NIGHTS WITH GHOSTS, POEM FROM A CHILD IN ZIMBABWE

 

“Poets Against War continues the tradition of socially engaged poetry by creating venues for poetry as a voice against war, tyranny and oppression.” Mission Statement of Poets Against War.



Back around 2008 when I started blogging, Poets Against War, founded in 2003 by American poet Sam Hamill (1943-2018) in response to the war with Iraq, was still going strong and some of my poems were accepted for online publication. This was my baptism into socially engaged poetry. The thousands of poems that were contributed to the database from poets around the world are archived at a university, the name of which I’ve long forgotten. There were some other great efforts including Poetry of Solidarity, which made use of the easy and economical outreach the Internet offers. These two sites have gone the way of all things. The links I saved for them now get a 404 error code. Today we have 100,000 Poets (and friends) for Change, founded in 2011 by Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion.

Fortunately, I did keep notes on some of the poetry and activities I encountered in those early blogging days. What follows is a translation of a poem written by a child in Zimbabwe after the government made war on its own people in June 2005. 200,000 people became homeless.  This poem was included in an article by American poet Karen Margolis in the now defunct Poetry of Solidarity.

nights with ghosts
.
dear samueri, my friend
i will never see you again;
maybe i will.
but i shall not know
until father finds us a new address
,
addresses!
we have none anymore.
we are of no address.
.
now that i have written this letter,
where do i post it to?
shall i say, samueri,
care of the next rubble
harare?

“I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?'” American poet, Eve Merriam


“Rendezvous With Death” by American Poet, Alan Seeger, posted in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War 1

Mametz, Western Front, a winter scene, painting by Frank Crozier / Public Domain Photograph

“It was the seventh of November, 1918. The war was finally over. Maybe it would be declared a holiday and named War’s End Day or something equally hopeful and wrong. Wars would break out again. Violence was part of human nature as much as love and generosity.” Claire Holden Rothman, The Heart Specialist


New York Times, Nov. 11, 1918, Public Domain Photograph

Tomorrow is the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War 1, “the war to end all wars.”

The poet bearing witness is Alan Seeger (1888-1916), an American.   He died at the Battle of the Somme (a.k.a. the Somme Offensive) on July 4, 1916. He was serving in the French Foreign Legion.

Rendezvous With Death is probably his most well-known poem. I’ve included that along with Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France, which Seeger wrote and was to read on May 30, 1916 as part of an American Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) event in front of a statue of Layfayette and Washington in Paris. His leave to go to the event was inadvertently written for Independance Day not Decoration Day. The gathering went on without Seeger or his Ode. Seeger was upset but decided to look forward to a visit to Paris on July 4th, which turned out to be the date of his rendezvous with death.

It is said that Alan Seeger’s imagery was influenced by time spent in Mexico in his youth.  He is the brother of Charles Seeger (1886-1979), a composer, teacher, folklorist, pacifist and father of Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, and Mike Seeger, all folk singers.


Rendezvous with Death

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

– Alan Seeger

Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France

I

Ay, it is fitting on this holiday,
Commemorative of our soldier dead,
When — with sweet flowers of our New England May
Hiding the lichened stones by fifty years made gray —
Their graves in every town are garlanded,
That pious tribute should be given too
To our intrepid few
Obscurely fallen here beyond the seas.
Those to preserve their country’s greatness died;
But by the death of these
Something that we can look upon with pride
Has been achieved, nor wholly unreplied
Can sneerers triumph in the charge they make
That from a war where Freedom was at stake
America withheld and, daunted, stood aside.

II

Be they remembered here with each reviving spring,
Not only that in May, when life is loveliest,
Around Neuville-Saint-Vaast and the disputed crest
Of Vimy, they, superb, unfaltering,
In that fine onslaught that no fire could halt,
Parted impetuous to their first assault;
But that they brought fresh hearts and springlike too
To that high mission, and ’tis meet to strew
With twigs of lilac and spring’s earliest rose
The cenotaph of those
Who in the cause that history most endears
Fell in the sunny morn and flower of their young years.

III

Yet sought they neither recompense nor praise,
Nor to be mentioned in another breath
Than their blue coated comrades whose great days
It was their pride to share — ay, share even to the death!
Nay, rather, France, to you they rendered thanks
(Seeing they came for honor, not for gain),
Who, opening to them your glorious ranks,
Gave them that grand occasion to excel,
That chance to live the life most free from stain
And that rare privilege of dying well.

IV

O friends! I know not since that war began
From which no people nobly stands aloof
If in all moments we have given proof
Of virtues that were thought American.
I know not if in all things done and said
All has been well and good,
Or if each one of us can hold his head
As proudly as he should,
Or, from the pattern of those mighty dead
Whose shades our country venerates to-day,

If we’ve not somewhat fallen and somewhat gone astray.
But you to whom our land’s good name is dear,
If there be any here
Who wonder if her manhood be decreased,
Relaxed its sinews and its blood less red
Than that at Shiloh and Antietam shed,
Be proud of these, have joy in this at least,
And cry: “Now heaven be praised
That in that hour that most imperilled her,
Menaced her liberty who foremost raised
Europe’s bright flag of freedom, some there were
Who, not unmindful of the antique debt,
Came back the generous path of Lafayette;
And when of a most formidable foe
She checked each onset, arduous to stem —
Foiled and frustrated them —
On those red fields where blow with furious blow
Was countered, whether the gigantic fray
Rolled by the Meuse or at the Bois Sabot,
Accents of ours were in the fierce melee;
And on those furthest rims of hallowed ground
Where the forlorn, the gallant charge expires,
When the slain bugler has long ceased to sound,
And on the tangled wires
The last wild rally staggers, crumbles, stops,
Withered beneath the shrapnel’s iron showers: —
Now heaven be thanked, we gave a few brave drops;
Now heaven be thanked, a few brave drops were ours.”

V

There, holding still, in frozen steadfastness,
Their bayonets toward the beckoning frontiers,
They lie — our comrades — lie among their peers,
Clad in the glory of fallen warriors,
Grim clusters under thorny trellises,
Dry, furthest foam upon disastrous shores,
Leaves that made last year beautiful, still strewn
Even as they fell, unchanged, beneath the changing moon;
And earth in her divine indifference
Rolls on, and many paltry things and mean
Prate to be heard and caper to be seen.
But they are silent, calm; their eloquence
Is that incomparable attitude;
No human presences their witness are,
But summer clouds and sunset crimson-hued,
And showers and night winds and the northern star.
Nay, even our salutations seem profane,
Opposed to their Elysian quietude;
Our salutations calling from afar,
From our ignobler plane
And undistinction of our lesser parts:
Hail, brothers, and farewell; you are twice blest, brave hearts.
Double your glory is who perished thus,
For you have died for France and vindicated us.

– Alan Seeger


ABOUT

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman

from the wind-whipped edges of the earth, a poem …. and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

“If you want to end the war then instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers.” ~ Malala Yousafzai (17 year-old Noble Peace Laureate)



tawny moon, an evening grace,
a calm drapes itself on the dwindling day

the mystic mountains, pristine, rise high above
an earthy base, the wizard Merlin’s realm
with memories of a green and primal past …
…….of rootedness
…………..essential things

and Peace!
a lively Peace …

visits us on the briny spray, delights
at the meeting of land and sea
at rhythms of ocean against the shore
as waves drift in and out, fling and toss
stop, start, begin again and then again
splashing, salt of a mother’s tears

moonlight wanes,
a liminal hour

and Peace!
capricious Peace …

see the moon incised, a holograph
from wind-whipped edges of the Earth,
read reports of valour and cowardice
…….the blight of insanity
…………..the naked lives
jarring, the morning dispatch
tragedies, under the heel of depravity

. . .guns, bombs, drones

………..psychopaths, forever with us

people fleeing the lacerations of their plight
Oh! the crushing horror of their fright

“In a world gushing blood day and night, you never stop mopping up pain.” Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams

© 2017, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT

Peace! Capricious. Unevenly distributed. We can be the peace but what do we do about the psychopaths?  How do we mop up the blood? How do we hang on to our hope? Tells us in a poem or poems.

Share your poem/s on theme or a link to it/them in the comments section below.

All poems on theme will be published next Tuesday. Please do NOT email your poem to me or leave it on Facebook. If you do it’s likely I’ll miss it or not see it in time.

Poems in response to this prompt will be considered for inclusion in the September issue of The BeZine, which is themed social justice.

IF this is your first time joining us for The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt, please send a brief bio and photo to me at thepoetbyday@gmail.com in order to introduce yourself to the community … and to me :-).  These will be partnered with your poem/s on first publication.

Deadline:  Monday, July 23 at 8 p.m. Pacific.

Anyone may take part Wednesday Writing Prompt, no matter the status of your career: novice, emerging or pro.  It’s about exercising the poetic muscle, sharing your work, and getting to know other poets who might be new to you. This is a discerning nonjudgemental place to connect.


ABOUT

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.

Cruel Legacy, Environmental Injustice, and the Growing Incidence of Interstitial Lung Disease

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I have lived now for nineteen years past my medically predicted expiration date. Every year or so I feel compelled to get on my soap box – this site, though the topic is off-theme – about lung disease, its increasing prevalence, and its debilitating effects.



At 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.

Note: The photograph is of my portable oxygen tank. I put it in a backpack and that allows me to walk for about a mile or to be away from home for short periods of time, a little grocery shopping, a library visit, doctor appointments. This need for supplemental oxygen makes it impossible for me to participate in poetry and writing communities other than online.  So, thanks to all of you for being a part of my creative community.  

© 2016, words and illustration, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; originally published in The BeZine.

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