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Daniel Elder

Guest Posts, Refugees, Resistance

The Old Colossus

January 30, 2017
people

By Daniel Elder

The searching faces of those who once had homes, now on the run or corralled into camps, their entire lives carried on their backs, are flattened on our screens. They once lived in homes. They lived in cities and in villages, raised their families in houses, on farms, in apartment buildings teeming with life. Their homes had roofs of concrete or brick or corrugated tin. They walked on floors of wood or parquet or mud. Outside their homes were gardens, flush with dates and lettuce and cucumbers and beans. Beyond the gardens wound roads that tied their homes to those of their neighbors. They stood up from planting in their gardens, from walking on their roads, from talking in cafes and squares, and looked up at the dollop-tops of minarets and listened to the plaintive calls of muezzins. This was before the punishing flights of MiGs came screaming overhead, before the chaotic staccato of ammunition became the soundtracks to their days, before the plumbing ran dry of water to drink. Before they fled. They once had homes: tapestries of languages and recipes, places of heart, woven out of scents and light, filled with stories formed of memory and tea.

My grandmother, Khana, survived the Nazi siege of Leningrad together with her three sisters and their mother, Maria. Leningrad was their home: a city of canals and boulevards, White Nights in June, the Hermitage and the Winter Palace, long and lively strolls down the Nevsky Prospekt. The rumblings of war built up slowly, buzzing from the radio antennae. And then the border was breached, the pact was broken, and the pincers of the Wehrmacht bore down, the Luftwaffe screaming overhead, pounding concrete and flesh into submission. Legions of dreaded Panzer tanks encircled the city, with no way in and no way out. Boris, Maria’s husband, the girls’ father, was a Soviet believer. He was sent to the front, to the city perimeter. He never returned. My grandmother, barely twenty years old, watched the skies while foraging for scrawny grasses that grew through cracks in the street, her whole being filled with fear of the bombs that had killed her father. When food ran out, her family boiled wallpaper glue into soup, with leather belts added for flavoring. Her mother’s belly grew distended as she starved herself to ensure her daughters would live. Leningrad was home, but home was now just survival, day after day, until after more than two years our family was at last evacuated on The Road of Life, away from home—and to safety instead. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Truth

Quiet

May 22, 2016

By Daniel Elder

1.
You scurry around looking for quiet. You search for it in all of your familiar places. You see quiet’s tail disappear around corners but when you turn them all you see is neon Little Italy, all you see are fading brownstones, all you see is the Brooklyn Queens Expressway running its surgical scar through Sunset Park. You know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, that the chase has a loudness, and this is absurd. Chasing quiet. You sit in a yoga studio with strangers and you drink a foul plant brew. Sometime in the night, in the space between the curandero’s songs, you discover quiet. She is curled up in a tender ball just below your heart, so that every beat awakens against her and her purr soothes every peal of your tired bell. You sit with her, so close you feel inseparable. But you can only sit there for eight hours. You can only vomit so much of your trauma into the plastic bucket that’s provided. In the morning you leave the yoga studio, leave the warm embrace, step out into sunlight that caroms off of all the steel and glass surrounding you. You feel quiet stir and you try to hold on to her but quiet is a twitchy woodland creature and once again she is off and running. A wind stirs litter in the crowded street. Continue Reading…

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