“squeezing a penny” and other mom-poems

squeezing a penny

my mother never knew the names for things
the trees were just trees, the flowers just flowers,
she knew life as a sigh and aspiration as a linchpin,
she could get to work and maneuver in the dark,
she could squeeze a penny too
and force tired feet into worn shoes

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© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes;  Photo courtesy of morgueFile


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sleeping without walls

the fields that year taught the art of sleeping outside,
sleeping without walls, watching the stars and moon,
our dreams spun from sunsets and morning dew ~
we slept in bedrolls configured from old white sheets and
the khaki wool blankets my uncles took to war, i wondered
about my uncles as i did about many people, many things

and that summer held varied delights, climbing trees,
eating cherries without washing them . . . oh! ~
and there were blueberry bushes and fig trees and
i lined the path to the food hut with odd sunday stones

i said my own prayers while the big girls were at Mass
and marveled at my middle-aged mother’s plump knees
i marked her spirit for wearing bermudas, for joining
children’s games, sitting ’round fires, making ‘smores ~

now I wonder at summer camp morphing into metaphor,
all our lives we did those things: gathering dreams,
mom and me, outsider artists sleeping without walls

© 2013, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes


houses of silence

they dwelt in houses of silence
chewed through grudging fences
swam in oceans of best intentions
tried to find one another on the
shores of their fears and confusions,
alienation was their warrior shield,
silence, the mom’s default position

their lives were lived in a boxing ring
the fist in the glove was a malignancy
and the mom passed her days sparring,
she thought the winner would be the
woman who was pretty and hushed
even when she got knocked out, she
wearied the charity of her own mother

she became embittered in isolation,
there was no one else she could
beat upon or say her grief to or even
show her bruises and lacerations ~

except for that small child of silence,
useless in matters of this magnitude

© 2012, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Illustration ~ color sketch by Jiri Hodan, Public Domain Pictures.net


IMG_2225the echo of her sighs

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 gray led
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


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

 

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry … me and Walt …

800px-69stpier5bbtjehSundays, summer ferry rides,
crossing the rough wide Hudson
from Brooklyn to Staten Island,
from one brave shore to another,
stalked by a colony of seagulls,
the boat frothing white waves in
its habitual and deliberate path.

I’d collect the cold green spray in
my warm hands, framing the tidbit
of raw river in the cup of my palms,
a child-self awed by the pleasures,
by whimsy and an affinity, organic
and ecstatic, like spindrift whorling
as if a dervish from boisterous waves

“And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.” Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credit ~ the 69th Street Pier: before the Verranzano Narrows Bridge was built, a ferry service ran between this Bay Ridge pier and the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island.The photograph was released into the public domain.


In honor of Derek Walcott who died a few days ago, the recommended read for this week is The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013.  Walcott first poem was published when he was fourteen and this book was published in his 84th year. Never more than now has the world needed the grace, wisdom and universality of his poetry. This is a must add to your poetry book collection.  It doesn’t include the epic Omerosalso recommended, but it does include some of his earlier work that I have not seen included elsewhere.


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“Survivance” … the task of refusing erasure

SurvivanceMichael Watson ~ After a couple of days of warmth and rain, today is seasonably cold. Next week is forecast to be very warm again, an unnerving scenario as we rely on the snow pack for our summer water supply.

Climate change is a complex issue, not so much because there is doubt that it is human caused and accelerating, but because it affects people unevenly. Here in Vermont folks are divided about the issue. Many are appreciative of our much briefer and milder winters. Others lament the loss of tourism jobs, the declining maple forests, and the increasing number of failed drinking water wells.

Much of the divide in opinion can be linked to whether a person lives their life inside or outside. City folk tend to lament cold, snowy, inconvenient weather. Those who spend most of their days outside are more likely to have a keen sense of the problems and losses that come with global climate change.

Those about to assume leadership of the United States deny climate change. They also reject ideas of diversity,  stewardship, and mutual responsibility and community. But you already know this. What you may not know is that many idolize Andrew Jackson. Jackson defied the Supreme Court and stole the lands and farms of Naive people in the Southeast, sending The People on a Trail of Tears. He is so hated in Indian Country that many Native people refuse to use twenty-dollar bills.

Somehow, a few families managed to avoid deportation. I like to imagine they lived up in distant hollows or in the dense forested swamps of the river bottoms.

My father’s family identified as Native, although they refused to tell us younger ones what tribes we hail from. (They did instill in us a deep sense that governments can’t be trusted.) They grew up in Indiana at a time when being Native could cost you your farm, or your life. My understanding is that after my grandfather left the family, my grandmother moved the farm to a rocky, inhospitable, spectacularly beautiful location overlooking the Ohio River. She correctly assumed they would be safe there. My dad and his siblings walked downhill to school, then back up to home. Once, dad took me to see the homestead, in what is now a state park. It took us almost two hours to hike up. (No doubt my Polio body slowed us down.)

A few years ago I was introduce to the idea of “survivance.” The term was apparently a legal term in the Eighteenth Century,  but was adapted for Native use by Jerald Vizenor, a much venerated Native Studies scholar who is no longer here in physical form. The term refers to active survival, a continued presence even as we are supposed to have been erased from the land.

I like to think of survivance as the task of refusing erasure. Beyond that, it is the art of living well in the face of hatred and genocide. I imagine the concept of continuing to live well while under threat might be applicable to the situation of many of us in 2017. (My wife, Jennie, a Jewess, contends that the term applies perfectly to folks who resisted the Holocaust, and I suspect she is right.) Survivance implies asking important questions and making difficult choices. When does one openly resist? When does one hide or, if possible, pass? How do we find and nurture joy, family, and community in the face of hatred?

For me, there is an even more fundamental definition of survivance: the task of nurturing and protecting the soul in the face of those who would obliterate it. We need to save our souls, (individual, cultural, and collective) from those who would destroy them, for soul loss is excruciatingly painful and may impact many generations. (Make no mistake, Jackson and his ilk wanted nothing less than the destruction of the Native soul; those who idealize him now want nothing less than the destruction of all that is “Other”.)

Perhaps we can learn something about survivance from those who came before us. There is much to be said for living on land no one else desires, holding ceremony in the deep night, and pretending to be one of the majority. There is much to gain from building coalitions, going to court, and telling our stories to a larger audience. There is much to be won from making, and sharing, art, music, and literature. My guess is that we will need to draw from all these, and more, during the years to come.

© Michael Watson
Excerpt from the January issue of The BeZine and published here with Michael’s permission.

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If you have time enough to follow only one blog, make it Michael’s:

MICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World and Journey Works)  is a contributing editor to The BeZine, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, a psychotherapist, educator, and an artist of Native American and European descent.

Michael lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he recently retired from his teaching position in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there.  He also had wonderful experiences teaching in India and Hong Kong, which are documented on his blog, Dreaming the World. In childhood Michael had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Oh My! 1967 – the first poem of mine ever published; Yikes! – 17 years old

Dan and I as kids and probably the last time he was shorter than I. He stands 6'5' and I stand 5'2".

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

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

Make of Me a Tree

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

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

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

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

For

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

Amen.

– Jamie Dedes

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

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

RELATED:

DANIEL S. SORMANI C.S. Sp.

DANIEL S. SORMANI C.S. Sp.

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

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

* exceptional = developmental disabilities

© 1967/2016 photographs (Daniel Sormani Family Album) and text and poem (Gigi “Jamie” Dedes), All rights reserved