Sunday, October 1, 2017

Flowers of the Heart

Cosmos from my garden October 2011

Flowers of the Heart

One. October 1, 2017

For Marja-Sisko

We met in 1981 on a boat train out of London
to Harwich. I had waited hours for my standing-
room-only ticket. You had one, too, came over
to ask if I’d like to board with you, find a couch
in a lounge where we could spend the night.
You were twenty-one, had toured Europe and
North Africa on a youth pass. You pulled out
a sleeping bag, and slept at my feet, giving me
the couch. You were a teacher of learning-
disabled children, and my son was one. You
held onto me when we parted at Hoek Van 
Holland. I got cards: “It’s spring. We go
ice fishing.” and “Come to Finland!” In
1985 I visited you, Matti, and baby Eero for
two days. We picked berries and fed them
to Eero, made coffee from a clean stream,
ate roasted hot dogs. You taught me the
sauna ritual and explained it was a place
and time to speak of everything, even God
and sex. We visited an art gallery. In 1988 
I took Ginia, a vegetarian who wanted world 
peace. Ossi and Timo had joined the family.
We picked strawberries and went to an 
outdoor play while Matti bathed the boys, 
made supper, and even a pie. If world peace
begins at home, you and Matti were the
models, and your sons were learning to
make peace. They rarely quarreled. You 
and Matti shared the home chores and gave 
each other vacations. He went to Lapland to
fish, and you went to Russia, to Karelia,
where your roots were. We celebrated
Ginia’s sixteenth birthday with a berry
cake. In 1990 I took Tim, twenty-one
by then. We were traveling to Russia
for the first time. You took us to an
exhibit of Russian paintings, and I understood:
the Russians did not want war. I returned
in 1992, after two months in Russia. Always
there was the sauna, berry-picking, open talk,
fresh fish, even caviar, and very strong coffee.
In 1995 I came on my way to Russia for four 
months, and you had invited me to spend January-
April in your summer house on Maxmo Island, 
so I could write. I worked on my Russian books
and told also of my Finnish family. The boys
spoke English by then, and they helped with the
chores: making the sauna, laying out breakfast,
making the fire, going ice-fishing. You called me 
your window on the world, treasured me, and 
listened to my love song. Now I’m eighty, and
and you’re sixty. Your boys are grown. Matti
will retire, but you want to keep on working.
When a therapist asked me if I had any friends
who were my equal, I named you. In 2007 we 
went to Russia together. You entered gladly into
all our meetings. The Russians had seized Karelia
in World War II–your homeland--but you wanted
peace with your big neighbor. All this richness

began because I had a standing-room-only ticket.

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