Works in Progress

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LOUISIANA PINES

HOMELAND POEMS AND VIGNETTES

 

Praise for Louisiana Pines

With a deft hand and in a resonant voice, Bessie Senette goes deep into love of home and humanity in Louisiana Pines. From dancehalls to the mysteries of Louisiana’s varied landscapes, Senette calls upon ancestors who told stories to keep histories alive and their human connections tightly-bound. In her poem, Holy Stick, she is given the power to speak while being fully heard. This book is the Holy Stick that she carries with her to speak Truth, transporting and transforming us in the process.

~Clare L. Martin, author of Eating the Heart First, Seek the Holy Dark, and Crone.

How we spend each breath matters, Bessie Senette reminds us, and we are wise to listen further. At once deeply rooted in her native Louisiana of shimmering light and sands’ murderous burn and encompassing our entire blue planet, Louisiana Pines is in toto a treasured wonderment. We can almost taste the gumbo, smell the fetid bayou waters. We may confront life’s many griefs, but Bessie bids us follow her from heartbreak back to joy.

~Karla Linn Merrifield, poet, Psyche’s                

 

The cover art was done by a brilliant young artist, Stephen J. Hawkins.

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My first foray into fiction writing is a flash fiction piece that was written at a writer’s retreat at Chicot State Park on a rare winter in Southern Louisiana that had snow appearing twice in a week. Not convinced that I will ever write a novel but I did enjoy exploring this genre. Enjoy!

Shadows of the Dead

             He took Dad’s old shovel from the toolshed, walked to the far corner of the backyard under the chokeberry tree and began to dig a hole. I watched through the kitchen window as I washed the supper dishes. I returned the dishes to the cabinet then I sat alone in dad’s chair. I could still smell Old Spice and wood shavings. The setting sun did not halt my brother’s digging. Later, through another window, I saw him standing neck deep in the full moonlight of a clear summer night. Satisfied finally that the hole was deep enough, he climbed out and threw Dad’s tools into the hole, and filled it up again. He didn’t need to wipe his eyes with his sleeve for me to know he was crying, nor did he have to tell me why he had done it. I understood. Our father was a craftsman.

The next morning, I stood with my brother and the funeral director at the gravesite. The sound of dirt hitting the wooden casket and the morning chirping of woodland birds was his elegy. Our church was the forest. Our prayers were the memories of the whisperings of an old wood plane and the scratching of a handsaw.

My father wasn’t an easy man to like, much less love but we did and we stayed beside him – never married, never left the house we were born in. Oh, there were suitors, and we caroused in town on occasion but it never came to anything lasting. To say that we loved our way of life would be overstating it. We found value in it and we made money at it. Craftsmanship is hard work. It requires precision and exclusive dedication.

Mornings begin the same. I wake first to make a strong pot of dark roast coffee in the old, porcelain drip coffee pot that once belonged to my grandmother. Then Dad wakes and starts the breakfast. Next, Joey comes in just in time to sit down and eat, fully dressed for the day in denim coveralls and work boots. No one speaks. We each know our roles. If Dad needs anything from town, he has written it on a chalkboard by the back door that leads to the wood shop. If it’s heavy lifting, Joey goes into town in the old diesel truck, if not, I go in my vintage Chevy Malibu.

And when I say vintage what I really mean is an old, run-down, piece of crap.

Looking at the chalkboard now, I wonder if some chalk words will magically appear and I’ll have my instructions for the day. I’ve done it every morning for the last twenty years. I don’t think my brain has caught up with reality yet. I suppose that Joey will eventually start writing on the chalkboard but he’s still sleeping. It’s four in the morning, I should make the coffee but I can’t seem to lift myself out of Dad’s chair. I’ve been here all night wondering what’s next.

Sounds from the kitchen distract me. Joey is making the coffee. I feel a tinge of guilt, but I don’t move. He brings me a cup and sits down in Mom’s chair. This shocks me and I move forward to sit upright. No one has sat in Mom’s chair since she died eighteen years ago. It’s both appalling and intriguing. Joey is speaking words in his usual gentle voice but they’re not making sense. I take a sip of coffee and try to listen more carefully. I hear him say, “ Sis, do you understand?” “I think, “of course I don’t, you idiot,” but I keep staring into my coffee cup and nod. He knows me well. He doesn’t raise his voice, only his tone shifts and then says,

“ Martha Elizabeth, do you understand?” Only our mother ever called me by my full name and I can’t help but notice that he is using her exact tone of voice.

“Martha Elizabeth,“ I’m leaving.”

“When will you be back?

“That’s just it. I’m not.”

“You’re not what?”

“Sis, (Thank God, he’s back to Sis.) I’m not just going to town. I’m leaving the state. I’m going to Arkansas. I need a new start. I need to be far away from here.”

“What are you going to do? You buried Dad’s tools. You won’t be able to make furniture.”

“I never wanted to make furniture. I wanted to take care of Dad and you. Mom made me promise. Dad’s dead and you are smarter than all of us put together. There’s money in the bank that I’ll take half of. There’s 46 acres and this house that Dad built. I’ve been to the lawyer and signed all the papers so you can have all of it.”

“So what am I supposed to do?

“I was hoping you would go to college. Get a degree. Use your brain for something other than taking care of two stinky men.”

When Joey was younger he would put on Dad’s Old Spice aftershave so heavy you could smell it all the way to New Orleans. Dad overheard me telling him that he stunk and said, “I guess you think I stink too.” I blushed so red they both laughed. I joined in. It was such an unusual sound, all of us laughing, that we kept at it for quite some time, until our sides ached and tears ran down our faces. It was such a blessed relief to feel something other than sadness. The phrase, “two stinky men,” always made us smile.

This time I wasn’t smiling and he knew how scared I was. It was all fine for him, starting a new life, a man living in a man’s world but I’m almost thirty, and starting from scratch just doesn’t seem possible.

“You can think about it as long as you want to. There is enough cash for you to live in New Orleans and go to UNO like you wanted to when you graduated high school. It’s not so far away so you can come back here between semesters and holidays if it comforts you to be here in this house, near your friends.
I almost laughed out loud at that. My friends, who would that be? Mr. Badeaux, the grocer, Mr. Benoit at the meat market, Mrs. Chastant, the Post Master? Every one of my classmates from high school has moved away or lives even further out in the boonies with husbands and three or four kids to brag about. I am noticing that I sound a little like Mrs. Chastant who has been here all of her 67 years and complains about everything and everyone. A sudden realization that I could become her gives me pause.

Joey has stopped talking. It’s as though he can sense that he has started the wheels turning in my mind. He doesn’t want to interrupt that process so he waits patiently until I say, “How much money?”

© 2018 Bessie Adams Senette

 

 

Impermanence

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Even rocks smile

When left to nature

Gurgling symphony

For river fish dance

Ice flow backdrop

 

Water so clear

You want to drink

Until every desiccated cell

Remembers life before the drought

 

Hibernate here

Watch scenes

Change endlessly

From morning to sunset

Day after day

 

Defiance is futile

Nothing stops this

Not when Noah filled the ark

Not when Katrina

Broke that levee

 

We begin in water

We will end there

Dust must reach some shore

Nowhere is change more evident

Than at this river’s edge

 

I watch

Boulders become rocks

Rocks become pebbles

All mountains

Eventually become sand

Thanksgiving 2018

I spent two years studying the first noble truth of Buddhism—my precious human life. Every morning, I tried to focus my first thoughts upon awakening on gratitude. It took months to shut down the endless lists of things my day would include and the failings of things previously left undone which had been my habit. It is known that habits take, on average, three months to break and new habits are established in only two weeks. Well, call me stubborn, but it took the whole two years to get my new habit established and the old one broken.

Every morning, sounds are the first thing I focus on. The list varies each day, but the one constant is the sound of mechanisms like air conditioning, clock ticks, ceiling fan, and oscillating desk fan. Natural sounds come next, bird song, wind chimes, my own breathing. Then, I say thank you for my warm bed, indoor plumbing and hot, fresh-brewed coffee. Before my feet touch the floor I have listed the many amenities of my privileged life, including my loving relations with people, places, and things – all my relations.

I was struck by the concept offered by my teacher that we should be thankful for our capacity to learn and to have teachers that care about our spiritual advancement. Listing my teachers would surely take another two years of focused practice. Today though, my thoughts turn to friendship. The holidays offer many opportunities to see people that we may have been missing and forgot to acknowledge. One such friend who will visit today once said to me, “ You put a lot of love out there, so you should expect to get some back.” Two things have stayed with me about that statement. First, that someone acknowledged the love I shine each day and second, that I would expect something in return. It is true that expectations are hard to avoid in this human experience but if my motivation to shine is only to get lit up by others, it ceases to be a natural way of being and more like a negotiation for profit. That I am altruistic in all my actions is less than authentic, but to strive for authentic, unconditional love is indeed a noble cause.IMG_20181031_102907

Artist unknown (happy to give credit if anyone knows)

Wary of pitfalls

Ego engages

Loving being loved

Desires more of it

Avoidance mechanics

Determines fate

Look too deep and fall into that abyss.

 

List

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Recently, I found a bucket list that I wrote on lined notebook paper in 2001, the year my youngest son graduated from high school. There were twelve items written on the paper simply titled, “THE LIST.” I was surprised to find that several items had been accomplished and as many needed revision. Impermanence is the indestructible wisdom teaching of old. It is as true today as it was when first spoken by the ancient sages. Everything changes. I felt no disappointment about the things on the list that are not going to be accomplished. Auditing physics at the local university is not a continuing aspiration but attending a Broadway play still seems attainable.

You might have already guessed that I am a list maker. I make endless list of mundane chores, writing projects, travel plans, books I want to read, etc. There is a sense of accomplishment in tearing off that completed list and moving onto the next. Many notebooks have come and gone through my 64 years of life so why is it that sometimes I feel unaccomplished? This thought has inspired a new list. The list looks like this:

  1. What I know about healing
  2. What I now about spirituality
  3. What I know about art
  4. What I know about nature
  5. What I know about mysticism
  6. What I know about relationships
  7. What I know about equanimity
  8. What I know about connectivity
  9. What I know about wellness
  10. What I know about surrender
  11. What I know about aging
  12. What I know about longing

I have no idea if this list will be revised or accomplished or forgotten in the next 17 years only to be found in a dusty binder but, I am certain that impermanence will play its part.

Art in Spirit

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Art by Agniezska Nowinska

What are the qualities of art that connect us through cultures, language, lifestyle, politics, economic status, gender, and religious belief or lack of any dogma?

If a child looks at a famous painting and responds, is it because he or she is critiquing technique or style? I don’t think so. So what is it – topic, colors?

I took Eden, at age 3 to the art exhibit of a friend. I held her up so she could see the art at her eye level. She was delighted until we came to one particular painting when she began to shake her head. I asked her if she liked it. She again indicated no. I brought the artist to the painting and showed her Eden’s reaction. Of course most artists don’t take criticism well, but my friend knew this child and explained that the abstract painting was about love and feelings of the heart. Eden still rejected the painting. I tried to see what was different about this one painting in the show and could not discern anything that could prompt Eden’s response. I remain perplexed by this experience.

What I know is that young children don’t look at art with their intellect, they feel it with their spirit eyes, with a sense of wonderment they still retain. Whatever that painting held in its spirit, Eden was not buying it.

If, as adults, we could look at art with our emotional intelligence, what would we discover about the art and about ourselves?

© 2018 Bessie Adams Senette

Visionary

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Photo by T. Senette

My new year began yesterday. It’s not that I don’t know what day it is. It’s only that I’m starting a slow movement toward renewal. 2017 was a challenging year and I didn’t want it to let the calendar hit it in the ass on the way out. Plus, this weather has me contemplating a retreat into hibernation. Our southern coast doesn’t usually see frigid temperatures until February and even then it doesn’t usually last more than 48 hours. My house is cozy and comfortable, so why expose myself to cold wind and post-holiday blues that seem to permeate the collective mood. Truth be told, it is more than that. I’m reticent, holding back my opinion of what may be in store for this year. I lack a vision for a future that includes a healthy dose of cooperation, collaboration and constructive creativity. I have no resolutions. What I would change seems unchangeable. Adding more to my to-do list is not possible. Refraining from all my cherished vices doesn’t seem likely. My mood is not sad. It’s undecided, directionless. So instead of focusing on 2018, I find myself projecting all my inspiration to 2020. So much about that year is appealing to me. It will be the year I can collect Social Security, the year we will finish paying for this oasis of hospitality that has become a fortress of solitude for me and our next opportunity to see if the country’s voting population has gained wisdom from its previous misstep in 2016.

I am determined to create art this year with a vision for 2020. I will use my creativity to inspire myself to more hope for the global collective consciousness.

I will begin in the dark where all my fears live and then seek the light that inspires courage. With enough grace I hope to emerge in authenticity and wholeness of being. What is required is structured solitude. Let the year begin!

Gratitude

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It’s easy to forget how privileged we are in the United States and especially in southern Louisiana. Unless you enjoy living off the grid and that is your privilege as well, then you don’t have to travel past your nearest indoor faucet for water.  You can have a back yard garden for vegetables and herbs and raise your own livestock for meat if you so choose. My parents lived in the marshes of lower Bayou Lafourche. They grew vegetables and fruit trees, fished, trawled and trapped for most of their food. The grocery store was 20 miles away and there they bought dairy, spices, seasonings, hardware, clothing and cleaning supplies. Of course, they had modern conveniences like cars, a television, washer and dryer and even a dishwasher. They once talked about getting some chickens but realized that the wildlife and insects would make life for chickens intolerable and they wouldn’t know what to do with them if a hurricane came.  My life in Lafayette isn’t so rustic but I enjoy the abundance of good food, good friends and great entertainment. Acadiana is rich in cultural diversity and the arts.  Now, just because I have an almost idyllic life here doesn’t mean I can’t see the suffering of others. It is true that we have room to grow and become better at many social issues. The disparagement between the poor and the wealthy is our most pressing challenge, in my opinion. Education, health care, job opportunities paying a living wage could be available for every citizen. When my parents went to the two-room school in Cut Off, Louisiana in the 30’s they studied the three R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic. My father went all the way to the eighth grade, my mother only to the fourth. While that schooling was free, they couldn’t continue with a formal education because they were both needed to help provide for their large families. Even if we find a way to equalize salaries and benefits, and fix the tax code, we would still be faced with a drug addiction epidemic and a mental health crisis. In the 30’s and 40’s drug cartels weren’t yet invading our cadie. Mental illness was part of  the social challenges then. Never spoken about, the mentally ill were sent to live in sanatariums. We’ve come a long way in the treatment of mental illness but the stigma still lingers that alienates the sufferers from society. Because this illness is misunderstood and misrepresented, we have a long way to go to provide proper mental healthcare. When I contemplate the beauty and abundance of my homeland and country, I see infinite potentiality. We will conquer these challenges if we contribute to collective, collaborative, and creative solutions. The personal challenge is to be grateful for life in all its juicy fecundity and apply all my features (that never were bugs) my life skills can offer. I practice by listing all that I am thankful for and remembering all the opportunities I have been given to thrive. I begin with my grandparents.

…an excerpt from “Cutting the Clouds”

First and Always

Thank you maternal grandmother for birthing the daughter who would become my precious mother, who at the time of her birth carried the egg that was the potential of me.

Thank you paternal grandmother for birthing the son who would donate his sperm to the cause making that potential a reality and for contributing to the loving father he became.

Thank you mother for my life, for nurturing me and challenging me to be more than I thought I could be. Thank you father for the lessons of humility and self worth. Thank you both for my sister and for her beauty and brilliance that helped me to shine in my own way and for my brother whose gentle wisdom taught me the importance of kindness. Thank you for the sister I never knew who taught me about the power to heal. By her life and by her death, I learned perseverance. Thank you sister for my beautiful niece, today a friend and scholar, who gifted us all with the next generation: that brilliantly clear, redheaded baby boy. Thank you family for all the times you challenged and encouraged me. Thank you ancestors, unknown and uncounted. The wisdom you came to in your lifetimes is surely part of my soul’s journey now.

Thank you, all you angels, both human and otherwise, who scolded me when I needed scolding, who taught me when I needed teaching, who lifted me up when I needed to be held, who nudged me along toward greater integrity.

Thank you my husband, heart of my heart, for your loving that surpasses understanding. Thank you my two sons for your continuing love and support and for crediting me on occasion for gifting you with life and lessons that you cherish. Thank you for the daughters I never had by choosing such exquisite wives.

Thank you Jade and James for generously sharing with me the newest addition to the community of heroines, awakening in me my Garden of Eden. While you are not children of my womb, you are without a doubt children of my heart.

Thank you friends who walk beside me helping me to contain so much love. I trust you know who you are.

Thanks to all of you who have allowed me to be a part of your healing and for those who sought me as their mentor. I have been honored and blessed by your trust in me.

Thank you Great and Wondrous Spirit for gifting me with so much love and support. Your gentleness is awe-inspiring and sometimes overwhelming.

© 2017 Bessie Adams Senette