Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Search

The Search
Eileen Apperson


"The trees," my daughter pointed to
as we landed in a New England Autumn,
"the colors look like Fruit Loops."

I was there to finger through dank
parish records, step among
grave markers, relocate homesteads gone
for two hundred years. And I don't know
why I brought her along. She pulled
on my shirt and begged, "can we go home?"

Perhaps because she does not know her own
grandparents, only that the Roseville pottery
belonged to Grandma and those button-up
baby shoes once fit Grandpa's feet.

***

Eileen received an MA in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction prose and an MFA in poetry from CSU, Fresno. She teaches creative nonfiction, composition, and literature at Reedley College. Recent publications include the Platte Valley Review, The Packinghouse Review, The Mom Egg, Writing It Real, and Kaleidowhirl. Eileen’s latest writing project is in fact an old one as she has dusted-off the pages of a 10-year old manuscript and is working with a documentary film maker to bring her vision of landscape and memory to the screen. Genealogy research has been an obsession of Eileen’s since she was twelve when she inherited her grandmother’s letters.

Friday, April 29, 2011

American Heritage

American Heritage
Dean Olson

I don’t envy those who savor
sepia-toned photographs.
Those who sift the slender veins of genealogy,
mine the fissured tissues of family bibles
or distill diaries of voyages over sea and rutted trail.
My scrapbook has little depth beyond parents,
a childhood spent outdoors and an obscure
hard-drinking Danish grandmother.
That may be why I feel there is little pattern to life.
There were few hand-me-down expectations.
And it may be why I favored uncharted waters,
never giving more intimacy than necessary,
never giving the boss more than two weeks notice.
But I want you to know,
in this hour of falling leaves,
though I am captive to mysterious foliage
I believe everything I have done
is useful.

***

Dean Olson has published six limited-edition poetry collections. He is emeritus faculty of the Evergreen State College, where he taught economics, cultural studies and maritime history. He lives in Olympia, Washington with his children and grandchildren. His poems have been accepted for publication in Cascade #2 by the Washington Poetry Association, and by Prairie Schooner.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What My Father Believed

What My Father Believed
John Guzlowski

He didn't know about the Rock of Ages
or bringing in the sheaves or Jacob's ladder
or gathering at the beautiful river
that flows beneath the throne of God.
He'd never heard of the Baltimore Catechism
either, and didn't know the purpose of life
was to love and honor and serve God.

He'd been to the village church as a boy
in Poland, and knew he was Catholic
because his mother and father were buried
in a cemetery under wooden crosses.
His sister Catherine was buried there too.

The day their mother died Catherine took
to the kitchen corner where the stove sat,
and cried. She wouldn't eat or drink, just cried
until she died there, died of a broken heart.
She was three or four years old, he was five.

What he knew about the nature of God
and religion came from the sermons
the priests told at mass, and this got mixed up
with his own life. He knew living was hard,
and that even children are meant to suffer.

Sometimes, when he was drinking he'd ask,
"Didn't God send his own son here to suffer?"
My father believed we are here to lift logs
that can't be lifted, to hammer steel nails
so bent they crack when we hit them.
In the slave labor camps in Germany,
He'd seen men try the impossible and fail.

He believed life is hard, and we should
help each other. If you see someone
on a cross, his weight pulling him down
and breaking his muscles, you should try
to lift him, even if only for a minute,
even though you know lifting won't save him.

***

John Guzlowski is the author of Lightning and Ashes, a book of poems about his parents’ experiences in Nazi concentration camps. His stories and poems appear in such journals as Ontario Review, Atlanta Review, and Chattahoochee Review, and in the anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust. Garrison Keillor read “What My Father Believed” on his program, The Writers’ Almanac. John blogs about his parents’ experiences at Lightning and Ashes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Olson Sisters: Field Notes of a Descendant

The Olson Sisters: Field Notes of a Descendent
Carolyn Moore

1

They looked alike back then, as any pair
of sisters can, and spoke in our clan voice.
Yet there all semblance ends. There, the trail branches:
daughters, nieces, grands and greats, must choose
a fork or stray down one with little heed
for the consequence of family mimicry.
A botanist with scant regard for genus,
I mist our orchid genera and log
the scentless differentia that all
our petals, sepals, lips, conspire to mask.

2

Like the ornate jewelry boxes she collects,
indifferent to trinkets inside, the younger
loves surface quelling form: the high baroque
of Cellini’s salt and pepper bowls concealed
amid enamel, gold, and ebony,
with Nymph and Neptune huge above the spice,
his facial cast more petulant than godly.
Nymph’s thumb and fingers idly cup her nipple.
Perhaps he pouts at this impertinent pose?
Perhaps he knows he’s just a bantam knock-off
of Michelangelo’s huge “Day”? And so
turns glum as any junk-bondsman now sunk
to schlepping ketchup packets to fast-food
condiment bins? There!—see how such excess
distracts us from the task of salting meat?

3

The older sister? No collections there.
Shelves kept spare and free of clutter, dust.
If a box, then she was made of unvarnished wood.
Joints trim. Apart from function, no d├ęcor.
Hold to the ear—do you hear the whir of watch-works?
Inside, a mechanism plain with purpose,
gears ticking close in tolerance. A thrift
of sufficiency. A shift to just enough.

4

Make no apologies, both the old sisters
would agree: the elder gone the way
of the wild native orchid, “Lady’s Slipper.”
The younger slipping her hold on that tree bark
where the mind shelters from the clutter of soil.

***

Carolyn Moore’s three chapbooks won their respective competitions as has her first book-length manuscript, Instructions for Traveling Light, pending publication from Deep Bowl Press. She taught at Humboldt State University (Arcata, California) until she could eke out a living as a freelance writer and researcher working from the last vestige of the family farm in Tigard, Oregon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Smoke Screen

Smoke Screen
Gail Eisenhart

Rain strips the maple tree and scatters leaves
in my neighbor’s yard, insulting his sense of order.
Raking all day, he mounds them at the curb, curses
their tenacity and strikes a match. Like his anger,
the damp pile fumes. An acrid cloud crosses
the street to choke me
and there he is,
Grandpa.

Mom exiled him to the garage…
No cigars in her house.
He laughed, headed outdoors
dragging and sucking a stogie
until the butt was so small he held it
with a toothpick to get the last puff.
We kids snickered, waiting to see him
singe his nose hairs.

Funny, I knew every fold of Grandma’s girth
but Grandpa was a stranger, an old man with a Tipparillo,
a bottle of beer and left-over fishing minnows
in the bathtub. I hardly remember
his voice—except when he hollered
that supper was late. I thought him ornery,
his face and opinions set in stone, hopelessly
out of touch.

His specter sticks in my throat now
and my eyes blur in the haze.

***

Gail Eisenhart’s poems have been published recently in Jet Fuel Review, CANTOS, Front Range, Barely South Review and in Flood Stage: an anthology of St. Louis Poets. A retired Executive Assistant, she works part time at the Belleville (IL) Public Library.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Naming Stories

Naming Stories
Eileen Apperson

I want to know women's stories, get them right
before they go wrong, lost in the mouths of men,
of children who did not listen slowly enough.
Was great grandmother's name Havens or Littlejohn,
and was it she who scattered her eleven children
across the Nebraska Plain when Sioux came to visit,
or was that on my father's side?
And was it her mother who came to Virginia
a young Yorkshire bride, a widow within a year,
the one we have a photo of in the hallway
after she remarried, her hair pulled tight
at the temples, lips pursed?
I catch my reflection in the framed glass,
own lips tightened, wishing to know the connection.

***

Eileen received a MA in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction prose and a MFA in poetry from CSU, Fresno. She teaches creative nonfiction, composition, and literature at Reedley College. Recent publications include the Platte Valley Review, The Packinghouse Review, The Mom Egg, Writing It Real, and Kaleidowhirl. Eileen’s latest writing project is in fact an old one as she has dusted-off the pages of a 10-year old manuscript and is working with a documentary film maker to bring her vision of landscape and memory to the screen. Genealogy research has been an obsession of Eileen’s since she was a twelve when inherited her grandmother’s letters.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Jewish Cemetery at Newport - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!

The trees are white with dust, that o'er their sleep
Wave their broad curtains in the south-wind's breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
The long, mysterious Exodus of Death.

And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
That pave with level flags their burial-place,
Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
And broken by Moses at the mountain's base.

The very names recorded here are strange,
Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
Alvares and Rivera interchange
With Abraham and Jacob of old times.

"Blessed be God! for he created Death!"
The mourners said, "and Death is rest and peace;"
Then added, in the certainty of faith,
"And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease."

Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.

Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.

How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o'er the sea -- that desert desolate --
These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?

They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire.

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread
And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.

Anathema maranatha! was the cry
That rang from town to town, from street to street;
At every gate the accursed Mordecai
Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.

Pride and humiliation hand in hand
Walked with them through the world where'er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.

For in the background figures vague and vast
Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
And all the great traditions of the Past
They saw reflected in the coming time.

And thus forever with reverted look
The mystic volume of the world they read,
Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
Till life became a Legend of the Dead.

But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again.


***

The Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in America (estab. 1763), but from about 1781 to 1883 the synagogue lay empty, though preserved, which partly explains why Longfellow wrote about the Jewish people as a "dead nation."  The cemetery dates back further to 1677. (Timeline)

Grand Canyon, 1937

Grand Canyon, 1937
David Vincenti

In a spring filled with escapes, a photographer
visits Arizona, his satchel filled with unlabeled
canisters. He carries his expandable Kodak
down and back up the many brown steps.
Lacking organization, he leaves markerless
mementos for months, until dusty piles
begin to block the light. Finally, prints find
manila folder homes: a few in Memories,
some under Magazines, still more are mailed
to the brides and grooms whose best days
financed his imminent move from Queens
to Albuquerque. He stops his Plymouth at
a Post Office in Manhattan to make one last
crass commercial gesture before turning away
from portraiture forever. The last face
he affects belongs to my grandmother,
whose eyes widen to the span of a canyon
when she finds only that great sepia gorge
in the box labeled “Milligan, June 26, 1937”.

It is spring again, and no number of buds
can tell the story of my grandparents’
first season, but one will finds its way to
the preserving pressure of a family bible with
a napkin bearing Nana’s writing, addressed
to someone clearly named, but not known.

***

David Vincenti is a father, husband, poet, engineer, accordionist, and bowler whose poems have appeared in Edison Literary Review and The Journal of New Jersey Poets. His first chapbook, To The Ones Who Must Be Loved, was published in 2010.