I’m happy to share that “Madness is Remembering,” my essay awarded the Penelope Nivens Award by the Center for Women Writers and Elissa Washuta last year, is now in the Summer 2017 issue of Prairie Schooner. The essay is about love, cyclical violence, Romani (“Gypsy”) culture, inherited trauma, and survival. I’ll be in there alongside writer and friend Brenda Peynado, so make sure to check out her story too! The summer print issue will be available to order soon!
Happy Valentine’s Day! In the spirit of the holiday, here’s a straight-talking fish smoking a cigarette and expressing her emotional needs. I hope you, dear reader, are having a few beautiful moments with yourself, the true beloved. Luna Luna Magazine has this great collection of Victorian Valentine’s Day cards and vintage postcard erotica. Got to love that.
I’m a little late to the party, but Luna Luna Magazine‘s new address is http://www.lunalunamagazine.com and it is even more marvelous than before, as above, so below, and the eternal dance of dark and light, many blessings to you. And I’m so excited that a few moons ago Luna Luna re-released my poems “In the Oven,” “Night and Night,” and “Gulls Calling Over Corcaigh” on their new site, too, so now you can read them here. Quail Bell Magazine also reprinted them when they were first released. Thank you to both awesome magazines for the support! Head’s up/trigger warning, all three deal heavily with sexual trauma and child abuse. Why am I posting them on Valentine’s Day, particularly when the re-launch happened ages ago and today is supposed to be happy and dedicated to love? No idea! It’s just happening. The cosmos is chaos.
I will say this, of the holiday. I’m thinking a lot about my little tattoo– a bird that’s standing on the Rromanes verb “VOLI” meaning “to love.” I got this tattoo, on this day years ago, because I wanted to remember that love is an action. What we do is love, and to love, we must act lovingly. Thank you to my friends and readers who have treated me with love and kindness through messages and actions this year. I hope you all are treated with the utmost care and respect because you deserve the best.
Fox-Frazier Foley, writer and curator of The Infoxicated Corner of The The Poetry Blog, solicited an essay about Romani poetics and language, and immediately I knew I would write about Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă’s poem “The Apparition of Choxani,” from the anthology The Roads of The Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy Writers. Fox has mixed Romani heritage too, so the project felt like a gorgeous act of unity and cultural collaboration.
For me to better understand “The Apparition of Choxani,” and write what became my article, The Magic Word:
‘Gypsy’ Witchcraft, Love, and Breaking Tradition in Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă’s Poem “The Apparition of Choxani,” I had to look at my Romani family’s history as well as our traditions—not those that endured, but rather those that were extinguished.
My entire Romani identity is invested in my grandmother and what she taught me, and her identity springs from what her family could pass on to her while simultaneously obscuring their ethnicity and shedding their culture, attempting to avoid the gas chambers or a bullet in a ditch. They had a unique opportunity to do this, namely that some of the Romani family had already married gadjé and assimilated for love, and my beautiful and resourceful great-grandmother decided to re-marry a cruel-but-useful gadjo (non-Roma) and bring her three children with her to his farm in the countryside. There are whispers that her papers were forged and documents were signed by Hitler, but the details were lost a long time ago. This saved our line but left holes in our Romanipen (The Romani Way)—we lost parts of our Roma soul. I never learned Rromanès, because my grandmother wasn’t allowed to speak it—how could they explain to the suspicious Nazi officers who burst-in from time to time why their children spoke Gypsy-tongue? Most Romani families affected by the Holocaust did not break and bury their traditions. Fate tossed my great-grandmother a bone and she took it, but most Roma in WWII Europe knew that they could not assimilate and would not be allowed to. They spoke Rromanès and Romani women wore dikhle (traditional head coverings), even in the concentration camps. In the camps, there are accounts of Roma singing traditional songs and even dancing to keep their spirits and their dignity. What else is there to do in the face of utter hatred and persecution but dance? Recently, a Belgian village hired a DJ tried to try to (illegally) oust Roma from their camps with loud music, and the Roma danced then too.
My grandmother taught me our family trades, dancing and drabaripé (fortune telling, and healing magic), and although I didn’t learn about Choxani until I began researching my more about my cultural heritage as a young woman, she taught me about a different kind of witch— the drabarni, or healer or adviser. Usually the drabarni is a woman in the Romani community who uses prayer, amulets, herbs, and energy work to heal physical, emotional, and spiritual illness. Some of these practices survived in my family because far down the line there was a drabarni in my grandmother’s family. Romani magic is quite real within the culture, but it looks nothing like the “Gypsy Witchcraft” books you can get at B&N. Even though our family assimilated and we lost so much, even though I went to school with gadjé children where I didn’t learn anything about the history of my people, not even the fact that Americans enslaved Roma alongside African Americans in the Old South, I was still different. I was still stoned till I bled on the playground after I leaked the truth about my family roots when I was six years old and too proud of my grandmother for my own good, despite her many warnings to stay quiet. I was still given detention by my fifth grade teacher for being a “Gypsy witch.” I started wearing the epithet like a mantle. I proudly practiced my family trades when I was a teen, through college, and whenever I was in a tight spot. But it was still nothing like the fantasy Gypsies in story books– it was real, gritty, and sometimes heartbreaking. It was an identity that I claimed with such mixed feelings that, for years at a time, I would refuse to crack open my deck of cards because I couldn’t be a Gypsy freak-show for one more day. And other times, I felt like I was making my ancestors proud, that I was my grandmother’s blood, and I was grateful for my beautiful and complex culture.
In short, it matters when the word “Gypsy” is appropriated and redefined by outsiders. It’s our heritage, it’s our genocide, it’s our right to reclaim the ethnic slur used against us. If we are witches, it is because we have not been understood by outsiders–we are not magical, but we have a powerful culture. So be it.
Hot damn, y’all should read this book. I love it, and so does Laura Steadham Smith and Quail Bell Magazine.
“He died of old age in solitude, without a moan, without a protest, without a single moment of betrayal, tormented by memories and by the yellow butterflies, who did not give him a moment’s peace, and ostracized as a chicken thief.” —One Hundred Years of Solitude
The great Gabriel García Márquez has died, and there is little I can say about it that would be of any use, comfort, or cleverness to anyone. But, I have a lovely memory of Márquez, and now feels like a good time to write it out.
When Len and I landed in Venice, he found a very well-loved copy of this novel, brittle, yellow, and battered from age, perched on the lid of a trashcan in the airport. “It felt like a gift,” he said, “a gift from the trash.” He had been wishing for a book, and then this book he always wanted to read appeared for him when he went to throw his coffee away. We guessed the owner recognized it was in too much disrepair to be read again, but felt too guilty throwing away a work of art. The pages were slipping out, the covers were tattered and separating from the pages, but Len meticulously and carefully read each page as we traveled on train and on foot, in cafes and rented apartments, even though many of them snapped off as he turned them. He loved the story, was in raptures over it from city to city, and hoped to leave the book somewhere for another traveler to find. But by the time he finished, we were in Rabac, Croatia, and the book was unsalvageable: a collection of loose leaves constantly threatening their order. That night, during the full moon, Len and I walked out onto a rock that jutted out into the Adriatic like a sea-altar. We took wine with us, toasted to the moon, and poured a generous sip into the sea. He placed the book on the stone where it dipped like a bath and recited his favorite lines in the moon’s general direction while we waited for the tide to rise enough to take the book away. I drank wine and listened to him. I thought, love is a lush ritual. Silver-white moonlight seemed to run slick-straight across the ocean from the horizon all the way to our rock, and I wondered how many things only look the way they do because of where we stand in space. As the water rose and lapped across the stone, pages loosened and swam out in different directions, slipping down through the clear water to the sand and white coral below. The sea eventually swelled enough to cover our ankles and wash the book away. We watched it tumble and unravel under the surface. I thought, “As above, so below.” A small, orange crab scudded across my foot and caught my toe with its claw so gently, as if it only meant to steady itself before drifting off again. A page washed back onto our rock again and touched both of our feet– one with yellow butterflies.
“I fall in love with myself– and I want someone to share it with me.”
She’s one of my mid-20th century muses.
And that’s my favorite song!
Seven years ago today, it was Friday the 13th of October, which is coincidentally the day that many Pagans believe brings love and good luck to all, and that was the day that Len and I went on our first date. We intended to catch a film at The Cork Film Festival where I was volunteering at the time. The film was sold out so we headed to The Bodega, a cute heritage bar where we drank a lot of vodka and talked very quickly for many, many hours. He drew a Venn diagram on a napkin to illustrate a point about distributive cognition and it gave me butterflies– I was a philosophy minor and I still am an utter logic-nerd. And he was so cute and such a philosophy-nerd that I was wholly in love already: I texted my best friend and flatmate Sarah Sullivan, “This guy has my brain,” to let her know that 1. the date was going super well, and 2. I had not been murdered. Later on, I told Len a story about my Romani family during the Holocaust. I had told very few people this story, and certainly I didn’t tell anyone that I was wishing I could pluck up the nerve to write it. After I told him, he said, “You have to write that. It’s a novel. I can see it.” I told him I was just a poet, but I thought about it.
After the Bodega and many vodkas, we snuck into the sociology building at UCC, where he was finishing a Masters in Sociology and I was studying travel writing through Hollins University’s study aroad program. We used the computers to plan a trip to Italy for artistic inspiration: I was writing a book of poetry, and Len is a talented visual artist and he always wanted to sketch in Italy. Obviously this was before phones with Internet powers. We went on that trip a few months later, and that’s where we decided, in Arezzo on New Year’s Eve, watching boys throw fire crackers at the train tracks below our apartment balcony, that we should just keep riding the crazy, unlikely train of our trans-national relationship and see where it takes us. I told him once that I can only feel comfortable in transit and it took me this long to realize that everyone everywhere is speeding toward something, and now I can sit down and write.
Today, seven years later, I am writing that novel. It’s fiction, certainly, and the characters are characters and not me or anyone else I know, but it has roots in that true story. That night of the 13th, Len told me he wanted to be a composer, and today he is at a piano lesson with a pianist and composer who he truly admires, and he’s already written gorgeous pieces. So tonight, Len and I are going to eat some raw vegan desserts and drink champagne and feel very luxurious and self-satisfied. Maybe we’ll get crazy and draw a diagram or two.