Friday, January 30, 2015

Retired Educator, Mocked Poetess

REPOST: Because. First published 11 April 2013.

I promised poetry but did not deliver.  You don't understand the trepidation of letting this tender, soft-hearted part of myself be open to ridicule, taunting, and satire!  How the Genetically Indentured Manor Staff thrills at responding to my meekest requests with muttered, "Yeah?  Why don't you go write a poem about it?" 

Even Fred can get nasty.  I showed him one of my best works and he said, "This is why you couldn't help weed the miniature Wimbledon courts?  This is what kept you from leading group therapy for the Crackhead Carnies holed up in the barn?  THIS is why you couldn't be bothered to cook for my Wednesday night dinner with the Militant Existentialist Lesbian Feminists?  And it doesn't even make sense!"

The Castafiore has been my only support.  "Ze poésie, cara mia, it is an art and for ze art, we give our all, we give tout! We give ze everything! Are you going to wear ze rouge pencil skirt and ze frilly white blouse of laces cut down to ze navel of you to ze très extraordinaire mass ce soir?  But then, it is ze soir when ze muse appears, no, so I, la Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore, can wear ze clothings before ze good Abbot Truffatore, n'est-ce pas?  We will pray for ze poésie, for ze breast titty of ze muse to land in your head..."

Abbot Truffatore and Bianca have been meeting for private prayer and, judging from his sweaty red face and mismatched buttons when he leaves, heavy monk boots in hand, some athletic catechism review.  Tonight, he is leading a special mass for the Saint Day of Gemma Galgani, on whom he's had a crush for the last thirty years, and Bianca has become a green-eyed and now red pencil skirted demon with a deep v-neck lacy frill top.  She may not break out in stigmata every Thursday, but everything else about my girl is so totally venerable and serene.

St. Gemma Galgani

I shall take a page from good Gemma Galgani's book and suffer the jealousies and pettiness thrown at me over my blessed poetry and suffer these "heartaches in reparation, remembering that Our Lord Himself had been misunderstood and ridiculed."

Ahem.  Cough.  My first selection is a cute little ditty, meant to liven up the day and inspire all with my usual inimitable hope and optimism.  Do not be alarmed if you are so moved as to be unable to speak after the first dozen readings or so.  This is a perfectly natural response to poetry of this caliber. Like good Saint Gemma Galgani, you may experience ecstacies and raptures, but be calm.  It passes.

Final Cut 
there is sand between my eye and lid
from crying over nothing, one more dead kid,
pain here, pain there, poor me, while she
becomes green algae.

my legs that just ought to go,
says the do-it-yourself amputation pro,
prod, poke, ponder: it provokes familiar argument,
the age old problem, that old saw.

both legs are off, okay and fine,
and then one arm, a kinder line,
but there's no one for the coup de grâce,
no one to take the last arm off.
-- by Retired Educator, Mocked Poetess

© 2015 L. Ryan

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Raif Badawi: Fitness for Flogging

photo credit

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 27 January 2015)
Doctors should refuse to assess Saudi blogger’s fitness for flogging, human rights group says
by Sophie Arie
Doctors are playing a key part in the punishment by flogging of a blogger who has angered authorities in Saudi Arabia, and they should refuse to be involved, says the US based group Physicians for Human Rights.
The blogger Raif Badawi, whose Liberal Saudi Network promoted online debate about religion and politics, was convicted last year to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for “insulting Islam.” He was to be caned in sessions of 50 lashes each, with at least a week between each sessions. He was flogged, in public, on 9 January, …

Sophie Arie is a journalist based in London. She has worked as a correspondent for The Guardian, The Observer and the Daily Telegraph
in Latin America and Europe and as a commissioning editor for 
Monocle magazine and The Daily Telegraph in London. She regularly covers international health stories for the British Medical Journal.

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Five ways you can help Raif Badawi -- from LiveWire, Amnesty International's global human rights blog

© 2015 L. Ryan

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mise en Place: Cream of Tomato Soup, Earlobes, Jesus

REPOST: Because this has been unexpectedly at the top of the "most requested" for the past week. Because some of us are waking to intemperate conditions these days.  Because living does come down to a "mise en place," sometimes. Because nothing beats a hot tomato soup in winter (or a perfectly spiced, lovingly fresh gazpacho in summer). Because I imagine, but no longer witness, people without homes continuing to drop ears into perfectly good soups, chilis, stews, and consommés.  Because I do this in remembrance of Joe.  

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Some people hate these frigid mornings.  Some open their eyes and calculate the range of possibilities for their next heating bill.  Some wake under blankets heavy and sodden-frozen in odd, crunchy forms, because of sheeting rain chased by freezing temps instead of downy-dry, insulating layers of pillowed snow.

There are homes equipped with Designated Heater-Uppers.  This is an ancient, time-honored, familial system, in which one soul, long-johned and night-capped, flees the warmth of quilt piles and warm beloved bodies and their blessed curvatures, to ignite a furnace, put flame to waiting kindling, twigs, and smallish logs, or maybe just to flick a switch on a thermostat.

The Designated Heater-Upper, depending on fortitude and genetics, may enjoy these quiet shivers of time and proceed to brew coffee for the less courageous, and whatever modern form of quick but hearty sustenance serves as the algebraic variable for gruel.  Other Designates may race back to the bed and reclaim their spot of warmth, mingling icy toes with toasty ones, nuggling to beat the band.  But usually, giggles and whispers set in, and there's no denying the day's begun.

Those many years ago when Fred and I helped out at a rare neighborhood-nestled shelter for homeless men (who were either actively ill or disabled, or both), me as an ardent volunteer, he as a paid worker who did miracles with very little money and exuberant donations to produce hot and [usually] healthy meals for 30-35 hungry men, twice a day -- we learned some survival tips we pray never to need. Oddly enough, I realized years later, in the swirling cyclonic mess of a medical crisis, that all of these "staying alive" guidelines depend on some version of a mise en place.  Whether it's an encounter with a rousting cop, the intricacies of getting dressed, or a traditional coq au vin (if you have enough rooster, blood, and time), a well-ordered preparation is key.

We did not help much, in any lasting sense, at the shelter, since we always knew... well, I cannot bring myself to say it, or even describe it.  Jesus said it.  I don't know that he was the first, but he said it, and pretty well, too.  Fred kept bodies and souls alive with calories, fed the jonesing junkies the sugary cereals, supplied those men with AIDS plenty of Sustacal, and turned water into wine with one hand tied behind his back, ready for any surprise.  Like the volunteers from Outta Town Church, who promised to bring dinner -- and did, in the form of several huge chunks of fresh venison left on the steps, kinda wrapped in plastic and stuffed in a paper bag.

"Jesus said it." You know what Jesus said, and if you don't, you say some version of it yourself from time to time, when glancing about, summing things up, giving the state of things a good ponder.  It hits you, suddenly, that some things never change.  And that the "why" of it doesn't matter.

Anyway -- that brilliant segue -- those most experienced in surviving the rigors of cold weather advise that, for the best odds of waking up at all after sleeping exposed to the elements, layers are the way to go, especially layers of mostly unread newspapers, mixed according to some complex algorithm with softer, well-crinkled, seriously perused pages of the Journal or the Constitution or the Times.  We knew a guy who collected styrofoam coffee cups throughout the day, then undid them, discarding the bottoms, for use as superb insulation, combined with newsprint, and his three, four, or five piece suits, and whatever blanket he could beg or borrow.  Joe did not much like sleeping inside, especially with rows of other men, their snores, snuffles, and sniffles, their various stinks, stories, and woes.

Of course, Joe may not be the best example. I watched one of his ear lobes fall off, from frostbite, as we ate the first course of one of Fred's dinners on a cold evening --  a cream of tomato soup.

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ADDENDUM, 25 JANUARY 2015 * This is a picture of Joe, taken by the talented C. Hinkle. Joe's story is a tragic one, that any editor with a decent heart and a bit of will might have altered, but that might have ruined the tale's attractive, romantic (and monetized) edge. He was, I believe, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while in college. He grew up in the neighborhood where the shelter I refer to is located, and after the death of his parents/diaspora of his family, became something of the suburban, white, intelligent, talented, mentally ill, moderately-annoying, homeless man poster child for progressive church outreach programs in the area.  As Ed Loring said at Joe's Memorial Service, where many a chuckle-cum-tear was produced after many a Joe Story, "We ought to be ashamed of ourselves..."

A less fun Joe, likely overweight due to side effects of medications, probably choosier of acquaintances and of neighborhoods, perhaps employed, perhaps not, perhaps in a group home, perhaps in an apartment, perhaps in a nice home, with a wife, a partner, children. Perhaps a riotous Joe, set free? Joe on Joe's terms, not on the terms of newsletter/small grant-writing organizations plugging holes and doing legitimate good work based on Jesus' solid statistics. All it would have taken is one or several brave interventionists to commit Joe, keep him on meds, force him into the mental health system. It could have happened. In this best of all possible worlds.

© 2015 L. Ryan