Friday, December 20, 2013

IN PRAISE OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE, A POEM BY WENDELL BERRY



In praise of the Winter Solstice and to drive away the dark, we offer this poem by Wendell Berry, visionary, environmental activist, farmer and one of the major literary lights in our country.



Peace of the Wild Things
  
                              by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Friday, October 18, 2013

THE WRITER'S LIFE, Personal Essay on a Memorable Meal




For the third year in a row, I have had the pleasure of running a Fall community writing workshop at the Jewish Community Center in Albany. Some of the members have been together for all three years and have delighted the rest of us with their vivid writing. Poet and memoir writer Ruth Dorothy Pottinger of Albany, New York is one of those participants who consistently addresses her readers with incredibly fresh, tangible detail, often from her childhood in Jamaica. This excerpt is in response to the prompt, write about your most memorable meal.  

BEEF SOUP ON FRIDAY

                                                                                               by Ruth Dorothy Pottinger

The butcher shop on St. John’s Road a few blocks from our house in Jamaica was open on Fridays. That was the day everyone got their fresh meat to make soup. Or those who could afford the expense bought different cuts of meat to make dinner for Friday, Saturday and Sunday meals.

I really cannot picture my Saturday and Sunday dinner but Friday evening soup made with “goose-neck,” the part of the cow’s leg with the ligaments attached, was delicious. Do you remember Stone Soup? That’s the story of the man reputed to have made soup from a stone but really made it from all the soup ingredients he had requested from the villagers. Well, my mother’s Friday night evening soup was like that. She went to the food market in the morning where she purchased yellow yam, pumpkin, cho-cho, cocoa, breadfruit, escallion, thyme, green Scotch Bonnet peppers, and then to the grocery shop to buy flour. Soup was never the best without flour dumplings.

I could smell my mother’s soup cooking in the large three-legged iron pot sitting on the iron stove as soon as I entered the gate. I would salivate in anticipation of the bowl of soup with my favorite food but mostly the bone with the gummy sinews which I would spend time digging into with my teeth to get every inch of meat and sinew off.

We often wished we could have seconds but this was not forthcoming since we were so many and everybody loved the soup. No one was willing to share. No one was willing to give up any of the portion they received. We all were engrossed in the eating activity. Soup dripped down our chins but we ignored that until we had eaten every bit of the soup in our bowls.

I wish I could have a bowl of that special soup today. I have tried making it, but I have been unsuccessful and have to relish the memory of the taste as I think about my mother’s bowl of beef soup on Fridays.

Monday, August 12, 2013

ANCHORED AT CRANBERRY POND, by Anne Kiely





Sometimes we meet people who are so totally connected to an environment that they give new meaning to having "a sense of place". Anne Kiely is one of those people. We present an essay that uniquely communicates the connection that comes with a lifelong association with a place. In this case, it happens to be a setting of beauty and sustenance for which Anne has great love.

Anchored at Cranberry Pond


It’s really not much of a body of water. Bigger than a farm pond but just a small pond, after all. Rather shallow, only about ten to fourteen feet deep in the middle part, the perimeter is only three or four feet deep. Quaking bogs float on two sides- home to cranberries and other bog flora.  The bog stains the water a deep murky brown and the bottom of the pond is silty.  Cranberry Pond is the highest body of water in Grafton and headwaters of the Quakenkill Creek. You know that creek-- that’s the one that wanders along Route 2 westward to Troy, born right here at Cranberry Pond.  John Steward had a sawmill on the pond in the early days of Grafton’s history.   I wonder if he built the dam at the end of the pond. That mystery has eluded my solving. 
        
The pond has no stream inlet; it is completely spring fed and icy cold most of the time.   From shore to shore it about 1000 feet- not big.  An island rises off the far shore.  Stately, noble hemlocks cover it as it rises steeply from the water, encircled by blueberry bushes taking advantage of the water for its thirsty roots. Another two smaller islands are encompassed by the bog. White birches, blueberry bushes and some fir trees cover both of them.

There is no natural beach on this pond, just a tree lined rocky shoreline except for the man-made beach my father put in more than fifty years ago. Swimming became much better after that. I was always undeterred by the bloodsuckers that inhabited the pond. They were just a part of the habitat. Most of our campers shared this view but some were repulsed by them.

Another thing that is unique about Cranberry Pond is that we are the only ones on the pond. We rent a few summer cottages, but that’s it. Although we do not own all the land around the pond, no one else has built anything on their land. It is as if this is our private pond.
           
So why does such a mediocre body of water hold such a place of importance in my life?

As I look out at the pond day after day there is never a bad view. In the morning, the sun rises across the bog to my left. In the fall, the skies are spectacular- backlit by the sun as it moves further south, a riot of pinks and purples and mauves that even the camera cannot adequately capture.  As the temperatures cool, a mist floats over the bog, making it eerie and wistful looking.  Next comes the still time.  The pond becomes like a mirror reflecting the trees and skies perfectly. It lasts only a short while and then a gentle breeze ruffles the water. The sun shining on it turns the little waves to diamonds sparkling daintily.

Later, as the sun rises in the sky white fluffy clouds floating are reflected.  In late afternoon, the sun sets behind me, buried in the trees.  I cannot see the sunset but as I look across the pond the sun shines on the far shore, gold highlighting the tree tops, sometimes very swiftly completing its daily journey.

About 7 PM each day there is a second round of stillness and mirror images- so tranquil.  On moonlit nights the moonlight reflects off the small waves creating another field of sparkling diamonds.  

In the morning, the sun rises across the bog to my left. In the fall, the skies are spectacular- backlit by the sun as it moves further south, a riot of pinks and purples and mauves that even the camera cannot adequately capture.  As the temperatures cool, a mist floats over the bog, making it eerie and wistful looking.  Next comes the still time.  The pond becomes like a mirror reflecting the trees and skies perfectly. It lasts only a short while and then a gentle breeze ruffles the water. The sun shining on it turns the little waves to diamonds sparkling daintily.

Later, as the sun rises in the sky white fluffy clouds floating are reflected.  In late afternoon, the sun sets behind me, buried in the trees.  I cannot see the sunset but as I look across the pond the sun shines on the far shore, gold highlighting the tree tops, sometimes very swiftly completing its daily journey.
           
About 7 PM each day there is a second round of stillness and mirror images- so tranquil.  On moonlit nights the moonlight reflects off the small waves creating another field of sparkling diamonds.        

 The pond seems unchanged but subtle changes have occurred over the 67 years I have been viewing it.  The beaver have taken down the birches and the maples on the island; there are fewer blueberry bushes as the forest has crowded them out. There are no longer blood suckers but now we have water snakes-a  big UGH! And the bog slowly creeps forward into the pond.

I guess it must be my imagination but the water definitely seems much colder now than when I was a child swimming endlessly day after day. Does someone throw ice cubes in the pond at night? Now, wading to ankle depth cools me sufficiently.

I, too, have changed, having grown from child into adult, became a parent and grandparent. This is the place I learned to swim, learned to fish, learned to sail, learned to row a boat, and learned about life. People who came every two weeks for their summer vacation, kids like me or, sometimes, maybe not.  They taught me a lot about relationships.

This is where I spent my childhood summers, where my children spent their childhood summers, where my grandchildren now spend their childhood summers. Five generations of my family have been at Cranberry Pond.

There is no one experience to define my relationship with this body of water. It has been a lifelong event. Cranberry Pond is the anchor of my life.


      


Sunday, August 11, 2013

BLUEBERRIES, by ANNE KIELY




In my opinion, one of the most sublime events of summer is picking blueberries— especially those at the summits of a few of the White Mountains of New Hampshire which I grudgingly climbed as a young girl. After an arduous climb on Mount Chocorua, my favorite, my fellow campers and I would be treated to small, warmed-by-the-sun, sweet blueberries from low-lying bushes. I still remember our shrieks of joy when we discovered that the summit held a wealth of these bushes, which we ransacked like starving bears while looking out on incredibly gorgeous vistas, before finally collapsing for our naps. That was in the days before sunscreen, before trash on the mountains, before pesticides took over both the flavor and the condition of grocery store blueberries.

I am delighted to say that Anne Kiely captures this romantic appeal in her appreciation of blueberry picking at her beloved summer/fall residence on Cranberry Pond in Grafton, NY.  Anne Kiely is a retired elementary school teacher who has spent every summer at Cranberry Pond first as a child and later as an adult. This experience has profoundly shaped both her life and her family’s life.

We look forward to showcasing Anne Kiely today and tomorrow, with her memoirs of Cranberry Pond.

 

*                                  *                                  *

Blueberries
                            by Anne Kiely

Stepping out the door at my home at Cranberry Pond I walk only a few steps and I am ready to begin my blueberry harvest. My can hangs from a strap around my neck, ready to hold the small round tasty fruit. This is an organic harvest; it has always been an organic harvest, long before I even knew what that meant.  These berries are grown solely by Mother Nature, not a cultivated crop.

Hopefully I won’t harvest stems, twigs, leaves or stink bugs, especially the stink bugs. Ugh, they smell rotten but they taste even worse. I don’t think they are poisonous, but from the few times I have inadvertently plopped them in my mouth I spit them out so fast that they didn’t have time to cause any harm except for their awful taste.

Sometimes the harvest gets detoured and instead of plopping the berries in my can, I plop them in my mouth; big mistake because now not many will find their way to the can- nope!  In my mouth they go.

Usually I pick alone. Almost no one in my family likes this activity. It is too tedious for them. For me it is a calm, restful time, a time for reflection and thinking, recollections.
It wasn’t always this solitary activity. When I was a child, picking was a family affair. My mother picked fast, including stems, twigs and leaves along with the coveted crop. My brother harvested directly to his mouth. When my brother and I would go picking together, just the two of us, I would bring home a pailful of berries. He would bring home a bellyful. My father would pull down the branches and hold them steady for me to pick. Sometimes my husband will do that for me, too, but he doesn’t do it the right way and quickly he loses interest and leaves.

Back then we all carried our burden of containers strapped to our belts at our waist. My parents fastened ten quart galvanized pails to their belts; mine was a more modest size.
Picking was good and we filled all our containers in an hour or so. Later I changed to cans on a heavy cord around my neck. I favored the metal coffee cans with plastic lids. They were snapped on the bottom of the can until it was filled and then put on the top to prevent spills.  I recalled my mother’s admonishment to be careful with full containers—
 “Watch out, you don’t want to pick them twice—once off the bush, once off the ground.”

The blueberry harvest season is between mid July and late August.  Late in the season the berries are seedier and the birds compete with me picking early in the morning while I still sleep. I pick if it is raining or if it is warm, but chilly weather and buggy times deter me. There is always tomorrow.

I used to be able to tolerate a large coffee can hanging from my neck. Filled, it weighed about three pounds. Now that is too heavy and today I opt for the one pound size.
When the picking is good I can fill a can in about twenty minutes. In less than an hour I pick enough for two pies or several batches of blueberry muffins or lots of pancakes or toppings on a bowl of cereal or just a bowl of berries. There are hundreds of recipes in my collection.

There are more than thirty bushes in my front yard— the area between the front of the house and the pond. Each bush has its own distinctive taste and no two are alike. One prime bush teases with gorgeous blue-black berries hanging in grape like clusters devoid of flavor. They try to seduce me into picking them which I vehemently try to resist. Mostly I succeed. What’s the point of putting that effort into a flavorless crop when so much of the sweet-tart crop is available?

I think I will cut this temptation down, but it is hard to find the resolve to do that.

Standing in front of the tallest bushes I struggle to pull down the branches to reach the most desirable berries at the top. I remember picking with my father— a special dance just between the two of us. Filling my can with blueberries fills me with warm memories of special times shared with Dad.

If you look in my can you will see hundreds of berries in the can around my neck, but what I really carry is a lifetime of picking memories.






Saturday, June 15, 2013

HONORING PICASSO AND PROGRAMMING


What is the future of STEM education in this country? Today, while listening to This American Life on NPR, I became fearful that soon, perhaps, very little will be happening. We know that STEM education is crucial to our future, and we know that countries which focus on science, technology, engineering and math education will lead the way. Nevertheless, sometimes the finest teachers in a school system are eliminated because of budget cuts, and sometimes science classes are among the first to be slashed. What a shocking revelation.

Jason Pittman teaches pre-school through sixth grade science at an elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia, and has been recognized by the National Science Teacher's Association as their Early Educator of the Year. His lesson plans are unique and encourage exploration and hands-on education. Unfortunately, his job was eliminated a few years ago and his district has to raise the funds privately every year to retain his position.  So, after ten years of teaching and winning several major awards, he’s quitting. He used to run his own technology business, and maybe he'll return to that, without the stress of wondering where his paycheck will come from. But what about the students who adore him? What about the four-year-old who said to him this week, "Mr. Pittman, this is the best day of my life. I love science!"?

At Big Mind Learning, we believe that in the intersection of art and science lies greatness. We recently honored Sal Elder Jr. as the first-prize winner in our Scholarship Essay Contest for his essay entitled "Programming and Picasso". We noted his natural story-telling ability, wit, and sophisticated use of language and personification. However, what is really at stake in his essay is his identification with Picasso who said, "“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Sal Elder loves to program, and through his lively description of his trial and error process, his love for experimentation is obvious and inspiring. He says, "I’ll be honest—I don’t fully know what I’m doing, or even who my target audience is. But it’s fun, and I suppose its main purpose is for me to learn about writing and coding. Furthermore, I get to enjoy the satisfaction, as Picasso must have, of having instructed myself through experimentation and self-motivation."

Let's get rid of our reliance on standardized tests and get kids into the labs and gardens, where true-life inspiration can reside. Many educators say that we will need more engineers and scientists in the future than ever before, so why are we eliminating some of our best science teachers? 


Thursday, February 14, 2013

THE WRITER'S LIFE, Poem honoring love, "I Was the Wind" by Susan Farrelly



Susan Farrelly is one of the writers I am privileged to work with at the Cohoes Public Library. Our Valentine's gift to the world is this poem about her late husband. Susan is a retired high school teacher who taught English for thirty-four years. It is her goal to write her teaching memoirs as a tool to assist new teachers. Being of Irish descent, Susan strongly believes that the dead are always by our side. She believes that her dead husband does communicate with her through the forces of nature.  This poem, given as a class assignment to write in the voice of another person, is based on an actual occurrence.

I Was the Wind
                                    by Susan Farrelly

I’m no longer physically with you,
But I’m never far away.
Since I have been gone,
You have never faced a crisis in which I did not intervene—
Like the night of the big fire on 90th Street— Paddy’s street.
It was an extremely windy April night,
And that night I was the wind.
I had to save Paddy’s apartment.
Remember— the apartment building next door was on fire.
The wind was raging and the fire was spreading.
The firemen told Paddy and little Meg
Their building would be the next one to go.
They were so scared, just standing there watching
And waiting for their building to burst into flames.
I just couldn’t let my boy and his fiancĂ©e become homeless.
All of their possessions were in that apartment.
You always told me I was full of hot air.
So that night, I inhaled with all my might,
And blew as hard as I could.
For one fleeting moment, I was the wind
And I shifted the direction of that fire.
The firemen were dumbfounded;
They watched as the wind shifted
And the building on the other side caught fire.
I was the one who did it; I saved my Paddy’s apartment.
When Paddy and little Meg returned to their apartment,
There wasn’t even smoke damage.
They could look out their side window
And see the collapsed roof of the building next door.
So you see, I am up here watching over you and my babies,
Even more dedicated than when I was with you on earth.

Friday, January 18, 2013

THE WRITER'S LIFE, CELEBRATING THE COHOES FALLS with "Prayer to the Water at the Falls" by April A. Kennedy




April Kennedy, one of the members of the Cohoes Library Writing Workshop, introduces a poem about her love for the Cohoes Falls. She has been inspired by their never-ending beauty and majesty her entire life.

April is a 5th generation Cohoesier who is also the 1st Ward Councilmember on the Cohoes Common Council. Her story "Remembering Josepha" was aired on Northeast Public Radio this past Mother's Day. April is a voice artist and writer who loves to travel the world and paint with watercolors. She narrated "Over the Falls," a beautiful nine-minute video produced by the Friends of Cohoes Falls, available at the following link, www.friendsofcohoesfalls.org.
  
 Prayer to the Water at the Falls

I watch as you move on to your destiny
So sure of where it is you are going
I wish to be like you

There is no hesitation as you roar your delight
While sliding over the cleansing cliffs and rocks
I watch as you move onto your destiny

Your watery force brings life anew
To the cities and villages you flow through
I wish to be like you

You are always there and yet never remain
You eternally fascinate reminding all of time passing
I watch as you move onto your destiny

Your landing and pounding on the river bed
Continuously sings praise to your maker
I wish to be like you

Where is your source, there appears to be no ending
Is it as moving as you are
I watch as you move onto your destiny
I wish to be like you

          *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

History


The Cohoes Falls is indeed one of the Iroquois most sacred sites, discovered by the indigenous Mohawk tribe. It is said that in the 13th or 14th century, The Great Peacemaker, Deganawida, saw a vision of the Iroquois confederacy there, with the tribes coming together in a powerful, peaceful alliance.

The site has a storied past, and in 1865 an inn called The Cataract House was built over a rocky declivity of 75 feet. The inn was later renovated into a 2-story mansion with verandas overlooking the falls.

Currently, Brookfield Renewable Power from Canada holds a 40-year operating license for the School Street hydropower plant granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In 2011, Brookfield ceded part of their land holding at the Cohoes Falls to permit the Iroquois access to their sacred site for the first time in 300 years.
 
From the Iroquois Confederacy comes the naming of the falls from the following Indian legend, one of the Hiawatha tales, which was indeed corroborated by the Dutch explorer, Adriane Vander Donck, in his Description of New Netherlands, in 1655We excerpted this story from a slightly longer version on the City of Cohoes website, www.cohoes.com. Our featured painting is also from this website.

"Once long ago before the White Man came, the land of the trees and rivers was free. Life was good, the Great Spirit smiled, peace reigned in the Wilderness. The braves hunted, the squaws labored, as was the way.

Once a young maiden, the beautiful daughter of a chief and the pride of the tribe, was working at the river's bank. She tired in the heat of the day and sought the shade of one bark riding at the water's edge. She sat, and quickly fell into a deep sleep from which no motion of the craft would wake her.

The canoe slipped from its mooring, was caught quickly by the river's swift current, and glided silently toward the white water at the brink of the Falls. The rapids and the tumbling water's roar woke the slumbering maiden. She screamed to no advantage, attempted unsuccessfully to right the bark's course and finally resigned herself to her fate, death at the Fall's edge. The mists covered her, the Falls claimed her, and no remains were ever found.

The Tribe mourned its loss and all marked this place, for a princess...daughter of a warrior, died there. All called the place Coho, the place of the Falling Canoe."
                  




Saturday, January 12, 2013

THE WRITER'S LIFE, COMMEMORATING THE EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI, JANUARY, 2010





Today, January 12, 2013, is the tragic anniversary of the massive earthquake that struck the nation of Haiti three years ago, causing catastrophic damage to the capital city of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. The devastating event severely harmed the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, resulting in the loss of over 300,000 lives and the descent of 1.5 million people into homelessness .

What is less known, however, is that a cholera epidemic, blamed on international U.N. troops participating in the recovery effort, killed almost 8,000 people, making more than half a million sick. Today, in spite of pledges of billions of dollars in international aid, rebuilding has barely begun, and nearly 400,000 people are still living in crowded camps. Our friend, Susie Zeiger, documents these conditions and their tragic results in her poetry and prose.

Susie is a teacher and writer living in New York City and Western Massachusetts. For over thirty years, she taught in the New York public schools and now teaches at the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. She has studied Haitian Creole for decades and makes frequent trips to Haiti as an interpreter for various humanitarian and medical groups. 

 *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                                

We present one poem and one personal essay by Susie Zeiger, whose graphic stories bring readers directly into the tragic experience of girls and women in the camps.  



Restavek

The girl is too old for her age.
She is awake before the rooster crows
and asleep when the moon is too high in the night sky.
She is too sad and too obedient.
She scrubs pots with sand when she should be listening to the droning of a teacher’s voice, sitting straight on a hard wooden bench on the girl’s side of the dark, airless, cinderblock classroom.
She works on Saturdays when she should be walking to the market with a mother she will never remember.
She works on Sundays when she should be praying with her parents and brothers and sisters in the small village church where her mother used to take her, still a very young child, to pray for rain when there was none.
She sleeps on the floor in the kitchen of the stranger’s house, too tired to miss the family she left behind in the countryside.
She is in the capital city where it is too hot, where no breeze blows through the kitchen, where she spends too many hours or at the steamy, crowded market she must go to daily with the tall silent girl to buy food she must help to prepare, but almost never eat.
She is given the leftovers, what remains after the dog has been fed.
She may be twelve she thinks, but looks older.
She can’t remember when or where she was born and can’t ask her mother whom she hasn’t seen in so many years she has lost count. 
She is in the capital city now.  Her mother in her village, a day’s bus ride away.
She is beaten at the whim of the head of the house when the food is not ready on time.
She cannot read the clock in the kitchen where she spends too many hours.
She is beaten, often for no reason she can comprehend.
She is Haiti’s best kept secret.
She is a restavek, a child slave.


Christophine

            Christophine is a lovely seventeen year old Haitian girl with the sweetest of smiles.  She has a twin sister who doesn’t “pale bien,” speak correctly, according to their mother.  She also has an older brother in his early 20’s.  I don’t think their father is present.
            When the earthquake of January 12th, 2010 occurred, Christophine’s family, along with over a million others, lost their home and were forced to live in a tent camp which held hundreds of internally displaced people from communities throughout Port-au-Prince.  A good number of these Haitian tents are mere lean-tos fashioned with either bed sheets or tarps and may wash away when rain falls or tropical storms strike.  In the afternoons you won’t find most camp residents in their tents since they trap the heat.  I’ve been told that these tents can get as hot as 110 degrees during the hottest periods of the year.
            The sanitary conditions are beyond dreadful as well.  Before OXFAM and other NGOs pulled out of Haiti there were free porto potties.  Now the hapless half million or more remaining in the camps must often pay when they need to relieve themselves.  When the NGOs originally placed these toilets in the camps they were put on the periphery of the unlit camps.  If water is available, there is no privacy when camp residents need to bathe.
            Children are often left alone in their tents when their mothers must leave to try to sell their goods in the market or to get food.  There are few schools in the camps as well, so children must fend for themselves.  Since whole communities were destroyed in the earthquake, camp residents can’t depend upon the kindness or help of their former neighbors who may be living at a camp far away.  The fabric of community life was in large measure destroyed when the earth opened twenty-one months ago.  While there are camps in which the residents were able to create infrastructure and organization, there are too many which are completely lawless. 
            One late afternoon Christophine’s mother had to leave her daughter alone in their tent.  Two zenglendo (criminals) cut through the family’s tent with a knife, blindfolded, then kidnapped the young girl at knifepoint and drove her to an undisclosed location where they cut off her clothes and raped her for two days straight. 
            About a year ago the girl’s mother was able to get a modicum of justice for Christophine.  One of the perpetrators was jailed and remains there to this day.  However, since then the rapist’s family has threatened the mother and daughter with death.  Their family is forced to sleep in a different location every few days.  Fortunately they are supported and protected by a group of fanm vayan (courageous women) from a women’s organization whose members themselves were victims of rape after the first coup d’etat against Aristide in 1991, during the ensuing four years of military violence, as well as during the second coup against Aristide in 2004.
            When I signed up to be a participant in The SOAW (School of the Americas Watch) delegation to Haiti I did not volunteer to interpret for the group for two main reasons.  While I’m a competent interpreter for medical and education translations, I’m not a good enough interpreter when it comes to the political and economic domain.  Secondly, when I translate and have to deal with sensitive material I tend to space out when someone speaks for long spells. 
            Suffice it to say that since we had a very poor interpreter on our first day who was let go that very same day, I volunteered to translate the following day when Christophine’s mother told her daughter’s story.  We were at the Bureau des Avocats Internationales, the headquarters of a group of   dedicated, overworked lawyers.  Before the mother spoke I had no idea what my pinch-hitting task would entail.  As she recounted Christophine’s ordeal I recall shaking and biting my lower lip while I watched tears well up in the eyes of many of my fellow delegation members.
            There was perhaps a nano second when I felt that I had to stop, but I willed myself to continue.  A force stronger than myself overtook me and continued to flow through me.  When Chrisophine’s mother pulled out her daughter’s cut up dress and underpants and burst into tears while becoming more and more agitated, I kept up the translation.
            Afterwards I took both mother and daughter in my arms and embraced them, or perhaps they embraced me.  I don’t recall.  I told them how terribly sorry I was to learn of Christophine’s unimaginable ordeal.  And minutes later, tears flowing from my eyes and the mother’s, we held hands and stared into each other’s eyes, the unspoken understanding that a mother must protect her child no matter what, and would rather die than have her child experience what this mother’s daughter experienced.
  



 



Wednesday, January 9, 2013

THE WRITER'S LIFE, TANKA POEM AND ESSAY by Richard DeVoe




Richard DeVoe, one of the members of the Cohoes Library Writing Workshop, introduces work from this group with a Tanka poem (a Japanese verse form) and a prize-winning essay, published in The Daily Gazette. Richard is a lifelong resident of Cohoes and is retired after a 33-year career with the State of New York. In addition to his interest in writing memoir and poetry, he is a musician and singer/songwriter currently in the process of writing and recording a collection of original songs entitled “Attic of Dreams”.

“The Gift” is reprinted here by permission of the author. With the essay's wit and warmth, we say a final goodbye to the holiday season.

“Morning Song” is our blessing to everyone for the New Year: “Sing loud. Rejoice!”

Morning Song

Silence comes to me
When I hear his morning song.
Awake is his tune.
Come join our parade. Sing too.
A new day. Sing loud. Rejoice!

The Gift

The cold Saturday morning wind hits my ten year old face like the crack of a bat on a hard-thrown pitch. I close the front door and walk down the stairs onto the sidewalk. It's only a week until Christmas and I want to buy Mom something nice. But what? I already got Dad his, a paperback book about fishing that I thought he might like. I bought my eight-year-old sister Kathleen a book where you could cut out paper doll clothes to put on the cardboard girl. My fourteen-year-old brother Tom was getting a pocket knife that I saw in the Army & Navy store. Now I only had Mom left, the toughest decision.
I have to stay within my budget though. I check the pockets of my corduroy pants and my hand rakes through the assortment of change that I've saved up. How much do I have to work with, I think to myself? Well, there's only one way to find out...count it.
As I walk up the street, I duck into the narrow alleyway that separates two houses to get out of the wind and add up the money in my pocket...$1.43. Not much but it will have to do.
I head back onto the sidewalk and begin my journey to Remsen Street, the main shopping district in the city. I'll have lots of stores to check out to find the perfect gift for her. There's Woolworth's, Fishman's, S.S Kresge's, that ladies store Juliette's which I won't go into by myself.  I mea, what if one of my friends sees me going in there alone? I'll find something somewhere.
As I head down White Street, I pass by the Hometown Bakery. Boy, I really could go for one of their jelly donuts this morning. I go in and the smells of the sweet treats engulf the room and my nose. I ask the lady behind the counter in the white dress how much it would be for one jelly donut. "Fifteen cents," she says. “O.K. I'll take one,” I answer. Let's see..my budget has now been reduced to $1.28.
            When I turn onto Remsen Street, I look up and notice all the Christmas decorations hung across the street from the light poles. Right after Thanksgiving, the city puts them up and lights them for the holiday shoppers. I walk to the end of the block and go into Kresge's. To the right of the entrance is the small lunch counter where the nice lady with hair on her chin works. Eating that donut made me thirsty. I sure could go for a drink. Maybe I'll buy a root beer from the barrel at the end of the counter. “How much for a root beer?” I ask. "Twenty cents,” the bearded lady says. “O.K. I'll take one.” My budget now has been reduced to $1.08. I look around the store but can't find anything for Mom. If she only could use a turtle, they sold them in the back of the store.
Next I go into Fishman's. Nothing really in here for her, I think to myself. Woolworth's is next. Walking down the aisle I notice the display with baseball cards in it. You’ve got to be kidding! Baseball cards in December! My lucky day! I'll buy a pack to see if I can get that Willie May's card that I lost flipping. Let's see, five cents a pack..one pack....$0.05. My budget is now $1.03. O.K., no more fooling around, got to find a present for Mom. I walk to the end of the aisle and turn down the next one where my eye catches the perfect present for her. A bottle of Lavender Bubble Bath and it's only $0.89! I snatch it up, pay for it and head outside back home. Mission accomplished and I have $0.14 left in my budget.
When Christmas morning comes the family gathers to open their presents. I get that catcher's mitt I told Dad about that was in the National Auto Store, a transistor radio with an ear piece and some clothes. Dad loves his paperback, Kathleen her paper dolls and Tom his knife. Mom opens her gift from me. "Just what I wanted and need," she says and smiles at Dad. Later on we gather with the rest of the family and celebrate this special day.
      Looking back, I think how much simpler and less commercial Christmas was then. Now, even before Halloween, the stores get decorated and advertise non-stop. The radio stations even start playing Christmas music right after Election Day. You must find that special gift now before it's no longer available.
    I found my special gift through the eyes of a ten-year-old child...the gift of a Mother's love.
    Oh, I forgot to mention… the apartment we lived in at the time didn't have a bathtub.








Friday, January 4, 2013

THE WRITER'S LIFE, WITH GRATITUDE TO POETS & WRITERS, INC.




This past fall I was thrilled to be supported by a Poets & Writers grant to teach memoir writing at the Cohoes Public Library. What a gracious and superb place this is, especially with Matthew Graff as director. His intelligence, compassion and community spirit have helped the library thrive, and the original St. John’s Episcopal Church is now a gorgeous place to hold our writing workshop which has been together for three years. With the ethereal ceilings and windows of our chosen room lifting our spirits and inspiration, this very talented group wrote personal reflections and thoughtful memory stories for eight weeks until just before Christmas.

Thank you to Poets & Writers, the great organization that creates the connective tissue for writers and host spaces all over the U.S.