soft, furred,
like the inside curve
of a pet dog's ear,
the moist nuzzlling
of his fond muzzle.

This is contentment.

This is it, goal of all goals,
the utmost point, final summit,
the purpose of frenzy.
This, to be seated on a step
on a fall day,
dog's head resting on my knee,
breeze lifting loose a wisp of my hair.

(Photo of Zinta with Guinnez)