Tuesday, April 1, 1997

April Foolishness

In the weightlessness of space,
an astronaut's heart shrinks.—Omni Magazine

A VOICE from home via the satellite link-up lessened the burden of homesickness. But where were the poems hidden? Why didn’t they come? Maybe living in another country would open the dam. Amster-dam: the 16th c. dam on the Amsterele river is real, not a metaphor. I've given into the timelessness of being at loose ends—no agendas, hidden or otherwise—in a country not my own, seeking what oddities life has to offer, for death takes such a long time coming in. In another country I could no longer dam my grief, I shed my skin, undressed down to the bone, and resurrected small pieces of myself from the ground up, for death irrevokably changes you, you cannot go home to who you were. Ever.

Death arrived out of breath, I was an orphan. I trolled old sources searching for my lost art. Page One of my journal documented the oddities of The Final Frontier: After fighting three years with Soviet bureaucracy to hook up a computer telecommunications system with the Ukraine for a cultural exchange program, I finally let go of the idea. Then, one April Fool's Day, my first E-mail message arrived from my ex lover via GlasNET. Incongruous to read a satellite message transmitted half-way around the world that began with: “Cosmonaut lands, doesn't recognize his own country.” My first message from the new independent nation, Ukraine, was not about freedom, but about space, the final frontier.

In another journal I found the story of a physicist who told me a story how he demonstrated jet propulsion while seated in his daughter’s Red Racer wagon; using a fire extinguisher for a booster rocket, he shot through the ivy league halls to the surprise of students and faculty alike. He liked to clown around, to act foolish. He gave me one of the first holograms ever made of a chambered nautilus sliced in half. It reminded me of the cross section of a space ship. I was not immune to his charisma or the three dimensional illusion of physics: a rainbow of light, the visible spectrum trapped on that sheet of mylar set my blood racing, but I was uneasy with the whispered secret rumors. Was it in spring? The word fool once meant someone who was in love. Foolish love. April Fools, a day for practical jokes and sex role reversals. My foolish Papá, said the daughter whose warrior soprano vision guided us through the turbulent protests of the ’60s and ’70s. Show me the prison, show me the jail... I study the exposed labial chambers of the nautilus for clues. What’s worse, the walled silence, or the knowing? Will I be silenced for writing holographic truth dammed behind the slander of divided light?

Inexplicably it reminded me of a hologram of St. Steven’s crown with its bent cross László gave me as we stood on the banks of the Danube the day my half-Russian childhood best friend, Stephanie was cremated on the other side of the world. My hands let rose petals stain the muddy river, I wanted to be home to touch the place where the wind took her up. Home to where her Nanna greeted us each day after school in the old tongue where ikonii and troikas were uttered in the present tense. That place called home that Nanna left, became the wind’s body, Stephanie came to me in sleep, we rode our horses out into the deep. Orion’s belt marked our crossing. She was mute, her eyes like stars. Death swallows the unspoken words hovering in the mouths of the dead. When she comes to visit from the other side, my grandmother’s mouth is a thin line dividing worlds in the country of death. I watch Lír’s sea foam horses racing the wind down the strand.

Death nearly boarded the spaceship Mir, forgotten during the 1991 August coup. Stranded Soviet cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev helplessly watched his country disappear: changing its name, anthem, and political order. The abandoned space program was officially broke with no way to get him home. Secret calls in the night; someone trying to sell Soviet space ships for hard currency. When Krikalev returned to Earth after ten months in space, he didn't recognize his own country. White ravens in the snow. In the weightlessness of space, an astronaut's heart shrinks. A loss of innocence. Complex metaphor approaching from the starboard side. In the safe harbor of Amsterdam, I mourned the mounting bodycount, my uncles, parents and best friend. I couldn’t go to Russia after the Fall, to see for myself, the changes. Instead, I translated mute testimony from the dead: my words took on the art of silence and omission. I placed my heart on a small casket, set it adrift in a dark, weightless sea.

Said No to another man who wanted to own me because he loved God more than me.

Who could compete with that?

© 1997, revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

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