She gathered words into pictures
Painting busy country landscapes and quiet city corners
Capturing snapshots of people in moments and memories
Saturating each word with hues of love, longing, laughter and latitude
She gathered people into communities
Families sharing interests instead of blood
The ideals of justice and equality
Coursing through veins of connection
She gathered breaths like flowers
Gifting us with the perfume of inspiration
Scattering petals of thoughts and dreams
Planting seedlings of empowerment
She gathered accolades and gratitude
She gathered love and admiration
She gathered a life of purpose
And now we gather to remember and honor her
Photos of Jamie courtesy of Wendy Rose Alger, used with permission.
Besides the pandemic, this year was also significant for me with the passing of Jamie Dedes who blogged on The Poet by Day. When I first started blogging, I stumbled across the Poet by Day’s Wednesday Writing Prompts and was hooked (you can read my first response to her prompt here). Many of the poems I wrote for her prompts have found forever homes in anthologies and other publications. Jamie’s prompts were thought provoking and gut punching. She made me think about the world outside of my little life. She connected me to other poets who were using their words to change the world.
A prime example is the BeZine that dedicated it’s December issue themed “Life of the Spirit and Activism” to Jamie. Jamie founded the BeZine and this theme captures some important aspects of Jamie that were a true inspiration and aspiration for me.
Jamie changed lives with her words – written and spoken, in poetry and prose. She will be missed.
You can read more tributes to Jamie and other poetry on the theme “Life of the Spirit and Activism” on the BeZine here. My tribute to Jamie (above) is included in this issue.
I am drinking hot coffee despite the 90 degree weather, the sweet creamy liquid warming my nostrils before I take a sip. I hold it for a moment, savoring it’s decadence before swallowing, while watching my children run through the sprinkler. The sunlight glistens off the water droplets hanging onto their dark hair and tan skin. These diamonds sparkle and glisten before being flung into the air echoing the sound of their laughter. I drink my coffee and commit this happy, shining moment to memory.
Growing up, my sprinkler was the fire hydrant in front of my neighbor’s house. Instead of soft, squishy grass underfoot, we had pavement that left our feet raw from scrapes on the unyielding surface. Our laughter gurgled like the fire hydrant while our screams matched the siren wail of the police – a warning that our water play time would soon come to an end. My mother would drink black coffee and watch us from the stoop, her worries emanating from the lines between her eyes, like the sun’s rays burning our already darkened skin.
On this summer day, I drink my coffee, leaning against my marble countertop while looking at my children through the panoramic kitchen window and toast myself for not having wrinkles between my eyes.
Serendipitously, this haibun also works for Jamie’s Wednesday Writing Prompt to juxtapose our life as an adult against our life as a child. I do marvel at the difference between my childhood as an immigrant to this country versus that of my children. My parents both worked, my mom during the day and dad at night. We lived in a diverse neighborhood in the city where my brothers and I would walk to school around the corner. We took public transportation and made frequent trips into “The City”. I did my share of “babysitting” my brothers and could be classified as a “latch-key kid” growing up.
Eventually, we were able to move out of Brooklyn and out to Long Island where my younger brothers were able to live the “suburban life” – taking a school bus, playing football on Friday nights, getting their driver’s license at 16. By that time, I was already in college so my experience with “suburban life” only came when I was married and about to have kids.
My kids have never had to take public transportation as their sole means of getting around. They marvel at sidewalks and when we do go on the train or bus in the “big city”, it’s a grand adventure! They have always had a back yard and have no clue what a “stoop” is. My husband (who is also an immigrant) and I have taken them back to the places where we grew up and they marvel at the “tiny houses” and wonder how we lived with only one bathroom, without a yard, and having to share bedrooms.
Race/ethnicity, social class, education, profession – these are all inter-related. My “shining moment” would not have come to fruition without the hard work and sacrifice of my parents, without the guidance of teachers, without the encouragement of friends. Yet for some, even with these current supports, the institutionalized discrimination/racism inherent in our systems in the USA keep them from reaching their shining moment, from getting their just reward for their hard work and sacrifice, and that of their ancestors.
We all deserve a shining moment in our lives. I would even venture to say, we deserve more than one. I would even be bold enough to say, that we deserve to shine as bright as we would want in every moment in our lives. Shine on, friends, shine on!
I love my Papa. I am his favorite daughter….OK, his only daughter….but I am also his favorite debating partner. My dad and I are similar in so many ways and this is probably why we debate/argue/quarrel more with each other than he does with my other siblings.
My dad always held high standards of morality, values and principles. He passed that on to me, although sometimes we look at these high standards from different sides. So we see things in a different way and approach problems/issues in a different way. Although if you look at the underlying values of these approaches and points of views, you would see that they are the same. You might even ask, why are we even arguing?
The fact is that despite our similarities, I am a different person than my dad. I’ve had experiences that my dad has not. Some of these experiences are because I grew up middle class in the USA while he grew up upper class in the Philippines. Other experiences are because he is a man and I am a woman. Still other experiences are because he was born and grew up in a different era than I did (almost a quarter of a century separates us).
I really liked the haziness of this painting – it reminds me of the images/ideas I had in my head about the kind of house I would live in when I grew up. I wanted a symmetrical house, with a weeping willow in the yard, maybe a pond close by. There would be a swing under the weeping willow and in the fenced in yard, there would be apple trees and flowers. And of course, there would be birds flying under the yellow sun with a few puffy clouds overhead.
I lived on the first floor of a duplex in Brooklyn when I envisioned my “grown up home”. We had a little yard in the back that was usually overgrown with weeds despite our attempts to grow vegetables and flowers. The kitchen was all the way in the back, so you had to pass through all the rooms to get to the back of the house. I would ride my bike up and down the street on the sidewalk, from our house to Aunt Rita’s house – that’s as far as my mom would let us. Sometimes, we would go to the bodega at the end of the block to get treats or get some plantains for a quick and yummy afternoon snack.
My kids have never lived in the type of place I lived in growing up. They’ve only known single family homes in the suburbs with decent yards and two or more bathrooms. They all are currently obsessed with living in tiny homes when they grow up, that they would park in our driveway so we can all still have dinner together as a family.
All my dreams of living in a spacious house have been reversed with my children’s dream of living in a home smaller than my childhood Brooklyn home. The irony.
As I write this in my typical American suburban kitchen with granite countertops, I am acutely aware of what I have, that others don’t. Yes, I know my husband and I worked hard to afford to be “comfortable”; that our parents also worked hard so we can live “better” then they did. But I know we had help – social supports, financial resources and a systemic societal advantage of being stereotyped as the “model minority”.
So while I have lead a financially and educationally privileged life, I still have experienced racism:
I’ve been accused of stealing at the local grocery store numerous time (to the point that I go to a different store farther way in a more diverse neighborhood just so I don’t have to worry about being “randomly audited” when I shop – because it isn’t random if it’s always and only me)
I’ve been called racial slurs as I’ve been out running
I’ve felt afraid going to a new place and realizing I was the only non-white person there and getting those looks that tell me I don’t belong
The thing with racism is that it erases the individual – that all important staple of American exceptionalism. You don’t see my struggles and triumphs. You don’t know about the awards I’ve won or that my closet with pants sizes ranging from college to pregnancy. You aren’t aware that I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or of my passionate conviction that Heinz is the best and only ketchup in the world. You don’t know that I dreamt of a house with a willow tree in the front.
But because I have lead a financially and educationally privileged life, I need to use that advantage to help those who were not as fortunate (through no fault of their own). Otherwise, I will be just as complicit in perpetuating racism.
“We realize that this anti-Asian sentiment comes alongside an equally troubling uptick in xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Black violence,” said writer and PEN America Trustee Min Jin Lee. “This is a clarion call that all forms of racist hatred, especially at this moment, are unwelcome, unacceptable, and intolerable. As writers, we reckon with the power […]
The red cup – a fixture in pictures
My focus yet blurred in my mind
Strong and sweet – the fake message
Scared and silenced – the truth
It matched everything
Or so I thought
Toss the cup
Where can I drown
This fear of living
Who can I reinvent?
Lost for so long in the mix
I need to climb out of the rocks
Where is the hand holding the red cup?
Nowadays, the cup I hold is usually a coffee cup and not the ubiquitous red solo cup of parties past. With all the stress that has been brought on by this pandemic, I’ve seen many memes about parents drinking more to deal with the kids being home with them all day, having to help their kids with school work, having to work from home – the list is endless for all the issues that a large glass of red wine (my drink of choice) could fix.
I worry though when I hear my friends joking about drinking at noon after struggling with their kid to do math or about going to the bathroom or closet to get away from their family so they can drink. I have a friend who jokes that once the shelter-in-place is over, they will either need weight watchers or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or both. At least I hope they’re joking.
Because drinking to deal with stress can lead to a drinking problem – especially if the stress is daily and constant and they are drinking daily (and constantly) to deal with it.
Because drinking (whether it is viewed as a problem or not) will affect their parenting including how their child sees (and learns) how to deal with stress.
Because whether it’s eating or drinking, this behavior doesn’t get rid of the problem and in fact, can just exacerbate it.
Yes, I’m speaking from experience. Yes, I feel the pull to fill up a red cup now – especially in light of recent losses and especially after reconnecting with some friends from college who I did a lot of drinking with (is it weird that we all reconnected because of dealing with this pandemic?).
I will stare into your eyes
As the poison drips into my arms
And laugh when I tuck plane tickets
To Europe in my suitcase
I will make faces at you
As I lay on the operating table
And laugh when my shirts are looser
And I see how much weight I’ve lost
I will flip you the finger
As I’m holding my kids
Celebrating graduations and birthdays
And even just regular days
I will slap you as you try to steal
The warmth of my blankets
And the heat of my lover
Wrapped in promises of forever and never
Yet when the time comes
And I know the difference between beignet and brioche
And I’m down to my high school weight
And the kids have gone back to their full lives
And my lover has fallen asleep on the couch
I will look you in the eyes
And smile sweetly
As I beckon you to me
And lay my head on your shoulder
As you carry me across the threshold
My cousin, Rowena, died in the early morning of Monday, May 11, 2020 after a long fight with breast cancer. Coincidentally, Jamie Dedes’ Wednesday Writing Prompt from last week requested poems responding to the questions, “If you were looking death in the face, what would you remember with joy? Who would you think of fondly? What would you remember sadly?” You can read other thought-provoking responses to her prompt here. The submissions by Anjum Wasim Dar, Adrian Slonaker, and Mike Stone especially resonated with me this week.
Rowena is my first cousin to pass away. I didn’t think I was in that “season of life” yet, but with the pandemic and the state of our world, maybe it’s time to accept that Death has no season, no time line. It certainly wasn’t the time for Ahmaud Arbery. I had always thought that if I was confronted by Death, that I would fight and have to be dragged to the grave…now the thought of surrendering to the inevitable, doesn’t seem all that scary…is that thought because of Faith or ignorance or a rational reaction to the hardship of living? I guess I won’t know until I’m looking Death in the face.
I admit, I didn’t take the threat of this virus too seriously in the beginning so I didn’t engage in the toilet paper and anti-bacterial cleaner hoarding. I did go to Costco with a friend who encouraged me to at least get some extra food, extra medicines and a new flashlight and batteries. While we were there, I had to take my son to the bathroom and asked her to watch my cart. When I returned, she said that someone had asked her if they could take one of the packages of ramen noodles that I had since there weren’t any more on the shelves (my hubby eats ramen for a midnight snack every night). My good friend defended my right to have the last package of ramen noodles and sent this person on their way. I was in shock that someone would want to take food from someone else’s cart, and this was even before schools and other venues were closed, before the US federal government admitted that the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was a serious health threat.
Now, after three weeks of shelter-in-place, I am glad for the extra food that I bought that day. But as I look in our freezer, I realized that I am running out of food. My friend (who I went to Costco with) had already placed an order from our local supermarket the week after we went to Costco and was having groceries delivered this week. She even laughs jokingly about hoarding paper goods, but I know she has more than enough toilet paper to last through summer.
I’m now looking at ordering groceries and having them delivered, and I feel guilt. I can stay safe in my house and have minimal risk of contracting the coronavirus while other people don’t have that ability or that choice. While my current living situation (which we worked hard to achieve) allows me that luxury, what about the people who will be delivering these groceries? What about the people who are working as cashiers at the supermarket? Who are stocking the shelves? Who are working in the warehouses? Who are trucking the supplies to put in the warehouses? Who are cleaning the stores once everyone leaves? Who are picking up the garbage from these stores? All these people who have to risk their lives, while I can sit in the safety and comfort of my home, waiting for the doorbell to ring.
Awakening while the sun still sleeps, dressing then
Trotting down the stairs with sneakers in hand, quietly making a PB and J yet
Ultimately waking the youngest ones with the coffee pot’s final hiss,
Rushing to get them back to bed then, quickly into the car, fueling and hydrating
(me not the car)
Driving to a favorite trail, late, but relieved that my tribe waited for me to
Arrive before starting on our group run.
Yes, this is the best way to begin a Saturday.
I wrote this poem last week for Jamie Dedes’ Wednesday Writing Prompt (you can read responses to her prompt HERE), but I wanted to save this poem for the March Runfession. So without further ado….
Forgive me Nike for I have sinned….
I runfess…I really, really, really, really, really miss Saturday morning group runs! Yes, even waking up at 5 or 6 AM. I miss the quiet companionship of the thumping of sneakers on packed dirt, the cool early morning mist and the laughter of bada$$ mother runners.
I runfess…my new sneakers (that arrived just a week before we knew what the term “social distancing” meant) have been very committed to being 6 feet away from people, specifically me! Despite having more time at home, the “extra time” that could have gone into running has not made an appearance. I blame it on homeschooling, but really it’s probably the stress of what’s going on that has defeated my motivation.
I runfess….in an effort to get out of the pandemic funk, I signed up to Run the Year. That’s right, I plan to run 2020 miles this year (or part of that if I can get a team together…Bueller? Bueller?). Because what better way to combat stress and pressure than to commit myself to running a ridiculous number of miles when I have never even gotten close to running before?? I blame the high of finishing the Taji 100 for this one…
I runfess…I’ve also signed up for the March Madness Challenge through Team RWB (Red, White and Blue). Team RWB is a group that supports active military and veterans through physical activity. Even though I have not been in the military (aka, a civilian), I have a nephew in active duty and numerous friends who have been or are active military. The concept of staying active for a larger cause resonates with me. I may not be able to help in a tangible way, but this act of solidarity speaks to my social soul.
Well, there you have it…March has definitely come in like a lion this year…here’s to hoping that lamb comes soon and brings toilet paper and hand sanitizer….