New Year

Same Rivers, New Waters …

Last year passed the golden glove
You know, the one with a fist of iron.
She wanted no more of it. Nor I.
Those glossy, glittering, glistening,
shining products of a golden age
had lost their sheen and the age of
growth and worshipping at the alter of
God. Demands. Profit. … is so last year.

Meanwhile, in the town, at Star Books,
reading over our tax-free coffee,
batting ideas on who could pay the bill
and how you make your money work,
if only we had some …

Consumption was her daily bread
and the disease that strangled
generations, who died of terminal debt.

The improper death of innocents,
but where is their misplaced virtue.
Are they free of blame … still free?
May be no more, and yet we must
pay due heed to plant the seed of hope.
To fight for nourishment forgone.
It might have been the will of the people,
but, for folk who step into the same rivers,

ever newer waters flow …

© 2019 John Anstie

JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British writer, poet and musician –  a multi-talented gentleman self-described, at various times as a ” Husband, Family man, Grandfather, Father, Son, Brother, sort of Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, AppleMac user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”. He has (variously) participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and as a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway‘ radio broadcasts. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011.

Recent publications are anthologies resulting from online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group (Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.

Call to register and prepare for 100TPC global event & Last call for submissions to the June issue of “The BeZine”



Notice from founders Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carion ~

Dear Friends of 100 Thousand Poets for Change,

It is that time of year again when we begin to sign up organizers and events for the next Global 100 Thousand Poets for Change Day–September 30, 2017. Please let me know if you will be organizing in your town.

Also, as you know, 100 Thousand Poets for Change is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 and we need your donations to keep this movement going strong.

We would be grateful if you would take a moment to make a donation through Paypal at 100 Thousand Poets for Change Donation Link at http://100tpc.org/?page_id=14104 or send a check donation to 100 TPC, Box 2724, Tallahassee, FL 32304, USA.

We need your support so that we can continue to provide a global platform for poets and artists to speak about peace, justice, sustainability, and community.

Now more than ever! Show your support!

Sincerely,

Michael and Terri

100 Thousand Poets for Change

100TPC.org

The BeZine will host a 100,000 Poets for Change virtual event. Poets are welcome to contribute from anywhere in the world and we encourage disabled poets to participate, especially those who are homebound.  Michael Dickel (Meta / Phor(e) / Play) takes the lead.



Deadline for the June issue is tomorrow (June 10th) at midnight PST.

THE BeZINE submissions for the June 2017 issues (theme: Environmental Justice/Climate Change: Farming and Access to Water) should be in by June 10th latest.  Publication date is June 15th. Poetry, essays, fiction and creative nonfiction, art and photography, music (videos), and whatever lends itself to online presentation is welcome for consideration. Please check out a few issues first and the Intro./Mission Statement and Submission Guidelines. No demographic restrictions.

The theme for the July issue is Prison Culture, Restorative Justice. The deadline is July 10th at midnight PST. Terri Stewart (Beguine Again) takes the lead.

1967 (17 years old) , My First Published Poem “Make of Me a Tree”

Dan and I as kids and probably the last time he was shorter than I. He stands 6'5' and I stand 5'2
My cousin Dan and me as kids and probably the last time he was shorter than I am. He stands 6’5′ and I stand around 5’2″ – give or take a bit depending on my shoes.

I was definitely the product you’d expect from the odd and awkward situation in which I grew up and surely I showed little talent, no free thinking and no genius or particular promise. The poem is not good – some youth write profoundly beautiful and wise poetry and young people today are far more savvy than I ever was  –  but it does illustrate that after fifty years or so writing will improve. We writers often have our doubts, but we are an unrelenting bunch. We write, write, write. We enrich, reform and reframe as if every word of ours will spark more Light in the collective unconscious, which I rather think they do.

Make of Me a Tree

I am young, Lord,
but my heart is true,
Make of me a tree

Make me strong and supple
That when tempests blow,
I shall stand unyielding.

Let me be humble in the
Praise of Your Majesty
And testify to Your greatness.

When rains besiege
Let me be shelter
To those who have not found Your Son,

For

Yes! I am young
but my heart is true:
Make of me a tree.

Amen.

– Jamie Dedes

That’s my cousin Dan in the photograph, six years younger than me, so about 8 in this photo to my 13,. Dan was inspired by the poem to paint a lovely “portrait” of a tree. These days it’s Father Dan – Rev. Fr. Daniel S. Sormani, C.S.Sp. – a theologian and professor at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Dan always showed real promise. Like my son, Richard, and Dan’s brother, Christopher, even as a toddler he was smart and funny.  So many of you appreciated Dan’s piece What Have We Done That People Can Pick Up Weapons and Kill?  Come March, Dan will be back in the United States. We will get to visit for the first time in forty years.

And, yes! I did want to become a nun. I was told there would be family background checks and I feared rightly that there were things in my parent’s history that would embarrass my mom. I became a now-and-again wife, a mother, a writer, a poet. No regrets. The life mission is essentially the same though the vehicle of service differs and the actions are grounded in ethics not creed, which is not to imply that the two are necessarily exclusive.

RELATED:

DANIEL S. SORMANI C.S. Sp.
DANIEL S. SORMANI C.S. Sp.

The Blessed Mother: She reminds me of who I am and who I should be, Daniel S. Sormani, C.S.Sp., The BeZine, July 2016

Note: The photograph of the two of us together was taken at a fundraiser our mothers were helping with for the Guild for Exceptional Children in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York. This remains a worthy effort and worth your time if you happen to live in that area and are looking for a place at which to volunteer or are in a position to make a donation.

©  photographs (Daniel Sormani Family Album) and text and poem (Gigi “Jamie” Dedes), All rights reserved

Happy New Year 2016, Part III – Gratitudes not Resolutions

O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee forever.
— Psalm 30:12b

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It used to be that every year I would make out a list of New Year’s resolutions just like everyone else. The reality of those resolutions was I put the list in safe place and promptly forgot all about them, just like everyone else I know. A couple of years back I changed practice for New Year’s, instead of resolutions I started listing what I was grateful for from the Old Year.

I no longer feel guilty about not keeping promises to myself and speaking gratitude helps me to see the past year in a positive perspective. So here are my top 10 gratitude’s for New Years day 2016:

First of all I am grateful for John my beloved husband, best friend, and all around good company.

I am grateful for the presence of my furry and feathered friends. They have helped me to laugh when I least wanted to and they are a calming presence each day of the year.

I am grateful for my family; John’s 3 sons; our beautiful grandchildren Shannon and Amelia, Alex and Liam; my cousins who have made me laugh and so grateful that we have reconnected. Each and every one of you has brought joy into my life in so many ways.

I am also grateful for the Skype calls from Mark, Laura, Liam, and Amelia, who live in Boston. Amelia and Liam I love all of your antics and learning what you are up as you are growing up. Liam practice hard on those drums so that when we come the next time you can show us your progress. Amelia send me some of your dress designs, I would love to see what you are thinking of. Each of you are talented and amazing.

I am especially grateful for the Laura’s presence in my life. You my dear daughter-in-law are a treasure.

I am grateful for the kindness of strangers from all over the world. Their help when I needed it on our South Pacific adventure last year made the trip just that much more enjoyable.

I am grateful for caring and skillful medical professionals: Dr. Alberts who operated on my back, the Nursing staff at Stevens Hospital who made a difficult time easier, Physical therapists who encouraged me to work harder so that I would successfully recover from surgery.

I am grateful for the Faith community at Queen Anne Christian Church who have show me and John so much love and friendship.

I am grateful for my In-Care-Committee who encouraged me to search deep within myself and who helped me to see myself as I am instead of how everyone see me.

I am grateful for the friendship of so many people that if I were to name them I would certainly forget someone, so from the bottom of my heart I love you all.

So those are my top 10 gratitude, of course I have many more. The listing of them will take all day on New Year’s Day but these are the most important ones. If you were to list your gratitude’s for 2015 what would they be? How would remembering them change your how you view the past year and how you anticipate the next?

My prayer for each of you is a year full of grace so that next New Year’s day it takes you 2 days to recite them. Have a Happy, Grace Filled New Year!

© 2015, words, Ruth Jewel, All rights reserved; illustration courtesy of Larisa Koshkina, Public Domain Pictures.net

Editor’s note: Ruth is a member of The Bardo Group Beguines core team.  Her personal blog is A Quiet Walk.  She also posts once a week on spiritual practice at our sister site, Beguine Again.

Last Cast of the Day

I wonder what would happen if we just
ran into one another someday.
It’s not going to happen, but what if?
Would your chest jump a little,
gassed on adrenalin or maybe bile?
Would you get all prickly around
your ears and face as blood
pushed all the elevator buttons?

Would you turn and cross the street,
like you meant to do that all along,
never looking at me, rather than
present your face to mine in a guarded
“Hi, old friend” moment?
Would we even recognize one another,
after age and life and lies have made like
locusts or glaciers on our my faces?

Would you be okay with an every-five-years
reunion of our class of two? I’d be the one
with the sticker on my chest that said
“Hi, my name is …” since I seldom know
who I am anymore other than old.
I don’t know why I wonder these things
from time to time. Maybe it’s the hopeful,
unworthy masochist in me.

You know, the one who each day
casts lines of memory and imagination
into the dark ocean of time,
never knowing what I’ll haul in.
Today it’s been muddy, writhing
questions and wonders. That’s how it goes
when you fish for words and hope.
There’s always another chance tomorrow.

– Joseph Hesch

© 2015, poem, Joseph Hesch, All rights reserved

The Year Turns

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Ice-Storm The year has turned. This evening, weather permitting, we will gather with others to celebrate the changing seasons and honor Grandfather Fire without whom we could not live. We will mark the Sun’s return, remembering the change of seasons is also within us. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the days will now lengthen as the sun begins His slow drift northward. That is the future; this morning the dark lingers. Jennie has moved through the house; lit candles mark her passage.

After a night of sleet, we have freezing rain. The snow plow just came through, potentially a mixed blessing as the coating of sleet protected the road’s surface from icing. A neighbor, out early, calls over through the darkness to ask whether she might bring us anything from the grocery.

Yesterday we braved the storm and the crowds and went shopping. One of our purchases was a second bird feeder. We have squirrels and have wagged a long competition with them regarding the feeders. This time of year flocks of birds come to our back yard feeding station a couple of times a day. Often they also find their way to our front porch where they watch our comings and goings at close range, often greeting us. Perhaps we will place one of the feeders near there.

As Saint Francis knew, the animals and birds are within us. This is ancient knowledge that awakens and reawakens in persons and cultures across the generations. We know their longings and hungers intimately.

Last night as the sleet and freezing rain fell I drummed and journeyed. I wanted to meet the storm directly, to feel the push and pull of warmth and cold and the tricky point of balance between them. As I journeyed I felt the deep antipathy we humans know in relationship to harsh cold and deep darkness. I wondered whether our failure to address climate change reflects that ageless fear of winter.

We warm bloodeds seem drawn to the South and to Grandfather Fire. Father Sun burns brightly within our mitochondria. There is a mysterious power attached to the hearth; there we meet Grandfather, hopefully safely contained. We press in, close to the radiating heart of the flames. Once upon a time we cooked our meals there, witnessing the wondrous transformation of raw into cooked. Grandfather brought us the gift of readily absorbed nutrients and energy, setting us free to explore the world. Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon, and Grandfather Fire also live within us, creating the seasons of the soul and body. Grandmother water shapes our very being.

In a few days those of us who celebrate Christmas will leave cookies and milk, or something stronger, by the warm hearth, gifts of memory and affection for the spirits and the Ancestors, the Ancient Ones. They live with and within us, and willingly or not, we follow the trajectory of their desires and needs. Even from the spirit realms they follow our lives. Some seek the high emotion of drama and suffering, others wish us well, hoping we can find our way to joy, happiness, and connection with one another, all creation, and the Creator.

Yet, Christmas is in the future. Tonight we will remember and express gratitude to the host of beings with whom we share our lives, and to the Creator who gives us awareness and the immeasurable gift of Life. As the year turns, we will remember that we are also changing, that each life holds many lives, and that we are continually reborn. We are the great turning that is the year.

– Michael Watson, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC

© 2014, essay and photograph Michael Watson, All rights reserved

BARDO NEWS: Argentine poet Juan Gelman, Creative Collectives, Year-End Report, Terri Stewart’s work on behalf of homeless and youth

Juan Gelman (1930-2014) Argentine poet, jounalist and activist
Juan Gelman (1930-2014) Argentine poet, journalist and activist

WE SALUTE THE ARGENTINE POET and SOCIAL ACTIVIST, JUAN GELMAN, who died on the 14th in Mexico City where he moved after his exile and lived for the last twenty years.

A bird lived in me.
A flower traveled in my blood.
My heart was a violin.

Gelman was revered in Latin America and in Spain for his work against the junta of Argentina, his subject matter largely addressing injustice and oppression, but he was renowned the world over for his excellence and his ethic. He became a symbol of the “disappeared,” when he began a search for his granddaughter after his son and daughter-in-law were disappeared and killed. If you don’t know his story, you can read it HERE.

Shelley wrote that poets are the protectors of moral and civil laws, “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Gelman certainly wrote in just such a spirit.

Professor Ilan Stavens (Amherst College) reads Juan Gelman’s poem End.

 

Photo credit ~ Presidencia de la Nación Argentina under CC A 2.0 Generic license.

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OUR YEAR-END REPORT FROM WORDPRESS: The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed over 38,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it. In 2013 there were 354 new posts. There were 412 pictures uploaded, which is about a picture per day. The busiest day of the year was January 18th with 524 views. [LAUNCH AT LAST! … Rhineo & Juliet, Love & Tragedy in Africa – unfortunately the two videos that were included in that post are no longer available for review.]

MORE ON CREATIVE COLLECTIVES: In another Bardo News post we wrote:

We are nurturing a growth that goes beyond the simple idea of “connectivity” to a more productive virtual “proximity” … think in terms of artistic gatherings  – not always formally organized – that you’ve read about and perhaps loved –  Bloomsbury in England or the cafe gatherings of the so-called Lost Generation in Paris of the 1920s or even the Algonquin Round Table in New York, also the 1920s, though we will forego the pranks and practical jokes of the latter.

We received a response to that from a Bardo friend who wishes to remain anonymous: “I had developed some additional thoughts or elaborations I’m passing on to you.

“Prior creative and intellectual movements benefited greatly from geographic proximity. It wasn’t enough to be part of community, but that the community shared and debated some essential values and were in constant contact. The idea is that fervency, serendipity and discovery arise out of actual physical proximity.

“This is why artists still flock to cities. Despite the Internet, we still go to Mecca.

“Connecting technologies have always strengthened the bonds between people with like-minded interests (letter-writing, magazine letter columns, BBS, chatrooms, message boards, social networking, etc), fostering community. But, in the last 40 years, I haven’t seen technology yet truly replicate the creative synergy that occurs with physical proximity.

“Which led to my conclusion: any creative person who is working via connected technologies (Internet, etc), needs to focus on how they can go beyond mere community and replicate the qualities caused by physical, geographical proximity.

“I think those qualities, include:

1. regularly scheduled contact
2. opportunities for random contact
3. an agreement on the values under discussion (not necessarily in agreement on the rightness or wrongness of the values themselves).
4. diversity of interest and perspective on those values.

“Several recent groups are decent examples (these are not necessarily endorsements), including:

• The Beats (rather amorphous really, but SF, NY, and Tangiers at various times)
• The Objectivists (in NY, prior to the broader expansion)
• Maybe, the “Fog City Mavericks” in film; Lucas, Spielberg, Eastwood, Coppola, Kaufman, Zaentz.
• The Inklings
• The Futurians

“Of course, as I read this, I also recognize that the ultimate failure of these groups and collectives was often caused by a descent into orthodoxy that stifled creativity and diversity.”

Hesch ProfileINTRODUCING JOSEPH HESCH (A Thing for Words): Joe joined us as a member of the core team late last year. He is a writer and poet from Albany, New York. Many of his poems and stories are inspired by his almost 400-year-old hometown, but most spring from his many travels between his right ear and his left ear. A former journalist, he’s written for a living more than thirty years, but only recently convinced himself to rediscover the writer he once thought he was. Five years ago, he began to write short fiction. Two years later, in a serendipitous response to a blinding case of writer’s block, he wrote his first poem…ever. He hasn’t looked back.  

Since then his work has been published in journals and anthologies coast to coast and worldwide. He posts poems and stories-in-progress on his blog, A Thing for Words (http://athingforwordsjahesch.wordpress.com/).  An original staff member at dVerse Poets Pub website, he was named one of Writers Digest Editor Robert Lee Brewer’s “2011 Best Tweeps for Writers to Follow.”

Gather AB -1INTRODUCING LIZ RICE-SOSONE a.k.a. RAVEN SPIRIT (Noh Where): Liz is probably the most long-standing friend of Bardo. She guested here on several occasions and late last year joined us as a core team member and as the point person for our Voices of Peace Project. Liz began writing when older and housebound due to illness. HIV/AIDS work was the most rewarding work of her lifetime.  Her animals are the loves of her life.  Her husband is her best friend and also the love of her life.  She received a master’s degree in 2008 in gerontology and creative writing at the age of 62.  She started her second blog Noh Where in 2012.  She has a deep connection to all things Corvid.

terriIF YOU ARE IN THE SEATTLE AREA, TERRI STEWART (Begin Again) is co-hosting “Exploring Spiritual Identity with heART.” It is a mandala exercise facilitated with Julia Weaver at mandalaweaver.com. You can find more about the event athttp://beguineagain.com/events/ .
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Additionally, let’s celebrate with Terri as she was invited to provide testimony at her state legislature on January 29th. She will provide witness regarding the effect of having confidential juvenile records. Her state does not consider juvenile records confidential and any court proceedings are subject to the open records act. Additionally, the state she lives in sells juvenile records before the youth is even an adult and able to follow the steps to sealing their record. Making the records confidential is a huge step forward in providing peace and justice in the youth’s lives.
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CHARLIE MARTIN’S BOOK: Bea In Your Bonnet: First Sting is now available through Lulu and Amazon. We all love Aunt Bea and this is a long-awaited volume. Charlie (Read Between the Minds) says:
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product_thumbnail-4.phpBea In Your Bonnet: First Sting is a collection of germinal poems featuring Aunt Bea. Aunt Bea’s voice is one I’ve heard almost every day of my life. Family observations, lessons, and advice given to me and every other family member who had the good sense to listen. Her homespun philosophy most likely will not be found in any collegiate textbooks or for that matter in any local town crier newspaper catering to city dwellers. Indeed, she has a different way of viewing the world; a bit old fashion, sassy, and steely at times but a viewpoint which has engaged my imagination and heart. I sincerely hope you too will find some morsel of wisdom in her personal observations and interpretations of life’s events, but do watch out for her stingers.”
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FEBRUARY BLOG EVENTS: Please join us on February 14 for Bloggers in Planet Love. Mr. Linky will be open for 72 hours begining on the 14th. We hope you’ll share your post on nature, environment and environmental protection, food and farming, climate change and any other earthy subject. We welcome all forms of artistic expression: poems and photography, visual and video art, music, fiction, creative nonfiction and essay. We hope that you will also visit the other participants so that we can support one another while we all encourage appreciation and care of this beautiful planet of ours. The next Writers’ Fourth Wednesday prompt with Victoria Slotto (Victoria C. Slotto, Author/Fictionn, Poetry and Writing Prompts) is on February 26th. Thanks to those who joined with us last week. We look forward to seeing your participation again.
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JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day) posted three short stories as Pages on her blog:
  1. The City of Ultimate Bliss, one girl’s faith in the magic of her city to bring her a singular precious bliss.
  2. The Time of Orphaning, “It’s tough when your’e orphaned at seventy,” says the narrator.
  3. Señora Ortega’s Frijoles, a woman shares the dichos (sayings) of her foremothers with her daughter.
JOHN NOONEY’S (Johnbalaya) post, Some Thoughts on Adoption, drew considerable – if quiet -traffic and garnered fifty Facebook “Likes.” We’re thinking maybe there’s potential for a book in the expanded version of the story, John. Just sayiing!
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GOT NEWS? Please feel free to leave any news you may have in the comments section today. The next Bardo News is scheduled for Sunday, February 23 at 7 p.m. and the deadline for submitting your news is Friday, February 21. If you have news you’d like shared in that post, please leave a message in the comments section of any post between now and then and someone will get back to you. Thank you!
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Thank you for your readings, writings, sharing, “Likes,” and comments. All valued, as are you.
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OUR FACEBOOK PAGE
With loving kindness,
– The Bardo Group

celebrating the intention of Nelson Mandela as a new year’s resolution

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Last year saw the loss of a great man and a widening of the world-wide gap between the few haves and the many have-nots, an injustice and a certain recipe for unrest. As we celebrate the birth of a fresh new year today, we also celebrate the man, Nelson Mandela, and his ideas. Poverty creates its own apartheid.

Over the course of the few next days, The Bardo Group will deliver posts that honor the man and second his ideals as a reminder of the need to be resolute, to continue Nelson Mandela’s fight for balance, justice and equality of opportunity.

Nelson Mandela’s Speech on Poverty (2005) 9 min.

May all mothers and their children have
 food, housing, healthcare, education, freedom of spiritual practice, peace and safety.

May open hands and open hearts reign. 

MAY GREATNESS BLOSSOM IN 2014

The Bardo Group Core Team

John Anstie

Naomi Baltuck

Terri Stewart

Corina Ravenscraft

Jamie Dedes

Josepth Hesch

Karen Fayeth

Victoria C. Slotto

Liz Rice-Sosne

Michael Watson

Niamh Clune

Priscilla Galasso

Lily Negoi

Charlie Martin

LAUNCHED AT LAST! … Rhineo & Juliet, Love & Tragedy in Africa

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LAUNCHED AT LAST!

by

Naomi Estment (Naomi’s Notes)

It’s been a wild and woolly year, since my husband, Dave, and I embarked on an unforgettable journey in the creation of two short rhino films and an accompanying photographic book. They have been launched at last by Africa Cries. This Mauritian-based film production company was founded by Roland Vincent, whose vision inspired this phenomenal project.

Shot in South Africa and created in response to the escalating threat of extinction facing Earth’s remaining rhinos, the first film, Rhineo & Juliet – Love and Tragedy in Africa, addresses this crisis, while the second, The Ark – Rhino Survival Sanctuary, shares a far-reaching, sustainable solution, integral to saving this irreplaceable member of Africa’s Big Five.

Our heart-felt thanks goes out to all the amazing people who have given generously of their time, energy and expertise in contributing to the making of the films, as listed in the credits, as well as to the translation of both scripts into multiple languages. Special mention also to Wayne Nicholson and his team for their valued contribution and for sharing this in his post,Love & Tragedy in Africa.

Here are the films, with a word of warning to sensitive viewers: the first one contains a few brief but extremely hard-hitting scenes, which we have been repeatedly advised are critical to convey the extent of the rhino poaching horror. These were contributed by witnesses, who care deeply about the importance and urgency of the message. While the first is a sweeping story that tugs at the heart by humanizing rhino, the second film is documentary in nature, sharing a beautiful, tranquil overview of a solution.

Rhineo & Juliet – Love and Tragedy in Africa

The Ark – Rhino Survival Sanctuary

PLEASE VISIT THE AFRICA CRIES WEBSITE IF YOU’RE MOVED TO MAKE A CONTRIBUTION. WE WOULD ALSO REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR SHARING THESE VIDEOS FOR THE SAKE OF THE RHINO. SINCERE THANKS FROM US ALL!

I leave you with the words of Tony Frost, CEO of Sirocco Strategy Management, former CEO of WWF and board member of the South African National Biodiversity Institute: “I must say you are embarking on a terrifically exciting journey.  . . . the rhino is a massive and incredibly important symbol of a much bigger malaise attacking this planet and therefore it is a magnificent opportunity to do something much bigger than only saving the rhino. You have the vehicle, we have to help you to drive it hard!”

© 2013, essay and photographs, Naomi Estment, All rights reserved
This feature is presented here with the permission of the author
The videos were uploaded to YouTube by AfricaCries

537866_2655020590484_1671114272_aNAOMI ESTMONT is a South African writer, photographer, blogger (Naomi’s Notes), and contributing writer to Into the Bardo. She reports, “Dave and I have been extremely dedicated to conservation this past year, including creating these and other videos, establishing the Wild Imaging Trust and launching an epic project called Rock ‘n Ride 4 Rhino, which entails a five-month motorcycle tour of Southern Africa next year, in partnership with Jason Hartman (2009 SA Idol and passionate conservationist) and Damien Mander (founding director of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation).”

ONE LAST CHRISTMAS POST, lest we forget the lessons of 1914

I’m preparing to get ready today for business as usual and there’s lots to share from Ann and Rob and other contributors. I decided to visit some blogs first. One of our contributors, Gayle Walters (Bodhirose’s Blog) had posted this historical fiction on her blog. It’s by children’s author, Aaron Shepard, and he allows it to be reblogged. It’s a short story based on the true events of the famous Christmas Eve truce of 1914 that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of as “one human episode amid all the atrocities.” We do have moments of truce in our personal, spiritual, and political lives. If we could only make such moments a regular thing, our preferred m.o., if you will … Jamie Dedes

Parents and educators will find good stories and scripts for children’s plays at Mr. Shepard’s website HERE.

Copyright © 2001, 2003 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose.

The story is formated as a letter ….

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
by
Aaron Shepard
Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.

The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .

Then we replied.

O come all ye faithful . . . .

But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.

Adeste fideles . . . .

British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.

“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!

“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.

“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”

“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”

Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother,
Tom
The photograph (via Wikipedia) is in the public domain: A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce in 1914. The text reads:
1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.


THE LAST PASSENGER PIGEON

“This is a fundraising promo video for The Last Passenger PigeonSpecies Extinction and Survival in the 21st Century. This documentary will recount the total destruction by humans of the most abundant bird species in North America, and possibly the world.

2014 will mark the centennial of the birds’ extinction. The film will explore how this event occurred and put it in context of today’s conservation challenges and accelerated species extinctions. We are planning a multi-media event: a television documentary broadcast, the publishing of a book, River of Shadows: The Life and Times of the Passenger Pigeon, by Joel Greenberg, and a national educational outreach campaign known as Project Passenger Pigeon. The outreach component is led by Greenberg and David Blockstein, Senior Scientist at the National Council for Science and the Environment, and a diverse consortium of over 20 American and Canadian institutions, scientists, scholars and authors, with the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum/Chicago Academy of Sciences as the lead sponsoring institution.

The promo includes roughed out scenes such as a storyboard for a live action and computer animation depiction of the pigeons as experienced by John Audubon, preliminary interviews and scenes that begin to tell the story of the pigeon.

For more information contact: dmrazek@sbcglobal.net”  video and narrative courtesy of David Mrazek 

MARTHA

The Last Passenger Pigeon

“In 1857, a bill was brought forth to the Ohio State Legislature seeking protection for the Passenger Pigeon. A Select Committee of the Senate filed a report stating “The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”[28]

Fifty-seven years later, on September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo,Cincinnati, Ohio. Her body was frozen into a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was skinned and mounted. Currently, Martha (named after Martha Washington) is in the museum’s archived collection, and not on display.A memorial statue of Martha stands on the grounds of the Cincinnati Zoo.” Wikipedia

Photo credit ~ Public domain photograph (1914)  via Wikipedia

Hope Floats

 

On my last visit to Juneau, my Alaskan sister Constance, told me a story. It began over fifteen hundred years ago, when a small band of Pacific Islanders, plagued by overpopulation and the depletion of natural resources, set sail across the Pacific in outrigger canoes to seek new islands to call home.

 

They were the ancestors of the people of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and other Polynesian islands.  Their only guidance was gleaned from the stars, the wind, ocean currents, the swell of the waves, the birds and the fish, the movement of the clouds. This ancient system of navigation, known as ‘wayfinding,’ enabled them to travel thousands of miles across vast stretches of ocean to remote tiny islands.

My sister told me she had volunteered at an event in honor of native Hawai’ian, Nainoa Thompson, who had come to Juneau to tell his story, and to celebrate the strong bond between the First Peoples of Alaska and Hawai’i.  It began in 1976, when Nainoa wanted to follow in his ancestors’ wake by sailing from Hawai’i to Tahiti with only traditional navigation as guidance.  He had a double-hulled outrigger canoe named Hokule’a, ‘Our Star of Gladness’.  At that time, ‘wayfinding’ was in danger of being forever lost.  Hawaii’s wayfinders had all died, and only a few elderly wayfinders remained in Micronesia. One of them, Mau Piailug, barely spoke English, and the trip from Hawaii to Tahiti longer than any voyage Mau had ever made.  But Mau’s children, like the children of so many Native Americans, had been taken away to boarding schools, robbed of their culture, and any interest in learning the ancient art.  He agreed to mentor Nainoa.

Under Mau’s tutelage Nainoa completed the trip, and became a master wayfinder, helping to preserve Hawai’ian culture.  But the Hokule’a was built from modern materials, and Nainoa wanted to build a ship of traditional Hawai’ian materials.  For almost a year, Nainoa searched throughout the Hawai’ian Islands for two koa trees to use as hulls.

Between the devastation of ranching and logging, he couldn’t find a single koa tree tall or thick enough to serve.

It was noted in Captain George Vancouvers journals in 1793–that some Hawai’ian canoes had hulls of Sitka Spruce.  The logs had been carried three thousand miles from Alaska by ocean currents, tossed up on Hawaiian beaches, and were considered gifts from the gods.

Nainoa asked Alaskan tribal elders for two Sitka Spruce trees to build an outrigger canoe.  He was told that he could have the trees “so you can build the canoe to carry your culture.  But we won’t take their lives until you come see that they are what you need.”

The Sitka Spruce trees were beautiful; 200-feet tall, eight feet in diameter, over 400 years old.  But Nainoa realized that he couldn’t take the life of those trees before dealing with the destruction of his native Hawaiian forests.

Nainoa returned to Hawai’i to launch a restoration program. People worked together, old and young–some traveled from Alaska–to plant thousands of koa tree seedlings, creating forests that will one day have tree big enough to make canoes.

Only then did Nainoa feel he could return to Alaska to accept the gift of the Sitka Spruce trees.

Nainoa called the new canoe ‘Hawai’iloa’, after the ancient wayfinder who first discovered the Hawai’ian Islands.

Those first Polynesian voyagers coped with overpopulation and depletion of resources by migrating to other uninhabited islands, but that’s no longer an option on our crowded planet.  Nainoa’s expanded mission has become ‘Malama Honua’, which means ‘caring for the Earth.’  Last year the Hokule’a completed a three year tour that circled the planet, building global community, and promoting earth care and sustainability as well as Polynesian culture.

I believe we have strayed, and lost sight of the world we want and need to live in.  But, as Nainoa discovered, and now teaches, if one is willing to listen and learn, there are wayfinders who can show us the way home.

All images ©2019 Naomi Baltuck


NAOMI BALTUCK (Writing Between the Lines)~ is Resident Storyteller at The BeZine. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer. Her works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE.

Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV (her personal blog) as well as on The BeZine.

Naomi conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com.

Naomi says, “When not actually writing, I am researching the world with my long-suffering husband and our two kids, or outside editing my garden. My novel, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring (Viking Penguin), can be read in English, German, Spanish, and Italian. My storytelling anthology, Apples From Heaven, garnered four national awards, including the Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice. I am currently working on a contemporary women’s novel.”

Insecurity

Hoar Frosted Trees (photo: John N Anstie)

As clouds gather and human progress seems to be freezing, it’s been worth spending some time pondering this word, its meaning, its consequences. I’ve come to the conclusion that it says everything about the human condition; it explains everything you may observe about the human race; and, in our efforts at The BeZine this month to wage the peace, it occurred to me that, if we are to achieve anything in this quest, we may have to do some ‘reverse engineering’, taking us back from war, division, angry and defensive retaliation, anxiety, fear, disagreement and disengagement to a place where we could begin to engineer the means of peaceful co-existence, true acceptance of difference, diversity and gender equality with renewed focus on how we can divert all the energy we wasted in destructive conflict to seeking some kind of new order.

We have the intellectual ability to achieve this, but do we have the strength of will to control our defensive-aggressive tendencies, our propensity when times are tough to withdraw behind the lines into our tribes where we are inclined to reinforce our insecurities, rattle sabres, beat chests and make our battle cries?

What is it that drives us to do anything? Is it just to preserve our livelihood, to ensure we are warm and dry at night, to feed and protect ourselves, our families, our children. I think in the twenty-first century Western World it has become so much more than that.

Almost everything we do is driven by our insecurity, but it doesn’t need to be. Safeguarding our livelihoods may be a positive effect, but there are far too many negatives. Insecurity can lead to discomfort, fear and anxiety. In turn, anger will follow, aggression, irrational and compulsive behaviours that lead us on to desperate measures to ward off perceived threats to our local or national territories, our place in the World and to our very being, our race. So much so that we are prepared to go to war with those whom we perceive to be posing threats, or with whom we are led to believe pose threats to our national security … enter stage right (or left) the spectre of political propaganda.

At its most basic, our insecurity is merely an expression of our frailty, the fragility of our existence on Earth. From the most insignificant to the most catastrophic consequences, it will lead us on to do stuff we really don’t need to do; to do and say things to other people that neither need to be done nor said. It even drives us to dream of leaving Earth and going into space to discover ‘life’ on other planets. At best this is vanity; delusion. At worst it is a distraction from the reality of having to solve our worldly problems here on Earth and a denial that we have the ability to do so.

In the Western World, the shopaholic, fashionista, obsessive pursuer of status all fear being inadequate, being seen to be inadequate, being seen to be less than well healed, being ineffectual, unable to afford the deemed desirable symbols of status … job title, house, exotic holiday, digital gadget, posh car. The car behind me, that fills my rear view mirror: is the driver really in a hurry, or filled with such insecurity, anxious thoughts that makes them feel they have to overtake me, even if the consequences of doing so will be dire. Is it an expression of their own status, that their car is better than mine and they should therefore be in front and not behind me? Are they thinking clearly, or are they just so agitated that they have lost their ability to be rational about what is truly important in their life?

In the Third World, insecurities are real even though, amongst some, there increasingly exists the enticing lure of a rich materialistic life, there are far to many impoverished people, who cannot fend for themselves for whom the water well is just too far to walk, for whom there is little hope of any kind of life, let alone a materialistic one.

The root of it all is insecurity. Why? Why do we have this emotional, testosterone driven response in a world full of resources; a world that, in spite of the fear mongers, is patently capable of supporting all its peoples, but for greed. Greed by a minority of individuals to have more than their fair share of those resources, tends to lead us on to want the same. So we all in turn aspire to become ‘wealthy’, which for most of us means ‘appearing’ to be well off, to a greater or lesser extent. And we are encouraged to do so by those who will benefit most from our consequent indebtedness. Giving up even a little of what we have is hard to do, maybe because we have had to give so much blood, sweat and tears to acquire it or maybe because we have inherited it and feel we have a right to possess it; that we are entitled? Each of us has our own reason for feeling insecure.

In ‘Waging Peace’ this month, I think The BeZine is asking us the question: how can we change the way we are? How can we stop ourselves from being greedy? How can we stop the rot, this dangerous cycle of grab as grab can, the fundamental fear that if we do give up a bit of what we have, if we give something of ourselves away, if we sublimate our ego, our personal desires, it will weaken us, make us vulnerable to being ‘taken over’ by those who would not give credence to any kind of altruism or philanthropy; moreover there’s an underlying resentment that by giving something away, some unworthy person may exploit you and benefit from it. Above all we may lose control of our lives.

And there we go again, into that vicious cycle! I feel myself getting angry at the thought of being ripped off by some greedy sociopathic personality, incapable of contrition, incapable, maybe by virtue of their genetic coding, their upbringing, the environment in which they grew up, that caused them grief, unhappiness, a feeling of disenfranchisement, a sense of desperation to do more than survive, be just ‘ok’. They want more, and more, and more until, maybe, there will be no more to have.

Side-lit Trees on Whitwell Moor (photo: John N Anstie)

I have thought, I have talked and written these words, but I still don’t truly have a solution, other than to try and learn the lessons taught to us by those rare human spirits and saintly beings, who have from time to time inhabited this Earth; who have been so humane, so selfless, so utterly giving of all they ever had to others. Somewhere deep in the spirit of all of us, there is this potential, this possibility that must be worth fighting for; that must be worth making conflict ‘so last year’, to see some light shining through the forest and make a new resolution to wage the peace.

© 2019 John Anstie

.. wouldst thou be pm, an abbreviation..

archaic or dialect question, in appropriate. a lowly start

with slight misgivings, i come arrived from the country, an immigrant

here.

if the task came to me unlikely, i should sew profusely. a safe bet in that

something grows decently.

do you know how to stitch a lie, when all about grow honesty? mine was

white last year,

now nothing germinates.

the question is irreverent, no disrespect meant. forgive me, this is the second

time. this time,

i shall stay.

despite my nationality.

© 2018, Sonja Benskin Mesher

A Letter from Vermont: A Near Miss

A lovely morning, the bright mid-February sun illuminating the very air as it bounced off last night’s fluffy snowfall. Now clouds have begun to fill in from the west, turning the day chilly and dank.

This coming week is forecast to be as much as 30 degrees F above seasonal norms. There will likely be sap runs and some adventurous souls will likely sunbathe if the sun appears long enough. We are also into Winter break at many of our schools, with families taking off to the ski slopes or to warmer climes for the week.

Speaking of school, our small state was stunned this week when a young man was arrested for planning an attack on the small rural high school he once attended. The eighteen year old had been in a mental health treatment program in a nearby state, but had come home to carry out the well planned attack.

All this began unfolding on Tuesday, the same day as the Florida high school shooting, and reminded us that we are not immune to the epidemic of mass gun violence. We Vermonters pride ourselves on having created a pretty fair place to live and to raise children, so it came as a shock that one of our own kids could live with such fierce hate and intent to harm others.

As far as we know the young man was not motivated by racial or ethnic hatred, as was the youth in Florida who chose to attack a predominantly Jewish high school. Rather, the Vermont youth had previously attended his chosen target high school, and knew some of the students and teachers there. His rage seems to have been more personal.

As always, following actual, or potential, acts of mass violence, we are left to ponder what is truly happening in our society that encourages Caucasian males to plan and carry out mass killings, and what we might do about it. (Virtually all of the mass shootings during the past ten years and more have been conducted by Caucasian males.) I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, although I am certain our leaders’ encouragement of violence in support of ideological goals must contribute to the problem.

While mass shootings rose significantly last year, along with the rhetoric of violent change, during the first six weeks of this year mass violence has been particularly virulent. Yet those in power appear unwilling to reign in either their hate speech, or the availability of the assault rifles that are the weapons of choice in mass shootings, weapons that may be purchased for less than $500 US when purchased with abundant ammunition.

Here in the U.S. the level of everyday violence is rising, along with a sense of unease and vulnerability. Now, when we say goodbye to our loved ones in the morning we collectively find ourselves wondering whether our partners will arrive safely home from work and our kids from school. We also wonder how we are to create needed change when the gun lobby uses its wealth, and the greed of our politicians, to block any and all attempts to make meaningful change.

Here in Vermont there is a long and healthy culture of hunting for subsistence, and rifles and shotguns are often family treasures as well as tools. The idea that those weapons could be turned on our loved ones, friends, and students remains abhorrent to most of us, even as the likelihood someone will use guns to create mass tragedy and suffering, even here in Vermont, increases.

After this week Vermonters are talking about mass violence from very personal perspectives, a conversation that promises to last well beyond this fall’s election cycle.

© 2018, essay and photo, Michael Watson

The Horizon Written … from Joseph Alen Shaw

A new composition from composer, Joseph Alen Shaw, is indicative of a man of considerable musical talent, who doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet. Not for the first time, has he used poetry to inspire musical composition. Last year I was flattered that he asked me to write a brief text on the seasonal theme of Autumn. The haiku triplet was beautifully woven into a song by some alchemical musical magic and is here. This also appeared in the October ‘Music’ themed edition of the BeZine.
The title of his new piece, he explains, was taken from the text of poem, “As at the Far Edge of Circling” by Ed Roberson. In my view, the music fits well with the text of the whole poem. You can judge for yourself.
 
The new composition, The Horizon Written, was commissioned by musician, Elliott Walker, the Church Organist at St Paul’s Rotherham in the UK, specifically for their Festival of Remembrance, which was held last November. Joseph’s own words in his blog, best describe it. The blog also contains a live recording of the music. The link to his blog is at the start of this paragraph).
I hope you enjoy his music as much as I do.
John Anstie

Wild Turkey Neat

This is a story about a guest I served and had a life-changing conversation with. It’s a story about gratitude, loss, and no regrets.

As soon as I laid eyes on the old man, I remembered him from last year’s Christmas party. Wild Turkey neat—that’s what he drank. As a bartender, I pride myself on remembering what each person drinks, but I was shocked and impressed that I still remembered this man’s preference. Waiting in the coat line, he stood out with his classic, custom-fit look. He wore a camel-colored cashmere overcoat and a light-brown fedora cocked to the side and angled just right. The fedora punctuated his confidence—what the kids today call swagger. After he checked his coat and hat he circumnavigated the room with his gaze. He was alone. Within moments people were washing up to him like the waves at Waikiki and wishing him Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. As he approached the bar, I immediately began to make his drink. Wild Turkey neat in the rocks glass. As soon as this gentleman arrived at my station, I presented him his drink.

“Here you go, sir,” I said. “Wild Turkey neat.”

His expression was priceless: ghostly shock. I told him I remembered his signature drink from last year’s Christmas party. He immediately shook my hand with a firm grip and introduced himself. “My name is Joe, and thank you for remembering my drink.”

I told him my name and said, “No problem, Joe.” He reached into his front pocket, pulled out his money clip, and began peeling off some bills. I couldn’t help but notice his well-tailored sports coat and pants. He was also wearing gold-plated cuff links. I noticed them while he was holding a twenty.

“Joe, this is an open bar; the drinks are free tonight.”

He then put the twenty in my tip cup and said, “That’s for you.”

Wow, I thought, and I shook his hand again. “Thanks Joe! That’s very generous of you.”
He just smiled and began talking to the other guests.
Joe appeared to be in his late eighties. His whole ensemble was impeccable. Even his silk pocket square, a rustic orange, made him look dapper.

***

When I saw Joe moving toward the bar again, I began making another glass of his signature drink. After he arrived at the bar, I handed it to him. His smile was bright and warm as he stood and watched me serve the other guests; I was on point that night. This was a holiday party, and everyone was in a great mood. Joe took out his money clip again, removed two twenties, and dropped both into my tip cup. I remember watching the bling reflect off his gold cuff link as the bills were slipped into the cup. I couldn’t believe how generous this guy was. Most people were tipping a dollar with each drink, although now then someone would give me a five. But Gentleman Joe had just given me forty, not counting the twenty he’d given me for his first drink.

“Thanks, Joe,” I said.

“No problem, my friend.” Then he asked how long I had been bartending.

“On and off for about eight years.”

“You’re a good bartender. I was in the business for forty years myself. You make great drinks. You have a good personality, and you know how to work a crowd. I’m a retired wine and liquor sales rep. I sold wine and liquor to bars and restaurants all over New York and New Jersey. I was the best in the business. Over the years I’ve met plenty of bartenders, but not many as good as you, my friend. It really impressed me that you remembered my drink.”

That was the best compliment I had ever received as a bartender. I was so proud and taken aback by Joe’s impression of me.

“Thanks, Joe, for saying that! It means a lot to me, especially coming from you with all that experience.”

Joe smiled, lifted his drink, took a sip, and said, “Salute.” I bowed my head and repeated the word. And then he said, “I shall return.”

There was something special about this guy Joe. I couldn’t put it into words, but he had a gravitational pull to him. When I was talking to him, I could tell I had his undivided attention. He was listening in an effort to understand and not forming his own reply. He had an intense, friendly, and relaxed focus to his eyes. It was apparent that he had seen a lot in his life. Joe had a sage-like presence, and I felt it.

At this point of the party the main course was being served, and everybody scattered to their assigned tables, which meant it was downtime for me. I was able to stretch and get some ice for my sink and restock my bar. After I was done filling my backup sink with ice I saw Joe in the distance heading toward the bar. I put the ice bucket under the beer cooler, grabbed the Wild Turkey, and started to pour it into a rocks glass. Before Joe reached the bar, I had his drink on deck. He glanced at me with his warm smile and said, “Outstanding.”

The DJ played some light Christmas music while everybody ate. Joe stayed at the bar and sipped his Wild Turkey. He turned his head to scan the other guests and then he turned back to stare at his drink. He appeared to be in deep thought. He glanced back at me, smiled, and went back to gazing at his drink. I wasn’t sure what was going on.

Still staring at his drink he said, “I lost my wife three years ago, and I really miss her, especially during the holidays.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Joe,” I said with a heavy heart. I could the see the pain in his eyes.

“You know she waited for me; she kept her word.”

Joe seemed to read the confusion on my face.

“When I returned from the war, she waited for me.” He broke eye contact and once again set his vacant eyes on his signature drink. It was as if Joe were time-traveling to his past. The other guests were still eating, so it was only Joe and me at the bar. He finally lifted his eyes back to me and began to narrate his life.

“I grew up in the Depression. I fought in the war and later married the love of my life, my soul mate. I raised a family with her, and we had two amazing kids. I’ve watched them grow up and have families of their own. I have three loving grandchildren. All my kids and grandkids are in a good place . . .”

Joe paused to take another sip of his drink. Then he stared hard into my eyes and said the most realistic but stunning thing I ever heard while tending bar: “My friend, I had a good life: wife, kids, grandkids . . . The only thing left for me is to die.”

I was floored. Bartending school hadn’t prepared me for this. Who was I to give this military veteran, husband, father, and grandfather advice? Silent night was playing in the background made the moment even more poignant.

“As I’ve gotten older, Christmas music makes me sad,” he said. “I used to love it. Now it only depresses me. I’ve become a Scrooge.” And he smiled faintly.

“Well, you sure don’t tip like Scrooge!”

That made him laugh. He needed to laugh. I followed my instinct and changed the topic. “Joe, what’s changed about the bar business, in your opinion?”

“Ha!” he blurted. “Where do I begin?” He started in on the martini. “It’s made with gin, not vodka! And the men today don’t know how to drink; they order these weak drinks.”

While Joe ranted, a young man came up and ordered an apple martini. The timing was impeccable. After I served the apple martini, Joe and I waited for the young man to abandon the bar. Then I looked at Joe and said, “Drinks like that?” Both of us laughed hard.

By then other guests were rediscovering the bar, and I was busy serving them. Meanwhile, Joe talked to some guests. Finally, the night was winding down, and I made last call. I saw Joe approach the bar, so I reached for the Wild Turkey, but Joe put his hand up and said with a smile, “Not this time; just water.”
“No problem, Joe.” I gave him a large glass of ice water, and he thanked me again. Then he handed me another twenty, but I didn’t want any more of his money; he had already been so generous. But Joe insisted.

“Thanks, Joe. You carried this party with the way you tipped me. And Merry Christmas. It was an honor talking to you. Thanks for sharing with me.”

Joe smiled, shook my hand, and said, “It meant a lot to me that you remembered my drink, and you’re terrific at bartending. Merry Christmas to you and your family.”

I thanked Joe again and said goodbye. I watched him slip away from the bar and toward the coat check. He put on his overcoat and then strategically cocked his fedora to the right. The sharp angle gave him a larger-than-life aura.

I stood behind the bar watching Joe say goodbye to everyone and wish them a Merry Christmas. The warm smile he shared with everyone masked the sadness he felt at the loss of his beautiful wife. As he approached the door to leave, it felt as if he were riding into the sunset, secretly counting the days until he would be reunited with his wife. And I knew I would never see that man again. But I was lucky to have crossed paths with Gentleman Joe. Those were my golden moments in bartending. Nothing will ever compare. It was a simple conversation that changed my life.

***

That experience with Joe was well over ten years ago, but it changed everything I do every December as I approach Christmas and the New Year. I go to a bar and order a Wild Turkey neat. I sit by myself, slowly sip my drink, and think about the past year of my life—the ups and downs, the goals I’ve accomplished, and the goals yet to be achieved. I anticipate with excitement the approaching New Year. I also reflect in gratitude on my family and my friends. And it’s all because I drink like a gentleman to honor a gentleman. Salute, Joe.

© 2017, Anthony Vano

Music Beyond Belief: an exploraton of the relationship between personal faith and musical composition


Musical notation from a Catholic Missal, c. 1310–1320 * This beautiful Missal made from parchment originates from East Anglia. It is considered a very important manuscript as it is one of the earliest examples of a Missal of an English source. Sarum Missals were books produced by the Church during the Middle Ages for celebrating Mass throughout the year – uncopyrighted/CC0


“Any discussion of modernity’s mainstream in music would be incomplete without a serious reflection on the spiritual values, belief and practice in composer’s minds.” – James Macmillan (2013)

Western music throughout its history has undoubtedly been shaped enormously by religious and/or philosophical beliefs. One can only vaguely attempt to imagine the plethora of alternative courses of development which may have unfolded if it were not for the original patronage of the church and the influence this had, particularly in terms of the composition and performance of music. The last two centuries however saw a change in the way religion is perceived and practiced in many parts of the world and this had an inevitable effect on music. As part of a lecture held at the University of Notre Dame in September 2013, the Scottish composer James MacMillan highlighted some very important points about how faith and music have co-existed in the past and furthermore how they are allied now. He states that ‘there are some forms of art where the connections with the numinous are more difficult to discern than others. In the case of music, there seems to be a veritable umbilical link with the sacred.’ He goes on to say that ’composers have always responded to society’s need for spiritual and religious feeling’ and examples of this attitude can be seen from Bach to Stockhausen, from Lutheran Chorales to Sternklang (Park Music), 1971. The former were essential to the churchgoer’s daily experience in prayer and ritual, whilst the latter had a similar impact on the public wherever Sternklang was performed in attempting to lift their spirits into a realm above our own. This evidently affirms the ‘umbilical’ link furthermore.

Stockhausen said that ‘a creative person is always most excited when something happens that he cannot explain, something mysterious or miraculous.’ And similarly Michael Tippett with his remark that ‘it is a great responsibility: to try to transfigure the everyday by a touch of the everlasting.’ Macmillan in his lecture poses the question ’can a religious artist still be understood and affirmed in our own time?’ The answer to this is not as simple as yes or no but just as important is the notion of non-belief, realism or atheism and how composers who fall into this category fit in on the spectrum of philosophy in music composition and performance. A similar question could be asked of composers who base their reasoning on science and a more skeptical view of the world around them as inspiration for composition. Are their ideas valid and as fruitful as those inspired by faith?

Kenan Malik in an article entitled What Is Sacred About Sacred Music? explores notions of how transcendence itself can be defined by humans as physical and social beings. For religious believers, the sacred of course is that which is associated with divinity and holiness, but as shown below it can have a meaning beyond divinity:

Transcendence does not, however, necessarily have to be understood in a religious fashion; that is solely in relation to some concept of the divine. It is rather a recognition that our humanness is invested not simply in our existence as individuals or as physical beings, but also in our collective existence as social beings and in our ability to rise above our individual physical selves and to see ourselves as part of a larger project, to project onto the world, and onto human life, a meaning or purpose that exists only because we as human beings create it.

Turning to the question of composers’ personal beliefs and how it may or may not affect the music they compose, it is certainly true that what composers do and indeed that which they create is not necessarily what they believe. Composers have to make a living and keep their ‘head above water’ and even with the wealth of material and knowledge available to musicologists at the present time the option to know the true thoughts and beliefs of composers from the early centuries in matters of faith cannot be readily available. Much of the information pertaining to these artists’ real personal beliefs have to remain shrouded in the realm of speculation. The most accurate piece of information would most likely be their confidential diaries and not letters that could contain bias towards certain ideas for reasons of personal circumstance. This applies much more to composers from the centuries past and less so to artists closer to the present day who could be vocal about their beliefs and, with the advent of new technologies, in the cases of living composers, still are.

The more interesting strand to emerge from this line of enquiry however is how a composer’s personal belief or faith feeds into the compositional process and the musical product thereafter, if at all. One could be argued that the key question to be asked is whether or not an artist whose convictions are so deeply rooted within themselves could possibly have produced the same music without their beliefs that they hold so dearly. Kevin Malone is an academic lecturer and composer at the University of Manchester. He refers to himself as a ‘realist’ and refutes the more common label of ‘atheism’ because of its tendency to ‘suggest there is theism in the first place’ which is an interesting idea in and of itself. In 2016 his new work Mysterious 44 was given its world premiere at the University, an opera that used the well-known Mark Twain story as its basis. In the story three young boys learn to read and thus begin to think for themselves, which angers a village priest and leads to consequences. The opera has a cast of fifteen live singers They interact with two invisible characters, video animation and a surround-sound electronic score. The ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science’ funded the production of the opera twice and a voice recording of Richard Dawkins himself begins the opera with a reading from the Mark Twain text.

It is clear from this that religious texts and philosophical ideas nevertheless provide strong catalysts and even entire frameworks for composers who are not believers themselves. The twentieth century in particular has seen a wide range of composers from varying stylistic inclinations choose to write music which references the rich teachings and legacy of doctrinal liturgy, whether it is performed in actual services or not is irrelevant. As well as this composers have used a large amount of symbolism from faith as material, as did Kevin Malone in his opera where he comments that ‘just as religious composers may use tri-partite structures to symbolize what they see as a trinity of spirits, I too use some numerical devices.’ He also suggests that the use of structures relating to numbers are ‘composer’s conceits’ and nothing more:

Mysterious 44 is an entertainment. Good entertainment should also be educational and not just ear and eye titillation. By writing Mysterious 44 I strive to promote clear and individual thinking, self-determination and hopefully an expanded use of the musical arts to not beguile listeners into perpetuating group thinking but to stimulate the natural curiosity for truth of which each of us is capable.

The example below (Ex. 1) from earlier in the canon (Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra) shows a use of all the 12 pitches to represent science, which was written in response to Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) ideas which would contend the ideas of Stockhausen in particular and suggest instead that our physical reality is all that exists and all that we are able to know. It becomes more difficult to associate musical composition and performance with a reach to the beyond as Stockhausen would with this model in mind. Again, here we can see that this manipulation of pitches in order to make a personal statement about the progress of science is a composer’s conceit and the effect is only achieved successfully because the music in itself is so sublime.

Ex.1 … 22532270_10155226487244195_1026719851_o

One of the most influential composers and atheists of the twentieth century, chose to use part of the liturgical doctrine in a composition which brought about an entirely new style of composition in the middle of the 1960s.

György Sándor Ligeti was born on 28th May 1923 in a small town of only five thousand inhabitants which is now Transylvania. Despite not having any particular religious upbringing as a child, the young Ligeti had an interesting fantasy life and a strong grasp of the world around him simultaneously. He invented his own utopian society called Kylwiria in which there would be no suffering or death, and even created a whole new language for such a place also. These sorts of fantasies of course are very common amongst young children but Ligeti was an exception in that they persisted into his teens and the ideas which had formed in his mind from this cemented themselves into kernels of artistic vision which would go on to inspire even some of the last pieces he composed in his last years. Interestingly one of Ligeti’s first attempts at composition at the age of sixteen was a large symphony in A minor based on elements from Also Sprach Zarathustra which he worked on over two summers in a cemetery near to his home. As previously noted Ligeti was not a practicing Jew and became Jewish ‘only through persecution’ at the hands of the Nazi regime in World War II. His family suffered horrendously as the hands of the same forces, with his father and brother both being murdered in the concentration camps. For many years he believed his mother had died too in Auschwitz, but her medical training saved her as she was skilled as a doctor in the camp. Throughout much of this time Ligeti ‘stayed alive by coincidence.’ He fled Hungary in 1956 and began a new life in the West, earning his place as one of the key figures of the new musical establishment alongside those such as Boulez and Stockhausen.

In a radio interview broadcast on July 2006 with John Tusa (the managing director of the Barbican Centre at the time), Ligeti discussed in great detail various aspects of both his socio-political and religious beliefs. Ligeti was described as being ‘the great atheist composer’ by Tusa and this poses further questions on Ligeti’s personal relationship or lack thereof with the mysterious and miraculous, which Stockhausen refers to. It seems to suggest that in conversation with his colleagues both publicly and privately, he may have been very open about his lack of any true religious conviction of one kind or another. Thomas May (a contributing writer to the San Francisco symphony’s program book) explains that ‘Ligeti had developed an immunity to all ideologies’, and a strong case can be made that his lack of adherence to any of the major monotheistic religions is not surprising, having suffered both directly and indirectly at the hands of two severe dictatorships from the beginning of the twentieth century. Ligeti’s father was certainly considered to be ‘an atheist and socialist’and whether these characteristics would have been passed on without the tragedies in his life is of course unknowable but does branch outward into an interesting line of enquiry. Ligeti taught his students to be non-believers but at the same time he was fully aware that a certain naivety was necessary as a creative artist and particularly as a composer. This idea was most likely one of the key components of the elevation of Messiaen in Ligeti’s admiration, whose faith permeated into all areas of his life and not just the art of his music.

One of the pinnacles of the composer’s achievements which gained him international status in the avant-garde circles was his Requiem, a prime example of the textural style of his early output begun in the spring of 1963 and completed in January 1965. It is also a fine example of how religious themes and ideas can be used and translated into a secular non-doctrinal context as compositional material. Interestingly Ligeti chose to set the Lux Aeterna as a separate piece slightly later in 1966. Only a year after the completion of the Requiem, the text and the sound world was still clearly fresh in his mind. The requiem as a form of composition has had a long and rich history in the canon of Western classical music. James Macmillan emphasises that as time has passed and the relationship between sacred music and its intended specific use in liturgical services has changed, ‘the liturgical forms have found their place in the concert halls of today’ and the Requiem is certainly no exception to this observation. The Ligeti requiem is intended to be a concert work and as he explains:

My Requiem is not liturgical. I am not Catholic, I am of Jewish origin, but I do not follow any religion. I took the text of the requiem for its image of the anguish, the fear of the end of the world.’

Paul Griffiths refers to this piece as ‘the most overwhelmingly impressive product of Ligeti’s cluster style’ and the effect on the listener is certainly warranted a similar description. As the composer himself said, his work is principally inspired by and revolves around the day of judgements and a primeval fear of the end of the world. It is essential a funeral mass for the whole of humanity, a personal statement about death which does not rely on its creator being a practicing believer of Catholicism or indeed any belief system to be able to relate to it.

The instrumentation of the orchestra at the start of the work reflects Ligeti’s natural instinct for extremes in the exploration of texture and timbre. It is scored for trombones, bass trombone, horns, contrabassoon bass tuba, contrabass clarinet, double bassoon, bass clarinet and double basses. For much of the piece Ligeti splits the chorus into four-part groupings of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. Using this twenty-part texture to weave dense patterns of what Ligeti liked to call ‘micro-polyphony’. The clustered, harsh brass tones combined with the urgency of the vocal line both within solos and in unison throughout the piece provide the perfect response to the liturgical text. It has an overriding sense of desperation and helplessness which is inherent in the Dies Irae text. This piece is most certainly one of the finest examples of a religious work by a non-believer to have entered the repertoire so far.

Attitudes towards music and religious belief/philosophy have certainly changed dramatically over time as has been shown. A deep sense of religious conviction merely serves as a vehicle by which he/she is able to express him/herself. Performers and indeed listeners may benefit in some way from knowing the inspiration and/ compositional processes behind the music. However a composer in the most general sense is a creator who concerns him or herself with the sound as the building block materials of their art. The priority of any composer first and foremost therefore should be the creation of sound. Just as Ligeti was adamant that ‘the experience of terror does not lead to the creation of art’, nor necessarily does a personal experience of the divine for that matter.

Extra-musical inspiration is essential in the composition of music, whilst the relevance and transparency of the personal motivation of the composer within a piece itself is limiting and questionable at best. Although impossible to prove of course, it could be argued that Ligeti (because of the strong commitments to his new and particular musical language at the time in the 1960’s) would have written a similar Requiem if he had been a Catholic for instance. Similarly, a case could be made that Stockhausen’s experiments for most of his life in the electronic studio in Cologne would have been undertaken without his inclinations towards the mystic and otherworldly domains. Experimentation with sounds is the key factor here which draws composers to creating their work. Music as an art form is not a language although it can be treated as one in a variety of ways. Its syntax is that of a young child who can speak few words but is able to express an indeterminate amount more depending on the perceptiveness of the listener. Personal faith and music therefore are inextricably linked to varying degrees in the minds of composer, performer and listener.

© 2016 – essay – Joseph Alen Shaw
(All rights reserved)

Bibliography

Books:
Duchesneau, Louise, György Ligeti: Of Foreign Lands and Strange Sounds
Griffiths, Paul, György Ligeti. London: Robson Books, 1983
Harvey, Jonathan, Music and Inspiration, London: Faber and Faber, 1999
Stienitz, Richard, György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination, London: Faber and Faber, 2003
Toop, Richard, György Ligeti, London: Phaidon, 1999

Websites:
Macmillan, James, Conversations with Composers,  (accessed on 02/04/2016)
Mallick, Kenan, what is sacred about sacred music?, (accessed on 02/04/2016)
May, Thomas, Ligeti: Lux aeterna (accessed on 02/04/2016)
Sabbe, Hermanna, Conversation with Ligeti (1978), (accessed on 02/04/2016)
Tusa, John, Interview with Ligeti

Scores:
Ligeti, György. Requiem, for SMez soli, 2 choruses and orchestra. Folio score, London: Peters, 1965

Recordings:
Ligeti, György. Works, for orchestra. Selection. Compact disc , The Ligeti project IV, Hamburg: Teldec, 2003, 8573 88263-2

~~~~~~~

Joseph Shaw – composer, bass guitarist and arranger:

Joseph Shaw is a composer, performer and arranger based in Sheffield. He has had music performed and/or recorded in the UK and across Europe by ensembles including the Aber:ri Duo, Absolution Saxophone Quartet, Angeli Che Cantano, BBC Singers, Deventer Wind Quintet, Fox Valley Voices, Inyerface Arts, Jabeliah Saxophone Quartet, Manchester Camerata, Psappha, Meraki Duo, RNCM Brand New Orchestra, RNCM Contemporary Music Society, the RNCM New Music Ensemble, Sheffield Music Academy Chamber Orchestra

Joe Shaw Bio Pic
Joseph Alen Shaw

As a bass guitarist, he has been active on the music scene in Sheffield for over a decade and continues to perform with several bands as well as freelancing regularly for school productions and recording sessions.

Joseph holds a Bachelor with Honours degree from the Royal Northern College of Music, where he studied under the tutelage of Dr Larry Goves.

Building Freedom

Liberty stands still with welcoming arms open
a vision of freedom that’s endured worldwide
she’s taken Irish famine victims, Germans,
Dutch, and Jews escaping Hitler’s camps
and brave prospectors seeking Klondike gold.

All have made it to the melting pot, stirred
added with the spice of First People, those
who lived in forest, prairie and mountain
before Italian Columbus sailed from Cadiz,

or the slaves were freed to add Africa’s dance
to the music that calls “freedom” and America
the call and greatness of welcoming U.S.A.
that’s echoed to the poor since it became power.

In the last year She weeps upon her island
watching the world’s poor die upon sea and land.
No longer ships and planes pass her open arms
filled with those seeking a better life, fleeing
war, famine, the hatred of the despot for

even in this land of freedom a goose step
demands that only those who march to
a tune we thought defeated are welcome
men embolden by the promise of support;

but has Gaia responded with a warning,
hurling winds across the Caribbean
to devastate not only the islands but
the retreats of the wealthy, who thought
themselves immune in their castles

not even the President’s Mar-a-Largo is safe
from her wrath. Is she asking “why”?
Should we not reply with friendship,
welcome the poor, refugee and worker
whatever their race or religion to the mix?

For they are the people who will build
nations, care for us as doctors, and nurses
carve the future as scientists, engineers.
They have talents that we, every nation needs.

© 2017, Carolyn O’Connell

Hearing Voices Underground

I am Chris Hoke. I am a Gang Pastor, Jail Chaplain and Writer. This is a story I just wrote for our brother organization, Underground Writing, directed by my friend and colleague Matt Malyon. I am honored to be a monthly teaching-writer with Underground Writing in juvenile detention.

Hearing Voices Underground
We read a poem by Li Young-Lee, Little Father, and in response a fifteen-year-old boy in Juvenile Detention wrote about the time his dad ran over him with a car.


One time when I was like 6 or 7
I got on my bike and finally rode it successfully
and I was riding it around my yard,
but I don’t think my dad liked that too much
because he decided to run me over
because he was drunk

my uncle was in the passenger side
finishing his beer
when my dad was steering towards me
and before I knew it
I was under the front of the car

It took him a second to realize
what happened but he said that
he told me to get out of the way
at least my bike was OK

This was last summer. It stuck with me.

Last month this same teenager walked into our Underground Writing group in the classroom. (Over time, you see youth return, again and again, to this place.) I put him on the spot by saying I still remembered something he wrote a year before.

“Yeah?” Yeah, I told him. Did he remember what it was? He did; he summarized the memory.

I asked him—for the audience of five other teenagers sitting around the two round tables in their bright orange sweats, listening—why he thought I remembered it. He shook his head, eyebrows up, honestly not sure why that lousy memory would stick with the writing teacher. “Cuz it’s f–, uh, messed up?”

Yeah, I said. But more basic than that: he wrote it down, I said, plain, simple, no flowery words. The event spoke for itself. I hoped this would dispel other students’ fears of writing being about getting fancy with our words.

“And because you dared to read it out loud. You shared it with us. Otherwise I wouldn’t have heard that story, or your powerful voice.”

His face was blank. So what.

These youth are used to their voices not being heard, or wanted. They are accustomed to not being seen.

We were not discussing metaphor that day.  But I am now.

Unless we the adults behind the wheel of our communities hear these stories, hear the voices of young lives being caught under the gears of our courts and legal systems, we won’t know we need to hit the breaks.  Or sober up.

In the last year, four of the boys—all between fourteen to sixteen years old—in our Juvenile Detention workshops have been charged as adults in the courtroom across the street. They each face over a decade in adult prison. None of them are white.

I can imagine where they are headed. Because, as an adult prison and gang chaplain, I’ve also been writing letters to a twenty-one-year-old in a solitary confinement cell across Washington State.

He was already one of the highest-violent inmates in the system when I met him. He’d stabbed multiple guards in the face, neck, when they entered his cell. The homies called him Lil’ Saint. Saint was sentenced, age fifteen, as an adult.

But in our letters, I was curious about him. He told me horror stories. Being whipped as a child, locked in the bathroom for days. Through writing, he made the connection between his childhood treatment and current “animal” rage, lashing out, at being caged.

He used his pen, his voice. He was heard, and he had compassion on himself. He’s now reading Steinbeck, ancient Roman histories, and has earned his way off of high security levels.

He never wrote a poem. But his writing I’m most proud of was the letter he wrote our county prosecutor, at our gentle request. He told his story on behalf of a kid in Juvenile Detention he’s never met. He raised his voice so that the man behind the legal wheel in our county might, hopefully, hit the breaks—and see a child about to be crushed underground.

. . . and before I knew it
I was under the front of the car

It took him a second to realize
what happened but he said that
he told me to get out of the way
at least my bike was OK

The prosecutor still has not lowered the charges. I’m not even sure if he read Saint’s prison-envelope letter.  It’s likely he’ll never hear Saint’s voice.

Do we?

May we have ears to hear–the word from above and from below.

Chris Hoke is the CoDirector of Underground Ministries and the author of  WANTED: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders.