My sister and I are on a train.
As we pass by a blot on the landscape, a bruise, a shadow
My sister points to the sign and says Lancashire
Lancashire means Father and all that he endured.
I won’t go back, he used to say from the safety of Toronto.
He cried, calling up the vardo that creaked over the rutted roads,
the mirrors that hung inside from every surface
& reflected the family back to itself
in the ordinariness of their days
My sister’s doing the light simple things we fall back on,
counts her money, lights her cigarette,
brings out a map, a thing he would have scorned.
(The map’s in here, hand at his breast.)
She doesn’t stop talking, lights a new cigarette from the embers of the last,
unfolds our map, tracing, pointing,
as the train rocks and sways
The sleep of the vardo,
the night stories: uncle hanged for stealing a horse
The hectic fairground
The vardo stopped on a low hill
The fire outside, the simple meal
Every gesture purposeful, industrious
The wooden horses they carved and painted, red, blue, gold
The hand-built puppets quarrelling and cooing, rolling their wooden eyes
And always the stern villagers, shutting their doors
in Grandmother’s face
On the train we travel through Lancashire.
We’re confused now by the map
suddenly overlaid with arrows, directions,
heavy knotted rivers as if glimpsed from a satellite
And then we see it, the journey from India, the unfurling veins of rivers
the journey breaking into fractals, gathering, unrolling,
multiplying across plains and forests.
Our fingers trace the expulsions from towns,
moving on to the next place, then the next place, and the next
Always moving on.
We look out the window as gentle Lancashire rolls past
Tourists to our own tissues and blood
memory humming around us, vicarious
Where is this memory housed? The sky, a field, a shelter in the air?
A palace embedded in earth and concrete?
Where’s the museum of our memory
And what is the cost to enter?
What’s the cost to shiver outside looking in?
The vardo, painted and frilled with their twirling DNA,
collapsed somewhere in a heap, or used by farmers for firewood.
They stopped travelling before the war, says my sister,
and settled in bricks.
We look back and the sign has disappeared behind the trees and hills
Lancashire is gone, our window empty now,
only the map to tell us where we’ve been
My name was Mehmed. I was born and I lived in Bosnia. I tapped cauldrons and copperboilers. I was getting old. I was fifty-five years.
They tried to bury me, but it wasn’t allowed. There is no place in their cemetery. In their black earth. My body began to crumble. After 15 days they allowed me a piece of black earth. For hygienic reasons. Far away from the tent. In a place where no one will find me. At the place where no one will visit me.
My body scattered and merged with the earth.
Now, my name is Soul. I fly on the range of the blue shades of sky.
I seek peace.
I ride on the clouds. I exchange the clouds as I would tired horses. Rain washes my face. Wind talks to me. Lightning charges me with power. I fly on the range of the blue shades of sky. I exchange the clouds as tired horses. The sun builds for me a golden path to India. Below the clouds is the silhouette of India.
I'm shivering. I dismounted in the valley of the Ganges. The horse returned to the spectrum of the blue sky. I returned to the spectrum of the blue water.
Mo anav sasa Mehmed. Bijandilem thaj dzivisardem ande Bosna. Cherdem xarkumache sheja, kazane thaj kotlove. Phurisardem. Seha man pinda thaj pandz brsh.
Amare mangle te praxosaren man, von na dije. Nane o than pe lengi limori. Ande lengi kali phuv. Mrno trupo astarda te rispisarel. Athoska 15 djive von dije mandje kotor kale phuvjako. Dure e cahretar. Pe thaneste kaj khonik nashti te rodel man. Pe thaneste kaj knonik nashti te dikhel man.
Mrno trupo raspisarda thaj pharuvda ande kali phuv.
Akana akharav Odji. Ujrav pe plavo delesko duripeste.
Iklav po nuvera. Paruvav nuvera sar chindile grasta. Brshind thovel mo muj. Bahval vahcarel mansa. Devlehchi jag del mandje zuralipe. Ujrav pe plavo delesko duripeste. Paruvav nuvera sar chindile grasta. Kham cherel mandje sumnakuno drom koring Indija. Talo nuvera mothovel pes Indija.
Izdrav. Huljardem ande Gangeski xar. Grast boldisarada e plave delese.
Me boldisardem e plave pajese.
Do you see the moon? Dik.There. Behind the clouds. No stars.
The wind is shaking the vardo, shaking the mirrors on every wall of the vardo.
The mirrors reflect the moon.
four mirrors four moons four children
four moons in the vardo
shining on the children
Lizzie Lee’s vardo always on the road
The wheels of the vardo turning
Wheels that carry them across the north
Tikno Daddy the little one playing the bosh, working the puppets wheels of the vardo carry them across the north
across the north and back
Eight year old Daddy loses an eye. Look. Dik.
Here’s his new eye made of glass
The deep brown iris that looks at everything sees nothing
His eye a mirror reflecting the worlds.
The bright world of hedges, fire, the stream
Shadow world of stones and fists
The shore disappears
they are pulled away by wind and currents
no vardo no mirrors
nobody throwing stones at Lizzie Lee and her children
they cast off their skins in a new country on a new road
Canada, without shadows
Beds in a shed a tobacco farm by Tillsonburg
Lizzie Lee and her children bending to the leaves every day
Three puppets on the bench.
Twelve year old Daddy builds the frame, stretches the leather,
carves the wooden eyes the wooden hands,
attaches the eyes to the mechanism,
makes them wink,
makes them open, flirt, flutter, see.
Sixteen year old Daddy
picking tobacco travelling
picking tobacco travelling
Daddy’s hand in the puppet
Turning the head, opening the mouth. Speaking. Speaking the world.
Twenty year old Daddy goes away, leaves them behind—
Lizzie, Father, Willy, May, Lillie
Daddy loves fields and rivers
Daddy loves painting loves making rings and necklaces
loves Karl Marx
loves trading, selling: cameras, cars, sewing machines, silver
loves lighting a fire driving past farms into the vesh
loves finding the right place for the vardo
He cried once
on his knees in the dirt
Arms lifted to the sky
His voice too big for his throat.
I am twelve I think I don’t know why he’d cry in the shadow of our vardo
The shadow a dark slash that swallows my father
the sun low in the sky people are watching
His hat on the grass, fallen off lying there
good eye clenched, glass eye staring tears pouring from both eyes
the living and the dead
The doctor says it was a stroke. Daddy is trying to talk.
He says ah.ah.ah.
His glass eye looks at the ceiling.
Does the other eye close at night, turn inward to see what’s left?
Dik. Dik. Dik everything, dik nothing.
The story he was about to tell
caught in his throat caught
caught at the last minute in his throat breath
breath rattling like leaves
The story he was about to tell it will never be heard
his tongue winds backward into the past, into the past, to vardo, violin, mirrors
the language they swallowed
when they got off the ship
will never be heard
is pulled back into the cave of his body
his breath stops
What’s left are two puppets
sometimes we bring them down from the attic
working their mouths, speaking for them
in silly voices
but their truth withheld
swallowed by Daddy
in his last breath