Louisiana Aesthetic (Reggie Michael Rodrigue) has kindly published a poem I wrote after the Acadiana Wordlab session he led. Thank you, Reggie for your magnanimous words.

louisianaesthetic

LUBA ZYGAREWICZ Petrified Time 12 Years of My Life Folded and Neatly Stacked

LUBA ZYGAREWICZ, “Petrified Time: 12 Years of My Life, Folded and Neatly Stacked,” sculpture/stacked dryer lint, tags and rope

Last month I hosted a meeting of the Acadiana Wordlab thanks to the graciousness of the lab’s founder Jonathan Penton who also publishes the literary journal “Unlikely Stories.” During the lab, I exposed the attendants to a wide variety of my favorite contemporary works by artists from Louisiana and discussed the merits and relevance of them and their works.

It was great pleasure, and I personally got a lot out of the lab due to the quality and variety of ekphrastic responses I received from the attendants. If you’re wondering what an ekphrastic response is, you’re not alone. I had no idea what one was until I hosted the lab.  Once I found out what one is, I felt a little stupid. It’s what I do here all the time –…

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Summer Day, 1984

fishframe

I am pregnant; fifteen years old. I am fishing with my father. The bayou is a darkened mirror. Father stands in the slow-dancing boat and draws back effortlessly to cast the line. Water silvers; streams like snakes. There are snakes, too, black ones that appear plastic and fluid: shadows of water.  There is a faint stream of motor oil—a finger-trace in the water which rings a floating Budweiser can. Cattle egrets in breeding plumage float above the bank. Father pulls in a sun perch. Its iridescent tail fans the light. We cast again, again in silence.

After my son was born my daddy told me he made a wish for me as he rolled his wrist to reach the spot where the mysteries of fish exist:

To not regret, to hold to the promises I make.

Friendship

I was waiting for a friend in a sweet café.  I fidgeted with my phone, fluffed my hair and closed my eyes to the sun that flitted in mirrored windows of passing cars. Then she arrived and we ordered tea. We talked for an hour before what was on my heart arose. We sat with a white rose between us and I cried. I cried for the first time in years. My heart was so obvious and tender. My heart was spilling out of me. This sounds cliché but it is true. My old woman heart, bare and tender flourished in the café, undone by sunlight, compassionate friendship and a lovely tea.

The monsters of a thousand years tried to demolish me. I was left in want. I was desolate and afraid. A wonder of friendship came into my life, and I have relinquished myself to it.

I will never let love go, even if I am discarded. I will keep holding fast. I will keep seeking the beautiful and exquisite selves of caring humans. There is nothing that would turn me away.

Only love banishes fear; the fears this precious life has summoned.

Wings

Image

I want my ashes spread at Cypremort Point, Louisiana. To me it is a place that I have loved visiting all of my life. I continue to make memories there with my family.

As a child, my imagination was continually sparked by my mother’s nature-games, spotting hawks, Kingfishers, cranes, and other birds who inhabit the area and also her fun stories about Bear Country, a sloping area near the Weeks Island turnoff.  When we drove through Bear Country to get to the point, my mother’s voice would always drop a bit in tone and volume and she would tell us to be on the lookout for bears. As an adult, I finally saw a Louisiana Black Bear there and my mother’s evocative tales all became so wonderfully real again.

We had the use of a camp on the point for many years when I was very little until I was maybe ten years old. We would stay weekends out there with family. We would fish, crab, play in the water at the beach and then pack up at the end of that seemingly endless time and go home. I always liked Cypremort Point better than home. I do not remember much of the home on Sixth Street I began life in, but I vividly remember Cypremort Point.

Once I was allowed to steer the boat out in Vermilion Bay. I turned the wheel hard left and we circled dangerously. Once my father “caught” an alligator on his fishing line at Marsh Island and I shrieked in fear that the alligator was going to “get me” as he reeled it closer to the boat. There was an illusive, enormous sheep’s head fish that all of us tried to catch. It lurked under the wharf and we would see it swim slowly in and out of sunlight. There was a day when the sun was full and high that I saw a thunderous strongman lift a sea turtle over his head on a shrimp boat. I was stunned by the exotic creature and the strange man who seemed to appear from a Sinbad the Sailor movie.

This brings to mind the dead winged monkey that I saw in a pile of shucked crab shells.  It was stinking and scary. I saw the wings. My brother didn’t. Its dank and wet hide was encircled by flies.  I looked closely for evidence of breath but there was none. It was my first up close experience with death.

I held onto that memory for years, the wonder of it and the improbability. I protected my illusions. I saw a winged monkey like in the Sinbad movies, like in The Wizard of Oz. These creatures were real even though the one I saw was dead, rotting, and half-buried under red-boiled blue point crab shells.

It was more real than anything.

I have told this story to only the closest of friends, or after a long drunk.  It didn’t do much to jeopardize my reputation because my reputation has always been at risk. Saturday at Acadiana Wordlab, I wrote about the dead winged monkey and we all laughed. The truth perhaps spilled out that I had imagined it, that likely the monkey was a pet on a shrimp boat, not Sinbad’s ship, and the pet monkey had died and was discarded.

But I really want to believe, to hold fast to the magic of its existence; the idea that we do not know all that we think we do. I want to believe in the strange and unfamiliar, the existence of secret things of this world. How would you know that this creature does not exist? Our knowledge is fallible, limited. You may say I am a silly woman, and I am. I am in my heart still that silly, shocked and awed girl; a child of wonder. And I reside in that one, and perhaps many other, glorious illusions.

VOICES IN WINTER—A BEAUTIFUL NIGHT

MATT

Matthew Hardin Hofferek reading at the Voices Seasonal Reading Series, Feb. 16th, 2013

[Photo courtesy of Tracy Board]

So many people have done extraordinary things for me all of my life that the only way I could ever pay them back is by giving back to others, in ways within my power and ability. It is my joyful duty. That is why we started the Voices Seasonal Reading Series.

The first ever featured writer for Voices was Patrice Melnick, a dynamic, loving and gifted woman who shares her many talents with the communities within Acadiana and beyond.  As a personal friend and colleague she has taught me well how to grow joy within myself and share it with others. She has taught me to be brave in so many ways.

Patrice was my inspiration for planning the first Voices in Winter event at Carpe Diem Gelato – Espresso Bar in Lafayette, LA at the beginning of 2012. It was a great success and we have had six very successful events since. We are already booked through 2013 and I am putting out feelers for 2014.

I met Matthew Hofferek at a Starbucks drive through window. His personable manner, humor and keen wit engaged me and we hit it off immediately. On our second meeting at the drive through, he told me he was a writer. I was so happy he was upfront about it.  I said I was too, and we exchanged information. When he shared a few short stories that he had written, I was immediately struck by the power of his voice, his unflinching honesty and the gracefulness of his language. We have become great friends, lifetime friends, I hope, with all my heart.

I offered to him to read at Voices and he did so last night. It was his first reading and he was nervous. My friend Jonathan and I took him to Pamplona and we each had a good, strong drink of our choosing and toasted THE WORD. By happenstance, we met two other writers who are moonlighting as bartenders. It was great synchronicity, a force that flowed through the entire evening.

Joining Matthew at the Voices in Winter event was internationally-acclaimed poet and collage artist, Camille Martin. We were very lucky and honored to have Camille read for the series and she was enlightening, brilliant and moved the audience with her stunning work. Camille is from Lafayette and has lived in Louisiana for many years but finds her home in Toronto now. She was in town visiting family. We were lucky to be found by her and hope for deepening connections with her in the future.

I was so proud of Matthew. My dear friend affected us, his audience, with a deeply moving story, “All Wars End Alone” that was written with great “honesty and a little invention.” This young man served our country and is home. His somber and difficult tale was so well-written, so well-crafted and affecting that it brought tears to my eyes to hear him read it, even though I had read it before last night.

Whatever burdens we carry, there are miracles that can lift them from our hearts. I was so honored to have Camille and Matthew read and both of them dedicated their readings to loved ones. The emotion was palpable and my prayer is that by sharing their words they were lifted up, as we all were.

Thank you, Matthew and Camille for trusting us.

Thank you to Carpe Diem, Silvia, Erik and their staff, and to all our guests. To Matthew and Camille, I sincerely say thank you for your bravery, dedication to your respective arts and for the honor to present you to the community of Acadiana.

Embellishments

I am cold in the cathedral. The cold reminds my bones of all the places they have been broken: the metatarsals, the clavicle and the scapulae. I sit on the worn wooden pew.  The saints glower. There is a fountain of colored light on the marble. Beneath the floor, near the gold-shimmer altar, dead bishops are buried.  A stone will keep a secret. A gray woman prays on her knees. Her head is a pendulum. She confesses daily, an hour each time, telling sins that she could not possibly commit. What was the name of the old priest who gave Last Rites? He took a pill bottle from the nightstand and slipped it with his rosary into a red felt bag.  He left embellishments of forgiveness on the thin skin of my father’s brow.  A priest has the power to forgive as God forgives, with his very own breath. The late day alights on Mary’s flesh and illuminates her blue wimple.

The day my father died, the sitter answered the phone flatly: “He’s dead.” Again, again I imagine his dissipating pulse, his cheek bluing. Here in the cathedral, I utter “father, father” without answer.

A Circle Completes

In early December of 2000, Miriam died unexpectedly and tragically. Miriam had epilepsy and asphyxiated in her sleep due to a seizure. Miriam’s death affected me greatly, but more importantly, her life affected me greatly. She was a true love, a great and magnanimous friend, and a light in the life of everyone who knew her. I am very grateful for all of the lessons she taught me—the most important was: “To have a friend you must be a friend.”

Rest in peace, my dearest.

Saturday night at the Midwinter Poetry Night event in New Iberia, Mrs. Gara, Miriam’s mother, gave me a copy of the Spring 1989 issue of The Southwestern Review, which is the literary journal of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the university from which I received my B.A in English. This issue contains the very first poems of mine that were ever published, “The Nightmare” and “Raven.” Mrs. Gara also gave me a framed poem of her own making which was written after we shared a conversation about poetry. Mrs. Gara felt compelled and inspired to read her own poem at the Open Mic at the event. She was received enthusiastically and it made me very happy.

A circle completes.

For many years, the yearning was there for me to write but I was not disciplined or attuned to the voice as deeply as I am now. There is a story there. There is a story there. Much of my creative writing was in the form of letters that I would send to friends. Miriam was the person I wrote to most frequently. I do not have these letters. I wish I did. Miriam teased me that she had filed these letters away and would bring them out to blackmail me or show my children. It was a joke, really, but knowing Miriam she would have done so for a laugh. Miriam always pushed me to write creatively and to develop as a writer. She was a beacon for me in life, and continues to light my path since her passing.

Miriam was a bridesmaid at my wedding in 1989. The next day she moved to New Orleans. She loved the city. She lived there until her death. Miriam was a friend who knew my husband and me very well. She knew my husband before I did and they carried on like great friends throughout our time together. Dean and I spent so many wonderful weekends at her apartment in the French Quarter. She made the city her own and loved to welcome friends to her apartment so that they could enjoy the city as well.

Good times. Good times.

I am very grateful that Miriam got to know my daughter. Miriam loved children but didn’t want her own. She loved her nieces and nephews and her friends’ children. She treated my girl like a niece and friend of her own. My girl loved her, although she does not have very many memories now, because she was so young when Miriam died.

Miriam loved the arts and had a Master’s Degree in Arts Administration. At the time of her death, she was working for the New Orleans Arts Council and living as she dreamed. She was one of the most caring, open, determined, self-reliant, fun and funny friends I ever had. She always encouraged my writing and I am indebted to her for believing in me and my talent. I know she is with me. I know she is with me. Thank you, Miriam, for everything.

The Nightmare

Sun burns
its last crimson
flash, over broken
angles of this room.
Spits patterns
through wounded curtains,
spells my name
in a language
I cannot speak.

How can I push back
this rush of dream,
growing like grasses
under water?
Or let linger
the moving shadow
of rib-bone
and brown skull
that fills this
hollow space?

Raven

A cry crackles
from the raven’s
hook of mouth.
Its raspy babble falls
from hollow boughs
dry as forgotten bone.

Hooked nail, feather and flesh.

Ravens pose
in rusty leaves, crisp
strips of buckling leather,
and thicken the sky
with black, blue rhythms
of glossed wing.

First published in The Southwestern Review, Spring 1989

2012: A Year in the Writing Life

There was a time when I could not write. There was a time when I was very sick and did not have a grip on life. So now that I am stronger and healthier, I feel I absolutely must do it. I must do it for my survival. I must write to discover meaning, to know myself more deeply and to contribute something beautiful to the world. It is a responsibility and I honor it with my best. I live this commitment because the ability and time to do it is not promised.

My life is somewhat illuminated now, but darkness is ever-present. I have to keep striking at the dark with my best energies and efforts. I hold firm to the belief that “Each success, no matter how small, in practice of what I love is a lightning strike against the dark.”

I hope you take that statement into your heart and live it for yourself.

The Writing Life 2012:

Debut full-length poetry collection, Eating the Heart First, published October 1, 2012 by Press 53 as a Tom Lombardo Selection.

Activities

Founded the Voices Seasonal Readings Series

Presented “Vision and Voice: Introducing Youth to Poem-Making” to middle and elementary gifted and talented students—April, 2012, Zachary, LA

Coordinated Words of Fire, Words of Water, the literary component of the Fire and Water Rural Arts Celebration in Arnaudville, LA

Presenter and participant, Acadiana Worldlab, Cite des Arts, Lafayette

Recognitions

“Any Winter Sunday in Louisiana” nominated by Referential Magazine for a Pushcart Prize

“What Winter Told Me” nominated by Thrush Poetry Journal for inclusion in the Poetry Daily online anthology

“The Bird in My Ribcage” and “As We Are” were selections for “Vision/Verse #4” ekphrastic arts project by the Arts & Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana. (June 2012)

Publications

9 submission packets sent out. 26 poems rejected.
14 Poems published:

“Of the Gone Woman” Unlikely Stories
“Because We Love” Unlikely Stories
“Dream of Sudden Water” Unlikely Stories
“The Disease is at Home in Her” Melusine, Spring/Summer
“The Embalmer’s Wife” Melusine, Spring/Summer
“Seeing Through” blue five notebook, Spring
“Ink on a Mirror” Louisiana Literature, 29.1
“Convergence” Louisiana Literature, 29.1
“Distortion” Unlikely Stories, Spring
“The Word Does Not Come” Unlikely Stories Spring
“Poem to the Madonna” Unlikely Stories, Spring
“The Oak Remembered from My Childhood” Referential Magazine, Winter
“Any Winter Sunday in Louisiana” Referential Magazine, Winter
“What Winter Told Me” Thrush Poetry Journal, January 2012

Readings

“Words of Fire Words of Water” Fire and Water Rural Arts Celebration, Arnaudville (December)

First Friday Reading Series, Lake Charles (November)

17 Poets! Reading Series, New Orleans (November)

Sundays@4, Baton Rouge Gallery – center for contemporary arts (November)

Voices Seasonal Reading Series, Lafayette (November)

DAF Grants Recipient Ceremony, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette (October)

100 Thousand Poets for Change, Cite des Arts (September)

Vision/Verse #4, project by the Arts & Humanities Council of SWLA, Lake Charles (June)

Festival of Words reading series at Casa Azul Gifts, Grand Coteau (April)

“Voices in Winter” with Patrice Melnick, Carpe Diem! Lafayette (February)

Media

Interview/feature article, “Eat Your Heart Out” The Independent Monthly (November)

Interview/live reading on KRVS (88.7 FM–www.krvs.org) Après
Midi with host Judith Meriwether. (November)