“On a Passage from the Mishna” . . . and other responses to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt

“There are people in the world, I imagine, who are born and die in the same town, maybe even in the same house, or bed. Creatures without migration: have they not lived a life because they have not moved? What of the migratory los González, moving from one place to another and marking every stopping place with angst? What kind of alternative is that? For once my father and I are thinking thinking the same way, sharing a similar yearning for our starting points to have been different, for our final destination to be anything other than the tearful, resentful arrival it is likely to be.” Rigoberto González, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa


When I wrote the prompt last week, February 14, Brooklyn, In Memory Most Green, I wrote from my passion for the place to which my family immigrated and in which I grew up. I wrote from my respect for the grit I’ve almost always encountered in immigrants and refugees. I wrote from an appreciation for my country’s highest and best ideals, however much we so often fail to fulfill them. I wrote from a place of gratitude: by what unearned grace am I safe and not running for my life across some bomb-riddled landscape?

Several of the poems shared here today by poets Lisa Ashley, Paul Brookes, Mike Stone, Sonja Benskin Mesher and Anjum Wasim Dar remind me of my father’s sighs. I barely knew the man, but I do remember his lament: “a-MHE-rrreee-ka. a-MHE-rrreee-ka.” Life was hard for him in the beloved city. Contrary to the mythology of the day, the streets weren’t paved with gold. He was something of a linguist but few people knew his language, his culture, his history.

Enjoy this collection and …

Note: I am going to be moving to a new place and will put The Poet by Day on hiatus after a few more posts that are in the hopper. Hence, Wednesday Writing Prompt will not return until March 21. The March issue of The BeZine will be published on the 15th as scheduled. It’s currently in the works. Updated submission guidelines will be available on March 25 along with the next theme.


Reluctant Immigrant

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Emma Lazarus

Plaintive song sung in childhood, beloved melody that touched my heart,
Often tired, sometimes wretched, always poor, though not homeless

Before I understood the words, I knew the yearning
to belong, to fit in, to be accepted—we were outsiders

Immigrated to the west, escaped, searching for a better life
I left family behind, severed ties for years, survived

He was forced to flee the genocide, board the boat,
Fighting his friends to go to his wife and child, already dead, they said

Landed in New York, no English, cooked for men like him in the hostel
Once a proud Armenian, now a conquered, bereft, shamed man

Reluctant immigrant to a strange land, mourning his home, far away
Arranged second marriage, nine children born on a farm, a life lived, survived

Trauma lived and re-lived, DNA passed down the generations, his story lost
No golden doors for him, just a desire to blend in…and forget

Grandfather to father, father to daughter, I stop the cycle of abuse
Exiles that no God, no Lady Liberty could return home, sheltered here

Safe now, loved, loving others, a good life carved out of pain and shame
He survived that 1915 holocaust, I am, we are, his legacy, immigrants yet.

© 2018, Lisa Ashley   (www.lisaashleyspiritualdirector.com)


Refugee

is good. To belong
is wrong. Be homeless.

Mortgages and rents are chains.
Tread the world without burden.

Find a banquet in a crumb.
A glassful in a droplet.

Warmth in a newspaper blanket.
Comfort is a concrete underpass.

© 2018, Paul Brookes  (The Wombwell Rainbow, Inspiration, History, Imagination)

Refugees Rule Each

Nation. The seat of power
is one that must travel.

If it was to ever stop
the populace would revolt.

Folk who stay in one place
are a public nuisance

who don’t get rid of their own
trash, who have a reputation

as thieves from the greater majority
who are travellers. Stayers

Put pressure on others as they insist
on a place to put down roots,

occupy a piece of land when all
land is in common to be used by all.

Stayers cordon off land with fences
which restrict travel and onward journey.

From A World Where (Nixes Mate Press, 2017)

© 2017, Paul Brookes  (The Wombwell Rainbow, Inspiration, History, Imagination)

Our Edge

Each time it is a border,
an end of the road,
a new building,
where I am asked same questions
“What’s your name?
Where are you going?
Why?”

I am discovering my story,
remembering where I have
been, but I recall it as
a
border,
an end of the road,
a new building,
where I am asked same questions
“What’s your name?
Where are you going?
Why?”

© 2018, Paul Brookes  (The Wombwell Rainbow, Inspiration, History, Imagination)

My Daddy

A soldier moves Dad
with the butt of his rifle.

“Why, Dad?”

“They don’t know where
we belong.” He says.

© 2018, Paul Brookes  (The Wombwell Rainbow, Inspiration, History, Imagination)


.. wouldst thou be pm, an abbreviation..

archaic or dialect question, in appropriate. a lowly start

with slight misgivings, i come arrived from the country, an immigrant

here.

if the task came to me unlikely, i should sew profusely. a safe bet in that

something grows decently.

do you know how to stitch a lie, when all about grow honesty? mine was

white last year,

now nothing germinates.

the question is irreverent, no disrespect meant. forgive me, this is the second

time. this time,

i shall stay.

despite my nationality.

© 2018, Sonja Benskin Mesher  (Sonja Benskin Mesher, RCA and Sonja’s Drawings)

#russian

‘i came from another country, you know,

some time ago. i lived in the jungle’

yes.

‘i have been here so long, i feel i belong’

yes.

‘ they call me an immigrant’

said the bear, sadly.

© 2018, Sonja Benskin Mesher  (Sonja Benskin Mesher, RCA and Sonja’s Drawings)

.shopping in town.

wednesday, the shops shut early.

here.

there are still tourists around.

or new people. i bought some sweets,
a thimble,a packet of screws, one
light bulb.

chatted about face book in the mongers.

i moved here in 1993. I am an immigrant.

© 2018, Sonja Benskin Mesher  (Sonja Benskin Mesher, RCA and Sonja’s Drawings)

. the questionaire .

is this a mill, or is it a shop,
is it both, when did the looms stop?

twenty years now sir, yet you can see some
working elsewhere.

shall i write it down, all the pattern,
and most of the history? it has different fibres,
yet mainly wool in it.

these are made in yorkshire, the bags are italian,
yet i am from wales, an immigrant they say, yet we
are all from another place originally.

we came from the sea.

so let us move things about.

cloth by cloth.

© 2018, Sonja Benskin Mesher  (Sonja Benskin Mesher, RCA and Sonja’s Drawings)

 

. another country .

grandma came from malta, or was it

gibraltar, anyhow dad was very dark.

his hair remained so, with help and support.

i came from england to live here with you

#thebear.

also from another country.

i hear there is trouble in the village.

yes. i am scared they will shout

and say go home.

another country.

© 2018, Sonja Benskin Mesher  (Sonja Benskin Mesher, RCA and Sonja’s Drawings)


On a Passage from the Mishna
….(Raanana, November 17, 2017)

It is written that whoever saves a life
It’s as though he saved a world
And whoever snuffs out a life
It’s as though he snuffed out a world,
And why is that?
It’s because that when we walk
We walk with an entire world in front of us
And we walk with a whole world behind us
On either side of us
Above and below us
So we are six worlds saved or destroyed
And who can know from whence will come the savior
How he’ll look or what he’ll do,
So whoever saves a life
It’s as though he saved himself
And whoever kills a life
It’s as though he killed himself.

Note:
The fourth chapter of the Mishnaic tractate of Sanhedrin “whoever destroys a single life … is considered … to have destroyed the whole world and whoever saves a single life … is considered … to have saved the whole world” sometime prior to 250 A.D.

© 2017, Mike Stone  (Uncollected Works)

A Visitor
…..(Raanana, January 10, 2018)

A multiplication table,
Two times two is four,
She could read a multiplication table
And you’d swear it was poetry
But when she’d read you her own poem
It’d sound like her skin was torn from her soul,
Like she’d invented meaning in your mind.
She was a visitor,
She didn’t come from here.

© 2018, Mike Stone  (Uncollected Works)

Call of the Whippoorwill
…..(Raanana, January 30, 2018)

O Whippoorwill, O Whippoorwill,
I alone do hear your plaint.
It comes from deep inside my breast,
Would that I could let it out
To fly free singing,
But no such birds exist here
In the promised land.

Note: This poem expresses how I often feel as an American-expat-Israeli-immigrant in Israel.

© 2018, Mike Stone  (Uncollected Works)

The Old Colossus
…..((an alternate plaque for our Statue of Liberty))
…..(Raanana, February 16, 2018)

What have I done
What
have
I
done
to warrant these insults and injuries
to our once rich lands,
our once free skies,
and our once clear waters?
You’ve stripped me of my soil,
you’ve fouled my air,
and you’ve diverted and poisoned my waters.
Have you found another land,
another sky,
or another water to love?
Or have you no soul anymore
to love any land,
any sky,
or any lake or river?
Take what you will from me
then leave me alone
and I will recover without you
but what will you do without me?
What
will you
do without
me?

[Note: This poem is addressed, not to fresh-off-the-boat-or-plane immigrants, but to those who have forgotten that they are immigrants and take their country for granted.]

© 2018, Mike Stone  (Uncollected Works)


Born in Srinagar Kashmir, migrated to adopted country Pakistan in 1950 with my mother and sister..travelling in a refugee convoy, escorted by soldiers crossed the border at Sialkot.

Title: Partition
(Inspired by T S Eliot )

August is the cruelest month, bare branches
Sprouting tiny greens,
life bursting from the lifeless,
A rising,
mixing sorrow of defeat with defiance,
Spring rain drizzles consistently,
snow suddenly surprised us
We stopped in the plains,
leaving the mountains’
Went in half daylight so we should have
Known the path,
and the unknown traversed rarely,
So we should have known the faith,
and the faithful and the Emperors of Ice creams-
Not long ago, when I was a child,
was carried across borders
frightened, slept in a camp for two nights,
-wonder how Mother felt? She never spoke
About those days, then on we
came to Murree Hills, and felt free
And I knew not, was I taking refuge or was it a
New land?
What was left in enemy hands, where
Are the roots that make a family?
Out of the masses who survived who committed
Suicide-you cannot say or guess even for you
Have seen only images and heard only broken voices
Who lost half the thought in trying to forget
Spoke not all-scenes of horror
Heaps of bodies cut and slayed
Blood splattered on trains roads and fields
Death, for a cause? Yet not so or was it?
Many went South, separated, lost, confused-
All said ‘we shall go back, one day’
The Day never came-
And then the beginning of the end-
One by one
Who has seen Spring again, after the Fall
Providence persists prevails
Acceptance and non-acceptance is, what ails
Unreal cities, unreal people, so unlike what
Was expected-
War War War and again War-
When will it end, fear strikes within
Shelter is scarce, fashion abounds and all
Is a show off! Young dead glorified
on the mini screen, what are they dying for
now? Half the barren land, minerals in ranges
The enemy changed and we thought ’this is Right-
People crowd the roads , daily beggars are children
And who said ‘we shall have enough, and peace”
Mountains and Rocks
Mountains are dangerous, no rocks will give
Shelter, there is no water, nor wells
A waste it becomes, filth in the drains overflowing
And the big man’ said’ we have worked hard’
But the mountains will not protect,
Truth is linked , Faith is strong
It will not be long when the Shadow
Will turn to Light and the darkness will go-
Go in the shadow of the mountain
Sit by the stream and clean all
The mind and soul, wash away to the sea
Impurity, or else be prepared to face,
a tsunami, or the jolts and shakes
there is still a chance-look! Be the Dance
not the dancer, in the circle of life
Come to a still point with Nature
Where nothing matters anymore-
Think and feel, help and heal, the needy
Feed the hungry, for I can see-there comes
Someone-keeps close and watches , ever present
Who leads us on unseen and the Third we say
Who helped us –its not our doing but The Mercy
Of The Merciful-
Bow bow bow –pray pray pray…
Welcome love from above , eternal peace will stay

© 2018, Anjum Wasim Dar


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (20): Terri Muuss, Over Exposed

American She-Poet, Terri Muss
American She-Poet, Terri Muss

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SCARLET LETTER

In fifth grade
my father’s secrets
start to breed under my red
confirmation dress—
dig deep in the tunnel of my inner
ear, cling to sentry hairs
on the nape of my neck—

his secrets: black bodies,
glassy eyes, squeeze
beneath my fingernails—
quiet as eggs;
they spin a red thread
that cuts me inside
out.

Over Exposed, the memoir of Terri Muuss, is at once painful and triumphant. It is an examined life that exposes the family of her childhood, the obscenities imposed on her by her father, her numbing with alcohol and drugs and her journey in therapy. All of this and yet she arrives victorious and accomplished with a healthy marriage, healthy sons and a multifaceted career, elements of which reach a hand out to those in trauma.

This is the story of how a child survived and became a woman who found herself and a writer who found her voice. The experiences of a lifetime form a collection of poems and prose vignettes that bespeak the possibilities of redemption and hold out hope and affirmation to those others whose childhoods have left them wounded. I recommend this book to everyone but, most especially, to those who have a history like Terri’s.

Lately, I feel a bull’s eye on me: on the street, the A train, in the fruit market. Men infect me with words, with smiles. Eyes snatch at breasts, tongues pin me to subway walls, mouths like a cold speculum pry open my inner ear. Their words pound, pound me, a worn head of drum. Voices divide and conquer, dividing me from myself—

Emotionally it was not the easiest book to read. I often found myself in tears.It is rewarding though, not only because its subject remains unbeaten but because the writing, pacing and organization have you moving through the pages anxious to gobble up each poem, each story, every nuance. Terri’s switches from child-voice to adult are smooth, her imagery clear and moving, her poetry well-crafted.

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There are two videos in this post. If you are reading this from an email, you will have to click to this site to view the videos.

INTERVIEW

JAMIE: Am I right that your first love was acting? If so, how did you transition – or what inspired – the addition of poetry to your artistic repertoire?

TERRI: Yes, acting, theatre and directing have always been my first loves. I came to acting quite young and naturally. It will always be a huge part of who I am and how I see art in a larger sense. Much of my poetry is born out of a theatricality I possess from being onstage these many years.

That being said, poetry was always sort of waiting in the wings for me. When I was in 10th grade, my best friend Leslie was a beautiful person and poet who I admired greatly. I spent long days at her house after school as I had no inclination to go home to my own dysfunctional house. There, she read and wrote poetry in front of me and it certainly inspired me to use it as an avenue for expression. Later, during senior year, I had a teacher hand me a packet of poems by e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes that she thought I would enjoy. That packet sent me on a journey of reading as many poets as I could. Still, poetry was off to the side while theater took center stage.

It really wasn’t until I was faced with the trauma of my past and of putting myself together that writing became both a therapeutic tool and an artistic passion. To better understand the trauma of being sexually abused as a child, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Mostly poetry but also monologues. At the end, what I’d constructed was a one-woman show skeleton that became Anatomy of a Doll. I performed the show throughout New York City and then the country at conferences and in theaters. Even then, I didn’t identify myself as a writer. I thought of myself as a performer who just happened to use my writing as a script. When Veronica Golos (my friend, mentor and a gorgeous poet who’s won numerous awards) began taking an interest in my work and started editing it in a poetry workshop she led out of her house on the Upper West Side, I started to see myself in the context of being a poet and poetry as a vocation. I think the form of poetry works well to showcase the dissociation that comes with abuse much more than prose does. Veronica is still my editor, having worked on both Anatomy of a Doll and my book, Over Exposed.

But the biggest transition from actor to writer happened during my marriage to poet Matt Pasca. He’s always seen me as a writer and, before I even claimed that identity for myself, always pushed me to go deeper, to write more, to get better, to submit my work. Through our marriage I have grown as a writer and came to see myself as a poet.

JAMIE: It is one thing to write about painful events in life and another to share them publicly. I think you are something of a hero for doing so. Where does this core of courage come from? What is the reaction from friends and relatives?

TERRI: This is a very interesting question that I get often–the question of the courage it takes to reveal my past. Many people have said they’ve seen me as courageous because I share the truth of my childhood sexual abuse, subsequent rapes, addiction and my recovery quite publicly. I have to acknowledge that this is the way it is perceived by other people. For me, however, it’s born out of necessity and so it’s never felt or seemed like courage. I have lived my life according to the 12-step saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” I know that what I keep inside me, what I feel shame about, what I try to hide, will destroy me from the inside. Giving a voice to my pain and shame and grief and mistakes gives me back my power, my joy and my life.

I’ve also grown to see that if I’m hiding the fact that I was sexually abused, I am sending myself and others the message that it was somehow my fault or that there’s something for me to be ashamed of. I’ve come to understand that what happened to me was not anything that I should be ashamed of. I was the victim so why should I be ashamed. I’ve also come to understand that the sexual abuse and the rape and the violence are a part of me but they are not the entirety of me.

Lastly, if I can help someone (with my story) to recover, let go of their shame, and move into survivorhood, then it is all more than worth it. As social worker and researcher Brene Brown states, “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” I choose let go of secrecy and to douse my shame with empathy, and empathy for the world must begin with me.

Friends and relatives have been overwhelmingly supportive, although for some of them, it took a period of adjustment and listening that gave birth to deeper understanding. I surround myself with people who are willing to be empathetic, courageous, vulnerable, and honest with both me and themselves. I consider myself very lucky to have a wide circle of supportive people in my life.

JAMIE: With two parents who are poets, do your children like poetry? Have they started writing themselves? Have they read your poetry?

TERRI: Great question! Yes! We have two boys, Rainer, 10, and Atticus, 7, and they have both had poems published. Rainer is by far the more prolific writer who really loves writing and poetry. Atticus is a drummer who dabbles in writing. They both had poems published in Skipping Stones, a journal for children ages 7-14. Rainer has also been published in Stone Soup, The Louisville Review (when he was 4), and the anthology, Holiday Word Gifts (JB Stillwater, 2011). Some of the things that Rainer writes take my breath away. It’s proof positive that as artists we are always trying to get back to that place where we were as children– where we can take risks and be playful and not worry about being judged.

JAMIE: You seem to have a gift for building a poetry community. What advice do you have for readers who might be trying to do the same?

TERRI: I’m a licensed social worker and the macro version of social work is community organizing. The first rule of community organizing is to listen to the community. Too often, people come into a community with their own expectations and demands. They try to foist onto a community what they want to see the community have. If you’re really trying to build community, through the arts or otherwise, ask questions and be willing to hear the answers. The community might not want the same things you want for them but if community is your ultimate goal, you need to let its members be your guide. Too often in the poetry community, as in other communities, people set up an event that mirrors the kind of poetry THEY want but disregard what the community is really is looking for. Finding the right venue, format and publicity are integral to success.

I would also add that it’s so important to have collaborators in any community venture. Without them, burnout is a real factor. You need to be able to share the workload, bounce ideas off of each other, and laugh together to elevate stress and keep it going!

JAMIE: You put together a lovely trailer for “Over Exposed.” How long did it take to put it together and what kind of tools did you use. Have you found it helpful in getting the word out.

TERRI: Dana Maddox did my trailer. She’s a brilliant filmmaker studying in LA right now. I came in contact with her through the mother of someone I directed in a show. We did the voiceover elements in the studio first and then she came to shoot the video at my house. It took about 10 hours of shooting and about two weeks of intense editing for her to put together the trailer. It’s not something that I could have done alone. Many people have that skill set but that’s not my wheelhouse. I can direct videos but editing is a different thing. She did an amazing job and I’m very proud of it. It certainly helps get the word out about my book. I think social media and online platforms always help books.

JAMIE:  So you have to my knowledge three books out: one on poetry as therapy, the recently published anthology, and “Over Exposed.” What’s next on the agenda?

TERRI: I have two books out currently. Over Exposed is my memoir, told in both poetry and prose. Grabbing the Apple is an anthology of New York women poets that I coedited with M.J. Tenerelli. The other group you mentioned here is the Poets of Well-being (Susan Dingle, Maggie Bloomfield, Nina Yavel and I). We are all social worker-writers who are in long term recovery (we have over 100 years of sobriety between us). I was the last member to join the group and so their chapbook does not include my work. It’s absolutely worth checking out. You can find the group on Facebook. As a group, we travel to conferences and venues to showcase how writing can be a therapeutic tool for helping others overcome addiction and abuse. We facilitated a workshop at AWP in Minnesota, at the Expressive Therapies Conference in NYC and were even invited to the 2016 NASW conference in DC. Susan runs a beautiful poetry event called “Poetry Street” out in Riverhead that is a fine example of great community organizing and art as a healing method.

*****

A tidbit on the light side and apropos upcoming elections in the U.S.: Atticus and Rainer Muuss on Ellen and at The White House with the First Lady.

©2016, portrait, poems, bookcover art and interview responses, Terri Muuss, All rights reserved