Sinterklaas and the black Piets

I left my house at 5:00am. Trying to pretend it was a day just like any other, I held my stride in check. But soon my legs overrode my brain and I ran to the train station. The cold, misty, wintry air on that fifth of December burned my lungs like Dante’s inferno. When I arrived at the train station, an earlier train to Amsterdam had just pulled up to the platform. I took it. This train should have been faster than usual, not being weighed down by a lot of excess human baggage, but it was even slower. The constant screeching of the wheels on the track jangled my already raw nerves. Rich was coming! I had been waiting  for months to see him. Now the day had finally arrived.

The airport was half empty. Some noise to my right made me look down one of the corridors. It was Sinterklaas followed by two black Piets. As they about to pass by, one of the black Piets smiled at me, squeezed my hand and gave me a small packet of candy. No matter what anyone else said, the black Piets were the best part of Sinterklaas.

A dusting of snow lay on the ground, but it was harmless. It would never prevent an airplane from flying in from the United Arab Emirates. Would it? My heart skipped a beat. There was no snow in the UAE. What if their pilot didn’t know how to land in snow. Could they be sent to another place, leaving their passengers to find their own way back by bus? If that happened, I may never find Rich at all. I was so worried, I held my breath.

At exactly 7:18am, KLM announced the landing of flight 1503 out of Dubai. I ran to the gate after apologizing to an elderly man I nearly knocked down in my haste. The last fifteen minutes were excruciating. How can anyone take so long to deplane and come out? At last, the familar head full of tight black curls emerged in the doorway. Losing all control, I threw myself into his arms with such abandon, I nearly knocked him down. Rich’s slow grin spread over his face as he gave me a hug and asked where we could have breakfast. I thought it best to take him into town and eat there. It was only two subway stops away.

At 8:05, we got out of the subway and walked down the lively streets of Amsterdam. It was still pitch dark, with no sign of sunrise. Rich asked me what time it got light here, but instead of answering, I just shoved my hand deeper inside of his coat pocket. I had forgotten to bring my gloves with me. At last, we arrived at a small café with quaint wooden tables. We took a seat at a table overlooking one of the dozens of canals stretched in a network throughout the city. After breakfast, it started to get light, the kind of muffled twilight that spread over northern Europe in winter. Rich pointed at a store window and asked what something he saw there was. I was ashamed to tell him about black Piet, thinking it was in fact rather racist. Rich rolled his eyes but did not seem to be offended.

We took a boattour through the harbor. There was only one other person on the boat besides us and the tourguide. December was not the best time of the year for tourism. Rich didn’t care. Neither did I. We could have looked at  wooden blocks in shoeboxes for all I cared, as long as I was next to him.

Someone must have fastforwarded the clock – I suspect it was black Piet – because it was suddenly 12:30. We ordered some soup and a sandwich in another small, charming café in the middle of Amsterdam. At 14:00 we had to go back to the airport so that Rich could get on his plane to America. His entire European excursion was a seven-hour layover at Schiphol, nothing more. I was not allowed to go with him to the gate, of course, so we had to say good-bye in front of the security check. I was barely managing to cap a rising need to scream, when Rich suddenly pulled me into his arms in a rare display of real emotion. His heart pounded against mine. And then we had to part. After he disappeared through the security check, there was no reason for me to stay at the airport.

Swaying past the shops and fast-food restaurants, I felt as if I had been runover by a semi. The train home was much more crowded now than it had been in the morning. At one stop, the door opened and a black Piet came in. He looked tired from a long day of dealing with kids of all ages. I went over and sat down next to him. Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out the packet of candy the black Piet had given me in the airport. Just before we reached Zwolle, I pressed the packet in his hand and thanked him for his wonderful present.

 

“I have lived too long in foreign parts!” – from Daisy Miller by Henry James

“I have lived too long in foreign parts.”

I have become foreign to myself, made up of bits and pieces like a Frankenstein turned inside out. The scars are there, only they are on the inside where no one can see them.

Nor can anyone see me. Or rather they do see me, but only recognize the parts that are familiar to them. But seeing half of me is seeing nothing at all.

Blessed are those who, like my sister, have lived on the same street their whole life. Maggie is sure of herself, she has never questioned her marriage, her religion, her culture or her taste.

I question everything. Some people say my personality changes with my language. In Germany, a few who can judge, say they see a German Robbie and an American Robbie. But still, they have never seen the Chinese or the Paraguayan Robbie.

Some days, I just want to go home – if I could find it.

For “I have lived too long in foreign parts.” (Henry James, Daisy Miller)

Jungle Tour

He moves with angelic grace and devilish stealth.

His shoulders roll with each padded step.

Silently, not to alarm his prey.

Camouflaged, his black stripes imitate the jungle shadows.

Hiding not in fear but in power and control, he reigns supreme.

Exuding awe he inspires us as he glides through his jungle home.

Until he exposes his plan.

With a leaping jolt, he crashes through his protective screen, squelching a young mother with two babies,

We look away in disgust-

The Shaman

Spiritual need

takes an unusual turn

for this Sioux Shaman.

 

For he is the last

of his kind,

a remnant of strength.

 

Even a remnant

voices his regrets and fears

even the last one left.

 

Inspired by the book “Shaman” by Noal Gordon

 

 

The Bake-Off

Whoever said men cannot bake

A chocolate-covered birthday cake

Or crusty bread from sourdough

With luscious spreads atop to go?

“Forest Ranger Elmer Kraut

Will want to get his mixer out,”

Says Jerry Jenkins with a grin,

Absolutely sure he’ll win

Any bake-off with this foe,

Who doesn’t even seem to know

That puce and brown and periwinkle

Are not the proper shades to sprinkle

Cakes with the very lofty purpose

To entice us and divert us.

The storefront of Bob Chitlin’s shop

Provides the space to mix and chop.

Both men want very much to win.

The prize: a pint of finest gin.

With aprons on, they take their places

And bake the goods of baking races.

Now Bob, he is the best of judges

And never takes sides or begrudges

The rightful winner of the match

To whom he gives his treasured cache.

This time though, it went too far

When both men emptied Bob’s own bar

When Elmer Kraut had finished making

The cake, now in the oven baking,

He sat down on a rattan chair

And Jerry Jenkins joined him there.

They sipped the last of Chitlin’s wine

Not asking Chitlin, bear in mind.

And when the baking cakes were done,

Did all the neighbors have their fun.

Kraut’s angelfood looks like a spare

Tire gone flat from lack of air.

Jerry Jenkins’ laughs at that

Until he sees his own so flat.

Bob Chitlin laughs sardonically

And grabs the pint ironically.

When neither Bob or Jerry wins,

Then old Bob Chitlin claims the gin.

So that’s the tale of two men baking –

A sad but humorous undertaking.

My Own Path

All my life I have gone my own way.

It’s a lonely path filled with traps

and dangers but also joy.

Because ever-present

in times of sorrow,

in times of strength,

self-respect

dwells in

me.

#12 Steam

Golden Shovel with line from Rudy Francisco, “Honest Poem”

 

my concern is always with the explosion inside that I’m

trying to hold in because it feels so rude to let it out, but still

I feel the toxic impact within my body and I am learning

that the only way to be okay is to balance how

I express myself, how I give life to my thoughts, to

let them breathe, to embrace the scream and the whisper

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