All I can think of is how hard it was for my father to be left alone when my mother passed away. It was the thing she had been most worried about. What she couldn’t have known was that a pandemic would arrive which severely curtailed our ability to visit.
I’m excited to announce that my first chapbook, Hearts, is now available from my publisher, Kelsay Books, here or from Amazon here.
For local folks, I will also be selling copies myself after my shipment arrives in 2-3 weeks.
For those who might be wondering, a chapbook is a short book, usually centered on a single topic. Hearts is a chapbook of poems that revolve around my mother, including her last years living with heart disease. Long-time readers of Top of JC’s Mind may remember reading posts about my mother, known here as Nana.
I completed the first draft of Hearts in December, 2017, in response to a chapbook contest prompt from QuillsEdge Press. The prompt was “In Transition” and my mother interpretation of that prompt to write about my mother, who was under hospice care. (We didn’t know at the time that her decline would be more prolonged than expected, as she was with us until May, 2019.) Although I didn’t win the contest, I was among the finalists and my poem, “Sixteen Hours,” was included in an anthology of the finalists’ work along with the winning chapbook, Skin Gin, by Rose Maria Woodson.
Given how busy and emotional those next two years were, I didn’t have the wherewithal to send out a new version of the chapbook until spring of 2020. I had continued to write poems during Nana’s continuing struggles and expanded the manuscript with those poems in the months after her death. I benefited from a manuscript review with some of the Grapevine Poets, local poets who meet every other week to workshop individual poems and as needed for manuscript reviews. They were able to offer guidance on ordering the poems and they identified a couple of places where new poems would be helpful to flesh out my mother’s story.
I continued to send Hearts to publishers and contests over the next two years. During that time, I did more revisions, incorporating comments from poet-friends as I went along. In August of 2022, encouraged by Grapevine Poets Jessica Dubey and Burt Myers who had had books accepted by Kelsay Books, I submitted there and received a publication offer from them on September 2nd.
Karen Kelsay and the whole team at Kelsay Books have been amazing! They made the publication process, which was a mystery to me, straightforward. They also were able to move up the publication date, which I had originally thought would be in late summer/early fall.
When I went to the first Tupelo Press/MASS MoCA workshop-in-residence in November of 2015, I had thought that I might be able to put together a chapbook of poem about the North Adams area and my family’s connections there. I set a goal of age 60 to have that book published.
Of course, life events intervened.
That original chapbook idea is now a full-length collection that is being submitted to publishers, unsuccessfully so far.
Now, at age 62, I’m grateful that Hearts is my first published book because it is about my mother, who made my life possible and loving. She was always a strong support for me, whatever the endeavor. It feels right that my first book has her as its heart.
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.
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…
Given that we live in the US and our granddaughters live in the UK, we prize any time that we have together.
Our five-year-old granddaughter ABC lived with us and her mom until she was a bit over two years old. Then, E’s spousal visa came through and they joined their spouse-and-dad in London. We made our first trip “across the pond” a couple of months later, hoping to return again in the spring, but that was 2020 and the pandemic struck, so, no.
We missed the birth and whole first year of granddaughter JG’s life. We met her first on a bittersweet trip here so that E could have a last visit with her grandfather Paco. We will always be grateful that Paco was able to meet JG and that ABC, who remembered him from living here when she was a baby/toddler, was able to see him and dance and sing for him. E was Paco’s first grandchild and it was so important that she got to see him one last time. I’m crying now just thinking about it. It was just after that visit that Paco began his last, steep decline and he died a few weeks later.
That visit had been very confusing for JG. As a pandemic baby, she hadn’t been out of her house very much, much less flown across an ocean and plunked down in a new country with new people. She was also at a developmental time of stranger anxiety, so we had to be careful not to intrude on her comfort zone.
Without having to care for Paco, we were able to make a couple of trips to the UK (although they happened to be during omicron surges); still, JG was not too sure about these people who occasionally appeared on her mom’s computer screen suddenly showing up.
Enter 2023. JG is now almost 2 and a half and having a surge in language development and is able to make connections that she had been too young to make previously. She starts calling us by name when we video chat and wanting to say hi and showing us things. When we went to visit earlier this month, she gave us hugs and played with us and let us pick her up and called us by name and stayed with us at our Airbnb while her mom and dad did errands and snuggled and fell asleep cuddled on the couch.
For the first time, she knew we were her grandparents, her mom’s mom and dad. Correction: her mum‘s parents, as mom is the more common American expression and she is, of course, adopting the more British mum.
What a prize! I had been afraid that JG wouldn’t really remember us because we are so far away and that occasional visits wouldn’t be enough to establish a real relationship with her as we have enjoyed with her sister ABC.
Transatlantic grandparenting will still be challenging. I don’t have personal experience with such a long distance between grandparents and grandchild, but I think we’ll figure it out.
We are hopeful that E and her family will be here in April for Easter, JG’s first trip back since she came to meet Paco just after she turned one. I don’t think she will remember having been here, although ABC will probably still remember every nook and cranny of our house and yard, as she did when they came back to see Paco a year and a half ago.
It was a week ago that we said our good-byes to fly back to the States. Anticipating a visit from them in just a few weeks made it easier to leave them. Although JG won’t remember the house, she will remember us.