Poetry & Words, Theology

I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia

I came to America after the tanks rolled in, just barely before they took Sarajevo. After the helicopter shadows moved across of the fields of buttercups and horseradish and daisies and wisteria, but before the mortars fell. I came to this country when the shelves started to empty of bread, of meat, of corn flakes. I came to this country after the money had already begun to crash, after sunken stacks of rubbery, hollow-eyed gas masks stared back at me at the check-out, but before pensioners had to stand in line to trade bag after bag of devalued coins for stale bread. I came here when the skies had already begun to darken, when the fear had started to slink down the quiet gravel streets.

Continue reading “I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia”

Poetry & Words, Travel/Moving

A Little Girl with One Foot in Europe and One Foot in America

Walking with my mom and brother in Eastern Europe in the 1980s
(Image taken by my dad of my mom, brother, and me in Europe in the ’80s)

Lately, the stories woven into the pages of The Late Homecomer and China Homecoming have been pulling at my heart. Pulling, reminding me what it was like to be a little girl with one foot in Europe and one foot in America. I think about that girl, sometimes. I think about how the familiar European landscape was the home she knew with her heart, and how the American home was only constructed in her mind, pieced together through the handwritten notes from aunts and grandmas.

Sometimes I think it’s even odder now, to look back at that girl. As far away as she was, sometimes I feel even further away. The girl then knew something of both cultures, at least.  The girl now feels like America is too much, sometimes, taking what had been her voice and drowning it in English. Then, her small voice could speak Slovene. Now, English has swallowed what that girl once knew.

She prattled on in that tongue as she squatted down on the edge of the concrete stoop, her chubby hands scraping words with a twig into the dusty gravel. She walked home down Taborska Cesta in the dusk, feet aching from climbing trails and standing up on busses, fingers of one hand safely in daddy’s hand and fingers of the other hand wrapped tightly around wilted wild chamomile flowers.

And now, the Slovene tongue has faded. All that remains is little snippets. “Kajti tako je Bog ljubil svet.”  Dober dan.”  And the constant call of parents to their children, “Pet sem!” 

But there is nothing more.

I live in America now.

In my heart, I feel what it is to be European, to turn on the radio and hear the perfectly enunciated English of  the BBC. I can taste what it is to have horseradish spread on my thick slices of bread and cold boiled potatoes mixed in with my salad. I know the way fresh-pressed apple juice chills me as it slides down my throat, and if I lick my lips I can still taste the zest of mustard sauce over warm wilted dandelion greens. I close my eyes and I hear the magpies, the calming coo coo coo of the dove.

I know what it is to cough the dust of coal and what it is to see yellow rain. I know the scent of wisteria, and can see the ants marching up the twisted vine. I see the long loaves of bread sticking up out of the grocery bags as people walk home from the market in the early morning dew. I hear the creaking groans of wooden racks, piled high with drying straw. I know what it is to see hoar frost dancing on barren branches. I can no longer sing the lyrics of the language, but I will always hear the accordian’s echo off Šmarna Gora.

And when I close my eyes, I am that little girl. I am there.

And someday, I will be again.