My holy of holies is the human
body, health, intelligence, talent,
inspiration, love, and absolute
freedom--freedom from violence and
falsehood, no matter how the last
two manifest themselves.
The art and skill of style can be taught by reading the classics and great writers. This can be learned, but personal style must be developed, it is the writer's shadow—something that evolves with time—trial and error. But no one can teach this intangible quality. That's what got me thinking about my writing and just exactly when I first developed a love of poetry, reading, story-telling. So let me take you on a little journey back in time.
This then is me speaking my own truth. Un pronunciamento—a pronouncement of sorts. My desire has always been to write. As a little girl, I used to write love notes and “poems” on holy cards and leave them on my parents’ night tables. I wrote my first actual poem when I was thirteen and it began with these lines: “ a typical teenager is a teenager atypical, who is also capable of flunking with ease …” Please don’t scoff, after all, I had just learned the word “atypical.” But wait, I’m jumping ahead of myself.
I babbled unintelligible words until I was two years-old, and then, I have this on the best authority, my mother, I began to speak in sentences and haven’t shut up since.
My mother told me stories and read me fairy tales until two years later, when she began to read me The Song of Hiawatha followed by tales from The Arabian Nights.
Hiawatha—how I loved the cadence, how the rhythm rilled along a sing-song of words which transported me to the very shores of Gitche Gumee or on occasion lulled me to sleep. Other times, I would ask my mother to explain the significance of words I didn't understand.
At one point in the story, Hiawatha comes back to his wigwam because he heard his wife, Minnehaha, calling to him in the forest. He runs to her, but when he gets there, Minnehaha (Laughing Water) is already dead. This passage was my first experience with death and it goes like this:
And he rushed into the wigwam,
Saw the old Nokomis slowly
Rocking to and fro and moaning,
Saw his lovely Minnehaha
Lying dead and cold before him,
And his bursting heart within him
Uttered such a cry of anguish
That the forest moaned and shuddered,
That the very stars in heaven
Shook and trembled with his anguish.
Then Hiawatha sat beside his dead wife for seven days and seven nights after which he buried her. This was my first introduction to death, and it made me wonder about what Hiawatha was thinking during those seven days of mourning.
My mother never talked baby talk to me so I knew many of the words in the above passage and I could gather the sense of "anguish," but she explained it anyway. My mother was and an eclectic reader, a devourer of words, a walking dictionary, an excellent speller and a prolific, wonderful letter writer. Throughout my childhood up until this very moment in time, when she passed away in 1998, there were always books on her night table. So she carefully used all of her expertise to explain to the child that was me, this great love and the death that separated the lovers. I was crushed. The bitter lesson that all things end, really hit home.
I started school when I was five. I learned to print, and at some time, so impressed with the notion of death, I printed in a child's scrawl the word DEAD across the blanket that covered Minnehaha's picture. I still have the book and just now noticed the publication date of MCMX (1910). It had been my mother's book.
Several things happened as a result of my mother's reading to me—the piper must be paid. The outcome was that if my mother didn't read to me, I rocked myself to sleep for the next few years, making up stories in which I played a role, Indian or Arab, in what were inevitably stories similar to those my mother had read to me. And many times, I stopped rocking and crept into my parent's room to see if they were still breathing.
Right from the get-go, I didn't stand a chance of escaping the magic of story or the certainty of death. These two things have stayed with me, haunting shadows, to this day.
My second death experience was learning that Bambi's mother got shot by the hunters. It was the Christmas of my first school year. My Godmother, Aunt Jay, took me to see the movie at the RKO Dyker on 86th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It was my first movie in a theater. Wow! A story in moving pictures. I was forever hooked, and am today a huge movie buff.
After that, my Mom read me the story of Bambi. After the Hiawatha and the Bambi experiences, the other book that shaped the way I looked at the world of stories was The Arabian Nights. Since there is a dedication in the book to my brother from a librarian friend of my mother's, I can pinpoint exactly how old I was when my mother read me the stories. I was five. I still have the book, even though by rights it is my brother's, but if he'd had possession of it way back then, it wouldn't be in the family today! And here is the descriptive passage of Sheherazade that sold me on reading and studying and story-telling for life:
... the former [Sheherazade] possessed courage and
wit, and penetration infinitely above her sex. She had
read much, and had so admirable a memory that she never
forgot anything she read. She had successfully applied
herself to philosophy, medicine, history, and liberal
arts; and her poetry excelled the compositions of the
best writers of her time.
And to boot she entertained the Sultan for a thousand and one nights!
I believe storytelling and death are interconnected, in that a person's life has a limit and so does his/her story. Maybe they are one and the same thing. The story concludes, ends, dies.
Like a life. They are inextricable, but it is the journey towards the culmination that is fascinating and remarkable, and oh so worth the telling in poetry or prose.
The Alphabet of Falling
BALD on top of his head—bet every four letter word hurts to some degree, doesn't it?
CARE to take "love" for instance.
DON'T necessarily mean love either.
EVEN expressed as something else—perhaps it's just a case of flu or post-menopausal wishful
thinking—boils down to want, right?
FOUR letters in the name Alan.
GRETA’s got the blue funks ... blue for Alan and his dreamy deep blue corn eyes.
HERE'S how it started. Shesaw his biceps ripple, outlined by the curl of a cut-off tee shirt, the
word Security printed in white across the back.
JUST when she thought her life was over, she realized she hadn't even begun to live.
KISSING, she told me, is the thing she thinks about most, and what would it be like to feel his
mouth crush her lips, his tongue, play catch-up with hers.
LOST in his sagomatic stunner eyes one day, she asks him a question, her sense of direction
falling into a labyrinth among his pupil's sideward rhomboids, tiny and gold almost as tawny as the sun-tanned skin pulled taught across high cheek bones whose ancestral hordes knew each sigh of the wind upon the Steppes, perched bareback upon horses in a speed-away game, tossing the head of a freshly butchered lamb.
MACHO MENSCH'S eyebrows arch when he smiles with only a twitch at the corners of his lips.
NOT long ago, she wondered where he'd vanished; why she hadn’t seen him at the clubs of late.
OH, but he's so mega cool to be seen solo, he resurfaces again on Biscayne in a red Ferrari
F 40, his pony tail lashing his face, a Thai stick dangling from his mouth, right leg sandwhiched beneath a big blond's thighs as he drives left-footed on his way to Paradise to boff, shag and back scuttle, while Greta drools.
PUT the real question to her: would she leave for L.A., the Prague Ghetto, Gibraltar, Queens,
any Inner City or nearby shortel if he said, How's about now?
QUESTIONS need answers, and she has the one for him.
RESPONDING is what she's good at.
STANDING around waiting for the genuine genie, that's also oh so her style.
TUGGING at the hem of her black Lycra mini-skirt to call attention to her Tina Turner, Private
Dancer long limbs, wishing she’d had guts to say “Hi, sweetums, I'm ready if you are.”
UNDERNEATH all that veneer, I tell her that I'm wondering if he's not a wait-around-to-be-
WE all have what it takes, if the right one pushes the buttons.
X marks the spot, as she crosses her heart and hopes she can go the limit with him, shtup him
once before she dies.
YOU'D think she'd come to her senses.
ZIONIST meetings with his mother and Greta pushing sixty, still hoping he'll saunter in so she
can cross my legs a la Sharon Stone, knowing he'll shoot a Michael Douglas glance her way—because there's one thing Greta’s learned in the alphabet of life—you ain't dead till they bury you.
Nina Romano earned an M.A. from Adelphi University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Florida International University. Her fiction and poetry appear in numerous reviews. Excerpts from her novel-in-progress, The Secret Langauge of Women, appear in Dimsum: Asia’s Literary Journal, Southern Women’s Review, and Driftwood.
Romano is the author of two poetry collections: Cooking Lessons
from Rock Press, and Coffeehouse Meditations
from Kitsune Books. Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She has co-authored Writing in a Changing World.
Her poetry collection She Wouldn’t Sing at My Wedding
is forthcoming from Bridle Path Press, and her short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates,
will be published by Kitsune Books in early 2013. More about the author here: www.ninaromano.com