Posts from the ‘grief’ Category

From Ferguson: Dark Blessing

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An attempt to respond to more murder, more injust, more misery. With something other than a thrown verbal rock.

If you read it at all, read it slowly.  For Tamir, even in the last few weeks, you could substitute the names of maybe a dozen others:  many of them, like Tamir, children.

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Lament for Darren Wilson and Tamir Rice

(Thanksgiving, 2014)

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Precious, precious, precious.
The lives of killers are precious;
they are prisms of truth.
The lives of killers are as those sacred books
we ignore at our peril. And when we read,
woe to those who indifferent read,
or live athwart the words.
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Killers, listeners, I said killers.
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The lives of killers are precious
whatever you think you have heard
about the image of God,
our murderous imperfections,
or that voice saying in Hebrew
Ehyeh asher ehyeh.
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They are because they are.
They are as all lives are
precious, sanctus, precious,
the lives of killers –
and the lives ended,
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oh listeners in whom they must live.
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Precious the armored humans.
Precious the shaking children,
as ashes in wavering ranks, precious,
from smokestacks once ascended.
 
  

To Life, Music… and Difficult Memory

 

 

 

There was a man who kissed me the day we met. He was already 90; his musician wife stood smiling beside him.

 There was a woman whom I never met. One day I saw the words “Music saved my life,” and I knew that we were connected, close. That was this winter. Last week I found a DVD on my disorderly desk, and got to know “The Lady in Number 6” a bit better.

 Harry Jagoda, 100, and Alice Herz-Sommer, 110, both died this week.

 

 

 

 

Lady6PHARRY_J

 

 

 

 Although it visits us all, grief is a strange, strange bird – different at each appearance. Perhaps because I knew neither of them intimately, perhaps because of the Holocaust, I am grieving publicly. Certainly because of music.

 In Italy a lifetime or two ago (few years before I was born) Sgt. Harry Jagoda had an employee named Flory. Her mother, her first music teacher, put her on a train saying Don’t talk with anyone; just play your accordion.

Flory Accordion Her mother’s last words were like a charm. No one asked the charming accordionist if she was Jewish. She made it to Italy. Soon the Gis were presenting their sergeant  with wedding dress, made from a parachute, for his new bride.

 Meanwhile Alice, already a concert pianist, was sent with her son Raphael to the showcase Nazi camp at Terezin. Her husband was put on another train, and disappeared into Dachau. “Every day in life is beautiful,” said Alice a few years ago, in Malcolm Clarke’s beautiful and modest documentary about her life. [ http://nickreedent.com/ ] She had earned the right to say that,  in a way we would wish on no one. Yet her voice rings more true for that.

 My grandmother, no musician, sang songs like the ones Flory Jagoda still sings and writes. One day I will ask Flory if Harry fell in love with her songs, when he fell in love with her. Sixty years later I was fortunate to become a minor voice in that counterpoint of love. Even now, in grief that the rest of us can barely guess at, Harry and Flory are circled’ round with love.

 My grandmother sang “Los Bibilicos” and the other songs because she, like Flory, grew up singing and speaking Ladino, Djudeo-Espanol, the language of those Jews who thrived in Al Andalus (Muslim Spain) and fled the Inquisition at the end of the 15th century. Their descendents were, like my grandmother’s family, thriving in Greece in the 1930s. And in Bosnia like Flory’s family. (When Their Catholic Majesties declared the Expulsion in 1492, the Ottoman Sultan welcomed Jews into his North African and Mediterranean empire.)

 As I said, I am writing this because grief is a strange bird. My grandmother survived a stillborn child, her entire family from Salonika swallowed by the Holocaust, and years later her only granddaughter. But after a minor accident she told me, her only grandson, that she had had enough. She died two days later.

 In 1955, I think, we all shared her one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. We shared it with a couple from grandma’s home town. I was eight, and I didn’t know what the blue numbers on their arms were for, the tatooes that enrolled them at Auschwitz.

 While my father– another sergeant –served in t North Africa and Italy, the world of European Jews ( like his fathers Polish parents and his wife’s Greek ones) came to an end. Although blissfully or willfully ignorant of that fate, other Americans in 1941 were looking at the possibility that Hitler’s war of conquest would succeed – and maybe that the world as they knew it would also end.

 “You don’t have to be Jewish” to believe in 2014 that are entire world, our planet itself, is in deep danger. Political violence and climate change are both products of human arrogance and domination, that now appear in the clothing of corporatist transnational Power.

 Some will say that to mix politics and personal grief is a sin, a desecration, or at best a sad delusion.

 But I reject all pious complacency, all denial – however sympathetic and understandable –- of the magnitude of our danger. Harry and Alice both lived long, beautiful, life-affirming lives. They chose affirmation as does Flory, in her life and her music. They know at what cost the preciousness of life is maintained.

 They knew and know (I imagine Alice Herz Sommer nodding here) what Franz Schubert somehow composed  before dying at 31. What the young officer and poet Wilfred Owen left us before the last guns of World War I stopped his mouth.

 Goodbye Harry whom I knew for a few mere hugs and kisses. Goodbye Alice whom I knew only as a voice, an image, a smile. Who said we should thank Bach and Beethoven and Schubert for making us happy.

 Through my tears I say thank you Harry Jagoda and Alice Herz Sommer. You are gone and you remain, while we remain.

Lay6cara

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/alice-herz-sommer-concert-pianist-and-holocaust-survivor-dies-at-110/2014/02/26/f3f38f40-9e6a-11e3-a050-dc3322a94fa7_story.html

Gravedigger, pt.2

Here is the poem I misremembered a line from, in my sleep, in my grief, in the previous post (“Gravedigger”).

It was written over 40 years ago, after my sister died. Her maternal Grandfather, Sabbatai (“Sam”), died in 1950 or 1951, some months before Susan was born.

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Sandy Among Angels

Who are these gauze-and-bandage
diaphanous birds squatting in clouds?
I fell out of green,
I fell out of green! Nothing
but to search among the dead
for grandpa Sam’s grey eyes.
My face is bruised in the torn cotton.
Sam, grandma, any-
one, where has the world gone?
It fell from behind my eyes
in a hospital, in a quivering
rosepetal on the sill; someone said
Her pulse fluttered like a just-born bird!
and then it leapt
still blind, white, still-born
among the eternal corrupt angels.

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Susan&Sadie

Susan and her grandma Sadie, c. 1960

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