Tuesday, May 15, 2012

language, memories and a wide dusty field

It's raining now. Hard rain, the sky and the blocs all the same steel grey. It's strange to live in a place where the seasons exist as we learned them from books in elementary school, from the decorations in the halls. April showers really do bring May flowers. Who knew?

So it's been raining a lot, but a few weeks ago we had a hot week, a summer-without-humidity week. It was perfect. On the first of May--a national holiday here--the student group had a cookout at this place called Platou Trivale. Let me tell you something. It's a big empty field in the middle of a forest/park in Pitesti, and it has been instrumental in the peace-making between me and Pitesti. We played volleyball for a little while before the ball busted, kicked it around a bit, and resumed volleyball once we found another ball.

Standing there in the dusty heat, the twelve-year-old tomboy in me delighting in being a little sweaty and sending a ball that plops rather than soars flying to the other end of the field, and taking pride at the words mama ce form are! and se pricepe la fotbal--words like delighting come to mind and you wonder if you'll write about this later. You run after the ball, kicking up dust, wondering whether you're already that brown this early in the year or if you're just getting dirty, and you think, this is a good day. I will be silly with my students, play volleyball with them, do handstands, get filthy and just generally run and romp about.

The whole day--the wide field and the yellowness of the light--made me think of a short story I read some six years ago in my first fiction class. Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff. It's better than the title would lead you to believe, for this reason:

Then the last two boys arrive, Coyle and a cousin of his from Mississippi. Anders has never met Coyle’s cousin before and will never see him again. He says hi with the rest but takes no further notice of him until they’ve chosen sides and some asks the cousin what position he wants to play. “Shortstop,” the boy says. “Short’s the best position they is.” Anders turns and looks at him. He wants to hear Coyle’s cousin repeat what he’s just said, but he knows better than to ask. The others will think he’s being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn’t it, not at all – it’s that Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, their pure unexpectedness and their music. He takes the field in a trance, repeating them to himself.

It reminds me of home, of the many different places and ways that word evokes. Wilmington, two scrappy little kids in our beat up neighborhood, one saying to the other, who's wearing a Fedora, "Yo, let's go throw rocks at some cars." My brother and I as kids, "we was down playin by the ditch," knowing how to say it right but using the correct form selectively because that's not how you talked. 'They is' is my favorite, all its variations, really. Anywhere there becomes they. I love it in hiphop, I love it in little kids, those brilliant linguistics who wrap their minds and mouths around any language you throw at them. A little girl in a home video twenty years old, hiding behind a pine and saying, I coughed on the tree, ah caw-uffed on da tree-uh!

I love my language, its music, its possibilities and innovation. And I thought about that the other day, dry and hot, high sun, wondering at the ways these two languages are merging in me. And standing there, dizzy from hours of volleyball and not enough to drink--struck either by dehydration or surprise that so many things from so many different places had come together on a plateau in Arges, Romania. That a thought can stretch across twenty separate years and make a single succinct thing of it all.


  1. I know that short story! :)
    Also, having moved from California to New Jersey, I feel you on the strangeness of living in a place with seasons "as we learned them from books in elementary school."

    A lovely post.

  2. hah, i can imagine :)) and thank you!