Happy Birthday, Mom! … The Echo of Her Sighs, a poem

Zbaida Mahfouz

“Think for a minute, darling: in fairy tales it’s always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers have to stay at home and wait for the children to fly in the window.”  Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife



My mother’s birthday was really yesterday, not today. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to write anything.  As part of another poem last week I wrote two lines: “The shock of the corpse that/Once was your mother.” I might be feeling rather somber this year since the reviews I’m working on are of Through My Father’s Eyes, a chapbook from Sheila Jacob, a memorial to her dad who died when she was fourteen and also The Last Parent, a collection by Anne Stewart. Neither book is without light and Anne’s work is marked by that sort of macabre humor that helps us survive our dark moments. Everyone who has lost a parent or parents will relate though: let’s face it, no matter how old you are when you lose your parents, you become an orphan.

Greek Mariner’s Hat courtesy of Édouard Hue under CC BY-SA 3.0

When I think of my mom, I remember the beauty of her rare smile, her love of the Greek Mariner’s Hats she bought at Fisherman’s Wharf, and how enamored she was of her grandson and my cousins, Chris and Dan. Those three could do no wrong; and indeed, they were the most charming lovable boys and grew to be smart, compassionate, and funny men.

One of my other main memories of Mom is how hard she worked (no doubt where I got my own work-ethic) and how much her identity and self-esteem rested on her occupation, though clearly she found it less than rewarding. Unlike all of us who probably had our writing for most of our lives, she didn’t have a creative outlet until she retired. Despite the crafting she did in her maturity, when she was moving toward coma, she was working on an invisible (to us) 10-key adding machine on her knee. The fingers of her right hand never stopped. So, written some years ago, this

the 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; illustrations below, courtesy of PDclipart.org



HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM! 

We’re sure – positive! – this finds you knitting ski caps for the angels, not pounding a 10-key for the man. 



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Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
“Over His Morning Coffee,” Front Porch Review

A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.


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



 

Turning Pain Into Beauty … Deena Metzger, a triumph of tattoo and poetry over mastectomy

c Jamie Dedes

My mom had her first mastectomy in 1949 when she was pregnant with me.  Things were different then. Mom and her contemporaries had no support after mastectomy. They had the surgery, were sent to get fitted for prostheses … and that was that. There were no hospital or clinic classes in art and poetry for healing. There were no support groups, no talk therapy. Perhaps worst of all, there was no privacy about medical records. My mother actually turned down a promising job opportunity because the firm’s board members wanted to review her medical records before hire.

Things have improved since Mom’s day, thank goodness. Privacy and rights are better protected. There’s patient support available before, during and after mastectomy. There are more options after recovery then chosing between having or not having prostheses. I’m artsy enough myself, I guess, that I love – and am touched – that some women choose to cover their scars with gorgeous, colorful and creative designs like the one below, which triggered this post. Allegedly Facebook kept taking this photograph down, seeing it as offensive. Who knows? Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. I can’t image why they would. This is a brave and beautiful thing. There’s nothing obscene about it.
11156334_10153170849803886_8901359381613103_n-1

Tattoos over breast-surgery scars started – as far as I know – with a poet and writer, Deena Metzger:

c photo by Hella Hammid

c photo by Hella Hammid

Deena (b. 1936), the proud Amazon. This photograph of her is iconic and became – with the addition of the verse below – “The Poster,” which was designed by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville.

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows.
There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered,
but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.
Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears.
What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing.
I have relinquished some of the scars.
I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.
I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win.
I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.
On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.

© Deena Metzger

If The Poster had come out when my mother was alive, I’d have bought it and had it framed for her.

*****

Deena Metzger is a American writer and poet, essayist and screenwriter, an advocate and counselor. Her book Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner World (Harper One, 1992), is ideally suited for those of us who see writing as a spiritual practice. Her website is HERE.

Appropo our upcoming June issue of The BeZine, I particularly appreciate Deena’s essay, The Language and Literature of Restoration..  I think the quotation (below) is relevant to our concerns for our earthly environment, which is the focus of the June issue.  Deena is holding us – lovers of nature, writers, poets,  and lovers of the arts – accountable for our part in what comes next, extinction or survival.

“Extinction stalks us. Not an act of God, but a consequence of how we have chosen to live our lives. Such choices are handed to us by language and literature. Literature that is reduced to media, obsessed with violence, conflict, sensationalism, nationalism and speciesism. We are each responsible – we participate – no exceptions. The antidote for extinction is restoration. Languages and literatures that lead toward restoration are essential. So we have to try ….” MORE

Note: The BeZine is a publication of The Bardo Group Beguines.

© 2016, words and mother/daughter photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; © Deena’s photograph and poem Deena Metzger.


“THE BeZINE” CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS thebezine.com is open for the upcoming June edition to be published on June 15, deadline June 10. This is an entirely volunteer effort, a mission. We are unable to pay contributors but neither do we charge for submissions or subscriptions. The theme is sustainability. We publish poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, feature articles, art and photography, and music videos and will consider anything that lends itself to online posting. There are no demographic restrictions. We do not publish work that promotes hatred or advocates for violence. All such will be immediately rejected. We’d like to see work that doesn’t just point to problems but that suggests solutions. We are also interested in initiatives happening in your community – no matter where in the world – that might be easily picked up by other communities. Please forward your submissions to bardogroup@gmail.com No odd formatting. Submit work in the body of your email along with a BRIEF bio. Work submitted via Facebook or message will not be considered for publication. We encourage you to submit work in your first language, but it must be accompanied by translation into English.

– Jamie Dedes 

CELEBRATING MOTHERS’ DAY (U.S.) Part 1: Those Infamous New York Moms

 

1950 Brooklyn, NY – my mother, Zbaida, and me

“A woman in Brooklyn decided to prepare her will. She told her rabbi she had two final requests. First, she wanted to be cremated. Second, she wanted her ashes scattered over the local shopping mall.

‘Why the shopping mall?’ asked the rabbi.

‘Then I’ll be sure my daughters will visit me twice a week.’



Note: This is the first in a three-part series celebrating Mothers’ Day, which is this Sunday. All the pieces were published some time ago – here and/or elsewhere and it just feels right to publish again this year. I hope you’ll enjoy this short series … And Happy Mothers’ Day to all the mothers and to all the dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents and older siblings who are covering for moms who are gone.

I met my Jewish friend, Laurel, when she came to a meeting at our local Insight Meditation Center on the San Francisco Peninsula where we now live. Laurel and I  got on right away. We both like Broadway shows, opera, reading, writing, and good meals seasoned with great conversation. We’re both from New York and we’re about the same age. So we come from the same time and the same place.

Now New York moms get a bad rap, especially Jewish moms – but none of us gets off free. Laurel reminded me of that with a stereotypical New York joke at the expense of mothers. These jokes usually illustrate moms making caustic remarks or tell of their attempts to foster guilt in adult children. While we do use regional idioms and have a distinct style of delivery, I’m really not sure that mothers from our time and place had the corner on either caustic commentary or the laying on of guilt.

Like all of us, my mother was very much in process and very much a product of her place and time. Among other things, what that means is that modesty was a primary concern. For my Catholic mother this included modest dress, which in turn included girdles. Now I’ve got to tell you that until I hit forty I was mostly underweight. In fact at Christmas when I was nineteen, I was ninety-three pounds, stood 5′ 3 1/2″, and was three months pregnant with my son. Nonetheless, from seventh grade and until her death when I was forty-four, my mother was adamant that I should wear a girdle so that I wouldn’t “jiggle.” That would be immodest and unseemly. Only my mother, I would think, would put me through this torture for nothing. As my husband said, “What’s to jiggle? If she turned sideways and stuck out her tongue she’d look like a zipper.”

Those old, typically New York jokes at the expense of our mothers were funny because there’s an element of truth in them. They did pave the pathways to their homes and hearts with guilt. They could be cruelly caustic. Often, their fall-back position was stone-cold silence. They were as tough as life. They tended to be rigid and narrow on some subjects; their lives woefully circumscribed. Often they were unworldly and painfully unread. But they were also largely present.

They were idealistic. They worked hard, often at jobs as well as at home. Many of them worked for hours each week to make the most unbelievably complex old world dinners for traditional Sundays that included religious services and family gatherings. No matter how difficult things got, they did not resort to drugs or alcohol. They got us into the best schools they could afford and kept us in school for as long as they could afford to do so. They protected us from young men who did not have “honorable” intentions. Though they’d never admit to us that they were really pleased with us, they would proudly show photographs of us to all their friends and boast of our accomplishments.

In the parlance of the sixties, it took me years to understand where they were “coming from.” You can tell by the posture in the photo that ends this post, that well into my thirties, I was still struggling with mixed feelings. The reason in this particular case: Before I left for work, I left money on the kitchen table for a pizza. I called home at 5:00 p.m. as I was leaving the office and asked Mom if she’d order the pizza right away because I was “starving.” I got home and “binged”: I ate one slice of pizza and left the crust. “I thought you were hungry,” Mom said. “I was. Now I’m stuffed.”  The fact that I was in my thirties and still “eating like a bird” and underweight disturbed her. In turn, I was disturbed because she was still trying to tell me how to eat, which given my habits was a legitimate concern.  I do the same sorts of things to my son now, not about food, but about other things. Mom’s long gone now, but often I think of her and wish she was here nagging me to clean my plate.


♥ ♥ ♥

© 2011, words and photographs, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved


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Hallowed Halls, A Tidbit of Memoir

American Actor Ed Begley, Sr. (1901-1970)

Ed Begley was an American actor of theatre, radio, film, and television. He won an Academy Award for his performance in the film Sweet Bird of Youth in 1962 and appeared in such classics as 12 Angry Men and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Matthew Harrison Brady in a television adaptation of Inherit the Wind. He is the father of actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. MORE [Wikipedia]



In fact, it’s some fifty-six years ago now, around 1963, perhaps around the time that Mr. Begley won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Boss Finley in Sweet Bird of Youth.  He showed up one Sunday afternoon to visit a relative at our convent-affiliated school in Brentwood, New York. In those days, male or female, you had to “dress” to come on the grounds. That meant men had to wear a suit, white shirt, and a tie.  It was spring and Mr. Begley came wearing a loud island-print shirt and a big mischievous smile. Sister Regina Celeste, C.S.J. who was Directress (school principal), and who we called (not to her face) “Rexy” for her bulldog tenacity, was not pleased or impressed. I stood outside the chapel and watched and listened as these two accomplished adults, influential in very different spheres, negotiated one another. Clearly neither was awed by the other’s credentials.

Sister was tight-lipped and firm. Mr. Begley laughed but was polite. She indicated a choice: leave and come back properly dressed . . . or just leave. He said something soothing, I think, but I don’t remember what. Then he reached into a pocket, pulled out a roll of bills, and handed off quite a few to her. She raised her eyebrows and pocketed the money. She walked away with a stiff back, prayer beads clacking, and a reminder that next time he needed to come dressed like a gentleman.

The lesson I learned from Mr. Begley: money talks. The lesson I learned from Sister: flex. Weigh the pragmatic against policy. I’m sure the school operated in the red, forever in need of books, supplies, and repairs.

It’s likely that neither Sister nor Mr. Begley realized that one young student was watching, listening, and taking it in, but I was . . .

School days

And then there’s the idealistic poetry of our school song (below). It’s been a lifetime, but it still brings tears to my eyes, as does the memory of the community itself. In the ’60s when the second wave of the women’s movement was in high-gear advocating for – among many other things – opportunities for women in the higher echelons of business, industry, government and social services, this was something that was easy for me to envision. The first C.E.O. I ever met wasn’t a man.  It was Reverend Mother Immaculata Maria, C.S.J. Superior General of the Sisters of St. Joseph, overseer of a community that included the mother house (the main convent), novitiate, a college, elementary and high schools around the U.S., a “chapel” (more like a small church), a convalescent hospital for older nuns, a dairy farm, an apple orchard, and stables.  She administered as broadly diverse an organization as any male C.E.O. I’ve met or worked with since. 

How sacred are thy hallowed halls, oh Brentwood,
A century of learning has combined
With culture, truth and beauty here to form us,
That we may mirror Christ, in heart and mind.

In struggle and defeat –
In joy and gladness –
In every hour of triumph or despair,
May all the lessons Brentwood’s love has taught us,
Bear fruit in holy living, everywhere.

May girlhood’s dreams, and all its dear ambitions,
Be every shrined within our grateful hearts.
To cast their glow on every path we travel,
‘Till age erases time and life departs.

In struggle and defeat –
In joy and gladness –
In every hour of triumph or despair,
May all the lessons Brentwood’s love has taught us,
Bear fruit in holy living, everywhere.

– Sr. Regina Celeste, C.S.P.
© The Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, LI, NY

Two videos, should you be inclined to watch:  The first is a tribute to Ed Begley, Sr.  The second is an intro to the Sisters of St. Joseph. Sadly, the school I attended has gone the way of all things.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you will likely have to link through to the site to view the videos.

Note “Reconciliation” as used in the video below: The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (commonly called Confession) is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church (called sacred mysteries in the Eastern Catholic Churches), in which the faithful obtain absolution for the sins committed against God and neighbor and are reconciled with the community of the Church.


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