Today is the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death.
As often happens with these dates, sometimes it seems that it couldn’t have been that long and other times it seems longer ago. This warping of time is even more prominent because of the pandemic. I remain grateful that my mother died before we were all faced with the impossible prospect of not being able to visit her in the nursing home where she spent her final months. That would have been a particularly heavy burden for my father, with whom she had celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary a few weeks before she died.
This year feels especially poignant for me as I await the publication of my first chapbook of poetry, Hearts, from Kelsay Books, most likely in June or July. The poems center on my mother with a particular emphasis on her last years dealing with heart failure. She appreciated my writing and I think she would be pleased to know she is the focus of my first book.
She didn’t enjoy having her picture taken, so I will share a photo, taken four years ago in her final days, of one of her favorite flowers, lily-of-the-valley, which was also her birth flower.
Love you, Mom. Miss you. Still cry every once in a while…
With the recent death of Peg Johnston, Broome County (NY) has lost one of its anchors of the arts. She was well known for her involvement with the Cooperative Gallery in Binghamton and the Department of Public Art, which created many of the murals in our area.
In Peg’s memory, I’m posting the poem I wrote as a representative of the Binghamton Poetry Project for the Broome County Arts Council‘s Heart of the Arts Award dinner in 2016, when Peg was honored with that award along with Emily Jablon. (A video of my reading the poem is here.)
Thanks to the Department of Public Art ~~ by Joanne Corey
for Emily Jablon, Peg Johnston, and all whose hearts are in the arts
Stencils and murals on descending levels of the Water Street parking ramp time-travel through that historic corner – Link Blue Box flight simulators evolve from pipe organs – punching in on Bundy time recording machines in the days before IBM and the move to Endicott – on street level “Welcome to the birthplace of virtual reality”
We walk back walk through move forward cover recover remember build rebuild renovate together
Walking along the Chenango more murals – diverse faces in shades of gray with colorful songbird overlay – hot air balloons float over green hills – BINGHAMTON in bold letters filled with landmarks proclaiming their location
We draw paint photograph digitize share write read view review create recreate together
Across Court Street a riot of mosaics flowing around curves moving through the spectrum patterns shapes florals the clear message “BE INSPIRED, BE BINGHAMTON”
Broken shards of glass and lives re-order re-assemble tessellate shine in the sun glisten in the rain reflect renew touch together
We sing play listen dance act react interact applaud together
We live breathe eat drink laugh sigh smile artfully thoughtfully cooperatively with heart
I was honored that, after the dinner, Peg had asked for a copy of my poem, which I gladly gave. I hope that, over these last few years, she looked at it occasionally and that it made her smile.
May she rest in peace and may her contributions to the arts be remembered for decades to come.
As someone who participated in a COVID vaccine clinical trial, who has other vulnerable people in my life, and who tries to be a diligent and responsible community member, I’ve been following the science, public health information, and news about the pandemic over these last, long 3.5 years. I’ve done so many blog posts about it, I’ve lost count.
As you may know, the World Health Organization and the United States are winding down their public health emergency declarations.
This does not mean, though, that the pandemic itself has ended. COVID-19 is still widespread across the world and hundreds die every day as a result. There is still the potential for new variants and COVID is not yet seasonal, like influenza. Eventually, COVID will become endemic, as the flu is, but we aren’t there yet.
While some US programs, such as tracking hospitalization rates and wastewater testing, will continue, others will end. I will miss the COVID maps and risk ratings that the CDC has been providing. Besides the overall community risk assessment, the transmission rate maps were important to me in deciding how much public masking I needed to do or whether large, indoor gatherings were advisable at all. It’s true that, with so many COVID cases discovered through home testing and never officially recorded, the statistics are not as comprehensive as they were during the months of testing centers, but, for example, it’s helpful for me to know that my county has a moderate transmission rate but the county to our east is currently at the highest transmission rate level, two notches higher than here. Having that information could inform a decision between using a drive-through or dining in on my way through the county, as well as alerting me that the higher infection levels could spread in my direction. After Thursday, that information will not be readily available to me.
I’ll still follow the science and public health advice as best I can and will get my next booster when recommended. I’ll test at home if I have symptoms and avoid being in public when I’m sick with anything, COVID or not. I’ll keep a supply of KF94 masks in my size nearby for high-risk situations that may arise. I’ll try to do all the things we should be doing all the time, like eating well, getting enough rest, and practicing good hygiene.
I still, though, don’t want to get COVID if I can help it. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been infected, although I could have had an asymptomatic case at some point. I know very few people who are in that category these days.
Will the end of the emergency declarations and the resulting decline in data be a factor in my eventually contracting COVID?
Because things have been so busy and because my continuing healing from cataract surgery is still making computer time a bit more difficult, I’ve put off posting on some topics that have been top of mind.
One of those is the continuing – and seemingly accelerating – plague of gun violence in the United States.
Over these past couple of months, there have been some personal reminders of gun violence. The April 3rd anniversary of the American Civic Association shooting in Binghamton and driving by the memorial to it, only a few hundred feet from the site, knowing that, fourteen years on, if the victims are remembered at all, they are just numbers in a long tally of mass shooting victims. A Lenten program on gun violence that was part of a series on social sin, which led to my contacting my Congressional representative to request federal action on gun violence, only to get a discouraging reply that he won’t support such practical actions as keeping military-style weapons and ammunition out of civilian hands.
All of this while hearing every day of more mass shootings and their aftermath. The fact that we are averaging more than one mass shooting per day in 2023, 192 recorded by day 125, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The fact that firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and adolescents (ages 1-19) in the United States, far surpassing the rate in other industrialized nations. Laws being passed in some states to make it easier to carry weapons, despite the dangers to the public. The bizarre ousting of two state legislators in Tennessee for “lack of decorum” in speaking out against gun violence in the chamber, only to have those members re-appointed by their districts.
The feature of news coverage that makes these recent weeks even more disturbing is the increased attention to shootings that happened after harmless incidents. Being shot through a closed door for ringing a doorbell at the wrong address. After chasing an errant ball into a neighbor’s yard. While pulling out of a driveway in a rural area while trying to navigate to a friend’s home. Mistakenly going to the wrong car in a dark parking lot. All instances where you would expect a neighborly person to ask how they can help, not shoot and wound or kill.
I don’t understand.
Is it uncontrolled fear? Paranoia? Rage? Hate? Sense of entitlement? Illness? Racism? Misogyny? Addiction to power? Some combination of these, varying from incident to incident?
One thing that doesn’t vary? There’s always a gun.
We need legislation to address gun violence on the federal level. I live in a state with quite a few statutes regulating firearms but it is too easy for people to cross state lines or use the internet to circumvent them. I believe that military-style weapons don’t belong in civilian hands and that large ammunition clips should be banned, along with modifications that make a semi-automatic weapon behave like it is fully automatic. I think that there should be background checks, training, and licensing required for firearm ownership and robust laws against illegal possession and gun trafficking. People who have a history of violence or those who have restraining orders against them should not have guns. There should be universal red flag laws to make sure that those who are a danger to themselves or others do not have access to guns. Sadly, over half the gun deaths in the United States are self-inflicted; while people can and do die by suicide from other methods, guns kill a much higher proportion than other means. [If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or are in a mental health crisis, dial 988 in the US or visit https://988lifeline.org/ to live chat or find resources. In other countries, use a search engine to find similar programs. Or ask a trusted friend, family member, doctor, etc. for help.]
Public polling in the US shows a large majority want more regulation of guns but Republican lawmakers are almost universally opposed. That needs to change. Either they need to change their minds or the people need to replace them with representatives who care about their safety.
Meanwhile, the losses, pain, and trauma accelerate…
A quick update while JG is napping and ABC is enjoying her first ever trip to the cinema with her parents. Also, while I can almost see mid-range things like computer screens before my second cataract surgery tomorrow.
Things have been very busy here. Daughter E, son-in-law L, and grandchildren five-year-old ABC and two-year-old JG have been visiting from London since April 2. It’s great to have them here, enjoying typical things like playing outdoors in the yard or at the park or indoors at home. We went to Easter morning mass together and had an indoor egg hunt afterward, with leg of lamb for Easter dinner. Uncle C from West Virginia was able to make the trip up for E’s birthday last week.
Our biggest family event was Friday into Saturday when my younger sister came up along with her family. We got to meet the significant others of our niece and nephew, as well as their dogs, which led to lots of cuddles, laughter, frolicking, and shrieks from ABC and JG.
When we knew that our London contingent was going to visit, my sister had organized a memorial for our parents, known here as Nana and Paco. The last time E and her family had been here was shortly before Paco passed away. Distance and the pandemic made it impossible to gather again until now. We started our observance outside the building where Nana and Paco’s cremains are inurned. My sister had arranged for military honors for Paco, who served as a US Navy SeaBee during World War II and the Korean Conflict. There was an honor guard and a 21-gun salute using WWII era rifles, prayers, the playing of taps on a trumpet, and the folding and presentation of a large United States flag. We were grateful to all the veterans who came out to honor Paco’s service so long ago.
We went inside to visit the niche and see the memorials that we have placed there. Then, we went to the room that was reserved for us at the hotel where my sister’s family was staying. In the photo, you can see the folded flag in its special case.
My sister had organized our remembrance, which included music, pieces that our niece and nephew had written as children, poems from me and daughter T, a photo book that my sister had assembled, and lots of personal stories from everyone who knew Nana and Paco. It was wonderful to be able to share all of this with the more recent additions to the family. We were sad that our other sister wasn’t able to make the trip to join us. but we thought of her often over the course of the day. After our sharing time, we had lunch together, including one of Paco’s all-time favorites, lasagna. We also enjoyed one of Nana’s favorite desserts, tiramisu.
So, things have been very busy here, but they were complicated by the fact that I had cataract surgery on my left eye last Tuesday. Everything went well. My far vision was clear by the next day but my mid- and close-range, as expected, are taking longer to develop. My newly implanted lens is an advanced design that addresses vision at all distances plus astigmatism. There are healing issues to consider plus the visual part of my brain needs to adjust to the new conditions.
The other complicating factor is that my right eye has been functioning without glasses. It can really only see clearly at very close range, so things like reading and using a computer have been very difficult. I’m managing this post because my mid-range in my left eye has improved enough that I can see my laptop screen with an enlarged font.
Tomorrow morning, I will have the cataract surgery on my right eye. I anticipate that my far vision will be really good by Wednesday. I’m hoping that my mid-range will continue to improve with my left eye so that I can easily see my score to sing a gig with Madrigal Choir on Friday night. I think it will help to not have the distraction of a totally blurry right eye, as I have now. Fingers crossed.
I must say that my ophthalmologist, Dr. Daniel Sambursky, is amazing. He has developed advanced techniques using lasers that give superb results. Spouse B had cataract surgery with him five years ago and has enjoyed his new vision, only needing glasses for very fine print or low light conditions. I’m looking forward to that, too. I’ve worn glasses since I was six. I admit it is a bit strange to see myself in the mirror without them and it will take time for friends and family to get used to seeing me without them.
Eventually, I’ll get around to changing my headshot…
This morning, I sang for the funeral of Anita Alkinburg Shipway. She was a member of the music ministry at a church that I attended for a number of years, but our primary connection was through poetry.
When I joined the Binghamton Poetry Project in 2014, Anita was already involved. I got to know her better when we were both invited to join Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop convened by Heather Dorn. We later also participated in some workshops with the Broome County Arts Council.
I always admired Anita’s storytelling ability both in conversation and in writing. She often used the tools of narrative poetry to reveal the truth – and quirks – of human nature. She smiled and laughed easily while also being very sympathetic when we most needed it. I appreciated the depth of her wisdom as an elder.
When the pandemic moved the Binghamton Poetry Project to Zoom, Anita joined us as often as she could, despite some technical challenges. We often joked with her about the cuckoo clocks in her home that would add their voices to ours. She shared a poem about them here. You can find more of her poems in the Binghamton Poetry Project online anthologies.
Originally, Anita was scheduled to participate with me in a Zoom reading for National Poetry Month in 2021, sponsored by the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace. Unfortunately, she got trapped in the Zoom waiting room and wasn’t able to be recorded. I sincerely regret not being able to share any video of her reading her work.
Anita died at Mercy House, a residence for those near the end of life. Anita had volunteered at Mercy House and it’s a comfort to know that she was in such a familiar and peaceful place in her last days.
I was upset to learn that COVID played a part in her death. Apparently, a COVID infection interacted with other medical conditions and Anita could not recover. It reminded me again to remain cautious. I know that, despite my best efforts, I may someday contract COVID and could infect someone else, but I don’t know if I could forgive myself if I was being cavalier about infection and passed the virus on to someone who suffered grave consequences.
Anita visited Top of JC’s Mind and would occasionally comment on posts. More often, she would write to me directly. I remember having a discussion with her about what it means for something to be “top of mind.” Apparently, her Midwestern upbringing a generation before my New England one resulted in a different interpretation of the phrase.
When we were visiting in London last Christmas, daughter E gave us a calendar featuring photos of granddaughters ABC and JG. Most often, the photos were taken in that month the prior year, so turning the page for August brought a four generation photo with Paco from their visit last year.
The timing of that visit was a blessing, existing in the tiny window of their being able to get travel permission from the US and UK and before Paco’s final steep decline that led to his death in September.
I’ve been struggling this summer with the memories from last year, many of which have been difficult.
It’s good to have this photo with smiles that I can feel in my heart, even if my eyes fill with tears.
When I wrote this post about gun violence in the US yesterday, I intended to move on to another topic, but news of the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe of Japan broke here this morning and I was struck by the stark contrast in the level of gun violence in the two countries.
Part of the terrible shock to the Japanese public is that shootings are incredibly rare there. Firearm possession in Japan is highly regulated. Apparently, the gunman had built his own weapon, evading the strict process in place.
Last year in Japan, there were only ten shootings, eight of which were connected to the yakuza, an organized crime network. There was one death and four injuries from gun violence.
That’s 10 shootings in a country of 125 million people.
In a year.
The United States has 332 million people. I can’t even find the statistic for the number of shootings, but the statistics from Gun Violence Archive record 45,034 deaths and 40,585 injuries from guns in 2021.