Vigil Eve

I am no longer with my extended family for the holidays. Our life’s lessons have brought us to different places, literally and metaphorically. But there was an important time that we shared, and I celebrate those times of endearing family gatherings, before our realities diverged and they developed a need to pray for me.

And so I post these, remembering my extended family with nostalgia and also with an appreciation for even the tenuous connections that still exist.

They pray. I write.

Vigil Eve (“Wigilia’ 1950)

There was no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.

The men earned hard money, revered their vodka.
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest was woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve drew near
the men disappeared into their smokey enclaves

to share storied fatherland memories,
while the women gathered in her kitchen
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.

Her enameled kitchen table, an assembly line
of dough, tools, bowls of rich concoctions,
filled with reflections of final farm harvests.
For days, they rolled floured, filled and pinched,
boiled, browned and layered.

We children sat at the floor, eye level to legs
in a corner of the steamy kitchen,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.

The night of Vigil Eve flowed with prayers and feasting,
as full families gathered at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
to sing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.

They sang of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.

Generations of voices in harmony
drifted through the lace-curtained windows
opened to the cold winter night, the night
when animals talked, wishes were granted,
and ancient rituals forged the bonds of blood.

———–

Heart of Rom
(an earlier version published in The Berkshire Review, Volume 4, 1996)

Cyganka! My grandmother scolds,
as I bound off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.

Gypsy. Even the word brings blood
blood rushing to the pit of my stomach.
How I wish for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for a power ancient as the land,
the sweep of continents
and countless untamed hearts.

She ruled us with her will,
that Polish grandmother –
a small strong-handed woman
with a voice of faith-forged mettle
and a back turned straight against
truths too bold to hold.

Yet, they tell me once, as I lay young and dying,
she revealed her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups, vials of spirits, leeches,
while my mother watched from shadows
fighting demons with her eyes.

They tell me, when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commented on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
the scattering of blood marks along the back
like ancient glyphs on altar stone.

Those Christmas Cookies

My cousins in downstate New York are all ready for Christmas with their cookies, posting photos and recipes on Facebook and making me feel inadequate as a grandmother.

My mother started baking after Thanksgiving and didn’t finish until the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, after all, was always the extended-family gathering at my own grandmother’s for the Polish Wigilia, a meatless night of eating and drinking and singing “Koledy,” Polish Christmas Carols.

When I moved away decades ago, I drifted away from those traditions, and, not really being into housewifery, I didn’t get into the baking, either.

One of my mother’s specialties was “pizzelles,” which are of Italian origin, but that didn’t stop my mother. She got the recipe from her Italian sister-in-law and each year gave everyone in the family a batch of her homemade pizzelles — which are made on a kind of waffle iron and which take an awful lot of time to make. You have to pour each one separately and then stand there while the hot gadget bakes them. Then you have to remove each one separately and set them carefully aside to cool and harden.

One of the few things I took for myself after my mother passed away was her pizzelle maker, and this year I unearthed it from the cellar, cleaned it up, googled a recipe, and made a batch that I will take to my daughter’s in-laws on Christmas Day.

I found that I actually enjoyed making them — something about the meditative calm of the repetitive task, the memory of my mother humming softly while she poured, clamped, waited, opened, and gently removed her perfectly round and patterned pizzelles.

Mine are not so round or so perfectly patterned, but it was my first try.

My mother always bought — rather than made — one kind of pastry for the holidays. She called them “bow ties” and got them especially for my son, who loved them. They are really Jewish “egg kichel,” and this year I ordered some from Etsy and sent them to my son in Portland OR in memory of my mom. He said that they were just as good as he remembered.

I don’t have many Christmas traditions (especially since I don’t really celebrate the religious holiday) but I think I will make making my mom’s pizzelles one of them from now on.

Still Knitting

I made one more try making the side-to-side sweater I posted about before.

caribbeanThis is my latest and final attempt. No matter how carefully I count and measure, it still doesn’t come out the way it’s supposed to and I wind up undoing and redoing. Like the other one, it’s wearable, and this one came out the cropped length that I wanted. Of course, I have to consider that it’s not the sweater’s fault that I don’t like the way it looks on me. It’s me.

The yarn is cotton/acrylic and is discontinued. I liked the feel of it when I saw it on sale a while ago, so I bought enough of this “Caribbean” color and of a gray and white color to make a cropped/cap sleeve sweater in each. But I’m going to use a different pattern this time.

It’s really “work in the garden” time of year, not “sit around knitting.” But I tend to do both, since I can’t seem to just sit and watch tv in the evenings. I have to do something with my hands. Thus, knitting.

Mag #216

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag #216. (Go there to read what others have written in response to this prompt.)

Finland 1968 George F. Mobley

Finland 1968 George F. Mobley

It is foolish to think you can fool April
with bright balloons and colorful plans,
gatherings of eager hearts.

April still knows snow, disdains
the hopeful smiles of children
who wait in vain for sunny play.

Rain is April’s message, prolonging
the held breath of May, promising
only a fool’s failure to remember.

Winter is for knitting #1.

cascadeb-horz

I saw something like this at a fiber exposition and tried to copy it. I didn’t have the pattern so I had to improvise. I started with the center panel and worked out from there. It didn’t turn out like the one I saw, but it turned out very wearable. And it keeps my core warm. It’s a Cascade Superwash acrylic and wool yarn and it’s been machine washed and dried several times already.

There’s another sweater I finished for myself but I have to take a photo of me wearing it so that you can see how it works.