birthdays and Jubilee

As I mentioned in this post, spouse B, daughter T, and I were recently in London, UK, visiting daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughters ABC and JG, who live in East London with L’s parents.

The main reason for the timing of the visit was that it was half-term break for ABC and her fifth birthday. We were so happy to be there to celebrate with her. Due to a number of health issues – thankfully, not COVID – and other complicating logistical factors, we spent most of our time visiting between their house and our apartment hotel. ABC was thrilled to even have an overnight in our unit.

Because ABC lived with us in the US for her first couple of years, she is very comfortable with us. For JG, who was born in August 2020, we are virtual strangers or, at best, figures from a computer screen who inexplicably appear in person. Still, she was able to relate to us better this time than when we visited last December/January. Both ABC and JG relate more to Auntie T than to Nana and Grandpa. Aunties are obviously much better playmates!

It’s also nice that JG is finally able to be out and about more in public. As a pandemic baby, she wasn’t able to go visiting or go to stores, libraries, churches, etc. for a big chunk of her life, so people beyond her household can still be daunting, exacerbating the developmental stranger anxiety that waxes and wanes throughout infancy and toddlerhood. As she gets older, we expect that she will warm up to us more quickly when we visit.

The timing of our visit also meant that we were there for Queen Elizabeth’s seventieth Jubilee. As we are crowd averse even in non-pandemic times, we didn’t go to any celebrations in person but watched them on BBC One. I saw the trooping the colour, the lighting of beacons, the service of thanksgiving, the Derby, and the Jubilee concert. There were also various block parties. There was so much celebrating that there was a shortage of decorative bunting!

It was ironic that as soon as the Jubilee celebration concluded, there was a no-confidence vote among the Conservatives in Parliament on the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson survived the vote, but the narrow margin suggests that he may have to step aside as PM in the coming months. We’ll see.

It was nice to see people being so supportive of their aging monarch, even as she, understandably, needed to pass on some of the hosting duties to her heirs. It was also touching to see the Tree of Trees sculpture that celebrated the Queen’s request to plant a million trees in honor of her platinum Jubilee.

We had a bit more celebrating to do, as T’s birthday was the day we returned home. While we could not have a “tree of trees” to celebrate her, part of her birthday gift was a donation in her honor to a project that is working to preserve the ‘ōhi‘a trees of Hawai’i. The trees are being killed by a fungal disease for which there is no known remedy so there is an ongoing seed banking project in order to restore the population after the fungal disease has run its course.

I appreciate that these commemorations celebrate the past by looking to the future. There is so much to do to secure a future for the younger generations and the planet. Our history gives us both positive and negative examples of how to react to and make change. Instead of rosy nostalgia, we need to be clear-eyed about our past and present and use that knowledge to improve the situation. especially for those who are now children, teens, and young adults.

a trip to IKEA

I know it may seem as if I have fallen off the face of the earth lately because I’ve posted less often than usual but I am still here.

Well, not my usual “here” as I am in London visiting daughter E and her family. Yesterday, E and granddaughter JG took us to IKEA for the first time. While there are IKEAs in the US, none of them are near our home. E was explaining that in some places, like Germany, rentals tend to have just the four walls so stores like IKEA offer furnishings for whole rooms as a package.

We ate lunch there. Of course, I had to try the Swedish meatballs. They reminded me a bit of the Swedish meatballs my mom used to make using a recipe from her Swedish neighbor. None of this putting sour cream in the gravy nonsense!

I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag but slept almost normal hours last night. Today is the first day of the half-term break for granddaughter ABC and for son-in-law L. We are hoping to do a bit of sight-seeing next week, although we may try to do gardens and outdoor venues as much as possible. We need to stay COVID-free if at all possible!

I’ll try to get some posts out in the coming days. I had intended to write a post about the mass shooting in Buffalo but then the Texas school shooting happened so I need to expand somewhat.

Stay tuned…

My 40th reunion at Smith

Last week, I attended my fortieth reunion at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. For those who may not be familiar, Smith is a women’s liberal arts college, chartered in 1871, one of the traditional Seven Sisters, five of whom remain as women’s colleges.

I came into town a day early in order to meet up with an alumna friend who lives in Northampton and graduated a year before me. Her sister was a member of my class and passed away in fall 2020. I was honored to be able to commemorate her at the Service of Remembrance during our reunion. My ’81 friend and I enjoyed hours of conversation on her front porch, followed by dinner on the porch at Mulino’s, an Italian restaurant that did not exist back in my student days.

I stayed at the historic Hotel Northampton, which has fun features like a mail slot near the elevators on each floor that connects to a large brass mailbox on the main floor for pick-up by the postal service every morning. I also got to do a bit of shopping at Thorne’s Marketplace, a collection of local shops and restaurants housed in a grand historic building. Thorne’s was a fairly new undertaking back in my undergrad days and I’m glad to see that it continues to thrive. I bought some cards and gifts and books and made two trips to Herrell’s ice cream shop. I got a sampler each time, so I got to enjoy eight – count ’em, eight! – of their delicious homemade flavors. This will surprise no one that knows me. I also got to have lunch at Fitzwilly’s, a restaurant/bar that was also relatively new during my student days. I had mac ‘n cheese that featured fresh asparagus from a farm in nearby Hadley. I love asparagus, which is one of the glories of spring in New England; it reminds me of going with my parents to harvest a patch near my father’s hydro station, a remnant of a garden from an old company-owned house that had been torn down.

On Thursday afternoon, I went up to campus for the duration of reunion. Because of the pandemic, everyone had to have proof of vaccination and boosting to register and many of the meals and events were held outdoors. Indoor events were masked, except while eating and drinking. I immediately met up with some of my ’82 friends and the celebration began!

One of the things about Smith reunions – and Smith alums in general – is that we somehow manage to have meaningful conversations with each other at the drop of a hat. Perhaps because of our shared liberal arts background, we are engaged with a broad range of topics across current affairs, public policy, arts and culture, and on and on. Of course, the deepest conversations happen with our close friends but there is a lot of sharing of ideas with acquaintances, too. In retrospect, I wish I had prepared a succinct answer to the question “What do you do?” Lacking a shorthand reply, like “I’m a lawyer, working for this government agency” or “I teach at such-and-such school”, I found myself stumbling to explain forty years of my life in any brief, comprehensible way.

Unlike the vast majority of my classmates, I’ve done little paid work in my life. I’ve devoted many years to being a caregiver of both elder and younger generations, with more than our share of medical issues. I’ve volunteered in church music and liturgical ministry and facilitated a spiritual book study group. During my daughters’ years in public school I served on curriculum committees and shared decision making teams and helped design the honors program at the high school. I joined NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, in 2000 to advocate for social justice. I was part of the anti-fracking movement in New York which finally achieved an administrative and later legislative ban in our state; this led to ongoing involvement in the fight for climate and environmental justice. There is my writing life, as a blogger and poet.

This does not condense into an easy answer to “What do you do?” but it does constitute the bulk of my adult life, which would not have been as rich and varied were it not for my Smith education. The ideal of a liberal arts education is that you “learn how to learn.” By studying across the spectrum of academic disciplines, one absorbs different approaches to real-life issues, enabling critically sound and creative solutions that promote well-being for ourselves and others and for our environment.

Maybe I should have replied, “Just forty years of being liberal-artsy.”

The other thing that I hadn’t quite prepared myself for was the flood of family memories. Because it was only an hour-ish drive to campus, my parents visited often for concerts and events. They were there for my recitals in Helen Hills Hills Chapel and John M. Greene Hall. They visited at Haven House where I lived all four of my years on campus. There were there, of course, at B and my wedding, a few weeks after commencement with the reception at the Alumnae House. This reunion was the first time since their deaths that I was back on campus and missing them added another layer to the strange mix of familiarity and difference that the passage of forty years brings. For example, I thought about my parents when we were attending the remembrance service, sitting in rows of chairs where the pews had once stood. The pews were removed years ago to allow for more flexible use of the space but their absence felt strangely current when I remembered B and my parents there in the front pews on either side for our wedding.

I also found myself missing my mother in particular among the spring flowers. We were blessed with unusually warm weather for mid-May and the flowers and trees were blooming simultaneously and profusely in response. The scent of the lilacs between the President’s House and the Quad, where we were staying, was so overwhelming I nearly choked. There were lily-of-the valley in bloom, which are Nana’s birth flower. What would have been her 90th birthday was the day after reunion and the third anniversary of her death is a few days from now.

I’m grateful to have been among friends who could support me with this grief aspect. Many of us have lost our parents now, with some still in the phase of dealing with their final years and indeterminate endpoint. As classmates, we were also dealing with the deaths of more of our ’82ers, adding to the list that, sadly, began during our senior year when we lost one classmate in a plane accident and a second to cancer. That’s why I and some friends always make a point to attend the service of remembrance during reunion. We want to honor our departed ones and their importance in our lives, even if they left us long ago. After the service, we visited the memorial tree planted beside the chapel in honor of our classmate Beth. We took a photo which we will send to her mother, who I know finds comfort that we remember her all these decades after her death.

While the central activity in reunion is visiting friends, there are plenty of other things to keep us busy. Some are long-standing traditions, such as Ivy Day when the alums, wearing white, parade between rows of the graduating seniors, also wearing white and carrying red roses, welcoming them into the community of alumnae. The night before commencement, the central campus is illuminated with Japanese lanterns. People stroll among them with live music in several locations.

There are also a number of lectures, receptions, and concerts. The President gave an update on the state of the college. Everyone is very excited that grants are replacing loans in financial aid packages at Smith, making an education possible without graduating in debt. Smith also highlights its accessibility for students who are the first generation in their family to attend college. That was my situation forty years ago but it was not recognized in the way it is today. I also attended two lectures of interest. One was how the Botanic Gardens are being re-imagined in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and best practices for preserving species in the face of climate change, all with an eye toward education and social/environmental justice. The other was about the transition of campus to ground-source heating and cooling, which will be a major contributor to Smith being carbon-neutral by 2030 without making extensive use of purchased off-sets. I was particularly interested in this because of the projects we have done at our home to reduce our carbon footprint and because my church is in the process of drawing up a strategic plan to reduce or eliminate our use of fossil fuels.

Besides college activities, we had a few opportunities just for our class. I alluded to one in this post – an open mic event to read something from our college years. I chose a passage from my adult psychology course journal about my experience coming from a tiny town to Smith. A few of us had brought something with us but we had time to do additional sharing which was fun. Our class theme for Reunion was “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I appreciated that our futures also came into that discussion.

We were also honored to have a preview screening of Where I Became, a documentary about South African students who came to Smith during apartheid. Our classmate Jane Dawson Shang is co-producer and shared some of her experiences making the film. When it becomes publicly available, I will surely share that information here at Top of JC’s Mind so everyone can see the remarkable story of these women.

Reunions at Smith are always exhilarating but exhausting. I had originally planned to attend commencement on Sunday morning but opted for quiet conversation with friends. Walking 17-20,ooo steps a day for three days straight in hot. humid weather proved to be a bit much for my feet and ankles, which swelled rather impressively.

It also meant that my reunion experience ended with what is always most important, sharing with friends in a place that was instrumental to our lives. I hope to see some of them and return to campus before our next reunion.

Five years seems too long to wait.

Pfizer study exit

As you many recall, spouse B, daughter T, and I have all been participants in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Phase III clinical trial since summer of 2020. B and T received the vaccine while I was in the placebo group, although I received the vaccine through the trial after the emergency use authorization came through. All three of us continued in the study of third doses.

I had hoped that Pfizer would extend our study to include fourth doses but they have decided not to do so. After researching and discussion with family and medical practitioners, I have chosen to end my participation in the trial early in order to receive a fourth shot, which I did on Saturday.

In the US at this point, government and public health officials are not making COVID policy as much as providing information for individual decision-making. I admit that this is frustrating as community behavior is so important with pandemics in general and the increasingly contagious omicron variants in particular. Emphasis has also shifted away from individual infection rates and toward making sure there aren’t enough serious infections to cause the health system to collapse.

My priority is still to try to avert infection. I don’t want to be sick if I can help it. While rates of hospitalization and death are low among those vaxxed and boosted, serious cases are still possible. While some are lucky to have no or mild symptoms, many still feel like they are suffering the worst flu/virus ever, being out of commission for at last a week. I am also concerned about the risk of long COVID, estimated to affect as much as thirty percent to over forty percent of total cases. Vaccination is estimated to halve the risk. (Please note that definitions of long COVID and the risk factors are currently in flux. As more data are collected and analyzed, these estimates will likely change.) Due to some factors in my family history, I may be at increased risk for developing long COVID. I also know that COVID infection can cause severe flares in people with interstitial cystitis, which I have.

I am very concerned about the possibility of inadvertently infecting others, including my family. I also have several immunocompromised friends who I want to protect.

Infection rates are high in my county now. I am continuing to mask in public and am back to avoiding crowds, including church services, concerts, and plays. Even with the high case counts here, most people are not taking precautions so I am being extra careful.

The boost to resistance to infection is likely to be short-lived, only a few weeks, but this is a critical time for me to have that extra protection. In mid-May, I am travelling to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend my 40th reunion at Smith College. The protocols there are strict, including mandatory vaccination and boosters, indoor masking, and many outdoor activities, so I feel relatively safe attending.

Ten days after my return, B, T, and I will travel to London, UK to visit daughter E and her family. Again, we will be very cautious with our behavior to avoid infection. We also want to protect our family, especially granddaughters ABC and JG who are too young to be vaccinated. JG is even too young to mask.

I’m happy to report that my side effects from my fourth shot have been mild, mostly a sore arm and a bit of tiredness.

I am grateful to Meridian Clinical Research who handled the trial locally and to Pfizer and BioNTech for developing the vaccine and getting it out to so many people so quickly. I am happy to have been of service by participating in the trial and stand ready to participate in additional clinical trials as they become available.

I will close with my accustomed plea for people to do all they can to end the pandemic with whatever means are available to them – vaccines, distancing, masking, avoiding crowds, increasing ventilation, etc. The pandemic is not over and our lack of attention only increases the possibility of new variants and extends the length of time before SARS-CoV-2 becomes endemic.

Covid red again

Like many places around the world, COVID cases are rising here in Broome County, New York (USA), so much so that we are once again in the highest risk category from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Technically, the high risk category is now orange, not red, but I used red in the title of this post because it seems to be yet another “code red” to me.

Broome County is in one of the red zones with the Covid Act Now site that I use regularly. Our current rating is “very high,” the fourth of five levels. Our seven day average is 50.2 daily cases per 100,000 residents. This figure is likely an undercount, as not all people who test positive with a home test are contacting the health department or a medical professional to report the case or seek advice and treatment. UPDATE 4/19/22: The Covid Act Now site is now using the (much less useful) CDC rating system. Fortunately, the more granular data by neighborhood is still available, as are statistics like percentage of population with booster shots.

There are a number of factors involved in the current rise in cases. Our vaccinated and boosted rate is only 35.5% so we have many vulnerable people. (While it’s true that boosted people are still vulnerable to infection, they are much less likely to fall seriously ill with COVID.) It is also likely that we have cases of two new omicron subvariants that have recently emerged in central New York. While information is still being gathered, these may be even more wildly contagious than the previous versions of omicron.

You would think that our government officials would be re-instituting indoor mask mandates, but they have yet to do so. This is what I feared would happen. When the mandates were lifted, politicians and public health experts said they were doing it to give people a break while cases were relatively low so that they could bring mandates back if we had another surge, but only a few jurisdictions, like the city of Philadelphia, are actually following through.

Instead, government officials are relying on individuals to make their own decisions. The problem is that the majority of people in the US are not seeking out credible information about the risks in their localities. As a participant in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine trial, I have been following the science closely. Discussions with my personal medical team have reinforced the wisdom of trying to avoid or, at least, continue to postpone infection. Nearly all the public health goals at this point are aimed at reducing serious infection, hospitalization, and mortality, but I also want to avoid illness, infecting others, experiencing long-COVID, and developing complications. I had continued to wear a KF94 mask in public and avoid crowds as much as possible, including singing masked for this performance and this video. With our current infection levels, we will most likely return to take-out dining only.

I did attend Easter Vigil last night, as I knew that it would not be very crowded, unlike the services today. I was masked but the majority of attendees were not. I admit that I cringed when I heard some very loud coughing jags near the back of the church. I was sitting near the front, so I was very far away from them, but I realize that many people are infected without knowingly being in close contact.

The ease of the spread of COVID was brought home to us over the last couple of weeks. B had gone into the office for the first time in over two years because they were having a new product launch. There was only a fraction of the workforce there, all of whom were vaxxed and boosted. Despite that, B got a message three days later that a co-worker with whom he had been conversing had developed symptoms and tested positive. B immediately masked at home and kept his distance from T and I. He did not go out in public and did self-testing. I am happy to report that we are now over ten days from his exposure with no symptoms or positive test, so he is in the clear, but the story illustrates how easily one can be exposed and risk unwittingly infecting others.

I’m not sure what additional actions I may need to take for my and my family’s protection. If the numbers stay this high, I may forgo attending mass in person and return to televised or recorded services until the numbers are better. I will probably try to speak to the local researchers in charge of the Pfizer vaccine trial to see if they are planning to offer a fourth shot to those fifty and older. The CDC has opened the option for our age group to receive a fourth dose but we need to follow the study protocols to remain enrolled in the study which is still ongoing with weekly symptom checks and periodic blood draws to check antibody levels, etc. B and daughter T received their third dose last July, while I received mine in October. We are all well beyond the four-month interval to be eligible for a fourth shot, although T is not old enough to qualify. At this point, we probably have decent protection against hospitalization but not not much against infection. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because B and T are part of the data set on which such findings are based. (I’m a bit behind them because I was part of the placebo group in the initial phase of the study, so I was vaccinated and boosted later than they were.)

I am hoping that this wave in the Northeast will pass quickly. I always hope for surges to pass quickly to reduce suffering but I have an additional personal reason this time. I am scheduled to attend my 40th reunion at Smith College beginning on May 12th. It’s the first time since 2019 the event will be held in person. It’s planned in a cautious way, with all participants required to be vaxxed and boosted, many events being held outdoors, and indoor masking requirements in place except while eating or drinking. Even with a surge, we should be okay to go ahead but it will be less stressful if the surge has passed by then.

So, once again, fingers crossed. I’m doing what I can to keep myself, my family, and my community safe. I urge all of you to stay informed from credible sources in your area and take whatever steps you can with vaccination, masks, testing, medications, etc. to get the virus levels down and protect public health and your own.

We know what can happen if we don’t pay attention and act. The United States is closing in on a million known COVID-19 deaths. It’s already a stunning level of tragedy here and around the world. Please do all you can.

Women of Words

Last night, I was honored to take part in the Women of Words poetry reading, presented by the Broome County (NY) Arts Council. Many, many thanks to Connie Barnes, the BCAC gallery manager, for organizing and hosting the event, which was held at the Orazio Salati Gallery, currently housing the BCAC Artisan Gallery and its Spring Awakening Exhibition.

As part of the Exhibition, each of the five Women of Words poets contributed a spring poem, which was framed and displayed along with the visual artworks. It was an honor for our words to be included in the Exhibition and a joy to read in the midst of so many wonderful pieces by local artists.

For me, it was also a joy to be reading with poet-friends from the Grapevine Poets, Wendy Stewart, Jessica Dubey, Carol Mikoda, and Merrill Oliver Douglas. I almost forgot to be nervous! We had three other Grapevine Poets in attendance, buoying us, and Connie gave us each wonderful, warm introductions. I also had daughter T in the audience.

Due to the size of the gallery and pandemic protocols, we had to limit the number of attendees. Connie took reservations in advance and I’m pleased to say that we “sold out”, if I may use that term for a free event. I was humbled when, after the reading, an administrator-friend from back in my days volunteering with our school district a couple of decades ago told me that she had signed up to attend specifically because I was reading. It was great to reconnect with her. Back in the years when we saw each other frequently, I hadn’t yet entered my current writing practice with either poetry or blogging, both of which I hope are more compelling than the committee documents I was working on back then.

I haven’t done a huge number of in-person poetry readings and, with the pandemic, had gotten accustomed to poetry onscreen. I remain grateful for those remote opportunities, especially in getting to hear readings from far-flung locations, but I had forgotten the power of connecting with a flesh-and-blood audience right in front of me. Hearing the occasional chuckle, seeing heads nod or eyes close while listening intently, and receiving applause are affirming that your words have reached someone, right then and there, and forged a community in that space, however briefly, something that is difficult to replicate with each individual in a little Zoom box.

In my set, I read a mix of published and unpublished poems. I began with “Thanks to the Department of Public Art” which I had written for a BCAC event in 2016 at the request of the Binghamton Poetry Project and which appeared in their Fall 2016 anthology. I included “Sisters” which I published in a blog post and “Sprague Suite” and “Monroe Bridge Mail” which first appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review. There is a blog post with background on those poems here. I read “Lily of the Valley” which was the poem I had written for the Exhibition and “Object Lesson” which is also unpublished, so I won’t share here, hoping that they will eventually make their way into a journal.

So, Happy National Poetry Month for US folks, Happy Spring for Northern Hemisphere people, and Happy Fall for you all in the Southern! Stay tuned for more poetry as we continue through the month of April.

Five Poems in Wilderness House Literary Review!

I am pleased and excited to share the link to the latest quarterly issue of Wilderness House Literary Review, which features five of my poems. Many thanks to poetry editor Ravi Yelamanchili and the whole team at WHLR for including me in their spring issue. If you are reading this in Spring, 2022, you can access the current issue at the link above; scroll down to the Poetry section to find Joanne Corey in the list of poets and click, which will take you to my work. If it is beyond that, you can find the issue through the cumulative index as Volume 17.1 – Spring 2022. While you are there, browse the WHLR archive for poetry, essays, art, fiction, and book reviews going back to Spring 2006. You’re sure to find something that will fascinate and delight you!

I thought I’d use this post to give some background on the poems and submission process. As folks who have been following Top of JC’s Mind for a while know, the last few years have been challenging for me as my family navigated the difficult last years of B’s mom and my parents, as well as the joy of welcoming a new generation to our family coupled with the complications of having them live across an ocean from us with the pandemic adding another layer of stress.

Because of all that, I was sandwiching in writing in a rather haphazard way and not concentrating on submissions. When I did begin making myself do the fraught work of preparing submissions, I concentrated on sending out my chapbook and collection manuscripts rather than journal submissions. Usually, a goodly number of poems in a manuscript have already been published in journals and I knew that I needed to get individual poems published as journal publications are the backbone of sharing poetry. Knowing that I was struggling with doing journal submissions, my wise poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas counseled me to choose five poems that I liked and send them out to a bunch of journals without stressing over style or if the poems related to each other or any of the other things that were keeping me paralyzed. I did that in early February. I chose to submit to WHLR because they were one of the first journals to publish my work back in Fall, 2015, just as I was getting more deliberate about publishing my poetry and just before we entered into our intensive phase with elder care. I thought there might be one or two of the five that would interest them but I was shocked and amazed that they accepted all five. (Being a good poetry citizen, I immediately withdrew the poems from all other journals to which I had submitted them.)

The rest of this post will give some of the background to the poems. You can choose to read them first, using the links in the first paragraph, or read the rest of the post first and the poems afterwards. I’ll write about the poems in the order in which they appear.

Starting off with a trigger warning, especially for family and friends who may not be ready to read “We probably should have taken off”, which is about the death of my father, known here as Paco. I wrote the first draft in the middle of the night while I was at the Boiler House Poets Collective residency only a couple of weeks after Paco’s death and workshopped it there. I did revisions and workshopped it again with the Grapevine Poets in October – and then couldn’t bear to look at it again for several months. I did the final edits in order to send it out this winter because I knew from the reaction of the poets who had seen the drafts that it was a strong poem. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell objectively when something is strong if it is also close to me emotionally. I had originally written this poem by hand in a journal and tried to replicate the spacing I had used when I put it into the computer. The use of white space seemed to fit the mood of the poem and is a frequently employed device in contemporary poetry, although some online journals advise against it because it can be hard to replicate in their publishing software. My original rendition is probably even “spacier” than the published version due to being on a larger page.

“Sprague Suite” is an ekphrastic poem based on the exhibit Transition: Decade of Decision, Sprague Electric>>MASS MoCA, 1989-1999 by Christopher Gillooly, which was on display there in 2018. When I was at our Boiler House residency that year, I felt as if it was my second home. I was drawn to it because it told the history of the former industrial site which is now home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I am from the North Adams area, so I also have a personal perspective on that history. The six sections of “Sprague Suite” relate to Sprague Electric, which occupied the site for several decades until 1986, manufacturing capacitors. For fun, I also played a bit with form in this poem. Sections I and VI are haiku and II and V are tanka. III and IV are my go-to, free verse. “Industrial Buddha”, the title of section V, is the name of a collage sculpture of found objects that was part of the exhibit. This poem is part of my full-length poetry collection which is currently submitted to several contests and publishers.

“In my purse” began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in fall of 2020. We were studying list poems and the power of juxtaposition. I’m a fan of list poems and had written several previously. When we write from prompts, we only have about ten minutes to draft, so the poems tend to be relatively short. There is also so little time to plan or ponder that words often fall onto the page in unexpected ways, which is perfect for a list poem where juxtaposition is everything. Thinking this quickly-generated draft had potential, I decided to workshop it with Grapevine and revise it to send out to journals. I’m so happy it has found a home at Wilderness House Literary Review!

“Zoom Wedding – October 4, 2020” also began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in summer 2020. We were to begin a poem with a line from Ocean Vuong’s searing “Aubade with Burning City” about the final evacuation from Saigon in 1975. We were, however, to take our poem in a different direction. I chose the line, “He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.” Given that we were then in the early months of the pandemic with public health rules making large gatherings impossible, I recast the line to open the story of a couple forced to cancel a long-planned June wedding and instead hold it in October via Zoom, which, for future readers who might see this after Zoom has been merged, renamed, or supplanted by newer technologies, is a video conferencing platform that gained ascendency when everything from business meetings to church services to family gatherings had to be cancelled or held virtually instead of in person. I began the draft during our BPP session and finished it the next day. I workshopped it with the Grapevine Poets, but then set it aside. I made some revisions in order to send it out this winter. I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to anyone as most people are trying to move beyond the pandemic, even though it hasn’t ended. Thankfully, with vaccines and treatments available, in-person gatherings are much safer in 2022 than they were in 2020.

“Monroe Bridge Mail” was drafted in May 2021 as I prepared to go on a private writing retreat back to North Adams to finish the manuscript which I referenced in the “Sprague Suite” section above. While I went to high school in North Adams, my actual hometown is Monroe Bridge, then home to about two hundred people, about twenty miles distant. I wanted to have some more Monroe Bridge poems in the collection, so I wrote this about our post office. I chose to employ a more conversational, storyteller mode, with long sentences and asides. It is a lot of fun to read aloud, which I had the opportunity to do at the Vestal Museum last summer.

Whew! Long post. If you have made it this far, thank you and congratulations! Please feel free to comment below. I love to know what people are thinking about my poems and/or posts.

Forsaken of Man

Yesterday, for the first time since the Smith College Alumnae Chorus concerts in Slovenia in July 2019, I sang in a choral concert. This ends the longest drought in choral performances since I was a teenager. While the pandemic was a major factor in this break, the other complication was that the Binghamton University Chorus, which I joined in fall of 1982 after moving to the area, may have been permanently disbanded, something that I suspected at our last concert in May, 2019.

Last fall, I attended the first in-person concert since the onset of the pandemic by The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. I have long had friends who sang with Madrigal Choir, but always assumed that I would not be the most qualified person they could find to fill a rare opening in the soprano section. At the concert, they announced, though, that they were looking for new members in all voice parts. Bolstered by the fact that Bruce Borton, professor emeritus from Binghamton University under whose direction I sang with University Chorus throughout his tenure, is now the director of Madrigal Choir, I inquired about joining and was accepted. Due to our family trip to London for the holidays and the omicron spike, the concert yesterday was my first opportunity to perform as a member of Madrigal Choir.

We joined with the choir of Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church to present Leo Sowerby’s Lenten cantata, Forsaken of Man, under the direction of Trinity’s music director Timothy Smith. While I had been familiar with some of Sowerby’s work, I had not previously heard this powerful and dramatic piece. With passages from the gospels, including some of Jesus’s hopeful teachings, and additional text by Edward Borgers, Forsaken of Man concentrates on the betrayal and abandonment of Jesus in his final days.

As often happens in Passion settings, the story is proclaimed by The Evangelist, for us tenor Kevin Bryant. Brian Mummert portrayed Jesus and bass John Shelhart chillingly sang the roles of Caiaphas, Judas, and Peter. They were all magnificent as were the other soloists with smaller parts, including Dr. Borton as Pilate.

What I appreciate as a member of the chorus is the role that Sowerby chose for us. Sometimes, we were participants in the narrative, becoming the disciples, or the crowd calling for crucifixion, or the soldiers mocking Jesus. At other times, we set the scene or offer commentary, as in the choral prologue and epilogue.

Unlike many Passion settings, the soloists and chorus unfold the story in a series of four parts, rather than a succession of short solo arias and choral movements. This is part of the drama of the piece, as there are many sudden shifts in mood, voicing, and tempo.

Another major driver of the dramatic expression of the story is the incredibly demanding organ part, played masterfully by the William K. Trafka on Trinity’s Casavant organ, which was expanded in 2018. Sowerby was himself an organist, as is evident from the complexity and expressive nuance of the score. It was a thrill for me to be singing in the chancel at Trinity. I had served there as an assistant back in the mid-’80s and this concert brought back many memories of that time, including some choir members who are still serving.

The sad news is that this is the last public performance of the season for the Madrigal Choir but I am looking forward to the announcement of the next season. I’m grateful to have a new choral home! Stay tuned for more about Madrigal Choir in the fall when we resume – or perhaps before…

SoCS: Compassion

There is so much in the world right now for which I feel compassion. I’m sure many others are also joining in this sense of compassion, too.

Media is filled with the heart-breaking situation in Ukraine. So much destruction. So much death and injury and hunger and lack of shelter. The incomprehensible targeting of civilians in their homes, of food warehouses, of people who are trying to flee besieged cities. The deaths of so many soldiers on both sides, compounded by the fact that Russia is not bringing the bodies of its dead back home to their families. The millions of internally displaced people and the millions who have become refugees in other countries.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to cause suffering. The omicron subvariant is sending cases higher in many countries, just as most had relaxed their preventative strategies. Now into the third year of the pandemic, the accumulated losses are staggering. Millions dead, their absence felt by their families, friends, and communities. Many millions more dealing with lasting damage, some with long COVID, others with lung, heart, vascular, and/or neurological damage that they don’t discover until after recovery from the initial infection.

There are other armed conflicts, droughts leading to hunger, other disasters that cause suffering, and always the unfolding disaster of climate change.

All call for my compassion.

There are personal things, too. The neighbor who just lost his mother. Friends and relatives in medical battles. On and on.

I try not to be overwhelmed or succumb to compassion fatigue. I offer help as I can and support efforts for peace and justice. I don’t know if the people for whom I have compassion can feel that support or not. Perhaps, with so many sharing in compassion, they can and feel a little less alone in their suffering.

I hope.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to write about a word that contains “comp.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/03/18/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-19-2022/

SoCS: travel

Now that it’s (maybe) safer to travel, there are a few trips that I and/or family members may take this spring.

T is going to a high school friend’s wedding in Florida in April. Arrangements are all in place so this is the surest bet to happen.

The three of us have been wanting to get back to the western MA/southern Vermont area where B and I grew up and where we still have friends and relatives. Maybe we will actually make it when the weather is better and we work through a few health things that have been annoying us lately. At the moment, it’s snowing like crazy, a reminder that spring is not here yet.

B and I also are hoping for a getaway this spring. It’s been a while since the two of us could do this, first due to caring for our elders and then still having the pandemic hanging around. Granted, the pandemic is still with us, much as we all wish it were over, but the rates of infection are finally getting down to where leisure travel is possible. My sisters gave me a lovely gift certificate to a posh Finger Lakes inn that I want to use this spring, especially because our 40th anniversary is approaching.

Speaking of 40th, my reunion at Smith College is in May. We finally got word on March 1st that it will be in person. (The last couple of years had been virtual due to the pandemic.) We haven’t started the registration project yet but I’m definitely planning to attend and stay on campus, as is traditional. Our reunion will be the same weekend as commencement; it’s always great and energizing to be on campus with the students and a fuller celebration of the traditions, such as Ivy Day and Illumination Night.

I also have my fingers crossed for another trip to London to visit daughter E and family. We are hoping for June but it’s so hard to say right now if it will be possible. Will there be another variant racing around the globe? Will there be war ongoing? It’s so painful to think of the current suffering, much less project its horrifying dimensions into the future.

Which trips will take place and which will (yet again) be deferred? I don’t know, but it’s likely that you will find out here at Top of JC’s Mind.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is trip. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/03/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-12-2022/

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