Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Before we leave this season, I would like to post Rita Marie Recine's "Happy Birthday, Jesus."  Although not every reader is Christian, Rita's sweet poem evokes one of the moods of this holiday season.

Happy Birthday Jesus
Where are your candles?
The family awakens early, it is still dusk, the air is fresh and crisp.
Mom is still in her nightgown, dad is making coffee.
Children are in exaltation.
Beginning their celebration
Happy birthday Jesus

Somewhere across the globe there is Christmas.
 Songs and carollers walk the streets.
Reaching out to people all over town
Our king is born today. In Bethlehem
Offering peace on earth and good will to all of mankind
No mayhem

Emmanuel, God is with us, your given name..
Your sacred name no one can disclaim
Liberator, greatness.
Rescuer of all humanity.

Christmas should be everyday
Time to cheer through out the year
For the spirit of giving should never be taken away
Handle with care …nothing else can compare.
I often ask myself if many are aware.

A moment to celebrate, reflect. 
Memories to recollect with music and dance
A melodious divine tune for the king of angels is born
White cloth embeds Him.
  . Mary and Joseph gaze.
As they adore Him.
Happy Birthday Jesus

Emmanuel, God is with us, your given name..
Your sacred name no one can disclaim
You are worshipped from the heavens and the earth.
The choral is singing a song of praise.

Liberator, greatness.
Rescuer of all humanity.

Happy birthday Jesus
Where are the followers who were once so joyful
Where are the trumpets, the harps and the flutes.
triumphant sounds.
As I ponder upon our   heritage
Ancestors ,roots.

Happy Birthday Jesus
Where are your candles?

Where is the starlight which covers the night with its lustrous beauty so divine 
HE always opens the door, gives us only what we can handle

Happy Birthday Jesus
Where are your candles?

Where is the crowd.......
don’t see anybody around

I love Christmas.....for it is Christ's special day
would not have it any other way…………………
Happy Birthday Jesus
Where are your candles?

Strands of children aligned so fine in a straight line
Two by two…..

By the courtyard , by the sea
Awaiting  Santa’s arrival with happiness and glee.
Don’t you agree?

I believe in Santa too……candies, lollipops, and toys anew
I wish though there was also a line for Jesus ………………………..
Happy Birthday Jesus

Where are the candles, burning lamps which provide light  in  the night 
brightening the paths of  the earth, heavens and the sky.
I will light your candle
Have it flicker throughout the year
Happy Birthday Jesus

I will be your star.
I have the twinkle in my eyes
Happy birthday Jesus.

RitaMarie  Recine

July 4th, 2015

To accompany Rita's poem, I'd like to post some music for you.  Let's start with John Coltrane's "Spiritual":

I was able to find Gary Mann's "Blues for Baby Jesus":

Let's finish with two pieces by Mary Lou Williams.  Her first is "St. Martin de Porres":

The next is "Praise the Lord":

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Halloween, Jazz, and Feliz Navidad!

I've been celebrating Christmas in bits and pieces.  Tonight I'd like to post Donal Mahoney's "Feliz Navidad" -- before it is New Years or Little Christmas or, worse, Candlemas!

Feliz Navidad

Pedro swings a mop all night
on the 30th floor of Castle Towers
just off Michigan Avenue
not far from the foaming Lake.
The floor is his, all his, 
to swab and wax till dawn. 

The sun comes up and Pedro's 
on the subway snoring, 
roaring home to a plate 
of huevos rancheros
six eggs swimming 
in a lake of salsa verde
hot tortillas stacked
beside them. 

After breakfast, 
Pedro writes a poem 
for Esperanza,
the wife who waits 
in Nuevo Leon.
He mails the poem 
that night, going back
to his bucket and mop.

Pedro's proud  
of three small sons,
soccer stars
in the making.
On Christmas Eve 
the boys wait up
in Nuevo Leon
and peek out the window.
Papa's coming home 
for Christmas!

Pedro arrives at midnight
on a neighbor's donkey,  
laughing beneath 
a giant sombrero.
He has a red serape 
over his shoulder,
and he's juggling 
sacks of gifts.

When the donkey stops,
the boys dash out and clap 
and dance in circles.
Esperanza stands 
in the doorway
and sings 
Feliz Navidad.

Donal Mahoney


Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has had fiction and poetry published in print and online publications in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among them are The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, The Galway Review (Ireland), The Osprey Journal (Wales), Public Republic (Bulgaria), and The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey).

I seem to be going backwards, but here is Allyson Lima's moving poem about her mother and jazz.  I had intended to publish it during the semester.

House Musicians

She was more absence than presence
Never spoke of her father
Except to say he played piano

I only knew her by the music
Spied on her from behind the door
Pale fingers poised above the ivories
And the black keys—
Hold the low tones then flutter
Down cascading phrases

          “The falling leaves drift by my window
            The autumn leaves of red and gold
            I see your lips, the summer kisses
            The sun-burned hands I used to hold”

She plays Nat King Cole but it’s her song too

           “Since you went away the days grow long
            And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
            But I miss you most of all my darling
            When autumn leaves start to fall”

Who is that guy? I ask when she hangs a portrait
5x7 black and white in the hallway.
Dapper bow-tied entertainer--piano player
His gaze so seductive it could stop you cold
Even a kid knows this guy’s trouble

Her music was no sing along,
No Mitch, no Bing, no bedtime lullaby

Hers were the jazz riffs
Cubist tone fragments
Music undone broken notes smoky
Drifts shifting in air like dark dreams
Reshaped caught on vinyl

Records of survived betrayals
Broken beats of lives revived
In low-lit smoky rooms
Blackhawk, Blue Note, urban clubs
And her glassed-in living room.

LPs in cool jackets leaned against
The blond wood stereo like Sinatra
On the night street album cover
Borsalino angled over baby blues in the boozy
Lamplight and cigarette smoke
In the wee small hours—such well crafted drama
He made grown women cry

Music always playing when I came home
From school always playing in her afternoon
Errol Garner Duke Ellington Oscar Peterson
Louis Armstrong trumpets and Ella Fitzgerald scats
in her unearthly voice how high the moon

Ella Fitzgerald voice of the century
My mother so admired her she once made my father
Go backstage at the Blackhawk just to pay respects.
Ella-- voice for all time couldn’t stay in the same
San Francisco hotel where she sang
Then left out the back door to walk
A dark street to dream elsewhere.

Armstrong and Fitzgerald sit together on
The album cover posed on folding chairs like
Old married folks at the grange hall
His white socks rolled down bebop-style 
She wears a cotton print housedress
(Ella must have hated that cover—
She sang in gowns and pearls in Paris)

MJQ’s suit-and-tie jazz John Lewis hits highbrow notes
Ray Brown plunks the double bass makes it speak like
No one ever heard Miles Davis Coleman Hawkins Art
Tatum, Charlie Parker Les Brown and Wes Montgomery Les Paul
Milt Jackson jivin’ the vibes— those round sounds held her

Django Rheinhart  Stefan Grappeli
Are you kiddin’ me?
You know she felt good then

Even when the pops came along
Stan Getz’s strange meadow lark and
Astrid Gilberto her gorgeous Portuguese
Makes a beachcomber out of anyone
Stuck in suburbia

Cal Tjader’s red hot vinyl beats
Antonio Carlos Jobim’s guitar with
Brazilian accent--Latin’s catching on
Las Vegas nightclubs--Louis Prima Keely Smith
Ahmad Jamal’s Cry Young and

Not one single musical –no post-war feel-good South Pacific
No Oklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
To blow away the 1950’s suburban housewife blues
But Ray Charles--Ruby and Georgia on My Mind to break your heart

Dad comes home whiskey-breathed
Swings her ‘round the kitchen keepin’ the beat
One hand stuck down the back of
Her French blue stretch pants
No, Jack, No! she protests eyes sparkling
Singing along with Ray hit the road Jack

We didn’t know he would really go.
Never guessed they would take new lovers.
I know because I found the love letter
in her lingerie drawer—musician too

Distant mystery-mother of four
My younger sisters don’t remember her
Ask me what she was like
Died in the hospital age 42
After a routine operation

Some say she died of suicide.

I say it was a slow dance
In the wrong generation
For a woman like her
Who lived in music and
couldn’t get enough of it.

By Allyson Lima  October 19, 2015

Costumes                                                                             By Allyson Lima  October 31. 2015                                             

Bend the pretend wires of time

One day—

Do what you meant to do
What you’re meant to do
Is there a costume for that?

Go ahead
whine a little
at the sun
Give it a little airtime
before you leave

Still here?

Take my hand, take two
I’ll go with you in the dark

Are you still waiting
For the door to open

In your silly costume?

Trick-or treat
Sweets and bellyaches
You’ll get both

                                                                 the  door

What do you seek
In the moonlight?

Don’t forget to ask
Don’t forget to knock
There are no costumes

Next time around.

By Allyson Lima  October 31, 2015

Allyson has given me so many ideas for the music, but let's keep a Christmas theme.  Unlike many of you, I feel deprived of holiday music.

Let's start with Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song":

"O Come All Ye Faithful" is one of my favorite carols:

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performs "We Three Kings":

Here is their "White Christmas":

Oscar Peterson recorded a Christmas album in 1995, and here is his version of "Silent Night":

The album also includes "The Christmas Waltz":

Allyson just sent me a photo of Lincoln Center at night!


Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Presence

Apologies for the break.  I guess it turned out to be a hiatus after all.  Let's move the deadline for the fall/winter contests to Jan. 30.  

However, the papers are all graded, and Angelee Deodhar & Mary Jo Balistreri will start us off again.

The holidays and the New Year can be a time to break away from old habits.

They can also be a time to look back and return to one's roots.

Ekphrastic Haibun : January

Looking at the subtle flat, overcast lighting filtering in from the left and embers glowing at far right of Frank Weston Benson’s Rainy Day, reminds me of my childhood in the hills. I remember sloshing around in gum boots, the lovely squishy sound of water in and around the boots, paper boats and running downhill from school with my raincoat flapping around me, the hood flung back, books hugged inside close to me.

Later as I grew up I walked in the rain, protected by an umbrella. Now, as a grandmother to be, I look forward to running in the rain with my grandchild.

New Year’s Eve-
meteor showers from
welding works

For more information about Frank Weston Benson's Rainy Day, see below:

Angelee and the Indian-American author Raveesh Varma collaborated on the haibun below.

Collaborative Haibun :  Capriccio
Prose by Raveesh Varma                                   
Haiku by Angelee Deodhar

beyond prayer flags
incense vanishes into
mackerel clouds

I am already dying, when she comes in to visit me carrying chrysanthemums . White curtains, much like her hair while keeping me defenseless under the harsh glare of hospital lights ,protect me from the outside world. Used to such visits, at times I wonder what will she do, after my release from the shackles of this diminishing life of mine.

She chats with me of various things... of life and love (was I ever that young?) and all things in-between; in the kitchen, in the car, over coffee, over tea, or over a flower vase arranging roses ,freshly cut from the garden. She tells me when she dies, I must celebrate with wine, food and music in the manner of an Irish wake, she insists that she does not want me to mourn her .Too much of our lives have gone in mourning and on this one occasion there will only be the purity of us, a transparency untouched by sorrow. She threatens that should I mourn her, she will come back to haunt me forever .I immediately retort that then I will mourn her, mourn her over and over again.

the silence since
the children left

This was when interleaved moments of shock and denial, had not set upon us the brittle scaly patina within which we now carry our reverse metamorphoses from butterflies to amorphous, plain eggs. She tells me of uncharacteristic and strange things in the privacy that exist between her senses and mine.

Though she talks of things in the present, every word carries with it the scented breeze of a million other words reminiscent of open wildflower fields, under an unchained white light, not witnessing an unwanted death at an age when death is still the subject only of poems.

It is this light, which having illuminated the wasteland of my life, will be released into the universe in one infinitesimal spark, when my body finally breaks, flesh crumbles into ashes which will be immersed in the never-ending, stream of my Mother, the Ganges.
sonorous chants-
no crows alight today
for the shradh food

image credit!HalfHD.jpg
Richard Strauss: (1864-1949) Capriccio - Introduction (String Sextet) - Previn & Wiener Philharmoniker
Rimsky Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol Op 34 Berliner Phil Dir Zubin Mehta YouTube
The Halle - Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien Op. 45 Published on Jan 20, 2014

Balkan Capriccio ( Music Video ) by Stevan Jovic

Bio :Raveesh Varma, a structural engineer, of Indian descent, immigrated to the US nineteen years ago. His  achievements in the fields of literature, music and engineering are noteworthy, as  he is a self taught pianist and also writes fiction. He remains grateful to his wife and two children for the unconditional love they bestow upon him.

Bio: Angelee Deodhar, an eye surgeon by profession is a haiku poet, translator, and artist.
She lives and works in Chandigarh, India. Her haiku/haibun/haiga have been published internationally in various books and journals, and her work can be viewed on many websites.

Reviews of Journeys 2015, an anthology of International Haibun edited by Angelee Deodhar can be read here and

Thanksgiving can be any day of the year as Angelee and Mary Jo Balistreri remind us in their collaborative haibun.


All afternoon, the robins come, six, seven at a time to push and shove each other till one, fully immersed in the birdbath splashes all the others. Two wait patiently on the railing for their turn. Nothing like this has ever happened and it is impossible for us to leave our places at the window .

Later, with the sun low in the sky, the water’s almost gone. The birds keep arriving We fill the feeders and refresh the almost empty bath. Forgetting this is their world and we are visitors… we wait… we are still waiting.

campus pond-
late afternoon shadows
departing geese
Collaborative haibun :
Title and haiku Angelee Deodhar
Prose Mary Jo Balistreri

Mary Jo's poem encourages us to remember the beauty of Paris although recent events may still have shaken you.

     Under a Canopy of Golden Chestnut Leaves

Across the Seine, Notre Dame rises flushed
by sunset’s antique brush. My husband pours
Champagne into fluted glasses. Bubbles burst.
We relax, a crusty baguette, wedges of Brie,
apple slices. Our eyes track amber

moving across the water, soft strobes
from houseboats and the Bateau Mouche.
Small liquid lamps that bob in river wakes.
A candle on the table flickers. It’s autumn
and romance lingers on our lips.

A spell’s been cast and we are wordless.
Solitary. Braided. Neither here nor there.
Awareness hangs on a hinge as he refills
the glasses. We listen alone. Thoughts
ribbon among owls distant cries, voices

muted by water. Retreating footsteps
on cobblestone. Quiet. Fleeting touch of breeze
on my cheek. Only Our Lady’s stones
across the river, solid, substantial, cast gold
into the night sky, clear and weightless as sleep.   


I have to start the music off with "Parisian Thoroughfare."  This version is by Arturo Sandoval:

Here is Sandoval's version of "I Remember Clifford":

Here Sandoval performs "Night in Tunisia" with Dizzy Gillespie in Havana:

I'll finish with something new, a cover of a song by Taylor Swift:

I hope that these songs inspire you to write a poem for the fall/winter contests:

Saturday, December 5, 2015

'Tis the Season part 2

'Tis the Season also for end-of-year awards.  Choosing nominees is often difficult, but it is also fun to go back and look at work from the past year.

This year I nominated some work for the Pushcart Prizes.  My students in ENGL 101 convinced me to select Catfish McDaris' "Sweet Jesus":

I also chose Charles Clifford Brooks III's "For Dad" although his "Promise for Momma" is also wonderful:

Not only did A.J. Huffman win Thelma's Prize (Spring 2015) for "The Barbie Formerly Known As" but I also nominated her poem as one of the six:

I also chose Miriam Sagan's "Etudes":   You may also know about her blog, Miriam's Well.  It is well worth exploring:  I am also intrigued to see that she teaches poetry online as well!

Martin Willitts, Jr.'s "Letting Her Hair Down" is another stellar poem, part of his series inspired by Andrew Wyeth's Helga drawings and paintings:

I nominated the multi-talented Angelee Deodhar for her haibun "Grandparents' Day":
To learn more about haibun, take a look at an anthology that Angelee recently edited:

Congratulations to all Pushcart Prize nominees from The Song Is...

In addition, having heard about the anthology Bettering American Poetry, I nominated Catfish's moving poem "Elizabeth"
and Lynne S. Viti's "Harp Music"

Congratulations, Catfish and Lynne!

In the meantime, the fall/winter contest will be open until at least December 30.  Poems inspired by jazz musicians born in the 1900s and 1910s and by Latin jazz are welcome!

Here is some Danilo Perez to inspire you!