Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Monday, June 7, 2021
Crazy Horse kept watch for three days while the body of his daughter swayed in the tree boughs like a cradle. He mourned her, then fought the whites with the ferocity and bitterness of a consecrated enemy.
But I married the enemy. My Ariel – silly name –isn’t dead. She’s alive and half-breed, and living in Baltimore with her loving grandparents, whose tolerance embraces an Indian son-in-law but not his reservation life. Not for their granddaughter.
Crazy Horse named his daughter They Are Afraid of Her. But I am afraid of them. They have what I most want, and I cannot think how to get it.
When I first saw Astrid, I thought she was way too beautiful to be interested in an Indian med student from Shiprock, New Mexico, even one who’d gone to Harvard. She shimmered onto my horizon like moonrise over the mesas, stole my heart with her blue-eyed medicine. We wed, we produced our luminous Ariel, her name courtesy of Astrid’s Ph.D. thesis, “The Uses of the Supernatural in Shakespeare’s Comedies.” Then Astrid’s moon set on my horizon and rose on that of Clyde Trevor-Mathis, art historian and Shakespeare buff.
Long after I was still gazing at the metaphorical moonset, Astrid and Ariel, my lodestars, had gone off to shine in Clyde’s heaven, and in his perfectly-appointed apartment. Clyde’s neighbor, an attorney sharpening his claws for the long climb to the top, helped Astrid help herself. She got the wedding presents, the community bank account, my mother’s buffalo nickel antique necklace, and sole custody of Ariel. I ended up with my M.D., my grandmother’s Navajo rug (red and black didn’t fit into Clyde’s décor), and visiting rights – in Maryland.
Now it’s Ariel’s sixth summer. Astrid and Clyde are pursuing their muses in Europe, and Ariel, staying with grandparents Janice and Jim, is pursuing the life of an upper-middle-class white child in Baltimore. Marie-Louise Odakota, my mother, has much to say about this. She starts with her great-grandfather, who once outwitted Kit Carson and trapped him for three days in a cactus corral near Canyon de Chelly. Unsatisfactory comparisons are made. Great-grandfather would never have surrendered to an art historian. Here Marie-Louise’s nostrils flare. She forgets nothing, not her grandfather, not her buffalo nickel necklace, and particularly not her granddaughter.
“Bye, Daddy,” Ariel says. Then a pause, and she returns. “When are you coming home, Daddy? I miss you, and Mommy…..and Clyde.”
A tomahawk straight to the heart, I think, from my Chesapeake Bay Navajo princess.
“How would you like to visit me?” I offer. This is strictly forbidden by the terms of the custody agreement that Astrid’s wily attorney had slid past me while I still dreamed of reconciliation. I am just testing the waters.
“Gumma says I can’t do that.” Clearly, Janice is monitoring our conversation and has shaken her head – NO – at Ariel.
“Could I ride ponies?” my daughter asks quickly.
“Every day,” I say. I hear a scuffle as Janice takes the phone.
“Say goodbye to Daddy,” she orders. “Run along with Teresa and have your bath.”
“Bye, Daddy, I love you,” my daughter calls from two thousand miles away. “I want to ride ponies,” I hear her say determinedly, as Janice comes on the line.
“Honestly, Chay, I don’t know why you do that. You know you can’t take her out of Maryland. Why get her all stirred up?”
“She’s my daughter and she’s half-Navajo and she should know that about herself.” I’m somewhat surprised at my own vehemence. For so long I have kept myself from thinking about the girl who is, despite time and distance, a part of me and a part of my people.
“You’re always welcome here, Chay, you know that. But Ariel has a routine. She’s already been through divorce. Don’t upset her more.”
I hang up without answering Janice. I review all the reasons to work hard, keep my nose clean and my head low. No time, no help, no room for a daughter in my life. For a long time, I stare at my map of the United States, the thick red and thin blue lines running like veins and arteries across the body of the country. The history of my life.
For weeks I plot a kidnapping. I dream up decoy phone calls. I make escape maps. I think up take names for airline reservations, new home, new job. I plan how Ariel and I can live in hiding on the reservation. Finally, I call my parents-in-law.
“I want Ariel to live with me during the summers,” I say.
“That’s not possible,” Janice says. I picture her in pastel cashmere sweater set, gold chain and St. Christopher medal, trim wool slacks and expensive Italian shoes. I picture Ariel in her exquisite dress from some Italian designer for children, a tiny St. Christopher on a delicate chain like her grandmother’s, black hair chic from L’Enfant Salon. I want to see her in jeans, bareback on a pony with the other res kids, braids flying straight out behind her.
“She’s my daughter, too,” I reply. Janice hangs up. I call Sam Arnaz, an attorney who represents tribal members in custody cases.
Where do you want to spend your summers, Ariel?” the judge asks. It is now Ariel’s seventh summer. It has taken a year to get my case together and a court date set. Astrid and Clyde are again in Europe, trusting in the original custody agreement an in Janice and Jim’s impressive appearance to keep Ariel safely suburban.
“With my daddy, in New Mexico.” She is so sure. “I want to ride ponies.”
“All summer? Won’t you miss your mother?” the judge inquires.
“She’s in Europe,” says Ariel.
A pause. “Your request for summer custody of Ariel is granted,” the judge rules.
As we cross the waiting room toward the gate entrance, the P.A. system booms our names: Mr. Chayton Odakota, Miss Ariel Odakota-Trevor-Mathis. Poor kid. Although I will not let Clyde adopt Ariel, her mother insists that she use his last name.
Not in New Mexico, I’m thinking. I keep walking, holding Ariel’s hand firmly.
“Daddy!” Ariel yanks on my arm.
“Hurry up, honey,” I say, bending to scoop her up.
“But Daddy,” she insists. “Look! There’s Mommy, and Clyde. And Gumma and Gumpa.”
Shit, I think. Shit, shit, shit. Palefaces on the horizon, again.
Wary, I stop and wait. Ariel wriggles until I set her down, when she runs to Astrid, who catches her in a hug. Their war party marches up, my daughter once again in their clutches.
“Let’s go, Ariel,” I say. “We’ll miss the plane.”
Her face falls. “But Mommy has a present to give me,” she cries.
Yeah, in London, I am thinking. Outgunned again. I am about to try the lure of the ponies when Astrid says, “Leaving without saying Goodbye? Or Hello, for that matter?
“I thought you were pacing the halls of the Uffizi, communing with Botticelli’s brushstrokes and quoting the Bard,” I reply gruffly. “What do you want? We’ve got a plane to catch.”
“Clyde’s daughter Katie is very ill. So we came back.”
I feel a fleeting flicker of sympathy for Clyde; his daughters also live with his ex, who moved to Chicago. Still, I scoop Ariel up again and turn to go. Astrid puts her hand on my arm, not a forceful gesture, but a tentative one.
“Wait, Chay. I see how Clyde misses Katie and her sister, how he worries…I realized…well, you’re Ariel’s Dad. She should spend time with you. And I wanted to give her this. It’s hers by right. Maybe Marie-Louise can keep it for her, and explain the history of it to Ariel.” She slips the buffalo nickel necklace over Ariel’s head.
“Oh, it’s pretty, Mommy. Thank you! Listen, Daddy!” Ariel jingles the coins.
“Have fun riding ponies, honey,” Astrid kisses our daughter’s soft cheek and Ariel clings to her for a few seconds. Clyde reaches over to pat her shining hair, awkwardly, with an abashed but defiant glance at me.
Ariel pats his hand and says, “Bye, Clyde.”
“I hope Katie gets better,” I say. He nods.
Janice and Jim stay back as Astrid and Clyde walk towards them. Once again, Ariel wriggles down from my arms and runs to hug her grandmother and grandfather. Janice’s face is wet with tears and Jim looks stern.
“Sir,” the gate attendant calls, “your flight…”
“Ariel,” I call anxiously.
All five look at me. Then Ariel breaks away and runs to me, her necklace ringing like bells,
or the calls of desert birds in summer.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
I try to read and write some small poetry each morning, somewhere between the early walk, the yoga, and the attempted meditation. Because I am usually on a self-imposed and wholly arbitrary schedule, and also getting a bit lazier as I mature, these poems are more often than not haikus. My readings include some serious poets, and trying to find an epigraph and express my reactions or insights in seventeen syllables poses a good challenge. Most of the time, I see my haiku as reductive and expressive of a lesser poet, but sometimes I quite like them. I am presenting here several from the first five months of this slowly widening world, probably not the best, but ones I liked well enough to share with my online poetry reading last Saturday.
Your challenge is to respond in the comments section with a haiku of your own. If enough people respond to make it interesting, I will pick a winner, based on criteria which will be all mine and likely as mysterious to me as to you. The winner will receive a copy of the now-out-of-print classic, Chopping Wood and Carrying Water, a 1980's anthology with poems by Roslyn Strohl, Norma Grunwald, and me, and drawings by Marian Stevens. If you already have CWCW, a suitable substitute will be found at the discretion of the judge (me). I'd just love to see some feedback. So get to scribbling, please!
JANUARY – MAY, 2021 HAIKU
At the bottom of
the well, enlightenment starts.
I bring moon to well.
(RUMI) This is how a human being can change:
…Suddenly, he wakes up,
Call it grace, whatever…
This is how a country can change:
it wakes up, call it
Grace, or insight, or terror.
It votes for the good.
Jan. 21 (I know, it’s not a haiku – cheating a bit here).
What calls you is you
walking the outline of your
face on the blank world
(Rumi) I have lived on the lip of insanity
Luckily I jumped
Before I was a tasty
Morsel for Satan.
Oh no, Rumi! Love
Is your grandson’s warm wet kisses,
His sister’s, “Gwamma!”
(Rumi) Dive in the ocean, leave and let the sea be you.
I am ninety-eight
percent Pacific, Atlantic, Med,
etc.; salt seas are me.
(Rumi) Everywhere is falling / everywhere
I will ride falling
skies from nowhere into
nowhere. Then I’ll be home.
Monday, May 3, 2021
BEFORE ADOPTION: CHILDLESS MOTHER, MOTHERLESS CHILD
Somewhere a mother
starts in the night –
did her baby cry
across the darkworld?
She hugs the emptiness,
asks the stars
Where is the lost one?
Somewhere a baby
scans the eyes around her
looking for a reply.
Now, she is her own baby.
Where is the loving one?
Somewhere a mother
papers a wall
sews a quilt
calls the officials –benefactors, malefactors –
Where is the little one?
Thin foreign paper rustles
like bamboo in the wind.
The baby murmurs to herself,
would smile at her mother.
Like tremors under the earth
the murmurs start,
they grow, they travel,
the Mindanao Deep,
against the stars and back to earth.
Both mothers hear.
We three are bound together:
three souls, six empty hands
woven together across
earth, sky, and water,
tissue of atoms and molecules
of patience, of sorrow,
That is a poem I wrote in 1980 or 1981, while awaiting the arrival of my daughter Sulae, from Korea. It seemed that every conceivable delay had developed, which ended with me finally writing not only my congress people, but the President. We had hoped that she would make it for her first birthday, but she missed it by a couple of weeks. The entire process had taken almost two years. I would do it all again.
Even then, there was some negativity around international adoptions. Lately, I have read and viewed opinion pieces in which both grown adoptees and other cultural commentators have attacked the practice of international adoption. The main complaint from adoptees is that they were raised as if white in places where there were few or no people who looked like them. Cultural arbiters from the origin or adoptive countries lament that the children are raised without 'knowing their culture.' Some adoptees have returned to Korea or their other places of origin to find that they don't fit there, either. Others move to urban centers in their adoptive country to find more of 'their own.' None of these observations are without merit.
When we adopted Sulae and later, her little brother, Kori, we were mindful of the fact that they would be part of an anomalous family. However, they also became part of what to my mind is a rather typically Californian family: two step-siblings and later, another who was the product of my husband's high-school romance and who became part of our family as an adult. We were mindful of the fact that we lived where there were many Asian families so the children wouldn't be unique in that regard. And the second of our two adoption agencies, Holt, was stringent in its inquiries as to how we would acquaint ourselves and our children (all of them) with aspects of their home culture.
Here is where I stand. Most research shows that the most important years of a child's life, as far as acquiring social skills, language skills, and intellectual skills, are the first few. A child may grow in the culture of his native country and become seriously stunted because of cold institutional care (think of Romania). But a child who grows up loved, valued, and confident, can research his original culture if (s)he wishes when older. So I value love over cultural correctness or political correctness.
We did do our best to acquaint our adoptees and their siblings and their teachers and classmates with the culture of Korea, as we learned and understood it. For the most part, while the children liked the poetry lessons I did in classrooms about Korea, they like all the other poetry lessons as well. We belonged to a couple of groups of families with international adoptees, which held picnics and other get-togethers so the children could mingle with others who 'looked like them.' At the last of these we attended, our children ran into some neighbor children and abandoned their co-adoptees to play with kids they knew.
As they grew, we encouraged them to learn about their home country, and assured them that they were free to research their birth parents. So far, neither of them has, although I am encouraging one to do so for health information. Probably the best thing we did for them was to take them to the Philippines for several years while we taught and they studied at an international school there. Most people looked like them and they could usually spot us in a crowd, although we couldn't find them. That's when we gave in and got cell phones - but I digress. The two Korean adoptees have friends from around the world with whom they are still in touch. Our son lives in Korea, where he went to teach, with his beautiful Korean wife and our two adorable grandchildren. Our daughter lives in South Carolina with her Southern husband, who has traveled with our family to Korea where he won immediate fans for his prodigious appreciation of the excellent Korean seafood.
All of our children are independent and productive. They love us and we think they are the best. I don't take a lot of credit for that - we had great material to work with and we didn't screw it up. They love and support each other. I'm grateful for all of my family. I've been trying to learn Korean for about five years, but so far Korean is winning. I'll keep trying. What am I planning to do as soon as we can? This summer, we're visiting our older son and younger daughter, in the Carolinas. As soon as possible, we're going to Korea. We adopted two babies who became Korean-Americans. Now we are becoming American-Koreans. So, love and culture. But love first.
Saturday, April 24, 2021
Last week I visited a friend I have known since 1950, when we were in the fourth grade. We are two of a group of four who have remained in touch and involved, if only emotionally, in each other's lives. Seventy-one years of friendship. I have another group of friends who date from my first and second year at UCLA, 1958-59. We pledged the same sorority and have been involved, socially and/or professionally, for about sixty-three years. When I moved from Los Angeles to Los Osos, on the coast near San Luis Obispo, I had two friends here, along with the boyfriend who moved us. He moved on, and I made new friends: some from writing groups, some from my job at Cal Poly SLO, and many from my sobriety fellowship. The last group of new friends I found was when we moved to the Philippines, and then Chad, to teach in international schools. These international compadres have hosted us in New Zealand, the U.K., and several states, and we have returned the favor whenever we can and stand willing to carry on, once The Dread Covid is back in its metaphorical cave.
The best party I can imagine would be several days at a beach resort with all of my friends from various sources gathered together to discover the joy I have had in knowing them. They are not alike, many are liberal but some are conservative; many are old, but some are younger; many of them are travel junkies like me, but some cannot be induced to go farther than twelve miles from home; many are gregarious but some are introverts. The majority are white but many are people of color, including two of our own children and their families. What I can say is that they are all interested and interesting. They participate in life and contribute to it. Most of them make me laugh. They are loyal, in the way that I could call any one of them in the middle of the night and after some preliminary colorful language or irritation, they would do what they could to help. I love them all.
At the party, there would be sunshine and swimming, good books and good food. There would be no schedule or program, but everyone would have a list, like a birder's list, and would have to check off a certain number of new people they met each day. There would be dancing and singing and swimming and boating and horseback riding, for those whose own backs can still stand it. I would make a big photo book of the entire event and distribute it to everyone. But unless we win the lottery very soon, it could be difficult to get everyone together.
The original cohort is in our eighties now. True, only just 80 (although I am pushing 81), and most of us pretty stalwart and mobile. But we all have our aging stories - sciatica, vertigo, osteoporosis, arthritis, and the propensity to say, while watching Jeopardy, "I know what this is, I just can't think of the name." Some of us have relatives with Alzheimers or dementia, one friend is having some difficulties which we all hope can be addressed with medication. Some of us are reluctant to drive after dark, or in Los Angeles (me), although I will take off across the country without too much thought. We are chafing at travel restrictions to foreign countries that we love or that are on our bucket list. At least three of us are planning trips or cruises.
Perhaps my earliest friend and model of what a friend could be was my Aunt D. She was smart, funny, generous, and did not suffer fools gladly. She was an ally in my perceived struggle with my mother, and she lived, bravely and cheerfully, to be 104, a staunch supporter of Barack Obama and of her family. She died with them gathered around her and her favorite Cole Porter music playing. While I can't plan to die with my friends around me and the Kingston Trio playing, I can certainly hope that each of us carries on dancing for many more years.
Thank you, friends.
Monday, April 5, 2021
This is a poem written in response to a NY Times 'At Home' article and prompt. The idea is to cut out words from headlines and then make the words the last in each line of your new poem. I did it just for fun and it made me smile - hope it does the same for you!
RECLAIM GROOVE NOW WITH WHAT HOME CONCERT DOES ONLINE
Aged hippie, I now RECLAIM
my flippy trippy hippie GROOVE
my bloom where you are be here NOW
my flow my go my beat WITH
congas and flutes and WHAT
I have to make my HOME
a place of joyful noise a CONCERT
of peace and hope. DOES
that seem too ambitious? See my video ONLINE.
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Hi, Friends old and (I hope) new. Welcome to my latest and presumably final blog: Lani's Tales and Poems. I set up this blog to share...
I try to read and write some small poetry each morning, somewhere between the early walk, the yoga, and the attempted meditation. Because ...
Last week I visited a friend I have known since 1950, when we were in the fourth grade. We are two of a group of four who have remained in...