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,
 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

          *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *


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, 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


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.  


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 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


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 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....$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


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.