Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dumpster Diving

by Zinta Aistars

"Wanna go dumpster diving?"

I blink. Now there's a unique invitation for a summery Saturday evening, out on the town. I mean, really. What proud woman can resist such an offer?

Something in me, from youngest days on to these supposedly more sensible ones, I've found it hard to resist a unique offer. Something new, something I've never done before. And this one seemed relatively ... safe?

I pushed aside momentary flashes of imagined images crossing my mind: police flashlights blinding us as a voice from the dark asks what the heck are we doing? or, climbing into a dark and smelly cavern of rotting garbage to step on a live rat or a puddle of unidentifiable mush, or peering into a black plastic bag to find severed body parts, or ...

"Sure," I grinned.

After all, we were all about recycling. All about living the frugal life, no waste, keeping it sustainable, taking care of ourselves and off the grid. I was a long way from that now, but as I rolled my eyes for the past weeks of listening to Washington D.C. waging their pitiful political charades over how to solve our debt problems, I'd had my moments of wondering about my retirement years. Who knows what might happen between now and then? Social Security gone bankrupt, my retirement funds lost in the global market, jobs going scarce, health care becoming the privilege of the wealthy ...

Even while I strove to live a life that leaned ever more heavily toward the environmentally conscientious, using only what I need, paring back the impulsive wants that pass like any itch, and finding ways to use and re-use what I already have. I liked the idea of a simpler life. It was not a life of doing without, I discovered, but actually living better ... and losing the excess baggage that had been holding me back.

"Why not," I said. "So what does one one wear for a Saturday night dumpster dive?"

My diving partner tossed me a pair of work gloves and a flashlight. He wore his on a string around his neck so that his hands were free, and I'd seen him wear a light like a coal miner's once on a band that fit on his head. I'd borrowed it a few months ago when winter camping and dog sledding in the snowy night, and found it most useful to keep the light wherever I turned my head and my hands free.

We lined the car trunk with an old sheet and were off.

Oh, he'd done this before. Knew all the best places, the dumpsters of bounty, clean of food scraps or truly icky stuff. And we dove right in.

I stood by for a while, watching as he climbed in, waist deep, then disappeared. Out flew all kinds of interesting items. Mostly, he sought metal, because this he could recycle by the pound at the neighborhood recycling center. Metal and steel by the pound, copper and electric wiring, all of these caught his eye, and I watched stainless steel pots and pans and cookie sheets fly over the edge of the dumpster, broken fans and decorative grills. A small metal table. Wiring and pieces of pipe. Goodness, in July, a small Christmas tree with all the lights and ornaments still on! He could sell those strings of lights to recycling, he said, for 20 cents on the ounce.

He popped out for a moment, holding out to me like a gift -- a tin box, quite beautifully decorated. Just the thing for a writer: inside were rows and rows of new pencils, not even sharpened. What writer can resist such? I squealed with delight, and then I'd gone over the edge and was fishing for myself. Another box was crammed full of new spools of thread, every imaginable color, and then we found where they came from ... he heaved and pulled free a wooden cabinet with folding leaf, tucked inside it a Sears Kenmore sewing machine.

Four sets of what appeared to be brand new blinds, white, maroon, cream. Why would anyone throw these out? And a burgundy area rug, trimmed with pink roses. Not my style, but not a stain on it. I shook my head. What is all this doing in a dumpster?

I pondered those imagined persons who had thrown such things out. Weary of something before it had even had a chance to show wear. Everything was disposable, everything for the short term. How had we gotten to be this way? No more heirlooms to pass down to our children, but maybe that was the basis for it ... had we stopped believing in a future? Had we gone bankrupt in the pursuit of stuff and forgotten the reason why?

Back to the garage, we unloaded our finds from the trunk and the sewing machine in its cabinet from the back seat. It worked. Opened, the blinds were perfect, not a slat broken, and as clean as if they'd come from a store shelf. Puzzling.

He set about sorting through his finds, putting them into piles by material. Last week, he'd brought in his bins of sorted scrap metal, steel, copper, and walked away with an extra hundred in his pocket.

Perhaps this country is not so bankrupt, after all, in terms of its material wealth. Not if our dumpsters are full of such nearly new goods and salvageable materials. Our bankruptcy may be of a different kind. What had happened to us that we seemed to value so little? Always craving new, newer, newest, a wake of throwaways littered behind us. This year's model whatever to be replaced by next year's model whatever, and then months later, obsolete again. Never satisfied. Gadgets and whirligigs and thingamajigs to amuse for a moment, then be tossed again. Ever searching for the sale that shouted CHEAP but never really finding lasting quality.

In some way, I thought, watching him sort and break down what he'd found, we were doing a service here. Instead of being dumped into a land fill, these items at least would see new use, melted down and reshaped into ... well, a new gadget, I suppose, of some kind that someone somewhere would deem a must-have. Until a newer gadget was made. And I would use this thread to replace a loose button or mend a torn seam or take up a hem.

Even so. The evening had been a bit of a thrill, an odd adventure, a lark, but then, a little sad, too. Even a little tragic. I opened my tin of new pencils and thought it had been a while since I'd recycled words and written a poem ... in longhand.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kindling a Fire of Reading

by Zinta Aistars

It took me years to get to the point of plunking the money down. I'd been watching the birth and development of Amazon's electronic reading device, the Kindle, since it's appearance online. As all such gadgets, it started with a high price, several hundreds, and gradually came down to a reasonable $139.

Temptation itched at the seams of my wallet. I was most curious to try this slim little gadget. What tempted most was the idea that this six-inch, slim reader can hold within it an entire library: 3,500 books in electronic form.

Imagine: wherever I go, there with me, slim as a small notebook, aisles and aisles of bookshelves to suit every reading impulse. A secret library, like that magic closet where a child climbs in, slips between the hanging coats and shirts, to find a secret door in back ... and emerge in a magic land.

Who says there is no romance in technology? Well, I did. Those years of waiting. I kept buying books, adding them to my bookshelves, my rooms lined with them, until they ended up in piles in the corners, on the tables, beneath the tables. Oh, dear.

And then word got out that I write Zinta Reviews, and post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Lunch, and of course, in my literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. And my mailbox has filled with boxes and thick, padded envelopes. From authors, publicists, and even in boxes from publishers, entire seasons of new books, hot off the presses. Oh, constant Christmas!

Even as my house groaned with books, books, books.

Then it occurred to me: I care about the environment. Not only the internal environment of my home, but those glorious green forests ... and I ducked with shame at taking down, surely, a forest or two. 

So that was two reasons to consider this new-fangled e-reader ...

The last was the hardest to overcome. See, I am addicted to books. I stand up among you and declare myself: "My name is Zinta Aistars and I am a bookaholic." I cannot walk into a bookstore or a library without emerging book laden. Armloads and tote bags full. I love books. I have always loved books. I will, always.

There is something to be said for the sensual pleasure of holding a book in my hands. Whether it is an old book, smelling a bit musty, held by a thousand pairs of hands and read by a thousand pairs of eyes before mine, or a fresh new book that cracks a little in the spine when I first open the cover.

Would an electronic reader feel like a book in my hands?

Of course not. But it does feel a little like a key to a magic place ...

I finally realize I don't have to give anything up here. A quick browse on online bookstores, and I find that many of the books that interest me aren't available in digital versions. My reading tastes are just eclectic enough that quite a few of the titles that pique my interest require a hunt to find. For these, I go to my favorite local, independent bookstores.

For me, that means a trip to Michigan News Agency in downtown Kalamazoo, a store that has been in that same spot for 64 years, and where Dean always comes over to talk to me as soon as I walk in the door. Dean throws terrific author readings for local and regional authors, and I try to attend as many as I can ... and I enjoy buying a book on the spot and having the author inscribe my copy. Now, that's something I can't do on an e-reader - have my book inscribed.

Or, I visit Gloria at Kazoo Books. The shelves in her two stores are overflowing with gently used books (and some new), just the place to hunt down that old and rare volume I can't find anywhere else. Up in the attic, around into that back room, or downstairs in the basement ... the hunt alone is exciting.

And, let's face it, I love my local libraries. I have several library cards in my wallet. I go to the Portage District Library, where Marsha alerts to me a special book, or downtown to the beautiful Kalamazoo Public Library that won an award for its astounding architecture the year it was renovated. Wonderful literary events abound at both. 

So why give up any of this? I can have it all. The moment this dawns on me, I am ready to buy. I order my Kindle.

Funny, how once I make that decision, I am like a kid waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus, dressed in the chocolate brown uniform of a UPS delivery man. I track the shipment online, watching it move from Hebron, Kentucky, to Bellingham, Michigan, then cross the state from east to west, until it arrives in Portage. A text message chirps on my BlackBerry to tell me that the package has been delivered to my door. These are the joys of the world of advanced technology.

I hurry home from the office and grab for the package. It's empty! Oh bless, my son has been by to receive the package, and was thoughtful enough (I have been chattering about my anticipated new Kindle all week) to take it out and plug it in to upload its battery, three hours to presto. When I get home, it's ready for me.

Oooh. Wow. Oh, fun! The screen saver alone is enchanting. I turn the e-reader off and on several times just to view the changing pictures. Like pencil drawings, portraits of classic authors, of long ago scenes, Leonardo da Vinci sitting at his desk, of lions in dens in lazy repose, of great temples and ancient architecture, of fish!

I browse through the online user's manual and set it up just for me. At top of the screen it now says: Zinta's Kindle. I'm grinning. Now to download books ...

Indeed, a shelf's worth are already downloaded. All week I have been ordering up electronic copies of classics. Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Jack London, William Shakespeare (complete works!), Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Joseph Conrad, Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, James Joyce, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, John Steinbeck, Fyodor Dostoyekski, Walt Whitman ... and more. And I have spent ... not a dime!

Oh, glory! I feel almost decadent, rolling in good books, books everywhere, only not everywhere ... they are all contained within this slim, light reader. I've ordered a protective burgundy leather cover for the Kindle, so it feels very much like a book in my hands as I read. It takes only a moment to master the electronics. I am skimming pages, highlighting favorite passages, adding bookmarks, sorting the order of my favorite books on my "shelf."

I'm in love. From now on, wherever I go, whatever waiting room I am sitting in, lined up in however long a line, I can relax. Push of a button, and I have passed through the doorway into my personal library, filled with my favorite books and favorite authors. Within minutes, I can shop and add more. I rather hope everyone keeps me waiting ...

And I will still show up at my neighborhood local bookstore. I will still wear out my library card. I have the best of all of these literary worlds, giving up none, but perhaps, somewhere out there in the wilderness, a tree stands because I haven't turned it into a print book.

I will find that tree. Its limbs stretching out to shelter me with a green umbrella. I will sit beneath it, open my e-reader, choose a good book, and settle in for a long read ...

New! You can now subscribe to this blog to receive it on your Kindle the moment it is posted! See Zinta Aistars: On a Writer's Journey on Amazon

Ordering online for your Kindle is as easy as one, two, Z ...


Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Fruits of Summer

by Zinta Aistars

Call me mad, but really, I would prefer to wake to a sparkling white morning, the trees lacy with snow, the ground covered with fluffy white, and those fat flakes falling soft, soft, melting in my upturned palm.

But it is mid July, and the days are searing hot. We have just sweated through days of 90s (Fahrenheit) and the upcoming week promises to be the same. Blistering heat, skies blue and with only an occasional wisp of a cloud, nothing between great gold sun and us.

There are moments that I do enjoy the season. The early mornings or the late evenings, before the heat has grown intense or after it has begun to withdraw, easing toward cool evening. Now and then, that more gentle day, when warmth wraps itself around me with a sweet touch, but not so overbearing as this, like looking into the open door of an oven.

Today is that searing hot day. It cooks. You know the sort, when a cracked egg might sizzle on sidewalk. There is no escaping it. I would hibernate within the escape of my chilled rooms, but I am lured outside.

By what? What could possibly? Ah, the fruits of summer.

My very favorite: raspberries. I've invited my mama to come along to pick up chickens, however, not fruit. Once per season, we take this trek east toward Battle Creek (Michigan), where a friend has a small, five-acre organic farm. She keeps a chicken coop, raises turkeys for holiday meals, and we order up how many we want for the coming weeks, then go out to pick them up, coolers filled with ice.

Who knows what comes over me when we all meet by the freezer filled with plucked and processed chickens, frozen now and ready to transport back to my own kitchen. But I peer across Shirley's shoulder to her five acres, and there, down the slope and up again, just by the tree line, are rows of raspberry bushes. 

"If we picked them ourselves?" I hear myself saying. "Might we have a pint? Raspberries?"

"In this heat?" Shirley marvels. "It's too much even for me. But if you like ... "

She hands me a pint container. Mama looks moist and reluctant, a little wince on her pursed lips. She wasn't expecting this.

"Oh, come on," I nudge her. "I'll pick."

She sighs. Reaches for a container. "I'll take one, too."

Shirley allows us to drive to the back of the acreage where the rows of raspberry bushes grow to save us the melting walk. Out we go then, picking fast. But it doesn't take long before I can hear my mother heave a heated sigh and then there she is, shirtless, having unbuttoned her blouse and tied it instead over her head and shoulders like a nun's veil. She notes my grin and shrugs and starts to ruffle through the low bushes, looking for red berries.

I think about childhood summers as I pick. Cooler then, not such a dreaded season for me when I was a child. Picking fruit of all kinds was a part of summer I very much enjoyed. My parents would take my sister and me to orchards, to groves, to rows of cherry trees and blueberry bushes to pick our fill.

I loved cherry picking most. Limbs heavy with bright red fruit, hanging low and filled with ripe and sweet clusters. Such bounty! And the trees were just right for climbing. I ate more than I picked, and by end of afternoon, my belly would ache and my mouth was stained with cherry juice and my knees were raw from scraping bark. And I was summer happy, hanging out near the sky, or so I thought, little tree tramp, girl monkey, leaves tangled in my hair. 

Our containers full, sweat dripping down our faces, my mother and I emerge from the raspberry rows and scamper back into my car. I turn the AC up high while my mother struggles to get back into her damp shirt. Shirley is waiting for us.

Popping berries into our mouths as we head home, we quick stop by the store for butter pecan ice cream. Home, my father peeking into the bowl of just washed berries, we put out bowls, the ice cream melting fast, the berries spilling over that cool white glory in bright red, and sit down to eat.

Summer, you are forgiven. For this, one can.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who Turned the Lights Out?

by Zinta Aistars

We did. I'm convinced it was us. While the debate still (amazingly) rages on whether human beings have contributed to climate change, extreme weather is on the increase. The fury of storms is in the news on a daily basis now. Tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, heat waves, earthquakes, blizzards, thunderstorms.

Mother Earth is having more than a hot flash. She's mad.

I don't recall summers being this hot for such extended times when I was a child. I hear others in my age group saying the same whenever the temperatures soar to the mid to high 90s (Fahrenheit) or even well into the 100s. Most of us didn't have air conditioning in our homes or in our cars when we were young. We didn't need it.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I actually rather enjoyed summer. No more. The blistering heat gives me headaches, even if I do now have central air at home and the air conditioner in my car blasting chilled air on my daily commute to and from work. The heat makes me lethargic; my energy drips and drains away until all I want to do is collapse into a chair and let the sweat cool on my skin.

And then the storms come. Again. In February, the ice and snow came, and the horizon was lost in a white blizzard. I lost power at home for three days. I deal with cold pretty well, so I was kewl with that. But yesterday, a thunderstorm crashed through the skies, whipped up winds as much as 80 miles per hours in nearby areas. Trees snapped like toothpicks and limbs flew loose in every direction. I drove home from work to find the power out, again.

The house was still cool from the air conditioner running before, and since it is well insulated, it remained reasonably cool throughout the evening and night. I bought large bags of ice at the nearby gas station and stuffed them into my refrigerator.

Thankfully, I hadn't stocked up on groceries for more than a week, so the loss of food wouldn't be too great, but I fired up the grill and took the steak in the freezer out and set it to sizzle rather than risk its thaw and eventual spoil. Toss in a large potato, tear up some butter crisp lettuce and garden-grown blushing red tomato, and dinner was gourmet. By candlelight.

I don't watch much television, so reading by the window was a pleasant relaxation. After it grew dark, I moved upstairs to my bedroom and lit candles, propped my large camping lantern above my plumped up pillows, and continued to read until sleep came.

So who's complaining? Not this evening, I'm not. The neighborhood is still and quiet, even as the leafy giants fallen in the storm lie across the street, electric lines tangled in their branches. The storm has cooled the air just enough. I watch the dance of candelight on my walls and the ghostly circle of white light on my ceiling from the lantern. Almost like camping out in luxury. I am cozy in my bed and I read until my eyes grow heavy.

Yet by morning this is a tad tiresome. My electric stove or coffee maker don't work. There's just enough hot water left in the water heater to take the quickest of showers. As soon as I climb out to get dressed, my clothes paste themselves to my already damp skin .... the day is waking up hot again. Very hot.

When I head out for my morning walk with my dog, going this time by that nearest gas station to pick up a large cup of coffee, I hear the buzz of generators. Apparently, they don't make those things with mufflers. I can hear them a block away, and there are two, three, four rumbling away on my block alone.

I have generator envy. I'm going shopping tonight for one of my own, because the update from Consumers Energy is that it will take another three days to restore power.

So is this me talking? The same me that longs for a simple life in the woods? Yes, it's me. And I still keep dear that goal of moving north some day to the wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, to set up a retirement household that is secluded and quiet, view of Lake Superior perhaps, or at least some bubbling stream, with wildlife bountiful and television antennaes few and far between.

One arranges a lifestyle around certain needs, and how and where I live now requires more technological advancements. It is one reason why I keep my eyes trained north, to escape all this, but while I am still here, I appreciate the electric current that percolates my coffee and heats my water and cools my rooms. When I camp, I live otherwise, and I camp rustic, in tent and by fire. When I retire north, I will live differently, and my commute to work will have ended with all its assorted obligations.

I wonder sometimes ... someday, will we have a choice of lifestyles? One wired and juiced, the other off the grid? There must be some happy medium. For now, I unplug what I do not use. I keep my thermostat low in winter, no problem. I mow my lawn with an eco-mower. I do that awful commute to work in a fuel-efficient car. I buy LED light bulbs, and I shop locally whenever possible. I stock my pantry from a CSA share, community supported agriculture, all organic.

Watching the ghostly circle of light on my bedroom ceiling, I consider what more I can do. There must be more, because our choices are becoming limited, and these ever more frequent power outages are sending a message as our houses grow still and quiet.

Mother Earth is angry, and she is demanding our attention. We have abused her long enough, taken her for granted. Comes a time when the abused stand up and roar, and I hear her roar now. In the dark and in the stillness, I am trying to listen.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Flow of This Literary River

by Zinta Aistars

Z (left) and Bonnie Jo Campbell (right)
There's not much that could get me out of my wonderfully chilled, air-conditioned house on a 90+ degree July day. I was out early in the morning to water my parched petunias, and I watched a young robin fly in desperation through the spray of my garden house, parched too. I arced the cool water high so that the robin could ruffle her feathers in the spray, her little brown head going back in thirst to catch a few drops.

That hot.

But at 2 p.m., hottest and steamiest part of the day, I pulled my hair up and clamped it so it wouldn't touch my neck, put real clothes on, and went out. Into the July day. Woosh, was it hot. Yet how many times does a terrific new novel get published by someone you know? I mean really terrific. I was out to show my support, rub elbows with Bonnie Jo Campbell, and get my copy of Once Upon a River, hot off the W. W. Norton presses, signed by the author.

How many times ... I considered the last time I'd gone out to Bell's, Kalamazoo's nationally known microbrewery, for a book launch, and apparently Bonnie's favorite place to launch her new books. I went there on yet another blistering summer day when she launched her remarkable story collection, American Salvage. The same one that got her national notice, a finalist for the National Book Award. Bonnie, can we convince you to publish your next great book in a cooler season??

Oh, but anything for you! And for this incredible group of literary stars in Kalamazoo. We've been saying it for years now, asking: what's in the water? How is it that Kalamazoo has so much artistic talent, busting at the seams with it, writers and artists earning acclaim. A recent article in the Detroit Free Press took note, too, publishing an article called Michigan's West Side A Hot Spot for Writers.

Able to make it into the newly renovated door and lobby, complete with tinkling water fountain, of Bell's Eccentric Cafe (we are good at art here, but also good at brewing excellent beer), I started to  have my suspicions of one of the reasons. The place was brimming and bustling with Bonnie fans. Gloria Tiller of Kazoo Books had a long table set up along one side, and it creaked under the weight of books written by local authors.

Neon Tetra
Just so you wouldn't miss any of the literary talent sipping cold beers, buying books, and milling about to the musical talent of Neon Tetra, Bonnie had provided a list at the door. Among the names on her list of who was here with two elbows each to rub for literary luck, yeah, there I was, too: "Zinta Aistars, editor of The Smoking Poet, which just had its fifth anniversary." And, Heidi Bell, Darrin Doyle, Gail Griffin, Michael Griffin, Michael Loyd Gray, Conrad Hilberry, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Lisa Lenzo, Colleen Little, Andy Mozina, Melinda Moustakis, Loreen Niewenhuis, Thisbe Nissen, Cheryl Peck, Susan Ramsey, Kristina Riggle, Elaine Seaman, Phillip Sterling, Steve Amick, and others. Most excellent company.

So maybe that was it. That was why and how this unique Kalamazoo literary and artistic lushness happens: we mill and we elbow rub and we show up at each others' events to show our support. We care. We share. We do what we can to promote each other. We drink our cold brews together, we sweat in unison, and we are there to offer a toast when any among us sees success. We bolster each other on the down dips, too.

I'm thinking that much good karma has to have an effect.

For all the years that I've been doing what I can to promote local literary talent, I am still amazed at how many area writers I have yet to meet. So it is this time. I chat it up with the effervescent Gloria Tiller of Kazoo Books as my attention is drawn to one of the books she is selling: A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach by Loreen Niewenhuis.

"There she is, there's the author," Gloria points me in the direction of Loreen, standing by the water fountain. I buy the book ... I can't resist this type of story, woman bonding with nature, a voyage in solitude, and make it a local story, and I'm there. I head for Loreen with my copy of her book to introduce myself.

Another connection is made. I am very much looking forward to this read. My favorite Great Lake is Lake Superior, but she, native of Battle Creek, has bonded to the closer Lake Michigan, walking all the way around it to settle the upheaval of a "mid-life crisis." I make mental note to return to this for a future issue of The Smoking Poet. This would make an excellent author interview ...

Andy Mozina (left), Michael Loyd Gray (right)
I spend some time talking to Michael Loyd Gray, a previous TSP author interview. We have been tossing around an idea for some time now to bring together a local writers' roundtable sometime this fall. Not a reading, but a gathering of literary minds, because neither of us is a believer in writers' groups, but we do believe in brainstorming and group support. It's a fun idea to mull over. Stay tuned ...

And there's Susan Ramsey, whose book has recently been accepted for publication, and I have already had a taste of her remarkable talent. I can hardly wait. Oh fun, there's poet Colleen Little. And I talk to Cheryl Peck, too, who is facing up to challenges, hearing that teeth-gritting response from her agent and potential publishers: "Great writing, but how to market it?" That, I think, may be just the kind of challenge we might discuss at that writers' roundtable ...

I go in for a hug with poet Elaine Seaman, but we both pull back ... it's too hot, too hot for hugs, so we make the motions only and laugh. Time for a cold one instead.

Elaine Seaman (left), Susan Ramsey (right)
The line only gets longer for Bonnie's signature in new books. Everyone wants an inscription. I hear the chatter as I walk along the line: " ... can't wait to read it!" "Oh, I bet this is going to be good!" "Bonnie's the best!"

I've read and reviewed the advance review copy, but Bonnie tells me there were some 2,000 changes made to that copy before the final one went to print. "Typos, surely?" I widen my eyes. But she says no, not all, some cuts made, some additions. Ah, well then, I will have to read it again!

And that's just fine. I head back to my car, baking in the sun, several books under my arm, all inscribed. These are the joys of old fashioned books, I think, as I place them carefully on the passenger seat. They can be inscribed by the authors. E-books, alas, cannot. These will now be added to my shelves of literary treasure. Awaiting many, many long and lovely hours of reading, falling into the wonderful stories of my Kalamazoo area neighbors.

I imagine long and lazy summer days ahead, too hot to move, too hot to do anything ... but read, holding the garden hose in a high arc to spray cool water on the petunias, let the robins dance, and read, read ...


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Firecrackers in the Heart

by Zinta Aistars

Nothing but nothing is better than a houseful of family and friends and chillun come home for the holiday weekend. My heart has firecrackers in it.

The house has been cleaned top to bottom, the recent bathroom renovation has been completed, just just, the flower beds have been weeded, the back deck swept and the new grill assembled, the refrigerator and pantry are filled to bursting with the makings of a weekend of meals, and fresh, crisp and clean sheets have been put on all the beds, towels set out, and there I am, sitting on the front stoop, waiting.

They arrive. One, and the other, and the next, and then by the vanful. The firecrackers in my heart sputter and sparkle and zoom into shiny sky. I'm all crackly with loveliness inside, warm and heart-oozy, smeared with pudding smiles, blushing with pleasure. Oh, lovely faces. Oh, squeezable ones. Daughter and son, the center of my joy. She with her blonde prettiness, so petite and sweet, and he with his wide shoulders and bearded chin, as if opposites, yet not. Magnets drawn together, and I mirror their fun in seeing each other again, my eyes all misty and my smile silly, rocking from one foot to the other and nearly dancing to see.

Holiday! And not just Independence Day, but my daughter's birthday on its edge, and there is my father, arriving just behind the rest, and his birthday, too, just a little further out, and Mama balancing two cakes, chocolate and white. Derek arrives near midnight, traveling long distance, and the house beams. All here.

Too much celebration for one day to hold, so we spend the weekend and still, there's more. Every day is a celebration of family and friends, every day. Isn't it everything? Is there anything else? If we honor an entire country on this holiday, it is because of the nation it holds, and the nation is a web of connection, silver threads to hold us all together, mothers and fathers and daughters and sons and friends and soul mates and neighbors and strangers yet to meet and befriend, all one. So many beloved faces.

Between bustling over meals and cleaning up after them so as to start new meals, I sit and watch them, all my beloved faces, and I think back to my grandmother, how she used to sit in the corner of the room filled with loved ones and watch, watch, her eyes touching on every face, and just watch. As a child, I didn't understand. Didn't she want to play? Get up and dance? Have more to eat? Enjoy a chat? No, she only sat, only watched, her eyes doing the dancing, and now I know, firecrackers going off in her heart.

All I need now, is to see them all, their faces, their lovely faces, and I can be still and quiet, just sit and see them, memorize them all in my heart. Sparkles sputtering and flickering all inside. I miss you, Vecmamit. But here you are, yes, here you are, still, and part of my sparkle now. I see your face.

We fire up the grill, and the table creaks with food, and the old chow pup runs in happy circles all about, under legs, around chairs, back and forth across the back lawn, making little hops of silliness, catching bites of food that take flight, neat arc to land smack in his open mouth, and he laughs the way that dogs laugh, great pink and chow-black tongue lolling about wet and sloopy and licking any hand hanging loose over the arm of a chair or at someone's side. He has firecrackers in his dog heart.

Crack, crackle, boom, down the street, and a neighbor waves across the fence. He has a pudding smile too, long fork in hand, standing over his grill, all his many lovely beloved faces milling about and mirroring his. Firecrackers streak into the sky and burst into stars.

We line up the cakes, deep dark chocolate and glowing white. Set two tiny candles to flame. Grandfather and granddaughter look at each other, considering their birthday wishes, and laugh. The power of two, two good wishes flickering in tiny flame and then woosh and then sending up a trail of curling smoke, tiny white ribbon, up to the heavens, be true, do happen, good wish, make it so. A half century between them, white-haired man and blonde young woman, each on their own threshold.

It's all over too soon, much too soon, and must squeeze enough love into each dear one as they depart to hold until next time. Squeeze it in, filling each nook and little heart corner, squeeze them tight, until they are full of buttery sweet love seam to seam, and safe with it, wherever they go until next time, whatever their fates and destinies and dreams to pursue, until next time, whatever adventures and misadventures to bring to next gathering for shared stories, squeeze, and kiss on noses, kiss on sweet cheeks, kiss on foreheads, kiss away goodbye tears, and wrap them all up in good wishes, angelsbewithyou, until next time, next time, never soon enough.

I see firecrackers streaming through the sky high over them in graceful arcs as they drive away into the next day.