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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

two rivers, three bells, one stone, a king, a tree full of wishes

During the last-minute packing I grab a thin book from the shelf, Rilke's The Life of the Virgin Mary. It is a first edition, bought at the Gotham Book Mart before they closed. A scribbled note to E's mother is tucked inside the jacket. My face hot with embarrassment, I do not read it. I crumble it in my hand and toss it from the balcony like that golden ruble I used to carry. I flits around in the dust on the cracked pavement.

I will force it out of my mind. I will fly away for a few days.
I will look out of windows.
I will feel N's head resting on my shoulder, and the gentle thump of the plane as it touches down.

Lermontov wrote about this place, Jvari. He was exiled to Georgia, and found inspiration in the people, the land, the water. He died shortly after he returned home.

There are angels here. There are yellow butterflies chugging in the sunlight. 

The rest have gone back to the car. I stay behind.

A man can hear his own footsteps here, I tell myself. 
Below, two rivers meet. Cicadas are buzzing in the tall grass. The wildflowers turn in the breeze, and I smell them, sweet and warm. Time has smoothed the corners of every stone, painted them with rain and dirt, with ice, with sun. 

I go inside the church and adjust to the cool darkness inside. Thin candles flicker, pressed into trays of white sand. Visitors trickle in and out of the great doors, passing beneath the unblinking gaze of two angels. A child dressed all in white is carried in on her father's hip. She will be baptized today.  I stand for a long time, drinking the place in. I think of Saint Nino, a brave woman, the woman this placed is named after. I think of N, her skin glowing in the fresh air, back home for the first time in years. I think of her relatives, and their fierce hugs, their generosity, their homemade wine, their long tables overwhelmed with food. I think of the old woman who calls out in the street below our window early in the morning, selling raspberries.
"Malina." She sings."Maaaalina."

I think of E, waiting for me to return. She has agreed to write a story that we can make into a little film, animating bits of plastilene, recording our voices. I wonder if she is making any progress. I wonder if we will be people, or if we will be rabbits in her story. 

Three bells hang outside. They make a funny little family. I try to imagine their sound, in this place older than old. 

The earth is covered in small stones. I lean down and find one, smooth and black, almost round and pocket it.

The path back down the hill is littered with beggars. A woman with a grey cat shades herself behind a sign, her hand thrust out into the sunlight. An old woman in black sits on a tiny stool, her grey hair falling from under a scarf. A man in a big hat gets up, and stretches his legs then sits back down, giving a musical shake to a can with coins in the bottom. 

I give something to each of them.

The narrow road twists wildly, as we pass cows grazing in between the trees. One bull is about to rest, flopping to the grass in a bright patch of sun. He looks like a king to me, with his giant horns and his nose in the air.

Some trees are covered in scraps of cloth. I ask N why and she says these are people's wishes.
"But how do they know what tree to wish on?" I ask.
"It doesn't matter." She says from the back, her hair whipping around in the wind. "Someone starts and then everyone else follows."


Annie said…
I want a picture of the tree with wishes. Those photos are so lovely.
Banker Chick said…
Beautiful pictures and words.
liv said…
What a fascinating and beautiful country!

I can see now how easy it was for N to fall in love with a man who can cook. I'm so happy that she got to go home and show you off...if only E could somehow be there, that would literally be the icing on the cake.
Ella said…
Beautiful writing!
A small correction. Lermontov was killed in a duel in the city of Pyatigorsk. He was a great poet.

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