Thursday, December 29, 2005

Two More Days for William Cumming Exhibit at the Frye

I just made it to the William Cumming exhibit at the Frye. Last day is Dec. 31st. His paintings of working people going about their daily lives --I love his drawings on newspaper: a man carrying boxes, a bag lady, a boy on a merry-go-round - the nudes, sculptures and cowboys - are striking for their accessibility, color, texture and motion.

I wish I could have gotten to the lectures and films - the Frye is so filled with erudition and magic! - associated with this Northwest painter's life, work and politics. I did venture into their seductive gift shop for curator Matthew Kangas' William Cumming: The Image of Consequence and Cummings' 1934 Memoir to keep my memory pumped.

Cummings is 89, I think, maybe 90 by now, and still painting here in Seattle. He reminds me of poet Stanley Kunitz. Wouldn't it be fun to match up some of Kunitz's poems with Cumming's paintings. Hmmm, and Philip Levine's too. Remember the not so long ago Poets and Writers Calendar? Don't you just miss hanging it up on your kitchen wall the first day of the New Year?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Preamble, 2

begun 12/12/05

Part II - Weaknesses

When I ended the last poem
(After He's Gone/Nov 9th)
I thought I ended the manuscript
it was over
then I passed through four weeks
of nothing
and limbo
I stayed
with myself
in that form
until one morning
I realized
the book was not
over, anymore than the lives
and the disease
I was writing about were.

I see now that the book is
in two parts (at least)
and I had not yet written
(or lived)
the second
what I did in Part One
write about
the good parts
only, and with them
as if the loving
part was all that was there

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Death, the Unholy

Long before he should have,
he eluded decisions
about his death.
He did not want to tend
a mirage of promised
and unimagined
when he knew
there were none, only
to a non-existent

he looks back
on un-
filled spaces,
especially those
that held the word: Yes,
and in no uncertain
terms, he says:
Death is un-holy.
Un-holy. Pro-
In its lack.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

This poem came about as a result of Rebecca Louden's exercise to do an Opposite Poem. She instructs: Take someone else's poem, and for each word, write what you think is its complete opposite. I began by following her directions and using Pesha Gertler's poem, The Healing Time. As I was working though, an idea emerged which felt more important to follow through on than word-play. Since my husband's Alzheimer's and death are on my mind, what evolved was the unholiness of Death in the face of Pesha's holy holy, the holiness of life. But now, as I write, I realize that it is Alzheimer's that is un-holy, and not Death.

Monday, December 12, 2005

This morning, his language

skills are good
and he uses them
to the utmost.

In the shower,
he yells:
Let me out of here!

Dressing him,
he pouts:
I can’t wear that.

Fixing his hair,
he says:
You must be
holes in my scalp.
Every time
you brush
head hurts.

I suppose,
I need
to find a gentler
and a softer
brushing hand,
one with the child
still in it.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Pesha Gertler's Healing Time, trigger poem, Cancer Lifeline, Week of Dec. 12 '05

The Healing Time

Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
- Pesha Gertler

Copyright by Pesha Gertler

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Trigger Poems from Emily Dickinson, Women's Writing Groups, Cancer Lifeline, Week of Dec. 5th

Poems "1587" and "1665" by Emily Dickinson from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson © Little, Brown. Reprinted with permission.


He ate and drank the precious Words—
His Spirit grew robust—
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust—

He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book—What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings—


I know of people in the Grave
Who would be very glad
To know the news I know tonight
If they the chance had had.

'Tis this expands the least event
And swells the scantest deed—
My right to walk upon the Earth
If they this moment had.

Dickinson lived from 1830 - 1886. She wrote 1789 poems and provided titles to 24.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Irena Klepfisz, Loss and the Poetry of Exile, Journal of Poetry Therapy, Fall 2005

Although my essay, Irena Klepfisz, Loss and the Poetry of Exile, is out from the Journal of Poetry Therapy, I still haven't received my copy. Here's the abstract from the Routledge/Taylor and Francis website:

E.A. Helfgott - Abstract:

In her use of the poetic form, Holocaust poet, Irena Klepfisz, confronts guilt, fear, loss and anger. While her poems are filled with mourning, trauma, ambivalence and the recollection of extremity, they are also filled with hope. This essay concerns Klepfisz's early poems, primarily “POW's”, “Death camp”, “Searching for my father's body” and “The house”, which appeared in her 1975 work, Periods of stress and demonstrates that Klepfisz's poetry reflects her ability and her tendency to confront grief and loss by way of the poetic form.

Keywords: Grief, Holocaust, loss, poetry, trauma, writing

It's a re-worked section of my doctoral dissertation: Irena Klepfisz: A Life in Print - The Early Years: 1975-1992, University of Washington, 1994, which I finally got out from under my desk last summer.


In the same issue is my favorable review of Maxine Kumin's Inside the Halo and Beyond: the Anatomy of a Recovery, Norton, 2000.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mama Cass, Forest Park High, Feb. 1960

I'm watching California Dreamin' (The Mamas and the Papas) on Ch. 9 and just had to dig out my Forest Park High School yearbook. Mama Cass is on the Cohen page. I knew her as Ellen. This is what I remember: When she came over to Baltimore from Washington, D.C., I think when we were in the 11th grade, she had been in Sigma Pi Sigma, a high school sorority; now she walks into Upper Park Heights and the girls at Forest Park won't let her join their snotty Baltimore chapter.

The Cohen under Ellen's picture also died young. I think Ellen died first. Marsha was a beauty queen and acrobat and our prom queen. I knew her from 7th grade on. She smiled maybe twice that I can remember (although she made Phi Delta); whereas, Ellen smiled, joked, sang and laughed all she could.

This was the Forest Park High and Baltimore of Barry Levinson's Diner, a much different place for teenage boys than for teenage girls (at least the girls I knew), but not a paradise for any of us.

Ellen Cohen (soon to become Mama Cass) second from top left

....and we all wore pearls.

Trigger Poem, Waldman, Fast Speaking Woman, Women's Writing Groups, Cancer Lifeline, Week of Nov. 28th

from Fast Speaking Woman by Anne Waldman

because i don't have to spit
because I don't have rubbish
because i don't have dust
because i don't have that which is in air
because I am air
let me try you with my magic power:

I'm a shouting woman
I'm a speech woman
I'm an atmosphere woman
I'm an airtight woman
I'm a flesh woman
I'm a flexible woman
I'm a high-heeled woman
I'm a high-style woman
I'm an automobile woman
I'm a mobile woman
I'm an elastic woman
I'm a necklace woman
I'm a silk-scarf woman
I'm a know-nothing woman
I'm a know-it-all woman
I'm a day woman
I'm a doll woman

from Fast Speaking Woman by Anne Waldman, City Lights Books, 1999

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Esther's Healing Arts Writing Space

"In my healing arts writing groups we find a space for confidence- building and community formation, a place where self-esteem and courage blossoms. Here we come to look at our lives and celebrate ourselves and each other.

"My goal is for us to find a place of strength and non-marginality. No one is on the edge here, on the outskirts looking in. We are all, each one of us, smack in the middle of experience and knowledge that we lend to each other -- through non-competitive discussion, writing, and sharing of work, if and when we are ready.

"We use writing, mostly poetry, to trigger imagination, memory, friendship, love, hate, ambiguity, fear, whatever comes along, even secrets we didn't know we had.

"My goal is for us to use writing to discover our authentic voice(s) on and off the page and to develop the confidence to use our voice(s) with determination.

"I am most concerned with writing process and writing as process; and though we work toward making our words clearer for others to understand and to understand ourselves better, worldly (or wordly) success is not an ingredient of the healing arts space, all the while we take pride in our accomplishments and in each other's accomplishments.

"Here in my healing arts writing groups, we listen to each other so we can hear more of ourselves; and we quiet ourselves so we can hear that much more of all those others who share our writing/living spaces with us."

If you are a cancer patient, recovering cancer patient, caregiver, co-worker, relative, friend or acquaintance of someone with cancer and would like to join us, please call Cancer Lifeline at 297-2100 or visit on-line.

Thanks for visiting,

Esther Altshul Helfgott

Monday, November 21, 2005

Trigger Poem, Walcott, Love After Love, Women's Writing Groups, Cancer Lifeline, Week of Nov. 21st

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

- Derek Walcott

from Collected Poems 1948—1984 by Derek Walcott.
Copyright © 1986 by Derek Walcott.

Trigger Poem, Nye, You Have to Be Careful, Women's Writing Groups, Cancer Lifeline, Week of Nov. 14th

You Have to Be Careful

You have to be careful telling things.
Some ears are tunnels.
Your words will go in and get lost in the dark.
Some ears are flat pans like the miners used
looking for gold.
What you say will be washed out with the stones.

You look for a long time til you find the right ears.
Til then, there are birds and lamps to be spoken to,
a patient cloth rubbing shine in circles,
and the slow, gradually growing possibility
that when you find such ears
they already know.

-Naomi Shihab Nye

"You Have to Be Very Careful" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Trigger Poem, Weil, The Paper Bag, Women's Writing Groups, Cancer Lifeline, Week of Nov. 7th

The Paper Bag

Fill up a paper bag with
Spring sounds and
Open it in December
Fill up a paper bag with
Snow flurries and
Use them to decorate your bedroom
Fill up a paper bag with
Ribbons and
Fly them when you want a word with the wind
Fill up a paper bag with
Winter quiet and
Open it when it's time to be alone
Fill up a paper bag with
Your favorite words and
Shake it till a good story comes out
Fill up a paper bag with
Secrets and
Share them with a friend every so often
Fill up a paper bag with
Just to have it

-Zaro Weil

“Paper Bag” from Mud, Moon and Me by Zaro Weil
copyright © 1989 by Zaro Weil

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

After He's Gone

I will dwell
where I am
and use
what is
in me
to remember.


Nov. 23 '05

I think the above, Nov. 09, '05 diary-entry, will be my last for awhile on Alzheimer's, at least to publish here. The disease is taking its toll, and I must move my writing and thinking forward into other spaces, all the while I continue caring for my husband (at home) and interacting with this nightmarish disease.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ativan, a Blessing?

After two weeks
of sleep
for both of us
I give him the Ativan
and get a whole night's sleep.
(Well, almost).
And so does he.
(Well, almost),
but he wobbles in the morning.
(At least).
And getting up from a chair
is har
And in adult care
he sleeps,
so they'll
keep him there.
I pick him up
and night
again, as day

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Spouse as Home

I didn't know he
was my shul
my language
my mother tongue
and prayer
the zeyde I lost,
and bubbies
I never had.
Or that he was my homeland.
And exile.
My nakedness.

I didn’t know
when I met him
twenty five years ago
that I had needed
a place to
Or that knowing
turned less
into more
And more

shall I dwell
when he’s



-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Friday, November 04, 2005

As I Sit In Class

I think of him
to come home,
how I pinned
my business card
to his undershirt.
On the back
I wrote:
You're in Adult Day Care.
I'm going to class.
I'll pick you up
at 1:30 p.m.

He reads the words
with me. I kiss him
give the nurse
a plastic baggie
filled with tylenol
and a just-in-case Ativan.
In class,
Jeanne, Mary
and I
and talk
about writing.
We read Bill Stafford's
What's In My Journal
while my first cell phone
sits unringing
but ready
on the desk by the door.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Analytic Entrapment

The Fall 2005 issue of American Imago came in the mail this weekend. It's an important compendium of essays on various forms of imprisonment. I am pleased to say that my essay, Analytic Entrapment , concerning my psychoanalytic experience is included. I thank Peter L. Rudnytsky, editor of American Imago and Murray M. Schwartz, guest editor, for their important comments while the essay was in progress and for the integrity they demonstrate in printing an essay from the analysand's point of view.

Abstract: This essay examines a four-and-a-half year, five-day-a-week psychoanalysis, with a traditional male analyst, from the point of view of a female analysand. Drawing on diaries she kept during this period, January 1990 – June 1994, as well as on those she wrote before and after the analysis, the author argues that an erotic transference that is not supervised well by the analyst, especially when he does not control his erotic countertransference, can produce feelings of psychological entrapment on the part of the analysand. The analyst’s refusal to deal with the here and now between him and the analysand can damage an otherwise creative analytic relationship and it can threaten psychoanalysis as an art form.

The essays can be accessed through Project Muse at any university library. In Seattle, at Suzzallo, our wonderful librarians (I adore librarians. How would we live without them!)on the periodicals floor will offer you a friendly hand.

American Imago
Volume 62, Number 3, Fall 2005
Special Issue: Experiences of Imprisonment
Guest Editor: Murray M. Schwartz
The Johns Hopkins University Press

Schwartz, Murray M.

Hopkins, Brooke.
Winnicott and Imprisonment

Winnicott, D. W. (Donald Woods), 1896-1971.
Juvenile delinquency -- Psychological aspects.
Imprisonment -- Psychological aspects.
Solitude -- Psychological aspects.

Davis, Walter A. (Walter Albert), 1942-
Between Two Deaths: Life on the Row

Skorczewski, Dawn.
Bergman, Anni
, 1919-
Getting Attica Out of Her Mind: A Psychoanalytic Memoir
Autistic children -- Case studies.

Helfgott, Esther Altshul.
Analytic Entrapment
Helfgott, Esther Altshul.
Women analysands -- Biography.
Psychotherapist and patient.
Transference (Psychology)
Psychoanalysis -- Moral and ethical aspects.

Letter from London
Kahr, Brett.

Why Freud Turned Down $25,000: Mental Health Professionals in the Witness Box
Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939.
Leopold, Nathan Freudenthal, 1904 or 5-1971 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
Loeb, Richard A., 1905 or 6-1936 -- Trials, litigation, etc.

Book Reviews
Schapiro, Barbara A.
The Death-Ego and the Vital Self: Romances of Desire in Literature and Psychoanalysis (review)

Sharon-Zisser, Shirley, 1962-
The Cambridge Companion to Lacan (review)
as per American Imago

Saturday, October 29, 2005


All the while
he loses language
he develops
the ability
to find
and use words
that du-
plicate his

In this aw-
ful season
of rain,
he's found
a new way
of learning,
of teaching him
about him
and his
of life.

In so doing,
this moment
in our lives
gifts me
gifts him
gifts us
with unraveling
and apostrophes
between us.

This new use of language -
the mumblings and ramblings –
(that others think are meaningless
unhooked together sentences of drivel)
contains answers I have looked for
throughout our twenty-five
year-old marriage bed.

is breath
unused up

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Reading with Alzheimer's

Sprawled out
in the recliner
a tie-dyed shirt
the kids
gave him,
a Middle Eastern
on his head,
he holds
a book of stories
in his hands,
the pages
as he always did:
leaning, learning
words the brain loses
before he under-

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

No Ativan This Night, He’s Home With Me

He did not need an Ativan last night.
He did not need restraint,
even redirection.
He was with me
here at home
sleeping comfortably
in his own bed.

Bessie Burton’s Alzheimer’s
unit is supposed to be one of the best
in the city. I beg your pardon.
I doubt if there is a best
in any city when speaking
of Alzheimer’s.
There is no differentiation
between high functioning, as Abe is,
and low functioning
where people take their clothes
off in the halls, need constant redirection
and restraint.

Is it not the psychotropic drugs
that psychiatrists and drug companies
push down our throats – and it is our throats,
all of ours –
to keep us out of danger
as they say,
that make Alzheimer’s patients
that way in the first place,
instead of calming them down,
as they’re supposed to do.

I could not leave him in that place of horror
where people are doped
up and warehoused
without concern
for individuality.

He didn’t need Ativan last night
and I doubt if he needed it in the hospital.
What he needs, of course:
lips on the forehead
a back massage
and the strength that I give him.

As I gave to my children
(even as a single parent)
and to my mother (or tried to).
And I can give it to him,
even more than I did then.
Because I am, believe it or not -
it is true - wiser
for the age
I have been given,
so far.

May age be for a blessing
instead of a curse.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Friday, October 21, 2005

Laboratory Visit

The first time
I see him
hold a colon,
blood dripping
through the fingers
of his latex
gloves, I
want to flee
the laboratory
and the team
of hovering
technicians, this one
handing him a scalpel
that one, the scissors
he took from home.
But instead of running
as I want to,
and I really really want to, I
slump ouside the door
as he cuts.
The procedure ended,
my breath just back,
we return to his office
with the sign: Dr. Schweid,
on the door. I watch him
change from his white lab coat
to a tweed sports jacket
in time for a meeting
and a tuna salad sandwich
I can't touch.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

The Old Pathologist

I hold him
in my arms
as if he were
the remnants
of the baby au-
topsy he did
that day
in 1990
when I lost
those forty pages
of my writing
to the broken harddrive.
And looked, as he said,
as stricken
as the infant's mother
when the doctor said:
Your child is dead.

Now his head in my lap,
I stroke his brow and kiss his lips.
Our tears fill each other's mouths
as we gasp for sounds of one more tomorrow
and give us back our yesterdays.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Friday, October 14, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Tragedy of Alzheimer's

Nobody knows what to do, including/especially the doctors, at least those I am associated with at Group Health. They have absolutely no idea what it means to go from A to B with an Alzheimer's victim, no understanding of what it means to get him dressed and into a car to take him to an appointment.

Too exhausted to go on with this, just to say he needs a hospital bed and we're waiting for one to become available, no thanks to his MD.

Thanks everyone for calling/emails/etc. Keep 'em coming. This is a most isolating experience for both of us.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Movies I've Watched This Week

The Sea of Grass (1947) - drama/western - Hepburn and Tracy

The Locket (1946) - film-noire - Loraine Day, Robert Mitchum, Brian Ahern

To Have and Have Not (1944) - thriller - Bogart and Bacall, Walter Brennan

Dangerous (1935) - drama - Bette Davis, Franchot Tone

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Nursing home? I don't think so, Doctor!

On this first day of Rosh Hashanah, Abe and I pay a visit to his doctor, a geriatrician, trained to deal with the illnesses that develop as a result of growing old. Even though Alzheimer's/visits/the homes/of young adults, it is generally found in the brains of the old and the old old; so one would expect that medical personnel treating people with this disease would have information in their knowledge banks that includes resources and advice broader than time for a nursing home.

The words didn't come out exactly in that form, but for the third time in a row, nursing home emerged from this doctor's mouth within two minutes of my talk with him. (This time, after Abe was out of the room and a volunteer had come to take him for an EKG). Never mind, the geriatrician didn't ask me what I thought of such a suggestion, much less Abe.

After all, this is an HMO and 15 minutes, maybe it's ten, isn't enough time for discussing the hospital's approach to Alzheimer's, as the good doctor informed me. He had to see other patients and we were late anyway. Never mind, I've waited in that hospital 30 to 40 minutes to see health care workers.

There seems to be a policy, written or not, that once a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's the attitude that follows is: be gone, be gone. If Abe is treated this way - he was a physician for 43 years, 20 at this particular hospital - how are others treated? I'll be darn if I'll squirrel someone away, anyone, - and certainly not my husband - just because society, including the medical establishment, doesn't know how to confront a disease that is growing in leaps and bounds in our 21st century.

I do not want my husband to go to a nursing home. If we got to the point where I absolutely couldn't take care of him, that would be one thing, but we have help and I'm doing a good job. We have a lovely home with a porch that sits in the sun (or rain) and he has a favorite chair and loves to watch the trees.

We had an elevator put in the house and are in the midst of enstalling grab bars in just the right places. All I ask of the medical establishment is to treat Abe as a whole person rather than what can I do for you today, what seems to be the problem? I had spent half an hour on the phone trying to get through to the doctor's office, including explaining to the nurse what was happening. The doctor said he only got a sketchy report. So you start to tell Mr. Professional and he says, oh, we can only talk about one thing today. Is it chest pains or agitation? Well, the two are entwined.... Hello? Are you there?

I'd like to discuss the possibility of hospice or other resources helping out. From what I understand 6 months is no longer the bar... that's when nursing home popped up and I wonder what a hospital system gets out of pushing (or suggesting)nursing home care on patients who are not ready for it and on families who don't want it. What is behind not helping patients stay in their own homes? Who's getting paid off here? Tomorrow I'll call for an appointment with the chief-of-staff.

Another peeve: shouldn't a geriatrician be cognizant of the fact that an Alzheimer patient has greater needs than most people and that slowness is characteristic of the disease, along with a long list of other physical and social impairments that not only affect him but his primary caregiver? Isn't there a place in the system for something happening along the way, regardless of the time you start out for the appoinment, that could immobilize progress toward the practitioner's door?

I guess that's enough ranting for tonight... I'll either read or find some junk on tv. I wish I had some chocolate in the house. What possessed me to pass it by when picking things off the super market shelves? oy!

Did I mention that I have three major articles coming out and got this last one done in August while taking care of Abe? That doctor didn't ask us one question about what I thought was best for Abe and me. Maybe he just assumes it's too much for you. That's the standard comment. Well, let me be the judge of that, Sir. Of course it's a Sir.

And I'll tell you something else, if the situation were reversed, Abe would be holding my hand every step of the way. He wouldn't put me in a nursing home unless he absolutely couldn't take care of me, and that's what happened with my mother. I just couldn't take care of her anymore (in many ways). But I still can, Abe, and until then, I will. To the best of my ability.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Mary Oliver's Bone

for Abe

Today, I read him Mary Oliver's Bone.
He loves it so, he cries
and cries
until the tears
into his mouth
and flood
the tide she searches for
in the ear
of the pilot whale
she finds
on the beach
in Provincetown.

In Seattle,
her book re-
to our shelf
I fold
our hearts
to each other
as we sleep
to the

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Friday, September 30, 2005

Robert Pinsky

If you weren't at nextbook last night, you missed a treat. Pinsky. What a mensch!

Read his newest The Life of David (Schocken/Nextbook) and buy season tickets to nextbook. It's a great series and should be supported by the literary community. Next is Ariel Dorfman. Check out the rest of the line up!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dahlia Ravikovitch


by Dahlia Ravikovitch (translated from the Hebrew
by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch)

After they all leave,
I remain alone with the poems,
some poems of mine, some of others.
I prefer poems that others have written.
I remain quiet, and slowly
the knot in my throat dissolves.
I remain.

Sometimes I wish everyone would go away.
Maybe it's nice, after all, to write poems.
You sit in your room and the walls grow taller.
Colors deepen.
A blue kerchief becomes a deep well.

You wish everyone would go away.
You don't know what's the matter with you.
Perhaps you'll think of something.
Then it all passes, and you are pure crystal.

After that, love.
Narcissus was so much in love with himself.
Only a fool doesn't understand
he loved the river, too.

You sit alone.
Your heart aches, but
it won't break.
The faded images wash away one by one.
Then the defects.
A sun sets at midnight. You remember
the dark flowers too.

You wish you were dead or alive or
somebody else.
Isn't there a country you love? A word?
Surely you remember.

Only a fool lets the sun set when it likes.
It always drifts off too early
westward to the islands.

Sun and moon, winter and summer
will come to you,
infinite treasures.

-Dahlia Ravikovitch (1936 - 2005)

She died of suicide on August 30, 2005. She was 69 and might have been just starting. Read The Guardian's obituary

I took Ravikovitch's poem above from Eric M. Selinger's blog.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My Sister’s Death: Brother

Let the County bury her
is what he said
his youngest sister
four hours

he said:
let the County
bury her

and turned
his head.



-Esther Altshul Helfgott

(the poem above

found wri-
from Jan 1, 2005
on a sliver
of yellow-
piles of pa-
in my study



I worry
about turning
when I might have
turned left,
letting him
of getting him up
for breakfast,
following his lead
when I might have
stood firm
in my instructions
to shower, dress,
eat, go for a walk
with Hassan,
the Kenyan caregiver
who watches over him
and the house
when I'm gone.
He is
as he used to be
all the while needy
for old times: he cries
for mother,
gone fifty years
There is no
in this man,
not this morning
not today. Really,
my mistakes
don't matter.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cynthia Ozick

Last night at Seattle Arts and Lectures.

I don't appreciate her cute and false attempts to put herself down or, as she says, drop names, but her literary gossip's delicious when not ridiculous (She made Susan Sontag cry. Ho hum) and some of her writing is the finest I've ever read. Try, for instance:

Cynthia Ozick : The Shawl
includes: "Rosa” from The New Yorker, March 21, 1983

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Peanut Butter

According to today’s PI Zone page (for students with active brains),
If you’re average you eat about 4.5 pounds of fruit spread each year – and by the time you graduate from high school, you will have eaten 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (p. A8)

As I figure it from first grade through sixth, 20 days a month x 6 months = 120 sandwiches x six years = 720 sandwiches (cream cheese and jelly made me gag).

Add the weekend sandwiches, including those I carried in a brown paper bag to the Avalon Theatre and ate in front of a movie screen every saturday afternoon, and we're up to, say, well, I didn't go every Saturday, so let's just add 45.

That makes 765 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (didn't start eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches until later and not with peanut butter (minus the jam), raisins and bananas until later still.

Now onto junior high school. Same thing: 720 sandwiches, plus 45 = 765, bringing the pre-high school grand total to 1530.

This doesn't include the peanut butter and jelly saltines- or ritz cracker-sandwiches-on-a-plate-next-to-a-monopoly set on the living room floor, either. Or, the high school or college years.

Or the peanut butter on melba toast years or the peanut butter on celery sticks years, or the eating it with a spoon straight out of the jar (these) years. Doesn't matter what kind: creamy, crunchy, Skippy's, Jiffy's, natural.

No Ritz crackers, no Saltines, no Wonder Bread or lunch box. Just good old fashioned peanut butter.

Thank you, George Washington Carver, my favorite inventor (next to my father, whose inventions, unfortunately, never panned out; but that's another story).

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Mean Spirited

Garrison Keillor's pick, "poetry readings," by Charles Bukowski (not my favorite poet) for Sunday, Sept. 11th, 2005

Friday, September 09, 2005

Like Mother, Like Son?

And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.

-Barbara Bush

I can't believe she would say such a thing. What's the matter with that family? Is a gene loose somewhere?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pesha Gertler, Poet Populist!


I wasn't crazy about the competition among poets, but I love the outcome; and from what I saw, everyone had a good time.

Congratulatons also to Frank and Nick of the Seattle City Council for making this work.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

No slack for Bush, not from me

A response to: Give him some slack.

I am astounded when citizens of our Republic, our democratic union, do not hold Bush responsible for homeland security, I think he calls it. Born into the presidency illegally, exhalted for his swift presence at Ground Zero, he made a place for himself in history as a War president. Could George W. Bush have been any other kind of president? I don't think so. I don't believe that George W. Bush would know how to fill his presidential time if not for a war, if not for vacations with cronies on his Texas ranch; if not for ignoring war resisters whose children have been killed in a war he started.

Unfortunately for Bush, but not for our nation, Bush can not make a war out of natural disasters; he cannot blame natural disasters on foreign countries or terrorists. In the case of natural disasters, along with equality between the races, along with poverty, a president must pay attention to food in the kitchen, a roof over the kitchen, good schools, a national health care system; conversations on racism and poverty in America, as well as geologic engineering and global warming. Yes, Mr. President these problems are before us.

Have you not seen poverty and racism in the news recently, in those places your helicopter flew over, in our destroyed Southern cities? Tell me Mr. President what does your gaze take in? What do your eyes see? What registers in your particular idiosyncratic Caucasian mind? In order to deal with domestic issues, our homeland if you will, you must show yourself to be a mensch, Mr. President, a human being.

To accomplish this feat of becoming a mensch, and it is a feat - it takes a lot of work - you must not show arrogance or the pretense of kindness by kissing African American heads in front of televison cameras; instead, you must demonstrate that you have the public good at heart, that you are concerned about everyday ordinary people, whether they are living in the Louisiana Bowl, in urban neighborhoods, on farms or on a fault line in the Pacific Northwest. You must demonstrate, Mr. President, that you are concerned about service, about really serving your country.

Perhaps our current catastrophe will lead you on a path to righteousness, as you are wont to say in church on Sunday mornings. Perhaps in learning to deal with domestic issues, you may even learn something about neighborliness and interacting with citizens of other countries, say Iraq.

Until then, you get no slack from me, Mr. President. Nor do your supporters. Nor does FEMA or any other government agency that has not been doing its job. And doing its job means, among other things, not killing people by instructing them to evacuate when they have no cars or money to evacuate. It means not blaming the victim!

Mr. President, you created No Child Left Behind, but you left the children behind, along with their friends, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. You left them to die on roof tops and in stinking contaminated water turned cesspool, which you created by your lack of efficiency and, most of all, your lack of caring for all of our citizens.

Mr. President, you and your team dishonor us. You and your team, including the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, who had the nerve to say, When evacuation warnings go out, people should realize it's for their own good, dishonor us. You and your team dishonor all of us. Shame, Mr. President, shame. You've brought shame inside our communities, into our kitchens and living rooms. I know this isn't the first time ... but, somehow, tonight, it's especially hard to sleep ...

Esther Altshul Helfgott

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Mike Moore to George W

Subject: Vacation is Over... an open letter from Michael Moore to George W. Bush

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

Dear Mr. Bush:

Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? Do you need help finding them? I once lost my car in a Sears parking lot. Man, was that a drag.

Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiers are? We could really use them right now for the type of thing they signed up to do like helping with national disasters. How come they weren't there to begin with?

Last Thursday I was in south Florida and sat outside while the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over my head. It was only a Category 1 then but it was pretty nasty. Eleven people died and, as of today, there were still homes without power. That night the weatherman said this storm was on its way to New Orleans. That was Thursday! Did anybody tell you? I know you didn't want to interrupt your vacation and I know how you don't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisers to go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore and smear. You sure showed her!

I especially like how, the day after the hurricane, instead of flying to Louisiana, you flew to San Diego to party with your business peeps. Don't let people criticize you for this -- after all, the hurricane was over and what the heck could you do, put your finger in the dike?

And don't listen to those who, in the coming days, will reveal how you specifically reduced the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summer for the third year in a row. You just tell them that even if you hadn't cut the money to fix those levees, there weren't going to be any Army engineers to fix them anyway because you had a much more important construction job for them -- BUILDING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ!

On Day 3, when you finally left your vacation home, I have to say I was moved by how you had your Air Force One pilot descend from the clouds as you flew over New Orleans so you could catch a quick look of the disaster. Hey, I know you couldn't stop and grab a bullhorn and stand on some rubble and act like a commander in chief. Been there done that.

There will be those who will try to politicize this tragedy and try to use it against you. Just have your people keep pointing that out. Respond to nothing. Even those pesky scientists who predicted this would happen because the water in the Gulf of Mexico is getting hotter and hotter making a storm like this inevitable. Ignore them and all their global warming Chicken Littles. There is nothing unusual about a hurricane that was so wide it would be like having one F-4 tornado that stretched from New York to Cleveland.

No, Mr. Bush, you just stay the course. It's not your fault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in poverty or that tens of thousands had no transportation to get out of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with this!

You hang in there, Mr. Bush. Just try to find a few of our Army helicopters and send them there. Pretend the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are near Tikrit.


Michael Moore

P.S. That annoying mother, Cindy Sheehan, is no longer at your ranch. She and dozens of other relatives of the Iraqi War dead are now driving across the country, stopping in many cities along the way. Maybe you can catch up with them before they get to DC on September 21st.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Excuse me?

The president has wanted to visit the area as soon as possible," [White House press secretary Scott] McClellan said. "We didn't go sooner because we didn't want to be disruptive of efforts on the ground.

Bush Taps Father, Clinton for Relief Help
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
52 minutes ago, comcast news

Or, perhaps, he didn't go sooner because, unlike with Sept. 11th, he couldn't blame a foreign country, thus, fill his presidency with another war.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Iraq and New Orleans

The poor and black are in Iraq.
Which is better,
Or, on a roof top
(in New

Good for Slate magazine's Jack Shafer for pointing out the inadequacies in our media's reportage.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

note card, biography

I've been spending the last few days with Patricia Bosworth's biography of Diane Arbus (1923-1971), accessible and, from her point of view, honest. Bosworth was the daughter of Bartley Crum, one of the six lawyers who defended the Hollywood Ten. He was ruined, as those he defended were, having named names of two of the Hollywood Ten's defense lawyers; he committed suicide in 1959.

Patricia Bosworth's life was defined by her father's work and she, her mother and brother (who also suicided), suffered from his long absences. But Patricia transcend family hardship. Her father always taught her that she could do whatever she wanted. As a child, she modelled for the Diane and Allan Arbus Studio. As an adult she became a free-lance journalist and eventually a biographer, writing about those whose lives she, in some way, identified with, including Monty Clift, Marlon Brando and Arbus.

I like Bosworth's style. Arbus comes alive for me. Bosworth makes me love Diane but then she pulls me into reality to show the photographer's idiosyncrasies and shortcomings, her courage run amuck, along with the drive and talent she developed and used to deal with conflicts concerning sense of self, position in the family as daughter, sister, wife, mother and artist.

Diane Arbus came from a wealthy family. Her mother, Gertrude Russek, inherited her parents' New York Department Store, Russeks, which was eventually run by her philandering husband David Nemerov. Arbus was the sister of poet Howard Nemerov (1920-1991) and the sculptor, Renee Sparkia. She was married to photographer-turned-actor, Allan Arbus.

On July 27, 1971 at age 48, Diane was found in her bathtubm, wrists slit and, as the autopsy reported, filled with barbiturates. She left two children, Doon, now 58 and a playwright and Amy, a photographer, now 49. Allan Arbus, who played the psychiatrist, Maj. Sidney Freedman, in M.A.S.H. is 87 years old.

Although Bosworth didn't get such hot reviews - she's not an academic or an arty writer - so what - she writes a page turner, and I would do well to keep her style and commitment in mind while working on the Buxbaum book.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Suzzallo, a place of worship

I can't
when it was
the last time
I walked
these stacks.
The smell
of nineteenth-
the sound
of dark-
ness. The touch
of cracked
er. The taste.
and down
the aisles
of centuries.
The feel
of dead

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Sunday, August 21, 2005

If at first you don't succeed ...

Adult day is history. I've hired a couple for in-home care. No more sitting around watching a game of balloon volley ball or interacting with staring strangers. He'll stay home, do what he wants: work at his desk, read, listen to music, think, get out the telescope, feed the dog, sit on the porch, peruse the roof tops and when it's clear as it has been, bask in the rays of The Mountain, nurturing, watchful mountain, Mama and Papa Ranier, hovering ....

Saturday, August 20, 2005

the brain, the powerful brain

On a selfish level, the worst part is not having him to talk to, stopping in the middle of a conversation I’m trying to have with him, a question I'm beginning to ask - what's this bone in the body or that - realizing I’m doing something wrong: taxing his brain.

It's almost the same as when I was seven, sitting at the kitchen table, trying to teach my brain damaged Uncle Benny how to read. But not quite.

He got lost yesterday; now I’m filling in the Alzheimer’s Association’s application for Safe Return.It's already taken an hour.

Why does everything have to take so damned long?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

no two days are alike

This is what I wrote on Aug 13th:

Abe went to Adult Care twice this week and I see light at the end of the tunnel, at least on a daily basis. The Center is just a few blocks from our house - amazingly - and holds a warm loving atmosphere. He is physically and emotionally safe and I am. I was able to go to a doctor's appointment yesterday w/o worry and food shopping by myself for the first time in ages. I hate food shopping - that was something Abe always did - but this time I actually feel as if I am on vacation, both at the doctor’s office and at QFC.

Thurs Aug 18

Today’s a different story. He doesn’t want to go. It’s a prison, he says. There are big people there who have you under their thumb. I don’t want him to go either. I don’t have to work today or go for light treatments, so why does he have to go? We can stay home together, just hang out.

But, no, I think, we both need a schedule. He needs to get used to a safe environment without me, and I have to write without him standing over me, and I have to get the car fixed and walk around Greenlake (fat chance), and go food shopping, and read all those books I bought on Alzheimer’s, and go to the library to check on the footnotes for that essay I have to finish.

So I say I think we better get up and go, then I take away the I think, and am sure we need to get up and go and when I’m sure, he becomes so, and gets up from the bed (where he’s massaging my toes), and says ok, I’ll go. Now he’s in the shower, soaping up, and readier for the day than I am.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

illness and new awareness

His illness is teaching me how to care for myself and to be concerned about my own needs as well as other people's; this, in quite astonishingly new ways. Most of all, that I have the right to acknowledge the work I do -- at home and outside the home -- in my teaching and writing and other activities. Incredible how little we/I know... in this my sixth decade.

The seond day of Adult Care went splendidly. When I picked him up, got him in the car and asked, how'd it go? , he said: what a dramatic day... Nice people ... are getting ... to know each other. He is physically and emotionally safe: We couldn't ask for anything more.

And oh, did I mention, we have a new grandchild, Little Boy Schweid, 8 lbs. 10 ounces, 21 " long. Abe's first from his own children. I printed the pictures out, hung them on the wall and he sits smiling at them. When one life wanes, another comes along to bring us new pleasure - which we can certainly use at this time - and new hope. He even remembered the name of his first wife today. And mine too - I think. Better go check! Do you believe I can still get jealous! Oh, the human condition: our smallnesses and foibles, at least mine...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

first day

today the first day of adult day care i rush back before the designated time so fearful for the minutes spent away from me and safety. in a round room two more elderly men aware and not aware, smile and don't smile. a younger woman in a wheel chair. a table. an aide. a jigsaw puzzle. abe reads the national geographic, looks up, sees me. he's happy to see me, wondered was i coming back ...

Sunday, August 07, 2005

they'll page me when you get here

hospital all night
he's fine
forgetting to hear
the forty-five minutes
he backed and forthed
into a chair
trying to remember
how to sit down
what do they teach
in medical school?
possible TIA
he can go home

what about the test to predict if he'll have a full-blown stroke in seven days it won't do any good you wouldn't want him to have that big a surgery in his condition would you why not he could die he's dying anyway every day another piece of him is gone what about an angiogram? an mri? ... they'll page me when you get here. we'll talk.
He didn't have a TIA; he'd had a fever, which kicked up the Alzheimer's, fast.

The doc turned out to be lovely, stayed with me more than an hour. She has a 6 month old baby and her mother has Alzheimer's. She called in a social worker for us, and on a Sunday. While the social worker was in the room, I saw that piece of Alzheimer's I'd only read about before tonight - more of the repetitive movements, again and again the folding: a bedspread here, a nightgown there.

Over and over, the folding, until corners matched up just so, the folds just right/precise. They had to be precise. It was his job and he was doing it, just as he had to find a way to sit in the chair by himself. It might have taken him 45 minutes, but he completed the task.

He found a way to sit down, without my help. He might as well have been at work reading a slide or performing an autopsy, so filled with concentration was he. By the time he snapped out of it, I'd finish sobbing; our rhythm was just right too.

The social worker said: You've never seen him do that before? No. Get used to it. That's what they do.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

the words won't stick to my cortex


I ask him:
What's happening?
The words won't to my cortex,
he says.
Yes, stick.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

At the Hospital

I am working on The Diaries and found the actual start date of one of my Mother poems, February 21, 1991. (I still don't know if I should take out the father line). Thanks to Barbara for reminding me I wrote it:


I lock myself inside the space of poem
just as I did the bathroom when I was three.
Mother and father yell
and beg and pound for me to come out,
but I am steadfast. I watch the pee
run over my thighs
and into the space behind my knees
and down the backs of my legs
until the tops of my socks are sopping wet
and my feet are sloshy in my shoes.
My brother and sister demand
news of our mother's condition -
our father is long-time dead -
as my pen scribbles sounds of ink
along the edges of my paper
until words come together on the page.
I look from my shoes to the quivering door
as firemen meander through the mind of dream
and doctors continue on -
even after the lock is broken.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

The poem first appeared in SHESPEAKS: Seattle Women's Caucus for Art Newsletter, winter 1992 and was reprinted in The Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Review (Vancouver Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Society), vol. 4, no 1, winter 1993.

posted to Psychoanalytic Diaries, July 31, 2005

Friday, July 29, 2005

What Robert Frost Poem Are you?

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost

And therefore, Quizilla says:

You know where you're going, and you know how to
get there. You set goals in life, and you're
determined to meet them. But you know how to
make the most of your time, and in little
things, you take lots of enjoyment. Stop by
those snowy woods every once in a while to take
a break, and don't worry- you'll make those
miles before you sleep.

What Robert Frost poem are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

This was the first poem I memorized and recited in college English 101, Towson State Teachers College, Towson, Md., 1961. Thanks to Quizilla for reminding me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Scribbling Women

America is now wholly given over
to a d --- d mob of scribbling women,
and I should have no chance of success
while the public taste is occupied
with their trash --
and should be ashamed if I did

-Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1855

Author of The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of The Seven Gables (1851), and other works. He lived from 1804 to 1864 and was a contemporary of such scribbling women as transcendentalist Margaret Fuller (1810 - 1850), abolitionist Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880), Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned Uncle Tom's Cabin , and Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Take a listen ...

Friday, July 22, 2005

from Voices in Wartime

It should break your heart to kill

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more. ― ancient Arabic proverb.

It should break your heart to kill.
It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you out in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.
It should never be so easy as this.

― Brian Turner (returned Iraq war veteran and poet, featured in the Voices in Wartime Anthology)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

From A Boy On A Dreambed

The Summer 2005 issue of Poetry Bay is up and I'm pleased to report that my poem, From A Boy On A Dreambed, is included.

Happy Writing,


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Un-hiding the hidden

Thank you all for your responses to my psychoanalytic diaries. Making the decision to place them on-line was not an easy one, as you can well imagine. I had planned a manuscript summing up each year, including the month with the Vacation Analyst (that first year) and the six months with the Clean-up Analyst, as I call him, in the last year. But a summation manuscript is not the same thing as a diary; and since that’s the writing form I used during the analysis, for me it is the most authentic. Now the problem is time, of course.

There are thousands of entries, handwritten and typed. Some are on old DOS! disks, and I must pick and choose what to transcribe. But time’s moving and I knew I needed to get this done before old(er) age takes over - and especially since my husband is frail and I wanted to see us there in those old pages; so this summer I took the project on.

Whatever gets done will be it - though I'll work past summer; the rest I’ll donate to the university archives and hope other analysands will do the same with their analytic notes. One can stipulate “not to be opened for 50 years” if necessary and they can always be sanitized (names and places inked out).

Thanks again for your much appreciated support. It's good to un-hide what's been hidden, to get it out from underneath the desk or off an old floppy or out of the file cabinet. You've helped make my job easier. L'Chaim, to life! Esther

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Reflections on Poetry Therapy

A number of people have asked me how I feel about Poetry Therapy and use of the word therapist, especially when employed by teachers and writers who are unlicensed as therapists. In this regard, I share with you an article I sent to the National Association of Poetry Therapy upon my return from its Spring conference:

Reflections on Poetry Therapy: After the St. Louis Conference
May 4 – 8, 2005


Esther Altshul Helfgott, Ph.D., History
University of Washington

My experience at the poetry conference was mixed; on the one hand, I made friends and attended workshops that I could not have encountered elsewhere. Perie Longo and Phyllis Klein’s Poetic Conversation was stunning for its creation of intimacy in a large setting. Sherry Reiter’s and Barbara’s Bethea’s expertise in building community and hope through poetic conscience was stellar; and, for the second year in a row, Geri Chavis’ experiential peer group led me to insights I would be hard-pressed to find outside the Poetry Therapy community. As a teacher, writer and healing arts facilitator, however, I am, after this conference, in even stronger disagreement with NAPT’s training philosophy than I was before I attended.

From the beginning of my two-year association with NAPT (National Association of Poetry Therapy), I have been troubled by its use of the word therapist in the context of the CPT (certified poetry therapist). The only differentiation between the two tracks is defined by hours, 975 for the RPT (registered poetry therapist), a licensed clinician, and 440 for the CPT, one who enters into the program via the Humanities—as an educator or writer, without a clinician’s background or degree. One wonders, then, why NAPT is using the word therapist to define its healing arts trainees.

Therapy is not just a word, as a CPT mentioned to me during the conference. It holds weights and measures. As our keynote poet, Greg Orr, wrote in his memoir Blessing, “Words have the power to reveal what is hidden.” (p.4) We all know this, whether clinician or non-clinician. So I ask: What is hidden in NAPT that prevents the development of a training track that would allow educators, poets or writing group facilitators, who have no intention of becoming licensed therapists, access to training without the weight of the word therapist around their necks?

A personal development group is not a therapy group, whether modified by Kleinian, poetry or dance. Just because healing occurs in a group or individual does not mean the healing is defined by therapy, though it may indeed be therapeutic.

It is my feeling that NAPT is a young organization and has not yet found itself. It is not in touch with its theoretical or philosophical underpinnings, its inherent belief systems, to the extent that it should be inviting writers and educators to train without really knowing what to do with them.

The word therapy is not being used carefully, not with full respect for its inherent meanings, its context and aliveness. As such, I am suspending my training towards certification. If NAPT were to develop a program for developmental group facilitators, I would participate with a sense of honor. At this point, when I feel strongly that it is unethical for an organization to certify trainees to become unlicensed therapists, I can not.

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues formally during the conference, instead of tuning into conversations in hallways, coffee shops and airports. Unfortunately, the conference setting did not provide space for trainee concerns. I would hope that next year more processing and discussion space will be made for all activities. Namaste.

Esther Altshul Helfgott writes on psychoanalysis, is a writing coach, and facilitates writing groups for women at Cancer Lifeline, Seattle, WA.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

make a place for youself

We'll be discussing and writing from the following poem in the Cancer Lifeline groups next week:

How To Be a Poet by Wendell Berry
to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

- Wendell Berry

How To Be a Poet by Wendell Berry from Given New Poems, © Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C. Reprinted FROM WRITER'S ALMANAC

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Monday, July 11, 2005

Here by Grace Paley

In today's first meeting of the Monday writing group, I used Grace Paley's Here as a trigger for writing and discussion:

Here by Grace Paley

Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.

copyrightGrace Paley

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Your muse is Calliope, the Fair Voiced, Chief muse
and the muse of Epic Poetry. Her symbol is the
writing tablet. I wonder if you'll end up as
the next Tolkein...?

I think I'll end up as me...

Which of the Nine Muses is your muse?
brought to you by Quizilla


Friday, July 08, 2005


me and the boys

Daughter's foot

Butchy and Bernard

Scott & Abe - July 8, 2005 - home for vacation

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Me and Abe, 1989

Choices by Gallagher

In today's first meeting of the Thurs writing group at Cancer Lifeline, I used Tess Gallagher's Choices as a trigger for writing and discussion:

Choices by Tess Gallagher

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, a nest is clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

© Tess Gallagher

Monday, July 04, 2005

Writing as Mother

Why did I return to the diaries at just this time – when I haven’t revisited myself in that place of other since I wrote them? The Friday before I made the decision to publish the diaries on-line, Abe had gone to the doctor. The prognosis was not good and I was living each minute as if I could lose him this second, now. I didn’t realize at the time how frantic I was, but did the only thing I know to do during periods of chaos and stress – put myself inside a page.

This time I did not write, not frantically anyway. I went to the year the analysis began, 1990. I wanted to find me and Abe there, and though we were married nine years prior, I went to the analytic diary to remember who we were in relation to that period, to see what I could see of us, who we have been throughout our twenty-four years together; what I’m finding is good because it helps me understand how we’ve lived our lives together, why and how we made it through, or didn’t, and then did again.

I had been blocking something else too: I started the analysis, after eleven years of psychoanalytic therapy with the same man I was to do the analysis with, the month after my son was hit by a car. That was more than I could tolerate. He was in Harborview for two weeks and at home for another two weeks, then back to school on crutches for the next six months. But I remained on crutches and, if not for the writing, would be there still; for it is the writing that helps me care for others, and it is the writing that nurtures and cares for me.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Diary Form

I am finally getting the psychoanalytic diaries together and publishing them in diary form. I have always envisioned presenting Psychoanalysis: The Magic and The Lie as a diary, a representation of the self over time. But my decision has been years in the making, back and forth from non-fiction to fiction (no matter I disown myself within the mindset of fiction and have never been comfortable there, except as Reader) to non-fiction, essay and poem, to fiction and back again, gratefully, to non-fiction in diary form.

I have been afraid of putting the whole truth on the page, to have it out there in plain sight, all the while it is only the truth I mean to tell, but always, and to tell it primarily to myself. I resisted publishing primary source material. How much easier to escape into secondary source, to turn the self into one. I neglected the diaries when, from the beginning, I knew the story of my analytic relationship needed to be published in the mode I had written it in, while I was experiencing it.

Finding my inoculation certificate and writing about Dr. Whittle the other day helped me understand once again how important fragmentary writing is to showing the writer’s work on the move, of discovering a piece of paper and remembering through its touch and absence of sound, how frantic and loud the past.

A half dozen pages or so of my fragments will appear soon in Olivia Dresher’s anthology, In Pieces: An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing, Impassio Press (2006). In these pages I write about my mother’s death, easier to hang out in the air, I suppose, than the dirt in the analytic relationship, which held her and all the rest.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Dr. Whittle

Dr. Henry Lyman Whittle of 1229 N. Calvert St. signed the certificate below. He was our pediatrician even after we moved up from East Baltimore. I never saw such a doctor. When Dot and I were sick he'd sit by our beds and draw us Disney characters - Mickey and Minnie riding bikes, Donald and Goofy on skates. He told Mother she didn't have to go to all the trouble of making a pot of chicken soup; a can of Campbell's was just as good, together with warm tea, toast and apple sauce. We could also have an Orangeade: half a glass orange juice, another half water and a ton of sugar stirred in. After he gifted us with his spectacular drawings (he could have worked for Disney), he'd sit at the kitchen table, sip a cup of tea with out parents and politely answer Daddy's questions about our brother becoming a doctor, all part of the $2.00 house call. It seemed every visit was the same, even when we had to charge it.

Just found

I wonder why, if I got the shot in 1942, did it take until 1944 to issue the certificate.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Neologisms of an Ornithologist in a Quiet Room

Curled like a bird in its mother's nest
the patient lies on a cot mumbling: Roomboom.
Quietroom. Booby-hatch my egrets'
regrets. Magpie, tell Wagatail:
strap me to swallowlegs.
Blue-throated doc butcherbirds my brains
again and again. Nutcracker nurse nightjars my back.
Sniper trails me. Yellow-bellied sapsucker
twists. Oh, my arms pintail my sage.
Oh, girl, whippoorwilling
girl. Swallow me. Let the wren.
Let the quail, swallow me.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

from the Homeless One: A Poem in Many Voices
originally published in Seattle by Kota press, 2000
Now, thanks to the German psychotherapist, Dr. Rudolf Suesske of Cologne, Homeless has a website and is available for theatre use and in academic environments. It has been particularly effective in abnormal psychology classes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

terza rima

I'm terza rima, and I talk and smile.
Where others lock their rhymes and thoughts away
I let mine out, and chatter all the while.

I'm rarely on my own - a wasted day
Is any day that's spent without a friend,
With nothing much to do or hear or say.

I like to be with people, and depend
On company for being entertained;
Which seems a good solution, in the end.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Me and the Kids, 1991

At Sea-Tac
& off to grad school ...
We all finished.
I took the longest,
16 years.


I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.
- Sylvia Plath, Morning Song

I can’t imagine
not being your mother.
Who else could
be, with your eyes like mine
and your curly heads of hair.
The three of you, parents now
in your own right,
mirroring your children
as they mirror you
and you me
with your smiles
and idiosyncracies,
community involvement.
Not that you don’t
your father too,
but I don’t think of other sides
of you (as much as I should).
I think of me
and you with me
the single parent years
of roaming the house
with absences
we tried
to fill.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Anna Swir's A Woman Writer Does Laundry

I have introduced a number of Anna Swir's poems to my classes. Today I used A Woman Writer Does Laundry from Talking to My Body to trigger and discuss writing. I had planned to use it in another class, but I'll stop here. I think there's a translation problem. Read it and ask yourself if you know or have known of any woman who would use the word relaxation after doing laundry, especially in the old style. Perhaps the male translators forgot the question mark after Relaxation? And why interrogation marks chosen instead of question marks ? Politics? On second thought, I'll use it in Friday's class too. Some good work and discussion resulted, and I'd like to know what others think, especially of the translation. Is the poet being sarcastic? Or is she genuinely relaxed after doing her laundry? But, of course, this is not the point of the poem, is it?

A Woman Writer Does Laundry

Enough typing.
Today I am doing laundry
in the old style.
I wash, I wash, rinse, wring
as did my grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

Doing laundry is healthful and useful
like a washed shirt. Writing
is suspect.
Like three interrogation marks
typed on a page.

-Anna Swir
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz & Leonard Nathan
Copper Canyon Press, 1996

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Iser, 1899-1964

Iser is pronounced 'eeser' and is Yiddish for Isidor

He died on August 15, 1964,
during that hot hot summer.
Mother sent his clothes down to Mississippi
for the Freedom Riders,
or anyone else who needed them.
I wish she would have saved just one item for me,
something with his smell still on it.
One of his shirts, maybe, with the stained collar
or the worn down brown Oxfords
that he always polished.
I would have loved the fedora he wore all winter
or a pair of white socks
that he filled with Dr. Scholl's foot powder.
She could have left me anything: a handkerchief,
his bathing suit, an undershirt,
or those thin black leather shoe laces
he always broke.
I would have liked the shaving brush I bought him.
or the striped tie he spilled soup on.
His false teeth and the cup he put them in,
the tall glass he sipped hot tea from.
His Russian-English dictionary.
Or his bifocals and damn racing forms.
She could have left me anything:
even the belt he hit my brother with.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Can A Diva Blog?

for Puah

To blog is to unmask the self -
(forgive the cliche).
So I ask you,
Dear former diva:
Can a diva blog?
You say:
The ever-present
and mysterious wall
between stage and audience
not to mention the orchestra,
never allows such naked presence.
When diva-ing, you say,
one always wears the persona,
the mask
Yet, the blogger
spills herself into the public domain.
Hiding is anathema.
Even omissions tell a story.
So how do you, a former diva,
taught to unknow the self,
reconcile the difference
between who you were then
and who you are now?
How does the poet in you,
the wanting-to-tell poet,
survive all those soprano deaths
on the stage?
-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Monday, June 13, 2005

Sylvia Plath's Morning Song

For the week of June 13, 2005, I will be using Morning Song from Ariel to trigger and discuss writing in all three Cancer Lifeline classes:

Morning Song
by Sylvia Plath

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

From Ariel by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row, 1966. Copyright © 1966 by Ted Hughes. All rights reserved. Academy of American Poets Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Dear Esther: Sexism & Poetry

I recently attended a poetry reading to support a friend and to read during open mike. I had attended this venue before though not for several months .... My main reason for staying home is that I have read as a featured writer for this particular venue but always left feeling “outside” the regular group of (white) men who all know and support each other, while tolerating women with the courage to read. Theirs is a style of writing that is clever, witty, and fast paced, with a kind of heartless verbal flippancy (I am being generous here) that does not speak to me. I have chosen to avoid it.

By organizing groups for women only, you have tapped into a deep vein of longing within me to be heard and appreciated BECAUSE I am a woman with experiences unique to women and where I don't have to adopt the verbal phyrotechnics and testoserone-laced punchiness of the male writer's clique. I remember reading a bio of Sylvia Plath and the behaviors that endeared her to her male colleagues, drinking, smoking, running in their circles. Still, she got away with writing about mothering, female sexuality and subjects men were not writing about.

The other night, one man walked around the room growling his poetry, singling out a pretty young woman for some choice lines. It bordered on offensive behavior, but the men loved it. Clever word play, allusions to jazz, mean streets, made-up characters etc. I hope you know what I mean. I would no sooner read a poem about birth or "womanly" things to these men than I would read naked. Women who grab their attention often speak in the same voice and I hear the same stridency. I hope you will post this on your blog. I would like to hear what others have to say on this subject.


Frustrated in Seattle

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sylvia Plath? I don't think so ...

Don't believe this quizz result for one minute. I love being alone, and Despair is not my middle name. Nor am I particularly ambitious. Who writes these ridiculous quizzes anyway?
You are Sylvia Plath
You are Sylvia Plath. People think you are sweet
and pretty, but inside you are raging pit of
ambition and despair. Darkness is your friend,
and you would do well to avoid being alone.

Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Actually when I write poems that are filled with darkness and despair, I feel quite liberated afterwards, for having gotten the junk out. Now, if people can't read my work because it is filled with the stuff of childhood that makes some poets cringe, so be it. I write primarily to survive, not to produce a great product. If I happen to create poems or prose that editors want to publish, lovely; gravy. Meanwhile, I'm still alive and can contribute to the well-being of others. Sylvia Plath has always pissed me off; I don't blame, and never have blamed, Ted Hughes for her suicide. End of soap box.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Me and Dot

Me & Dot in front of Sussman's Drugstore, next to the tailor shop at 3603 Park Heights Ave,where we lived with our parents and brother. (In back was the kitchen and upstairs were the living room, bathroom and bedrooms). Mother made us these outfits. She liked to dress us as twins. c 1948.

Across the street was Goldberg's with the fruit and vegetable bins out on the sidewalk. Inside were groceries and two pinball machines. Out on the stoop, neighbors whispered that people bet Numbers over there. (I think the police on the beat did).

Three or four doors down was Gottlieb's Cheese shop and down from there, the kosher butcher which wasn't supposed to be open on Sundays so he let everyone in the back door and the cops pretended not to see, probably because they were paid off.

Up the street was the six year old German boy we played with. He owned the one television on the block, at least the one we knew about. His mother let us come in to watch Howdy Doody, but our father didn't like those people because they were German and next door to them was a bubbe with purple numbers on her arm.

Can you find me?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Dear Pat

Stop worrying about my instructions.
They're not that difficult.
First, you crouch down. Squat.
Take a deep breath.
suck in, hold it, and slowly let go.
Dream of completion and sky.
Then, push.

Don't think about blacking out.
You won't. And if you did, so what.
Nine women will be with you.
The men will be in another room.
The women will sing.
They will hum. They will rub your back.
And chant.

Take a deep breath, Pat.
Suck in, hold it, and slowly let go.
Dream of completion and sky.
Then, push.

- Esther Altshul Helfgott

originally published in Midway Review

Thursday, June 09, 2005


This morning I wanted to set up the Orion Telescope CD for my husband, the one that accompanied the telescope I gave him for his 76th birthday last year, but every time I try to get him to use the computer, even if it doesn’t concern email or the internet, he turns his nose up, as if it comes from a different world; and, indeed, it does. I’ve thought I could tempt him with Science since he’s a retired pathologist and ever since he was a kid, went to the Bronx High School of Science, won the Westinghouse Science Talent Search Award and I don’t know how many others, he has been hypnotized by anything Science. But now his eyes go elsewhere, and I give up the notion of learning more about planetary systems with him, at least for today. I start to get up to do the dishes, but his words stop me:

This room has so much mercy in it

I sit back down. What do you mean?

The goodness of it...


the books, the words
that fall from the shelves

The quiet ... the softness ... and poetry
The whole aura of this place

With Bach playing in the background?

Yes and the bananas ...
There’s a certain tenderness in bananas

In the oatmeal
with the milk poured over it?

Yes, and the picture in front of the Freud books
it has a certain peacefulness to it

The one of you and Butchie?

Yes, on the porch,
in the sun.
We’re almost praying


Yes, praying ...
for things future … for things past ...

I've always thought of the kitchen table in our library/family/everything-in-it room as a crowded mess. Not until now and this conversation with my husband, tired and infirm, have I considered that there could be anything as grand or as simple as mercy here in our scrambled lives.

Esther Altshul Helfgott

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Write a 4-line Personal Ad: Include a Muse

This exercise is derived from Suzanne Redding's Personal Ad
in Claiming the Spirit Within: A Source Book of Women's Poetry, edited by Marilyn Sewell, New York: Beacon Press, p.144.

Personal Ad

skeleton woman seeking flesh
heart needed for drumming
have bones, will sing

-Suzanne Redding

Here's mine:

Thought Woman seeks pen,
paper needed for Mnemosyne
has dictionary, will browse
in garden, will plant.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Essay by Victor Muñoz

The Journal as Art

Driving Home From Mother's House

As I drive through the bower
of old oak trees
scanning 68th and 20th avenues northeast
I am scared by the moon.
It is so low in the sky this night
I think it will smack me in the face.
I try to turn the wipers on,
but strands of hair white as paste
cover the window like thick rain.
A woman's mouth stretches open
in a silent scream. Bent fingers claw
until they reach my chest.
Some nights I lose my way home.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott
originally published by Switched-on-Gutenberg

Monday, June 06, 2005

Don’t Turn Away: Poems About Breast Cancer

2003, paperback, 21 pages, $4.00
PWJ PublishingBox 238
Tehama, CA. 96090

Patricia Wellingham-Jones, author of a twenty-poem chap book, Don’t Turn Away: Poems About Breast Cancer, has written a spirited and courageous account of her breast cancer experience. From her first discovery of a lump in her left breast through the doctor’s diagnosis and a mastectomy, Wellingham-Jones shares the joy of living each day, while at the same time undergoing treatment for this disease that has claimed her grandmother and friends. The author gives me, a woman who does not have cancer (so far), strength to move forward in my own aging process.

Wellingham-Jones’ poems sing the note of the baby robin learning to fly. All the while she confronts the loss of one small/huge piece of herself, there is a newness of spirit and tone in her chest that spurs her to ask the nurse for her notebook and pen. Wellingham-Jones is a woman who remembers not to whine (not that there is anything wrong with whining) at the moment of swallowing her daily dose of tamoxifen.

In Estrogen Free, the poet confides that sweating is better than cancer, and on the day that she dons her first good new bra, she recalls in the poem Put A Sock In It, her pre-teen self padding her mother’s brassiere. Out of the corner of her eye, watching the twinkle in her father’s, she pulls on her older sister’s best sweater and smoothes my front into place enjoying her mother’s gasp and her sister’s shriek.

The poem that might have been most heart-breaking, Don’t Turn Away, about love-making after surgery, brings my hands to my heart in a love for this poet whose life record gives others courage to write on.

Read Don’t turn Away: Poems About Breast Cancer. You will want to keep it on your shelf and order a copy for your favorite library.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott
National Association of Poetry Therapy, Museletter, Fall 2005

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Daughters of Dementia

She’ll be coming for them soon
dolled up in her dangling earrings,
purple lips and orange hair.
She’ll be coming in her layers
of mix-matched dresses and pants,
garments to shield her sacraments.

But until then the daughters
will be sitting around the table
sculpting syllables into words,
sucking chocolate-covered raisins
and sipping plum brandy.

Oh yea, Mother.
She’ll be coming for those daughters
soused up, talking Jesus,
never again,
and Chinese Jews.

Grandma Dementia’s waiting for her girls
and don’t they know it
all wrapped up in meter and line.
They’re expecting to be found.
But not now, Sisters, not now.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott
originally published by Poetry Bay On-Line Magazine

If You Can't Remember, Invent

Monique Wittig:

There was a time
when you were not a slave,
remember that.

You walked alone,
full of laughter,
you bathed bare-bellied.

You say you have lost all recollection of it,

You say there are no words to describe this time,
you say it does not exist.

But remember.
Make an effort to remember.

Or failing that, invent.

-Monique Wittig

After Dorothy’s Death

I awaken from dreams
as if nocturnal photographs
shattered a plan
in the moment of death
Now my sister is gone
our father and mother years asleep,
our brother a dead poem,
I am in process myself
of deadening,
of un-becoming
one I hate to know
of re-becoming in-
to another,
always another -
I'd hope to know.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

March 2005 - 3 months after Dorothy died

At Sixteen

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend who wasn't supposed to go out with me. He was from Canada and went to TA, the Talmudical Academy, across the street from where I lived. Nine months of the year he lived at TA with the other out-of-town boys; then he went back home. We met because when Marilyn and I played tennis on TA's brick wall the boys would watch us from their upstairs windows and they would call down to us and we would talk up and down to each other and they liked us and we liked them and they'd say stay/don't leave/we're coming down, and Marilyn and I would watch to make sure the shammos and the rabbis weren't around/and the boys would come outside/and they'd take our rackets away from us and we'd throw the tennis balls at them/and they'd give us our rackets back. We would laugh and have fun. But the rabbis said don't look at a girl because you'll want to talk to her and, then, you'll want to hold her hand; and if you hold her hand, you'll want to kiss her. And, then, it'll be over for you. It's a sin. So my TA boy and I/we'd walk through Druid Hill Park holding hands/ knowing all the while/a good TA boy (who grew up to become a rabbi) was following us. My TA boy kissed me on a park bench once. And in the brush behind TA he taught me how to smoke. And kiss. And in spring / before summer took him away from us, we necked downstairs in my hallway. A lot.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott