The Smell of Wood, The Scorch of Fire

stumpsthis rough-barked sequoia stump, sitting in majesty
in its coastal home, victim of wildfire, burned down
to its gnarly roots, its nicks, holes and char, eons
of scars, life seemingly cut off, goddess snake alive
inside the concentric circles, the smell of wood and
scorch of fire, at the verge of our infinity, in its truth ~

pristine.

rugged.

pulsing.

haunted by the geometry of limbs, the calculus of green,
the algebraic eloquence of a world within a world  ~

present.

essential.

primal.

it sings to itself in the marrow of our bones

© 2014, Jamie Dedes

Photo credit ~Bay Nature.org: “The Bay Nature Institute, based in Berkeley, California, is dedicated to educating the people of the San Francisco Bay Area about, and celebrating the beauty of, the surrounding natural world. We do so with the aim of inspiring residents to explore and preserve the diverse and unique natural heritage of the region, and of nurturing productive relationships among the many organizations and individuals working towards these same goals.” Read more HERE.

my eyes are deaf, my ears hear a song

mountains rise round, Mother’s ever pregnant belly
and the aspens dance with paper-barked madrone,
screeching their yellows and reds, brindle and feral
like the snaked hairs of Medusa, they are warning

looming over me as i lay miles away on a mesa,
the bones of my ancestors, the heart of my child
the pelts of the brown minks my father sewed
the vultures circle, mesmerized by my demise

i feed on the pinion and ride mountain lions
down slopes, into valleys, a wanderer, lost and lost
looking eastward, seeking John Chapman
he has something to say, or maybe it’s westward

John Muir, my ears are deaf, my eyes hear a song
emerging from brown bear, a surfeit of salmon
burning sage, clearing America, the wild beasts
are defanged and declawed and i am hawk-eyed

© 2012, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photo credit ~ Axel Kuhlmann, Public Domain Pictures.net

From the Butcher’s Blade

Arriving at our stop, it would spit us out … so much cattle, the regimented and the ragtagged, tired and numb. Once dumped, the rail-car doors would close behind us and we were whirled in the wake of the train rushing to the next station. Then, a sudden silence, and we were free to plod our way home, a final few blocks in Gravesend, a new ‘s-Gravenzande*, if you will, but an old irony. I’d stop at the bakery first and go on to Paul the butcher and his merchant’s rictus. His beef, he told me, “is like butter,” perfect for my carnivore husband. Paul’s face seemed bloodless to me, as if in some moment of devotion he chose to infuse the dead. Still more child than woman, I would study the varied cuts waiting to be bought, waiting to be devoured. I’d fancy their missing eyes, bones, and very souls crying out. These offerings of body and blood from Paul’s steel blade to my tattered tin chalice fed me for two years on the futility of hope.

© 2019, Jamie Dedes; photograph courtesy of morgueFile

* ‘s-Gravenzande – the place in Holland that some believe gave its name to Gravesend, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York that was “settled” by the Dutch.

The effect of animal consumption on the environment has been debated, but certainly current “standards” are physically and psychologically damaging to the humans who butcher them and detrimental to the air, land and water. No matter how things are modified for cleaner environment, they will always be impossibly cruel to nonhuman animals.

Out of the Womb of Time

Madonna of the Plains


out of the womb of Time they slide
peasants and kings, artisans and queens
murders, warriors, healers, peacemakers
the grandfathers and grandmothers
on whose shoulders we stand

they are with us, their spirits sensed
though unseen
their hearts are in our mouths
as they guard and guide

feet rooted in the mud of Earth
we drink the wine, eat the roots
and sing the songs we inherited
their sayings are our sayings
their voices are our voices
carried on breezes
like the music of cathedral bells
like the call of the muezzin
they chime and summon
they sum what came before

from their gnosis
whispered in the ear of silence
we learn: we are nameless but not lost
we too shall echo
shall be the shoulders
shall be the mothers and grandmothers
shall be the Hope and the Light
along the path . . .
. . . . beckoning

Originally published in Brooklyn Memories

© 2012, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes

A Separate Peace

“I think this to myself even though I love my daughter. She and I have shared the same body. There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since. All her life, I have watched her as though from another shore.” Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club



 sometimes …
near impossible to see past the manic crowds
or to lift our eyes to look at the wholesome
trees inscribing their calm upon the sky

sometimes …
we record our fears with writing utensils,
call them weapons, coloring the margins
of our books with the dry dust of martyrdom

sometimes …
the children use their pages to blot away their
mothers’ tears, turning backs on the old refrains,
hearing their own souls speak, deaf to their fathers

sometimes …
those children fell trees, transforming them
to paper and well-sharpened pencils, their lives
written in the manner of their own separate peace

“Everything has to evolve or else it perishes.” John Knowles, A Separate Peace

Originally published in Brooklyn Memories

© 2013, Jamie Dedes

The Flautist Wears a Shaman’s Headdress

img_3350

“As Democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day, the plain folk of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”  H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 16, 1920


gone mad, gone mad
but for the flautist in shaman’s headdress and
the first violinist wearing a necklace of skulls,
praise the intuitive, the holy, the gentle chanting
of the faithful …

defy the bassoonist 
blowing brazen notes over Syria
and the cellists hidden in caves; succour the sad sweet
violins of Aleppo, Palestine, Kashmire crying salt tears
for their lost lands, pulses weakening, and there’s
that drummer who 
down-beats from North Korea

China harps on the fumes of its discontents,
the Ukraine is loud with crashing cymbals
and the snap pizzicato of Russian preying,
while the angel of Germany hosts a symphony,
or tries to, & here in America parties are discordant

[the price of order is dictatorship
the price of democracy is chaos]

politicians out of tune, sections out-of-sync,
oligarchs charge themselves with theatre management

poor acoustics preclude hearing the chorus …
. . . and all the world’s a stage,
the men and women are not mere players

The configurations of cruelty have changed since I wrote this poem in 2013 but the cruelty is still with us and often seems worse than ever. And, it certainly turns out that Mencken (quoted above) was  prescient.

© 2013, poem and illustration, Jamie Dedes

The Plotting of a Story

“Here I am alive, and it’s not my fault, so I have to try and get by as best I can without hurting anybody until death takes over.” Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace



There are open spaces in the plotting of a story
I print out for edit during the work hours
In the silence of creativity, a sweet lavender
lends its fragrance, color and calm
Outside squirrels skip, toddlers play
Grandmothers stand-watch in doorways,
chili stewing and stacks of tortillas, warm and
soft, rest and wait under clean kitchen towels
Spring is moving into summer and neighbors
tend their herb and vegetable gardens
They imagine the yield dressed in salads
They’re willing to share the harvest with friends
A world away soldiers download ordnance
synchronized to the hum and click of my printer
Bodies fall, hearts stop, eyes water and
the manuscript is blue-pencilled* by rifle fire

© 2018, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes 

The Razor’s Edge


“You see the suffering of children all the time nowadays. Wars and famines are played out before us in our living rooms, and almost every week there are pictures of children who have been through unimaginable loss and horror. Mostly they look very calm. You see them looking into the camera, directly at the lens, and knowing what they have been through you expect to see terror or grief in their eyes, yet so often there’s no visible emotion at all. They look so blank it would be easy to imagine that they weren’t feeling much.” Mary Lawson, Crow Lake



Eye-candy, a feast of crocus, bursting
Through the snow-laden ground
Drunk on the promise of spring
The devil behind, that shadow side
Clouds shape shifting, take on
The broad outlines of a memoir

Angels dance on the razor’s edge
Forget that pin stupidity, reductio
ad absurdum, politicians and scholars
Debating, while greed and warring go on
Starving the children, curse the insanity
Dialectic, acquisition, murdering hoards

Clouds, shape shifting, take on
The contours of shame, crocus buries
Itself and the promise of spring
The broad outlines of memoir dissolve
The slashed moon drools ichor

How long can the innocent bear life
On the razor’s edge, coiling the fire
Of their despair around our hearts
Drawn to the verge on the reflux of
Rudimentary souls, vertigo, nausea
Nostalgia for what will never be known

© 2019, Jamie Dedes

Wabi Sabi

Japanese tea house: reflects the wabi sabi aesthetic, Kenroku-n Garden

Japanese tea house: reflects the wabi sabi aesthetic, Kenroku-en Garden


if only i knew
what the artist knows

about the great perfection
in imperfection

i would sip grace slowly
at the ragged edges of the creek

kiss the pitted
face of the moon

befriend the sea
though it can be a danger

embrace the thunder of a waterfall
as if its strains were a symphony

prostrate myself atop the rank dregs on the forest floor,
worshiping them as compost for fertile seeds
and the breeding ground for a million small lives

if i knew what the artist knows,
then i wouldn’t be afraid to die,
to leave everyone

i would be sure that some part of me
would remain present
and that one day you would join me
as the wind howling on its journey
or the bright moment of a flowering desert

if i knew what the artist knows,
i would surely respond soul and body
to the echo of the Ineffable in rough earthy things

i would not fear decay or work left undone
i would travel like the river through its rugged, irregular channels
comfortable with this life; imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

Inspired by Leonard Koren, Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

© 2013, Jamie Dedes

Wild Women in Art, Poetry and Community featuring Gretchen Del Rio’s Art and Victoria Bennett’s “The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be”

Spirit of the Wolf

‘The spirit of the wolf resides in my heart
Mostly peacefully, but ever wild
Running in time to the blowing wind,
Dancing in the clouds that drift in the heavens
The spirit of the wolf resides in my soul.”
– Gretchen Del Rio



The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be

by Victoria Bennett

Snow Owl by Gretchen Del Rio

At twenty-six, I met an owl. It turned out to be one of the axis moments on which my life pivoted. It was a cold January day where frost lingered in the shade but the sun was shining, the kind of day where things seems possible because you have survived the darkness of winter. The trees stood bare of leaves, branch-fingers stretched out expectantly, waiting for Spring. I was waiting too, holding a sense of change quietly behind my eyes. I watched the crows fly, black wings against blue sky, looking for carrion, listened only to the sound of water and wind and some crow caw above. This was what I was trying to remember – the feel of my touch, the scent of the sky, the hopeful warmth of sun just after the midwinter. My life had become so much darkness, so much noise and pollution and not seeing. This was the counterbalance and so far, it was working. Slow, slow days, allowing the words to surface and sound and where words could not come, allowing the brush to paint or the body to move. All was changing. I was changing. The woman I was underneath was beginning to take shape, and to my surprise, I liked her.

But first, the owl. I was stood beside the ash, eyes closed, when I heard a scratch from above. I opened my eyes and saw the owl, white feathers thick for winter, watching me. Awake. Not daring to move, I simply looked and allowed it to look at me, until after a few moments, it flew away. The owl came, and I was listening because I was ready to hear, and I was ready, it seemed, to shift shape again.

One week after the owl and I met, I had a dream. In this dream, I was with a woman walking along the river. She told me I was to call the Wild Women together. This did not seem strange or unusually prophetic. I had found a deep resonance with the stories I had found in the Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves and so the archetype of the Wild Woman was something I was familiar with, but the sense of purpose was surprising, and so, the next morning I got up and started to write the posters for what was to be the very first of the Wild Women workshops.

“The reason that people awaken is because they finally stop agreeing to things that insult their soul.” Gretchen Del Rio

Six weeks later, I stood in my living room, the fire in the stove burning and the tea hot in the pot. Before me sat twelve women, very different in ages and styles, but all sharing something special: they had all responded to the call. And so it came to be, the Wild Women group was born and I was to be their mother-wolf for this journey. As I stood there, faced with women whose individual and collective ages outstripped my own, I felt petrified. Who was I to stand here and say “this is the way of being woman”? Yet, that is exactly what I was to do. I did not know where it would take us, take me. I was just willing to begin, brave enough to speak out and hopeful enough to believe.

‘”Welcome…”

… and in that one word, I started something that would sustain me through my twenties, thirties and into my forties. I had met my clan. Together, we found the courage to stand up and say, “This is who I am…”.

That was nearly twenty years ago. Since then, working with the Wild Women, I have gone on to set up Wild Women Press, published several books of poetry from the group, worked with over 2000 women (and some brave men) on a number of amazing projects, hosted the (in)famous Wild Women Salons, made creative connections around the globe, and performed live at events around the UK and USA. It is a space of celebration and activism. There is no business plan or professional career path. It can lie dormant, hibernating as we nuzzle down and grow our ideas in the dark, or it can awake with passion and create for change on a global scale. We have used our creativity to create positive change, to be part of the world we want to live in andleave for those who follow. Sometimes we act on a very local level, sometimes on a global one.

Recently, I have been collaborating with the creators of the #MeToo poetry anthology. This is a very important movement for me personally, and for us as a group. As soon as I heard Deborah Alma was wanting to put together an anthology of poems from this movement, I offered my support, and the platform of Wild Women Press. It was obvious from the very beginning that there would be many more poems than there were pages in the book, and so #UsTogether was created, to give a platform for some of these other voices. Alongside the launch of the book, Wild Women Press are hosting a selection of these poems, in honour and celebration of the courage and sisterhood of all those who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo movement.

One of the core aspects of the group is the respect and celebration of each individual woman. Although in the beginning it was me who stood at the front of the room, every woman in the group was to go on to inspire and lead, using their own experiences, passions, talents, and knowledge to guide them in how they would to do that. In a similar vein, we will be launching an online Wild Women Press blog later in 2018, sharing our ideas and perspectives. Over the next year, we will be gathering Wild Women from around the globe to contribute, extending our circle of clan further. We would love to hear from other women, who would like to be part of a clan of contributors. If you are passionate about something, and would like to be part of a global group of Wild Women writing, creating, and being part of a positive change, please do get in touch.

In 2019, it will be our 20th Anniversary, and 20 years since we published our first book, Howl at the Moon: Writings By Wild Women. To celebrate this, we will be publishing a new book of poems by Wild Women – and this time, we are extending the howl out to others. We will be putting out the call for submissions soon, on our website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

For now, we continue to meet as a group every couple of months, and once a year, we spend four days at our Wild Women Gathering, celebrating, creating, and sharing our stories (and eating way too much food). We have witnessed births, marriages, divorces, unemployment, career changes, graduations, new beginnings, and painful goodbyes. What began as a workshop group, has become a place we now call home, and a wild family. You can sometimes find us on the fells or beside fires. We howl often, laugh lots, and when prompted, bare our teeth. Our coats are all a little more silver, and our eyes a little more wise, but we are still discovering. We are the Wild Women, and we welcome you.

Victoria Bennett
Founder, Wild Women Press

http://www.wildwomenpress.com
@wildwomenpress
https://www.facebook.com/wildwomenpress/

© 2018, “The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be” and the wild-women word-heart illustration, Victoria Bennett, All rights reserved; 2011 and 2018, water color paintings, Gretchen Del Rio, All rights reserved

Poet, publisher, activist and wild woman, Victoria Bennet

VICTORIA BENNET (Wild Woman Press) is an award-winning poet, creative activist and full-time home-educating Wild Mama to her son, Django. Originating from the borderlands below Scotland, she is the Founder of Wild Women Press and has spent the last quarter of a century instigating creative experiences in her community. Her poetry has appeared in print, online and even in the popular video game, Minecraft. She has published four collections and performed live across the UK, from Glastonbury Festival to a Franciscan Convent.

Poetry publications include:
Anchoring the Light
Fragile Bodies
Fragments
Byron Makes His Bed
My Mother’s House – a Poetry & Minecraft Collaboration with Adam Clarke, that explores grief and letting go

What We Now Know – digital VR music collaboration with Adam Clarke and The Bookshop Band, inspired by the #MeToo anthology



angel300-c12182011© Gretchen Del Rio


HER POWER LEAPS

she’s present

returned to bite through the umbilical of tradition,
to flick her tongue
and cut loose the animus-god of our parents,
like a panther she roams the earth, she is eve wild in the night,
freeing minds from hard shells
and hearts from the confines of their cages,
she’s entwined in the woodlands of our psyches
and offers her silken locks to the sacred forests of our souls ~
naked but for her righteousness,
she stands in primal light,
in the untrammeled river of dreams
the yin to balance yang
the cup of peace to uncross the swords of war ~
through the eons she’s been waiting for her time
her quiet numinosity hiding in the phenomenal world,
in the cyclical renewal of mother earth,
whispering to us in the silver intuition of grandmother moon
watching us as the loving vigilance of a warming sun ~
she, omen of peace birthed out of the dark,
even as tradition tries to block her return,
her power leaps from the cleavage of time

© Jamie Dedes


Gretchen Del Rio

Illustration ~ the lovely watercolor painting by Gretchen Del Rio with its girl-tree, panther and other spirit animals was the inspiration for my poem, Her Power Leaps, on the return of the divine feminine. The back-story on the painting is interesting. Gretchen says, “I painted this for a fourteen year old Navaho girl. It is for her protection and her power. She sees auras and is very disturbed by this. She is just amazing. Beauty beyond any words. You can see into the soul of the universe when you look at her eyes. She has no idea. I loved her the moment I saw her. My blessings for her well being are woven into the art.” Such a delightful piece. I purposely posted it full-size so that everyone can enjoy the detail. Bravo, Gretchen, and thank you. / Jamie Dedes

©2011, water color painting; Gretchen Del Rio, All rights reserved; 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved.

– originally published on The Poet by Day

a man, a woman and a stick

(1921)

the stick stood in the corner of the kitchen
a constant threat; stoking, as it was meant to,
chronic intimidation

he had a man’s right to deliver his blows
to vent his anger and his self-contempt
to cause suffering for the insufferable

someone had to make it up to him,
his loss-of-face to race, creed and poverty

for her part, eve’s daughter was ripe,
shamed by her intrinsic sinfulness,
worn by her constant pregnancies

her femininity: tired and task-bound,
guilt flowing freely, as all-consuming as lava

[relief, only in death]

and the seventh child was born to die
and the man was demanding his bread

she wrapped the girl in swaddling cloth,
placed her gently by the stove, and
while the newborn made busy with dying,
the woman prepared him his meal
(2)_Cycle_of_abuse,_power_&_control_issues_in_domestic_abuse_situations

© 2015, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; illustration source is the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence 

time for the temple whores to sleep with insanity

800px-castle_bravo_blast


does it bloom, this horror,
from my nonEuropean roots
from the scent of cinnamon in my blood?
the brown and yellow tinges of my skin?
or is it just your old soul and mine and
this intuition we share on the ground
of one another’s battles, witness the fuming
anger feeding disenchantment in the street
and the acquisitive tendencies of the elite,
cowardly saber-rattling, cut off from authority,
from that innate expressively honest power
of our erotic selves, our instinctive selves,
the non-rational knowing that embodies
strength, nothing weak or pornographic
in its expression, a profound antithesis
to the pornography of war and hate that,
in the end, is about impotence, about the
emboli of narrow minds, grasping oligarchs
fomenting tribal dissents for their own ends
or dropping bombs like a child bangs pots –
to overwhelm the fear of thunder, a game
of chicken, of the hawk-hawk play toward
a mutually assured destruction . . .

just a matter of time 

as we stand the ground of one another’s
battles where peace would be revolutionary and
the unholy alliance of wealth and fear-mongering
might burn itself out, find its way into justice,
but here we are, once again, in thrall to the
sociopaths that have us bloodied and bound ~
their eyes are the aged face of clockwork orange,
numb to the obscenities of maim and murder …
where is the will of the cup to overcome
the sword? time for the temple whores to
sleep with insanity and take the war out of it

© 2017, poem, Jamie Dedes; Photo credit ~ July 9, 1956 nuclear weapon test on Enewetak Atoll, an image of the National Nuclear Security Administration and as such in the public domain

A Moral Failure


“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his speech, A Proper Sense of Priorities, February 6, 1968, Washington, D.C.

When we speak or write about gun control, the fingers point to second amendment rights, to the suggestion that a complex problem may resolve with the application of one strategy, or to the NRA position and lobby. Democracy is messy, but safety and citizen rights are the concerns rational people hold in common.

No matter the side on which we stand, we are guilty of a moral failure. Gun control is not going to be the entire answer. It’s a beginning and as the U.K., Australia, Japan and Germany have proven it’s a huge and rewarding beginning. I think that most who advocate gun control understand that the issues of violence in America are complex. Not the least of other initiatives would be mental health interventions, mitigating poverty and youth unemployment, creating more educational opportunities and subsidizing arts programs, revisioning our materialistic values, fostering the reimagination of masculinity, and honoring our stated religious convictions. Many of us understand gun ownership as the gateway drug to violence and murder, a contradiction to those convictions. The U.S. is predominantly a country of the Abrahamic traditions and the law we share: “Thou shalt not kill.”

© 2018, Jamie Dedes

proud at unjustified margins


holding proud at unjustified margins
on steps of blue and turgid hungers
lips moving in softly whispered oratory
heartbeat drums a frightened tattoo

© 2017, Jamie Dedes

an accounting


mom stressed
as she sat
with her 10-key
urgently
conscientiously
feeding it numbers
for a business
in Redhook
a commercial building
in old red brick
her calculations spun
Monday through Friday
dripping white paper
in ribbons
pooling on the floor
with all her adds
all her minuses
she accounted
in grey lead
on lined green paper
A/R and A/P
payroll
chart of accounts
bank reconciliations
consolidated financials
transactions
neatly ticked and tied
to ledgers and subledgers
hand formulated
amounting to
zilch
zip
squat
zero
nothing
gone
forgotten
except
for the echo of her sighs

© 2015, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Country Music, Cow Pokes and City Girls

An old cowboy went a riding on one dark and windy day … Riders in the Sky: a Cowboy Legend (1948), Stan Jones (1914-1963), American actor and songwriter


When he was twelve, Stan Jones heard a tale from an old cowboy. It was the inspiration for Ghost Riders. This version by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson sounds to my fancy a bit like something of the Old West (1865-1895), not that I would really know.

I was born and educated in the Eastern U.S. about half-a-century after the Old West died. One day, I landed in the Western U.S., California, and stayed. Like most Americans of my time, I was reared on accounts (fiction and nonfiction) of the romanticized and reprehensible wild wild West. After having been fed on everything from Bret Harte’s short stories to cowboy songs and poetry to cowboy shows and movies, I was anxious upon arrival in California to explore the places that were legendary like San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton.  


A cowboy posing on a horse with a lasso and rifle visibly attached to the saddle, a quintessential Old West image. Public domain photograph courtesy of United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a15520

For me part of the mystique of the Old American West and its music, poetry and culture was that so many of the famous and infamous characters were actually not all that long dead when I was born. Buffalo Bill Cody died in 1917. Annie Oakley died in 1926, just ten years before my sister was born. Bat Masterson (lawman, marshal, buffalo hunter, gambler, and army scout) had retired from one of the most violent and lawless eras in the West to work as an East Coast sports editor and writer at my hometown paper, The New York Morning Telegraph (now defunct). He held that job in 1914, the year my mom was born. He died in 1921, after several more of her siblings came into this world. Although I very much doubt that my grandfather read about sports, it’s not unlikely that my mom’s older brother, Daher, read Masterson’s columns.

Ghost Riders was one of those songs that made me feel connected to the colorful characters of the Wild West who’d so recently tread this earth.  It also made me feel connected to the wider world. It’s probable that the story that inspired Stan Jones was some version of the almost universal tale of “the hunt,” which predates Christianity in Europe and arrived in the States with settlers from Europe, perhaps especially Germany and the Scandinavian countries. It’s a lyrical version of a lost soul caught in a never-ending hunt lead by a devil, shape shifter or psychopomp. Think of Gabriel Hounds or Woden’s Hunt. The German folklorist Jacob Grimm wrote about the hunt.

“Another class of spectres will prove more fruitful for our investigation: they, like the ignes fatui, include unchristened babes, but instead of straggling singly on the earth as fires, they sweep through forest and air in whole companies with a horrible din. This is the widely spread legend of the furious host, the furious hunt, which is of high antiquity, and interweaves itself, now with gods, and now with heroes. Look where you will, it betrays its connexion with heathenism.”
 .
Music has such a wonderful way of linking personal history and shared history. For me, Ghost Riders is just one example of this decidedly satisfying interconnection.
.

© 2017, Jamie Dedes


Ghost Riders in the Sky

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
He’s riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain’t caught ’em yet
‘Cause they’ve got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire
As they ride on hear their cry

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi Yaaaaay

Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky

– Stan Jones

 

gods of our making

Ares_Canope_Villa_Adriana_b
“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.  

let us now praise peace

IMG_0695

let us now praise the peace

after Pablo Neruda

let us sit
without movement, without words

harmless
not trampling the ant
or butchering the steer

neither selling nor buying
no birthing, no dying

fisherfolk transfixed above the wave
carpenters silent by the bench

. . . . . poet

lay down your pen
let every hand be still ~
slow the racing heart,
the speed-demon thrills

stop!
no movement, no words

now, let us praise the peace

© 2015, Jamie Dedes


Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Extravagaria : A Bilingual Edition
by Pablo Neruda (Author), Alastair Reid (Translator)
Noonday Press; Bilingual edition (January 2001)
ISBN: 0374512388

do not make war

View of Cliff House from Ocean Beach
View of Cliff House from Ocean Beach

1.

it must be painful for them to write, those poets in tough-times and hard places
where blood and tears and poverty contaminate the air, stain the sidewalks, and consume the people

the blood must be soul-sick and rusted and tasting of acid, not salt,
and the poems meant to heal the writer and stroke the cheeks of the wounded,
to dry their eyes and gently kiss their gray heads

to poem in such places must be like walking shoeless on glass shards

perhaps the most sacred thing in the dream-time meadow of poets’ desire is Light ~

can you awaken to meet the Divine on the battlefield, in the camps, in government housing or in the ghettos?

if so, you are a saint, not simply an artist

2.

in my small world, my civilized world, people fall asleep reading or after making love or playing in the yard with their children

if they wander, it is through books or planned travel

there are luxuries
there is food
there is cleanliness and paper on which to write
no bombs are dropping to scorch and scar the Earth
there is a certain dignity

3.

in San Francisco we walk along the beach at night, near the Cliff House
we walk to the sound of the waves, the song of the Earth chanting its joys
our feet are bare and relish the comfort of cool sand

the air is clear and cold and easy to breathe, tasting of salt and smelling of sea life ~
here is a pristine moment of peace

i want to bequeath this peace to you, to everyone,
as though it were a cherished heirloom
it is really a birthright

i want to plunge into the waters and gather the ocean in my cupped hands, to offer it to you as sacramental wine

i want to form seaweed into garlands for all of us to wear, to hang over our hearts, a symbol of affection

i want to collect pine cones from the trees that congregate along the coast and feed them to the children to remind them to cherish this Earth and all its creatures, themselves included, and to say …

do not make war in your heart or upon your mother’s body

© 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reservedPhoto credit ~ BrokenInaglory via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

Pigeon dreams…


Lives built on pigeon dreams
structured by Madison Avenue
calculated by Wall Street
beribboned by Hollywood
We take them: these manufactured dreams,
one-size-fits-all, straight off the rack . . .
And damn cheap too!
Mad, cannibal pigeon dreams
turn good minds and whole hearts into mince
We pray to false economies,
seek deliverance from Cheap Jack
We buy one, get one free –
And fetch and fetish youth eternal
from face-lifts, Botox™, and boob-jobs –
Exit here:
drugs, alcohol
sex-a-PEAL
en-ter-TAIN-ment.
Get a house, a car, a jewel –
Be the first on your block.
Buy now. Pay later.
Filling the empty with nothing more,
something less . . .
and warehousing our souls, they
gather dust in public storage . . .
the first month free.
Poems unwritten. Songs unsung.
Chumped. Stumped. Petrified.
A gullible human Pigeon Pie,
neatly boxed
and wrapped to go.

© 2017, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credit – Lars Konzack, Public Domain Pictures.net.

Of Pirates and Emperors …

“Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What do you mean by seizing the whole earth; because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor”. City of God, St. Augustine

In another lifetime, my day job involved working with “special populations.” Initially I taught Welfare-to-Work and Career Development and over time moved on to work collaboratively within our community as a planning unit supervisor, designing and delivering programs that served refugees, at-risk youth, foster youth, and ex-offenders. Such programs are meant to assist in assimilation of refugees and in the transition from foster youth programs or incarceration to integration into the mainstream population.

These programs involved a range of services – General Education Diploma, English as a Second Language, vocational training, case management, mental health counseling and support groups. Because early in my career my work included training, I had first hand contact with clients, including at one point going into prisons to do some preliminary work toward successful transitions and lower recidivism rates. Later, writing grant applications and assisting in the development of Requests for Proposals required hosting focus groups with  stake-holders, which included our prospective clients.

This experience was quite enlightening for a kid who was raised and educated in convent schools. I was equally appalled and inspired: appalled by the ways in which our culture and government and even well-meant social programs can entrap and inspired by the depth of faith and courage I witnessed in people who had crushing barriers to successful and sustainable employment and integration. Many of these barriers were artificially created by ill-informed perspectives and biases and sometimes cruelty on the part of the general population and by lawmakers.

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

There were certainly a lot of clients who clearly had exercised poor judgement or simply (often devastatingly) had no idea of the impact their actions had on the lives of others; but, there were those many whose incarceration was born of poverty, lack of education and opportunity, lack of parental guidance and presence, racism, learning disabilities and mental illness. Among other things, the great lesson  – and the great disappointment – of that period in my life was that the U.S. justice system was rife with injustice. That was true all those years ago and never more so than it is now.

Today, one of the great travesties is the move from publicly run prisons to corporate management and exploitation.  You will often see prison management companies advertise the provision of education, training and other services meant to make the general public believe they act with good conscience. If you review stockholder materials, however, it is blatantly obvious that recidivism rates are a selling point.  Privately managed prisons have a vested financial interest in high prison populations and a high percentage of returns to prison. Hence, the way prisoners are treated IS CRIMINAL. All things considered, this is a modern-day example of the view  St. Augustine’s pirate held: “I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.”

© 2017, Jamie Dedes

The video below provides an overview of the corporate prison complex.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to watch the video.

dancing toward infinity

spiral galaxy in Constellation, Coma Berenices, 60 million light years from Earth
spiral galaxy in Constellation, Coma Berenices, 60 million light years from Earth


.

each
lively soul
worlds contained
a galaxy of one
our gases, our dust
our gravitational pull
our weak wills
our strong compulsions
our stark shadowlands
our gaudy stars
dancing toward infinity

© 2015 poem, Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day), All rights reserved

Ms. Weary’s Blues

blues

the helpless, hopeless, remorse-filled blues
when you’ve seen the doctor and she’s seen you
when Time runs out and Eternity beckons

blues

the darkest hues with shivering slivers of
pewter muting to gray, muting to black,
muting to light fractures in a surface
permeable and permissible, heavenly Light

or, so “they” tell me …

But lost in that Universe of Light
will “I’ still be?
will “you” still be?
answer me that

What is the character of this Light?
Matter or myth?

Ah then…
after all, pondering on
I find I really don’t care
I’ll poem my blues and poem my light
until all that’s left of me is
what I leave behind…

and you?

Will you leave your unwritten
blue poem hanging in the air to be
sensed by the few who can?
Or, will you, like slaves of old,
paint yourself blue and boiling tears
dance round the fire’s edge and rebirth
your broken blue soul into wholeness?

This poem is written out of memory. Nothing untoward is pending … except, of course, for the fact of a world gone mad and who knows what’s next with that …

© 2017, Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day), All rights reserved

not with a bang but a whimper, three poems

BARUCH, THE BAKER

Your heart is smarter, my Baruch,
then your head,
which is smart indeed –
and your hands and gnarly fingers
are smarter still.
They fashion bread from
cream-colored flours,
silky to the touch.
Kneading the dough
patiently, patiently
letting it rise
while I sleep –
safe, in my bed.

Up at six a.m. we walk sleepily
down a lavender-gray street,
an apricot sun peeking at us
and, rising higher in the sky,
it seemingly follows us to you.

Cheer-filled arrival with greetings
and smiles from dear Baruch and
warm sugar smells, yeasty scents
and the sight of golden loaves,
some voluptuous rounds and
others, sturdy rectangulars.
You have baked cinnamon rolls,
a child’s delight, pies and
sticky buns too…and cookies!

“We’ll take a French bread” my Mom says
pointing to a crispy brown baguette.
“And a raisin bread.”
She adds …
“We’ll need that sliced.”

I watch your hands flit gracefully
like butterflies in a green valley
stopping here and then there
to pull fragrant loaves from display
and slicing them, neatly packaging,
then reaching down over the counter
you hand me a little bag of rugelach.

As I look up, reaching for your gift
I stop breathing, arrested by
a wisp of blue on your forearm.
I am studious, a reader, dear Baruch,
I know what that tattoo means …
Looking down, with a whisper I choke
“Thank you, Baruch!”
swallowing that lump of sadness,
trying not to show my tears.
What right have I to tears?
But then you, dear Baruch, come
bounding round the counter
with warm hugs and soft tissues,
as though I was the one hurt.
From that day forever more,
I saw you only in long sleeves.

At lunchtime, I demanded –
“Mom, tell me about Baruch.”
And she does.
I am pensive over our meal,
canned marinara and slices of
of your baguette.
Dear Baruch, with each salty bite
I eat your tears and
the blood of your daughter.
Nights she stares at me from that
sepia photo by your register.

Baruch, did she, like me, assume
a grown-up life
of school and jobs,
marriage and children?
And you! You must have assumed
the tender comfort of
her love in your old age.
Do you hold the vision of her
young and happy in your
brave, kindly old heart?
Does your ear still play back
her childish laughter,
the sound of her voice
begging for a story?
Do your warm brown eyes still hold
her smile in remembrance?
When you see little girls like me,
does your anguish grow?

Dear Baruch, our dear Baruch
how will you set your child free
from that faraway land and
cold, unmarked mass grave?

© 2008, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photograph of a holocaust survivor displaying his arm tattoo courtesy of Frankie Fouganthin under CC BY-SA 2.0 license


SOME MOTHERS HEARTS HAVE STOPPED

Some mothers’ children stare unseeing
No sweet, wet baby kisses from blistered lips,

. . . . songs unsung

No wedding portraits to dust and treasure
No graduations or trips to the sea

. . . . just their bodies to bury

crushed
beaten
stilled

by the engine of nihilism

Limbs cracked and broken, bellies torn
Faces purpled, hearts stopped

Hearts stopped …
. . . . hearts stopped

Some mothers’ hearts have stopped

Some mother's children
Some mothers’ children

© 2015, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photograph of some mothers’ children killed in the Syrian Civil War, Ghouta massacre/uploaded by Bkwillwm to Wikipedia under CC BY 3.0 license (I believe it may be a screen shot from a news video)


THE DOVES HAVE FLOWN

what must it be like for you in your part of the world?
there is only silence, i don’t know your name, i know only
that the fire of Life makes us one in this, the human journey,
trudging through mud, by land and by sea, reaching for the sun
like entering a ritual river without a blessing or a prayer
on the street where you lived, your friends are all gone
the houses are crushed and the doves have flown
there is only silence, no children playing, no laughter
here and there a light remains to speak to us of loneliness,
yet our eyes meet in secret, our hearts open on the fringe,
one breath and the wind blows, one tear and the seas rise,
your grief drips from my eyes and i tremble with your fear

© poem, 2016, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Mindanao Bleeding-heart at London Zoo, England courtesy of Drew Avery under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

To the Frog at the Door

Crane_frog4

To the Frog at the Door

if you kiss a frog, so I’ve been told,
there’s a chance he’ll turn into a prince,
a frog prince, which means you have
you absolutely have to love him
and i’ve loved a few frogs, at least
i think i have, they never became princes
nor did their love morph me into a princess,
i’m still a cranky old crow, we are what we are
loving frogs and crows isn’t transformative
….why should it be?
one woman’s frog is another woman’s prince

…….as for this old crow

………….she loves flying solo

…….not that you asked

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day), All right reserved; The Frog Prince by Walter Crane (1845-1915), U.S. Public Domain

Once Upon a Sea Green Day

We flew along the freeway yesterday under
a cold coastal expanse of cerulean ceiling.

It reminded me of you and how we dusted
the vaults of our minds to rid them of fear
and the old lexicons of grief and guilt, the
whalebone girdles of unfounded faith and
common conventions, saccharine and sticky.
I thought of that one sea-green day we spent

under just such a sky in a land far away and
how we changed your name then, reframed
your story to tell of hope and not despair.
You sketched flowers blossoming in the dust
of a spring that promised but never delivered.
Now we don’t speak of men but of cats with

their custom of keeping heart and claws intact.
We tell ourselves stories in rhythms that resound
in deep sleep. Soon now the ancient calls to
feral festivals will still and the time’s arrived when
our only play is in the margins, fate hanging
from our skeletons like Spanish moss on old oak.

It pleases me that life’s passage spins into poemed reliquary and
a memory of the pink peau de soie I wore to your prom that June.

© Jamie Dedes

Time for the Temple Whores to Sleep With Insanity

does it bloom, this horror,
from my nonEuropean roots
from the scent of cinnamon in my blood?
the brown and yellow tinges of my skin?
or is it just your old soul and mine and
this intuition we share on the ground
of one another’s battles, witness the fuming
anger feeding disenchantment in the street
and the acquisitive tendencies of the elite,
cowardly saber-rattling, cut off from authority,
from that innate expressively honest power
of our erotic selves, our instinctive selves,
the non-rational knowing that embodies
strength, nothing weak or pornographic
in its expression, a profound antithesis
to the pornography of war and hate that,
in the end, is about impotence, about the
emboli of narrow minds, grasping oligarchs
fomenting tribal dissents for their own ends
or dropping bombs like a child bangs pots –
to overwhelm the fear of thunder, a game
of chicken, of the hawk-hawk play toward
a mutually assured destruction, just a
matter of time . . .

as we stand the ground of one another’s
battles where peace would be revolutionary and
the unholy alliance of wealth and fear-mongering
might burn itself out, find its way into justice,
but here we are, once again, in thrall to the
sociopaths that have us bloodied and bound ~
their eyes are the aged face of clockwork orange,
numb to the obscenities of maim and murder …
where is the will of the cup to overcome
the sword? time for the temple whores to
sleep with insanity and take the war out of it

© Jamie Dedes

WRITER’S BLOCK: doubt, fear and heartbreak . . .

img_2030 For good or ill, I seem always to have something to say.  In retrospect I may find I didn’t say it well, it wasn’t worth saying, or I didn’t really know what I was talking about.  Is it a gift or a curse? I don’t know. I just know that even in despair, I never have writer’s block. Having said that, I don’t blame or judge those who do. Especially right now. The world’s gone mad.

In reaction some of my friends are writing up a storm—almost literally. Others are so overwhelmed with emotion—fear, anger, hopelessness—that they can’t work. It wouldn’t matter if their jobs weren’t creative. They just can’t work.  No romance about it. No calling it “writer’s block.”  We should call it—in this case—what it really is: heartbreak. 

Normally, I would say block comes from trying to write and edit at the same time. That doesn’t work. Or, I’d ask “Are you self-conscious? Are you afraid of being judged, of revealing yourself, of just not being good enough?”  Write about those feelings then. Write just for yourself. Dabbler or journaler, amateur or professional, one of the best ways to get to the root of a problem is to put it down on paper, to explore the feelings, fears and trepidation.

Or, I’d wonder: Is it a matter of perfectionism? That can be a steel wall.

“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in…it’s actually kind of tragic because you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.”  —David Foster Wallace

These days though, I’m feeling sad too…and insecure…and this may be one of those times when I should still my pen and hold my tongue, but I find I have to ask myself what can we do when we feel that our hearts are breaking? See a therapist? That might not be a bad idea, especially if the feeling goes on and on and we can’t pull ourselves out from under. Or, we could just sit with the sadness.

Periods of heartbreak and disappointment often turn out to be a sort of liminal time…a transitional stage…Most of us have experienced this in our creative lives: when events are overwhelming and our inner lives seem the most sterile but turn out to be silently rich in process and promise and demand of us patience as our becoming works itself out.  During such periods, when our inner lives are dark, maybe we need to simply live in the darkness, not try to avoid it or suppress it.

For creative people—for everyone perhaps—these times can be valuable; in the sense of our becoming, a gestational period, a personal advent waiting for the birth of a truer self. Difficult as these times are, as creatives, as citizens, perhaps they are simply times to pause until the pieces come together and our intuitive sight clears. Don’t be surprised if you wake up one day to find your creative spirit is a phoenix rising from the ashes of despair, no longer haunted and ready to take on the insanity. History, personal and shared, shows us that – however trite it sounds – out of the darkness comes light. We may have a long haul ahead of us. It might not be tomorrow or the day after, but the light will come. Hold fast. We can’t afford to believe otherwise.

© 2016, words and photograph, Jamie Dedes, all rights reserved

THE WORDPLAY SHOP: books, tools and supplies for poets, writers and readers

Here and Hereafter

img_3638i’ll have none of that, you see
none of the exclusivity of clubs
with their business of foundations,
divisions and the self-satisfied
whole-hearted embrace of conceits,
moth-eaten and self-righteous,
the mythopoeic and parabolic
spelled by men into stone and dogma,
the collision of sacred language with
parochialism and that left-over tribalism
exploding into disdain and violence . . .
how is it that vision ends and lunacy begins?

lead me instead to that inchoate space,
between saint and sanctity, soul and spirit
bequeath me into the great yawning
where my mother thrives as Khoas unquelled
where my father shines dressed in anarchy and
my sister sips tears from the wan cheeks of sages,
 . . . . . let us begin again

© Jamie Dedes

Wabi Sabi

Japanese tea house: reflects the wabi sabi aesthetic, Kenroku-en Garden
Japanese tea house: reflects the wabi sabi aesthetic, Kenroku-en Garden

if only i knew
what the artist knows

about the great perfection
in imperfection

i would sip grace slowly
at the ragged edges of the creek

kiss the pitted
face of the moon

befriend the sea
though it can be a danger

embrace the thunder of a waterfall
as if its strains were a symphony

prostrate myself atop the rank dregs on the forest floor,
worshiping them as compost for fertile seeds
and the breeding ground for a million small lives

if i knew what the artist knows,
then i wouldn’t be afraid to die,
to leave everyone

i would be sure that some part of me
would remain present
and that one day you would join me
as the wind howling on its journey
or the bright moment of a flowering desert

if i knew what the artist knows,
i would surely respond soul and body
to the echo of the Ineffable in rough earthy things

i would not fear decay or work left undone
i would travel like the river through its rugged, irregular channels
comfortable with this life; imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

– Jamie Dedes

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credit ~ from Pictures section of OpenHistory under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.o Unported license

Don’t Confuse Hunger With Greed, the healing poems of Ruth Stone

Poems clutter the landscape of my mind with bite-sized portions easily committed to memory, ready to be pulled out in a moment of need or want. In the art of  healing and living hugely, poetry is warp and weft.

Whether I am writing poetry or reading it, poetry gifts to me those blessed eureka moments, the moments when I understand myself or another, can put a name to the demons, or simply realize that I am not alone in my joy or sorrow. Think of W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues and the simple line, “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.”  I am getting older, approaching elderly, and though I am always making new friends, I’m of an age where I lose a friend or two each year, sometimes more. Bereft at the loss of someone precious and shocked that the earth hasn’t stood still, I think of this line and know that in this circumstance, everyone feels what I do . . .

. . . and all it takes is one disappointment in love to relate to Mad Girl’s Love Song by Silvia Plath, “I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed/And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane./(I think I made you up inside my head.)

what-love-comes-to-by-rut-001-1

Of the many poets I dearly love, I particularly appreciate Ruth Stone for her quality of giving things their true names and for the practicalities embedded in her poems. “Dear children,/You must try to say/Something when you are in need./Don’t confuse hunger with greed;/And don’t wait until you are dead.”

Ruth Stone was an American poet and poetry teacher born into an impoverished family at Roanoke, Virginia in 1915. She lived most of her life in rural Vermont, attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, won many awards for her poetry and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her last collection, What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems (2008). She was wry, bold, conversational, edgy, philosophical and used the language and imagery of the natural sciences to good effect.  Her second husband, the poet Walter Stone, committed suicide leaving her with three young children and an experience that indelibly etched itself on her life, heart and poetry. She once remarked that she spent the rest of her life writing to him and those poems were no doubt healing poems for her.

Not Expecting an Answer

This tedious letter to you,
what is one Life to another?
We walk around inside our bags,
sucking it in, spewing it out.
Then the insects, swarms heavier
than all the animals of the world.
Then the flycatchers on the clothesline,
like seiners leaning from Flemish boats
when the seas were roiled with herring.
This long letter in my mind,
calligraphy, feathery asparagus.

When Ruth Stone won the Whiting Writers’ Award, she got plumbing for her house. When she received the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts at the National Book Awards, she said “I’ve been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn’t stop, I never could stop. I don’t know why I did it.… It was like a stream that went along beside me, you know, my life went along here . . . and all along the time this stream was going along. And I really didn’t know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can’t even take much credit for it.”

Ruth Stone died in 2011 leaving behind thirteen collections of literary dim sum. This poem, which gave its name to a collection that I just purchased, is a new favorite.

In the Next Galaxy

Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.

In the scant two-minute video that follows, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) shares the revealing story of her meeting with Ruth Stone.

Resources:
Ruth Stone, Amazon Page
Poems of Ruth Stone, World Poetry Database
Ruth Stone Obituary, New York Times
On Ruth Stone by Sharon Olds

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserve – This piece originally published in October 2013 on Plum Tree Books website

Breathless Between Language and Myth

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Note: For some of us, our writing – whatever it may be: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journaling – is our daily spritual practice. It is the place where we consciously connect with our core Self: the Ineffible, which some call God.

Here I am, suspended breathless
between language and myth.
Strands of undomesticated words
weave ladders to freedom, and

a dove in the stripy-barked birch
recites the works of Homer.
I found the rules of grammar
written on my tongue by the wind

and the alphabet strung like
seed-pearls around my willing neck.
Each day I take to the quarries,
hard mining for the sweetly lyrical,

blistered from digging in hot sands
and hard stone for parables.
The very walls that bound my heart
are fairly breached by the

gentle solace of poems spun
on a vision quest, on toiling
though the hill country of
my youthful and once indomitable

dreams: like dandelion fluff,
I blow them into history.
I write as though poetry is
the only real nourishment –
. . . . . .  .perhaps it is.

© 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved,  Photo ~ courtesy of morgueFile

Cruel Legacy

fullsizerenderAt the time in our history when we started to see nature as something apart from us, when we gave up our shamanic instincts and in our hubris separated them from our growing science, when we devolved from stewardship and one-with to ownership and power-over, we set ourselves up for a world of multifaceted pain and disruption. One result in modern times is environmentally induced disease caused by xenobiotic substances that result in cancers, autoimmune disorders and interstitial lung diseases (ILDs).

My concern here – as a powerful and noteworthy example of the impact of industrial pollutants and of wars and other violence to the earth and its inhabitants – is interstitial lung disease. I have hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an ILD that can be caused by smoking. I am a lifelong non-smoker. Everyone – EVERYONE – is at risk of ILD, smokers or not, and so are other animals. We know that in the United States and England, the numbers suffering from ILD are growing. No matter where  in the world we live and what we do for work, we all need to recognize and acknowledge this as part of the complicated package of environmental injustices.

Our lungs are the only organs that are exposed and immediately vulnerable to industrial pollutants and inhaled chemicals, dust and other particulate matter in the air. One study tells us, “Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in humans worldwide. Environmental factors play an important role in the epidemiology of these cancers.”

Consider the two hundred ILDs: These are diseases that affect the tissue and space around the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs resulting in scaring (fibrosis). We – and other animals – can’t breath through scar tissue, which is not permeable. Hence the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen is inhibited. The result is a slow, horrifying and painful death by suffocation. This is mitigated for people like me who have access to healthcare, supplemental oxygen and medications like prednisone and mycophenolate mofetil. People living in poverty, in war-torn areas or working at risky occupations in third-world countries, get no such relief and no palliative care is available to them in the final stages. This is unimaginably cruel.

While the most common interstitial lung diseases are considered idiopathic, they can result from exposure to certain chemicals– including medications – and from secondhand smoke and occupational exposure to agents such as asbestos, silica and coal dust. They may also evolve from an autoimmune reaction (hypersensitivity pneumonitis) to agents in the environment, some of which might be naturally occurring and benign for many people.

Forbes Magazine cites lung disease as one of the continuing legacies of 9/11, the result of “toxic collections of airplane fuel, asbestos, fiberglass, metal, plastic, garbage, waste materials, fecal material, human remains and who knows what else.” In reading this description, one can’t help but think also of the people of Syria and other regions of war and conflict. It is not uncommon for soldiers returning from war to report newly developed respiratory disorders.

Industry, war and conflict, greed and denial, all combine to put the very ground we live on at risk, the air we breath, and the precious functioning of our lungs … We rightly worry about and advocate for issues of deforestation, pollution, hunger, dislocation, destruction of property and other issues of environmental injustice. Not the least of our motivations, concerns and advocacy must be for the sake of our lungs. It’s a fight for the very breath that enlivens us.

© 2016, words and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Another Kind of Beauty

Big_Sur_June_2008on the Atlantic Seaboard they’re paralyzed under
the weight of snow drifts, the detritus of blizzards;
their stark bare branches of oak, elm and maple
etch dark veins into an icy-gray cast-over sky

on the West Coast we’re breaking out magnolias
and blades of tender spring grass are unfurling;
the slight warmth tempts us to pull early spring
like a wool blanket around us or perhaps a blessing

along the stretch of Big Sur the sea strikes stone
and the air explodes, bright and wet with spume,
the green-patinated brine salts our mouths;
above us cloud turrets mimic white-capped waves

standing here, consumed by an unutterable infinity,
our hands and eyes and mind are in cahoots to
imitate nature in the most apt way they’re able,
with our sketch pad, pen and colored pencils

a quick wingless flight into that dancing sea and
we surface with visions grasped tight in our fists,
our eyes are blinded by palette colors, our pencils
bear witness to the gift of another morning,
another kind of beauty; undulating, animated
and so unlike the silent white majesty of snow

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; public domain photograph of Big Sur 2008 via Wikipedia

cloud watching

file0001128026195the open sky

,,,,tufts like spun sugar . . .

white with sunlight

layered on an endless blue blessing

free-form

and unbounded

.       idly floating . . . waiting on nothing

not the brightness of day

nor the cool calm night

….present with our pleasure

 . . . we eye one another

my silent mind

                      their silent flow

. . . . . . occasional storms 

. . .mostly languid though . . .

                                                            peaceable

. . . as the blue upon which they rest

                                            cresting

their charism weightless as sea foam,

they brush my imagination

                       at the matrix of our shared meditation

©2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reservedPhoto courtesy of morgueFile

the wordless mystery

FullSizeRender-4abundance lifted on the arc of time
then the folding in ~
the circular successions of creation and negation
forever changing, dark and luminous
nature and destiny, coming and passing
ever active, whole, eternally nameless
the wild river, the still mountain
the wordless mystery

© 2016, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

from their prison of lost hope

lovers-hands-6781279603436ENlui admit, it’s so tender, unspoiled
tongue forages for right words ~
they always carry the light of spirit,
always merge with the mind and
the heart, always temper and
heal, if you use the right ones,
if you use them the right way,
the way of what we call
“true” love, lasting love, love
that speaks in every moment,
every expression, “ true love,”
stale language, though; hollow,
banal, clichéd, tired, hackneyed,
used up . . . so let us say “authentic”
“constant” or “ardent” … all that and
tireless, Yes! , tireless – your tireless
warmth redeems my old dreams
from their prison of lost hope

“Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”  Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

© 2014, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reservedPhoto credit ~ Talia Felix, Public Domain Pictures.net; you can read Jamie’s bio HERE.

after the injera, the wat, the niter kibby

763px-c3a4thiopien_kirchentrommel_linden-museum_21084his hands flutter over and onto the kebero
a world constructed in the moments of sound
a world razed in the moments of silence
a rhythm of birth and rebirth
of heartbeat and life-blood

he’d gone to Africa, this young man
to chase down his roots
to buy exotic drums
to make rhythms with his brothers
to sing with his sisters
to learn, to grow, to come home and teach

he was full of grace, brimming with jazz
just rocking his universe, rolling with spirit
alight with green and gold,
the breath of wild savannas and
wilder cheetahs, monkey pranks
and elephantine tuskedness

what, i had to ask, was the take-away
after the safaris and the drumming
after the injera, the wat, the niter kibby
and berbere spices, the many fine meals
downed with ambo wuhteh

ah, he said, i met a sister
i was driving a forlorn road
she was walking alongside,
carrying a bundle of wood
i stopped and offered her a lift
no, she said, NO
if I ride today, i’ll want to ride tomorrow
it’s a recipe for unhappiness

she’s right, you know, he said
from wanting comes despair …
and so i drum, just drum, he said
his hands fluttering over and onto the kebero
a world constructed in the moments of sound
a world razed in the moments of silence
a rhythm of birth and rebirth and peace of heart

– Jamie Dedes

© 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photo (Kebero, a conical hand drum, for the traditional music of Ethiopia and Eritrea, by Karl Heinrich and released into the public domain; you can read Jamie’s bio HERE.

Iglesia San Mateo Unidos en Cristo, a poem in English y en español

leftthis is no city of ultimate bliss*,
though the traffic is backed up to kingdom come

and the streets are a scrimmage, full and rough,
teeming with feral bits of hope and hunger

the people here are virtuous though,
ripe with love for one another, for Christ and music

hear the music winding, insinuating
and tumbling from la iglesia y las casas

the rents are morbidly obese, don’t you know?
though the wages and hours are skeletal

too often along B Street and downtown,
a man begs a cigarette, a woman begs for lunch

Are you in the huts of the poor, consoling the
Broken-hearted with the sweetness of your soul, and
Filling their hands with your bounty?
A Lover’s Call, Khalil Gibran

*****

esto no es una parte de la ciudad que está feliz
el tráfico es interminable y ruidoso y crudo

y las calles son una áspera, llena ~
lleno de esperanza salvaje y hambres profundas

la gente aquí es virtuoso, con buenos corazónes
madura con amor por el otro, para Cristo y la música

escuchar la música, que insinutes, una cascada ~
fluye de la iglesia y las casas

los alquileres son obesos mórbidos, ¿no lo sabes?
aunque los salarios y las horas son esquelético

a menudo a lo largo de la calle “B” y el centro de la ciudad
un hombre pide un cigarrillo, una mujer pide luncha

If I really screwed up on the translation and you’re burning to let me know, you can leave comment in Letters to the Editor. Thank you!

This is what inspired the poem:

Iglesia San Mateo Unidos en Christo
Iglesia San Mateo Unidos en Cristo

City of Ultimate Bliss

© 2016, poem, translation and photographs, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

NOTIONS OF THE SACRED: Poetry as Spiritual Practice

 

poet

“Without art, we should have no notion of the sacred; without science, we should always worship false gods.” W.H. Auden

When we move on in the arc of our lives – to center – we cross the threshold into that place from which all things emanate – the sacred space of poetry and indeed all art and creativity, we leave behind the cacophony of assumptions and received wisdom to rest in Rumi’s field – a place he says is “beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing.” We cross the threshold into a w-h-o-l-l-y, place – a place Rumi tells us the “world is too full to talk about.” The ideal of this field reminds me very much of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, where all the hallelujah’s – broken or whole – are equal. And so it is with us and with our poetry, which as a spiritual practice brings balance and sacredness into our lives.

This business of taking up our pens involves more than learning the technical rudiments, the history of our craft and its key players. It requires of us a trust in ourselves and learning to let go of the expectation of understanding everything. We learn to embrace mystery and ambiguity. We learn to sit with process and to sit with the poems we are drawn to or the poetry we write. We allow the visions, the word-play, the cadence to work on us. Whether we share our poems with others or not, whether we are amateur or professional, is irrelevant. What matters is that we go on the hero’s journey and we come back with a gift.

When we write, we are like Rilke’s “Swan” …

“when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.”

Sacred space always reveals the unexpected. We are always changed, though the change may be subtle. What might come up are the daily concerns – how to make it through the day – or the current pain: the loss of a loved one, abandonment, ills of body and mind, concerns for children … Joy! and Gratitude! As we grow “more like a king, further and further on,”  our sacred space may reveal something about the greater mysteries…

does it matter after all, the curiosities

when fish and water are one
when light and dark are indistinguishable
when we are neither content nor discontent
when questions cease and ideologies melt
when there is no helping and no taking

. . . there is this” [Jamie Dedes]

enso

And “this” is well represented by the Buddhist ensō illustrated above. It is meant to express that moment when the mind is still, allowing for creation. It symbolizes enlightenment. I’m sure all faiths have similar concepts. From a Christian perspective – perhaps the discussion would be about the “gaze of faith” and claritas (Thomas Aquinas) –  “intellectual light,” illumination. In Buddhism, traditionally this ensō is done as a part of spiritual practice and it is a kind of meditation in the way that all creative efforts are meditation.

“Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals to us what is alive in us. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know. Thus, writing requires a real act of trust. We have to say to ourselves: ‘I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write.’ Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving. Once we dare to ‘give away’ on paper the few thoughts that come to us, we start discovering how much is hidden underneath these thoughts and gradually come in touch with our own riches.” ‪‎Henri Nouwen‬ REFLECTIONS ON THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION (unpublished) http://www.henrinouwen.org

So trust that through your poetry you will enter that field where there is no right doing or wrong doing and …

“The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. “ [Love After Love, © Derrick Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948–1984 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987)

© 2016, essay and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Ensō (c. 2000) by Kanjuro Shibata XX under CC BY-SA 3.0

Living … the operative word … With Disability

disabilityI have been living with a chronic potentially life-threatening illness for many years now. It’s enlightening and not just because of what I’ve learned about myself.

It’s interesting to observe reactions to physical disability, in my case that means visible life-support (oxygen). Sometimes we actually become invisible – especially if our hair is graying – and sometimes we are treated with kindness (always appreciated) or with an inappropriate solicitude (a definite no-no). You don’t need to shout at me. You don’t need to read forms to me. My lung capacity and functions are issues, not my hearing, my mental acuity or my ability to take care of myself and negotiate the world. Honestly, chronic exhaustion and needing help lifting, carrying or shopping are inconveniences, irritating and often frustrating, but not earth shattering. We learn to live with and work around such challenges. We adapt.

On the other hand, since my move into disabled-senior housing, I’m distressed to see that people with emotional and psychological disabilities – disabilities that are only evident because of inappropriate behaviors – are often relentlessly treated with disrespect, even scorn. It’s as though inner demons are a moral indictment and yet the complications of psychological and emotional disability seem to me to be more intractable and far-ranging than physical constraints. Physical disabilities in and of themselves don’t keep us from loving, finding joy and hope in life or having dreams.

Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

Ditto that. Thank you, Mr. Rogers.

© 2016, words and photographs, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

these drought-full days, three poems by Jamie Dedes

FullSizeRender-3

stone creek

no rain that summer
no clouds for the sun to part

the stoney bed of the creek so dry,
we walked on it, finding the tiny skeletons
of wild things – a deer mouse, a fish head

a heat deranged cat visited, brown and scraggy,
beaming her anger from yellow eyes,
her maw quirky and dry
her tongue gone mad

a drought-full day

it’s “drought-full” she says,
my japanese friend –
as though it were “dreadful”
which it is, dreadful
the five-year drought
i hunger for rain

drought-full, she says again
pensive, as we stroll B Street
in search of a café, a mojito
sugar, mint, caffeine, ice!

a black gentleman passes
with a nod at her he says
. . . . .Nǐ Hǎo
shizuko keeps walking,
. . . . .says nothing
the man looks puzzled, a bit hurt
he’d meant a courtesy,
greeting her in chinese,
i stop, rest my hand on his arm
“she’s japanese,” i say
by way of explanation,
he smiles then, and
on we walk, shizuko and me
on this hot drought-full day
seeking relief in a mojito

Foraging for Blackberries

Summer arrived a bit ahead of schedule
with dry air, stifling heat, persistent drought,
languid children, too hot and too sleepy.
The weird winter weather put a damper on some crops,
but others arrived earlier than usual …
So here I am, foraging for blackberries in June.
At Tragg’s Market they arrived this morning,
their deep purple tamed, trapped in clear plastic boxes,
stacked by pears tossed on a wayward rumor of fall

– Jamie Dedes

©2015, Jamie Dedes, poems and photo

View Founding and Managing Editor, Jamie Dedes’ bio HERE

Natasha Head: “Nothing Left to Loose” & “Pulse”

Natasha Head, Poet & Writer, Nova Scotia
Natasha Head

Canadian poet Natasha Head (The Tashtoo Parlour and, along with Roger Allen Baut, The Creative Nexus™) is the author of three poetry collections.

 

Natasha says she …

“has been weaving words since I was but a wee lass running with crayons and scribblers …”

… and she continues with her poems online along with Running With Crayons, her whimsical art

Natasha’s debut poetry collection was Nothing Left to Loose (Winter Goose Publishing, 2012)  It was a Pushcart Prize nominee. A year later – almost to the day – Pulse (Winter Goose Publishing, 2013) was launched, the second of her three collections. Natasha’s third collection is Birthing Inadequacy (Lulu, 2014).

Nothing Left to Lose is a collection of self-contained poems that tell the author’s personal story of everyday difficulties, disillusionment, and disappointment to which we can all relate. Ultimately it is about trial and transformation, which is the essential theme of both books.

Trapped between what was, what
is …no movement; fear
holds me motionless.

All directions equal no choice, as
fear gives way to chaos …
enslavement.

What needs to be done, I
don’t want to do, my thoughts
constant, my nightmares

real, feeling force, breaking
pressure, resisting to the point
of stagnation

Static, Natasha Head in Nothing Left to Lose

Pulse is a short epic, a narrative stream of poems that together form a modern-day odyssey of a family caught in a web of prostitution and abandonment, alcohol and drugs, delusion and deceit. When the worst happens to the young woman who is central to the story she is wrapped in silence … at first unchosen and then embraced … In this silence appears the potential for her to reinvent herself. She is being tested. Will she answer the call to transformation?

Pulse is a dramatic fiction, but I didn’t find it melodramatic or manipulative, which it could have been in hands less skilled than Natasha’s. The poems here are lucid and direct. The language is plain and mostly understated, interesting in its relative coolness juxtaposed against the girl’s grit as it unfolds.

There is nothing worse
than waiting in the dark,
no distraction,
alone.
Mother trying her best
and she
ducked low
in the furthest corner
of a forgotten closet
where she was safe to shine the flashlight
on ancient magazines
and little golden books
where she would realize
there was no such thing as fairy tales,
and princes never stayed.”

Sal, Natasha Head in Pulse

© 2016, review, Jamie Dedes, All rights reservedportrait, cover art, and poems, Natasha Head/Winter Goose Publishing, all rights reserved ~ used here with permission

Ecce Panis

Lord's_cup_and_Bread

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti …

Clad in blue-gray woolly plaid, sensible shoes
and pressed, pristine white uniform-blouse
on the morning walk from the dorms to the convent
past the apple orchard, fruit dangling like red agate beads,
past big-eyed benign cows softly lowing,
walking briskly beyond the pen and then
into the brown wooded strip, rich in conifers,
the piney detritus crunching amiably under foot,
in the single-minded pursuit of
Sister Mary Francis, the kitchen, bread.

… we therefore beseech thee, O Lord, to be appeased, and to receive this offering of our bounden duty, as also of thy whole household …

The romance was not with bread to eat,
but with yeasts to proof, batters to mix,
and dough to knead, and rest, and grow –
that beautiful, mystical living thing you have
before the baking and dying into bread, and with
the clanking music of ovens firing up, pans crashing,
the rhythmic swish and sway of our quiet community
punctuated by the clicking of Sister’s rosary as she
monitors the students and novices at bakers’ tables.
This, the sacred work of those early hours before Mass and school
and the busy business of music lessons and art classes and
the methodical ticking of Liturgical Hours until finally Compline, sleep and
the contemplation of that final sleep and dust-to-dust.
And this being Tuesday, the day to commemorate St. John the Baptist,
and the day to bake our bread for the week to come.

…order our days in thy peace; grant that we be rescued from eternal damnation and counted within the fold of thine elect. Through Christ our Lord …

The next bake day, Thursday, dedicated to the Holy Apostles.
We work in the silence of Adoration.
In a quiet alcove
mixing flour, salt, and holy water,
then the fragile process of baking wafers on baking tongs,
silver antiques.

… which offering do thou, O God, vouchsafe in all things …

The wafers from my hand to priestly consecration, bread into body.
Enigma into doubt.

…to bless, consecrate, approve, make reasonable and acceptable
that it may become for us the Body and Blood of thy most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ…

Friday. The Cross and Theotokos, Mary,
mother of both God and man, Divine and human,
just a girl like me, a baker of bread.

…who the day before he suffered took bread into his holy and venerable hands, and with his eyes lifted up to heaven, unto thee, God, his almighty Father, giving thanks to thee …

Mysterious. Numinous. Inexplicable.
A lifetime ahead to figure it out.

Ecce Panis.

Take this Bread.

… he blessed, brake, and gave to his disciples saying: Take and eat ye all of this…

from the pastures and the woods, from the sky and the stream
from nature’s great cathedrals, everywhere present

... hoc est enim Corpus meum…

for this is my body

Amen.

“Where is God? Wherever you let him in.” Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk, Poland 1787

© 2011, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photograph of chalice and matzos (sometimes used to emphasize the re-creation of the Last Supper)  courtesy of John Snyder under CC BY SA 3.0 license; Menachem Mendel Morgensztern bio.

View Founding and Managing Editor Jamie Dedes’ bio HERE

The Republic of Innocence

wildnessno mendacity in the natural world ~ just an
untamed grace in the meditative industry of ants,
in the peaceable company of small creatures
going about the business of food finding
and mating and homemaking in the loam of
this province, the republic of innocence

here is the soul-filling beauty of sun rising over
jacaranda as she paints her joy on a blue dawn;
robin with her russet-hued breast hunts for worms,
her instinctive motherhood proud of babies
 in
the spar and scrap of nest life . . .  it is in this
the uncivil cosmos – that the gentle breezes

dance with us on our mud-caked travels along
ripening pathways through meadow and brush;
as the flaxen sun shifts from rise to fall,
our hearts beat with their ribbons of ruby life,
pulsing with ebbs and flows of love and fear ~
soon – we know –  clouds will gray and the

inevitable dark and shivered moon will show
her craggy depths, sooty with doubt and danger,
our earthiness projecting its own shadows;
still we trust nature’s homilies, content in this
province where we’re left to be ourselves, left to
write our own wildness on the mirror of time

How near to good is what is wild.” Henry David Thoreau

© 2013 Jamie Dedes

The Several Faces of Gypsy Rose

Gypsy Rose Grandkitty
Gypsy Rose Grand-kitty

Gretchen Del Rio is a California artist who finds her inspiration in nature and animals. Some of you will have noticed that thanks to Gretchen’s generosity, I sometimes use her work to illustrate my poems or to post in The BeZine or The BeZine blog.

“The paintings are from my heart and I always fall in love with the subject. I believe that we are all connected and, if an image touches you, it is because we all have the same heart even though our paths may be different.” Gretchen Del Rio

A couple of years ago when my grand-kitty, Gypsy Rose, was diagnosed with kidney disease and associated co-morbidities, I commissioned Gretchen to paint her in three of her many moods. It was none-to-soon. Gypsy died a little over a year ago and is still mourned by our family.

Gypsy was companionable and could be dictatorial. She had her standards to uphold. Like most cats she was at home with writers, which was a good thing. My daughter-in-law, Karen Fayeth, and I are both writers. Gypsy expressed her critical opinion by sleeping on good manuscripts and coughing up furballs on bad ones. She liked to play the muse posing variously as lap blanket, printer cozy, keyboard duster, desk trasher and in much the same spirit apparently as Ray Bradbury’s own once-upon-a-time cat  – a paper weight. Despite her critical eye, she was always best friend.

Here is Gypsy through Gretchen Del Rio’s eyes:

'GYPSY' 3 300 E

'GYPSY' 2 300 E'GYPSY' 1 300 E

© 2016, words, Jamie Dedes; original watercolor paintings, Gretchen Del Rio, Gretchen Del Rio.comGypsy photograph, Karen Fayeth, Oh Fair New Mexico – all rights reserved

Remembering Mom

Mom and Me 1950, Brooklyn
Mom (Zbaida) and Me
1950, Brooklyn

I am the keeper of the dreams and the memories, the matrix where the generations converge, the record-book held between familial bookends. I am responsible for passing her life on to him that she may continue to live and that he may understand the consequences of history and culture as common people do.

He is the vindication of hope, his and ours. Her heart is the place were hope started. I can hardly think of my son without also thinking of my mother. They are the two people I love most in this world, though one of them – Mom – is no longer here. So for the record, I’m not sure why, but the pancake breakfasts I had with her at Oscar’s of the Waldorf are on my mind. We had rituals we honored until life had its way with her.

______

We spent time savoring the hotel before going into Oscar’s for breakfast. The Waldorf was decorated with so much gold color that despite the muted lighting we felt we were having our moment in the sun. The jewel-colored furnishings and plush carpeting invited us to find a place to sit. We indulged in wide-eyed rounds of people watching. The businessmen seemed busy with self-importance. The women fussed with their manifest charm. We always stopped in the ladies’ room with its uniformed attendants continually present. They provided each guest with a freshly laundered terry-cloth towel and double-wrapped soaps, lavender-scented. Mom would tip the attendant a quarter and give me a quarter to tip her too.

Waldorf Lobby & Clock
Waldorf Lobby & Clock

An important ritual was a visit to the Waldorf Astoria Clock in the main lobby. I’ve read that it’s there still, all two tons of it. It’s a place where people find one another. I’ll meet you at the clock. Everyone knows that means the clock inside the Waldorf-Astoria at Park Avenue. It’s a towering thing, the actual clock sitting below a replica of the Lady Liberty, hope of immigrants, and above some bronze carvings and an octagonal base of marble and mahogany. Standing near the clock gave us the sense of a history of which we were not a part. It offered the illusion of privilege, the true secret spice that made the blueberry pancakes at Oscar’s so delicious. The famed maître d’hôtel, Oscar Tschirky, Oscar of the Waldorf, was no longer there. He died in 1950, the year I was born.

_______

My mom loved the Waldorf and Oscar’s blueberry pancakes as she did everything she felt characteristic of culture and good breeding. Being well bred meant you recognized quality in a person or product: women who wore pearls, men who always tipped their hats in greeting, and dresses with deep hems. Well-bred meant you didn’t swear or use colloquialisms.  It meant that if you were a boy you never cried. If you were a girl you didn’t display your intelligence. You didn’t run. You didn’t shout. You never went out without wearing hat, gloves, and girdle.  You sacrificed sports and ballet at nine. You didn’t risk turning any tidbit of excess fat into unseemly muscle.

Given my illegitimate birth – which occurred when my mother was thirty-six – combined with our roots, peasant not patrician, and our working-class status in this country, it seemed Mom was forever posturing. Nonetheless, over time I convinced myself that my mother was indeed a most cultivated person. Hence my birth had to be a virgin birth. That would explain my father’s absence, though there was no kindly Joseph to lend an aura of respectability. Mom advised me never to kiss a boy. Kissing could cause pregnancy. Well, yes, if one thing leads to another, but how would my mom know?

'50s Style Theater seating
’50s Style Theater seating

Mom’s interest in culture was insatiable. What she viewed as high culture other’s would label popular culture. We consumed it regularly and with religious fervor. We were fickle about our temples of worship. We opened our hearts at the Harbor Theater on Wednesday night, the RKO on Saturday afternoon, the Loew’s Alpine on Sunday, and for whatever reruns were on television at any given time. Because of movies we knew what to dream. They were our world; their luminaries our goddesses and gods. Audrey Hepburn, goddess of fashion. Cyd Charisse, goddess of posture. Katherine Hepburn, the great goddess of elocution. Grace Kelly inspired us to wear pearls, however faux our own five-and-dime pearls were. We did our best to meet the standard. Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Jimmy Stewart were the gentlemen gods who shaped our expectations of men.

Our home back then was a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment on the top floor of a six-story four-section complex that was built in the 1920s before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Each of the four sections had an elevator, often in disrepair. Our apartment had French windows, which we found romantic and from which we could see the lights of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at night. The bridge didn’t open until 1964 and so it came to our landscape late. The requisite fire escape was outside the kitchen window, the only window without a radiator below its sill. It made a fine place to sit and read, write stories, and watch the cars below and the clouds above.

The building in the 1930s.
The building in the 1920s.

Our apartment, D61, was often blessed with rain in the form of leaks. Manna dropped from the ceiling in the guise of paint chips. If the people downstairs were too noisy, we tapped on the wood floor with the end of a broomstick. When there was no heat or hot water we consulted with the landlord’s wife, a common woman whose carelessly open closet displayed a frowzy collection of cotton house-dresses and limp lifeless sweaters. Mom always sniffed as we walked away, her sensibility offended. She said the woman’s hair was entirely too long and youthfully styled for someone of her station and maturity.

I remember my mother as so refined that when conflict arose between us she never fought or yelled or slammed a fist on the table. After a quiet well-barbed soliloquy, she went silent. If Mom’s anger was white-hot, she might not talk to me for years. The last episode of protracted silence extended from my fifteenth birthday until after my marriage. I no longer remember my original offense but a rebellious marriage to someone of a different ethnicity did nothing to serve the cause of reconciliation.

________

00000001There’s my mother, the little girl on your left. She’s about seven in that sepia photograph – circa 1921 – where she stands alongside her siblings and her own mother. My mother’s mother is pregnant and in her mid-twenties. Eventually there would be eighteen children of which ten survived. Mom told me her parents were married young. They immigrated to this United States of America after the first two children were born, one boy (thank God!) and one girl.

I often look at that photograph of my mother and wonder what she was thinking. What did she long for? As she made her way around the old neighborhood and tried to grow beets in a wooden box on the tenement fire escape, certainly she dreamed of dressing in the latest rage. When, through the aegis of the New York Times Fresh Air Fund, she spent a month each summer at the Muzzi’s farm upstate, no doubt she fantasized about living where the air is clear and the spaces packed tight with solitude and well-occupied with growing green things. She often talked with longing of the fresh vegetables at the Muzzi’s and of a large accommodating farm kitchen.

Mom once landed a part in an elementary-school version of Aïda and got to wear a costume and make-up. Her father had her remove the red lipstick that was provided by a teacher. As an adult, Mom collected lipsticks. You wouldn’t believe how many different shades of red there are and how poetic the names: autumn rose, wild ruby, crimson dew …

Over time, the hope of being valued by a good man, of living in a much coveted garden apartment with something more than an efficiency kitchen, moved slowly out of reach. As Mom grew older, less nubile, and more invisible, she became more artful with her war paint and her dress. She no longer wore what jewelry she had as decoration, but as amulets.

Her decline must have started when she was pregnant with me. Coincident with that, she was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. Through the years and bit by excruciating bit, she lost organs: a breast now, then her thyroid, then her womb, a kidney and finally the second breast and lymph glands. I’m just a shell, she’d tell me before warming her soul by the cold fire of a movie screen. She would fight cancer on-and-off all her life. When the end came, she died in my arms of breast and colon cancer. She was seventy-six.

Mom was a good numbers person, almost always working as a full-charge bookkeeper or accouting clerk. When I was twelve, a particularly exciting opportunity came her way. A prospective employer flew her – a Kelly Girl ®, forty-eight years old – to D.C. for a trial assignment and a job interview. When she arrived, she found the possibility of permanent employment required a full medical exam. The exam, along with work history and evaluation, would be submitted to the board for review. All those men would see it. They might even discuss her lack of womanly organs at the board meeting, complete with board notes for documentation. Embarrassed, Mom declined the interview, packed her bag, and found her way to the airport. That afternoon, she arrived back in New York at Idlewild.

Subway Station
Our Subway Station

The next morning, without even a nod to the well-bred goddesses and gods of mortal fancy, Mom threw on some clothes and grabbed my hand. An hour or so later we were in Manhattan. We went straight into Oscar’s. We didn’t stop in the hotel lobby for people-watching or give quarters to the ladies’ room attendant. We didn’t pay our respects to the Waldorf Astoria Clock. We just ate. Rather, I should say I watched. Mom ate. She cut her pancakes at punitive angles and made doleful jabs at the pieces with her fork. When she finished her serving, she moved on to mine. By the time Mom gulped her third coffee, paid the bill, and left a grudging tip, even my child-mind understood that our visits to Oscar’s for blueberry pancakes would no longer be part of a wistful dream. Lacking sacred ritual, they would devolve into compulsion. This was the beginning of Mom eating much too much and of me not eating quite enough. While Mom endeavored to bury dreams, I sought to scrap their bones bare and set them free.

First publication: March 15, 2012, Connotation Press

© 2012, memoir and family photographs, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved /the photographs which include my mother are a part of our family album but they’re also covered by copyright. Please be respectful. Waldorf Lobby & Clock courtesy of New York Architecture. Theater seating by Reddi  via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 unported license. Apartment building: public domain. Subway station by David Shakelton via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attritution-Share Alike 3.0 unported license.

Heading Home

3 p.m. and excited, I am heading home little realizing she is too,
packing my bag with that refined sense of glorious freedom that
comes on Fridays, knowing that there will be no classes, none –
for two days – no classes, freedom – packing my dark-blue cloth bag
pocketing a pink lipstick to put on once past the convent grounds,
happy in a shuttle bus to the Long Island Rail Road and Flatbush.
Tickets are two-something and the sites and smells of Brooklyn beckon.
I look forward to the Hudson and concrete sidewalks and city parks
and the mulberry trees that stand guard outside our apartment complex.
I think of her, Teresa Margaret, not realizing she too is heading home.

I think of her thick dark curls and wide purple lips, clear olive skin
and hands that flit like a hummingbirds from this to that to this again,
her sensible flat-heeled shoes, pastel shirtwaist dresses, and red lipstick,
the jodhpurs, brown boots, crop for riding, a thing she did and excelled at.
Who paid for that, I wondered, and for the stash of stone and plaster horses
that stand and wait mostly abandoned at our grandmother’s one block away.
I remember when I saw her laugh, eyes sparkling, curly pony tail bopping –
it seemed to jiggle with delight, the smiles that seemed foreign to her face
but were nice to see. So I put on my lipstick, thinking how skinny my lips are
not bold and generous like hers. My hair is fine and silky, not thick and frizzy
and coarse like hers. I am fine-boned. She is big-boned. My big sister is big.

She rides horses, did I say that? I’m headed home. The train sings as it passes
town after town along its way until we arrive at Jamaica, Queens – a hub –
where I change trains. I’m headed home where mom will serve up her anger in
bowls of pressure cooked chicken and potatoes, where plaster falls like mana,
water pipes rattle and shower water is icy, sometimes rusty. I’m headed home,
little realizing Teresa Margaret is headed home too, winging her way on a DC10
from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, cold in a wooden box, colder bullet in her head.

Youth (aged 10-24 years) Suicide Statistics:

For middle and high school age youth (ages 12-18), suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death.

For college age youth (ages 18-22), suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death.
Over-all, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for our youth ages 10-24.
(*2013 CDC WISQARS)

In ages 10-14, we have seen an alarming 128% increase in suicides since 1980, making it the third leading cause of death for that age group.

More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.

Each day in [the United States alone], there are an average of over 5,400 attempts by young people grades 7-12.

Statistics Courtesy of The Jason Foundation established by Jason Flatt’s parents in his memory.  Jason’s father write’s, “I will never hug my son again. But I can and will work alongside you…perhaps to save your friend, your neighbor’s child, a relative or even your own son or daughter. Thank you for your support of any kind . . . “

© 2015, poem, Jamie Dedes; photograph courtesy of Linda Allardice, Public Domain Pictures.net.

On Regretting Its Death by Drowning

It is always interesting to me, this business of feeding – of inspiring – one another with our art and poetry . . . 

Buddhist artist Paula Kuitenbrouwer (Mindful Drawing) tells a sweet tale of the near-death of a beetle at her home in the Netherlands.

The tranquil garden-drawing Paula completed to commemorate the day is lovely and the first line of her post is both an homage to her unutterable respect for life and absolute poetry filled with the promise of story.

“I found a Carabidae beetle in a bucket with water and regretted its death by drowning… “

The line put me in mind of Isak Dinesen‘s unforgettable opening for Out of Africa,

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills . . . “

Something about those evocative sentences lets you know there’s a good story to come. And there is.

“It lay there for at least an hour and I hoped so much it would give a sign of life. Then I did the most crazy thing imaginable; I turned it on its back, squeezed it gently, and gave it heart massage (don’t ask). Three drops of water came out. I have no clue why I did such a weird thing. Would somebody tell me he or she had given cardiac massage to a beetle, I would have laughed out loud.” MORE [Paula Kuitenbrouwer]

And so the inspiration for my poem ~

the garden floating in violet and ruby hues,
by the side of the house, a beetle floats too,
so jewel-like, amethyst and brilliant against
the dull gray water, it does not move

it lies there still as the dead of noon across
a bone-colored desert, and her hand so white,
wing-like flutters against its rigor, laying it
on the table, by a pad to sketch with pencils

that minuscule life, no will to release it
into whatever beetle heaven there might be,
laying tender finger to knead a tube-like heart
holding her breath, willing air into spiracles

wishful thinking? a flicker from the antennae?
slight movement of a leg? perhaps, perhaps
some healing pressure, one gentle push,
three drops of water, success in late hours

to heal a beetle, to sketch in varied colors
with time to hug the child and sip hot tea …
a creature saved from death by drowning and
cherish the mindful drawing for a memory

– Jamie Dedes

© 2012, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credit ~ David Wagner, Public Domain Pictures.net

Cassandra

 ♥

our Cassandra’s agony

torments

in poems of prophecy

and breaks our hearts

upon the stone of her insanity

she calls on death to visit one self-appointed night

and we, her guardian angels, wearied by the fight

still

we soldier on with all our might


©2012,poem,Jamie Dedes,All rights reserved * Painting/Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan (1885-1919), U.S. public domain.

Some Kind of Hell to Pay

Breadline
Breadline

the unconscionable dance in the canyons of power,
lined with megalithic buildings, the edifice complex
of the spin-meister’s lie, that the demigods can do
anything – anything – walking this asphalt valley

a parade, flailing lemmings trussed and trusting their
die-cut dreams to the pitiless whim of the military/
industrial/medical alliance, whose war-cries are of
greed and arrogance, believing they’ll live forever,
today’s sovereignty, tomorrow’s guarantee. But it’s

all delusion – cultures die and the hope-crushing
architects of cuts and austerity measures are like
the rich man in the Lazarus story, there’ll be
some kind of backlash, some kind of hell to pay …

“I believe terrorism cannot be won by the military action. Terrorism must be condemned in the strongest possible language. We must stand solidly against it and find all the means to end it. We must address the root cause of terrorism to end terrorism for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor is a better strategy than spending it on guns.
Peace should be understood in a human way, in a broad social, political and economic way. Peace is threatened by unjust economic, social and political order, absence of democracy, environmental degradation and absence of human rights.

Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace, we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives..” Excerpt from Poverty is a Threat to Peace, Muhammad Yunus, Noble Peace Prize speech, 2006

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photo credit, 1930 breadine sculpture at the FDR memorial courtesy of Peter Griffin, Public Domain Pictures.net

the taste of baklava

225592_347930165315583_165440687_n-1

Honestly, there are times
when the taste of baklava
finds my tongue and speaks to me
in the language of my grandmother’s hands,
when the honey and fresh mint in tea
vitalizes my very being ~
and I remember everything
. . . . . everything
even the scent of you, your eyes
the way we lingered over dessert,
tapered candles flaming wisps of hope,
your red roses wilting in a crystal vase,
dropping velvet petals like dreams
on the white damask of our forever

– Jamie Dedes

© 2012 poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights

The Transformation of Things

A Man sleeping …
A Butterfly flitting… 
Zhuangzi, dreamer of Butterfly,
ponders what joy there might be
in that tiny Butterfly brain, so subtle,
too subtle to be perceived by I or eye
Is it dreaming me? he asks.
Imagine the Universe engaged,
he thinks to himself, inside that flutter.
thunder, a Cosmic Belly Laugh –  Ho! Ho!
Then Zhuangzi knows: He is silent,
flitting from flower to flower in eternal spring.
coming and going, going and coming
This is called the Transformation of Things.

Zhuangzi dreaming a butterlfy, a butterfly dreaming of Zhuangzi

I love this allegory from The Book of Zhuangzi, one of the two greatest books of the Chinese mystical Tao. (The other book is the I Ching.) The allegory is about chi (qi), the energy of creation, which some might call God. 

©2011, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; illustration courtesy of About Qigong.

Roses and Their Homilies

file000592821988after Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

January is on the wane
leaving behind early dark and champagne hopes
for the genus Rosa. Wild or tame, they’re lovely.

Garden roses need pruning, solicitous cultivation ~
Layer shorter under taller, drape on trellises
and over pergolas, the promise of color and fragrance,
climbers retelling their stories in ballet up stone walls,
an heirloom lace of tea roses, a voluptuous panorama
rhymed with shrubs and rock roses in poetic repetition.
Feminine pulchritude: their majesties in royal reds
or sometimes subdued in pink or purple gentility,
a cadmium-yellow civil sensibility, their haute couture.

Is it the thorned rose we love or the way it mirrors us
in our own beauty and flaw and our flow into decrepitude?
They remind of our mortality with blooms, ebbs, and bows
to fate, a noble death to rise again in season, after Lazarus.
Divinely fulsome, the genus Rosa, sun-lighted, reflexed ~
And January? January is ever on the wane.

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Photo courtesy of morgueFile

Portrait by Fray Miguel de Herrera (1700-1789)
Portrait by Fray Miguel de Herrera (1700-1789)

The work that was the jumping off point for my poem is one by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1551-1695), who lived during the time when what is now Mexico was a part of the Spanish empire. Sor Juana was an ambitious writer, self-taught, and a Baroque poet. She belonged to the Order of St. Jerome. I am enamored of her work and find her life interesting. She was brilliant, independent and nonconforming.

Sor Juana was hungry for learning and was self-educated. From childhood, she set her own demanding educational goals. Unfortunately, the parochial male powers could not put the power of her mind together with her femininity. She suffered for that.

These three famous quotes of hers are telling:

“I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less.”

“One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”

“…for there seemed to be no cause for a head to be adorned with hair and naked of learning…”

For those who might be interested, here is her poem Rosa in Spanish and in English.

Rosa divina que en gentil cultura
eres, con tu fragrante sutileza,
magisterio purpureo en la belleza,
enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.
Amago de la humana arquitectura,
ejemplo de la vana gentileza,
en cuyo ser unió naturaleza
la cuna alegre y triste sepultura.
¡Cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida,
soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,
y luego desmayada y encogida
de tu caduco ser das mustias señas,
con que con docta muerte y necia vida,
viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas!

Rose, heaven’s flower versed in grace,
from your subtle censers you dispense
on beauty, scarlet homilies,
snowy lessons in loveliness.
Frail emblem of our human framing,
prophetess of cultivation’s ruin,
in whose chambers nature beds
the cradle’s joys in sepulchral gloom.
So haughty in your youth, presumptuous bloom,
so archly death’s approaches you disdained.
Yet even as blossoms soon fade and fray
to the tattered copes of our noon’s collapse –
so through life’s low masquerades and death’s high craft,
your living veils all your dying unmasks.

– Juana Inés de la Cruz

Illustration and poem in the public domain. Source of translation unknown.

dancing toward infinity

each lively soul
worlds contained
a galaxy of one
our gases, our dust
our gravitational pull
our weak wills
our strong compulsions
our stark shadowlands
our gaudy stars
dancing toward infinity

– Jamie Dedes

© 2014, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Turtle Speaks

Painted Turtle by Gretchen Del Rio c 2010, rights reserved
Painted Turtle by Gretchen Del Rio c 2010, all rights reserved

we live on Turtle Island and turtle is my totem ~
she speaks in the easy way only turtle can,
as one who is at home in herself, at home between
her plastron and carapace, wisdom in her measured
gait, her introversion a model for freedom, for cutting
the nets spun of wars and deceptions . . .

she is the everyday re-enchantment of my solitary
cosmos, my solidarity with life, i read her pastoral
letters in green on green, the sweet grasses and seas,
she speaks of connectedness, the basic constituents
of enigma, wizardry; and in the insanity of the times,
how best to journey and retrieve this world’s soul . . .
she is the unrushed cure for nature-deficit,
that consuming affliction, the spawn of culture’s
back-lighted screens and advertising of every bilk

turtle healing is simple peace and master lessons in
self-containment, she draws me into my meditations
and back along the first path of Maka Ina, the forgotten
primal path of earth ways and feminine energies and
the rhythms of grandmother moon whirling me heavenward.

– Jamie Dedes

  • Turtle ~ totem or power animal representing earth in Native American tradition
  • Turtle Island ~ in Iroquois tradition, when the earth was covered over with water, sundry animals attempted  to create land by swimming to the bottom of the ocean and hauling up dirt. Muskrat succeeded. He placed the dirt on the back of  Turtle, which grew into the landmass known today as North America. 
  • Maka Ina ~ Lakota (Sioux) ~ “maka” is earth and “ina” is mother, so Mother Earth. Earth teachings were/are considered a path to wholeness (heaven).

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved,
Illustration courtesy of Gretchen Del Rio, all rights reserved

Señora Ortega’s Frijoles

flores de la frijoles
las flores de frijoles

Her fate was set when she fell under the spell of his kind eyes and bigger than life personality. For his part, he loved her gentle ways, the fluid dance of her hands at work, the sensual swing of her hips as she walked to the market with basket in hand.

And so it happened that in 1948, with her father’s permission and her mother’s tears, they were wed in the old adobe iglesia where uncounted generations of her family had been married before her. Not many months after the wedding, she kissed her parents and siblings goodbye, took a long loving look at her village, and she followed her new husband north to los Estados Unidos de América. She was already pregnant with Clarita.

****

As the days and years passed, they settled into their routines. Sunday mornings were her husband’s quiet time. He stayed at home while Señora Ortega and Clarita were at Mass. In their absence he would occasionally put down his newspaper and stir his wife’s frijoles simmering fragrant with pork, a few bay leaves, onions and garlic. Last night: their Saturday ritual, she and Clarita had sorted and then washed the dried beans in cold water and left them to soak until morning. The child – fast becoming a young woman – took the time and care to do a good job of this. El trabajo es vertud. Work is virtue, Señora Ortega encouraged.

In the tradition of Señora Ortega’s own madre, la cocina was a place of teaching – about food, about life, about being a woman, about being human. “!Ten cuidado, hija!”  Be careful, she would say as she demonstrated her almost sacramental sorting of the dry beans. It was an opportunity to teach Clarita the dichos, the proverbs, of her mother and grandmother and all the grandmothers before.

“Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” We get our strength from los frijoles, she taught Clarita just as her own mother taught her. Certainly the beans give the strength to our bodies, but also the strength to our character.  There are lessons. “¡Aqui!”  Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed. Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. One bad frijole will ruin the whole pot.  Taparse con la misma cobija.* … You will be judged by the company you keep. Be cautious in your choice of friends.  Even the norteamericanos have such a saying: one bad apple spoils the bunch.

“Mama,” said Clarita, rolling her eyes after her mother’s latest speech. We are North Americans.” Señora Ortega’s brow furrowed when she heard this. She was given to worry about such reactions from her daughter. What of the child’s values?  It is true after all. My daughter is American. What does this mean for her future, for our relations, and for us as la familia?

****

Soon Señora Ortega had to put her concerns aside. It was springtime. Easter was upon them and with it a visit from her husband’s sister with her two small children. Señora Ortega and Clarita were busy with preparations. The air in her house smelled of poblanos roasting and cookies baking. They put fresh linens on the beds in the guest rooms. They picked flowers from her garden and set them in vases around the house. She gave in and bought chocolate Easter bunnies too, the silly convention of this country, but the children loved them and looked forward to them each year.

Finally the honored guests arrived and the house was filled with the cheerful noises of los niños. The boy and girl were now old enough to learn to prepare beans and, on the eve of Easter Sunday, Señora Ortega gave Clarita the task of showing the children how to sort los frijoles for cooking.  She looked on as Clarita explained the process. “!Ten cuidado, mis primos. Aqui! Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed.  Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. Remember one bad frijole will ruin the whole pot. Be cautious in your choice of friends. Taparse con la misma cobija. You will be judged by the company you keep. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” Los frijoles are our strength.

****

At some point, Señora Ortega’s husband had come to stand by her side. She realized he was watching her as intently as she watched their daughter. He put his arm around her and held her close. “You see, mi querida, she is a good girl and you are a good mother. It’s gonna be okay …”

“Am I that transparent,” thought Señora Ortega, but she sighed gratefully. All will be well. My mother was right. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” 

Taparse con la misma cobija – literally: to cover yourself with the same blanket, i.e. likely the same meaning as our expression “birds of a feather.”

– Jamie Dedes

© 2012, short story, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved. This story is a fabrication and not meant to depict any specific person or persons living or dead.

Photo credit ~ Schnobby via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 unported license

Mourning Brooch

IMG_7052the memories have little substance
they flit and fly, pollen on the wind,
like the quick passing of a joyful birth,
the school years, the sweet trysts ~
a waving bridal veil . . .

. . . the way your love drained you
of your dreams just to fill yourself with him

. . . . . the epitaph of tears

only when yesterday becomes a story,
once upon a time, do memories
become memorial, a mourning brooch
forever warm upon your breast

©2013 poem, 2015 illustration, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

“Petrichor Rising” … or how the Twitterverse birthed friendships that in turn birthed a poetry collection …

product_thumbnail-3.php“I always had this notion that you earned your living and that poetry was a grace.” Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), Irish, poet, playwright, translator, educator and Nobel Prize winner

I’m sure my friend, John Anstie, poet and renaissance man, The Bardo Group core team member, and editor of and contributor to Petrichor Rising (eBook and paperback), a 2013 poetry collection of The Grass Roots Poetry Group (GRPG), would prefer that I focused on the poems and the collection. The former feature-writer in me still loves a good story though. (Forgive me, John!) The coming together of this group and the publication of their collection is as good a story as any and better than most … and hence, I break my usual self-imposed word limit on posts. Read on … You may recognize yourself in some of this …

“I do accounting. I am a writer.” an employee corrected me when I introduced him as an accountant.

I spent many years in the employment and training field, serving in sundry positions and writing columns, feature articles and journal pieces ad nauseam about recruiting and job search, chosing careers, assessing post-secondary vocational education programs, structuring community programs for at-risk populations (read the poor and marginalized), as well as writing about labor and job market trends including changes evolving out of advances in technology.

Wherever I worked whether it was counseling, placing executives in career positions or teaching career development and job search to ex-offenders or people transitioning off welfare, I found the same thing. Scratch the surface of almost anyone and you will find an artist.  Several of the poets to this anthology earn or have earned their living doing something other than writing. John Anstie talks about discovering his “inner poet.” At core, we are creators.  This is a great truth about human beings.

It used to be that most evidence of creativity ended in storage somewhere: dresser drawers, file cabinets, attics or garages … until the accessibility of social networking and self-publishing via blogs, videos, blog radio and other venues. Now  creatives have easy means to deliver their work independently and to find their own audiences, modest but genuine. No longer unknown, these poets and artists join the ranks of lesser-knows. They also have a wider opportunity to meet others with the same interests and values.  Put the mix together – a wonderous serendipity – and the birth of productive collaborations …

Freinds in the Forest (eCollage by Anu) (c) all rights reserved
Friends in the Forest (eCollage by Anu) (c) all rights reserved

“As far as I recall, it all started with freshly-baked lemon drizzle cake . . . ‘@peterwilkin1: Good Morning. Coffee & lemon drizzle cake, anyone?’ …. One may be forgiven for thinking the GRPG is an international social network-based association for the deep appreciation and virtual consumption of cyber cake and other comestibles. Indeed this is what they do, but they also do something else remarkable – they write poetry – delightful, delicious, scrumptious, tasty, and delectable at that, poetry.” Introduction, Craig Morris

And thus it began, with friendly – often quick-witted – Twitter chat and an affinity evolved. Two years later Petrichor Rising was born and featured artwork by one, the Introduction by another, and the poetry of the rest.  How did they pull it all together?

Interview with John Anstie

john_in_pose_half_face3

JAMIE: Expanding on your piece about editing Petrichor Rising (posted this evening on The Bardo Group): Learning to use language gracefully and words accurately is a lifelong challenge (and a pleasure); but editing English when the works are from such diverse regions of the world throws extra spice into the mix. There are many variations on the themes of grammar, spelling, and on syllable accent and speech inflection, how did you approach that particular challenge?

JOHN: Your first question is not a question, it is several questions, which, as you imply, could take me a lifetime (and possibly a few pages) to answer! But the simplest way I can answer this is to be entirely honest. By and large, I took each piece as it was presented and interpreted it as it was written. Grammar and spelling was not really a problem, since I left the words spelled as they were presented; my two North American friends, Jackie and Joe, if they used American English spelling, that’s how it stayed, of course. There were few issues in the grammar department. As for syllable stress and speech inflection, I had little issue with the effects of these on scansion, since almost all of the poems, except some of my own, were pretty much in the ‘free verse’ form. But you certainly have raised a valid issue for editors of international poetry collections.

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JAMIE: How did you work out the collaboration? The book is admirably unified and surely there must have been some back-and-forth about which poems to use from each poet and how to organize the sequence.

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JOHN: Over the two years of its gestation, there were a few changes of poems. Some of the original poems submitted were withdrawn, because of submissions elsewhere and a handful were edited and resubmitted for inclusion. The sequence was the greatest challenge for me. Initially, I asked each poet to attach key words or tags to each of their own poems, from which I intended to attempt dividing the whole body of work into sections. That didn’t work, simply because I inevitably ended up with too many key words. In the end, after we’d decided on the title, I felt it important that any themed sections should reflect the theme of the title in some way. So I worked through the whole collection of sixty-five or so poems and categorised them myself. The three sections were the end result of that part of my work on the book.

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JAMIE: Have you had the opportunity to speak by phone or meet in person with any of the members of the Group? If so, what was that experience like.

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JOHN: Five of us live in the UK. It was Louise, who bravely blazed a trail to Yorkshire to stay with Peter and his wife for a week. I guess she judged him to be trustworthy enough (and not the mad axe murderer he might have been!). I  journeyed up to meet them both on neutral ground. We spent a fruitful and enjoyable day in each other’s company. Shan and Abi were the next to visit Yorkshire. I’ve lost count of how many times we met after that, including a couple of poetry readings at Ally Wilkin’s shop “Crystal Space” (one of the locations in Peter’s and Marsha’s joint publication, “Brianca and The Crystal Dragons”). All of this was capped in a confluence in May 2012, when the five of us from the UK, along with Joe and Quirina, who flew in from Albany, New York and Germany, came together in London – photos of this are in my Facebook album of that day HERE.

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It was a very happy day, but one that wasn’t long enough for us all. Finally, last June, Marsha came to the UK for a conference in Leeds. She lodged with Peter and Ally for the first part of her stay and with me for the last part. It was very special to meet her too. So, in answer to your question, I’ve met nearly all of them; only Jackie in New York and Craig in South Africa have yet to meet us. Quite incredible, considering we only met on Twitter two and a half years ago! One final twist to this tale, to cut a long story short, is that Abigail turns out to be the daughter of an old school friend of mine, whom I had very recently met up with again along with another friend! It’s a very small world!

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JAMIE: What made you choose print-on-demand over ebook? Does the GRPG plan to offer the book in ebook format? It a lovely volume, and I think would make a fine addition to anyone’s poetry library. These days, though, many appreciate ebooks for their portability as well as the saving grace of saving shelf-space.

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JOHN: Print on demand, in the end, seems like a very sensible choice. Self publishing would have been difficult, deciding how big a print run dramatically affects the cost-per-unit economies. However, it was the publisher, Aquillrelle, who determined the route to print and we chose them, because they had published Marsha’s collection, “Spinning”, and she was very impressed with their service and attention to detail. It proved to be a good choice for me, as their Chief Editor, did have a keen eye for detail. As for the ebook, Amazon should have produced one by now, but it’s not happened yet. I suspected it might be a demand thing; I’m not sure. Even though I own an iPad Mini, which is, of course, a perfect ebook reader, it has to be said that I prefer to have a real book in my hands.

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Note: I see that Lulu has an eBook available since we did this interview. The link is above in the opening paragraph. Jamie

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JAMIE: Would you do it all again and if so, why?

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JOHN: I think the answer is yes, probably, but not in the same way. What would I do differently? I couldn’t answer that until I saw the material I was working with. However, there are two more projects on my horizon before another anthology comes along. The first is going to be some kind of account of the story of an historic house, gardens and estate, for which my wife and I are members of the volunteer teams. The second may be my own first full collection. Then, for the sake of my family history, maybe I ought to complete my own autobiography.

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Book Review in Brief

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

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I dislike using the word “accessible.” There have been times when I’ve wondered if that is code for a lack of intricacy or profundity. The work here is comprehensible but still complex. The poems move from nostalgia to appreciation, from the beauty of nature to the frailties of humanity, from sorrow to hope. From Craig Morris’ Introduction, which sets the mood, to Joe Hesch’s theme poem Petrichor, which closes the book, it’s a joy. Well organized with the weather metaphor as the through line, the sections are The Drought, Gathering Storm, and The Rain. Its hallmark is the show of humanity at its best.

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This morning I will cast open the curtains, chasing the fear away
and hold this crystal up to the sunlight, releasing my soul to fly

– Prism, Abigal Baker

…. and at its worst

Haunted by
proper thoughts
of his wife at home
he wryly recollects
how he told her
before friends and family
on their silver anniversary
“I love every wrinkle,
every scar I celebrate,
such wonderous depths
are etched upon your body
a cartography of our marriage
I love the silver in the gold
of our hair”
then renewed
his marriage vows
his fingers crossed,
avoiding his own reflection
in the mirror

– Cracks of Angst: A Portrait of an Unhappy Man, Marsha Berry

Petrichor Rising is availabe from Lulu and Amazon and profits are donated to UNICEF.

© 2013, feature article, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Artwork and poetry quotes are the property of their creators

The Doves Have Flown

file261336842312-1what must it be like for you in your part of the world?

there is only silence, i don’t know your name, i know only
that the fire of life makes us one in this, the human journey,
search and return, running through mud, reaching for the sun

like entering the ritual river without a blessing or a prayer

our eyes meet in secret, our hearts open on the fringe,
one breath and the wind blows, one tear and seas rise,
on the street where you live, your friends are all gone

the houses are crushed and the doves have flown

there is only silence, no children playing, no laughter
here and there a light remains to speak to you of loneliness,
my breath caught in my throat, i want to make it sane again

“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.”
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), American poet, writer, and editor

– Jamie Dedes

© 2015, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photograph courtesy of morgueFile

Le Fée Verte, Absinthe

“A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world, what difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset.” Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish writer and poet

in the wilderness of those green hours
gliding with the faerie muse along café
walls virescent, sighing jonquil wings of
poetry, inventing tales in the sooty red
mystery of elusive beauty, beguiled by an
opalescent brew, tangible for the poet and
the pedestrian, the same shared illusions
breaching the rosy ramparts of heaven

© 2011, poem Jamie Dedes,  all rights reserved

Albert Maignan’s painting of “Green Muse” (1895) shows a poet succumbing to the green fairy (absinthe). Musée de Picardie, Amiens.

Blue Echo

IMG_7236silent, but for the cunning corvidae,
they of persistent caw, whoop and kuk,
they float on soft whimpers of wind
above the quiet fragrant grass
and all the while the pen spins ~
spins on spring when gentle colors
stir the blooming riot of garden

a fabled coalition of migrant birds
arrives to sit a spell, to catch a breath of
white jasmine on a breeze, it speaks the
tongue of aleppo … while pen weaves
a twine of words in the shade of a ginkgo,
siphoning stories from earth’s green waves
and that blue echo of peace called sky

© 2014, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Call Out for the Sacred Dream

IMG_0656Writing in a far and broken country, my pen
knows its kinship with the dark forest, asks
direction of its trees, celebrates a quiet amity
over the din of plastic medicine vials, the 40-foot

serpentine specter of a cannula, the hiss and sigh
of an oxygen compressor amid layered silences.
We are named on a long list of regional poets.
The region is the sickroom where the palm and

birch in the courtyard know their meaning and
place. Lend your soul’s ear. The trees will speak
and tell you that we are found. We are here,
not lost in those vials but found in the hallowed

company of this dusty Earth on a shared vision quest.
Call it illness. Call it artful … Strike up the hill. Cry out
for the Sacred Dream, for the purpose of your life and
its confusions. A comforting Infinity breaks through

fierce grievings embraced. The great dream comes
to you. The trees come to you. They speak in God’s
tongue, which is – after all – your whispering heart  . . .
Life gives, bequeathing  the key to its wide and
wild Essence. Unlock the door. Listen … listen! 
The voice is  lyrical and trails records in blue ink.

“There is on this earth, what makes life worth living.” Mahmood Darwish (1941-2008), Palestinian poet … An observation as true for people who are occupied by illness or other distress as it is for a people who are living in occupied territory.

– Jamie Dedes

© 2008 poem, 2005 photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

because love poems are eligies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAat the grocery ~
Meeting accidentally in the wine section
you sip me shyly with gentle conversation
and read the label on my selection,
your hand brushes mine, a sensual appeal
It’s for drunken pasta! I explain,
you laugh and say you’d rather drink than eat it
your eyes are Wedgwood blue and hold a wistful smile
you imagine I’m something fine, a vintage port
you’re flushed with the fancied sweetness
I could drink you too, a sturdy Bordeaux
but I no longer deal well with hangovers

© 2012, “Hangover” Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photograph courtesy of morgueFile

Crane_frog4

To the frog at the door

if you kiss a frog, so I’ve been told
there’s a chance he’ll turn into a prince
a frog prince, which means you have
you absolutely have to love him
and i’ve loved a few frogs, at least
i think i have, they never became princes
nor did their love morph me into a princess
i’m still a cranky old crow, we are what we are,
loving frogs and crows isn’t transformative
….why should it be?
one woman’s frog is another woman’s prince

…….as for this old crow

………….she loves flying solo

…….not that you asked

© 2013, “The Frog Prince and the Old Crow” poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reservedIllustration ~ The Frog Prince by Walter Crane (1845-1915), U.S. Public Domain

a portrait in February …

IMG_3809there’s a portrait in February of percale sheets
and the tempting rondure of warm shoulders
tucked under a pink duvet and late mornings,
coffee in bed, playing your hips like the strings
of a harp, the lively marl of a true love’s honor,
soft, the whiff of spring, the meadow violets
their heart-shaped leaves and felicitous flowers
promise of summer peace in damask gardens
wealth of silver roses, tart lemons, frisky mint
finger tip the faded hillock of hair on your neck
and let go of all that is false and mean for this –
the warmth of our ardor, the trust in our kiss

– Jamie Dedes

© 2015, poem and illustration, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Feast Days of the Heart

IMG_6835the gentle coasting of a blue dragonfly, and
this, the pulsing peace of a quiet afternoon,
Bach on the radio, dinner simmering
on the stove of my tranquility, my day
chasing night, my night chasing day,
rhythms caressing my face, love-bites
on the leg of my being, heart beating
at one with the ocean sighs and
only gratitude for the gift of life,
no more scandalized by the news of
death, baptism into heaven, whatever
that may be, but the reports center on
Kiev, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan –
easy to foment flash-points for horror

easier to forget just how sweet it is
to breath with the sun and grow
with the cypress bending by the shore,
obeisance to the seas and sky and
living on the edge of Eternity: time to
give it up, give up strife for Lent, only
celebrate resurrections with steaming
sweet greens, scented with onion,
over shared bowls of rice, knowing the
the ground of being* is a feast-day of the heart
stirred by the breeze of Spirit winging

– Jamie Dedes

* “being” as in Tillich’s third role of being: Christ manifesting as the “New Being,” the acutalization of the work of the Holy Spirit (as I understand it and I’m not a student of theology or divinity except in a most casual auto-didactic sense)

© 2014 poem, 2015, photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Gentleman of the Old School

The Madonna in Sorrow Giovanni Battista Salvi (1609-1685)
The Madonna in Sorrow
Giovanni Battista Salvi
(1609-1685)

gentlemen of the old school
those devotees of Mary …
Mother of Christ, Handmaid of the Lord
seeing her in every woman
….. generously
even me – daughter, mother niece, friend –
protagonist, antagonist,
on-again off-again wife
simmering slowly in the broth of the cosmos
never quite done, never quite done
but they were, they were
gentlemen of the old school

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved Photo ~ via Wikipedia and in the U.S. Public Domain

Their Compassion Has Legs

“All you need is a sense that there is no such thing as ‘no’ and everything is possible.” Moira Kelly

This shining face, this sweet spirit with reason to be bitter and yet he is not. He is a hero and pure inspiration. When Naomi Baltuck (Writing Between the Lines/Life from a Writer’s POV) posted this video on Facebook, I was as touched as anyone would be. I had to wonder though about his mom. What kind of hero is she, I thought, remembering the heroes of my childhood: Josephine Baker and my spiritual mother, Pearl Buck. Each of these women grew their families in unique – and extraordinarily unselfish – ways.

“All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world can learn to live together in peace if they are not brought up in prejudice.”  Josephine Baker (1906-1975)

Josephine_Baker_1950Josephine Baker was born in America but became a French citizen. She was a dancer, singer, actress and civil-rights activist.  As a child living in St. Louis, Missouri, she suffered from discrimination, abandonment, and poverty.  As an adult she had one miscarriage. She adopted twelve children, two girls and ten boys. They were from diverse races and cultures because, in addition to caring for them, she wanted to show that people can get along despite their different backgrounds. In the early ’80s two of her sons went into business together. They started Chez Josephine, which is on Theatre Row (42nd Street) in Manhattan. They dedicated the restaurant to their adoptive mom’s memory and decorated it with her memorabilia.

“. . .  the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.” Pearl Buck (1892-1973)

220px-Pearl_Buck_(Nobel)Pearl Buck was an American novelist, writer, humanitarian and the first woman to be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature (1938).  She grew up in China and spent most of her life there until 1934. She had a deep affection for and knowledge of the countries of the East, not just China. She suffered through the Nanking Incident when the National Revolutionary Army captured Nanking (now Nanjing) in 1927.  Many Westerners were killed, their homes destroyed, and their property stolen.  Her only biological child, Carol, had phenylketonuria (PKU), which causes mental retardation and seizures.  Pearl Buck adopted seven children. At a time when mixed-race children were considered unadoptable, Pearl Buck founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. Welcome House has placed some five thousand children since it was established 1949.

“The greatest act of kindness changes generations. Wherever there is the greatest evil, the greatest good can be achieved.” Moira Kelly (b. 1964)

emmanuel-kellyThis brings us to a contemporary hero: the mother of Emanuel Kelly, the young man in the video. Moira Kelly is an Australian humanitarian whose work has garnered her many awards and acknowledgements.  When she was eight years old, after seeing a movie about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (now Kolkata), Moira committed herself to working with disadvantaged children.  She is the legal guardian of twins from Bangladesh, Trisha and Krishna. They are surgically separated but originally cranially conjoined twins.  Moira Kelly also adopted the Iraqi-born Emmanuel and his brother Ahmet, both born with underdeveloped limbs. Among her efforts is Children First Foundation, formed to provide transportation and healthcare for children with urgent needs in developing countries.

These women are mothers in the best senses of that word. Their ideals are real and they stand by them. They have saved children from abandonment and loneliness, from poverty and hopelessness and, in some cases, from early death. They are goddess mothers and true heroes.

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved, Originally published on The Bardo Group blog
Video uploaded to YouTube by DrReaps
Photographs of Josephine Baker and Pearl Buck are in the U.S. Public Domain.
I don’t know the provenance or copyright holder of the photograph of Moira Kelly and her sons. If it is yours, let me know and I’ll credit you or take it down as you wish.

How Skinny Girls Survive


The decade of our destiny remains in memory like a petrified forest of events caught between less notable times. In 1960 I still had four-and-a-half years left to endure at St. Ann’s by the Sea; that is, when I wasn’t enduring my frayed mother or the charity of some kind but put-upon relative or family friend.

I was quiet and introverted back then. Excess baggage best take care not to make noise, intrude, interrupt, argue. Poor little Vinchenza St. Claire. That’s what they would say of me. They’d be surprised to see me now, all grown-up, grown old, and sometimes caustic as hell … And it’s Vinnie, if you please. Not Vinchenza. But I see I’m getting ahead of myself. I tend to do that.

So the Christmas holiday over, the new year begun, and the sun rising and setting on schedule, I packed my suitcase and violin, kissed my much relieved mother good-bye, and took the subway to Ridgeville and from there the Ridgeville Rail to Lincoln Green and St. Ann’s.

The return-to-school adrenalin rush after the winter holiday was nothing like it was after summer vacations. Still, there was that excitement: a new year birthed of all the new years before it, a thing rich with predecessors and heavy with promise. I was in the middle of writing my first novel, a weighty story filled with all the melodrama a twelve-year-old could wrest from a yearning heart. Given my age and mindset, it was predictably autobiographical and appropriately titled – I thought – How Skinny Girls Survive.

The skinny girls referred to were Fanny and me; only Fanny didn’t arrive back at school until we were a month into the winter semester. I missed her. I worried about her. I had no idea of the complications that delayed her return: the death of her mother and the whispered suspicion that it wasn’t from natural causes.

© 2012, story, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Photo credit ~ Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures.net

Winter Is Here, I Know

 

No illusions, no illusions, no lies, no softened truth
no tears, no bargains, though sun shines and birds sing,
Winter is here, I know.

Winter is too  smart to invite either love or lechery,
and those men,  husbands or lovers, long for someone
not as inclined to ponder – as one man complained –
while I watched the grass die, the leaves dry, the earth harden,
a cool wind blowing across the bodies that house our souls.
Annoying them with that question …
“Why?”

Once Spring danced like wild flowers in the wind,
held dew and promise and smiled like a well-fed child.
It had never heard the word defeat and didn’t know hate or anger.
Spring liked to play, and romp, and sing and
hung on a tree to ripen, her question
“Why?”

Summer took itself seriously,
was wide-eyed with longing, sizzling in the sun.
It wore a red dress and
the champagne happiness of a husband and baby
Summer was as brave as youth is bold,
a silver bell that rings and rings and never stops.
So much and more than enough . .
and yet – a tremulous
“Why?”

Autumn gently smiled, like Da Vinci’s lady, and danced old dances,
reminisced Begin the Beguine, stepping lightly on brown leaves.
It was lined with gold and muted silks, remembered is manners,
nodded wisely, spoke sagaciously , and was a might too profound.
Haughty. . . it just knew it knew
“Why?”

Oh! But Winter…
Winter is content, sees itself in Time displaced and learned
laughter has meaning as fleshy bonds and boundaries dissolve.
A bit stiff, cold, and slow now, slowing to honor the sacred,
to say “i love you,” to say “it was good,” to say “thank you.”
Sun rise, sun set, and once dormant trees burst forth with green,
sanguine and serene, just a habit now that question
“Why?”

– Jamie Dedes

(c) 2010, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photograph courtesy of John Witherspoon, Public Domain Pictures.net.

The Republic of Innocence

no mendacity in the natural world ~ just an
untamed grace in the meditative industry of ants,
in the peaceable company of small creatures
going about the business of food finding
and mating and homemaking in the loam of
this province, the republic of innocence

here is the soul-filling beauty of sun rising over
jacaranda as she paints her joy on a blue dawn;
robin with her russet-hued breast hunts for worms,
her instinctive motherhood proud of babies
 in
the spar and scrap of nest life . . .  it is in this
the uncivil cosmos – that the gentle breezes

dance with us on our mud-caked travels along
ripening pathways through meadow and brush;
as the flaxen sun shifts from rise to fall,
our hearts beat with their ribbons of ruby life,
pulsing with ebbs and flows of love and fear ~
soon – we know –  clouds will gray with the

inevitable dark and shivered moon will show
her craggy depths, sooty with doubt and danger,
our earthiness projecting its own shadows;
still we trust nature’s homilies, content in this
province where we’re left to be ourselves, left to
write our own wildness on the mirror of time

How near to good is what is wild.” Henry David Thoreau

– Jamie Dedes

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Writing Your Self, Transforming Personal Material

We wrote the book because we believe that personal writing is very potent both for the writer and the reader, because some of the greatest literature is rooted in personal material. Myra Schneider in an interview HERE.

The subtitle of this book about personal writing is “transforming personal material.”  I think it is implicitly also about personal transformation. It always seems to me that writing and reading about life is a healing activity, a way to live hugely, and a way to empower ourselves and others. If we can do it well enough to engage others, whether our purpose is to leave a record behind for family, to set the record straight, or simply to share and entertain, the experience is rewarding.

Writing Your Self is the most comprehensive book of its type that I’ve yet to read, and I’ve read many. It is organized in two parts:

  • Part I: Here the focus is on life experiences, the exploration of those human experiences that are universal. These include childhood, self-conceptions, relationships, displacement, physical and mental illness and disability, and abuse.
  • Part II: Here the focus is on writing techniques, recognizing material that is unfinished, working on refinements, and developing work projects.

Writing Your Self is rich with examples from known and unknown writers including the authors. By example as well as explanation the authors reinforce what we all intuitively understand to be true: that telling stories preserves identity and clarifies the human condition. It helps us understand what it means to be human. The experience of working through the book was something like a rite of passage.

I very much can see the use of this book by individuals training themselves and by teachers of adult learners who wish to write memoir, poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction. It would be useful in hospital therapeutic writing programs or in writing programs for active seniors.

Memories, both recent and distant, tell us who we are and so play a crucial role in our experience of life…

You may have memories which you want to plunge into or you may have material like a diary or letters which summon them up. There are other ways though of triggering memories. We offer a series of suggestions. Chapter 13, Accessing memories, secret letters, monologues and dialogues, visualizations.

I think Chapter 13 alone is worth the price of admission. I work a lot off of childhood memories and even the event that happened two minutes ago comes back to me with a dreamlike quality when I sit to write. I have not thought of the things I do naturally as triggers, but indeed they are. It was quite interesting to see these natural aids laid-out and organized on the page to read: objects and place as starting points, physical sensation as triggers, people in memory, and predominant feelings. The section on secret letters – that is, letters that you write someone and never send – was particularly interesting. I’ve only done this twice in my life, but I know some folks who do it all the time. I’m sure it is a common practice and would make a fine jumping-off point for some. The authors go on to monologues and dialogues – now everyone does that in their heads – and visualization. Hey, if you can see it, you can write it.

I’m an experienced writer and I enjoyed the book and the exercises and learned a few new things, got a few new ideas. If you are inexperienced or stuck midway in a transition from one form of writing to another, you’ll benefit from the exercises, ideas, and instruction in Writing Your Self: Transforming Personal Experience. This one’s a definite thumbs-up.

Myra Schneider  is a British poet, a poetry and writing tutor, and author of the acclaimed book: Writing My Way Through Cancer. Your can visit her HERE.

John Killick was a teacher for 30 years, in further, adult and prison education, but has written all his life. His work includes both prose works and poetry. You can visit him HERE.

– Jamie Dedes

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

Jane Hirshfield is a Zen Buddhist and her practice informs her work with spiritual insight and delicate nuance. She has said:

“It is my hope that the experience of that practice underlies and informs [my poetry] as a whole. My feeling is that the paths of poetry and of meditation are closely linked – one is an attentiveness and awareness that exists in language, the other an attentiveness and awareness that exists in silence, but each is a way to attempt to penetrate experience thoroughly, to its core.” [The Poetry Foundation]

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (September 1998) is a series of nine essays that were written by Jane  over a ten-year period and published or presented at poetry events.

*****

Gates are a means of exit and entrance, providing connection between the inner and the outer. The premise of Hirshfield’s book is that the art of poetry is the gate by which we are offered “mysterious informing.” Nine Gates is at once a primer for the reader and a manual for the writer. This is a book that is reverent of art, artist, and life. All is sacred ground.

The book begins at the beginning – the root of poetry – Concentration.

“By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.”

As she says, this is Huxley’s “doors to perception” and James Joyce’s “epiphany.” It is what I would call sacred space, and this focus, this concentration, “however laborious, becomes a labor of love.” In this chapter, I particularly appreciated the short discussion of voice: writers whose ear is turned to both the inner and outer have found their voice and thus are able to put their ”unique and recognizable stamp” upon their work.

The book closes with “Writing and the Threshold Life” and a discussion of the space into which a writer withdraws, liminal space. The writer, she tells us, becomes like the monk giving-up identity and assumptions.

“The person [in liminal state] leaves behind his or her identity and dwells in the threshold state of ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy.”

This is all rather like the person going through a ritual transitions. Only after transition to this liminal space, neither here nor there, is community wholeheartedly embraced. To see clearly and to embrace the whole without judgment, one has to be free of the standard cannon and the received wisdom. The idea being that the creative life is one that gives up the ordinary conventions, which is the price of freedom.

Encased between the two portals of concentration and the threshold life are discussions of originality, translation (what we learn from the poetry and linguistic traditions of others), “word leaves” (images), indirection (the mind of the poet circles the poem), inward and outward looking, the shadow side of poetry (between the realms of heaven and hell), and poetry as a “vessel of remembrance.”

The book’s range is broad, using poets and their wisdom from ancient times to modern and from East to West. The essays are at once a delicate lace and a sturdy practical homespun. All is approached with respect, clarity, and intelligence. Each chapter is a gentle nudge toward more authenticity, greater truth, deeper spirituality. In her introduction, Jane Hirshfield says that because the essays were written at different times some themes and quotes are repeated and removing the repetitions proved impossible. I felt the repetitions served to reinforce. I was grateful for them. If I have any difficulty with this book, it was the conflict between not wanting to put it down and wanting to put it down to start writing in the spirit of entering the mind of poetry. A definite thumbs-up on this one.

An award-winning author and poet, Jane Hirshfield has published seven collections of poetry in addition to Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, a collection of essays. Her most recent book of poetry The Beauty: Poems is scheduled for release in March 17, 2015 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. In collaboration with Mariko Aratoni, Hirshfield edited and translated four volumes of poetry by women of ancient Japan.

– Jamie Dedes

© 2014, review, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

she leaps from the cleavage of time

she’s present
returned to bite through the umbilical of tradition,
to flick her tongue
and cut loose the animus of our parents,
like a panther she roams the earth, she is Eve wild in the night,
freeing minds from hard shells
and hearts from the confines of their cages,
she’s entwined in the woodlands of our psyches
and offers her silken locks to the sacred forests of our souls ~
naked but for her righteousness,
she stands in primal light,
in the untrammeled river of dreams
the yin to balance yang
the cup of peace to uncross the swords of war ~
through the eons she’s been waiting for her time
her quiet numinosity hiding in the phenomenal world,
in the cyclical renewal of mother earth,
whispering to us as the silver intuition of grandmother moon
she, omen of peace birthed out of the dark,
she is the revisioning of the Divine,
nonjudgement forms her backbone
her love is unconditional
even as tradition tries to block her return,
her power leaps from the cleavage of time

)0(

– Jamie Dedes

Original water color by Gretchen Del Rio
Original water color by Gretchen Del Rio

©2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; illustration, Gretchen Del Rio, All rights reserve

Illustration ~ this lovely watercolor painting by Gretchen Del Rio with its girl-tree, panther and other spirit animals seemed the perfect illustration for my poem on the spiritual return of the feminine. The real back-story on the painting is just as interesting. Gretchen says, “I painted this for a 14 year old Navaho girl. It is for her protection and her power. She sees auras and is very disturbed by this. She is just amazing. Beauty beyond any words. You can see into the soul of the universe when you look at her eyes. She has no idea. I loved her the moment I saw her. My blessings for her well being are woven into the art.” Such a charming piece. I posted it full-size so that everyone can enjoy the detail. Bravo, Gretchen, and thank you. J.D.