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.