Howard Debs

Howard Richard Debs received a University of Colorado Poetry Prize at age 19. After spending the past fifty plus years in the field of communications, with recognitions including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Educational Press Association of America, he resumed his creative pursuits. Debs is a recipient of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. His essays, fiction, and poetry appear internationally in numerous publications; His photography will be found in select publications, including in Rattle online as “Ekphrastic Challenge” artist and guest editor. His book Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words (Scarlet Leaf Publishing), is a 2017 Best Book Awards and 2018 Book Excellence Awards recipient. His book Political (Cyberwit Press) is the 2021 American Writing Awards winner in poetry. He is co-editor of New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust forthcoming from Vallentine Mitchell of London, publisher of the first English language edition of Anne Frank’s diary. Born and bred in Chicago, he now lives in sunny South Florida with his wife of 56 years Sheila, where they spend considerable time spoiling their four grandchildren. 

He is listed in the Poets & Writers Directory: https://www.pw.org/content/howard_debs

Summers with Aunt Sissy                                                                          

“May their memory be for a blessing”

Jewish honorific
His name was Mel, a traveling
salesman. He almost always 
smoked big cigars and he had 
a big car. In boyhood I didn’t 
pay much attention to things
like make and model but it 
all fit just right; there he sat,
puffing away on his stogie, 
cigar smoke fleeing out the car 
window which he rolled down 
all the way, his left arm resting 
there his left hand dangling, 
holding the steering wheel
with his right, heading towards 
Grand Rapids with me along for the ride.

She was there to greet me 
through how many summers I 
can’t recall. There were sleep away 
camps back then, but those were 
for the snooty kids from neighborhoods 
where I didn’t ride my bike. When I
was older, I remember going to day
camp at the “Y” each camper wore
a tee shirt with the camp name 
on it so the counselor could keep 
track of us on field trips, but before then, 
it was summers with Aunt Sissy.

Mel worked with Uncle Bill, each
had a territory to cover, so mostly it was
me, my cousins, and my aunt, for two
maybe it was three weeks that I stayed.
I lived in the city, in Chicago, so
back then the visit was like going to 
the country. I played outside, thinking 
back, there was lots of open land nearby 
where I’d conjure up all kinds of fantasy.

Then it was dinner time. She’d call me
to come in and made sure I washed my 
hands. She’d ask if I had fun, if I enjoyed 
being away, and I’d say something childish 
in reply and she’d answer “now you tell me” 
she said that all the time. Those were 
special days, except for the cottage 
cheese and peaches, canned I guess, 
or the cottage cheese and pears she 
served it seemed with every meal. I don’t
like cottage cheese and fruit but that’s 
about the only thing I don’t think
of fondly to this day.

In memory of Sariece Rubin, (1926-2022)

The State of Hate

And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it

Tanakh, the Jewish Bible
Most of the synagogue members 
in Colleyville Texas were watching 
Sabbath services virtually from home, 
concerned for their safety from a virus; 
I too, with fear, my fellow Jews 1323 
miles away, in the presence of a madman; 
all of us staring at our screens, each 
newscast starting with the same report, 
three congregants there in person, the rabbi, 
hostages of someone, a welcomed stranger,
armed, demanding; the Jewish Sabbath 
lasts twenty-five hours, wanting to linger 
we add time to the day we set apart, 
but here each moment an agony, 
waiting for a tragedy; the service begins
with daily morning blessings, being thankful
for the day’s renewal, followed by 
songs of praise, leading to the Jewish 
statement of belief in one God, the Shema, 
then the main “Standing Prayer,” blessings of 
praise, petition, peace, and gratitude; a portion 
from the sacred Torah scroll is read, and 
closing prayers including the Mourner’s
Prayer, in which we honor loved ones who 
have died by affirming and praising God;
but when the gun was cocked 
the service stopped; after eleven
hours, the rabbi threw a chair at
their tormentor, they escaped,
they survived; listening hour after hour 
to the livestream, experiencing the trauma 
within the walls of her own home, asked by 
the Washington Post to comment, one of the 
congregants said it was “kind of a scary time 
to be a Jew in this country;” the service begins 
with daily morning blessings;                   Selah

Afterword: From article in the Forward: “a co-founder of Congregation Beth Israel, told her mother, a Holocaust survivor who will turn 100…about the crisis at their shul. ‘I saw it in her eyes: the pain, the fear, the memories.’’’ For further reading, “How antisemitic conspiracy theories contributed to the recent hostage-taking at the Texas synagogue

Aliens

Get away from her, you bitch

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), alien queen
            fight scene from the movie Aliens
Let’s face it we’re all somebody’s aliens.
We hate being hated, but we all hate. 
How about if we take another shot at it?
Kepler-1649c awaits, newly
discovered exoplanet, 
only 1.06 times larger than 
planet Earth, with fully three-fourths 
the light, temperature about the same,
water almost certainly on its surface. 
Sounds about right for a do-over,
we’d be in stasis for a pretty long 
time though. I know about these
things. I started with Flash Gordon
Ming the Merciless, Doctor Zarkov,
I’ve seen them all, E.T., Close Encounters,
Star Wars prequels, it’s all imaginable.

Imagine in 1944 the fascist Arrow Cross 
Party militiamen who were murdering Jews 
along the Danube river bank, the
shoes were considered of value, the
shoes alone, the victims in their panic
hastily demanded to remove them
as shots rang out and writhing bodies
spilling blood flooded the water the dead
and dying carried by the current downstream.
All those killed, ancestors to someone.

There are evolutionary paleobiologists 
who think human-like beings exist 
out there in some galaxy somewhere. 
It’s all about what they call “convergence” 
adapting Darwin's theories to the entire universe.
Maybe the James Webb Space Telescope
will help earthlings find these others.

Aliens, welcome.


Afterword: Just a few recent examples of incidents related to alterity: Whoopie Goldberg’s comment on TV about the Holocaust, the Ted Cruz comment about Black female supreme court nominees, the hostage-taking incident in Texas, the Beijing Winter Olympics with comparisons to Berlin in 1936; an article about aliens lends a perspective about the realities of what being human-like means here on Earth or probably anywhere else. For further reading: NASA official James Webb Space Telescope website

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