Saturday, January 8, 2022

Mourning those I never met but still miss: A heartfelt thank you. By Linda McIlveen



The streets were desolate. True, in these times of a never ending pandemic, of violence, and natural disasters I'd expected less traffic but this was different. All the store fronts were empty, the side walks and crossings devoid of pedestrians and no vehicles in the street.

This had to be a dream or a nightmare? Could, as some speculated, the world always have been a virtual projection, one that had suddenly been switched off by its creator, signaling game over?

I began to fear there was no one or nothing left except me, but then I spotted it. A bus sat at the corner painted in psychedelic hues that reminded me of the 1960s tie dyed shirts.

Those times weren’t easy on the world either. There was war, civil unrest, and confusion. My own life hadn’t exactly been idyllic. There was the battle for life my body had come close to losing in its early stages, not taking in enough of what it needed to sustain itself.

The sometimes even fiercer struggle to find love and acceptance in a world I never could totally understand and never really understood me. There were a few people who tried, others who didn’t make an effort and those who were out and out cruel to one that was so different.

At some point it became easier just to pretend that the majority of my actual existence could simply be erased by disappearing into the alternate realities of the mind.

My imagination was one of the few strengths I possessed, and the music, books, and television shows, I’d surrounded myself with in reality provided the fuel to add to it and sustain it.

My feet began moving toward that one spot of bright color in the other wise beige barrenness.

Part of me feared getting on that bus but something told me I had to because there was something I had to accomplish, a debt that needed repaying. It didn’t matter that very few would get why I felt I owed it.

As I approached, the door opened. Putting aside my nervousness I climbed aboard. The driver was dressed more like a chauffeur in a black uniform and hat. He kept his head turned, and did not acknowledge my presence. There was a passenger in the seat directly behind him but he was holding up a newspaper in a way that kept me from getting a proper glimpse of him.

Being ignored still stung a little but I'd kind of become used to it through the years and much preferred it over being berated for simply existing as had happened more than once.

I frowned as I wondered whether the imaginary universe where I’d always felt accepted was closing its doors in my face. I mean many of the people who had populated it had passed away in the real world, maybe they could no longer exist here either.

Tears began to fall but then I heard a familiar British accented voice say, “Hey now! Don’t cry love. I’m still around for you. As long as you’re alive and have your memories, I’ll always be here, when needed.”

I looked up and there he was looking exactly like he had when my five year old self had first laid eyes on him. He had long dark hair and kind chocolate colored eyes. He was kind of short, and over the years as I’d grown in height, I’d come to prefer to add taller guys to my very nice to look at gallery. It didn’t matter. He was still my first celebrity crush, Davy Jones of the Monkees.

At that tender age I didn’t really know what physical attraction was or what adult relationships entailed. I only knew when he smiled he made me smile, and hearing him speak and sing so soft and gentle calmed my fears.

Whenever I turned on the TV on Saturday mornings, he and his three mates would make me laugh so hard, I’d forget the mean faces, the sting of the ruler against my bare back, and the taunting words of my teacher who’d punished me just for laughing.

They reminded me that being happy was not only not wrong but wonderful. During the rest of the week I had their records to sing to and that always made me feel better no matter what bad thing had happened at school.

That made me want to live in a world where they were actually a part of my life. I even remember putting on my communion dress and veil and pretending I was marrying Davy, at age seven, even though I knew I was way too little.

He patted the seat next to him. I moved forward and did as he indicated. “So talk to me,” he said. “You’ve listened to our music on and off over the years but you’ve really been thinking about us again a lot over the past few. Why?”

“Remember the song you and Peter did the duet on, “Shades of Gray?”

“Yes, it was a beautiful one.”

“After the World Trade Center was hit, that song came into my head and I needed to hear it again. Especially that line, “We had never lived without or tasted fear.” It described exactly what I was feeling. The terror, the doubt, and confusion. The people who wrote that song for you in the sixties and you guys who performed it must have felt much the same way back then as we did on 9/11, and like the way we feel again now.

You all experienced those dark times but you not only survived but found a way to remember the joys of singing and laughter and shared it with the rest of us.

“Like a sad lonely little girl?”

“Yes. It reconnected me to the Monkees music and reminded me how much you guys meant to me, and how much I owed you. Then you died, then Peter, and a few weeks ago Mike too. Three of the four of you are gone and I never got to say thank you, because I didn’t ever get to meet you,” I said.

“You’re telling me now, and you also told them.” The bus driver turned around and I saw he was Mike Nesmith. The man with the paper lowered it and grinned. It was Peter Tork.

“But you’re not real,” I protested.

“Hey, the critics claimed we weren’t a real band but we were. You know why because when we played and sang we played with love, and when all of you fans watched our show, bought our records, came to see us, and still remember us after 57 years, you returned that love. Love is always real, man!” Mike said.

“And it never dies! Plus there’s still Micky in your verse,” Peter added.

“They're right you know, love, and remember what I said we are always in your heart and mind ready to cheer you up, and despite that “Don’t Listen to Linda,” song I once sang. We will always listen to you,” Davy said.

“Love you guys!”

“Love you too.”

With that I was back in the actual world with all its problems but even though there was darkness and gray there was light too. “Alexa, play Laugh by the Monkees. I said. Davy’s voice filled the room with song. I smiled knowing as long as I live I'll remember those four talented guys who taught me never to be ashamed of that joyous sound. To Davy, Peter, Mike and Micky, thanks guys for being there then and now.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

VAN GOGH by Karen Sorce



I think I know why Van Gogh painted

Driven mad

By sky blue brush strokes

Fields of golden wheat

And faces needing 

Relief spread across a canvas

Desire in those colors he carried

No comfort found

But still – 

The trying

A precious thing to get it right

And try again

If he could only know

The madness gave us so much more

Than Vincent’s pain

His mangled ear

Starry nights and sunflowers

Wild strokes of iris petal purples

Delicate almond blossoms

Letters to Theo of hopes and dreams

Expressed and understood

By those who follow in

The passion of his paints

In our own mad desires

Brush in hand

 

* original art and poetry by Karen Sorce

A WALK by Terry Le Febre


I’m in a garden. A garden like I’ve never seen before. A garden filled with reds, blues, whites, lavenders. So many hues. Such an abundance. And all these fragrances. Deliciously overwhelming. I never to want leave.

Slowly I walk through the wondrous landscape, seeing and hearing all the little birds with their various melodies. Here and there, monarch butterflies flit about. Bees buzzing, hop from flower to flower, making magic. 

I sit down under an arboretum’s latticed dome to rest, contemplate, and absorb all that is around me. I’m in Heaven.

After what seems a wonderful term in Eternity, I arise and walk from the lattice’s respite to follow the path to even more gardens. But…

What happened to all the loveliness? It’s gone. I’m in the pale of night, in an eerie purplish blue fog, on a bridge arching over a wide river. In the distance, I see blurry yellow lights from lampposts. It’s warm as a soft summer’s eve should be. I’m not afraid. Perhaps perplexed? Then curious. What happened to my wondrous garden of flowers? I’ve gone from a summer’s afternoon to eventide in a blink. How so, I ask? I contemplate the slow moving water as the purple-blue mist softly envelopes me and the sky above, which I cannot see. As before, I enjoy the warmth of heavenly bliss and do not wish to leave.

A warm wind pushes the haze away and takes me to where I already thought I was. Above me is Heaven with swirls of light. There are stars, planets, cosmic bursts, streaks of white, traces of blues. But, the stars! I am within the most beautiful of starry nights.

I question the “why” of all this. So much beauty. So many changes. Changes so diverse. Changes so beautiful, and I at the center of it all. Who, what, made this happen? Happen to me? Who or what is so powerful, so understanding, so wonderful, as to select me to enjoy so much in so short a time? Surely, I am dreaming?

No. Not dreaming. Just a person. A person living in the moments of great mens’ imaginations, creativity and love.

Slowly I close my copy of the Collected Works of the Impressionists Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. My favorite artists.


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

WHO AM I? by Dennis Lutz

 

I am a veteran with good memories of my time in the Army

Yet I feel uncomfortable when talking about it.

I have gone to war, proud to have served my country.

I have questioned war, those that clamor for it have never been in it.

I helped raise a family, I have known and still know love.

I have led soldiers in war and in peace.  I have run businesses.

My life has been driven by events, requirements, people and due outs.

What happened to my world?

Where is my path now?  Where are my milestones?

When did politics get so extreme?

I am out of place, out of time and out of shape.  What happened to my waist?

How has life moved on and I have not.  

What happened to my passion, my drive.  Where is my memory?  Names of my grandchildren escape me.  How can that be?

My muscles are sore now, and I tire more easily.  How will I look with a cane?

My grandchildren wear me out now.  They are so innocent.

Will I be remembered when I fade away?

As I take my walk, the wind blows across my face.  I like wind.

I wave and say hi to my fellow walkers who are out and about.  We all smile, all lost in our own questions.  COVID sucks.  Must maintain our social distancing.

Who am I?  A speck in time or an eternal spirit.  The eternal spirit appeals to me, but today my body aches.  I am a senior citizen, needing a nap.

 

 

© Dennis Lutz, January 2021

Material may be reprinted or distributed only with author permission

 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

IN QUARANTINE by Mimi Benson

 

The rain came hard this morning 

 

Leaving one stream flowing down my window.

 

It captures me.

 

This is my river, wide enough for two boats to pass

 

Deep enough for a ship carrying cargo and music

 

A quartet from Chicago

 

Jazz from Basin Street.

 

 

At my back, the room has stayed the same for days

 

For weeks, for quiet months

 

But my river, with its beginning and end, keeps rolling

 

And I’ll sit on the boat deck, hearing the music

 

All the way to New Orleans.

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"X" by Maija De Roche



Only small chunks of dirty ice were left in the shadiest areas of the Lake Ontario shore in March. At three o'clock in the morning, I walked briskly to the parking lot of the newly erected Culkin Hall of SUNY Oswego, passing the gigantic pine bonsai, forcefully trained through the years to lean southeast by the horizontal, brutal winds from the lake. The cold and the bleakness shook me.

 

Four fellow students and I slithered onto the wide leather bench seats of the waiting barge of a Cadillac, shiny red and white, with shark fins at the tail. Instead of heading for a two-week spring break beach romp, our destination was Columbia, South Carolina, and the 1968 Voter Registration Drive. I threw my guitar and the Joan Baez song book into the trunk with my duffel bag.

 

All of us were exhausted from our studies and the Vietnam war protests, but looked forward to another equally trying experience. We had said goodbye to our friend William, who, to his great disappointment, could not participate in the trip south. William preferred his given name, not Bill or Billy, Will or Willie, in order to add a shred of dignity to his persona, having left a part of his brain, his left leg, and a part of the right one in the jungles of Vietnam. He was William from New Hampshire, a sophisticated son of a college professor, forever struggling to keep his pride and his self-awareness upright from the depths of his wheelchair.

 

With the words of Martin Luther King's 1963 “dream speech” as our inspiration, and yoked to the na├»ve notion that the world would quickly be a wiser, kinder, and gentler place as a result of our interest and work, we set out toward south on Interstate 81.

 

As soon as we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line and stopped for breakfast, I realized that I had lost my ability to understand English. “Y'all want gray-its?” The waitress was addressing me. I prepared myself for an unrelenting two week-long headache on my temples.

 

I watched the scenery change from bare trees and familiar vegetation to palms and lush shrubbery of full summer, as we shed our cold season gear and lowered the top of the convertible. I dug out my guitar, and we arrived in Columbia harmonizing to “Blowing in the Wind”.

 

Columbia and Benedict College welcomed us with sweet tea and dormitory assignments, both equally surprising and perfumed for me. My Shalimar roommate for the days ahead was a friendly black girl from Atlanta, Georgia, whose Southern drawl was like purple taffeta and made the furrows on my forehead even deeper and the headache stronger. Each night, after spreading Johnson & Johnson's pink baby lotion on her knees, she knelt on the floor by her bed, and never forgot to include me in her evening prayers, during which I looked for interesting details in the room on which to direct my own concentrated devotion. I decided on the poster depicting the large crowd at the Washington Mall, where Dr. King was giving his “I have a Dream” speech with an audience of estimated 250,000 people riveted to his words. Attempting to count the thousands of black and white heads of straight pins took my full attention.

 

The next morning, paired with Walter, a blond Viking from Minnesota, I set out on the task of registering blacks to cast their votes in the elections to come. More than most, as people who had barely seen the sun for months, we stood out in the all black neighborhoods with our ashen white faces.  We knocked on doors of various styles and sizes, or on door frames, should the door no longer exist due to rot and neglect. On the steps of large estates, we pressed our finger on fancy modern door bells that played the tune of Big Ben, an incongruous sound in the muggy American South.

 

The reception of our intent was varied. We spoke with gray, old couples sitting in rocking chairs on front porches. Their movements were slow from servitude, the men wearing hats obviously discarded from more formal use and the women's hair held in place by a scarf tied into an Aunt Jemima knot above the forehead. It quickly became clear that their hesitancy in signing their names on the registration sheet was not fear of the unknown or a question of lack of understanding. It was simply the obvious shame of not knowing how to read and write; an expected, yet shocking phenomenon to us. We assured them that an X was enough, as long as we could enter their names beside their “signature.”

 

The younger people were less trusting, giving us flat “I gave at the office” type answers, familiar to us from the North. Some slammed the door shut, some questioned us, wanting to see proof of identification, and some, visibly under the influence and unable to stand without holding onto the wall, resorted to extortion in order to part with their signature. For three cigarettes from the Viking's pack, a deal was closed.

 

Due to missing doors, the inside of some of the houses was visible. On the dirt floor, pounded hard by years of living, the only piece of furniture was a bare mattress showing signs of the various human liquids and substances. From the pane-less window on the back wall of the shack, you could see the white pillared mansion, whose Winchester door chimes had surprised us. The shack and the mansion shared a hedge row in the back separating the properties.

 

At the end of each night, I called William to keep him as part of the task in spirit. Invariably, he swore at his wheelchair, and I put the blame of his inability to be with us on the dirt streets of the Columbia slums. He gave us advice over the phone: “Don't do stupid!” “Trust, but don't be too trusting”, and, “For God's sake, don't act like you are an innocent!” “Really!” I said and slammed the phone in his ear.

 

After the fourth day, the Viking and I had a long list of signatures and marks on our sheet. I dragged my tired body to the inside of the Benedict College walls, kicked off my tasseled loafers, and found a quiet spot under an old larch. Some of the tree was dead without needles. Skeleton branches were left with small cones in an organized design. I lay down under the dead branches, and a look up revealed a lacy mantilla, dark brown and delicate, quiet and calming. I fell asleep. When I woke up, I picked up my shoes, and saw that they were full of red sand from the unpaved streets, and worn out to the point where new ones were needed.

 

After dinner, I ventured outside of the college wall: red brick, 12 feet high, separating the city and its people from the students and the visiting “rebels.” Was this wall there to protect the black students from the outside world or was it built to keep the city folk safe from the black students?  I saw three black young men standing by the entrance gate. They had Afros and the necessary plastic picks in their back pockets of their jeans. I inquired as to the nearest shoe store. They informed me that the closest one was downtown, not within a walking distance, but that they would be happy to take me there. One of them ran to get his 1965 Mustang. Once in a shoe store with the owner of the Mustang, I waited to be recognized.  To the Mustang owner, it became clear that this was a 'no win'-situation, and he suggested another shoe store. In front of “Jim's Shoes,” he said, “You go in alone, we'll stay here.” I got new loafers with prompt and solicitous service.

 

That night, I called William to tell him about my adventures of the day. “What??!!,” he said, “you got in a car with three black men! I told you not to be stupid! They probably were townies, not even students. Don't you remember what happened in Mississippi in '64?” I did remember, but felt invincible. “You are not my father or in any way responsible for me, and, furthermore, I am alive, aren't I?” William felt his failure as my guardian angel.

 

It was Sunday. I had received an invitation to attend a Baptist church service of a Benedict College student's home church. His father was the minister and his mother the choir director. As the only white person in the sanctuary, I managed to stay almost invisible under my borrowed wide-brimmed hat, until I was introduced to the congregation. I listened intently to the sermon and the musical performances. I attempted to participate in the singing of hymns. My simple, clear lined voice was left far behind by the rich, undulating sounds of the church family, every member of which appeared to be a trained singer. I stopped trying, and concentrated on enjoying the smooth, soft, yet powerful profession of their love for God through music. At the coffee hour, I smiled my best Northern smile, not understanding most of what was said to me. The throbbing on my temples intensified.

 

“You went to church!” William exclaimed that night in disbelief. I told him it probably helped me in controlling myself during our phone calls.

 

Tuesday, our last day, was hot and humid from early morning on. It was difficult to breathe and the clothes stuck to your wet skin. The Viking and I had a busy and successful morning. Around lunch time, we were standing on a porch of a small, modest house, when a large black car drove slowly down the street passing us. The car, reminiscent of a Mafia vehicle, turned around and stopped a few feet from us.  There were four white men in the car, all wearing suits and fedoras. Their spokesman called out to us, asking what we were selling. I let the Viking take the lead, as my legs had started to feel weak and wobbly. Finding out that we were not salesmen per se, the man in black told us: “You get out of here, if you know what's good for you!” I was ready to sprint up the hill, into the Cadillac and head for New York. The Viking grabbed my arm and whispered for me to be cool.  After considering the threat, we decided to leave the area, and casually sauntered up the street, holding back a desire to run. My heart was a woodpecker trying desperately to get out of my chest cavity. We walked painfully slowly with pretend ease following a high boxwood hedge row ending abruptly at the edge of the block. When we turned the corner, we saw a policeman standing by his motorcycle, adjusting his helmet. His shiny black boots competed with the black fuel tank for the strongest sparkle. The Viking and I let out a long breath, our shoulders adjusted themselves downward, and we looked at each other with a mutually understood glance of relief. The policeman listened to our story, while chewing gum like Police Chief Gillespie in “In the Heat of the Night,” after which he said, “You heard them. If you know what's good for you.” We understood the big picture.

 

Wednesday morning, the Cadillac started toward north. Somewhere along the way, I fell asleep. I awoke under a canopy of cherry blossoms, a slightly fragrant sea of pink, seen through rose colored glasses. A surprise-stop for the foreigner to see the nation's capital on the way home. When I lifted my head, I saw the Lincoln Memorial reflected in the lagoon, a post card-view with heavy history. Like some slaves of Lincoln's time, I had escaped from the uncomfortable, the unbelievable, the diseased.

 

William and I had coffee in the dining hall on Thursday morning. I helped him roll the wheelchair through mud in the areas on campus where construction was going on.  In his head, he was designing ways in which he could be part of the next trip south in some fashion. He had plans for adaptive equipment allowing for smooth movement on dirt roads, plans to rent a wheelchair van with hand controls, ways in which to disguise his missing body parts. I remained quiet.

 

I felt a need to go for a long walk. I walked downtown and back and around the campus, ending at the shore among rocks of various earthy colors. They were smooth and rounded as eggs due to the wear by the sharp waves, movement of one stone against another for centuries.  Solid, yet shifting with the strength of the water, never alone, but in a mass like a loyal group of believers for a cause. Sitting motionless made me shiver.

 

In the evening, after a warm shower and a cup of hot coffee in my hand, I turned on the TV in the lounge of my floor of the dormitory. I was alone, as others were not expected to return until after the weekend. There was commotion. Evidently, there was a news item of importance being covered.  A panorama of a motel room balcony swept the screen. I heard “Died at 7:05 pm”. I turned up the volume. Martin Luther King Jr. had been fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Hopes and dreams shattered. Progress stalled.

 

I took the guitar out of the case and played it in a robotic fashion. The fingers of my left hand stuck together. Lyrics stuck in my throat.

 

I moved to the window. I stared at the burning red sunset over Lake Ontario from the tenth floor, over the still bare tree tops. Hopelessness and emptiness shook me. The world was not going to be a better, kinder, gentler place after all. Not yet.

 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A MODEST PROPOSAL by Dr. Oivind E. Jensen


We have all been there. I was there recently. “Strip down to your skivvies and put this on.”  Sound familiar? Of course, we are talking about the hospital gown, a garment that needs some serious updating. Inspired by the toga, it was worn by Etruscans, ancient Romans and occupants of “Animal House.” The “one size fits none” concept provides haberdasheries with the benefit of a limited inventory. The design plateaued circa 1760 AD and has not changed appreciably since, but occupies a persistent niche in the world of high couture in Key West, FL and Provincetown, MA, where it is considered party wear.

In the tiny cubicle with a gurney and a flimsy curtain to protect my privacy, I listened to conversations between fellow victims and hospital staff while I struggled with the daunting task of dressing. Unless you are domestically gifted and regularly don an apron around the house, the garment does not cooperate in a way that renders confidence and reassurance. I am here because I am sick, not to show off my knot-tying-behind-my-back prowess, I thought to myself in frustration. Next, which ones of the strings to engage? The pair south of the neck hairline or the ones down by the meatier parts? Both? Having a nurse help me complete the procedure would mean defeat, so I continued to fumble until I had done what I thought was expected.

What we need is PEP (Patient Empowerment Program) in the Health Care bill. Give us some control. We are in a vulnerable position as it is. Let us start with colors. Replace the drab bleached white with blue for boys, pink for girls, and plaid for golfers. At about $7.50 per gown, it is a no-brainer. Why not include a higher cost option with designer gowns from Gucci and St. Laurent for celebrity patients? Personalized embroidered names could be included for a few dollars with computerized sewing machines. Put a little imagination into the neck styling. Turtleneck or halter top may be too radical, but we would like to choose between V-neck, scoop, or square neck as an alternative to the T-shirt model. And finally, scrap the ties and go Velcro! Even Nike has seen the reasonableness of this.

So, write to your representatives and demand PEP in the Health Care legislation and make us all feel better!