Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Little Secret

A dear friend of mine has been urging me to put my poems into a book for several years. Whenever I suffer the inability to write, she suggests that it is because my files and brain are somehow clogged with poems that have not been given the freedom to live lives of their own; that if I were to put together a collection of poems, bind it and let it fidget its way into the hands of poetry lovers, I might find my muse again.


This a-medical condition has grown so daunting, that it became one of my goals to self-publish a book of poems by the end of 2008. Sure enough, the goal was written on the white board beside my desk during the summer of 2008. The idea percolated (read: procrastinated) in my mind during my son’s swimming lessons, while he was at pre-school, during a trip to Ecuador and another extended stay in Sweden, even during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with all of our family.


My husband and I were married on the last day of December, 1995. Though we had plans for a wonderful outing at First Night in Spokane, Washington, December 31, 2008, I was frantically setting up my self-published book. There were, as might be expected by those who don’t procrastinate, glitches and things to wait for, rejections of the manuscript format, etc. etc. When my husband finally urged me away from my computer so he could take me on a wonderful overnight date, I realized my publish date would push past the last day of 2008. Sigh; my fault and all that.


I continued to work on the little book into January. It was finally “uploaded” and ready for the public to order before we left for Sweden, January 10th, 2009. Imagine my excitement--my unreasonable expectations--that people would begin purchasing the book even before I advertised, and other wild notions.

Upon arriving in Sweden, I went to the Print on Demand site where I had set up my manuscript (Lulu.com) to see how easy it would be to simply “bump into” the title of my book.


It was worse than trying to find a piece of amber in the fine white sand of the Swedish Riviera. A needle in a haystack might be considered a quick find in comparison. Counting the number of molecules bumping against ones head at any given moment would even be easier.


Mind you, I can pay a hefty sum for Lulu’s help in marketing my book. I’ve even received an invitation to an international library show of new book titles (for another deeply discounted but hefty sum). But I’m going to start here, with you, after having sat on the secret of my book for a whole month.


Here’s how it works. You start by being curious about what might be written in my book. You look up the title, “How They Die,” on Lulu.com, and, of course, you make mention that you know the author, Juliene Munts, so the information about this book-among-thousands can somehow be brought up for your consideration. You might peruse the first few pages, which will give you the sense of one formal poem and the beginning of a long narrative poem (but the cut-off for the number of pages possible to view for free stops before that poem ends). You might even rub your chin while weighing the cost of a blessed work of poems, for goodness sake, over a riveting novel or compilation of travel articles to exotic places.


May I suggest the following be considered. The book itself, if you order it, will be nicely printed and sent to your mailbox for the price of $18.95 plus shipping and handling. OR you could shun the destruction of so many trees for paper and download the manuscript for a mere $5.00. The delightful aspect is that you help me either way. My poems are read and I get nearly the same cut no matter how you do it.


Now, if you decide to take the plunge and buy some form of this strangely titled little book, you must give me feedback. No more lurking in the shadows. I’ll want to know what you think about it. Was it money well spent? Were you just humoring me? Did any of the poems lift the top of your head, or did they simply put you into a deep sleep? Please leave your feedback at this article in my blog.


Okay, now that all this has been established, I want to sweeten the deal by including, here, one of the poems printed in the book. It will follow this paragraph. So, I will sign off now, thankful that you might, possibly, spread the little secret beyond my ability—and only if you truly desire to let the secret out. Thank you. --Juliene


In Honor of the Rain*

I wore my wrap-around
Mozambique skirt
(leopards peering from
geometric circles)
in honor of the rain--

in honor of the preacher
who fled the "Big Water,"

grabbed his Bible,

hoisted his family and

several others before
climbing up with them

into a chestnut tree,
and preached to those
clinging to the branches
around him, "Repent!"

in honor of the woman
who arrived
at the helicopter, exhausted
and tearful, holding a dead
newborn, her mother holding the
live newborn--twins. When given
a sandwich, she gobbled
the first food she'd eaten
in three days

in honor of those
who rarely slept
for weeks to rescue
people who'd been standing
knee-deep in disease-
infested water

in honor of literally thousands
who ate nothing but thin-grass soup
and stood in kilometer long lines
for drinking water,
though surrounded by flood

in honor of those
who saw their loved
ones floating down
the Limpopo River and wondered
if this was God's judgment

in honor of the governor

of Gaza Province
who gave rescuers
his personal cell phone
so they could
continue calling for help

in honor of the fishermen
who used their boats
to rescue people from trees
and rooftops, helping
to deliver babies where necessary

in honor of the five
or six-year-olds carrying
babies with no parents falling
out of 45-passenger helicopters
due to hunger--mostly children,
very few men

--because it had rained
three days in my town
and one never knows how long
one will walk the dry ground
after a rain.

*First appeared as first place winner in the 2001 Beauty for Ashes Poetry Review poetry contest

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Observations for the Last Day of 2009's January


We’re on our way out of Sweden (by way of Denmark) for a six week short visit home. We arrived two hours early to check in for our flight and now the flight is delayed another hour and 45 minutes. Oh the things I could have done (sleep) had I known the flight would be delayed!


Many of the supplies I packed for this trip were so essential and useful until the last day that early packing was not possible. Then, Phil decided to downsize his luggage and not help me with some of my larger items. The puzzle is successfully solved and now rests in the mysterious chasm for luggage awaiting a flight.


I get pretty stressed by packing and leaving. One reason is that I cannot stand hauling dirty laundry back and forth, so I have to do creative planning (because one load of wash takes an hour and 16 minutes, the dryer almost as long) to keep as many clean clothes in the luggage as possible. The other problem is cleaning my way out the door when my husband is worried we won’t get to the airport on time.


This time, a dear friend helped me so that I did not run circles around packing, photo downloading, battery charging, breakfast dishes and shooing everyone out of the way of the vacuum cleaner and mop. It even allowed me a quick trip to a loppis (junk) sale (didn’t buy anything)! Furthermore, our landlord gave us a ride to the airport, saving us the trouble of getting a taxi, catching the train (and possibly getting stuck in the doors) and walking a ways to check in.


Why is it that when the cabin lights are finally off for sleeping (on a long jet flight), the person wearing the white (reflective) shirt turns his light onto himself and spreads out bright papers to read? Even with my eyes closed, I can tell when a page is turned or, in this case, that a tall man whose shirt seems to have been washed in an otherworldly light leans forward to fuss with his belongings while those around him go suddenly blind.


As I said, in this case it is a very tall man who has to do all kinds of getting up to get things out of the overhead bins for his young family, his chest emanating an angelic light into our obvious darkness. He is sensitive to the cold when he sits down, however, so it is refreshing when he pulls a red blanket up to his neck to read the not-as-bright-as-his shirt Danish newspapers.


He finished two newspapers and rose to put them away, for which I was eternally grateful—until he took ten more out of his bag and let them sit in the baby bassinet, provided by SAS for his three-month-old baby, reflecting that much more light while his chest-shield woke the baby in the next bassinet over (across the isle from me). He seemed not to need the dulling red blanket to read those papers, so, try to sleep as we may…

He must have been sent by the higher powers which were bothered by the banners in the Copenhagen airport: “Welcome to the land of passion and pleasure,” and “Welcome to the land of sin and” whatever else it was.

Having passed through such a dark place, we must have needed some light.


A random paragraph about a a boy and his underwear: The other day we made a special trip to the H & M in Malmo to get underwear for Hunter. Why? Because everything from home “feels funny” and it doesn’t matter if it’s Spider Man, Shrek or Lightning McQueen, either. All week I’ve had the motherly privilege of seeing the newest pair of boy bikinis modeled for me. It was to be my expressed joy to read him which dinosaur was written above the accompanying picture. He would even pose, shirtless, dressed in only his dino’s and socks.


It is now 11 pm Copenhagen time and only 2 pm Seattle time. What darkness we had outside to verify our weariness is now disappearing into a quickly brightening sky. The man will soon fit into his environment!


The flight attendant just handed me a Sami inspired sandwhich. It looks like quilted flatbread bread, used like a tortilla or other wrap, is buttered with a slice of ost (cheese) rolled in it. These are especially good freshly made and with a hot reindeer soup.


This past week was the last week Makleppan (a nature reserve in the Southern Swedish peninsula) was open. I like to call it “seal island” because no Swede, or other human, understands my pronunciation of that place. Anyway, I was like a child at Christmas time about going on an official tour with the wildlife expert on Sunday,

January 25th. But, I was so used to going out there alone or with one other person, that I didn’t know what to make of a tour all in Swedish with nearly a hundred people closing in on the expert.


Some of you know I’m short. Others of you know that my understanding of Swedish is very poor. It was a day without much wind, overcast and cold, so it was great, but what of all these people walking too fast and covering up the scenery?


Three friends came with me, one of whom understood Swedish and was willing to distill the information in English for the rest of us. Sometimes we all gave up and just looked at the sights, letting the sea wash all other foreign language sounds away.


And, yes, we enjoyed watching the seals. I got some great video footage, and my photos were clear, this time, but still not close enough and clear enough to go with a published article. Sigh.


I went out two other times this week—it is at least a four hour walk in the sand and I haven’t made it all the way around the hook of the island (have to wait until November to go again as it is closed after today).. Really, I’m still formulating in my mind what makes me so crazy about that place. Didn’t get any great photos of the seals the other two times, once because I took the wrong route and didn’t have time to go the right way and the other time because the seals were gone! They’d packed up and moved to a different location—my friend said they’d gone shopping.


My fika friends and I didn’t have very many opportunities to see each other this last visit. But we did get together to eat meat (bacon) pancakes with lingonberry jam and whipped cream. Wow! The first piece (it was baked as one big pancake in a large jelly roll pan) was so delicious we wanted a second piece. Part way through the second piece, it was obvious that meat pancakes are extremely filling. When we were offered ice cream, I was already stuffed, but I acquiesced graciously, of course.


I won’t tell you much about the problem I have yo-yo “dieting” during my pendulum travels. It would do me well to be addicted to thrice weekly four hour walks wherever I am!


Hoo ja (oh, yeah, in Swedish), I’m understanding more Swedish. At least now I can distinguish between some words instead of hearing only strings of strange sounds. There were two phrases I heard so often that it bugged me to discover their meaning. One was the word, “ingeting” (spelled differently, I’m sure). When a group of us watched the movie “Luther” (good movie, by the way) in English with Swedish subtitles, I learned it meant “nothing.” Literally. You wouldn’t believe how often that word is used! The other was, “komme backa” and other variations. Come back or coming back. See? I’m not coming back with nothing!


The sun is coming up outside the airplane windows and I haven’t even slept yet! Hunter and Phil are both snoozing, though. Phil is sitting by a woman who was very upset to be sitting in the bulkhead, exit row near babies and five year olds. Believe me, she had reason to be worried. I mean, between Mr. White-Shirt, crying babies and Hunter yelling, “I’m dead” over the noise in his earphones during an Atari game called Invasion, it was no picnic.


To cope, she ignored the strong advisement “to please not sleep on the floor,” and took her nap there, parallel to the threshold of the exit door, her legs up over the seat (almost Mork-style) and her headless earphone blaring jazz and bigband.


It was not easy over a computer and a child sleeping on my leg, but I just looked out the window. There is a vast snowy wasteland below, and a pink horizon into blue sky—no better scene in my mind! The “moving flight map” says we are approaching Edmonton just after the Queen Elizabeth Islands. It is beautiful out there and I knew I’d regret letting Hunter steal my window seat just before falling asleep.


Phil’s needed back in Sweden for a three-month period starting mid-March and ending mid-June. We hope to rent a beautifully refurbished Farm House on the same farm we’ve stayed the last two times. Everything is set up. For now, I’m looking forward to being home a little while—maybe enjoying a little more snow (Don’t shoot, don’t shoot! Remember, it doesn’t snow very often in the Swedish Skane).


This will surprise you. Mr. White-shirt has donned a black leather jacket and fallen asleep with the light off just as the sun is fully bright in our windows. His snoring fills the cabin.


Post Script: We ran to catch our second plane after a delayed flight and made it home early! It is now morning in Sweden, Feb. 1, but we are just settling down for the night in our own beds, this last day and a half of January 31, 2008. Boy, am I glad there is still snow on the ground. See you all soon!