Poem by Wislawa Szymborska

September 6th, 2018

One of my favorite courses in my Antioch MFA program was “Translation Workshop.” Over ten weeks, we translated poetry and prose from Zapotec, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Russian, and Polish. Of the nine students in my cohort, some read or spoke one of these other languages. But none of us felt like experts. We relied on a glossary to translate each line word by word.

We nine students encountered the same words in the original language and used the same glossary to translate. Yet each poem or prose piece was uniquely ours. By the end of ten weeks, I could almost predict the tone a classmate’s translation would take, or how he or she would choose to structure a sentence.

This poem by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) is titled “Photograph from September 11″ (“Fotografia z 11 września”). It was published in 2002 in the volume Monologue of a Dog. During her lifetime, Szymborska published 15 volumes of poetry and was well-known in her native Poland. She received international recognition when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.

The images from September 11 are seared into our collective memory. In simple language, Szymborska describes a photograph that captured a specific, devastating moment. I offer my translation to remember.

 

Photograph from September 11

By Wisława Szymborska

 

They jumped down from burning levels

One, two, many more

Higher, lower.

 

The photograph stopped them, alive

And now keeps them

Above ground, hurtling toward earth.

 

Each one with a particular face

Still whole

And blood well-hidden.

 

There is enough time

For hair to unloose itself

For keys and small change

To drop from pockets.

 

They are continuously within reach, held in space

Precisely where

They have opened themselves mid-air.

 

In their memory, I can do only two things—

Describe this flight

And not add a final sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

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August 2018 visit

September 1st, 2018

 

In August, we met with Olivia’s birth family in Panajachel. As usual, we began our visit with prayers in the Catholic church. Olivia’s mother brings candles and blesses each of us. This year, she said special prayers for my father, who had died in July.
(I post photos of my children’s families “from the back” to protect their privacy.)

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David French interview on NPR

August 30th, 2018

Two days ago, I published a link to an Atlantic article by David French, “America Soured on My Multiracial Family.”

Today, NPR aired an interview with French, which you can listen to here.

Two quotes: First, French says the question to ask someone who is thinking about adopting is not “Are you excited?” but “Are you ready?” And Second, his advice to prospective adoptive parents: “Adopt with your eyes open and your heart resolved.”

In case you didn’t read my response to French’s original article, it’s below:

My background is different from David French, as are our reasons for adopting our children. But I agree with much of what he says in this Atlantic article, “America Soured on My Multiracial Family.”

When it comes to my family’s configuration, I don’t seek approval or permission from anyone. I’ve become used to the judgement and, yes, hatred directed at us, largely by strangers who know little to nothing of our story. As French notes, the judgement and hatred comes from all sides, for different reasons. Some believe we as white parents have no right to raise children of color. Others believe foreign-born children (especially foreign-born children of color) have no right to enter the US under any circumstance, including adoption; this faction hates everyone they view as “not American.” Still others believe adoption is wrong, period, and hate us on principle.

This is not a bid for sympathy, just a statement of what is: Our kids are our kids and we are a family. Nothing anyone says will ever change that.

 

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On being a multiracial family

August 28th, 2018

My background is different from David French, as are our reasons for adopting our children. But I agree with much of what he says in this Atlantic article, “America Soured on My Multiracial Family.”

When it comes to my family’s configuration, I don’t seek approval or permission from anyone. I’ve become used to the judgement and, yes, hatred directed at us, largely by strangers who know little to nothing of our story. As French notes, the judgement and hatred comes from all sides, for different reasons. Some believe we as white parents have no right to raise children of color. Others believe foreign-born children (especially foreign-born children of color) have no right to enter the US under any circumstance, including adoption; this faction hates everyone they view as “not American.” Still others believe adoption is wrong, period, and hate us on principle.

This is not a bid for sympathy, just a statement of what is: Our kids are our kids and we are a family. Nothing anyone says will ever change that.

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My father’s obituary

August 15th, 2018

Rest in peace, Dad.

Robert Joseph O’Dwyer (Bob) died of natural causes in San Diego, California on July 4, 2018. He was eighty-nine. Bob was the first of his strain of the O’Dwyer clan born on U.S. soil. His parents met and married in Queens, New York, after emigrating from Ireland and Scotland in search of better lives. Bob’s mother supported Bob and his three younger siblings as a teacher in New York City public schools. Bob’s father had served in the trenches during World War One and, suffering the effects of mustard gas, worked sporadically as a tailor.

Bob spoke fondly of a boyhood that involved frequent fisticuffs, street stickball, and evening runs to the neighborhood tavern to “rush the growler” (buy beer) for assorted relatives and friends. True to his Irish heritage, Bob was a skilled raconteur and collector of jokes, gifted at telling stories. Family gatherings often ended with rounds of “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” sung to the mournful strains of bagpipes.

In 1950, Bob graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) with a degree in engineering. He enlisted in the United States Navy and served during the Korean War. While stationed in Newport News, Virginia, Bob was set up on a blind date with local girl Gerry Quick, who was home on vacation from her job as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. Both agreed it was love at first sight. They married in 1953, forging a grand and happy union that produced five children and lasted sixty-three years.

After leaving the Navy, Bob tried several professions before he found his calling as an educator. He taught at Kings Point and Aviation High School in Queens and supervised the Night Apprentice Program at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Chelsea. He retired as Assistant Principal at Alfred E. Smith Vocational High School in the South Bronx. Bob earned an MBA from St. John’s University and a Certificate of Advanced Study from NYU. He served as shop steward of his teachers’ union.

Bob and Gerry lived in Virginia and Maryland; Syosset, Long Island; and a block from the Atlantic Ocean at the Jersey Shore. Upon retiring, the couple moved to San Diego, where Bob volunteered at Old Town, the Star of India, and in Emergency Management. Bob was a faithful Catholic who attended daily Mass at San Rafael Church in Rancho Bernardo. He was an avid bridge player who loved classic films, historic documentaries, and good food. His Thanksgiving stuffing was legendary.

Bob was predeceased by his wife Gerry, parents Roger and Catherine, and sister Margaret Pineda. His siblings Roger O’Dwyer, Jr., and Mary Sheehan survive him. Bob is also survived by children Patrice O’Dwyer, Adrienne Phillips (Paul), Jessica O’Dwyer (Tim Berger), Robert O’Dwyer, Jr., and Deanna O’Dwyer Swensen (David); eight grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and nieces and nephews.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 AM, August 20 at San Rafael Catholic Church, 17252 Bernardo Center Drive, with a reception following. After the reception, Bob’s ashes will be interred alongside Gerry’s at Miramar National Cemetery.

https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sandiegouniontribune/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=189881944

 

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Antigua Front Door 2018

August 15th, 2018

 

Olivia grows taller while I shrink. Still nice to revisit this memory.

The Antigua house where I lived with Olivia in 2003.

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Haircut. Antigua 2018

August 11th, 2018

Astringent scrub, straight edge razor, powder.

Red leather chair, magazines, TV in the corner.

Haircut. Antigua, Guatemala. 2018

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Antigua parade Summer 2018

August 5th, 2018


Maybe it’s the Rockette in my blood, but I see people moving in unison to music and I become that white lady with the camera, sobbing. This week in Antigua, Guatemala.

 

 

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Guatemala. Summer 2018

August 2nd, 2018


Something I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have, is the way Guatemala now possesses my heart. I’m here with my kids, so happy to breathe in this place. (Yesterday we visited friends who are weavers in Xenocoj; the photo shows Olivia standing beside them, dressed in their beautiful traje.)

Other photos show the kids eating lunch at Pollo Campero and a bus with balloons and sticky notes. (This week was St. Christopher’s Day, patron saint of travelers and drivers.)

With every trip, my appreciation for this remarkable country deepens.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dad

July 19th, 2018

1.

My father died on July 4th at 11:50 at night. My family was on vacation in Delphi, Greece. We’d just checked into our hotel and I turned on my phone to see if we had WiFi.

A minute later, an email arrived from my sister Adrienne. “Dad is crashing. He’s in ICU.”

It was still July 3 in California.

Even if I turned around and left that minute, the soonest I could get to San Diego was in thirty-six hours.

Adrienne again: “Can you FaceTime?”

I couldn’t because I’m a technology dinosaur, but my son Mateo knew how.

Mateo set it up and we called. My father’s head filled the small screen, his eyes unfocused, his skin pale green.

“We’re in Greece,” I said. “Remember when you were shipwrecked in the Mediterranean?”

My father’s face, not moving, a tube up his nose.

“I love you,” I said. “I love you, Dad. I love you. I love you.”

I tell myself I saw him smile.

2.

I had visited my father the week before we flew to Greece. My sisters Deanna and Adrienne were there. We visited him every day in his Memory Care place in Coronado. Any food he requested, we brought to him. One day we brought a submarine sandwich from Jersey Mike’s: spicy ham and salami, the works. Another day we brought a Reuben on rye from the good deli, with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, secret sauce. A third day, it was jelly donuts from Stardust in Imperial Beach, with real coffee.

He wanted food that was bad for him, loaded with salt and sugar and fat. We didn’t care. We gave him whatever he wanted. When we watched the Preakness, he ate four finger sandwiches, three deviled eggs, and two brownies, and this after a big lunch. My father lost the ability to stand, to write, to toilet himself. But never his appetite.

3.

Because I live in San Francisco, I was able to fly to San Diego to visit my father often. When he could still operate his scooter, he scooted to Smart & Final to buy Almond Joys. He scooted to the Tidelands to watch children play soccer and the Pharmacy to fill his dozens of prescriptions. He scooted to the hospital and the bank, to the liquor store on Orange for Lotto tickets and the bottles of whiskey he kept hidden behind his computer monitor.

Once, in his Memory Care place, my father got a speeding ticket for knocking over a medicine trolley. A few times out on the road, he flipped the scooter and frantic passersby dialed 911. Among ourselves, we called him The Phoenix. Anything serious turned into a false alarm. The last words he spoke to me were the same words he’d said for years: “You’re looking good, kid. Love to you and your family.”

4.

My father raised his five children Catholic. At Mass on Sundays, he sang louder than anyone else. My father loved to sing. He had a beautiful voice.

5.

I’ve been writing my father’s obituary for a week and can’t stop revising it. Now the edits are miniscule: changing a participle to a verb in past tense or moving a prepositional phrase.

I think: If I don’t finish writing my father’s obituary, maybe my father won’t really be gone.

xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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