Dear June, July, August 2014,
The summer was so long again. A runaway sentence. The consecutive jazz solos of timeless rhythm experimentation. A line out the door. A rope down a well.
I find myself outside midday- somewhat pestered by the golden swelter and childish glow of summer afternoons. It’s too bright and I need a straw hat. I’m restless and I want darker sunglasses, books with a harsh sensibility and ice cubes that don’t melt. I can’t help but feel like I’ve written a decade of descriptions of summer in Hawaii. I sent all those letters away last year or the year before that- when I was not so unsatisfied with the strawberry moon, seaside notions, cotton dresses.
I was born in June. It was 6:40pm during a summer of blood, oppression and chaos of political unrest in Guatemala City. My adoption had been well arranged prior to my birth and at 2 and half hours old, I was in already in the arms of my new parents. When I was 14 days old, a giant hand propped my infant head up and snapped my first passport picture. What next? Florida. Islands. Buzz. Jungle. Salt.
I have never been back to Guatemala. In the summer of my 21st birthday. I went on a tour of Mayan ruins in Belize and looked across the border to Guatemala. My impressions of Guatemala are mostly from a handful of photographs taken decades ago on streets I don’t the names for and fields of vetiver that are likely no longer even there.
My dad passed away the same summer I was born. I was too young to remember him but people were always talking about him in those early years and I grew up on stories of the man who had named me Elizabeth. What I remember first is all in Canada- but what I am remembering just now is specifically Aunt Melva.
What I remember about my aunt is a wooden cabin, a piano and a box of toys just for me, horses and camel stools and a lot of singing. It was Aunt Melva who nicknamed me ‘Luci’ after my father. His name was Lucien and so for the first eleven years of my life and every summer I spent back in Canada my family called me that.
Sometimes I am still ‘Luci’ in the summer.
I suppose I grew up with the sense that you could be whatever people called you- down to the very name you had. But one day I had the feeling that I was putting on a school uniform that was suddenly too tight in all the wrong places- and that I wasn’t Luci at all. It was something my mother had said in passing- that Lucien had chosen the name Elizabeth for me. And I had the sense of something then that I’d never had before- that he had dreams for me the way parents do and somehow I knew he had dreamt I would be my own person.
There were such exotic African and Indian names in Trinidad. I think I wanted to belong there in my keen adolescence- and I was ‘Zabe’ there first. Zabe, rhymes with cafe- which is the way I always describe it when saying it out loud. I suppose Zabe is that young feisty teenage girl brimming with spunk and ambition somewhere island hopping between Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and St. Vincent. I took on plain Elizabeth when I came to Hawaii. Everything stripped away to start again. I tried to match Isabel and even Isabella when I lived in the spanish district of the Mission in San Francisco- like Maria or Juanita as if a name could connect me to a heritage and culture I know very little about. Both Isabel and Elizabeth are the names of queens- but peering in the mirror as perhaps all queens do from time to time- I still dream of what it might feel like to be more than I am. I still want to know what it feels like to be a great person or even just to be great at being yourself.
For my birthday this year, we went down to a buzzing beachhouse on the east part of the island. I went swimming in salty ponds and walked over cracked mossy sidewalks and felt my history long and tangled like jungle vines that wind through everything.
June. July August. I guess I’m still living in the past. I didn’t sit down to rehash namesakes and history. To be quite honest, this is the stuff all your friends know- but not the stranger you imagine stumbling haplessly upon your story with fresh ears. I hope next summer I am writing about what is happening in the present- and that what is happening will be a great adventure worth writing about.
There’s not much to else say for now. I want to tell you that I have started my Chapbook and it feels a lot like my life- scraps of brilliant and mediocre moments piled on top of each other- a jumble of seemingly impossible seasons. I wonder how I will ever make any sense of it all, if it could ever have some discernible meaning or message, and if that message could ever make a real difference.
I revisited Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet this summer. I reread the following paragraph many times during the long afternoons.
My dear Mr. Kappus: I have left a letter from you unanswered for a long time; not because I had forgotten it – on the contrary: it is the kind that one reads again when one finds it among other letters, and I recognize you in it as if you were very near. It is your letter of May second, and I am sure you remember it. As I read it now, in the great silence of these distances, I am touched by your beautiful anxiety about life, even more than when I was in Paris, where everything echoes and fades away differently because of the excessive noise that makes Things tremble. Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor:then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
love and the great silence of these distances,