by Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer MMM U.S.A. 20.07.2022
Poetry has, until recently, been a mysterious garden where words blossomed like wildflowers. They looked lovely but what was their meaning? How come the ending words did not rhyme but carried me to a different world?
It all began three years ago when I met Damien in the hall of the residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor. He was seeing the place where his mother, Alice Sullivan, was going to reside. “You should meet her,” quipped Mother Maureen, as she met me walking past Damien. Alice had gone to Nigeria in the 1970’s to 1990’s to study Anthropology in the University of Lagos. It was an excellent opportunity to make friends and welcome Alice into the residence. Mother Maureen, a Little Sister of the Poor, knew we would have a lot in common through our love for Nigeria and the people.
We really enjoyed each other’s company and, lo and behold, Alice soon took me under her wing to encourage me to join the poetry class led by Andrea Read. Alice, who was then ninety-three, had won several poetry contests and was very keen on learning more. I reluctantly gave in, and I am so glad because it has brought me to a greater understanding of what poetry is all about.
Fast forward to last week, when Alice would receive first prize at age 96 in the Senior division of a poetry contest organized by the West Roxbury Library. Our activities director, Gina Bozzi, had obtained a cord which when attached to my computer and the smart TV could fit the zoom call on the large TV Screen. This enabled other members of the poetry group to watch the prize winners in various categories recite their poems.
The narrator, Mary Pinard, is a published poet who explained how the judging of the poetry was based on the imagery, texture, sound, figurative language, similes, metaphors, and meter of the chosen words. I could not believe the high-quality level reached by fifth graders and all the way up to high school level. I am still deeply touched by the masterpiece of the high-school student, Bruno Kim, who wrote “I am a banana.” The banana referred to his yellow Asian skin which people saw and shunned because of his representing bringing Covid to the United States. He begged for a chance to let him peel off the layers to show his true American self and his plea to be regarded as such. The words were beautifully intertwined to weave a delicate insight into the suffering of being someone different. My heart went out to him to try and assuage his pain.
Alice had her hair coiffed beautifully and looked elegant for all her 96 years. Her poem was called” Symmetry” and spoke gracefully about the different faces of love and compassion she encountered during the pandemic from those caring for and living with her. She dedicated her poem to an extremely resolute staff member who died recently and had meant a great deal to all of us. As we listened to the recitation of the poem, vivid recollections of what we experienced, and the unremittent care and concern given came alive. It enkindled our thankfulness “Surely God is in this place, and we did not know it.” cf. Jacob wrestling with God. Genesis 28:16.
Now I would like to ask you to read these two poems so you, too can unfold their petals.
I am a Banana
by Bruno Kim
Please do not misunderstand. I do not mean the tropical fruit. It is a commonly used colloquialism, defining the cultural schism in people like me. A bright yellow skin, my Asian exterior, but peel back the layers and you’ll find a pale white inside, how I feel most of the time.
I am not what people see. I’m American as blueberry pie on the fourth of July. I watch football more than I watch soccer, but I feel like a tight-rope walker, balancing on a fraying beam, between, knowing I can’t fall.
Sometimes I just feel, disenfranchised, and alienated by each side. I am the fruit my American side used to gentrify, to justify the big lie. When I answer Asian on the census, I find that I ‘m still the consensus to blame for the “China virus.” I try and talk to my Korean relatives, but I find I’m not desirous, they keep saying, I’m too far gone. I am not one.
People who don’t know me, people who can’t see me, just a yellow sheen that I keep saying isn’t me. I don’t want to walk the line, I don’t want to be between, an unseen minority, stuck in limbo, waiting by the window. Until a time I can be more than one side. Until then, I have to toe the line. Until then I am a banana.
by Alice Sullivan
Dedicated to Carolyn Gillis- employee. Died January18,2022
A curl of the lip, a smile-
Without a face to read you lose
Essential clues, human intimacy-
Would we be lesser than before?
On a certain day-ah, that day
We became faceless. A new world-
A vortex-locked up, not by choice,
As death stalked in the nursing home.
Brave workers arrived every day
Masked, wearing face shields, gowns,
Glasses gloves, with closed doors,
Banned socialization- solitary confinement.
Ethiopian Aster, her face framed by tattoos,
Stately, her beautiful aura gave us assurance.
Linda, a local with 45 years of service, at 70 years
An inspiration survived Covid and a stroke.
Marie and Christina from Haiti,
Each worked several jobs at a time, for years,
To bring their families here
Their gentleness soothed our torn world.
Among our residents were missionary nuns
Who had delivered babies, saved lives
In many parts of the world, retired now,
Grateful for food and shelter
A month into the lockdown, Andrea
Sent a packet of writing materials
A volunteer poetry teacher, she saw a severed connection
And healed it by virtual monthly workshops.
A nursing home permeated by death,
Yet held together by the kindness
Of scattered faces of the world
That turned the utter darkness to light