One of my poems recently appeared in an anthology of work inspired by music, published by The Poetry Box. This is a literary journal based in Portland, Oregon.They held a launch on November 13, 201…
Source: Puccini, in Those Days
One of my poems recently appeared in an anthology of work inspired by music, published by The Poetry Box. This is a literary journal based in Portland, Oregon.They held a launch on November 13, 2016. I wish my grandfather could have been there!
Puccini, in those days.
Even when I was a toddler, I loved my Puccini.
Pooo chee nee. Pooo chee nee.
“She wants to come for a listen” Grandfather would say, yielding to my
While the rest of the family sat around the dinner table, everyone nursing the strong LaVazza, the women (in those days) refilling the cups,
I’d be carried out to the living room, to the velvet sofa, to the rows of records lining the walls.
“What’s that? “Grandpa would ask, pointing to his ancient Victrola,its bulbous cornucopia, the little dog logo.
Pooo chee nee. Pooo chee nee,
Grandpa would put a record on, newly vinyl (in those days) and we’d settle in. He’d put one arm around me like a shawl, the thin smoke of his Camel cigarette curling through my hair, the smell of tobacco mingling with baby powder. I’d stick my thumb in my mouth and fall asleep.
Later, at eight or nine, I looked forward to the same ritual, Grandpa and I on the sofa, Puccini between us like an old friend.
By then, I knew every scratch, every hesitation,
the crescendo of poor Butterfly left waiting,
the minor key of Mimi coughing in the night,
the arpeggios of longing and loss.
Sometimes the old man would close his eyes and doze,
not even awakening when the record needle began to wander towards the paper label.
Tosca’s last leaping cry just a whisper in his mind.
By then, I’d learned to gingerly take Puccini off the spindle by myself, and place him back in his cardboard sleeve, like tucking in a child for the night.
I’d tiptoe out of the room, my heart a little wider, the world a little softer. (In those days).
Like Kissing a Calf
The first day on the island of Saint John, when I open the sliding door to the deck, a dull brown anole skitters towards me and I jump. I know these little lizards are harmless, but I shudder nonetheless. I shake my flip-flops and hope he’ll go away. He doesn’t. My city feet stiffen as I feel the tickle of tiny reptilian toes on mine.
“Shoo!” I say, but by the time the word is out of my mouth, the creature…no bigger than a mouse – has noiselessly jumped to the belted trunk of a nearby coconut palm, where it hangs upside down, motionless, like a door knocker. Is it my imagination or is
his skin growing darker? He morphs from pewter to black in a matter of seconds. I feel as if I am watching tea steeping in a glass pot.
I hurry back inside the rental apartment, remembering to latch the sliding door.
The next day I go to drape wet towels over the railing and the anole reappears. He seems curious, perhaps tempted by the terry-cloth scaffolding of the beach towels. I watch as he climbs up the edge of the laundry, stopping to let the Caribbean sun warm his skin. Perhaps we’re not so different, he and I. Hadn’t I spent the afternoon in a similar way, hiking up and down the Reef Bay Trail, resting against the ancient rocks, soaking up warmth as if I could store sunshine in my bones until spring?
By the fifth day, when the lizard appears, I say, “Oh, it’s you, again!”
I stay slouched in the deck chair, a novel spine-split across my knees, as the anole scampers underneath. He lingers, checking out my chipped pedicure with his tongue. I look down and try to study his face, but he quickly drops his eyelid like a shutter. Then he’s gone. I see him leap into the flower box.
I stare at him,waiting for his next move. Suddenly his neck puffs up and stretches out until it is almost the size of his head, all the while turning a shocking shade of scarlet, like a neon turkey waddle. I reach for my cellphone and do a quick search. I learn about the display of the dewlap. According to Google, a male anole exposes his dewlap when he’s marking his territory, flirting like a fool, or exhibiting a major sign of stress. Sometimes all three conditions occur at once.
I try to look away so I don’t stress him further. Suddenly he leaps vertically onto the stucco wall behind my head. It turns out that anoles also have adhesive lamellae on their footpads. No wonder they can stick to any surface and defy gravity.
I put on my sunglasses, pick up my novel and start to read. The anole commutes frenetically back and forth from the wall to the palm tree. We give each other space, like strangers on a train, each of us stealing a glance now and then as discretely as possible.His back, I notice, is ridged and translucent, as beautiful as a paper fan. His tummy pulses as he breathes.
In time, long before I give up the key to the Saint John apartment and return to the slush and squirrels back in Connecticut, I’ll begin to hold the whole arc of animal ancestry in my hand, the haunches and the slinky back, the scurry of adaptation. I’ll see God’s light in the tiniest of bodies, my world will grow wider by a few inches and a tail.
Later, friends will ask me if I enjoyed my time in the Virgin Islands, and I’ll nod and say how lucky I was to have a change of scenery in the depths of winter. They’ll think sunsets and white sand, postcard beauty at its best. But I’ll be thinking of another sort of loveliness, always underfoot.
I’ve always thought it would be cool to be published in every single Anglophone and Francophone country. I’m about a fourth of the way there! Last month I entered a writing competition in New Zealand entitled “My Writing Journey” and voilà…. I won!
You can check out the piece here: http://www.writerscollegeblog.co.za/meeting-the-potato-farmer-on-the-road-to-publication/ Or Read it Below:
MEETING THE POTATO FARMER ON THE ROAD TO PUBLICATION
BY GABRIELLA BRAND
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that meeting a potato farmer helped me become a writer. But it’s true. My literary career only began to blossom after Mr. Russet Man came into my life.
Of course, it would be much more exciting to say that I met a famous novelist or a publisher at a swanky New York book fair. That they took one look at the short story I was carrying around like a cocktail napkin….and boom…I was launched.
But that’s not what happened.
It took a simple potato farmer to show me the way. A man who understood, intuitively, that stories have to be rooted in the soil of our souls, or else they’re just weeds.
I’d always been a writer, of sorts. As a child, my poems and stories about parakeets or flying saucers were often showcased in the school literary magazine. However, I kept my deeper writing well hidden from public view. Every night, I filled the pages of a little faux-leather diary and locked it with a tiny key.
At university, a professor spouted the tired dictum: “Write what you know.” But I didn’t dare. I lacked the courage to publicly expose my disappointments or my fears or my crazy parents. I churned out a few short stories about young girls in Edwardian England, or star-crossed lovers on a Chinese junk, but these pieces lacked authenticity, and I knew it.
In time, I married a perfectly nice man. A brilliant scientist with a doctorate from Yale. But I didn’t share my personal writing with him. I suspect he was interested in hard data and statistics, not my flash fiction. Besides, I wasn’t writing much anymore. I had become a foreign language teacher, a mother, eventually an academy head. I churned out report cards and grocery lists and school budgets.
You’ve probably already guessed about the perfectly nice divorce. After that, I stayed deliciously single, punctuated by several suitors and a few rejections. Not the editorial kind, since I still didn’t have the guts to submit any work!
But here’s where we come to the potato farmer.
Mr. Russet Man was not my type, as they say.
His rural roots stuck out like a pair of dungarees on the subway. I’m a city girl. I live at the end of the train line to Manhattan. He was mellow and relaxed. I’m wound up tight. He wore the wrong shirt and read the wrong books.
Of course you can see what’s coming. The farmer is actually the prince who sweeps me off my stilettos. Or some variation on that theme.
Within days of meeting Mr. Russet Man, I learned of his unabashed affection for Maine’s Aroostook County where his family had grown acres and acres of potatoes. Russets, of course. He, himself, had left the farm because he suffered from excruciating migraine headaches and couldn’t stay out in the fields. But the farm never left him.
With no self-consciousness, he talked about the importance of place in his life. Not just the barn and the farmhouse, but the New England town where he grew up, and the graveyards where his Yankee ancestors were buried. He drew oral portraits of Heddy, the hired girl, and Mr K., who served simultaneously as postmaster, dog warden, and police chief in their little community.
I found his rustic ramblings quite charming. As if I were listening to Tom Sawyer or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. A different age. A different innocence.
But then he turned to me and inquired,
“So what’s your story?”
And at that moment, I realized that for many years I had been skirting around that very question.
Mr. Russet Man’s saga was as linear as a 19th century novel. The locus remained constant. Who grew up on the farm, who left, who came back, who left again.
My own background couldn’t have been more different. My family had never belonged anywhere.
“But tell me about it,” he asked. “I want to hear. People’s stories are fascinating.”
The potato farmer’s desire to learn about my past turned out to be a major catalyst for my writing.
I found that he was an extraordinary listener. And best of all, he asked questions without passing judgment.
“But tell me again why you think your uncle was mute for fifteen years?” he’d inquire.
He didn’t offer any psycho-babble or academic theories. If I was uncomfortable or vague, he would let the “field lie fallow”.
With his gentle encouragement, I looked inward and began to discern the recurring themes of my upbringing. Displacement. Loss. Death. The Old World and the New.
Little by little, I began to cultivate my personal story, nourish it, and harvest it. I found it liberating to fictionalize my experiences in short stories, to strain them through a sieve or to magnify them tenfold.
“You should submit these stories,” said Mr Russet Man, one day. “They’re ripe. Ready to be read by others.”
My first published and paid-for writing was a piece inspired by family roots in Europe. Since then, a whole cast of characters and situations have appeared on my laptop screen, mutating before my eyes, rising up from my gut and entering the land of make-believe.
I have a long way to go on the writing journey. More questions to answer. More rows to hoe. Maybe there’s a novel lurking in my future. But I don’t think I would have even started on this path at all if I hadn’t met and married my quiet, caring potato farmer who became an unlikely muse.
About the Author
Gabriella Brand is the winner of the December 2015 My Writing Journey Competition.
Her writing has appeared in Perigee, The First Line (U.S) Cordite (Australia), Room Magazine (Canada), The Waterhouse Review (Scotland) and in several anthologies. She divides her time between New Haven, Connecticut, where she teaches, and the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where she hikes, canoes, and daydreams. She speaks several languages and enjoys traveling in Europe and Asia, mostly on foot.
Her website is at http://www.gabriellabrand.net
Photo credit: Flickr.com: Skånska Matupplevelser