Saturday, September 12, 2009

Deja Vu Calumet

by Zinta Aistars

Where did the years go? I lived here, where I am at this moment - on Fifth Street, Calumet village, Keweenaw, Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in 1992 and 1993. A short time, yet brimming with all the rich experience of life fully lived. I don't think I ever was so close to poverty as when I lived here, in a second floor apartment with sloping wooden floors at a rent of $250 a month. Yet, I was never happier. I was here with those I loved: my small children and my new husband, just married in Houghton, across the Portage canal. I worked four jobs. I was editorial assistant at the Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton; florist at Kathy's Flowers in Hancock; waitress at Jim's in Calumet; and in my "spare time," I telemarketed subscriptions for the newspaper and helped the kids deliver the Copper Nugget paper to houses here and in Laurium, across the way. And still, I could not make ends meet. No one here seemed to even blink at the law for minimum wage. You considered yourself lucky to be employed and earning a couple bucks at each job, and that was that. My love and I walked the streets of Calumet in the late evenings and picked up cans, turned them in for the occasional piece of meat at the grocery store, now Louie's on Fourth Street.
The snows were deep and long. Sometimes we would go out in the night and lie down in the snow, make snow angels, come back inside to make love, go back outside to cool again, feeling our wings, snow melting in our embrace. Life was simple and sweet. Work and love and family and snow.
It is a long story, long and winding, and I am here in Calumet now to pick up a thread I left here so long ago. I want to connect it to my present day, and all that went between. I am here now to work on my novel, an effort that has lived inside me since that long ago time, expanded over time... but I was unable to write it.
They say artists create from pain. I suppose that is true. I do, too. That is, from the seed sown by pain, loss, grief. But I have never been able to write while in pain. I produce muddle and muck when I write while in pain. For me, the world must be right again, back on its axis and orbiting in its saner orbits before I can create. When that happens, I can bring my attention back again to where it belongs.
I am back in Calumet now because my world is right again. My heart is at peace. My mind is open and my heart embraces all that I find in my days and in my nights. I am here to write. If even for a little while, before I have to return to my life as people of the U.P. (Upper Peninsula), the "yoopers," would say - as a "troll." A troll is anyone who lives below the bridge, and in this case, that bridge is the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, a structure of grace and  beauty, connecting the two parts of Michigan. For me, connecting two very different and distinct parts of my life... and identity.
I am here to write about two women, one who lives in the Keweenaw among the stones of the rocky shores of Lake Superior, the other in southwest Michigan, in Kalamazoo. I am here to listen to the voice of the woman who once lived here, so long ago in time and space and experience. I sense her here. I feel her presence. I can feel her heart again, its steady and resonating beat. She knows. She knows so much...
And I am ready to know again, too.

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