sleeping without walls

photo-19the fields that year taught the art of sleeping outside,
sleeping without walls, watching the stars and moon,
harvesting dreams from sunsets and morning dew

we slept in bedrolls configured of old white sheets
and army surplus blankets made of khaki wool
Did my uncles have those during the war?
i wondered, i pondered on many things, and

those months held sundry delights, climbing trees
and eating cherries without washing them . . . oh!
and there were blueberry bushes and fig trees and
i lined the path to the food hut with Sunday stones,
my own bare prayer while the big girls were at Mass

i marveled at my middle-aged mother’s plump knees
and marked her spirit for wearing shorts, joining
in children’s games and singing ‘round the fire

now i wonder at summer camp morphing into metaphor ~
all her life Mom lived with her yield of dreams,
an outsider artist sleeping without walls . . .

© 2014, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

I Remember You and the Amber Moon.

file3761333734081When I remember you
I remember the amber moon
and the burnished brown of old oaks,
their leaves like hands waving goodbye
Summertime, as dusk transitioned to dark,
we’d sit on the beach by slow cooking-fires,
their coals gone from hard black to gray dust
I cherished your warm hug in the chill of the night
and falling asleep, safe

I stopped loving you,
but I never stopped loving the memory of you
I carry that with me on lunatic trips of the heart ~
though my preference is to rest solitary on forest logs
with their stunning imperfections and
the secret-lives swirling in the sunless damp on which they rest

I think of the path that led from then to now,
a mix of smooth and rough along a rocky coast ~
I live near the sea to breathe
I imagine you living, wherever you are -
by an ocean with your skin still smelling of Old Spice,
with your well-formed hands, the hands of a pianist and surgeon,
and the high-tensile strength of your mind

In the odd geography of life, no one knows where we came from
or how it was, how it felt to be us in the days of promise
when the spell of Hudson Bay fell like a prayer to St. Christopher
That bay is no longer our safe harbor,
but it gave us our sturdy roots and strong wings
and so the nights, the nights by this bay are good
When I smile at the amber moon, it smiles at you

Some may remember this poem, which I wrote a little over a year ago. I’ve just now put the finishing touches on it. I’ve been sorting through old poems – in some cases – totally rewriting them. That’s my project this spring and summer, when I have time for it. Thanks for reading …

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved, 
Photo credit ~ Anne Lowe, Public Domain

Those Infamous New York Moms

“A woman in Brooklyn decided to prepare her will. She told her rabbi she had two final requests. First, she wanted to be cremated. Second, she wanted her ashes scattered over the local shopping mall.

‘Why the shopping mall?’ asked the rabbi.

‘Then I’ll be sure my daughters will visit me twice a week.’


I met my Jewish friend, Laurel, when she came to a meeting at our local Insight Meditation Center on the San Francisco Peninsula where we now live. Laurel and I  got on right away. We both like Broadway shows, opera, reading, writing, and good meals seasoned with great conversation. We’re both from New York and we’re about the same age. So we come from the same time and the same place.

Now New York moms get a bad rap, especially Jewish moms – but none of us gets off free. Laurel reminded me of that yesterday with a stereotypical New York joke at the expense of mothers. These jokes usually illustrate moms making caustic remarks or their attempts to foster guilt in adult children. While we do use regional idioms and have a distinct style of delivery, I’m really not sure that mothers from our time and place had the corner on either caustic commentary or the laying on of guilt.

Like all of us, my mother was very much in process and very much a product of her place and time. Among other things, what that means is that modesty was a primary concern. For my staunch Catholic mother this included modest dress, which in turn included girdles. Now I’ve got to tell you that until I hit forty I was mostly underweight. In fact at Christmas when I was nineteen, I was ninety-three pounds, stood 5′ 3 1/2″, and was three months pregnant with my son. Nonetheless, from seventh grade and until her death when I was forty-four, my mother was adamant that I should wear a girdle so that I wouldn’t “jiggle.” That would be immodest and unseemly. Only my mother, I would think, would put me through this torture for nothing. As my husband said, “What’s to jiggle? If she turned sideways and stuck out her tongue she’d look like a zipper.”

Those old, typically New York jokes at the expense of our mothers were funny because there’s an element of truth in them. They did pave the pathways to their homes and hearts with guilt. They could be cruelly caustic. They were as tough as life. They tended to be rigid and narrow on some subjects; their lives woefully circumscribed. Often they were unworldly and painfully unread. But they were also largely present.

They were idealistic. They worked hard. Many of them worked for hours each week to make the most unbelievably complex old world dinners for traditional Sundays that included religious services and family gatherings. No matter how difficult things got, they did not resort to drugs, alcohol, or beatings. They got us into the best schools they could afford and kept us in school for as long as they could afford to do so. They protected us from young men who did not have “honorable” intentions. Though they’d never admit to us that they were really pleased with us, they would proudly show photographs of us to all their friends and boast of our accomplishments.

In the parlance of the sixties, it took me years to understand where they were “coming from.” You can tell by the posture in the photo that ends this post, that well into my thirties, I was still struggling with mixed feelings. The reason in this particular case: Before I left for work, I left money on the kitchen table for a pizza. I called home at 5:00 p.m. as I was leaving the office and asked Mom if she’d order the pizza right away because I was “starving.” I got home and “binged”: I ate one slice of pizza and left the crust. “I thought you were hungry,” Mom said. “I was. Now I’m stuffed.”  The fact that I was in my thirties and still “eating like a bird” and underweight disturbed her. In turn, I was disturbed because she was still trying to tell me how to eat, which given my habits was a legitimate concern.  I do the same sorts of things to my son now, not about food, but about other things. My Mom is long gone now, but often I think of her and wish she was here nagging me to clean my plate.

♥ ♥ ♥



Taken with PhotoBooth on my Mac and modified in iPhoto.

© 2011, words and photographs, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Remembering JFK and a bygone era …

500px-John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_color_photo_portraitOUR MOST BASIC COMMON LINK is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th President of the United States, serving from January 1961 until he was assassinated in November 1963, fifty years ago today.

Like 9/11 and other shared tragedies, John Kennedy’s assassination is branded indelibly on our minds and hearts. I was thirteen years old then, a freshman in high school. The news didn’t reach us until late in the day. Television and radio were not encouraged at St. Joe’s.

It was a Friday and after our last class those of us who lived on the convent grounds scrambled to the rail station to head  home to our families. Unaware, we apparently behaved just the way you might expect silly teenagers to behave when they are giddy with sudden freedom.  We didn’t notice that the adults on the train were somber and perhaps some were teary-eyed. To us, it was just another Friday. We joked and gossiped and one-by-one got off the train when it came to our stops; one-by-one we were met by our shocked and grieving parents. From them we learned the sobering news and wondered who would do such a thing – the communists? – and what were the implications. We all knew that no president in this country had been assassinated since President William McKinley in 1901, our grandparents’ and  great-grandparents’ time. It seemed unreal.

It also seemed unreal to return to school on Sunday night as though everything was normal. It wasn’t. The girls, the nuns, the school and convent, like the country, were in mourning. The majority of our parents and probably virtually all of the nuns, had voted for Kennedy, though not all thought he was a perfect man (who is?) or even a perfect President. I do remember one father speculating (the Bay of Pigs rankled) that Kennedy might have been good for the time and place in history and, after all, he was President of the country we cherished….and still do.  Respect the office if not the man.

Our own sadness wasn’t reserved just for the “President” and the country. It was for the man as well, for the handsome young man who’d fought in the war beside our fathers and uncles, the hero of P.T. 109, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage, and the dad whose life was cut short. We were sad for his now fatherless children. We felt for Jacqueline Kennedy too and admired her grace and courage. We wondered what it would mean to have the large, crude and boisterous Lyndon B. Johnson as President.

Those of us who rode the rails home that Friday were taken to task the next week by the nuns for our behavior on the train. Other passengers had registered complaints with the school about our “disrespect.” The nuns didn’t realize we hadn’t known about the murder. None of the other passengers bothered to tell us. I remember standing with our heads bowed while we were lectured. We took our punishment without defense or complaint. Something bigger than this moment of being misunderstood and falsely accused had happened. To this day, my mind can play back the news reports and see the newspaper articles, but I cannot remember what punishment was meted out for our perceived lapse in decorum.

I think after Kennedy’s assassination, we girls began to watch and analyze news and politics more closely than we had before. Among other things the evolution of Robert Kennedy, women’s rights and the growing support for the Civil Rights Movement, the horror of the Viet Nam War, and the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968, dramatically marked the place and the era as one of growth and grief, triumph and tragedy.

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved, licensing for online publications is nonnegotiable and requires permission, attribution, link to this site, my copyright, no modification, noncommercial only and does not imply permission to include the work in the site’s printed collections or anthologies.
Photo credit ~ the Executive Office of the President of the United States and as such in the U.S. public domain

played on the jersey shore . . .

800px-Spring_Lake,_New_Jersey_Beach_at_SunriseThe days were as golden as the sunsets
when we played on the Jersey shore,
dusty and fevered in the summer heat,
the sun fading our hair and swim suits,
the evenings finding us motley, hungry,
ready to ply our grandma’s old tin forks
to Aunt Julie’s mac and margarine. After
dinner we tossed our gritty bodies into a

claw-footed bathtub. Sand swirls settled
where once the tub was white and scoured ~
We’d move on, impish, soap-scented and
clean from the bath to our cots to lay on
worn sheets. We were quick to transition to
a sound-proof sleep, comforted by breezes
lapping at the open windows, leaking
promises of more romp and wrestle days.

While the moon-lighted nights pondered
and kissed unkempt kelp and broken shells,
a cold custard of salty-damp beach sand
looked for us and the dawn and our bare feet
in blithe dance to a joyous morning swim . . .
but these were short stays. Sunday would
arrive, unwholesome and unwelcome, time
to pack our bags and our laundry, our aunt
and uncle – raw-edged nerve – and we kids,
our spirits subdued, our skin browner-hued

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved, licensing for online publications is nonnegotiable and requires permission, attribution, link to this site, my copyright, no modification, noncommercial only and does not imply permission to include the work in the site’s printed collections or anthologies. 
Photo credit ~ Nick Harris, via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

squeezing a penny

my mother never knew the names for things
the trees were just trees, the flowers just flowers,
but she knew life as a sigh and love as a linchpin
and how to get to work and maneuver in the dark,
she could squeeze a penny and was known to force
tired feet into worn shoes, she could make them dance

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved, licensing for online publications is nonnegotiable and requires permission, attribution, link to this site, my copyright, no modification, noncommercial only and does not imply permission to include the work in the site’s printed collections or anthologies.
Photo courtesy of morgueFile