Posted in Poems/Poetry

The Sun-god at Mount Horeb

sitting still on Mount Horeb
amidst the stark clouds,
sweeping towards the swept
open space between trees
and pawing at white and dark fleshy flesh.

your pale, smirky lemon face
like the grapefruit in Ago-Iwoye Market
scribbles dirt patches on my face
and made my throat to swill water
enough to fill up a tank-container.

Oh sun-god!
I plead,
do not douse us all
from this buzzy day
only ‘dap’ softly softly
into the balmy, cosy night.

© 2018, Martins Tomisin, All rights reserved

Note: Martins is one of several young writers featured in the next issue of The BeZine to be published on March 15th.

My name is Martins Tomisin Olusola. I’m currently studying at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State where I have earned awards and recognition. Some of my poems have been published in numerous literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. I love painting colourful rainbows-of-thoughts on paper. I vehemently believe that, “life without poetry is like a soup without condiments; without it, life will be flavourless, distasteful and unrhythmic.”

Letter to God — Mbizo Chirasha

Somewhere beside Zvagona hills, near Zvamapere ‘kopje of hyenas’, adjacent to the foothills of Dayataya mountain lies bones and spirits of my great grandfathers and their descendants. I loved this land. Every rain season, Zvagona hills were village brides fitted in green dresses and floral doek’s over their heads. Their lush skin shimmered blue from a distance in the hazy of December sun. Usually, autumn arrived with god’s gifts of multi- colored costumes of blooming flowers, their petals nodding erotically to the hesitant sun, the sun winked back secretly to the smiling flowers. Bees and cicadas haunting them like delinquent boys to village damsel’s. This time, the earth becomes a beautiful princess scented with natural perfume and clad in floral gowns of pink, yellow, white, peach and ox blood red.

June is a vicious dog, it brought howling winds and winter’s canines grazed deep into our lives. The earth is undressed into utter nudity. Elephant grass saluted to the passing wind like grandfathers surrendering life. Our hills spotted jailbird’s bald shave as they nodded to the winter’s sirens: whirlwind and dust ripples. Forests stood shell shocked in their torn overalls. Flowers are tightlipped, their cousins rot into extinction waiting for rain when the earth is born again. The cold bruised sun is a patch on the undergarments of grey horizons. This time, the moon is a hesitant bride. It is winter and nights are ink black and unfriendly. Hyenas wail in pain of winter’s bite, regular face- booking of monkeys is on hold. Cicadas are silent like birds. Sometimes hills wept to each other under the veil of mist and the shivering moon lulled our somber souls into sleep until the next morning. When morning comes, the baldheaded hills are ready for a fight, standing proud in anticipation of sunshine or rain, alas the biting winds persisted and the hills are resilient too and similar to the undying spirits of peasants eking out life from tracks of hard red earth on the fringes of Zvagona hills. At night hills were draped in robes of white mist and towards dawn, they fit onto skirts of grey and top gear of blue. We were told ancestors walked alongside the mist at nights and in mornings they would go into deep sleep. The mystery of Zvagona hills, hills of home. During that season, we stacked loads of firewood for warmth, cooking meals and brewing traditional beer. We lived off the forests.

When Gods are angry, the earth is clad in rags like an imbecile. It wears a black torn monkey hat over itself like a pick pocketter. The air is taunt with foul smell of decaying lives. Baboon’s sermons are placed in God’s wardrobe. Our creased faces told sorry tales of poverty and hunger gnawing the pits of our bellies.

When the red glow of heat persisted like in hell. Silence and barrenness are weaved together onto red earth. While rivers become white washed skeletons of dry sand. Elders spoke in tongues to the wind, we lost their words in the pleats of their elderly language. After some days they traverse to the end of the earth to supplicate Zame, the spirit of rain. Njelele, Zame’s disciple would direct them to Nyami Nyami, the goddess of water. They are told to wash their feet and dance to Gods. They were punished for replacing forests with concrete jungles. Birds and spirits of the land were now vagabonds. They are told the earth is simmering in abomination and Gods are angry and choked with carbon laced fumes. They are warned of the coming of devil’s triplets: hunger, heat waves and cyclones. They paid their ornaments, applauded the gods and returned to their hovels underneath the fringes of Zvagona hills.

Later, when heavens get overexcited. Gods washed our sins with tears of their joy, rains washed and blessed our land. The earth is born again and is dressed to kill in its usual green gowns and floral doek’s. We danced to the clap of thunder and camera flashes of lightening winked at us. Our poverty marinated, yellow maize teeth grinned to sudden glows of lightening. Sometimes lightening jolts sank our tender hearts into our rib -boxes. Zvagona hills also gyrated under the grip of thunder. We danced still for the blessing of rain and rebirth. Our planting fields were patches of alluvial earth between the hems of the hills and the banks of Mamvuramachena “river of white waters”. Sooner pumpkins bred like rabbits, veldts wore a silver cap of water and new dark green military combat of sprouting elephant grass. Smells of fresh dung and the scent of fresh udder milk were our morning brew. The new grass fattened our cows, their oily skins shimmered under God’s obedient sun.

Our mothers traversed from hill to hill harvesting mushroom, nhedzi, zvihombiro, nzeveyambuya nezhouchuru ‘names of different kind of mushrooms’. Wild mushroom is an African delicacy, a delicacy that raised us from mucus drooling kindergartens into goat bearded grown-ups. Wild fruits of maroro, nhengeni and nhunguru were showered to us by the excited Gods. Bushes became our second homes. We dried fruits and mushroom for the future with the aid of our loving grandmothers. We salivated to the rich fart of roasting meat and baking bread emitted from kitchen huts. Grass beautifies the earth as food beautifies lives. We enjoyed to see our goats getting fat. Bush honey was abundant. We fought successful battles with ferocious red bees for the mouthwatering delicacy, dendende sweet red honey. We accompanied the red honey hunt with a song

Sunga musoro wedendende
Sunga wakanaka dendedende
Sunga musoro wededende,  
Sunga wakanaka dendende
Sunga wakanaka dendende
Sunga wakanaka dendende

 The rhythm had returned.

 When cockerels announced the new days, eastern hills were beautifully capped with the glow of orange hats from the sparkling sunrays. Baboons cuddled each other in the wake of dawn romance. Rock rabbits jived to the acoustics of cicada tunes and to the discord of village sounds. Mother monkeys rebuked their babies from over eating. Down the stream, fish and toads bathed in smoking falls of fresh water. They are home again. Shezu ‘honey bird’ spoiled the festival by singing a warning hymn, maybe for another drought to come or death of a reputable person. Nights are stitched with thread of hyena’s laughter’s and the syntactic hymns of owls.

Our elders sang in contented choruses, nhaka inhara meaning ‘the year is blessed with rains’.

We sang to the silver white moon that was fresh from God’s mouth as it sat on its throne, over the fontanels of Zvagona hills, Mwedzi wagara ndira uyo tigo tigo ndira –and later with time the moon was ripe to go we bade her farewell mwedzi waora ndira tigo tigo ndira.

Now many years had passed since I left for the city, two decades away from years of dance and abundance. The land is now a wretched vagabond. I am sitting underneath the ragged skirts of mystery hills, pondering if my great ancestor’s bones and spirits are still lying here. I see the luxury of rotating seasons is long lost in the abrupt silence of this land. The tenor of birdsongs and baritones of baboons on the mountain zenith is no more. Birds and baboons are long gone, maybe to blessed climes. The joyous scream of hyenas and jackals at dawns was cut short. The joy of reeds dancing to the soprano of mighty streams was remote silenced. A deadly silence.

The sun’s heat is menacing as if tongs of red hot charcoal are floating in the air. The heavens are rude and clear blue. Waves of heat turned the earth into a baking oven. Fields are chunks of dried and burnt bread. Trees are strips of roasted biltong. Cyclones passed through and carried away my ancestor’s bones to faraway seas. Skeletal dunes of sand replaced our mighty Mamvuramachena ‘river of white waters’

Hills are bald headed and wearing a herpes zoster belt around their bellies. They are sweating under the grip of heat caused eczema. I suppose we are cursed. Nyami nyami once warned of hunger, cyclones and heat waves, the menacing triplets.

 Behold my earth is naked.

Dear beloved God are we cursed?

JJ Stick
©2021 All Rights Reserved

©2021 Mbizo Chirasha
All rights reserved

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Walking home from church.

Like seeing the sun rise
over the week ahead,
mind full of penitence,
a righteous child, wrapped
in reverential warmth and
a sense of duty fulfilled.

That place of comfort,
as short lived as chocolate,
such pleasure lies in this;
some selfless, priceless
kind of self-indulgence
in your own kind of God.

Who can resist that path
to an easier peace where,
one day a week, the ad-man
cannot get to you; where
you miss nothing; where
those urges play no part.

Where has Sunday gone?

© 2018 John Anstie

gods of our making

“And Caesar’s spirit, raging for revenge,
With Atë by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1

we have need of gods
an ancient irony
like blood that needs heat
to sweat out the mysteries
to rage in revenge
to reconcile sacrifice
to repel condemnation
to simmer our gratitude
for the many wonders
as misunderstood
as all the horrors

relieve us we pray
in our righteous moments
from the sins of others
their guns, their bombs
their swords of hate
lives and livelihoods cut short
in genocides renamed –
semantics play large
in wars of loathing and
vile justifications

relieve us we pray
from children killing children
from executions in the street
from brothers killing brothers
from sisters unleashed
like the dogs of war
like a belly full of cancer
like an aorta bursting

our gods cry ‘Havoc!’
in traps set by rulers
by teachers at schools
and in places of worship
by parents at dinner table

our legs immobilized
like wolves ensnared, we chew off our feet
attempts at freedom cripple and break us

and everywhere
mouthing lies
groaning in denial
bowing to gutter rats
scraping to vultures
the false gods of our making

© 2012, poem, Jamie Dedes; Photo credit ~ Ares, the Greek God of War and Bloodlust (couldn’t find Atë) via Wikipedia by Ares Canope Villa Adriana under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.  

Wrestling with God – two poems

Wrestling, names, and shipwrecks). Jacob / Yaakov wrestled all night with a messenger (of God, or angel) while crossing the Jabbok / Yabok river. In Hebrew and English, the two names are variations of each other, transposing consonants. The messenger gives him a new name, Israel / Yisrael as the sun rises (Genesis 32:22-31). I’m not sure that I can fully explain what that means. That’s why I have poetry. Here are two poems I have written about Jacob at the crossing of the Jabbok ford.

Michael Dickel

Jacob Wrestling

They’ve all gone ahead, those I loved,
those I cared for but did not love—
arrayed and ranked, walking toward doom

or reunion. This bank, this river I have crossed before—
this creek, this life, this wreck on this shore—
all too familiar, all too fresh, all too unknown, all too new.

Now a shadow over the moon, or
perhaps my own doubt
forms as I ford the stream.

Now I wrestle with myself,
with this messenger,
this something of nothingness.

Now the moon fades—
darkness less dark—
what is my name?

Now I limp away
from this tangled life
of deception and counter-deception—

to losses, deaths, uncertainty,
a favorite son sold to the gypsies—
Who will redeem us?

Soon my brother and I will embrace
but keep our defended distance.
Soon nothing will be the same.

Now, I wrestle with God.

Originally published in Voices Israel 2009: Poetry from Israel and Abroad.

Jacob wrestling with the angel

I didn’t notice you come up. It’s so dark.
Look at the river, though, a darker strain beneath
this evening’s melody, flowing against the harmony.
Perhaps you won’t believe me, but God has spoken to me.
He sent me here, on the journey, to this river. I must cross.
But I don’t want to. On the other side, reckoning. Maybe death.

Odd, how we will tell strangers things we wouldn’t tell
our closest friends. Not that I have had that many friends.
As you stare at me, I feel that you understand, though.
See over there, across the river? That direction is the direction
I must travel. I’ve already sent the others ahead. Made offerings,
sent gifts. A man grows lonely in a foreign land. That direction,
that direction I must travel, that direction is home.

How far are you from home? Your silence doesn’t surprise me.
I’ve kept to myself, too, not told the whole story.
I had to keep silent when I wore goat skin to fool the old man.
He took me for another, gave my brother’s blessing.
I don’t suppose you know what that feels like, to betray a brother?

Why do you remain silent? Well, you also remain here, listening.
I will continue. My brother liked to play rough when we were young.
As we grew up, he would hunt, ride, spend his time out of doors.
I studied, read. I was pale, he ruddy. I wasn’t really a sissy,
well, now you can see, I have grown strong, worked hard,

made something of myself. Back then, I guess you wouldn’t know
that I would do so well. That must be why I went along with my mother,
when she suggested the plan to cheat my brother. Well, I can’t blame
her, can I? I mean, she might have told me what to do,
but I did it. Besides, I was the one who made the stew, red with spices.
Anyway, after our father gave me the inheritance
instead of my brother, well then I figured there would be hell to pay.

So I left.

What’s that you say? Yes, it is growing light. You must go?
Work to do, you say? Oh. Well, now that you’ve heard my story,
even if you are a stranger, won’t you give me your blessing?
Are you sure you won’t tell me your name? What’s that? Oh,
I’m Jacob, the Usurper. What’s that you say?
You have another name for me?

All work ©Michael Dickel
Fragmentarily/ Meta-Phor(e) /Play (Michael’s blog).

If I Were God

If I were God—

I’d rewind that Wednesday
morning when Tim McVeigh
and John Doe loaded
a yellow Ryder truck
and blew 168 innocent
human beings to Kingdom Come.

Confetti of flies and flesh
floating mid sunken
concrete slabs
and jagged rebar
would swirl and swoosh
back to where it came—

Files marked A–Z
would fly back
to cabinets—melting
flesh would fuse back
to muscle and marrow
and last breaths would suck
back into living lungs

And the long-faced firefighter
would hand baby Baylee
wearing tiny yellow booties
back to the policeman
and he’d tuck her back
in the mess of rubble

And all the sticks and stones
would merge back
to American Kid’s Daycare
like they did before
Baylee and Colton and Chase
blew bye-bye kisses
to their mommies

If I were God
I’d rewind that day
all the way back to Tuesday
when Baylee blew out
one pink candle on a cake
and licked frosting from her finger

© Sharon Frye

View guest contributor Sharon Frye’s bio HERE

The Closer God

IMG_6245But it so happened today that, when I took my children to school today, my elder one’s teacher mentioned something about the kids’ religion class on Friday (yes, religion is one of the objects learnt in school in this country – optional, but still there. No comment – at least not in this text of mine) and on my way home I couldn’t help thinking about that topic – religion – of which I wrote in a past post, and the next step was God (as I said once, I am not an atheist, it’s just that my belief in and my relationship with God are of a different nature than the standard ones) and the fact that more and more people, despite talking about God and saying that they believe in Him, have the habit of putting a huge distance between themselves and the higher being we’re talking about. And I was wondering WHY they do that, when it hit me: I had just thought about it. The problem here is the “higher” thing.

You see, it’s common use to say that God is in “the sky”. Up above. In heaven. Even better, in the seventh heaven. Or ninth. Or whatever number you want. But I can’t recall the last time when someone said that to him God was right here, on Earth. And it’s because of this growing distance that we don’t feel the touch of His grace. It’s because of this image of “an old guy, with white beard and long white hair, with a staff in His hand, floating intangibly on a distant cloud”. So stupid…not God, but we. We are the stupid ones. For we send God in farther and farther heavens and then we don’t see Him anymore around us and complain that we don’t feel His touch. To many of us He is just a name. A noun. A vocable. An icon or a statue in a church, and nothing more. But we forget that He is the essence of all life, of all energy, and that means that He is EVERYWHERE around us, in us. And since nothing happens without a reason, I then remembered a fragment from the scroll of Nag Hammadi, better known to people as the Gospel of Thomas, which I had the curiosity to read just several days ago. In the 77th saying, Jesus affirms that “I am the light that shines over all things. I am everything. From me all came forth, and to me all return. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there”, stating thus the unity between God and us all, stating thus the profound connection which we fail to see or feel anymore, or which we even reject by thinking of God to be so far away, above us, while we see ourselves in this telluric dimension of life. THIS is where the breach happens. In our minds. In our hearts. In our misunderstanding of the fact that this “higher” being is actually so close to us that we are a part of it.

I will end this with a lovely parable that I happened to read once, but that remained in my mind. Once, in a monastery, there lived only five more monks. People didn’t go there anymore, and the abbot was sad, because he felt that he had failed his mission. At some point he has the occasion to talk to a rabbi and he asks this one for a word of wisdom, an advice of how to revive his order. And the rabbi says that “The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you” and then he left. The abbot, hearing that, wondered who of the five monks could have been the Messiah, and he was suddenly afraid that maybe he mistreated the Holy One. So he told the other monks what he had been told by the rabbi, and they all began to think about that. Each of them wondered who could be the Messiah, and so they started to treat each other with more and more respect, on the off chance that one of them might be the One. It was only a matter of days before the atmosphere in the monastery changed, turning into a wonderful environment. When other people happened to come to the monastery, they saw the love and respect that radiated from the relationship between the five monks, and then they were touched by that too, and wanted to be a part of the order. Thus the order was revived, simply because people there tried to see the Messiah/God in each of those around them.

There’s so much more to say about this topic, but I’ll only tell you that we should do that too. We should see God in each of us, and even more, in each of the beings and things surrounding us. And then the far-away heaven would be much closer than we could imagine :).

– Liliana Negoi

2015, essay, Liliana Negoi, All rights reserved; photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Posted in Jamie Dedes, Poems/Poetry

The Gods of Our Making

Ares_Ludovisi_Altemps_Inv8602_n2“And Caesar’s spirit, raging for revenge,
With Atë by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1

we have need of gods
an ancient irony
like blood that needs heat
to sweat out the mysteries
to rage in revenge
to reconcile sacrifice
to repel condemnation
to simmer our gratitude
for the many wonders
as misunderstood
as all the horrors

relieve us we pray
in our righteous moments
from the sins of others
their guns, their bombs
their swords of hate
lives and livelihoods cut short
in genocides renamed –
semantics play large
in wars of loathing
and vile justifications

relieve us we pray
from children killing children
from executions in the street
from brothers killing brothers
from sisters unleashed
like the dogs of war
like a belly full of cancer
like an aorta swelling

our gods cry ‘havoc’
in traps set by rulers
by teachers at schools
and in places of worship
by parents at dinner table
our legs immobilized
like wolves ensnared
we chew at our feet
attempts at freedom
cripple and break us
and everywhere
mouthing lies
groaning in denial
bowing to gutter rats
scraping to vultures
the false gods of our making

– Jamie Dedes

© 2012, poem and portrait (below), Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Photo credit ~ the “Ludovisi Ares”,  Ares- the Greek God of War and Bloodlust via Wikipedia by Marie-Lan Nguyen and generously released into the public domain.

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer. For the past five years I’ve blogged at The Poet by Day,the journey in poem, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight.  Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space.

Posted in Jamie Dedes, Poems/Poetry


We cannot rest on the notion of the “innocent civilian.” Morally, when it comes to a free and powerful nation like ours, I believe there are no innocent civilians. If I pay taxes, I am a combatant.” Rick Steves, historian, author, TV Personality in Travel As a Political Act

On Memorial Day: in the hope that the human race will work to find solutions other than war, which is not a solution at all.



Jamie Dedes

Why do I write this in ink so black

it melts the pages of my journey?


It is a peaceful night here.

The stars are tossed across a

clear, dark velvet sky like the

garden fairies dancing at dusk.


The moonlight reaches down

to embrace me in its silver light,

its touch delicate as a whisper.


What of you, dear brother?

And what of you, dear sister?

Are they free by you …

the moon and the stars?


Is the night sky at peace?

My ink burns to bone and

melts the pages of my journey

for you …

– who were born of violence

– who were born into violence.


Your pain and your losses are

not mandated by any god.

The murders, the maiming, the

hunger, homelessness, loneliness …

the disenfranchisement: man made.


Why do I write this in ink so black

it melts the pages of my journey?

Because I fear, because I know

my fragile, cherished kin, I KNOW –


Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

– for what we have done

– what we have not done

– we are culpable.




Photo credit~ Peter Griffin, Public Domain 

Courage Within | Jambiya Kai

Colours of Courage

The beast rises in power                                                                                                                                                                and my tears fall for the fatherless.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               For the girlchild whose belly swells from incest and abuse,                                                                                                                         my anger blazing at conspirators who choose silence over courage;                                                                                                                                                                                  children locked down in crowded cones on drums,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 their dreams aborted by bellicose rhetoric,                                                                                                            and pores leaking with the stench of paucity and dearth

The world calls me broken and battered                                                                                                                             it says that I am a victim of plundered identity                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           But listen carefully……                                                                                                                                                      Songs and dance shade my brow from the sweltering sun,                                                                                             the balm for searing tears.

The world may call me wrecked and ruined,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             a bloodbath of gangsterism and war,                                                                                                                              but what it does not say                                                                                                                                                        is that I am shedding the impurities of imperialism                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and systems designed to shut me down                                                                                                                                       I am the guardian of greatness born in huts                                                                                                                                                of mothers who sorrow over empty pots,

I am the gold that emerges from oppression                                                                                                             the river horse basking in the sun.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I am giraffe nibbling at the stars,                                                                                                                                            and narratives of hope drinking from the copious flow of rivers                                                                                                                    that overwhelm disease and destruction;                                                                                                                                The Imbongi’s tales on current affairs soothe grief and gross injustice,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        eager tongues and clicks carried on waves of resilience.

I am the roar of the lion and the honk of the hippo

I am the sound of triumph

I am, 

Miroslava Panayotava
Faces of the Rose

The Light Within

My doctor’s secretary stared at me from across the room,
I’d come for reassurance.
My chest felt tight.
The atmosphere filled with viral tension.
"Do you believe in aura"?
I searched her face—shy in the scrutiny of her vision.
"I believe we are clothed in our inner selves
that place where God resides
 it's that presence that permeates spaces and transforms beautiful to breath-taking
 like drops of honey on dew
oceans floating into shores
nature's four seasons".

My 20 Seconds of shy was swept up in thunderous applause.
She nodded, closed her eyes to lock in the sight only she could see, 
gleaming like a sampler of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee; 
the scent of contentment and nostalgia. 
Understanding arose like a fragrant aroma. 
Blue Mountain—a cooling relief from red-hot sun.

"When you walked through the door I felt as if I was floating through a field of sunflowers". 
Her delight sailed through the lace of my own reverie.
For a moment she reminded me of a little girl holding her puppy for the first time.
"I’m caught up in a sanctuary of sun-speckled fern—I can't explain it. I can't stop smiling".
God and I smiled too—we giggled.
I came for medicine but she met Life in a forest of gold
I imagined Blue Mountain, 
sunset sprinkled across a silent lake
A city on a hill that bears the insignia of hope.
In that moment I breathed, free of fear.
A city on a hill
Gerry Shepherd
Distant Hills

©2021 Jambiya kai
All rights reserved

Healing Spirits | Jennifer Baker-Porazinski

The Spirit and Healing (and Healing the Spirit)

As news stories flashed around the world of sickness and death from coronavirus, a growing unease settled in.  It was stealthy at first, like an unwanted visitor. But as death tolls rose, so did my dread.  The intruder at my door became agitated, ready to break down my defenses and barrel into my home, threatening harm to me and my family.  As it turned out, my fears weren’t unwarranted. 

What began in my mind as worry, morphed into physical discomfort.  In the beginning, I convinced myself I was fine – stress was expected during a pandemic, especially among healthcare workers. But as my symptoms escalated, they became harder to ignore.  My head ached from crying (or trying not to), my jaw muscles were sore from clenching my teeth, and my chest felt like a weight had settled permanently on it.  Most of the time, I hid it pretty well. But occasionally, my sudden, uncontrollable outbursts of tears exposed me.  Early in the pandemic, I overheard my insightful husband Paul tell a friend on the phone that I was “doing okay, but mourning what was coming.” As usual, Paul knew my truth long before I did. 

I drove my middle son back to college in March 2020 to bring his stuff home. He’d left most of his belongings in his dorm room, clinging to the hope that he’d be allowed to return to campus for his last semester.  Back then, we were all still optimistic. We couldn’t fathom that his four years of hard work would culminate in us clustered around our TV, watching a virtual graduation ceremony on spotty internet.  

The mood in the car was somber as a radio reporter declared that the world was “at war with a virus.” Highway signs flashed inhospitable messages: STAY HOME.  The ferry to Long Island, normally filled with carefree vacationers crowding the small bar and sunning on the deck, was eerily empty.  The few fellow travelers on the ferry with us chose to remain in their vehicles.   In my mind, this small thing symbolized the grave situation we faced.  In a society of increasing polarization, from white supremacy to police brutality, what people truly needed was to come together. The virus had succeeded in forcing a country, already fiercely divided emotionally for political, economic and social reasons, to separate physically.  When we arrived at my son’s desolate campus on that beautiful sunny day, where students should’ve been throwing frisbees and laughing together on the lawn, we felt like characters from a dystopian novel about the end of time.

How do we breach this divide, made worse by the pandemic, when isolation is now encouraged if not enforced? Before the viral threat demanded physical separation, many were already socially isolated – cocooned in “safe” communities away from different colors, religions, or beliefs cultivates – intent on maintaining otherness.  Black men especially have been othered – unjustly vilified as violent and dangerous thugs (most egregiously evident when they stand against racism). With horror, I came to realize that while I was warning my sons not to accept rides from strangers, black parents were teaching their sons to be careful about the ever-present danger of white people (including the ones sworn to protect).  To not instill this caution would be negligent, even deadly, given the alarming mortality statistics of black youths (not to mention their disproportionate representation in prisons). 

Racism influences every facet of life from housing to healthcare, a fact made shamefully apparent during the pandemic where non-whites contracted and died from coronavirus at significantly higher rates than whites. Health outcomes are even worse for the uninsured, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic. Add to this a lack of access to nutritious foods and crowded, polluted living areas without open spaces and it is easy to understand this increased mortality. The enormous economic and social disadvantages of nonwhites in America has resulted in a sick and vulnerable population. 

Lives depend on us coming together, not separating apart.  Racism won’t go away if left unchallenged, if we remain hidden in safe, all white communities. Silence is acceptance, as clearly stated in Holocaust surviver Elie Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Peace Prize speech. “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” We must always take sides. Children aren’t born with prejudice. And as they grow up, exposure to different cultures can protect them against developing it. It’s hard to hate black people if you have family members who are black. It’s hard to dislike Muslims if your best friend is one. 

Hate is taught. But love can be taught, too.

I believe change will happen when we see others as we see ourselves. I readily acknowledge this isn’t easy. In my experience with difficult patients (even those I strongly disagree with) when I truly listen to their stories I can always find some common ground. Even among the racists. Even among the misogynists. Even among pandemic-deniers spreading misinformation that has undoubtedly prolonged the pain and suffering of the pandemic. Sometimes I have to try harder to get past the rough exterior they’ve built up to hide their own anger and shame. But when I do, I always find some goodness. I’m forced to confront my own judgmental mind, and shift them out of the other category. I know I’m not unique. We all have capacity for empathy and inclusion. After all, we have so much more in common with each other than we have differences. 

In early 2020 America squandered the opportunity to make the preparations many other countries had after the pandemic was declared. Instead of a uniform plan, individual states made up their own rules, many ignoring pleas from scientists urging them to act swiftly to contain the virus.  As a result, where people lived became a crucial factor in their risk of dying – just as the color of their skin did. Mixed messages from social media and the government bred distrust and fear, further polarizing an already deeply divided country. The virus thrived in this media.

Americans wanted to believe we had a magic shield protecting us. We quickly tired of social isolation, seemingly less tolerant to the loneliness, boredom, and inconvenience of hunkering down than other countries. As the panic of the first days of the pandemic receded, we became numb to the shocking numbers – thousands of deaths every day from coronavirus. We desperately wanted to get life back to normal.  We missed friends and family. For some, this need superseded caution.  They gathered together anyway, assisting the virus in its biologically-driven impetus to flourish. 

As the weeks turned to months, grim headlines declared hospitals over capacity with escalating daily death tolls.  Freezer trucks, parked outside, served as temporary morgues.  The media reported that doctors would likely need to ration resources.  I worried about the emotional cost to health care workers forced to make impossible decisions.  As I waited with the rest of the world in morbid anticipation, I felt guilty that I wasn’t collapsing into bed at the end of each day, as my exhausted urban colleagues were. I listened in horror to stories of traumatized medical students and residents racing between patients, performing futile CPR.  Self-doubt re-surfaced:  Am I strong enough for this level of intensity?  Could I rise to the challenge if I needed to?  Did I have what it would take?  I didn’t know the answer to these questions and was awed by young people still choosing a path in medicine.  

Our fragmented healthcare system impeded the robust response the pandemic required, with deadly consequences.  Americans with medical conditions unrelated to the virus refused to seek care not only because they feared the virus, but also because they feared exorbitant medical bills at a time of financial uncertainty.  Healthcare avoidance is most apparent in black Americans who, despite being more likely to succumb to coronavirus, are twice as likely to forgo care.  The same is true for low-wage workers, who are both at high risk for viral exposure on the job and also more than twice as likely to be uninsured.  In America, uninsured people die. It is unconscionable that, in a country that excels in caring for medical emergencies,  Americans are dying at home with treatable illnesses.  Lack of access and affordability of medical care impacts everyone’s health:  When people can’t afford testing or treatment during a pandemic, the virus spreads quicker.

Paul got sick with Covid just after Christmas, held hostage for weeks as he languished in bed, groaning in pain whenever he changed positions.  Before he got sick, I’d spent nine months worried about the intruder I was certain lurked at my door.  I tried unsuccessfully to banish from my mind the horrors depicted on the news – communities ravaged, people dying alone in overcrowded hospitals.  At the time, I was sure that many of my patients wouldn’t be able to care for moderately sick relatives at home, especially if they were also sick. Caring for Paul made it painfully evident to me how a family with minimal resources might easily succumb to this virus. It became frighteningly clear how rapid it could spread among families in apartments and crowded homes, where isolation simply wasn’t possible.  I’m heartbroken thinking about people who suffered and died alone for fear of exposing other family members. 

I know I’m lucky.  I never worried I’d be fired from my job or that my family would lose health insurance. I never felt alone, thanks to the support of friends and family who waved and blew kisses through the door as they dropped off food and necessities.  I’m forever grateful to the oxygen delivery driver who braved our rural dirt road late one bitter Friday night, likely preventing Paul from hospitalization. I’m grateful for his doctor’s availability, checking in frequently by text.  But, I’m also outraged by the systemic injustice revealed by the high rates of illness and death among racial minorities and the poor.  Paul was just one sick person and, although his illness was grueling, it didn’t end in tragedy. Paul had the advantage of privilege, of skin color.  Millions of others were not so fortunate, leaving behind countless grieving loved ones.  The loss is unimaginable.

A God Creating the World
Gary Shepherd, ©2021 All Rights Reserved

Healing from the physical and emotional scars of the pandemic won’t be easy.  As a traumatized society, we must find ways to mourn our great losses together.  When raw grief loosens its painful grip over time, we remember how precious life is.   We show our gratitude to those who helped us past our heartbreak.  As medical providers care for their communities, friends and neighbors, it is impossible (if not inhumane) to force emotional separation.  Instead, the pandemic offers a rare opportunity for ordinary people to come together and act for the good of others – not only their loved ones and neighbors but for the whole country. We are all struggling.  We need each other.

Always the optimist, I look for (and find) small miracles arising in the midst of suffering.  In my role as physician, I counsel people every day on stress management and wellness – the very foundation of good health.  With no guidance from me, much of what I’d advise is actually being lived throughout America right now:  people have slowed down, simplified, and connected with their loved ones, even if only virtually.  To escape the confines of home, Americans are venturing outdoors into nature, something our distant ancestors knew intuitively was restorative and essential for good health. They are searching for (and finding) a sense of meaning.  They are fortifying the spirit, which will go a long way in maintaining health.

Almost instantaneously, the world is also more mindful. Vigilance over the virus has made everyone pay closer attention – to what they touch, to their immediate environment and to the people around them.  Neuroscience shows that mindfulness improves our health by re-wiring our brains to be less reactive and more accepting.  I expect this mindfulness will seep out into other areas of life, too.  Mindfulness fosters an appreciation of the miraculous world we live in – a planet that holds both suffering and beauty, just like each one of us.  When we look for the good and then share it with others, it provides hope – a necessary component of healing.

Advances in medicine will undoubtedly help end the suffering.  But, in addition to developing new medications to treat critically ill patients, widespread testing availability, and a broad scale vaccination program, we must have a health care system that supports prevention and provides universal care.  Our country’s early failures don’t have to define our ultimate response to the pandemic.  As we witness friends and family filing for unemployment and losing their health insurance, we can no longer deny that our tattered safety net is in urgent need of repair.  As we see the racial disparities in infection rates among our black brothers and sisters, we must be outraged that skin color is a greater risk factor for death than poor health.   We can no longer ignore the inequality rampant in our society and, even more shamefully, in our healthcare system.

When I move beyond my fear and worry, it’s hard not to be inspired. Years from now, I hope to remember this as the moment when America woke up – that in our grief we pulled together and demanded change.  I hope we commit to remodeling our failing healthcare system – that the tragedy of the pandemic serves as the final impetus to provide universal healthcare for all Americans.  To accomplish this, we will need to raise our collective voices and be heard.  We cannot remain silent.

I also hope that America finally embraces her identity as a melting pot through equality, tolerance and compassion. It isn’t too late to revive the American dream of liberty and justice for all.  In my vision of the future, the change begins locally with people reaching out to help their neighbors, as is happening all over the world right now – as happened to my own family when my husband got sick.  These acts of kindness spread with greater tenacity and speed than the virus.  As we recognize our common humanity in our neighbors (even those that look and act differently), we will no longer be able to turn away.  

In my dream of the future, I tell my grandchildren that, despite the pain and suffering of the pandemic, this was when their world truly blossomed beyond our greatest expectations to become the kinder, more beautiful place they now live in. 

Like  most Americans, I desperately wait for the end of this tragic chapter in our history.  Inspired by selfless acts of bravery and compassion, filled with anticipation and hope, I long for a chance at a new beginning – for both our sick society and for illness from coronavirus.  Our nation’s health depends on it.

Our own lives depend on it.

©2021 Jennifer Baker-Porazinski
All rights reserved

The Way of Life | Corinne Natalia

A life began May 14, a little before seven am—the monochrome drab of COVID lockdown scribbled over my daily routine. Cycling through unread emails, my mind slouching in the humdrum. But life wormed through my screen with prospective roommate’s message as a facade. A digital picture, bloated and blurry, with only the partial edge visible, popped onto my screen. The email reminds me now of a burrito eagerly stuffed and overflowing with beef juice and sour cream. Sloppy, but few reject a good burrito. Several scrolls down led me to her elated message:

“Okay, I’ve been trying to wait, but I’m so excited! My nephew was born this morning! Guess where I’ll be a lot of weekends!”

Automatically I congratulated her. A stingy response for the climax of a couple’s patient nine-month labors in hope. They sailed through waves of anxiety, uncertainty, and anticipation only moored in hope. They sent up prayers for their firstborn, foraged for cribs, commiserated in Lamaze classes and festered in their impatience during grandparent visits. A little boy clumping through the ceiling of an ant mound is nothing compared to the rapid scramble of first-time parents eyeing the due date. Yet, still, there is no certainty. Hospitals only gave higher success rates—not guarantees. Preparation kicks such fears aside. They welcomed someone so brand-new in a cycle so old.

But he’s just my roommate’s nephew. How could I understand the significance of such a miracle?

Thus, came Birth.

Continuing into May 15, beginning around eight forty-five morning. I shifted covers over myself and onto to my mother as we waited for the funeral to begin. The laptop blared out fuzzy light and shuddered from the sunlight tiptoeing in over our neighbor’s house through our window. The sun wanted to know who left its embrace.

Her name was Thizbe, and only a handful could attend her funeral. The rest made do with a screen.

Her father read tributes to her. Her mother choked up in remembrance. Her brother compared her to a rose.

Others remembered her love of dance, some of her care for animals, and a few her pure enjoyment of food. All held a kaleidoscope of memories. Energy laced with mindfulness cascaded down her spring-coiled hair and spiraled into her toes.

Thizbe. A name like breathing in strawberry sunbeams as thistles nuzzle your cheek.

Thizbe. Storytellers evidently dress this earth to their liking because someone draped a sullen robe of foreshadowing over such a radiant name. The Greeks stained the name in grief, but the tragedy piercingly resounded in Shakespeare.

Thizbe died at twenty-two. Gratefully, none of Ovid’s forlorn and improvident lovers reached their caressing limbs over this tale. A hidden heart condition overcame her while she jogged beside her younger brother.

No one ever diagnosed her; neither she nor her family knew. She exhausted all her strength and never recovered. Even though they flew back in time on the soonest flight they could, her parents missed her passing.

If she resided in fiction rather than flesh, an AP English student interrogating the story for symbolic meaning would rip it into the surrounding details. They would slobber over the minute connections between her sunny disposition and her heart—a twist on a Story of an Hour. Metaphysical literary analysis remains too crude a lens for inspection.

No one plastered her from their mind to a page. No strings braided in a wordsmith’s imagination and no phrases knotted into eloquent thoughts strung her up in paragraphs. No daydreamer caught her from the clouds of his petty musings and condemned her in his campfire yarns.

She lived full of contradictions and anomalies and idiosyncrasies and mediocrities through the breath of God.

Authors write for millennia but never could a character come close to the richness of any person, least of all her. If any face conviction for watering her down, turning a memory into a lowly shadow, I am guilty. But in my defense or confession, pre-mortem, I only heard her once.

She sang with her family at our church for Christ’s birth. Our interaction ended in that snug, humble sanctuary with a song. I cobbled everything else together from the testimonies of her loved ones and the impression left on me. What an impression.

She was taken too soon…too soon. For what?

For the trembling voices of her parents and the shaking hands of her brother. The question probably sears like an iron. I couldn’t help wondering, though—my logic meddling with my emotions. Leaning against mom, I, safe and breathing, snuggled on our couch as her memorial service continued.

If the Creator did not deceive, then she must have lived fully in the numbered days God lent her. However, such thoughts do not tenderly embrace an aching mother’s heart or sit quietly with a father’s anguish. Instinctively, such thoughts appear like a briar of thorns growing among rocks. Heavy and sharp. Yet, in her twenty-two years with such a vital, bursting life that she generously shared, what did she lose? Everyone dies.

In the end, poetry won. They buried her in a meadow, silently watching a lake. On her tombstone, they inscribed:  

She moved through the world like she danced- freely sharing joy, laughter, light, encouragement, faith, and love. She is radiant.

So came Death.

Ending at around three am in the morning, on May 16. Mom and I again plotted back to the living room couch and snapped our computer open. Merrier moods abounded despite sleep deprivation. My best friend’s brother met a girl. Quirks and passions matched and began to intertwine like braids of a rope. A gem and a one-question interview sealed the contract of souls, and they chose to have their hybrid wedding in the spring.

Synthesizers transcribed the sounds digitally and repeated them back to mom and me. Pairs, dusting the sanctuary of emptiness, waltzed down the aisle two-by-two into pews—not nearly so divinely inspired nor impressively crafted as an ark, but suitable for their purpose. At attention on either side, bride’s maids swathed in purple, and groomsmen resembling an uptown boy band fizzled out from consciousness as the bride wriggled side to side in ecstasy between her father and brother.

“Who gives this woman to be married?”

“We dooooooo.”

The drone came out low like cow bellows and laughter from the standing congregation resounded through the hall. Humor already echoed deep into this marriage. Music pulled everyone to their feet, and they turned their eyes to heaven—up to the screen with words scrolling down about God’s faithfulness. The monitors showed the lyrics, but the couple looked at God.

The pastor prayed, and the couple inclined their faces to one another, foreheads gently kissing. Tenderness brimmed then overflowed and leaked out our computer screen like two fountains too full, yet unable to keep from cutting off or spilling out onto everything. The couple only celebrated vague expectations of hardships or joys.

Anger, frustration, heartache, laughter, mundanity, encouragement, taxes, vacations, ministry, embraces, crashes, heights, promises, all wafted around them waiting to land a few months later. A good beginning, yet everything in between would make the difference. But of course, what are vows for?

“I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife (husband). To have and to hold from this day forward… to cherish to lead our home in Christ. To rub your feet (make you coffee), to empower (encourage) and provide (support) for you, to treasure you above all others, till death do us part according to God’s Holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge myself to you.”

Work, true work, began every moment after those words.

So came Love.

One day, will I be the same? Maybe I’ll marry; I know I will die. My faith assures me I will celebrate a wedding once I am dead. I feel guilty because I only wrote on youth. Wisdom’s quiet though. I never immersed myself in the engulfing wellspring of maturity you find from drowning in the years God’s given. But I want the same time-touched waters floating gratefully in my grandmother’s eyes and whispering in her smile. I want to know. I want to understand.

I’m not privy to that experience yet, and sometimes that’s how life goes. Mine spent three youthful days in spring—a birth before a death, a death before a marriage.

So continues life.

©2021 Corinne Natalia
All rights reserved

Losing Battles, Lighting Candles | T. L. Sherwood

Admitting defeat and saying yes, I need help to feed my children wasn’t hard enough. There were forms to fill out which needed to be taken to an office located inside an intimidating building. The ribald man I asked for directions pointed the wrong way – possibly on purpose. Following a narrow hallway, I pushed open a door and found myself in the parking lot. I gazed around, looking for some back entrance. The potent heat and stench from the blacktop overwhelmed me; my grip on the handle loosened. I had to walk all the way around to reenter through the front, to be rescreened, requestioned, and once more have the wand waved over me because of the pins in my leg.  

My shift at the Waffle House started in an hour. I considered giving up, trying a different day, but the hunger tears running down the pale brown skin of Isabel and Miquel’s cheeks that morning guided me. I had to try. Meinko wasn’t supposed to work that day, could have taken her entire lunch hour; retired three years ago. Instead, she waved me in and asked, “How can I help?”

Relieved at finding someone to listen, I blubbered like a frat boy caught trying to dine and ditch. Once she calmed me, I explained how I’d been waiting on my husband’s return, then any word from him. How I accepted the obvious truth, that he’d been disappeared. Meinko’s voice was a comfort though her questions were probing. She typed until her computer said I qualified for SNAP, HEAP, and other assistance. I looked at the clock; I’d make it to work on time. 

My gratitude was effusive. 

“Come to my house,” she said, handing me a bus schedule with an address on the back. As if reading my mind, she opened her desk drawer and slid me a twenty. “Bring your babies.”

The dust was finer, lighter on her farm than the soot of the city. Cara, her daughter, watched my angels while Meinko and I walked the perimeter of her fields. She’d fought the state to keep a bypass from being built. She’d lobbied for thick trees to be planted as a buffer between her property and the Monsanto killing chemicals her neighbors insisted on using. “A strong back,” she said, tapping my spine. “A good vocabulary and belief in a just God. You’ll need those to make it here.” I clung to those words as I rose up, vertebrae by vertebrae — not just for myself, but for my children. 

She and I visited often, shared nourishment from her vegetables, apples, blueberry bushes she covered in netting so fine it resembled a spider’s vast web. I learned to tend tomatoes on the square of patio of our apartment, studied the definitions included on the word-a-day calendar she presented to me for one Christmas. She corrected my occasional misuse and misunderstanding of a cultural reference I’d heard. Meinko encouraged me to take the free classes whenever I could, for both knowledge and making connections.    

Like the snake oil preachers before them, natural gas drillers infiltrated our tiny corner of a large state. Greed took over most of her neighbors and they succumbed to deals saner men would balk at. Meinko was the lone holdout. Her place was surrounded by vacated homes. She still said no.

The day they started to drill, she and I held hands, watched the rough boys with tanned necks and red forearms burrow under the earth’s skin. A foreman walked up, said there was nothing to fear. We all felt the shivers under our feet.

Cara came to my apartment a week later, her face as pale as the icing I swirled onto cupcakes at my new job.

“What happened?” I drew in my breath. It took her a long time to say. 

Meinko had gotten up to get a drink. The faucet screamed. The well casing had cracked. On tap was gassy oil. It was too much.

“There’s only so many battles — ” Cara cupped her hands over her face. 

I hugged her close and something aural occurred, but in my heart. It was my turn. I needed to take up Meinko’s fight. Spread my knowledge. Petition. Pray a different disaster might be prevented. 

©2021 T. L. Sherwood
All rights reserved

Reclamation Neighbor Friend — Kim Whysall-Hammond

Still Life Garden 2 - Gerry Shepherd
Still Life Garden 2 – Gerry Shepherd


Solar fairy lights are draped over bean poles
scattered in bushes, hang from trees

Small children snuggle in huge sleeping bags
are tucked into tiny pop-up tents, cocooned in strollers
Mums and Mums, Mums and Dads, Dads and Dads
relax together

By the trees, Ska is playing on a bluetooth speaker
while a Steel Band sets up with the Rock Choir

Someone somewhere being is burning the Jerk Chicken
Nan Breads steam on tables
people sit on blankets swapping delicacies, favourite snacks
spices pervade the air

Morris dancing is being committed, I hear the tinkle of bells
my wife goes to find them, laughing

Several Turkish families munching kebabs are
encircling two wrestlers covered in olive oil
who slip and slide on the grass, struggling to grip
as a wider audience gathers

Solar streetlights proclaim party, the Mosque draped
them in thin scarves to colour our night

We are reconnecting, reclaiming the night and ourselves
while older kids are transfixed by all the moths
most of the local wildlife is probably putting
paws over furry ears, heads under wings and muttering
sod off

The Banghra dancers are warming up to
the booming dollop dollop of their large drums

The local likely lads, all ready to strut their stuff
to rhyme and patter at the microphone
are laughing hard at something.
I go over to see what's up
It's all a Rap they tell me
can't you see?

Raucous all-night picnic.

Love Thy Neighbour

"We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside"  Amanda Gorman
It’s hard, he doesn't like people my colour
but we have all been through hard times
we are now waiting for the future
wanting it to be good,
we all need care, attention.
I've been shopping for him since the virus first came
been trying to prize him from his flat
all that stuff piled high
can't be healthy.

Today the lifts work
since the community maintenance, they been good.
Today I got him to the park, reckon he needs fresh air.

And he came alive, started walking faster
went up to the trees, saying
robin blackbird,
well I misunderstood at first
racist begger I muttered.
Then, he turned, pointed up at some bird hovering
said Kestrel, and I realised
he knows this nature stuff.
Suddenly he was naming butterflies
hey, bloody butterflies have names
that are as beautiful as they are.
And I realised
when you name them, they are more real.

We spent a sunny afternoon wandering
me learning so much.
Then the kids came out of school
flooded through,
stopped, actually listened 
began repeating the names.

He goes to all the local schools now
tells everyone about birds, butterflies, moths, worms.
God, worms are important
really they are
we need them to grow food.

He calls me his Princess these days, old devil,
says I gave him a new life.
Well, that's what we all want.

The other friend I told you about

He can show me which doorway to sleep in
and where the bins have good eating.
I have that little place I know
where they do the best Takoyaki.
He tells me the names of all the constellations
and the stars within them,
I explain how solar panels can be made so thin
and he understands.
He’s seen stuff
well I have too, but he can’t see that

I’m afraid to touch him in case I catch something,
he’s afraid I’ll call the Police.

We often meet in the beer garden
sip lemonade
“Yeah, I got lemons, didn’t I?”
he says ruefully.
His eyes can glitter with assumptions
Our thoughts about each other
dance round and round and round.

I took him to the theatre
he knew the names of the lights
 in the rig above us, could quote the play.
He took me to gospel choir
got me to sing, I knew the words.

We talk about how we met,
by the canal, feeding ducks.
He told me off for giving them bread.
We found we had lots in common
all those things we are interested in.

He tells me a lot, perhaps everything,
whether I believe him is
I talk about family and
he walks away.
We miss each other after a while,
meet up again.

©2021 Kim Whysall-Hammond
All rights reserved

Return to ToC

The Peace of Iraq’s Mothers — Maryah Converse

Yellow Roses - Photograph - Miroslava Panayotova
Yellow Roses – Photograph – Miroslava Panayotova

I moved to Jordan with Peace Corps in 2004, less than a year after my country invaded Iraq, just before the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison came to light. My fellow Jordanian teachers brought the gruesome images to school, insisting, “You must look at these pictures. These are our brothers.” By the end of that year, two devastating battles had been fought in the streets of Fallujah.

Early in my second year, Operation Smile asked if Peace Corps Volunteers could assist their medical mission by staying at an Amman hotel with forty Iraqi children, each with one parent. Most had only rarely left their villages, never stayed in a hotel, certainly never left Iraq. They were asking us, with our Arabic and intercultural fluency, to keep the parents calm and informed, and entertain the children.

I almost didn’t do it.

It should have been depressing, living with forty families from the impoverished Iraqi countryside — ravaged by American-made land mines, littered with the remains of radioactive American bomb casings, and now sprayed with insurgent gunfire and IEDs. I was sure I would be so distraught by the deformities of these children that I wouldn’t be able to look at them, let alone help them.

I volunteered anyway, because I needed to do something for this country that my country had invaded, for these families in need so close to my new Jordanian home.

My first encounter was in the hotel lobby at check-in with Nour, a chubby little girl, nine months old. Her mother had brought her to Jordan to have a double cleft repaired that divided her upper lip in three. For a moment, she became her deformity. Then she smiled and transformed. “Nour” means light, and a delighted glow radiated from her fat round face and big liquid eyes when she looked up at me and grinned. There was only one thing to do. I grinned back, tickling the bib of her red ruffled dress until we both giggled.

After Nour, it was easy to love them all. I wasn’t disgusted or even uncomfortable. They were blithely happy babies, cheerful, playful, and I was instantly charmed. It took me longer to appreciate the quiet strength of their mothers.

I especially loved two-year-old Serdar. His parents had been given special dispensation to both come with their son, because in addition to his cleft lip and cleft palate, he was blind, deaf and possibly autistic. Then, after he arrived in Amman, the doctors doing his pre-op found a hole in his heart. Despite all that, he energized that whole dim hotel dining room.

After dinner, his parents sat Serdar on top of a big round table. He rolled over onto his belly, pressing his cheek and ear to the navy blue polyester tablecloth. Though deaf, he could feel people talking through the table beneath.

His father tapped lightly on the table’s edge. Serdar tapped back, arms and legs splayed out to the four directions. He mimicked flawlessly his father’s more and more complex rhythms, keeping perfect time.

Then his father started doing drum rolls, at first softly with his fingertips on the edge of the table, a light crescendo growing faster and louder, until he was pounding the table like thunder with both palms. Serdar’s back arched, his hands and feet slapped against the table, and he gave a great, loud peal of laughter.

His delight rang out across the room. Heads lifted and turned. I moved closer, grinning, enchanted. The war was a world away. Caught up in the innocent joy of the moment, it was impossible not to laugh with Serdar.

His father decrescendoed, bringing the drumroll down to just the light, intermittent tapping of two fingertips on the table edge. Serdar laid down his arms and legs and pressed his ear to the tablecloth again, listening intently to the light tap-tap and chortling softly to himself. Then his father started again, faster and louder, drawing out that peal of uninhibited laughter once more.

Crowding around the table without speaking, we all got involved at the peak of the crescendo, then dropped away one by one as the drumroll came back down again. Serdar entertained a dozen of us for nearly an hour, helping us forget entirely where we were and what was happening back in his homeland.

More than half the children came with their mothers. Some framed their faces in loose hijab of navy blue or espresso brown, but most wore black headscarves. They all wore chador, a large semicircle of black cloth. The center of the straight edge balanced on the crowns of their heads, trailing to the ground all around, held closed under their chins with one hand. The chador rippled and billowed in even the slight wind of a woman’s own passing, lending a poetic, ethereal quality to these mothers, petite and demur and preferring the company of other women.

One mother was none of those things. She was tall, with a long, blocky face, lined and leathery from sun and wind. There was a faint patina of sandy dirt permanently ground into the lower edge of her chador, made of a thicker material that didn’t billow so romantically. I guessed from her thick, coarse hands and her easy manner with the fathers that she must have been a Bedouin shepherd or farmer like my Jordanian neighbors.

She stopped me after dinner one evening, taking my forearm firmly in her big, dark hand, the skin dry and cracked. “Do you know what my name is?” she asked. She had a booming outdoor voice in the dark, low-ceilinged dining room. “My name is Amreeka.”

W-allah? Really?” I wasn’t sure what to say, or if she was pulling my leg. She had spoken slowly and clearly enough, in a thick Bedouin accent almost identical to my Jordanian neighbors, but amreeka means America.

She laughed at my confusion and gestured expansively. “My parents named me Amreeka because you supported us in the war” — this must have been the Iran-Iraq War — “and my parents thought you would bring progress and democracy to Iraq. And now here you are, helping my daughter. Thank God for you!”

Though Operation Smile’s doctors hailed from across the Western world, Amreeka would go back to Iraq and say that Americans had fixed her daughter’s cleft lip. In the Bedouin tribes, disability may be seen as a family’s punishment from God for some sin, tarnishing the reputations of whole extended families. This surgery meant that not only Amreeka’s daughter, but her sisters and her girl cousins would have better marriage prospects, that Amreeka and her husband might look forward in their later years to the support of a more successful son-in-law.

That is, if there were enough hale and whole young men remaining for her daughters to marry, and if those young men lived into Amreeka’s later years. If Amreeka lived into her own later years. With American soldiers’ fingers nervous on the trigger, and desperate Iraqis perpetrating their own violence, Amreeka’s future and her daughters’ futures were far from certain or rosy.

Still, she remained certain that America held the key. I feared she would be brutally disappointed, but I couldn’t make myself contradict her optimism.

The war in Iraq was the daily reality back home for these families, and a frequent topic of conversation. They kept using a word to refer to American soldiers that sounded like the Arabic word Hmaar—donkey. Arabs use it much the way Americans do, as in, “You jackass!” 

Yet, it was clear from the Iraqis’ tone and body language that they were speaking kindly, even fondly of these hamar. Finally, another Volunteer realized that it had nothing to do with donkeys. This hamar was an English loan word — from Hummer or Humvee — referring to a patrol of Coalition soldiers in an armored vehicle.

“The Hummer saw my son’s harelip when we were on the way to the market,” one mother said, tugging her filmy, slippery chador back into place on the crown of her head. “We always wave and smile at the Hummers and say thank you for helping us.”

These women did not see themselves as I saw them, as victims of my arrogant, angry government. The Hummers had brought war and death. American troops had bombed infrastructure, destroyed their priceless ancient monuments, brought chaos, insurgency and Al Qaeda to their country.

Yet, these women were grateful, and this was not that often-infuriating practice of Arab hospitality where they tell the polite fiction they think their host wants to hear. They were not talking to me. They said these things to each other, and they said them with confident sincerity. So I listened as best I could with my imperfect Arabic, and tried to understand.

The young, pretty mother continued, “Usually, we thank them from a distance. We don’t get too near the Hummers. It makes them nervous. But one day, a soldier waved at us to come closer, me and my son.”  He was a slight boy beside her, about seven, hesitant to meet my gaze.

I listened silently, worried what would come next. I knew the Hummers were harbingers of destruction.

“The soldier smiled at me and my son. He said hello,” she said. “He asked him his name. My son is shy. He wouldn’t answer.”  Shy seemed the wrong word. The children at the hotel were more reticent, subjected all of their short lives to shame and ridicule from their neighbors, and then the traumas of war and occupation.

“Then he leaned down from his Hummer and gave me the paper with information about Operation Smile. That’s how we got here.”  Other mothers jumped into the conversation with their own stories about how the Hummers had won their hearts and minds.

Every time I hear the news from Iraq, I remember those families. Nour should now be finishing elementary school. Does her smile still glow? Do her big doe eyes still dance?  I cannot imagine what she has seen, or how it may have dimmed her light.

Operation Smile arranged for another organization to take Serdar and his parents to London for open heart surgery, and then the facial reconstruction he had come to Jordan for. I remember him as a toddler, but he should be a teenager now. Is he still the happy drummer boy on that dining room table?  Is he still strong-limbed and pudgy with a pealing laugh that fills the room?  Or have explosions vibrating up through his living room floor tempered his joie de vivre?

Amreeka’s daughter should be in her twenties, married with at least one baby of her own. Are her children healthy?  Maybe Amreeka’s village of farmers and shepherds is small enough to have escaped the violence, the bloody conflict, the decimated manhood.

I’m still reaching for Amreeka’s optimism.

In 2014, Iraqi cities fell like dominoes to the fanatics calling themselves “Islamic State.” Yezidis who had managed to survive both Saddam and the occupation now starved on mountaintops. Journalists lost their heads trying to plead the Iraqi cause. I click through pictures of women walking back into Mosul, after the Iraqi army had retreated and the extremists had taken control.

I see their black chador rippling and dancing on the dusty wind. They turn and reach out black-gloved hands for small children just out of frame. I want to grab them by the shoulders and shout, “W-allahi—By God, why?  Why would you go back there?”

W-allahi,” they say, “why not?  Now it’s the fundamentalists, before them the Hummers, before them Saddam, before him the British, before them the Ottomans. Ma shaa’ allah—What God hath wrought!  All we can do is go back to our homes, where our grandfathers lived and their grandfathers. Allahu ‘alem—God knows, and His will be done.”

Demur but determined, they float away down the streets of Mosul, steadfast pillars of black smoke silhouetted against the pockmarked shells of their whitewashed homes. And I remind myself that Iraq is also the land of Nour’s smile, and of Serdar’s laughter. When Mosul is liberated, it will be these women, these children and their children who rebuild. If there is to be peace, it will be theirs.

I struggle for Amreeka’s optimism, but I still have hope.

Allahu ‘alem.

“The Peace of Iraq’s Mothers” previously appeared in Re-Creating Our Common Chord anthology, Wising Up Press, September 2019; and DoveTales, An International Journal of The Arts, May 2017; first appeared in New Madrid, Journal of Contemporary Literature vol. 7, no. 1: Winter 2017.

©2021 Maryah Converse
All rights reserved

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Posted in interNational Poetry Month, poem, poetry, Poets/Writers, Video

The Book of Lumenations — Interview with Adeena Karasick

Introduction to Eicha—Adeena Karasick

Particularly speaking to this “Covid moment,” Eicha (איכה) comprises 5 videopoems which takes as its jumping off point, the Biblical Eicha, The Book of Lamentations, which laments the destruction of Jerusalem and through reflection, deflection, refraction and the fracturing of language, homophonically re-situates the original text to the horrors and hope of the present moment. Tracking through “the city” as a desolate weeping widow overcome with misery, and moving through desolation, ruin, prayer, and recovery, it explores ways that in rupture, there is rapture.

As transpoesis it acts not only (in General Semanticist terms) as a “time binder” but through a luminous, voluminous threading of light, it highlights how darkness is a form of light, how text itself is, in essence, black light on white light, and thus opens up new ways of seeing and the cyclic nature of meaning and being.

Text written and performed by Karasick and comprises the first section of her forthcoming book, Ærotomania: The Book of Lumenations. The music is composed and performed by world renowned Grammy Award winning composer, trumpet player and Klezmer giant, Frank London. Eicha I includes Vispo by Jim Andrews and Daniel f. Bradley with Titles by Italian filmmaker Igor Imhoff. Eicha II and III, music by Frank London and video by Igor Imhoff. Eicha IV and V are still under construction and will be launched for Tisha B’Av.

Eicha I–III

Text written and performed by Adeena Karasick
Music Composed and performed by Frank London
Eicha I: The Book of Lumenations
Adeena Karasick ©2021
Music composed and performed by Frank London
Vispo by Jim Andrews and Daniel f. Bradley
Titles by Italian filmmaker Igor Imhoff

Eicha II: The Book of Lumenations
Adeena Karasick ©2021
Music Composed and Performed by Frank London
Video by Igor Imhoff

Eicha II: The Book of Lumenations
Adeena Karasick ©2021
Music Composed and Performed by Frank London
Video by Igor Imhoff

Adeena Karasick—Interview

Michael Dickel: Your theoretical frame for this work takes us from The Book of Lamentations to General Semantics developed in the 20th C. to the present moment of pandemic. What intrigues me about this is something I have thought about for some time. Before I heard of Alfred Korzybski, I had begun to think that cultural products—specifically but not only visual arts, music / dance, and writing—formed a sort of socio-cultural DNA. The “stories” or “meanings” they convey shape socio-cultural formations much as DNA shapes life forms, but outside of the body of course. And as such, they are apparently uniquely human. This is how I understand Korzybski’s “time-binding.”

In this framework-metaphor-analogy, would you agree that “reflection, deflection, refraction and the fracturing of language” could resemble RNA / DNA dividing and recombining? Perhaps I’m asking if your work introduces and “recombines” the DNA of light (luminosity, lumen) into the sorrow of loss and darkness (lamentation)? Or is the case completely different?

Adeena Karasick: So many interesting questions, Michael. First, if we think about “time binding as a kind of recognizing of pattern recognition—how cycles emerge in conjunction with the zeitgeist, aesthetic and political and social orders of the day and bound by semantic environments and spacetime contingencies to a past which is ever  re-articulated in an ever contemporaneous present; as Korzybski might say, by abstracting nutrients, growing subsystems, which over time re-orient the narrative, language, “meaning” —  in this way it is in a sense a recombination (or in Abulafian terms, a permutation and recombination), restaged into something new.

So, yes between the layering, the looming of the lament and the lumen i’m interested in illuminating the way the present re-presented through an ever-shifting past pinned to a future that is ever-fracturing; how darkness and light are always already embedded in one another – and we see this through our very rituals. For example, on Tish B’Av, when we read the Book of Lamentations which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem, it’s followed by the kinnot, the liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the 1st Temple, the 2nd Temple, reminded of all the other major calamities, the murder of the Ten Martyrs, medieval massacres, the Holocaust. Everything gets bound in these cycles of language of time of repetition and reproduction a simulacric spiraling that bleeds into the prescience of this very moment. A moment that itself (due in part to the weight of cultural memory) fractured and re-reflected, deflected, where limerence lamentation and lumenation emanate: When life gives you laments make limnade ; )

MD:  A liminal moment. Your discussion of darkness being a form of light, or the light in the dark, reminds me of Carl Jüng and also of Robert Bly’s A Little Book of the Human Shadow. Both of course metaphorically could be seen as responses to the concept of yetzer hara (יצר הרע). However, the quantum optician Arthur Zajonc perhaps more literally addresses this light in the dark idea in his book, Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind.

Zajonc points out that the night on Earth is not an absence of light. The sun’s light is still in the sky, as can be seen by its reflection from the moon. He describes a demonstration he uses to show this of a box that has a vacuum inside—no dust, nothing. The inside is all painted flat black that is totally non-reflecting. There is an eyehole on one side to look into. There is also a light that shines from a side 90-degrees to that. And a mirror or flat object inside that is black on the back but can be rotated. The box looks “dark,” that is pitch-black, until the object is revolved and reflects the light. Then it is clear there was light in the box all along.

It seems that what you are doing is showing us that the dark / night / shadow always contains light. That darkness or shadow provide the contrast and form to reflected light. And that the light we see, as Zajonc points out, is only the reflected light. Even the sky reflects dust to become blue.

With this other, different framework-metaphor-analogy, does this seem a reasonable way to understand your hybrid title, “Lumenations”, which of course plays homophonically with illuminations…?

AK: So important particularly in these troubled times to shift the perspective, change the channel, shift the diorama, “peepholes, eyestreams” and recognize the light in the darkness; to revel in the white space, between the letters, the long silences, the emptiness, the shudders / shutters, suspensions and remember that as in the Zohar, the darkness contains the light.  Or the absence contains the presence – thinking about maybe Heidegger’s translation of Heraclitus preserved by Hippolytus (which i quote in another section of The Book of Lumenations), that even in the presencing of all things present, itself remains concealed from being present, “not as presence presently absent or an absence absently present but as the absent present that continually withdraws in the spectacle of its present absence”[i] Acknowledging how it’s so important to complicate these dichotomies, uncover its fabrication, and analyze the violence this initiates and sustains.

And like the flash of primordial letters clothed in the nothingness of being enshrouded in the disquiet of dissembling – letters, like desire itself, embodies all that is to come; comes and keeps coming in an ever-arriving future. So yes, it’s both a reflection defection, deflection, confection ; ) playing with ways all is simulacric and thereby produces a kind of co-sanguinity mirroring how like in the 2nd C. Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), primordial creation is ever re-created through the articulation of each letter – which contains all the future within it[ii]

MD:  Now, how does all of this fit in your thinking with the Time of Coronavirus / “Covid moment” we find ourselves living in?

AK: Well, we’re living in dark times. And in many ways like the word COVID itself which homophonically can be transliterated in Hebrew as Kavod כבוד, which (as you know), means glory, honor and respect; ie when we congratulate someone we say Kol HaKavod, ‘all the honour’ (Good job!), or close a letter with the word V’Kavod (‘with respect’) Yet — ironically, COVID kaved is also “heavy. And throughout Exodus, the presence of God in the tabernacle is symbolised by the word ‘Kavod’ ((which is also represented by a cloud!)) So, like The Book of Lamentations itself which is mired in darkness, heaviness and cloudiness – a masking of the light, like you mentioned earlier, with reference to Zajonc, it’s so important especially now to recalibrate how we see, what we see; displace our usual systems of spectrality. Through this homophonic translation, this transpoeisis, it displaces a sense of language belonging to a particular moment but marked by chasms, folds,  paradoxes, turbulence and desire, highlights the Other in language, coveting and foregrounding its caveats.

[i]. Elliot R. Wolfson, Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiesis, Indiana University Press, 2019, p.5.

[ii]. See Sefer Yetzirah, 2:2. Wesier Edition, Trans. Aryeh Kaplan, San Francisco, 1997.

©2021 Adeena Karasick and The BeZine
All rights reserved

The BeZine Spring

a pale reflection of the moon — Dennis Formento

if I have to sleep, I’ll sleep, but the moon isn’t there anymore  
what you see is a pale reflection, the moon
is self-generated light
what I mean when I say self-generated light 
I mean a solar sail like a giant curtain
dragged behind the moon & keeping it 
in perfect orbit above the earth’s surface

the real moon is gone, taken apart
by scientists from NASA, EU and the KGB
“the moon”
is just a thin metal disk powered by that solar sail
some people think 
the moon itself is the sail but
I think the sail is deployed behind the moon
trapping light from the sun, powering the engine
that keeps it in orbit 
you can see it if you telescope real close

astronauts know this—high-flying pilots know this—
just a few lousy miles across, the thin metal plate reflects the sun’s light
and the earth’s shadow just the way the moon did
well some people think it’s thin, durable mirror
but I think it’s metal—highly polished metal that resists
the pings and arrows and chips you’d normally get
from junk up there at the front door of space—
some people say it’s the frontier, but I say it’s the front door of space

The real moon is gone Scientists took it away
and left a lot of junk behind
Imagine all the lovers without a moon—
the bad poets—Jungian psychologists—I call ‘em
“spychologists”— basing their poems and prognoses on nothing 
but a thin metal plate hovering above the earth
Oh, the tides have nothing to do with the moon
they never did, the tides are created by the sun
Everybody born with their moon in Aries through Pisces
has to find another planet for their sign
Your lives are meaningless NASA and the Russians
have stripped the moon of meaning
and replaced it with a thin solar sheet

The moon people 
have nothing to believe in
The President knows this in his Oval Office
The Oval Office is a symbol of the moon!
He’s fighting to bring the moon back
but he can’t tell you, no one would believe him
and he’s got to keep his credibility intact
He knows why women are going crazy
their ovaries so accustomed to the moon’s 
spiritual pull— they have evolved for millennia to respond to it—

Remember Jesus has a house on Mars—but NASA
doesn’t want you to know—
there are pictures Jesus would have to be eighteen feet tall
to be seen in this resolution some people say eighteen I think that’s impossible
but he’s the son of God so you never know
The scientists don’t know
The Moon the wolves howl at, the one we see
dipping into the Western sky—our Western sky
that belongs to us—remember the flag that was planted there?
It’s in a museum in Russia with Lenin’s tomb—
the Russians must hand over the moon—
a thin sheet of glass—some people say
—but I say it’s metal 
sometimes visible during the day 
reflecting the sun’s light
and the earth’s shadow in a perfect imitation of the real
psychological moon. The one in our dreams has been stolen
and the scientists have stolen our dreams.
Only the President and his queue
of anonymous advisors know this.

Poem ©2021 Dennis Formento
All rights reserved

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Dennis Formento promises never to write a bio longer than the average poem. He lives in Slidell, Louisiana, Mississippi Bioregion, USA. St. Tammany Parish co-ordinator of 100,000 Poets for Change. Author of Spirit VesselsCineplex, Looking for An Out Place. Poem “Amarcord,” appeared in English and Italian, in Americans and Others: International Poetry Anthology, Camion Press, 2nd ed., 2020. Poem, “the floe of ice,” performed with Simone Bottasso on organetto, is on Youtube  at 

Pilgrims of Zame — Mbizo Chirasha

Hybrid African-Spiritual-Cultural Narrative

A harsh heave of shrine incense combined with the stink of ancient snuff and herbal concoctions choked our lungs. The smell was new and strange. The evening was pleated with defiant black shadows and mismatched silhouettes of small hills. Everything was stitched together by instructive spiritual incantations and strange guttural bellows. Angels warmed drums on live embers. Mediums roared in synchronized incantations—

Heyi hii hoo
Heyi hii hoo
Heyi hii hoo

They unstoppably shook their heads and trembled their shoulders from one trance into another. Dust swirls aroused from their dances carried our blessings. The mist that shrouded the grey hills carried the anointing of the land. They guzzled the millet brew in their order of seniority. Worshippers had brought large pots of millet beer from our villages. The ceremonial beer was brewed and brought to the shrine gallery by pre-pubescent and post-menopausal women. That was to ensure that the shrine’s sacredness is maintained.

Matonjeni hills were shrouded in silence and draped in long gowns of grey mist at dawn. During evenings, hills were hugged by apostolic like plain white robes of mist again. Zame is known of bone chilling spits of drizzle year in and year out. We arrived before shadows fully quilted the earth. We didn’t bring modern utensils and blankets into the hills. We walked with our barefoot. Men sat on leopard skin mats and women sat on sheepskin.

Drapes of mist grew the hills into a shrine of black shadows. The moon set like a silver arc over the rim of the mystic Malindidzimu “the seat of gods”. It was gorgeous. It winked to us behind a veil of fluffy, white and smoky drizzling clouds. Soft rains caressed our day long sun-drained skins.

Malindidzimu is the zenith of Zame, the place where gods sit to watch the earth underneath them. When night is ripe the silver moon winks to the gods to take rest. Mermaids are said to wash gods’s feet in Mavulamachena, the gorge of white waters situated at the fontanel of Malindidzimu. The waters are ever silver moon white. The mist rises from Mavulamachena “white waters” to dress the sacred mountains with white skirts and grey doeks towards dawn. When the world is trapped in the web of sleep, gods are said to float along with mist draping’s to meet with their earthly ambassadors. The mystery of Matonjeni, shrine of gods.

 The Matonjeni gallery sits somewhere on a mountain range that runs from east to west. The shrine entrances wind up and down among overhung granite boulders into the gallery. We washed our feet upon entering the shrine to do away with dust and bad omen. Every visitor was blessed with portion of ancient snuff before entering the shrine. The scent of snuff was strange. I sneezed and drooled like a wild pig. That was the same with my fellow congregants. The snuff was strong. After the ritual, eunuchs and nuns led us into the shrine. The shrine is an art gallery with a unique spiritual presence. Gallery walls were beautifully decorated with red and black clay earth extracted from the nearby termite mounds, the lush and green combat that dressed the anthills added ambiance to this astounding earthly but spiritual wonderment. A plethora of ornaments that included animal horns, bone-made trinkets, grass-made beads and ancient-spears made up the Matonjeni gallery collection. The exhibition was diligently curated. The gallery walls were stripped with white, red, black clay patterns. After our maiden tour, we then supplicated to God with a thunderous chorus of applause and heart-rending, mountain-cave echoing, ululations. We thanked gods and spirits for guiding us from evil during our long day journey to the holy land.

The Hallowed eunuch of the shrine, Nyamasviswa with his band of Matonjeni disciples welcomed us with that verve of spiritual merriment. The dignifying gesture uplifted our sun burnt, day long trip tired souls. We brought large pots frothing with millet beer. It was abundant, plenty more than what other clansmen had brought. The traditional millet brew smelt like freshly baked bread. Mediums salivated with that greedily gusto, waiting impatiently to feast from the mouth—watering pots frothing the ancient delicacy. It was intelligently brewed by earth scratching, peasantry lifestyle hardened hands, thus combined with the verve of ancestral wisdom passed from one matriarchal epoch to more and more other matriarchal generations. The welcoming merriment was remote-paused by a blood-splashing hymn, divinely echoed from a swarm of beautiful nuns as it passionately coiled into our groping hearts. We got spiritually connected to the land that carried the bones, breath and promise of our fathers. The wild dove-hen crowing like alto voices pleated our static black silhouettes, the tinkering tenor of throbbing drums, discordant snores of sleeping waters and the vibe of human mass together onto the hems of mystic hills—

Dzinomwa kuna runde
Mhondoro dzinomwa a a
Dzinomwa kunaSave
Mhondoro Dzinomwa…a…a a a
Dzinomwa kuna rundee
Mhondoro dzinomwa AAA

The shrine suddenly slid into an abrupt frenzy of traditional dance-songs and a poetic trance of ancestral praise. The scantily dressed nuns danced until their slim frames soaked in sweat. Their rotund figures were clad in different regalia made of goatskin, leopard and lion skins and other beautifying paraphernalia. They received their costumes in accordance with their levels of seniority and nature of duties. These maidservants were all beautiful but well trained to charge their duties with due diligence and requisite zeal. It was like they were born from one big womb, we found it difficult to distinguish them, and they looked alike as black-eyed peas and they carried themselves with that high calibre of moral consciousness and hyperbolised dignity. Their body frames were a real fulfilment of god’s unmatched creativity. Their breasts were taunt and straight like porcupine quills ready to spike, as they quivered like turgid, fresh ripe mangoes ready to fall from their mother tree. Our untamed hearts skipped to suffocate us, the amazing beauty that blinded both brave hunters and seasoned dancers among other revellers. Male congregants had to tame their manhood because the temptations were extreme, beyond human reasoning and above sexual-emotional control. We uncontrollably salivated at the rawness of that unspoilt human dignity. The wonder-angels were all virgins, they had under gone a traditional initiation including sacrificial oaths to be maid servants of the holy land. That, they would never become wives, mothers or indulge into any intercourse of sexual nature until the time of their demise. They carried their chores with profound zeal and well calculated precision. Their service varied according to age, clan of origin, talent, teachings, practice and seniority.

The appearance of Dungwiza, the rainmaking medium interrupted the current mood. His elephantine frame was draped in an unusual all black apparel. The baritone gifted man boasted of his gigantic frame and ever darting eyes that never blinked to anything. A sign of bravery. He waved and yawned thrice, the drumming, the chanting and dancing stopped abruptly. The night was still young. Dungwiza was the leader of main rituals including rainmaking occasions at Matonjeni. The gallery slid into an abrupt silence like at graveyard. Dungwiza made a rushed stride towards the epicenter of the shrine. Maidservants ululated like cooing doves praise and worshipping the last rays of setting sun.

Dungwiza blew three full finger pinches of ancient snuff and then wiped black snort with the back of his aged and weather-toughened hands. The rustling sound of stubborn winds was drowned by the beat of his poetic incantations—

Imwi mhondoro dzenyika
Varidzi vepasi nemuronga wenyu
Ndauya kuzosuma pwere dzenyu
Nyika yapinda munzamusha
Musha waparara nehosha
Musha wovava segavaka
Pasi ronhuwhwa segutukutu
Vana vayaura, pasi raoma roda veta
Vana vofa nenyota vodzungaira
Dzorai moyo, musasunga moyo
Nyika yoda donhodzo vana vagute
Vanayaura, vafamba mitunhu kuzochema kwamuri
Mukai muone misodzi yavo netarisiro.
Vana vasingachemi vanofira mumbereko

The spirited supplications were punctuated by yawns, bellows and sneezing from shrine disciples and other mediums. Plumes of burning incense and whiffs of black snuff conquered the shrine the scent was both suffocating and beautiful. The rainmaking prayer was capped by an electric echo of ululations from the band of Matonjeni nuns. The shrine was lit with spiritual blaze and human rhythm. Dungwiza tossed his Muhacha rod upwards. He ordered drummers to beat the Shangana neShumba drum. Drums were cracked and their throb vibrated the land. The tense rhythm beat, unmatched. Behold the land was holy.

Suddenly, spats of drizzle grew fat, heavens opened their floodgates, and heavy rain soaked the earth. Drums tinkered still. The night was now aging and was clad in a dark grey gown preparing to surrender Matonjeni shrine to the angels of dawn. Dawn proudly winked its twilight for the elephants to rise from slumber and take an early morning bath, Nguva dzamashambanzou. Mediums sneezed from one trance to another. We chanted still, we sang still and danced still. The rhythm of our dance and song traversed to the lands faraway and reached onto the holy ears of gods.

The eastern hills wore an orange monkey hat and ochre—red blood robe, wiping off mist from the rain—thickened eyelids of our hills. We were served with food, goat meat stew alongside stiff millet porridge sadza remapfunde. We washed down the delicacies with calabashes filled with traditional mhunga brew both alcoholic (mhamba) and non-alcoholic (maheu) beverages. We ate until our bellies stretched; we couldn’t afford a fart or a belch. It was difficult. Dungwiza jumped from his sitting position and an unexpected lightening jolt sparked the semi-dark gallery. It was followed by another unusual lightening wink and a thunderclap. The gallery trembled as if the caves were falling apart. The rainmaker ordered us to be silent and to be stationery.

The gods of this land have heard our concerns; our tears have wetted the mats of heaven. The gods are confirming their and concern and their presence, Dungwiza boasted with his big eyes fixed onto the gallery entrance.

A solitary baboon barked from a distance, a ferocious roar of a lioness ensued, it shook the granite boulders of the shrine and then a strong jolt of lightening blazed again like tongs of fire. There was a deathly silence. We could only hear calculated farts, faint whispers, sighs of awe and feeble breaths from a battalion of congregants packed like sardines against gallery walls. The shrine was seized by the discord of fear.

A frail, thin and uncombed young woman limped lackadaisically into the quiet gallery. Dungwiza, Nyamasviswa, shrine desciples and nuns rose in salutation to the unexpected guest amid fish eagle like—cackling ululations, praise incantations and bellows. A song was pod-cracked from amongst the disciples

It was again a familiar song but many of us were still in utter shock—

Tovela, mudzimu dzoka
Ha heyihe mudzimu dzoka
Aee yiye Mudzimu dzoka
Vana Vanogwara mudzimu dzoka
Kwaziwai Tovela

It was a song to welcome the spirits of the land.

The frail woman spirit shook her head unstoppably, belched and sneezed incessantly. Her fumbling’s were stitched together by continuous handclapping and song from the shrine disciples. She hung her dreadlocked head languidly twice or thrice and then fumbled for an apparel to cover her beautiful bosom. She sneezed hetsu hits hetsu uncontrollably. She roared again like a lioness chasing after a prey. It was an ear-shattering roar. A ferocious roar.

She began to speak in a frightening baritone-laced voice. She spoke deep kalanga tongues—

Ndini Tovela
Mutumwa wedenga nepasi
Ndatumwa naMurenga
Muridzi wapasi nedenga
Matama enyu asvika munzeve dzedenga
Ndauya nemisodzi yedenga
Muchamwa mvura, mucharima, muchaguta
Murenga vanotenda nezvipo zvamauya nazvo.

The frail woman spirit was Tovela, the supreme messenger of gods. She was ordained to become supreme when she was still a fetus in her mother’s womb. She is the princess of Matonjeni of the patriarch of Murenga. She had brought the message of rain, healing of the land and good life for pilgrims. Tovela Kalanga was the remaining lioness of the land. Her service was dipped in sanctity, honesty, dignity and spirituality. A pot of frothing millet beer was offered to her as a gift, she guzzled the beer and blew a wide smile into the awed but obedient congregation. A sign of merriment. We chuckled with the relief that our supplications were received.

Drinking, dance and song persisted. Delinquent disciples imbibed until they crawled like skunks. The sun-rose with its old-aged forehead creased with paradox of the rainbow and metaphors of rain. Its rays winked to the fait nightly shadows with a calculated rhythm, tearing apart grey and white gowns of mist off our hills. Fingers of dawn caressed the snore-congested gorges and mist-clad mountains of home. Mourning doves with their melodious hymns deleted owls all-night poetry slam. The nightly rainmaking ritual and Matonjeni vibe were quickly scribbled onto the godly wind slates.

Tovela and Dungwiza disappeared alongside the grey and white veil of the clearing mist. Song and dance continued. Rains persisted. This is the Mystery of Zame, the holy land of rain, ancestral spirits and gods.

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