Memorial Day

Memorial Day

My dad, L.S. Kelly, Jr., was born in the depression years and spent his early childhood in a nation swept up in World War II, a war that makes Memorial Day meaningful to many. He lived in Englewood, NJ at the time. He conveys the times, their import revealing just how different his world was from the one I now know. I read his words from an interview and find myself confronting the visceral impact of a time of upheaval, the imprint on his psyche, his perspective of the U.S. and of the military, of “us” vs. “them” shaped by circumstances more stark in their contrast to what we now live, more surreal in hindsight. No one could point at the term “axis of evil” and shred its hypocrisy because It applied. And it applied thoroughly in the minds of those shaped by the fallout.

Memorial Day

L.S. Kelly, Jr.

In the only way I know how to memorialize a day that has become, to me, less about the idea of a noble U.S. military infrastructure and more about honoring those who bring integrity to a failing ideal, I’m posting my dad’s responses to the interview questions here. His heart comes through the lines he wrote for my son’s A.P. U.S. History class. The clarity of what matters shatters my hesitation to note the day, my frustration with the distortion our military might has become. The day should be noted and we should never forget, no matter our stance on the military-industrial complex, because there was a time…

What can you remember about growing up during WWII?

A feeling of heaviness and fear – dread – during the early years.  The Japanese, Germans and Italians were portrayed in the media as some pretty awful folks. And they did some pretty awful things, which were shown at the movie theater before the main event.  Newsreels were gross.  Life magazine was as graphic as they could get away with.  That changed a whole lot with military successes.

We had rationing of materials and food. Gasoline. Nylon – women went back to silk stockings. The war effort took a lot of stuff off the shelves of the grocery stores.

Cigarettes. We saved cans [-] like vegetables came in. Flattened them and took them to some point where they could be given up for scrap metal. Then came victory gardens.  We had three plots in the back yard one summer, and after that five families that socialized together Kellys, Jim Kellys, DeSaussueres, Whitsons, Stokes, had huge garden in Cresskill, NJ where DeSaussaures lived.

Our next-door neighbor was the block air raid warden. When we had an air raid alert (practice of the system), we hung blankets over the windows, kept the lights down low so as not to disclose the whereabouts of a populated area to enemy bombers. The warden would knock on the door if light was showing around the blanket. He wore a white helmet and acted extremely seriously, as did we all.  Just about everything we did was in the context of national defense.

The doctor who lived across the street was in the army in Europe.  He had a son my age who received packages of souvenirs from his father, actual Wehrmacht uniforms, which he and I dressed up in and paraded around the neighborhood. Once.  AS widow lady around the corner got all upset, and that was the end of my German career.

When the A-bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, I was 9 years old. We knew nothing could survive that and continue to wage war, and the feeling of relief brought a sense of elation and national pride.  We had fought two wars at the same time and beat the bad guys.  Which they were.

How did it impact you personally?

I got to eat a lot of organ meats, since they were undesirable and carried a lower meat-coupon penalty.  Tuna, chipped beef.

Sometimes we had nightmares:  Go to the movies on Saturday afternoon and come home, to go [to] bed and recall the newsreel. The boy next door was in the navy in the Pacific and we worried about him.

Mrs. Knowles’ 2nd grade class at Franklin School in Englewood, NJ would pray together every morning, the Lord’s prayer, and we’d recite the pledge to the flag and would sing the National Anthem. Often Mrs. Knowles would then have some story or inspirational thing she’d share with us. She had a brother who was a dog-face in France at the time. That means in the Infantry, in the mud.

One morning she held up a quite thick, yet shirt-pocket-sized thing, that turned out to be a book.  It was her brother’s bible. He had been carrying it all the time. We watched as she opened it enough for us to see the hole in it, which still held the kraut bullet that her brother’s bible had stopped, effectively ending its deadly journey toward his heart.

That was the classroom where I broke down one morning when we were singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Boo hoo. Everybody looking at the simple goose crying. I couldn’t tell why. They called my mother, and she couldn’t tell them, either. When I got home, I couldn’t tell her why. I didn’t know. She didn’t know either.  Nobody was gonna ask my Daddy.  Who knows?

Any observations about that time and that war in general?

Nobody even thought about burning a flag. Not a stars n stripes.  It was a time when the nation really seemed to be together about one thing: beating the Axis.

My 80+ year-old dad, who texts his daughters every night when he goes to bed – sending his love, who loves silly humor and growing tomatoes reminds me what shapes the minds of a nation, what lays the foundation for exploitation of fear: the real thing. Not that we have not known terror here in our time, but most of us have no point of reference, no way of knowing what war looks like. And the experiences of a child, his reflections over 70 years later reveal what we hope to never know but to also never forget, even if only for the sake of those who lived it. Here and abroad. Here’s to those who gave. While I may not want us to ever drop another bomb and though it hurts to think of the suffering of Hiroshima, this, too, is true: we must never lose sight of the humanity, the lives given in service.

With the Makers

I’m all done with notional condemnation,
nonsense posing salvation
suggesting pre-birth agendas and all the control
a robot might covet.

Take me to the truth, down to the bone of it.
Marry me to the wonder found in the midst of
all this chaos and randomness daring us all
to make meaning.

I see their meaning made in fear.
The meaning they make
spews the poison in their hearts,
the snare in their aid.

Take me far away from the righteous.
I want to live with the undone and undoing.
I want to dance with the makers and shake
every foundation lost to the mold of stagnation.

Deliver me to love, love in spite of it all,
love because of it all,
love morphing, rolling up sleeves
and shaping this mound of flesh into new and ancient songs.

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2015

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2015

Blossoms Unrelenting

we drink of depths in
resonating moonlight’s call,
unknowingly bound
to a love whose song
blossoms unrelenting in
the rise and fall of
our worst stumblings making us
more nimble, bruised but
tender, used for all the best
of thunder’s drumming.
some ancient humming
we refuses all the loss…
and rhythm, rhyme and meter disintegrate
in the flow of all this living undoing structure and hope
making something sturdier, something resonating to the past
to the future
into the now and
grabbing at my heartstrings, yours, plucking away,
strumming and fretting us along our days
with promise bigger than maybes or pinings away
for days yet to be,
just the being here now and
no matter how much I push you away,
refuse the heartache of what might never be,
nothing ever shatters, severs or shames
the feltness of your unfolding against my skin
these blossoms unrelenting pull me in, wrecking
all my walls meant for safety
flooding fields in sunlight, conjuring blooms
hid long from sight, stirred by
our moon’s wondering ministrations.

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

The Peonies Reaching

Make me like the peonies reaching,
ripening and revealing shimmers of light,
born of darkness, from disintegration in a long story’s night
whose tale suggests only seclusion unending and a crushing fate…
until,
until the bursting out upon the day,
until the unfolding from haunts of burial entombing,
until all my songs release fragrance
sweetened by a holy undoing,
whose whispers in moonlight of a sun behind the night
birth soul beyond the doom,
holding sacred sway over a mysterious teaching.

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Juxtapose

juxtaposed sun’s rays
stirring colours under skin
melting winter’s haze…
reach deeply please into corners still
shuddering shock from isolation
set fire to all the lies we tell ourselves against the fears
burn white to red in holy consummation all these contradictions
claiming our clearest songs and muting every proclamation making
love and art from devastation

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

Honesty and Loss

At the risk of being “too serious,” I’m posting this somewhat intense documentary. I had an interesting conversation with my youngest son yesterday about seriousness. It reminds me how much we run from seriousness but also how much we need it in order to be able to be given more fully in our mirth, oddly enough. “Seriousness” is a big, vague word but it refers to taking life seriously, taking feelings seriously, taking experiences of loss seriously, and gain, seriously. Seriousness as a perspective of life or attitude towards one’s own existence juxtaposed against the alternative – humor, light-heartedness. What I find is this: Whatever we run from also holds a piece of our authentic self hostage. The imprisoned bits of self cannot genuinely participate in laughter and sometimes reach desperately out for any and every comedy to salve the haunting fear within, a sort of addictive process requiring perpetual doses of positive or funny or anything but the things we run from within ourselves…so…I’ve found that as I’m bankrupted by some of life’s crueler tides, I’m also opened up to deeper experiences of joy, an unreserved, unguarded unfolding of meaningful and light-hearted appreciation for all that life can be. I have precious little patience with positive mantras divorced from process, divorced from the organic work of finding a truly uplifting perspective via the deeper work of… honesty. I love Mark Pellington’s work as well as David Whyte’s wonderful exposition of so many layers of life’s more serious realities. So, this follows:

Mark Pellington has this to say of the documentary:

“This film was made by me as an exercise in process, to explore my own progress and personal feelings towards loss, grief, and healing. Via this text. My instinct was to be very simple and direct and to understand these words, via catharsis. The conduit was human, the face. The unlying veneer, the carrier of instinct. The face. It evokes the range of emotional expression and human truth of strangers. They all listened to it one time and brought their own inner stories to you the viewer. “

Found here.

Earth Awaits

brilliant-coloured birds tend their silence here, perching on stillness and heart’s ache, a hushed fear catching in their throats, poised against a hope we’ve lost sight of in life’s cruel twists…

whose song will they next sing for us, breaking out upon the night a memorial of life precious, fleeting? surely their melodies weave eternal tapestries from the light of each heart that has ached and joyed before us and will flow onward, grasping our own and those yet to come…

let us hear their silence and know all the earth aches for each one of us.

and when their songs fall again on our ears, may we be gently enclosed in the comfort of their epochs, our stories alighting on trees, interwoven with the spirits of all nature, whispering into valleys, bursting along rivers we may never see, yet filling hearts with melodies uniquely given by each of our lives…

let us hear the love and know all the earth awaits our answering songs.

but for now the womb of silence weeps. the songbirds listen,
holding sorrow’s breath…

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2014

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2014