A geography of memories | Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt



A black file in his study.
Dusty. Faded.
“Parts are brittle,” she cautions.

My very first “letter to the editor”
from Minnesota, April 4, 1990
to the Calcutta Statesman.

The letter of my first arrival in St. Paul.
Handwritten. It’s January.
A picture of me standing
in front of Florence’s 1978 Ford Fairmont.

The letter with my dream
I knew she had died.
I saw her hands, her face like marble,
her deformed left foot — floating.

And then I broke my arm
falling on new ice.
Letters filled with errors
And that letter of becoming     an          American.

A geography of memories
tied with my mother’s discarded hairband,
each neatly placed
inside a plastic folder
that was once blue
or maybe yellow.

until that day

the voice is coming back
the face is coming back
the smell of dampness is coming back
the sound of the dragging blue slippers is coming back
the words of the priest chanting is coming back
the hands holding the white flowers is coming back
the narrow streets are coming back
the lamppost that was never lit is coming back
the Black Diamond Express
the last journey, the old country
the crossings of the seven seas
are            all            coming       back.

Each piece of the mosaic
small and delicate and large
black and white
misshaped and misplaced
are                       all                 coming              back.

A face that now is marked by wrinkles
each thin line marking
the boundaries on a map
are                         all                             coming                           back.

For Sale

Our new house is on the old street
not red but purple,
not huge, but small,
like minds

New bricks, new floors
new flats, new kitchens,
new grills on windows
like soulless souls

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt

And I don’t know
how to ever
go back
to that house
that was once red.

© 2017, Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt

The Nature of Nurture

The great fur bulk lies supine, inert, warm, creating a sheltered harbor in the deep snow in contrast to the flat, icy landscape. Two milky cubs clamber dough-footed all around, exploring clumsily, arousing no concern. They orbit close by, drawing into contact periodically to suckle and nuzzle. The wind blows a moderately threatening question of survival through the morning. Mother closes her eyes to the sting, looking sleepy and stupid, lifting her blinking face to the sun. She is the solid thing in a shifting drift, placid and mountainous, serenely established on the face of the horizon.

This image of motherhood was suggested to me by a wise psychiatrist as I sat in her Pasadena home with my husband while our daughter crawled at our feet. I was 22 years old and suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. I wanted to be the perfect parent, to do everything right in order to raise up a child who would take her place as a blessed jewel in the crown of my god. My models spoke in scriptural tones, living or in print. My aspirations were clear, I thought, my inspiration abundant.

And I was exhausted.scillastick 001_NEW

The good doctor looked at my 98-pound frame and announced her diagnosis with authority. She looked at my daughter exploring a paperback with her fingers and mouth and recognized great intelligence. It seemed to her that we were not badly broken or dysfunctional, but we needed to relax. Parenting is a living thing, a responsive dance with biology, and although we humans are biologically social creatures, heavy-handed social structure can strangle our relationships and bind us into damaging patterns. My reliance on the authority of these constructs seemed helpful at first, but that lock-step really tripped me up when my children were in their teenage years.

The tendency to defer to “experts” in my Western affluent culture is a dangerous trend for parenting, I think. It can lead to a mistrust of instinct and compassion. That can also translate to lower self-confidence and heightened anxiety in both parent and child. I see that demonstrated in stories of helicopter parent vigilantes, DCSF over-reactions, and soaring statistics on depression and suicide in young people. I also see that in my own 4 children 30 years after my initial visit to an “expert”. They are still working out their concerns about “doing it right” and their responsibility to “make good decisions”. A good decision is perhaps a lot easier to make than we suppose.

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My only son was born hastily into the world when the doctor noticed fecal matter in his amniotic fluid. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck as well. At six pounds and six ounces, he had a slight case of jaundice. I brought my fragile bundle home, and the hospital equipped us with a bili light to give him extra skin exposure to the blue light that would help convert bilirubin. I was instructed to give him plenty of fluids and to let him lie under that lamp in just a diaper and protective eye shades for a good 8 hours a day. I kept a detailed record of the time he spent nursing and how much glucose water he would drink from a bottle, and I charted his time in the bili-box. Newborns have an instinctive response to feeling a “sudden loss of support” called the “Moro reflex”. They flail their arms out and cry. This is what my son did when he was in that chamber. It broke my heart. I decided, in my 24 year old wisdom, that what he needed more was to be swaddled and held. So I wrapped him up tight and carried him into the living room. My mother was visiting and helping me with my older child. I poured out to her my worry about whether I should follow the doctor’s instructions to the letter or whether I should comfort my son. She and I commiserated about the difficulties of parenting, and I realized that she wasn’t going to help me decide. She was going to help me by letting me decide and supporting my decision.

And that’s the other sustaining image of motherhood I gained early in my parenting.

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When they’re young, lie down with them. When they’re older, support their decisions. Your presence is the greatest gift you can give your children. Don’t try to give them too much of anything else. They need to get those other things themselves.

team Galasso

And that’s all I have to say about that.

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2016, memoir and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

I think I need a hero . . .

gay-love-with-heartI think I need a hero.

I need an actual, real life hero; otherwise I’m going to continue having pieces of my life torn out of it.

And I don’t know how to make that happen.

Where do I get the sugar, spice, and everything nice, mixed with an adequate amount of charisma, intelligence, physical and mental capabilities and the natural talent and will to get the hero I need?

Where’s my magical non-harmful radiation that turns us into Captain America or any other amount of hero’s I read about and watch on screens?

My chosen family is made of incredible people – everyday heroes that I love.

These people fight every day to survive against the odds: against ableism and mental illness and racism and transphobia and homophobia and more.

And as a person who is also fighting for my survival it is the survival of my family, of my community, that reminds me that there’s a chance. A possibility. A hope.

But sometimes, you need a hero.

Because my friends and community keep getting hurt, keep getting rejected, keep dying.
Dying. My friends are dying. Another yesterday. Who knows when the next is.

I need a hero.

Somebody that can tell me that everything will be alright and then can go out and make it so.
Make it happen.

Before more things happen that can never be taken back.

There’s this thing that happens when you’re a minority or marginalized or oppressed – you keep track of statistics.

And the worst part is, is I know that some of the people I will never meet, never hear about, will only ever be remembered as that. A statistic.

I want to tell you a story.

A story about a friend who stood on a street corner with a sign that said “Remember to Smile!” and danced.

He danced because he spent so much of his life dancing on the edge of never having a reason to smile and he wanted people to have a reason.

And believe me – he was noticed.

From the stories he told of people interacting with him, and his asking for other inspiring quotes to hold up, and the picture you can find of him dancing with that sign, he was noticed.
I hope that’s how he’ll be remembered.

I need a hero so that he can have justice.

So that we can start to fix the system that is supposed to help people and yet turns people away.
I need a hero so that I don’t have to look at the spiral of intersectional statistics of trans folk and queer folk and people of colour and mentally ill folk and disabled folk and look at some of my friends and wonder if they’re next.

If I’m next.

I need a hero who can help me and my family and my communities shove this world along.
I need a hero because I can’t shelter every trans person, I can’t love every queer person, I can’t help every mentally ill person, I can’t.

I can’t and I can’t be expected to.

And these are my movements, my people, my family, my life; but we need a hero because just look at this world.

We need a hero because I don’t know how much longer we can wait for one.

Love, Colin

(P.S. To my friend; I will miss you for a long, long, time, and will remember you fondly. I wish this world could’ve done you the good and justice you deserved and given you the care you needed.)

© 2015, letter by Colin Stewart, All rights reserved; illustration, Karen Arnold, Public Domain Pictures.net.

Two Subjects (and one important thing to remember)

While traveling in Argentina, we visited La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.   Since 1822, nearly 5,000 mausoleums have been constructed  in the highest fashion of the times, from Baroque and Neo-Gothic to Art Deco and Art Nouveau.   La Recoleta is a city for the dead, with elegant marble tombs neatly laid out in blocks over fourteen acres.

Some are maintained, for love or pride.  Others, like the poet Shelley’s statue of Ozymandias, have fallen into disrepair, covered with spider webs and graffiti, littered with broken glass and faded plastic flowers.  Feral cats stare warily from their marble perches and skulk away sideways if approached.

We saw the grave of Eva Peron, and other statesmen, poets, generals, and presidents.

More interesting to me was the final resting place for a mother and her infant.  They were not famous, but clearly they were loved.  Did she and the child die in childbirth or perhaps swept away by an epidemic?  In any case, a grieving husband and father was left behind to erect this memorial.   Was he able to pick up the pieces of his broken life to find happiness again?

Wherever we go, we will find reminders of all the stories in this world that will never be told.  When I photographed this memorial, I could be certain of only two things.  Both mother and child were subject to an early and tragic demise.  And, as seen by the lush green fern sprouting from the dust collecting in the cracks in the stone, life goes on.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Music for Mewling

KIF_0859If music be the food of love, play on” ~ William Shakespeare from “Twelfth Night

I would add that music and song is the food of life and, sometimes, a stimulant to help us grieve. For what is grief, if it isn’t one of life’s consequences … of love?

I stole the title of this post from poet and diversely creative friend, Kona Macphee, whose inspiring daily blog “That Elusive Clarity” I contributed to in various ways four years ago, including the interview series she did – mostly with creative people, whose talents were far greater than mine – “Six Things“. Sadly this blog is no longer on line. Included as one of the daily offerings she published, was a blog post on a subject, which you might guess, is close to my heart, music. She gave it this title and as one of her offerings she cited a song that I had previously introduced to her, by one of my all-time favourite singer/songwriters, Karine Polwart. Karine is what I would call a poet on a musical stick. Her lyrics and her musicality, along with her musician brother, Steven Polwart, and musician friend from Fair Isle, Inge Thomson, who form her trio, are what has caused me to buy at least ten of her albums in the six years since I was introduced to her by a friend.

This song came out of the Darwin Song Project in 2009, at the time of the Shrewbury Folk Festival that year. It was the year which celebrated the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. This project was set up and included a number of notable musicians from the world of folk and roots music, including Karine, whose own contribution, “We’re All Leaving” was written about Darwin’s ten year old daughter, Annie, who tragically died at the age of only ten. Another subject close to my heart right now.

The YouTube video I’ve embedded below is not the best recording of this song, albeit it was the first. She recorded it again for her EP “Build Your Own Cathedrals” (which takes words from the song itself) and her gorgeous 2012 album, “Traces“, some of which she performed at the 2012 Shrewsbury Folk Festival. A notable track on the Traces album – for the interest of my friends in the USA – is the opening track, “Cover Your Eyes“, which has barely veiled reference to a certain Republican party candidate, who built a golf course and decimated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the West coast of Scotland. I will say no more!

Enjoy “We’re All Leaving”, but keep the box of tissues close by …

– John Anstie

© 2015, essay, John Anstie, All rights reserved; photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

A Dream

photo 1-2A jar of tears
Resting on the grass
Beside a stone grave
Covered with diaphanous scarves
Knitted from April sunlight
And pearly beads made of dew
I know she was here

At dawn
She opens up like a black tulip
And in my way to nowhere I see her
Her face is a white cloud
Kneeling in a silent moment of prayer

At twilight
She collects a rising star
And the silver crescent of the moon
And disappears like a column of smoke

Spirits chanting hymns of the night
Lanterns floating
In the silky darkness I follow
A thread of light left behind
To the heart of the woods

Oh guardian with eyes like dark jewels
I am inhabited by a cry
There is a longing in my soul
In the vastness of the night I become a saint
A white dove, a wild flower
Haunting like a memory, aching like a wound
Under your touch

Let me kiss your bare feet
Until the earth gives birth
I want to get lost in the lines of your palm
Baptize me with your tears, with your breath
Until I am light, until I am free
Until the earth and I are one

– Imen Benyoub (The Bardo Group/Beguine Again)

© 2014, poem, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; © 2014, photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Who Cries for Icarus?

The Lament for Icarus by H. J. Draper

Spiral cloud mountains build in the sky, towering to 20,000 feet, I’d guess. Below, is the town of Douai, where we know Bloody Richtofen’s Jasta 11 calls home this month.

The golden disk to the west is setting and the Albatros scout planes rise to meet us. This is going to be a ripping scrap, I can tell. And then we are in a whirlwind of brown machines and red machines, red-white-blue cockades and black Iron Crosses all flashing by so fast that sometimes you can hardly keep your bearings. Like so many of these recent fights, everyone gets scattered across the sky. But I can’t look out for everyone when I have to do my other job, kill Germans and come home to Flora.

A red aeroplane with a yellow nose and tail whips past Cecil Lewis, and I take chase. I will get to 50 victories. I will get to 50. I must get to 50. He twists and dives and heads into the clouds and I know he can’t shake me. My attention is solely on his tail. I recognize the flash of the setting sun on his goggles as he glances fearfully over his shoulder at me, as I’ve seen that look hundreds of times before. I know it as sure as I know the booming of my own heartbeat in times like this.

I fire burst after burst into him, a drum of bullets from the Lewis on the top wing and 60 or 70 rounds from the Vickers gun in front of me.

I see him drop below me and I know he’s done. I see it all so plainly. The craziness and blood lust that overtakes me at such times ebbs away. And I think of my Flora, my Bobs again.

Then I break through the clouds, seeing from my altimeter that we’ve dove to only 200 feet. But the clouds are in the wrong place.
“Flora,” I cough, “why are the clouds below me and the church steeple above me?”

“Rest, Albert, lay back and rest.”

I fight the urge to rest, I have to get back to the squadron, get back to England, get back to Bobbsy. The glowing disk in front of me fades away. It’s not the disk of the sun, or my identity badge, it’s my spinning propeller. It stops and then I only see its top, hanging vertically like that stalactite church steeple in front of me.

And then that great noise.

“What’s going on, Bobs? Can I come home to you now? General Trenchard promised me I could come home now.”

“Yes, Albert, you can come home. You don’t have to hurry, though. We’re waiting.”

I see her face above me again, so beautiful, so young. Even now when I see her I can barely catch my breath. Yet her eyes are so very sad as I lay my head back in her lap. I feel raindrops on my face.

“Don’t cry Bobs,” I say.


Fifteen year old Cecille Deloffre had lived amid the sounds of war for a quarter of her life. She’d learned to sleep to the thunder of the big guns as if they were a summer rainstorm. She ignored the buzzing drone of the aeroplanes as they flew west-to-east and east-to-west each day, often punctuating their passage with the very unmilitary staccato drumbeat of their machine guns.

Cecille had seen some of these machines fall from the sky, glowing and tumbling like a cigarette tossed by one of those German soldiers hidden in the steeple of the nearby church in the village of Annoeulin.

This evening during dinner she had heard the fight above her home, sounding so much like someone had struck a hornet nest and the swarms spreading across the sky.

Then Cecille heard the sound of what could have been two aeroplanes directly above. Her mother crossed herself and tried dragging Cecille from the table to the root cellar beneath the kitchen floor.
She broke from her mother’s grasp and ran into the small fenced yard in front of their farmhouse just as one machine spit a tongue of fire back from its yellow shark-like nose, engine sputtering, gliding to a crash landing on the other side of the village.

She heard another aeroplane’s engine sputter and stop, just as it whooshed, upside-down, from the low storm clouds not 300 metres up the road. Its pilot wore no helmet and she could see his eyes but not his face in the growing dark.

Then the aeroplane just fell, like a an old leather-bound book dropped from a table.

Cecille stood frozen for a second to see if this machine would catch fire. But it only lay crushed on its side like a coffee-colored bird knocked from the sky by a kestrel. The pilot’s head move and she ran toward the aeroplane, unsure why, with her mother screaming after her.

As she came up to the crash site, the young man within the broken machine released his buckle and fell from the cockpit with a thud, a moan, and a faint rasping wheeze.

Cecille reached for the boy and pulled him a few metres away from his machine. She rested his head in her lap and he slowly opened his eyes, looking up at her with such longing that she couldn’t keep from crying.

“Don’t cry Bobs, Bobs, Bosshh…” she heard him barely whisper. Then stillness.

From behind them came the pounding sound of the jackbooted German soldiers from the steeple. They jabbered with delight, so sure they shot down a British flyer. But they hadn’t. Cecille noticed the boy had no wounds on his body.

Her eyes red with tears, Cecille looked down at the boy again and saw but a small bruise beneath his eye where his goggles had been. In her lap, the face of 20 year-old Capt. Albert Ball, MC, DSO, VC lay in silent repose. The sooty stain on it was variegated in white by the tracks of tears, like the half-smiling black marble bust of a saint. They were his tears and that of a beautiful young girl he briefly saw and was sure was the one he loved.

Cecille looked up at the surrounding soldiers and spat out, “Il est mort, Boche. C’est fini.”

But Albert couldn’t hear her. He had just won his 50th victory and he was flying home.

I guess this story shows when even a “hero” dies in war, he dies alone just like any other soldier. And who cries for him?

Joseph Hesch (A Think for Words)

© 2014, story, Joseph Hesch, All rights reserved