My brother Tim can recall all kinds of interesting anecdotes from his past lives. (He and I spent most of our lives in different worlds.) Now 74, he'll be over at our house for dinner and he'll say casually, "When we were stomping grapes in Italy one time--"
"What?" I'll squeak. "I never knew you stomped grapes in Italy!"
Or, "When I was in New Delhi--"
"When were you in New Delhi?"
"That's where I got the freak bus."
"The freak bus?"
"It was the '60s. A couple of guys would get together and buy a bus
and drive it across the continent. This man had a cobra in a basket and a
mongoose in a cage. Its eyes were red like rubies glaring at the cobra.
I asked him, 'Can you let it out?' and he said, 'You can't find a good
cobra these days. Very expensive."
Or, "This reminds me of when I was on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
They had something like that at the end of each car."
"Those--those things of tea--yes, samovars--at both ends of the
car." Then he'll talk about the Soviet Union.
"In the Army, I was given aptitude tests. I
deliberately did badly on Morse code. But I jumped on language school. I
had a couple of romance languages under my belt and German, which is
Teutonic. They offered Russian, which gave me a chance to learn a Slavic
language. I had to learn Chinese all by myself.
"When I was in Russia they had musical instruments in barber shops so customers could get up little quartets and things. I was watching a soccer game on Russian TV. People were three-deep
watching. At half time where we would have had commercials, they had a
man showing how to change a tire. The people stopped watching and
wandered away. He put it under water to find the leak. . . and pumped
and pumped. . .and bounced it--and said, 'See, that's how you change a
tire.' Then the people wandered back and were three-deep again."
Or, "I saw a bunch of discouraged grass in Istanbul--"
"Yeah, just--you know, the normal kind. And I realized I hadn't seen grass for 3,000 miles."
Or, "I met a guy waiting at Pakistan/Afghanistan customs. He had bandoliers of cartridges crossed on his chest. His rifle had mother-of-pearl inlay and you could see dints on the metalwork where a local blacksmith had made him a replacement part. All I remember of one of those long Asian conversations where you use pieces of all the languages you know plus sign language is asking him, 'You Pakistani, you Afghan?'
"He said, 'Me, Khyber Pass.'
"When the Russians invaded I felt sorry for the Russians."
Tim and his girlfriend at the time were caught up in the Tlatelolco massacre of
1968, a government massacre of student and civilian protesters and
bystanders that took place on October 2, 1968,
in Mexico City.
"I was at the bottom of the stairs when the shooting started. People with white gloves were running everywhere. Isabel and I ran up the stairs. Students were gathering in someone's apartment." One of the students was
shot through the window and died in Tim's arms.
"It was at night. They took
people out one at a time, shot them or dragged off live bodies. They pulled me
outside, too, and questioned me.
"I told them, 'I'm a poet. I'm just
"One of them demanded, 'Which poets do you
"Walt Whitman. My
favorite Spanish poet is Federico Garcia Lorca." I recited to them, 'Verde que te quiero verde. Verde viento. Verdes ramas. . .' Nobody could fake that. They looked at each other and
one said, 'Okay, take him back in.'
They cleaned out a lot of people that
Recently Tim said, "It's a bore to have a disintegrating mind."
Today I am thankful for the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine.