This past fall Badgerdog partnered with the Shalom Austin Jewish Community for a six-part workshop series. Led by teaching artist Celia Bell, this workshop explored the self in relationship to the world. How do you find peace in the face of tragedy? How can you evoke narratives that moves across time? Workshop participant Laraine Lasdon explores these pertinent questions and more in her poems below.
Badgerdog Programs Coordinator
There are times when my breath is short,
I pump the bellows of my lungs, frantically
adding air to the heated sponge and calling
on the teachings of Master Nicklaus for elucidation
as to what would happen if my journey up the mountain
towards the dark cave of my destination,
would drown my soul or create a drought so
dry that the very vitality of my life—dust unto dust,
would wither and every lobe so perfect a host
for anger, love and peace,
then calm those very passions
would deny my heart its beat.
My purpose is strong, my temperament firm.
I feel a guardian protecting me from harm.
Although my soul’s defenses are weak and puny
surrounded by madness and massacres of Jews.
Yehudi, the word ricochets around the world,
reminding us we are human, Yehudi. Yehudi.
Jew means thankful.
But still I must reach the cave pushing uphill
through scrub and scabbed bush as if
forty days and forty nights must be endured,
by Pharaoh’s orders, through roiling sun,
alone, for where will help come from?
I feel an onslaught—the depths of despair
bereft for six million plus eleven to add to the roster
of people who need
our care need our grief for centuries of prejudice
with no justice, redemption, or peace.
But what about the single heart, my heart,
soul craves the inky black cave.
To hang upside down
in nature’s sleep, not seeing the
funerals, pine boxes, and small bodies in white shrouds
or hearing the scrape of the shovel lift earthly mud
to lovingly begin the physical end
and begin a life of memory and pain.
I feel a slim cry, vibrating, ascending, at a pitch so high
it can only be heard by Adonai and I.
I find the God of the Caves who hears sacred prayers
from supplicants and applicants and bearers
of good luck mixed with tears.
Part bat, part human Camazotz rules his caves,
where I long to be safe in the belly of the earth,
letting go of these fears, preferring rebirth.
Bat hearts beating offering hope, dispelling dread,
emerging renewed each night, no myth of the dead.
I wish I was a bat with a millionfold community
to blot out the day, then, in total harmony,
as the day ends and all, as one,
swoop out to greet the setting sun.
In London, John Ruskin roamed the 19th century streets,
hearing the clatter of horses’ hooves and the new machines.
Woodsmoke hovered in the wintry air, heavy and warm,
in the halls of Society and Parliaments’ Mall.
Appalled at the loss of beauty, art, and design,
and the disappearance of families of artisans, potters’ wood kilns
engravers of chimes, weavers and their sons,
and husbands with weighty bundles of rags
to be soaked and sifted and hung out to dry,
creating paper wove fine as linen for brotherhoods of scribes.
Ruskin wrote of the rot wrought by factories,
master carpenters become cogs, artists distressed,
the very truth of beauty disassembled by progress.
What did Ruskin mean when he wrote of his utopia as a place where men thrive?
Did he imagine a place to live or should it exist in our minds?
Is it where we craft art with our God-given hands,
or where industrial machine-tooled goods are forever banned?
A young William Morris, inspired by Ruskin’s love of the maker,
held gatherings and lectures on the grand art of Nature.
He traveled from Manchester and Lancaster, to Dover and Bath,
finding friendships and fellowships with artists who thought like he.
Edward Burne- Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who with their own hands,
pen and ink, paint and tools, created figures, plants, birds, and fruit
to circle and wandle, elegant and lithe, and drew
lasses with long tresses, a bow and silk dress,
to decorate the floral bordered pages of Chaucer and Troy,
fonts for the 53 books of the Kelmscott Press.
The golden gardens of domesticity, every thought and idea,
sailed over the sea taking root in the New World of America,
a wide land without disquiet or fear of industry,
in the monumental task to build nation and community.
In plain planked houses row upon row,
families gather for dinner at assembly line tables,
covered with cloths bright with yellow tailed swallows,
watched by wallpaper angels with white wings, halos and tallow.
Yet, there is art here, even as machines stencil nature’s design.
Braided trellises of vines stamped on millions of bolts and bales of fabric
packed high on railcars spined out to each suburb.
Sewing machines hum creating drapes with fine blooms,
the ghosts of Ruskin and Morris follow us from room to room.
The comforts of parlors past still survive
and the joy of design yet infuses our lives.
Like Ruskin and Morris, I long for connections
glowing like those perfect golden chrysanthemums on
gaily papered walls, where pewtered ornament graced every chair,
when murmurs, ideas, thoughts, and sharings
were like the hush of the thrush that stops singing for a moment,
to pluck strawberries ripe and sweet as deep conversation.
We may have lost the woodsmoke swirling from parlor fires,
warm and sparking from logs cut by hand,
wielding sharpened axe, and stacked all autumn with love.
And we may have lost coal stoves with curled legs,
cast iron pots of bubbling stews replaced by our touch on a digital oven,
our comfortable old teapot that called with a hiss
are now fine electric teapots that beep and click.
The wisp of woodsmoke has become a symbol.
The warmth of family, friends, present and remote,
has become for me, a hearth and home.
We are allowed a moment of realization:
in our own era of polarization,
when we reach out to each other it is the warmth of our hands,
the love in our souls, the family we craft for ourselves,
that curls around us like tendrils of wood smoke.