Crossing the Danube, West Coast of the Black Sea, River Runs Through Onesti, Rovinj

From Peggy McGivern’s solo show at Abend Gallery, March 20, 6-9pm, Colfax and York, Denver. Verse by Peter Stravlo, Eastern European inspired folk music by Mark Dudrow and Chipper Thompson. Dracula’s Blood wine.

Crossing the Danube
Each border guard said the other would let us in, but not out.
You cannot drive here, Croatia says.
You cannot park here, Serbia says.
We thought they had settled all this with a war.

Three hours in no-man’s-land before heading to Belgrade, where scattered lights twinkle like failed constellations, a million falling star headlights racing past. We are lost.

Dawn reveals a merry-go-round of smokestacks, exhaust, oppression, overlapping signs like washed out frescoes on concrete walls. For hours it seems no stars are possible.

Exit and return, exit and return; Belgrade means roundabout in a language we do not fathom. Surely it will be no mistake, to cross the Danube into Transylvania. Can we not at least read each other’s palms?

West Coast of the Black Sea
Feel every angle of the world
Catapulted like languages
Shadows and rooflines
Between Asia and Europe

Taste salty wind
Stinging
A vulnerable cheek
Of indeterminate color

Hear waves of thought
Mingling together
Through straits
Of millennia

See Greek-marbled blue-green
Slavic-jeweled red
Gold Persian myths
Mosaic as Byzantium

Witness galleons, cruise ships, and dreadnoughts
Crashing into dachas
Tourists and religions
On the West Coast of the Black Sea

River Runs Through Onesti
Find a little boat and let us take a fairytale trip
We’ll fall out of the Cuic mountains
Down the Trotus River
Float by exotic oases of history and imagination
Open your eyes
Shhh… the beauty of places so hidden
No one but us will know

Rectangles, triangles, rhombus ribbons and almost perfect circles
Turkish and Gypsy and Greek and Magyar and Serb and Slav
Not quite white, or red or green or yellow
But blue and sienna and ochre and browns of all flavors
Shaped like the people of Ottoman bridges and Greek statues
Welcoming our flotilla of one
With plates of mittitei and pârjoale and you must have a cup of tuica
And another before we flow tipsy into the Siret and start all over again

Rovinj
We like our boundaries, right angles snapped together in overlapping simplicity along an artificial shoreline
Raw sienna and yellow-clay Legos with blue-squares and shadowy reliable passages

Solid little rooms vetted by generations
Miniature green savannahs and forests, contained in comfortable garden beds
Things we can stand on, lean against, grasp, walk around

But be careful, waves form and foam and dissipate
Like reflections in a mirror threatening to swallow, distort, reveal, wash away our beach head
We listen to rhythmic crashing, and imagine standing, leaning, grasping, walking around
As if abstract form meant permanence

Forgotten Letter

For ten and one half years, a vision has haunted me: your stepdad on his deathbed at St Francis Hospital, I sitting at his side; your sister and her husband standing over him, placing their hands on him and praying aloud and speaking in tongues as they pressesd their convictions on my defenseless husband… while I wept but did not prevent or stop it. He writhed and moaned, the only method available to him to protest and defend himself. I know I should not have allowed it, should have stopped it, but…. Well, you know that, until his lung surgery and my brother’s call to her, your sister and I had not spoken for months. I was weak when he needed my strength most.
I do not want you or my brother or anyone else to have to protect me in a similar situation. It would be nearly impossible for you to do. My fear of alienationg my daughter now is exceeded only by my fear of being stripped of my last vestige of dignity while dying. I addresssed this letter to both of you in order to assure her that you, too, have been apprised of my wished in this matter.
‘Nuff said.

Two pages later.

Med don’t seem to do as well as women when widowed. I think it’s because they can’t let their guard down enought to form really intimate friendships. Women do. but men seem to feel they have to be tough and macho with each other, have to compete in everything. Women have since they were girls giggled together and exchanged secrets and wept on each other’s shoulders. Some of the saddest moments I can remember were those times when my husband literally wept tears over not having a close male friend. I tried to make him understand that a friendship cannot be based on on person being the ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than the other; that a freindship has to be based on mutual respect and love, not competition. There can be no ‘one-upmanship’ in a friendship. He heard me, but it just wasn’t in him. And he suffered for it. He loved my having deep friendships with women… and I think seeing those friendships made the contrast more poignant for him.

Tow more pages.

You know, my mother and I had a love-hate relationship that I’ve only tried to understand in the past several years from her viewpoint. While she was loving and there for us, and did a darned good job of raising and keeping her family (her and the kids, I mean) together, there was always a distance she maintained… with me, anyway. I remember when she was dying. I wished so much she could bring herself to tell me how she felt… not physically, but mentally and emotionally. But she couldn’t. I think, even in her dying, she felt compelled to protect us. She never acknowledged the word ‘cancer.’ I felt that, if she could just share her feelings with someone…me, of course… she might not feel so alone. Of course, I haven’t experienced what she was experiencing and realize that, no matter what, it was her experience. That no amount of ‘sharing’ it could ease it for her. We can’t share someone’s dying. Oh, I don’t know. But I do know that she seldom discussed with me her inner thoughts, beefore or during her last ordeal. Oh, there was one time I remember: she had come out to spend the evening with you and your sister and me. After you were in bed, she began to talk about me and my older brother’s father… for the first time in her life. “I’ve always loved him,” she said as she paced the family room floor. I was stunned to think that she carried that sad longing for thirty years and through three more (at the time) marriages.

Notes:
Paragraph One- I had to walk out of the room after she died, after I told my relatives she didn’t want to be prayed over. They did it anyway.

Paragraph Two- The next sentence: “I’ve always admired your lifelong ability to form close friendships, honey. Of course, I’m not privy to your private moments with those friends, so I suppose I don’t really know how deep they are. I’ve always felt you and ____ had that sort of friendship.” She was right, but it’s the only one, except good friendships I’ve had with women. And the one close male friendship is possible because, despite my inner competitiveness, we don’t compete, never have. Just not what he does, and it allows space for a beautiful friendship.

Paragraph Three- Mom’s father abandoned the family when Mom was a few months old. They were living in a barn, Mom sleeping in the bottom drawer of a dresser. One time Mom and her brother located their Father and arranged a meeting. She didn’t show, and as far as I could ever tell, never regretted it.

Mom didn’t repeat my Grandmother’s mistake. Over three years of her failing health we spent countless hours and days together, stripping our feelings naked, without any fear of a question, without any hesitatiion to confront our frailties and mistakes. Death, love, hate, sexual abuse, abandonment, jealousy, nothing was off limits. I’ve never met anyone so brave. Thank you, Mom. You continue to teach and inspire me.