“Do Black Lives Really Matter….and to whom?

April 16, 2015

 

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Obviously, not to the APS defendants….

In a world of higher moral ground, all life should matter. But today, it seems there are some great disparities concerning life in general.

I live in Atlanta, the home of the Atlanta Public School Cheating Scandal. For decades, not just when these offenses were discovered, black children have been shuffled off from grade to grade. I know personally some of these teachers. Some come from my neighborhood. Some are better than others, and a few have dropped out of teaching. The battle to educate these children was an uphill battle on all fronts and life is short.

The most visible signs that Black lives matter seems only when Black people are shot and killed by white police. Then we see the outrage of people in the streets. But incidents of Black violence in these Black communities are constant and generally ignored, or something of that nature. I’ve read different stats about this, so you can pick your numbers: Between 93% to 99% of Black people are victims of their own race. But you don’t see demonstrations in these communities of Atlanta against this constant violence. You see the violence daily when you turn on your TV, and you are hit with a barrage of car jacking, home invasions, domestic violence, robberies, gang activities, murder, etc. Where are the preachers and so-called Black Leaders when this is going on? They are generally absent. You won’t get Al Sharpton down in the hood demonstrating against this violence. There isn’t enough national TV attention or money for these vultures to do so.

We have Black criminals who kill and when finally caught, are revealed to have 30 arrests and convictions. The jails and prisons are so filled that they either serve minor years for major offenses or they are sprung early enough to go out and do it all again. One grandmother has grandsons who are constantly (drug dealers) (from the age of 14) arrested, but for some reason, even with weapons charges, they are back out on the streets in days. One killed the young mother of his three children at her work place with three bullets in the head. He got ten years…..a cheap price for the value of a Black woman.

I have been in Atlanta for 46 years now. I have seen a couple of generations start school and leave. They leave illiterate. They don’t see that school has any value for their future. So they drop out at 12, 14, 16. Drug dealing and assorted crimes hold much more potential for their futures. They become predators at an early age.

And why? People can site many reasons, poverty, racism, disadvantages, neighborhoods, bad, underfunded schools, but it starts in the home, it starts with the influences in the community. It starts with the cultural standards. When a 16 year old can’t read a cereal box, look to what the parents can or can’t read. The breakdown of the Black family is generally cited. Perhaps this is the basis but you can’t force women to not have children and raise them by themselves. Raising a child or children with the ‘help’ of a father in the home is hard enough, but when a woman doesn’t have that support, it becomes overwhelming. I’ve seen this over and over in my years in Atlanta. Up close, too.

I put my only child in a local public school in the elementary years. That is before he was threatened with a knife in the neck by a group of 3rd graders. He had been seriously injured at 6 in kindergarten where his tooth was knocked out and his palate broken. He was picked up and flipped into the toilet by two boys, aged 9 and 11 in an after school program. That was when I was a good Quaker and thought I shouldn’t isolate my son from this ‘community’. I was stupid. These two boys were drug mules for the uncle and both were in foster care because of this. (This was revealed only before a judge later) My son could have easily died. We ended up homeschooling him for the rest of his school years and then he went into the Navy. He escaped the violence of Atlanta but the world is a violent place. He spent four years chasing Somali pirates in the Navy, but still thinks Atlanta is more dangerous than chasing armed Somali pirates.

The APS Cheating Scandal and the behavior of the defendants and their supporters are especially galling. I also believe this is the ‘seat’ of the corruption and a key aspect that leads to the violence within Black communities. Dozens were exposed, having parties to change the answers, breaking the heat seals on the tests to erase answers (and then sealing them up again with heated knife) to make it look like these children were progressing. There were a few teachers who did complain to Dr. Beverly Hall (superintendent) but she ignored them. Or they were forced out of their jobs. She was getting outrageous bonuses per year for the ‘results’ and it was a situation to ‘improve the progress’ for the teachers or lose their jobs. Hall died in March of breast cancer and never came to trial. She was the queen bee of the corruption of this horrendous scandal and she escaped. Green was the color that mattered to her and the trickle down.

However, the behavior of the defendants was shocking. The belabored and exhausted judge, (who many decades ago along with the dinosaurs) was a product of the Atlanta School System, asked them to apologize and admit their guilt for reduced sentences: surely they would realize the real victims were the thousands of black children who were harmed by the ‘push them through though they couldn’t read, write or spell’ teachers. But the vast majority of these so-called ‘educators’ refused to admit guilt. Though the evidence was there and the jurors convicted them of RICO and other criminal behavior, they refused to see that they were not the victims…..the children they robbed of an education were the real victims. This was lost on them. It didn’t seem to be on their radar. Nor on the radar of their lawyers or their supporters. The preachers and ‘community leaders’ only talked about these ‘righteous’ educators and that prison was no place for teachers. Huh.

And this sets up the behavior of criminality in the black communities. When youth are out of school, they have no focus for their future, except indulging in criminal behaviors. That is their future, until they end up in prison or are dead. And the havoc they wreck on their own communities and families pile up.

So, do Black Lives Really Matter? Not really to these Black ‘educators’. Even the Mayor bemoaned the ‘waste of talent’ of these educators in their convictions. Nothing from him about the waste of potential of these robbed children. It starts in the culture of denial and entrenches itself in all aspects.

Cheaters get a pass in the Atlanta Public School System. Not a crime.

They have destroyed the lives and futures of thousands of black children by their personal corruption and arrogance. It will be a long time before this scandal will be put behind Atlanta. Of course, their apologists are already mouthing the words: “We are moving beyond this now”.

The trust of the APS system is broken with the majority of those with morals and common sense. But the black children in these schools will never recoup what was robbed from them in the very beginning with the corruption of these ‘educators’ who don’t deserve that hallowed name.

I thank A. who started this conversation with me. She is a deeply compassionate intellectual, totally involved in our community who has a higher moral standard than many in Atlanta. I am grateful for her friendship.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

“Darwin’s Worms” from “Pitcher of Moon”

April 14, 2015

hardscrabble hearts

DARWIN’S WORMS

The soil has lost its excellence.

Worms hide in the

Deep sullen earth

I imagine curled up,

Embracing worm castings

And each other,

Desiccated former selves

Pale little ghosts

Awaiting the fertility of spring

The watering of a hard rain.

I squandered the bloom months,

Thinking paper and pen

Would bring its own blossoming

Scarcely seeing the vitality outside

Windows,

Allowing cabbage moths and beetles

To dominate

My nod to farming,

To self-sufficiency,

My tithe to the earth.

Ah, the soil is hardened

By the sins of the season.

Sharp winds make

Furrows

The cold buries down,

Deep, deep down

Torments, teases any life

That would show a feckless head.

Especially those hopeful worms

Now bundled in worm-sleep.

The words, verse,

I chose to cultivate

Over cabbage, collards

Failed to bloom.

Better I had plied the hoe

And bucket to that

Than a fevered pen

To paper.

It is now winter.

The fallow earth

Plays a waiting game

Knows I have failed

In pulp and soil

And mocks with a barrenness

I feel inside and out.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

“The Kimono”, Chapter 6 with a Strong Warning to Readers…..

April 9, 2015

 

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If you have qualms reading about public executions, or extreme violence, don’t read this chapter. 

Yabusame was a practice in Medieval Japan to train samurai in archery and horseback.  It was instituted by an early Shogun because he thought his samurai warriors were short in their ability with the long bow. A rider gallops towards three targets and from his horse, hits a target.  However, at certain times in history, Japanese criminals were the targets.  I don’t know how long this practice of public execution was used, but an arrow to the heart was certainly less brutal than boiling, burning, etc…all standard forms of execution.  Also used in Europe.

Yabusame is a cultivated and honored demonstration today in many parts of Japan.  Just wooden targets, no criminals.

The practice of shibari was first used on criminals.  Depending upon the rank of the criminal, the knots were either many or none at all. This novel is a work of fiction, time travel, (from the 21st century Japan to the 17th)  but I have tried to include many practices as I have researched them. Mari is tied with many knots as she is delivered by this magic kimono to Lord Mori, hence she must be a ‘dangerous criminal’ in his eyes.  He knows she isn’t, and it’s all a joke to him.

Lady Nyo

THE KIMONO

Chapter 6:

Mari woke the next morning to the smell of coffee.  Steven was bringing in a cup and smiled at her when she sat up, blinking her eyes and yawning.

“Sleepyhead is finally awake.  You must have been tired last night.  I tried to wake you earlier this morning, but you were sleeping like the dead.”  Steven smiled down at her, the coffee’s steam floating like a ghost above in front of her.

Mari yawned again, as Steven set the mug on the bedside table.  She was naked under the sheet and glancing over the side of the bed, saw the kimono rumpled on the floor.

Sipping her coffee she wondered if there was any evidence of the lovemaking by Lord Mori on her body.  Perhaps some bruising, or some mark that would be noticed by him.  She knew now that these weren’t dreams, they were something far beyond that.  They were magic but a peculiar kind of magic.

“I think the change in season is making me sleep soundly, Steven.”  Mari buried her head in her mug and swallowed her coffee, her black hair hiding her face.  Her excuse sounded a lie even to her ears.

Steven’s voice floated back to her from the bathroom.  “Mari, you still taking your pills?”

Mari grimaced and said, “You are referring to my birth control?  Yes, Steven, still taking them.”

“Good, just checking.  We don’t want a mistake to happen.”

Something of Lord Mori’s words came back to Mari as she drank her coffee. Perhaps he was right, perhaps she would feel more bonded to Steven with a child.

“Steven, what if I got pregnant?  Pills aren’t 100%.  What if I conceived a child?”  Mari could hear him turning the water on and off as he shaved.  There was silence from the bathroom and Mari watched what she could see of him from her bed.

His voice came back to her with the tapping of his razor against the sink as he finished his shaving.  “Mari, you know how I feel about this.  A child would not fit in my plans for my career.  I have to remain mobile.  The company demands that we fly where they want me. You knew this when we married, and nothing has changed since.”

No, nothing has changed since, thought Mari.  Our marriage limps along and we have no future except your work, Steven.

Steven’s voice continued to sound from the bathroom.  “If you’re bored, Mari, then for Christ’s sake, go take some courses at a local college. Find something to occupy yourself if being married isn’t enough.”

Mari sank back into the covers and thought.  She didn’t have the energy to fight him this morning, besides she was rarely aggressive.  Steven won at most arguments because he knew this.  She wouldn’t fight openly with him.  It wasn’t in her nature.

“Steven”, she called out quietly as he came in the room, adjusting his tie and cuffs. “It’s not that I’m bored, it’s that I want something more.”

Steven stood at the end of the bed and looked at her with a mixture of confusion and anger.

“Mari, what is this ‘more’?  You have money, right?  You can buy anything you want within reason.  You can spend the entire day shopping and sightseeing.  We have a maid every place we go so you have no housework. You knew the nature of my career when you married me, so what’s the beef now?  What has changed? Look, someday we can talk about children, but right now is not the time.  You knew this when we married.”

Steven came to the side of the bed and kissed her quickly on the forehead.  He was annoyed again, Mari could tell.  He left their little company-rented house, closing the front door quietly. To Mari it was the same old argument.  The sameness of sentiment between them was wearing on her and wearing her down.

That night she knew she wanted ‘more’ and the more was clearly defined.  She knew she could escape, even if it was risking all she had.  She was dying slowly and though it would be fantastical in the telling, she made a choice for this ‘more’.

The moon was again full, and streamed into their bedroom. Steven insisted on heavy drapes, but when he was asleep, Mari opened them and knelt on the bed, the moonlight illuminating her skin.  Her breasts felt full, like the moon, and her nipples were hardened like two cherry pits.  She went and retrieved the black kimono from the closet and draped it around her, tying it loosely with a small piece of silk rope she had picked up in a shop.  It was not the elegant obi sash but just a piece of faded red rope. For some reason, it seemed to be right for the kimono.

Though the room was dark the moonlight was strong enough to illuminate the black kimono.  Mari looked down at where it was folded across her breasts, the soft mounds of them disappearing into the darkness below, caressed by the heavy crepe of the kimono. She looked up at the moon, stark in the black, velvety night, and even the lights of Kyoto could not diminish its power.  She wondered if the kimono flew her past the moon, washing her in the white beams of its light as it carried her to Lord Mori.  She wondered what the process was and what happened to her body, her atoms, her molecules enfolded in the crepe of the gown.

She pulled it tight around her hips, already feeling the knots of the embroidery cut into her skin.  She secured it with the red rope around her waist.  Quickly braiding her hair behind her head, she lay down next to Stephen, pulling the quilt up over her shoulders and closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep.

*****

Mari lay on the stone floor, her arms tied behind her back by the silk rope formerly around her waist.  The kimono now open, her naked body hugging the cold wooden floor of Lord Mori’s chamber.  She looked up, startled, only able to raise her body just so far.  Lord Mori was standing at the open window, the wooden shutter thrown back against the wall.  His back was to her and she managed a throttled cry to get his attention.

“Lord Mori!”, she cried.   “Lord Mori!” She called out again.  He didn’t seem in too much a hurry to notice her on the floor.

“Do I hear a mouse calling my name?  What kami has allowed a small rodent such a gift?”

“Ah! It is Lady Mari, come to visit me so early in my room.  Does your husband know you are trussed up and lying on my floor, Lady Mari?”

“Lord Mori, please, for the love of God, untie me.  I can barely breathe on this cold floor.”

Lord Mori walked slowly, obviously in no hurry, to her side and stood looking down at Mari with a grin on his face.

“It seems the kimono has used some complex knots this time, Lady Mari.  I will have to study the pattern before I can release you. Ah! It seems that you are a dangerous criminal, for there are many knots in your binding!”

“Please, Lord Mori, I am cold here, my kimono is open and my body flat on the floor.”

“Yes, I see, Lady Mari, a good place and position for such a criminal.  Perhaps it is best that you remain where you are for a while?  Perhaps you are too dangerous to be allowed your freedom.”

He stood above her and she could hear him laughing softly.

“Please!”  I am cold and I have to pee!”

“What?  Again?  Very well then, I don’t want my floor to be soiled by your water.”

Lord Mori pulled Mari up to her feet, his eyes boldly looking at her body, now exposed by the open kimono, her nipples erect from the contact with the cold floor.  He then quickly untied the silk rope that kept her arms tightly bound behind her back.  Mari rubbed them, now free and closed her kimono, aware of his eyes upon her.

“Thank you, Lord Mori”, she said, looking up into his eyes.  “I was starting to shiver on your floor.”

“Well, come near the brazier, Lady Mari, and warm yourself.  The morning is cold yet, but it seems we are to have a fair day.  Already the clouds are dispersing and the morning birds are singing of the day.  Lord Tokugawa is still present in the castle and you have come on an auspicious day.  We are to have a ceremony in honor of my Lord this morning.  Perhaps you are familiar with the Yabusame ritual?”

Mari shook her head, now standing near the brazier, her hands out to its steady warmth.

“I thought not.  Well, we keep the gods entertained and all the other demi-gods, like our Lord Tokugawa happy with this ritual.  We ride our horses past targets and shoot our bows from horseback.  Today, we have a surplus of prisoners to substitute as targets. They are mostly common criminals, thieves, robbers and a few more dangerous.”

Lord Mori stood there looking at Mari, watching for her reaction.  It was not slow in coming.

Mari gasped, her eyes widening.  “Lord Mori, that is uncivilized! Surely you are not serious.”

“Oh yes, I am very serious.  How do you dispatch criminals in your world?”

Mari thought of her society’s methods of execution: hanging, the electric chair, and poisonous injections.  There was little to recommend in her world that was not as barbarous.

“Well, we don’t string them up and shoot arrows at them,” she said in disgust.

“But your methods are more humane?  Then tell me what they are and perhaps I should adopt them.”

Mari did and Lord Mori’s eyes became mere slits as he listened to her.

“I believe we have the many-fold advantage over your methods, girl.  We attempt to dispatch the criminals quickly with an arrow to the heart, we develop our skill with our bows and we exercise our horses at the same time.  Clearly, we have a superior method of execution than yours.  Of course, we have many more methods, but the morning grows late.”

Lord Mori removed the haunted kimono, folding it carefully and placed it on a wooden chest with reverence.  He then held out an opened kimono for Mari to wear.  Mari turned her back to him and felt the quilted kimono slip over her arms and settle on her back.  At the same time, Lord Mori pulled her firmly to him with one arm, the other freeing her long, black hair from beneath the kimono. Mari could feel his breath on the back of her head.  Lord Mori slipped a hand into her kimono, cupping a breast and squeezing her nipple.

Then, suddenly breaking off, he said, “I will send you to Lady Idu to be prepared.  You certainly cannot sit in the stands with the other women naked.”

Mari was sent to Lady Idu who received her with thinly disguised distaste.

Once again she supervised the bath and the dressing of Mari.  The cosmetics were applied and the false eyebrows were applied high on Mari’s forehead.  She was handed a small mirror and she barely suppressed a giggle at the surprise the mirror gave her. She did look fully Japanese with the makeup and robed in layers of thin silk kimonos.

Lady Nyo was again in attendance and together the two women sat and talked softly until

Lady Idu clapped her hands together and summoned all the women to her. These were the wives and daughters, and some of the older women of the castle. All would be expected to attend the ceremonies planned to honor the visit of Lord Tokugawa. With the swishing sound of silken clothes and a fluid gliding of many feet, the women walked two abreast behind the Lady Idu out of the castle to the park where they were to sit beside the raised platform for the Lords Tokugawa and Mori.

Kneeling on low, hard cushions with the other women, Mari followed Lady Ngo’s example of spreading her layers of different colored kimono so the hems radiated out in pleasing colors.  Lady Nyo tittered and whispered into Mari’s ear until a look from Lady Idu shut her up.

Mari saw Lord Tokugawa sitting on the platform, dressed in clothes of ceremony, plus caplets, swords shoved through his sashes and a rather silly headpiece. She looked for Lord Mori, but did not see him next to Lord Tokugawa.  There were other men around the lord, but not Lord Mori.

A large crowd gathered to view the parade of samurai and horses.  Mari thought it amazing so many people were assembled this early in the morning. But of course the presence of Lord Tokugawa would have drawn all the officials from around the countryside and their appearance before the lord would have been necessary to their future favor with the great Lord Tokugawa.

Suddenly a low toned horn blew in the distance, and Mari with the other women craned their necks to see where the sound originated.  Soon the horn’s plaintive notes sounded nearer. A long horn came into view, carried on the shoulders of two men with a third blowing fiercely, his cheeks puffed out like apples with each tone he made. Behind him, numerous drummers.  As they came up the long winding street in front of the platform, they were followed by many men walking two abreast, dressed in ceremonial robes. Then followed the mounted samurai.  At the head of these samurai was Lord Mori.  He was astride a white horse, this beast decorated with red ropes and tassels. Lord Mori himself was bulky with many robes and sashes, and a white shawl thrown over the left shoulder.  He carried a long bow in his left hand, and a quiver of long arrows was fixed to the back of his saddle on the left side.  Lord Mori led at least twenty mounted samurai, all similarly garbed in colorful robes and all with broad brimmed hats.  More men walked behind the mounted horses and then the prisoners.

Mari’s heart beat hard in her breast and her stomach clenched in knots.  He was serious! She had hoped he was just hounding her with a particular brand of cruelty, but he was serious.  Mari’s face must have betrayed her horror, for Lady Ngo looked at her with a quizzical expression and tapped her on the hand with her closed fan.

“Lady Mari, you look like you have seen a ghost!  What is wrong, why are you so distressed? Are you ill?”

Mari could barely focus on the words of Lady Nyo.

“Those are prisoners, those men in the parade?”

“Oh yes, Lady Mari, those are prisoners.  They are greatly honored to be executed before the Lord Tokugawa.  I have heard they are very dangerous men.  Some were taken in battle, but some have done great offenses, and they deserve to be killed.  May the Gods show their families mercy.”

Mari stared at her, disbelief overcoming her reason like a huge wave. Was she to be an observer of the suffering of these men?  And at the hands of Lord Mori?  What beasts and monsters were these people around her?

The horn blew again and the drummers started their ponderous rhythm.  An official on the platform was reading a proclamation.  Mari could only understand a few of his words, but it seemed to be a greeting from the Lord Tokugawa to the people in attendance.  She looked for Lord Mori, and saw him still mounted on his horse, with men in attendance surrounding him.

Three prisoners were led by two men each to an erect stake.  Mari saw them tied with their hands behind the stake, their bodies further bound with rope. They were also bound by the throat.  They were about 70 feet apart, enough to draw an arrow, fit it to the bow and swiftly release it at a gallop.  Mari tried to read their expressions, the ones she could see, but the men kept their eyes to the ground.

The mounted Samurai had moved down the road past Lord Tokugawa, along with their attendants. Again the horn sounded, and the first rider thundered into view.  Standing up in his stirrups, he fitted his arrow to the bow and holding it high he came at a fast gallop,

letting the arrow fly at the human target.  Mari could not see the man clearly, just his form tied to the stake, but she heard the crowd around her break into shouts of approval as the man was hit directly in the chest.  The rider continued at a gallop and again raising his bow, he shot his arrow at the man, but missed killing him, hitting him instead in the left arm as he passed.  Sighs of disappointment floated around her. Mari’s placement was almost directly across from this prisoner.  She saw him yell with shock and pain and twist his body to the side, straining his ropes.  She missed watching the next prisoner, but heard the crowd around her yell with approval, so the next one must have been cleanly dispatched.

A short wait while the dead and living were removed and replaced with fresh men and

Another rider came into view.

“Lady Nyo, what happens to the men that aren’t killed as targets, but just maimed?”

“Oh! They are beheaded, killed quickly.”

Mari felt sick.  She could barely breathe and squeezed her silken robes in her hands until she thought she would tear the cloth. Taking deep breaths, she finally calmed herself and

shook her head to clear it.  More prisoners were tied to the stakes.

New riders galloped by, letting their arrows fly at the prisoners.  Mari listened to the horse’s hooves and kept her eyes in her lap, her thoughts frozen by the horror before her. She didn’t want to see more.

Lady Nyo tried to comfort her, but Mari could only clutch at her hand.

“Lady Mari, your hand is so cold and it is such a pleasant day.  Perhaps you have fallen sick this morning?”  Lady Nyo looked carefully into the eyes of Mari and chuckled.  Then she fell quiet, patting Mari’s hand softly.

Mari squeezed shut her eyes, no longer wanting to watch the proceedings. She concentrated on her breathing, attempting to calm herself and mentally disappear from what was around her. She wondered why she was so distraught over what she had seen when this was a public execution and in her country these things happened but were discreetly done behind prison walls.  Only a few generations before there were public hangings, and that form of execution was much worse than a clean shot through the heart to Mari’s thinking.  It was only because she was on the field of execution and a human witness to the killing, she thought that this was horrific. Then again, this was execution turned into sport, and thirty human lives were the beating hearts of that entertainment.  She tried to remove herself by stopping all conscious thought and just breathe.  She listened to the sounds of her inhaling and exhaling and tried to blot out the sounds around her.

It worked until she heard Lady Nyo’s words in an excited whisper.

“Look, Lady Mari!  Lord Mori is riding now!”

Her words made Mari’s eyes fly open and out of curiosity, look to where the rider came. Standing high in the stirrups, she saw him smoothly draw back the bow and loosen the arrow at the prisoner.  A great cry erupted from those around her as Lord Mori swept down the road at a relaxed gallop. Three times he pulled back his longbow, holding it high above the horse. Three times Mari heard the crowd sound its approval.  Three times a man sagged against his bonds, pierced with Lord Mori’s well-placed arrow.

These were clean shots and obviously showed the expertise of Lord Mori’s abilities with the bow.  Mari wondered how many men Lord Mori had killed in just such rituals, besides the ‘legitimate’ slaughter on a battlefield.  Of course, these were different times in the history of the world, and she wished she had more knowledge of this country before she had appeared in his century. Perhaps some understanding would have prepared

her better for what she had just witnessed, though she didn’t think any amount of reading could soften the horror of a public execution.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

“Seasons Change”

April 8, 2015

Autumn colors from my bathroom window today

Why I write poetry? It’s a dedication to the imagination and also to the heart. It’s not a medium obsessed over by the general population with their smart phones glued to their ears, nor to those who watch endless tv and movies. Of all the arts, it’s probably the most ignored, passed over.

Yet….for some, they find the same phenomena I do.  It’s a passage deeper into introspection, weighing the difference between crass sentimentality and something ….well, less mawkish.  Of course sentimentality can’t be totally dismissed, because it is a factor of life and the human heart.  But….there has to be more to our cobbling of words, our poetry than that. At the same time a poet has to be careful of the other end of the scale: unfeeling rationality, hard-heartedness. It’s a balancing act.

It’s a life-time pursuit with many stops and starts.  In the end, we hope to sharpen our vision into those things around us, inside and out. We hope to be able, in our poetry, to connect in a universal way.

Lady Nyo

SEASONS CHANGE

I took a walk this morning.

The seasons have changed here

though where you are they don’t.

The dried, brittle grass beneath my feet

made a consistent crackle,

echoed by the gossip of sparrows above.

The leaves are stripped from the birches and maples.

They fell like rain on a fallow ground one day

and I didn’t see them go.

I think of your rounded arms when I see the shedding birches,

the smooth bark like white skin

with a faint pulse of the river beneath.

Do you remember that river,

when it scared you to stand close to the bank?

You thought the earth would slip inward,

take you on a wild ride downstream

where I couldn’t retrieve you,

and I saw for an instant your raised arms

imploring me silently to save you—

though it never happened

and you never slipped down the bank

and I never could save you.

But imagination plays with your mind when it’s all that is left.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015 from “A Seasoning of Lust”, Lulu.com, 2009

Kobayashi Issa, (1763-1827) A Haiku Poet with an Enormous Heart.

April 5, 2015

Savannah Birds

This will be the cover painting of the soon to be published (in July)

“Song of the Nightingale”.  Watercolor by the author.

I have had “The Essential haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa” for a few years and have only really gotten to Basho. But recently reading Issa, (Issa means Cup-of-Tea), the world of haiku opened up in ways I didn’t expect. I have spent my Easter weekend delighting in Issa’s poetry, and it has begun to restore my battered humanity.

What is remarkable about Issa’s poetry is the compassion for the lowest of creatures (insects, etc.), the deep interest in the commonalities of life, compassion for humanity, and the celebration of the joyful celebration of the ordinary.

Haiku can be a perplexing poetry form. Recently I have read a lot of bad haiku. I’ve written about this before. (I’ve also written bad haiku myself) It seems people throw together observations and call it haiku. It generally isn’t. There are ‘rules’ and structures for this poetry form, and it seems that many people who attempt haiku have no regard for even reading or researching some of these fundamentals. If they started with a reading and research of renga, they would get some background of haiku, or hokku, which is what haiku was first called.

Renga, or linked verse, is marvelous to read. One poet starts with a three line poem, another picks it up, and so on. They can go on for a hundred linked poems or more. Usually accompanied by sake.

What was remarkable of renga, and later of haiku…is the shifts and dissolves that remind one of early surrealist films. And there are some modernist poets, like Ezra Pound’s XXX Cantos, or even better, Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” that comes near to the renga spirit, this shifting and resolve.

But the Buddhist tradition embraced this shifting and resolve. Renga, and then haiku, have a way of embracing this life, this transitory nature of all things.

I came across a part of a 14th century treatise on poetry: “Contemplate deeply the vicissitudes of the life of man and body, always keep in your heart the image of mujo (ephemerality) and when you go to the mountains or the sea, feel the pathos (aware) of the karma of sentient beings and non-sentient things. Give feeling to those things without a heart (mushintai no mono) and through your own heart express their beauty (yugen) in a delicate form.”(from “Basho and the Way of Poetry in the Japanese Religious Tradition”)

Again, haiku isn’t as simple as it seems. But it’s direct, forceful and of a keenness that satisfies.

People complain of the ‘oddness’ of haiku. Perhaps it is this ‘shifts and resolve’ embedded in the form. To me, Issa has less of this than Basho or Buson. There is a directness and compassion of Issa that deeply involves the heart and eyes.

My words will not convince anyone. But perhaps examples of Issa will.

Lady Nyo

Haiku of Issa: from The Essential Haiku, edited by Robert Hass

 

New Year’s Day—

Everything is in blossom!

I feel about average.

The snow is melting

And the village is flooded

With children.

Don’t worry, spiders,

I keep house

Casually.

Goes out,

Comes back—

The loves of a cat.

Children imitating cormorants

Are even more wonderful

Than cormorants.

O flea! Whatever you do,

Don’t jump.

That way is the river.

In this world

We walk on the roof of hell,

Gazing at flowers.

Don’t kill that fly!

Look—it’s wringing its hands

Wringing its feet.

I’m going out,

Flies, so relax,

Make love.

(approaching his village)

Don’t know about the people,

But all the scarecrows

Are crooked.

A huge frog and I,

Staring at each other,

Neither of us moves.

All the time I pray to Buddha

I keep on

Killing mosquitoes.

What good luck!

Bitten by

This year’s mosquitoes too.

The bedbug

Scatter as I clean,

Parents and children.

And my personal favorite…

Zealous flea,

You’re about to be a Buddha

By my hand.

A few of my own, struggling with the form.

Dogwoods are blooming.

The crucifixion appears

White moths in the night.

Tibetan earthworms

Bring a halt to all labor.

Here? Fat koi eat well.

Radishes are Up!

From such tiny seeds they grow

My stomach rumbles.

The morning glories

Twisting up the iron fence

paint random colors.

Sorrow floats like air

Strong winds blow throughout the night

Plague of death descends.

Pale lavender sky

Balances the moon and sun

The scale shifts to night.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2013-2015

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Easter!!! and a poem, “Bhava Yoga”

April 2, 2015

spring garden 4

Spring Garden

It is spring in the south, and the storms are brewing to the west of Atlanta.  This is the usual course of events, and over the past years the thunderstorms have brought violent weather, tornadoes, hail and flooding rains.  It is Easter in a matter of days, and the weather promises to behave, bringing a gorgeous Easter Sunday morning.  I hope so, but the skies right now look menacing enough, and we will have to take the good with the bad.

The picture above is of my front garden last night before dark.  Last fall I planted 300 bulbs, of daffodils, tulips and crocus.  About 50 tulips have come up, but because they are more a cold weather bulb, they will have to be replanted next fall.  Or….I can get in there and dig them up and put them in cold storage.  Either way, they make a lovely show in a small part of the front garden.

Happy Easter!

Lady Nyo

Bhava Yoga

 

Morning’s roseate sky

Has been blasted away,

Branches now whirligigs

Swirl with a fierce southern wind

As windows rattle in frames.

A tattered umbrella

Shades from a relentless sun.

I listen to Bhava Yoga

The vibration of Love,

Where imagination meets

Memory in the dark.

Yet surrounding these soothing tones

The world outside this music

Conspires to disrupt, sweep away

Any centered down thought, reflection.

The fierce wind demands my attention.

Still, the pulse of Bhava Yoga

Draws me within,

Feeds imagination with memory,

Calls forth something as enduring as the fury outside,

And I feel the pulse of the infinite.

Our lives are lived in the spheres of

Inside/outside

And we are like birds,

Clinging with dulled claws to

The swaying branches of life.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

from:  “Pitcher of Moon”, 2014,  available at Createspace, Amazon.com

Daffodils 2015 spring

Tulips in Front Garden Spring 2015

Spring 2015 and a Plum Blossom Snowstorm…..

March 28, 2015

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

Spring has sprung, but it is tricky.  Two weeks ago we brought home 5 baby chicks….two days old, and they are all doing well in a box in a bedroom, sounding like little aliens with their strange chirpings during the middle of the night.  I worry that they aren’t getting any sun but there is a light that is on 24/7 over their crib but it isn’t sunlight.  It’s too cold for them to be outside yet, and I did gather them together last week when it was warm and took them outside.  Shepherding baby chicks is a bit like herding cats and I fast learned  they had plans of their own.  So back to their box they went and tomorrow I will put them in a ferret cage (sans ferrets) and at least they will have three stories to run and play.

Today we went and bought 6 fruit trees for a small orchard in the middle back of the property.  Just about the only place where grass was lush and growing, but it was the best place for the trees:  2 Arkansaw Black apples, over 8 feet now, two Fuji and two plum trees.  I miss my plums the most.  A few years ago the 15 year old plums tapped into the sewer system and cost us a bunch of coin.  They had to be cut down.  They were the first of the fruit trees to show blossoms and the first to lose those blossoms.  But they are now back and we have great hopes they will give us those luscious purple fruits.

Lady Nyo

 Plum Blossom Snow

The present snowstorm of

White plum blossoms

Blinds me to sorrow.

They cascade over cheeks

Like perfumed, satin tears,

Too warm with the promise of life

To chill flesh.

 

Rude Spring

 Sharp brittle wind

Sails like clipper glass

Cuts the skin razor thin,

And flays off winter.

This spring can’t wait.

It lies,

Promises comforting warmth

Yet delivers a numbing cold-

Too much in love with winter still.

I hear the laughter in the pines.

They moan  an evil chuckle.

No matter.

This argument will be over

Once the earth

Pirouettes on point.

 –

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

Random Haiku…..

March 25, 2015

Marsh Grass 3

A reader just raised the issue of why these haiku below seemed to be rather bitten with surrealism.  That was a great question!  There is a commonality between surrealists and haiku in many ways:  both (or should or do) delve beneath the surface of a thought, sentiment, etc…trying to get to a deeper level of explanation or reveal.  I believe it’s this concept of ‘yugen’ so prevalent in Japanese literature, especially poetry:  of course it depends upon context, but yugen means to me a distance, a deeper concept, something not proclaimed but hidden.  So many ways to go about this.  Pulling out something different and new and startling perhaps in your haiku.  I also think it is an ‘off-handed’ way of expression, and that can become difficult, but I believe it makes for better haiku.

But I think it also depends upon the measure and duration of study of Japanese culture and literature.  I’ve only done some serious study of this for the past 8 years, and this doesn’t do much more than scratch the surface.  I believe to really get comfortable with these forms, you have to study and immerse yourself for a lifetime.  And that is a great pleasure! 

But anyone who reads Basho/Issa/Buson will immediately see each poet’s ‘place’ in their work.  And the Buddhist influence is strong in their writings:  Nature is transitory, contingent and of course, suffers.  (we are part of that nature).The pure mysteriousness of Life!

I have (as of a week ago) finished “Song of the Nightingale” and Nick Nicholson will be formatting this book in late June for publication.  This question of surrealism comes up again and again in this new book in the form of ‘moon babies’, Tengus, etc.  There is much of surrealism  and magic in this book.  Sometimes we forget the deep influences in what we write and it takes a good question like this reader (in the comments of these poems) to draw you back to where you have been.

Lady Nyo….and thank you, Staviolatte!

One of my favorite poems of Issa  that seems to  be a bit surreal:

“The snow is melting

and the village is flooded

with children.”

—Issa

I’ve written very few haiku.  I find the form harder than tanka, though shorter. Of course there are ‘rules’ concerning haiku, as there are with tanka, but modern poets tend to ignore or dismiss these rules.  They are not short free verse, but I think in the beginning without study, most of us fall to this. 

There are haiku writers who have set standards centuries ago:  Basho, Issa, Bucan, to note some masters of the form.  My dear friend, Steve Isaak in California, does a good job on this form.

This spring I intend to do some study of these masters, and hopefully get my head around this poetry form correctly.

Lady Nyo

Sultry air disturbs

The sleep of husband and wife.

They pant without lust.

Dogwoods are blooming
The crucifixion appears
White moths in the night.

(Dogwoods are a Southern tree here in the South.  White blooms
having the form of the Christian Cross, with nail heads.  They bloom in the spring  right before Easter. They are a symbol of Christianity in Nature.)

Under the dark moon

I awaited your return

Only shadows came.

The moon, a ghostly

Sliver, sails on a jet sea

Wild dogs howl beneath.

A pale half moon drifts

Across a wintry sky.

Trees become monsters.

Fall’s crispness compels

Apples to tumble from trees.

Worms make the journey.

Ice blocks the rivers.

Look! A duck is frozen there.

Nature, no mercy.

Skeleton-trees wave

While the wind whips dead leaves

Wood smoke scents the air.

The moon, a ghostly

Sliver, sails on a jet sea

While dogs howl beneath.

A swirl of blossoms

Caught in the water’s current

Begins the season.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

“La Vendetta”, a short story for the first day of Spring! With a Warning.

March 20, 2015
Spring Garden, 2010

Spring Garden, 2015

“La Vendetta” is a bit racy, so you are warned.  A version of this work can be found in “A Seasoning of Lust”, Lulu.com, 2009.

LA VENDETTA

Maria de Guiseppa Agnesi Faini sprawled on a brocade-covered chair. It was summer and Venice was always hot, humid and moldy.  She crinkled her nose at the smell of the water and the slime rotting the stucco sides of the villa.

Her apartments were on the third floor but there was still very little air this sultry morning coming through the long, opened windows.   She could hear the music of gondola men, their songs always the same of beautiful women and brokenhearted lovers as they plied their way down the Grand Canal. The men’s lilting voices called out the names of local courtesans, much as the sellers of fish or fruit sang of their ware’s desirability.

“ A lira for a squeeze of Maria’s breast, with a couple of oranges to sweeten the deal!”

Signora Faini squirmed in her chair.  The brocade was hot to her skin, though she wore a muslin morning dress. Sweat dripped down the viola curve of her back to the crease of her buttocks and she scratched where it tickled.  L’Inglese had introduced muslin and it was all the rage in Venice this season.  She thought them a bloodless race, a country of bad teeth.

 “Where is he?”  She tapped her foot impatiently. “He better bring some good gossip for his tardiness.”

 

Signor Alessandro Balsamo was her friend.  Actually he was her ciscebo, tolerated by her husband because Signor Balsamo was, unfortunately, a castrato.  He had been cut when a young boy (“Viva il coltello!” the audience yelled when he appeared on the stage) and sang until his voice disappeared.  Other patrons supported him, but alas, Signor Balsamo was growing old and unattractive.  His nose was arching to meet his chin, his belly could no longer be contained in his waistcoat and even his corset was now uncomfortably tight.

Signora Faini sighed.  This heat would not let up, and there were at least two more months to bear of this weather.  She promenaded upon the stones of San Marco plaza, hoping for a breeze from the sea, until she had worn out 20 pairs of slippers in one month, bowing to the left and right, and stopping to gossip with her few friends. Now her feet hurt.

She thought of her new lover and her nipples hardened. Her hand strayed to her bosom and she squeezed a breast, rubbing shapely thighs together.  A soft groan escaped her throat.

He was an officer, a dashing lieutenant, now on maneuvers somewhere across the Alps.  She remembered the first time, when in Signora Mortanti’s garden, with her skirts flipped over his kneeling form before her.  She caught the eye of her husband and had the presence of mind to flutter her fan at him.  He barely acknowledged his wife so intent was he in arguing the latest political scandal.  Leaning upon a tree, she inched around it, better to obscure her lover’s behavior.   He obediently followed on his knees.  There would have been two scandals discussed that soft, spring night, and one ending in bloodshed.

Ah, she missed her Alfredo!  He was bold, but perhaps all Romans were so.  There was a difference between the men of Venice and Roma.  In Venice they talked of commerce, but the men of Roma talked of love, and made exciting scandal.

Still, Venice was a wicked city.  There were plenty of places to indulge in passionate embraces.  Her husband’s gondola was a cozy one, with the canopy making them a snug nest inside if a bit too warm.  A few extra lira to the boatman, and she was assured her secrets.  Of course, they could never be completely unclothed, but the necessary parts ‘d’amour’ were available.  They tried numerous positions, but the best for her was to bounce upon his lap.  Then the boatman did not have to compensate for the side to side thrusts of her lover.  Her hands strayed downward to that secret place, not so secret anymore to Alfredo.  *Ah, Alfredo! I miss your long sword. Not the insignificant dagger of her husband.  No, a real sword, one that pierced to her empty womb and she could play with like a regular puttana.  The weight of his balls in her hands were like the golden——

“Signora?”  A maid knocked upon her door, interrupting her thoughts.

“Signor Balsamo has arrived.”

“Well, let him in.”  Signora Faini’s tone expressed her annoyance.  Such a stupid maid.

Signor Balsamo entered and made his best leg.  His wig was freshly curled and his waistcoat beautifully embroidered.  He was a small, stout man, but still he had a certain charm.

Signora barely nodded her head.  She continued to fan herself with her limp lace handkerchief.

“So, Allesandro, my love, you dare to show up late….Again?”

“Forgive me, my dearest Maria, there was a large puppet show at San Marco.  I thought of you and your love of puppets and perhaps we could walk down and see.  They are quite remarkable, almost life sized.  The staging is well done.”

Ah, thought Signora Faini.  Puppets!  I am in the mood for such entertainment. I won’t have to wear out another pair of slippers.  I must remind myself to either hide the shoemaker’s bill or start lying to my husband.  He will start yelling again, and there goes my fun.

 

The signora rang a small porcelain hand bell and called for her personal maid.

Signor Balsamo did not remove himself, for he had been present many times when she was at her toilette.  He had little interest in a woman’s charms, with one exception.  He sat, leaning his chin on his cane and watched her being undressed by her maid.

She shed the morning dress, a confection of muslin and ruffles.  Then, stepping out of two petticoats, she stood in a chemise.  Already corseted, the maid went behind the Signora and tightened her laces.  Sitting, she lifted a slim leg to her maid, not caring that she exposed her fregna to the eyes of her ciscebo.  He blinked, knowing she did it to humiliate him.  It was an old and cruel game she played.

Today, she was even crueler. Lifting both breasts from her corset, she examined the nipples.  She knew her ciscebo had an attachment to women’s breasts, probably something from his childhood.  She twisted each nipple, making the small dark pink flesh stand at attention. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at the Signor.  She knew he wanted a suck, something she rarely rewarded him. She could see the hunger, his mouth open like a fish and his eyes droopy with sadness.   She found a perverse thrill in hurting him. He was such a child, so malleable, so predictable.

Rolling up each silk stocking, the maid tied garters around the Signora’s knees.  Then she hurried to a large armoire.  Opening it, she awaited her mistress’ decision.

“No, not anything heavy this morning, it grows too hot and already the morning breezes are gone.  Perhaps a silk.  What do you think, Alessandro?  Perhaps this watered blue with the ecru lace?  Does it look cool to you?”

Signor Balsamo had been present for this game many times.  If he said ‘yes’ to her selection, she would discard it.  If he said “no” she would consider it, but there would be layers of clothes spread on the floor and sofas before Signora made up her mind.  She was woman!  What could one expect?

Sitting at the vanity while completing her toilette, she suffered her maid to pin her hair high on her head. Dark, chestnut curls tumbled to her shoulders.  At least they would not create heat on the back of her neck.  She was a small woman, like a china doll, all curves and bright eyes and rose tinted lips.  She rose and turned to her ciscebo.

“Ah, Signora!  A vision of radiant beauty, a cornucopia of delights, a —-“

“Enough, Allessandro.” She turned to the window overlooking the canal, dismissing him unkindly.

“You weary me with the same chants.  Let us leave, though the hour not fashionable.  Come Alessandro, you have promised me a puppet show and perhaps a glace?”

“Ah, something sweet would be very nice!  The ice from the Alps is packed in straw.  Last time I got a bit of chaff in my ice, this time I will run the vendor through with my sword.”

Signora Faini laughed, her tones like a tinkling bell.  “Ah, Alessandro, you are such a man, so bold and advancing.  Too bad about the missing parts.”

With that she grabbed up her parasol and took his arm, not caring for the pain in his eyes.  He was to pay, and pay dearly for making her wait this morning.

The sunlight was bright but there were huge, puffy clouds floating across the deep blue sky. The water reflected the light like a million, million diamonds thrown on the surface by a very rich Prince.  Carefully being handed into her gondola by Signor Balsamo, the Signora settled her dress around her, and raised her parasol.  Signor Balsamo sat next to her, rocking the gondola as he stepped in. They floated down the Grand Canal, Signor Balsamo watching her nod at a few other gondolas, some friends, more enemies.  She made many of them as he found out over the two years of their acquaintance. Regardless, a public courtesy would have to be maintained.  “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” was Signor Faini’s personal motto.  It had much meaning lately.  He might be a cornuto, but he was a wise cornuto, thought Signor Balsamo.

They crossed under the Ponte dei Sospiri and past the Paigioni, docked and entered San Marco palazzo. A million pigeons took flight, to circle the plaza and return in great circling spirals to the same stones.  The iridescence of their feathers were like tiny winged prisms, caught by the sun.  The Palazzo Ducale occupied one side of San Marco with its white confection of marble, Moorish tracery.   Signora Faini walked beside Signor Balsamo, her arm entwined in his.  He swung his cane with the forward movement of his right leg, and swished it to make the vendors and beggars scatter from their path.

The palazzo was crowded today, even as the bells sounded and the cannon fired, declaring the hour.  The sounds of musicians and the bray of vendors added to the festivities.  There, before them, rose a stage, with a good crowd fronting the entertainment in already in progress.

It was a large boxed stage, with a black curtain stretching across the wooden frame where the puppets performed.  A roof peaked up behind it.  Signora Faini recognized “Punchinello” a hunchbacked character with a beak of a nose, and clapped her hands in glee.

Signor Balsamo laughed, and infected with her happiness, said, “Ah! Punchinello!  Coglinni!  Does he never change, my dear? He is universal for bravery, for laziness, for pride and bawdiness!  He embodies the best and worst in mankind.  Bravo, my friend!”

Signor Balsamo greeted this huge headed, almost human sized puppet with the enthusiasm one would greet an old friend.  Perhaps he was related.

“Ah! He is ugly, and that never changes!”  A true observation that made the crowd laugh.

The ‘teste di fantasia” in Venice were known in Europe to be the finest.  But this was not a Venetian production, but the work of a Russian, who was known as a Count, or perhaps he was a Prince.  Who could tell?  The mystery surrounding M. Swartzskya was thick as the fog over the canals in winter.

They watched the puppets and marveled how realistic they were.  Dressed in sumptuous fashion, even if a few years out of date, their puppetry revealed only by the wires that went from their moving parts to high above where the puppeteer was controlling them, they were almost human to observers.

A dance, an awkward embrace, the tangling of wires, the sound of puppet feet hitting the stage and on occasion, a groan.  Ah, this Count Swartzskya was a genius! The Doge himself would be entertained, for Signora Faini and Signor Balsamo had never seen such a display of pure delight!  All the gold in Venice couldn’t replace the sheer magic of Swartzskya!

The sound of a chamber orchestra floated over the palazzo and Signor Balsamo sighed.

“Ah, Maria, they are playing il Prete Rosso’s music.  Ah! I never heard him, but my sainted father did. What a wonderful violinist the Red Priest, he said.  Quick as lightening on the strings, and the heartstrings too, my little dove!  So many Signoras opened their corsets and gave him their hearts and love and other small pieces of their devotion.  He was quite the scandal in his youth.   And a priest!”

“But you know, Alessandro, every priest has a mistress.  How could all these puttani exist without the Church?”  Signora sniffed in contempt, twirling her silk parasol above her head.

The sounds of Vivaldi’s music floated through the air, adding to the spectacle before them.  Suddenly, as if the puppets could hear the music, as if they had become animated with human sentiment and had blood coursing through papier mache veins, they bowed and did a stately minuet.  How gracefully did the unseen puppeteer lift the wires binding limbs and life.  How perfectly did wooden, painted puppets, faces frozen in carved sentiment, with eyes strangely human, flashing with passion, express such intelligence!

Signora Faini was overcome, and a few silly tears gathered in her eyes.  Ah, Madonna! The combination of the music and the display before her was hitting a hole in her soul, pulling at her own heartstrings.   Signor Balsamo patted her hand, a strange smile upon his own countenance.

“Would you like to meet Count Swartzskya?  I have had the privilege, Maria, and you will not forget the man easily.  This I assure you.”

Before she could agree, a loud rumble of thunder drowned out the music and all eyes looked upward.  With curses from the men and screams and laughter from the women, it started to pour down on all standing in the palazzo. The rain was relentless and they could hear “Stronzo di merda!”, “Per carita!” and “Che cazzo!” from the musicians as they scrambled to protect their delicate instruments.

Signora Faini’s parasol, meant for the sun was soaked.   Signor Balsamo drew his arm around her small waist and guided them behind the stage.  There was a door and a man, who looked Signor Balsamo in the eye and bowed them in.

Maria looked around at the structure.  It was big, almost as big as the reception room in her villa, but the ceiling not as high. There were crates on the sides of the painted, wooden walls, chairs and a large table cluttered with puppetry crossbars, carpentry tools, clothes, all directly behind the stage.  As she shook her parasol, the water spun off in clear rainbows of light, landing on the carpeted floor.

Suddenly, from the back of the stage, a huge man appeared as if out of the smoke of a large fire.  Maria’s eyes widened as she watched the man come silently towards them. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart pounded.

“Ah, Count Swartzskya!  Thank you for receiving us. The sudden rain….”

Signor Balsamo’s words faded away and he shrugged his shoulders, his eyes locked on the man who stood looming over them.

“May I present Signora Faini, Sir?  Signora is the lady I was mentioning before.  She has a passion for puppets, Count.”

The Count took the hand of Signora Faini and kissed it, she unmoving, her eyes fixed on his face.

Count Swartzskya stood before Maria and she thought, I wouldn’t come up to his chest! What a remarkably formed creature.

Maria had reason for amazement.  The Count, perhaps in his late fifties, was

over six feet tall.  He had black, curly hair, shot with grey and worn in a pigtail at his neck.  That he wore no wig would have been remarkable enough in Venice.  That he was so large a man was even more striking. He would stand head and shoulders over any crowd in Venice.  His hands were huge and long fingered, his thighs were bulging with muscles.  Obviously he had either been a horseman or a soldier.  Everything about him reeked of physical power.  Signora Faini seemed quite overwhelmed by his presence, as her eyes impolitely fanned over his face.

Overhead she could hear the crackle of lightening and the boom of horrendous thunder.  She shivered and jumped each time the windows of the room reflected the raging storm outside.   Suddenly she screamed, for the lightening struck close and the hair rose on her arms.  She jumped right into the arms of Count Swartzskya and stayed there, trembling like a leaf.

“Oh, Madame!  Do not concern yourself with what is happening outside in Zeus’ court.  You are safe with me.  Come, have tea and settle yourself.”

Count Swartzskaya’s voice was a deep as the thunder, but soothing.

He led them from the main room to a little chamber, where a servant set a table for tea. Signora Faini appeared grateful for the hot cup of tea. She was shivering.

As she drank one cup and then another, the two men talked and her eyes started to close.  It seemed she could barely hold her head up.

Balsamo and the Count continued their discourse in low voices, ignoring Signora Faini sitting at the tea table.

“She has it coming, la bagascia, but no permanent damage, agreed?”

“But of course, it will just be something frivolous, a small humiliation.”

“But will she remember it?”

“No, she will have no memory of this day at all.  However, I can arrange for that to change.  What is your pleasure, Signor?”

“No, no, our original plan will be enough – this time, Count.”

Swartzskya tossed a bag of coin to Signor Balsamo and he hoisted it in his palm.  A broad smile creased Signor Balsamo’s face as he addressed Signora Faini, now sprawled in her chair, one slipper falling from her delicate foot.

“Maria, my dear girl, sometimes you go too far in your wickedness.  But you will pay the piper tonight…or shall I say…the Count?”

With those final words he laughed and left, whistling a piece of his beloved Vivaldi.

—–

Signora Faini could hear Balsamo but could not respond.  It was as if she was made of wood, like the puppets outside before the rain drove her into the shelter of Count Swartzskya and into his arms.  Madonna!  Everything felt wooden, numb about her and her breath barely moved her bosom.  She could hear but she could not speak or move her limbs.  She was like a puppet awaiting the wires to animate her body.

The Count leaned over and his finger made a trail from throat to cleavage, his eyes staring intently, his face close enough to kiss her. She could not avoid him and suddenly she felt his fleshy lips as he bit her mouth, drawing a little blood. She could only register fear with her eyes.

The Count busied himself with a little squeeze here, a sharp pinch there, but Maria could not feel his hands molesting her.  She could only follow his behavior with a limited movement of her eyes.

“You know, Maria, his Holiness and you share a common desire.  He loves puppets, just like you.  But he will never have the privilege of being one.”

Signora Faini could hear him but could not respond.

“Ah, sweet Maria, some paint to fix your pretty little face, a costume, some wires and you will be ready for a performance.  Tonight you will dance before the Doge and his guests.  Wonder if they will recognize you?  Ah, no matter, I will make you disappear to them in case any are guests of his Holiness.  It is a subtle but sharp little revenge of your good friend Signor Balsamo, no?  He will be sitting there, enjoying your puppet antics and your memory of this night will be his alone.”

The Count stood and stretched, throwing out his arms over his head.  It would be a long night and he had much work.  He regarded the little doll of a woman before him, still sitting in her chair, silent, only her eyes animated, and chuckled.

“Ah, Maria…some women learn lessons easily, and some take a bit of the twisting of the wires to get their attention.  Perhaps after tonight you will think again before you scorn your Signor Balsamo for his missing parts?”

“Come, Maria, drink a bit more tea.  It will fortify you. Is it too bitter?  Here, let me add just a little more ‘special sugar’.  It will do the trick.”

The Count obligingly held the delicate porcelain teacup to her rosy lips and filled her mouth with tea. She sputtered, but swallowed, her eyes filling with tears.

Maria couldn’t protest, she had no voice.  Only the terror in her eyes registered she was even alive.

“Ah, look Maria!  Your eyes are sparkling!  Tonight you will be the belladonna of the stage. Of course, tomorrow the critics will say your acting was a bit ‘wooden’ but what do they know?”

THE END

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009-2015

 

“The Children of Aleppo”, poem

March 18, 2015

Children playing in a field

Suffer the little children……

The Children of Aleppo

 

There is no childhood in Aleppo.

There are little martyrs-in-the-making

Where 5 year olds and 8 year olds

Wish for a ‘family death’

Where they can die together

With their parents

Where they live in peace in Heaven

Never tasting the fruits of peace on Earth.

There is no childhood in Aleppo.

The children haunt the abandoned dwellings

Of friends who have fled the city.

There they find abandoned teddy bears

While looking for guns for the rebels, their fathers.

A dead canary in his cage

“Oh, the poor thing!”

Abandoned by its owners

As they flee the rockets, bombs

And mortars,

In the face of daily death,

The sight of this bird

Evokes a child’s sorrow.

But the gunfire outside continues

(They are used to the noise)

And huddle in the pockmarked

Halls until safe to scatter

-.

The children of Aleppo

Have no teachers, doctors.

These have fled the cities, schools

But they still pine for ice cream,

For music in the streets,

For curtains not torn by violence,

For books and toys

And gardens and flowers,

For friends that have not died

Innocent blood splattering

The dirty cobble stones

At their feet.

The children of Aleppo

Are free and children again

Only in their dreams,

And perhaps, if you believe so,

After death.

How do you put back the brains

Of a child in the cup of the shattered skull?

How do you soothe the howls of the mothers,

The groans of the fathers in grief?

How do you comfort the left-alive siblings?

The children of Aleppo

Have no future as children.

Suffer the little children,

They are the sacrifice of parents

And factions

And politicians

All with the blood of

10,000 children

Who have died

In a country torn

By immeasurable violence.

The beautiful children of Aleppo

Like children everywhere

Still want to chase each other

In the gardens, on playgrounds,

Want to dance in the streets,

Want to pluck flowers for their mothers

And they still pine for ice cream.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014-2015, originally published in “Pitcher of Moon”, 2014, Amazon.com, by Jane Kohut-Bartels


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