by Saad Ghosn
I. Images For A Better World: Ricci MICHAELS, Visual Artist
Ricci Michaels was born and raised in Philadelphia, the seventh of eight daughters. Encouraged by her teachers, she started painting at a very young age, as far back as kindergarten. She liked to see her pictures hung often in her classroom. Being the seventh child out of eight she struggled for attention, and drawing helped her gain notice. She would carry a drawing pad everywhere she went and would sell her artwork on the street to anyone who engaged her for candy money. She, however, would always save some change to buy comic books and newspapers as one of her parents’ rules was to always read the newspaper and in its entirety. She thus became familiar with the many issues going on in the world at the time, for instance the Iran hostage crisis, the world inflation, the Palestinian problem and its peace treaty fostered by President Carter and signed by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. This awakening to social and political issues triggered her interest, and these topics began to appear in her paintings.
Wanting to pursue an art education Michaels enrolled in the School for the Creative and Performing Arts as an art major. She quickly, however, lost interest in art classes, as she felt constrained by boundaries and by the insufficient freedom allowed to express how she really felt. As a result she rarely attended classes and ended up with no formal training as an artist.”
Michaels joined the military at the age of seventeen thanks to a special waiver. She wanted to travel the world and visit all the museums she had read about. She initially chose the United Kingdom to be stationed in, was then transferred to Keflavik, Iceland, to be trained as an aviation mechanic. Shortly afterwards her father and best friend, died in a bad accident. She felt alone and became depressed. Not wanting to share her feelings for fear of being banned from working on the flight deck, she often thought of killing herself and resorted to art to keep her sanity. She then traveled to London, Amsterdam, Paris and eventually settled in Texas where she was placed into a squadron, continuing to work with planes and fighter jets. In Texas Michaels faced a great deal of racism, but fought back remembering the horrible stories of slavery her father shared with her growing up. She was also the only female in the power plant shop and constantly worked hard to prove herself. She took further solace in her art.
Michaels later served 6 years in the US navy. When the Gulf war started she did not want to be part of it or of any other war. She quit and moved to Cincinnati, volunteered at Children’s Hospital and got hired to drive a bus for Queen City Metro. She drove for close to 19 years before being diagnosed with a bleeding brain aneurysm that took away half of her sight. This health accident triggered further her pursuit of her art. She also started writing and has lived since as a full time artist. Still struggling with depression and daily pain her art often comes to her rescue. Themes of her work entail social issues and spirituality.
Michaels also likes to immerse herself in community service. She recently founded the Urban Expression 101 project housed in downtown Cincinnati. Its aim is to empower the local, often forgotten, community through art and sharing. Michaels describes herself as “an artist all day every day”. This makes her feel whole and very blessed.
Michaels’ painting The Domino Effect depicts what could happen if we do not address the important issues within our communities and give these issues some serious recognition.
Michaels experienced a great deal of sexual harassment when she was living abroad; not just from the foreigners but also from some of her own comrades. As the only female in the power plant shop she was told to suck it up if she wanted to be a part of the aviation crew. So she did but wrote her account every night in her journal, hence her painting Black Woman.
In her painting The Usual Suspects, Michaels wanted to state how we, as a society, sometimes place the blame on others, such as a school teacher, a politician or a defrocked priest, because it can be very convenient.
Revolutionary Mood, according to Michaels, is a painting that, sadly, will always remain unfinished. The names listed in the R.I.P. column are those of people who have died or were killed by the police, the last one being that of Regina Burton, a homeless woman killed when a police officer drove over her while sleeping in Washington park in Over The Rhine. The officer was cleared of all charges, even though he was breaking the law by driving over the grass.
If You Want to Turn Me On addresses the issue of domestic violence against women. The misogynist music that youth nowadays listen to makes them think that it is acceptable and perfectly normal to hit or slap a woman. Abuse is abuse be it physical, mental or emotional.
Michael’s love for the blues guided her as she worked on The Blues Had a Baby. Her painting depicts the origins of that music and its strong connection with black culture in the United States, as well as how much music has evolved and continues to change.
Asphalt All American, Taking It to the Streets gives face to all the dreams that are deferred. For some sports are the only way out of the ghetto, but without an education or guidance many succumb to the streets and to all the negative that they may have to offer.
II. Words For A Better World: Terry PETERSEN, Literary Artist
Terry Petersen considers family an important priority. When she looks in the mirror she sees a grandmother’s face and doesn’t mind. She retired several months before her third granddaughter was born with the goal of becoming a full-time writer. However, that little one came into the world seven weeks early. The family already knew that the child not only would have Down syndrome but would need two surgeries, on her heart and belly. In the hospital Petersen learned new priorities as she became one of the infant’s primary caregivers when Mommy and Daddy needed to go back to work.
Through this experience Petersen saw the joy of seeing every person as an individual: black, white, poor, or disabled. Beautiful no longer needed brilliance to be real. Perfect showed itself to be an illusion. She believes in breaking down the barriers between individuals and nations. One of her friends, a Muslim born in an Arabic country, married another friend whose mother was Jewish. Petersen’s hope is that the world will open its borders in peace.
She writes from the heart. Her blog http://terrypetersen.wordpress.com focuses on positive attitude. She has published short stories in pikerpress.com and in “Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel” and her poetry appeared in “For a Better World” in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Petersen is the facilitator for Hamilton Writers Guild and is a member of Greater Cincinnati Writers League and Queen City Writers.
1. Petersen visited Dachau in the summer of 2012 and felt the camp’s horror the second she entered the courtyard. She wanted to recreate those lives. She did it through the following fictional narrative poem. “Dachau,” narrates a story that could have been—among the many that will never be told.
Dachau, May 1938
(Six months before The Night of Broken Glass)
The little girl overheard
Mama tell Great Uncle Benjamin
she feigned interest in marketplace pork.
He said she not only couldn’t fool Nazis,
she should be true to herself.
The little girl pecked the piano
one key at a time,
black and white,
high and low tones.
Uncle’s happy songs
lay hidden inside them
like secret buried treasure,
with beauty that stretched from
one side of the keyboard to the other,
sweet sounds that
rose and fell,
music that told a story
she wasn’t allowed to repeat,
not even in whispers.
She wondered why
the sons and daughters of
Abraham and Jacob’s Traditions
should anger anyone.
The child searched and found
under her fingertips.
Uncle promised to come
at noon the next day,
and lead her small fingers
across the scales, but it
would take work,
an attentive ear,
But dark filled the sky
And Uncle never arrived.
Papa came home
and said Uncle had been taken.
Papa missed capture
by a shadow.
He’d found a way
to leave Munich,
as narrow as the eye
of a needle
used for silk,
their only hope.
And the little girl followed,
believing that Uncle would come
someday and lead her hands
into music because
she could work,
as well as anyone.
Benjamin felt the heat
of the men next to him,
a herd, silenced by a fear
so strong it had an odor,
gut-wrenching and rancid.
One of the guards outside the gate
glanced at Benjamin,
and then looked down.
The young man stood beside a message
bent into the metal:
Arbeit Macht Frei
Work sets you free.
The guard had been his student,
a youth who expected golden sound
from a flip of the wrist
and a closed ear.
Benjamin’s six-year-old niece
He imagined her waiting
as he dropped his shoes
next to the others
outside the sign marked brausebad,
the bathhouse, the place
perhaps the beginning,
perhaps the end,
but never destruction.
He prayed that
even if he couldn’t return,
and his niece
didn’t learn his song,
she would create her own.
2. “Dubious Advice” appeared as a response to arguments that Petersen interpreted as the deaf shouting to the deaf. Forget the need to be right and act! Yes, there may be times when it is necessary to fight for what is right. However, Petersen prefers to ask, “Is this the mountain I want to die on?”
Take one opinion;
call it the whole.
Shout your words
with venom if necessary.
Cover your home,
your car, every space you touch
with bumper stickers, clever words,
so simple and transparent
an ostrich could strut
your message across a zoo
with similar flare.
Then flick on the television,
curl up in your favorite chair,
or lie on a distant beach,
and revel in the comfort of your truth.
Relax, with food and wine within reach,
your part completed.
3. Furthermore, in order to act effectively as a person of peace it is necessary to see oneself as okay, whole, or at least capable of becoming whole. The following poem won an honorable mention in “ByLine Magazine,” now no longer published.
I., Alphabettically Speaking
stepped from the alphabet.
feeling smaller than the dot above it.
Its diminutive form could scarcely lift itself,
much less a worthy verb like challenge or love.
It shriveled next to belligerent verbs! And it
blushed adjacent to outrageous action. Then
W and E took a chance with i and helped out.
In time, they managed to empower
I into bold upper-case shape,
4. There doesn’t seem to be any way of going through life without regret. However, if learning comes from it, so can peace.
The Broken Umbrella
I find an old, bent umbrella
in the back of a closet,
and remember a story
about my great aunt,
the one who lived
with my grandmother.
I heard she refused to go to school,
rain or shine, without her umbrella.
Grandma laughed when she told me,
a tired adult laugh
I didn’t understand.
She never knew why
her little sister feared rain.
And I wouldn’t dare ask.
My great aunt talked about men
as if they were born as sooty coal
covered with flesh.
Genetically messy, crude, loud.
Sports without a soul.
Since I was her only niece,
my aunt sought my ear.
I tolerated her out of pity.
I pictured her as a child
at the turn of the twentieth century.
paired with her umbrella,
two closed slender shapes
surrounded by bullies
who gave fuel to her opinions.
She learned bitterness somewhere,
wore it as a badge of a holy crusade.
In the fifties Grandma took in a boarder,
a quiet man who ate corn flakes
doused with warm water.
My aunt latched her door at night,
and moved a bookcase
in front of it.
Then one night after Grandma died
I stayed overnight with my aunt,
gave her some company.
I recall her bony frame in dull, plain pajamas,
all femininity pressed out,
as she told me about an uncle,
or was it a cousin?
You won’t believe what he did to me?
By then I was old enough to guess.
But, not old enough to know
the burden of that knowledge wasn’t mine.
I remained silent.
Her secret stayed bound
within flannel and hate.
She died in a nursing home.
I imagine a new scene as I discard
the useless umbrella from my closet.
What would have happened if
I could have borrowed a few years
of experience from my future,
risked touching the pain in her eyes,
and asked, what happened?
My old umbrella’s hollow spiked bones stick out
through torn, split fabric.
I can’t fix it. Yet, strange,
I feel an odd sadness for all things
that no longer have a chance to recover.