Thursday, March 9, 2006

Kathy McGunigle

Kathy McGunigle

I - Remembrance

I knew a woman once, whom I can see,
In my mind's eye, as she appeared when I
First met her, two decades ago, almost --
A little woman, frail with age and cares,

A teacher, just like me, in public school,
In Brooklyn, close by Queens, near water's edge,
But nearing, unlike me, retirement age,
With body worn, but spirit still aglow --

A teachers' teacher, she, whose little frame
Grew energized, when, chalk in hand, she taught
That  subject that she loved, that Chemistry
That she had slowly learned, and mastered, now

To pass it on, with reverence and zest
And knowledge gleaned, through years of teaching kids,
Of all their strengths and weaknesses, and where
They most were prone to stumble, falter, or progress

In their own paths through this, her chosen field...

~ ~ ~

II - Names

She was a teacher in a public school,
Her name was Kathy McGunigle.
The teachers called her by her given name,
The students by her last, her married one.

In deference to age, I called her first
Mrs. McGunigle, and then, with time,
Just Kathy, but for many years she would
Persist in calling me by name not mine,

But of another, younger man, by far --
A bearded, turbaned Sikh, Long Island reared,
Kuljeet Singh Ahluwalia, K-J
For short, of sharper, and more vital mien

Than mine; yet she confused us two for years,
A foible I let pass, in deference
Again to age, and to her virtues strong --
Her friendliness and humble ways, her work,

Her staying late, like me, to finish up,
What in the rush of teaching classes five,
As we both did, with voice and chalkboard filled,
There ne'er was time to tend to or complete.

And in her failing with my name, I saw
A kindred spirit, for, although a face
I'd not forget, a name I sometimes would.
And so, with smile, to “Ahluwalia”,

I did, when called by Kathy, oft respond,
Reminding her, at times, I was not he
Whose name she called, but rather whom she meant,
At which, she would express her great regret.

III - Conversations and Summers 

And we would then converse, on many things
That to us held import, both teacherly
And matters of her family and mine:
Her daughters and their kids, whom she held dear;

Our students rude and pleasant; Malcolm X,
The movie, and the kids' response to it;
Of vectors, and of Kepler's Laws; and how
They managed, other teachers, at school's end,

To rush off home, or pick up kids, or go
To classes, or to other work, so prompt.
"I don't see how they do it.", she would say,
While peering out the windows at the street,

For sign of husband's car, her ride back home
To Rockaway, across the Flatbush bridge,
Where in the summers by the beach she'd stroll
With her grandkids in tow, that sweet respite

From grading, prep and classes that we'd earn
By toiling through ten months of that, to find
Two summer months fly by, so sweet and yet
So fast that we were back again at work

As if it were a dream, that interlude;
And dust of chalk, and lack of sleep and all
That teaching was, as every hour we looked
At sixty eyes anew, and did our best

To keep the brightness of those eyes aglow,
While passing on to them what they must know,
Did keep us in a state as far removed
From summer's lazy days as arctic cold.

< to be continued >

Arjun Janah < >
Brooklyn, New York
2006 March 5, Sun.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Four Avas and One Holly

The two poems below were inspired by real women, Ava and Holly, whom I knew and admired from a distance.
I have put the two poems together here, because both were born rather spontaneously, and both have persisted for a long time in my mind. When I wrote them, it seemed to me that the poems already existed, in a platonic, non-material sense, and that I was but the vehicle, by  happenstance, for their materialization. Yet, no doubt, both “Ava” and “Holly” were examples of my own unconscious mind at work, with the language and sentimentality reflecting my own limitations. 



Lonely Holly, sad-eyed Holly,
Share with me your melancholy.
Speak no words -- but let your eyes
Speak to me and make me wise.

Arjun Janah <  >
College Park, Maryland, 1970’s


The four lines that make up "Holly", above, entered my mind one day --  almost readymade, as it were, in the 1970's.  The lines seem to have been jingling quietly inside my head ever since, since I had no difficulty, today, recalling the words, written almost thirty years ago.

Arjun Janah < >
Brooklyn, New York. 2006 March 4.

Below is a poem, "Ava", that has been rearranged into four parts.  These four parts were originally one poem, entitled “Doggerel for Ava”, written around 1991.
At that time, a colleague, Ava, and I came to have a friendship, almost as if of cousins. Between us, there was a connection, or recognition, that both of us acknowledged, but could not explain.

The spirit of the poem below, if not the actual language, seemed to come from this temporary, shared connection to something beyond our temporal selves.  As is clear in the poem, a memory seems to have been awakened -- a memory that was not of our present conscious lifetimes.  Was it an unconscious fantasy, a memory of a dream, deja vu, or something else?  I do not know.

Ava, Part 1 -- Recollection

On what forgotten planet,
‘Neath what forgotten stars,
Did I first hear your footsteps,
Approaching in the dark?

At dawn, up on the mountain,
In the mist you passed me by,
I saw the wind lift up your headdress,
And your eyes were like the sky.

That morning, on the meadow,
Whose feet, so wet with dew?
I lifted up my eyes and saw
That selfsame, smiling you.

At noontime, in the forest,
I felt your presence near.
You turned your head and saw me,
And startled like a deer.

In the silence of the desert,
I saw you from afar;
And lost you in the shimmer
Of sand and heated air.

At sunset, by the river,
With waters turned to gold –
The sun was on your skin and hair,
Your eyes were laughing bold.

On what forgotten planet,
‘Neath what forgotten stars,
Did I first hear your footsteps,
Approaching in the dark?


Ava, Part 2 -- Presumption

Were you once a priestess,
At an ancient shrine?
Did I come to you to ask
If you would be mine?

Did I ever kiss you?
Did I hear you sigh?
Did I hold you in my arms?
Did you watch me die?

On what forgotten planet,
‘Neath what forgotten stars,
Did I first hear your footsteps,
Approaching in the dark?


Ava, Part 3 -- Longing

Summers come and summers go,
Autumn winds and winter snow
Yield to springtime’s gentle rain.
Will I see my love again?

Will I see you once again,
And look into your eyes?
Will I see you smile again,
And see back into time?

On what forgotten planet,
‘Neath what forgotten stars,
Did I first hear your footsteps,
Approaching in the dark?


Ava, Part 4 -- Faith

Yes, I shall see you yet again,
And look into your eyes.
My heart will stop, then beat again.
And I shall see you smile.

Arjun Janah < >
Brooklyn, New York, circa 1991



The only poetry that I can recall writing prior to "Ava"  are:  (a) the four line piece called “Holly”, which I wrote in the 1970’s; and (b) a few things that I wrote during my first summer in New York, in 1988, while recovering from my first year of teaching in the public schools. These last appear to be lost, and I cannot remember them fully.

One evening,  in or around 1991, after returning home from work, the whole of what I have now called Ava 1, above, and parts of what I have now separated out, and called Ava, II - IV, came to me, quite out of the blue.  I wrote it down,  quickly and effortlessly --  in one sitting, almost as if taking dictation.  Later that evening  (or it could have been the next day), I added small pieces to the end of “Ava”.  This I did more deliberately.

It is now 2006 – about fifteen years later.  I no longer have any records at hand of the Ava poem.  But its first few quatrains have run through my head periodically.

Years after writing it, I remember e-mailing “Ava” to my sister, Monua, after she had moved from New York to California. I did this in response to a wonderful poem that she had composed and e-mailed to us.   Unfortunately, both Monua's computer and mine went through crashes subsequently.  After Monua's passing in January of 2004, I inherited her last laptop, and began using it about a year later.  But there is no trace left in it of either poem. 

Remarkably, as I sat down at Monua’s laptop, today, to type out the poem that I had written fifteen years ago, it all seemed to come back – even the pieces I had added subsequent to the initial “revelation”.  

I decided to separate these added pieces, plus the end-part of what I wrote at first sitting, into three other parts that follow the first;  and  have done this above.   I have tried to tie what are now the first three parts of the Ava poem together, by repeating the first stanza of  Ava 1 at the end of each of Avas 2 - 3.   I do not know, however, if this artifice does more harm than good.

Arjun Janah < > Brooklyn, New York, 2006 March 4.


Friday, March 3, 2006



What is left of man or mountain
When their centers have collapsed?

What is left of truth or trusting
When the faith has been betrayed?

What is left of hope or humor
When the promise can’t be kept?

Yet the mantra, and the manner,
Must be said – and must be glad!


What is left of strength or striving
When the lungs and heart are stopped?

What is left of brains or beauty
When the skull and face are crushed?

What is left of grace or gaiety
When the limbs contorted lie?

Yet the deal, and yet the dollar,
Must be made – and must be had!


What is left of song or sadness
When the spirit is departed?

What is left of love or laughter
When the life has crept away?

What is left of faith or fountain
When their waters are dried up?

Yet the play, and so the player,
Must be played – and must be mad!


2005 November 6.
Brooklyn, New York.
Arjun Janah  < >

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Jupiter Rising

Jupiter, Rising at Nightfall              /1

The sun is gone, the seabirds call;
Red sky is fled, and all's in thrall.
From the west, cold zephyrs hasten;     /2
Seamen, sails and lashings fasten.

O'er the sea, the storm cloud gathers;
Darkest green, the heaving ocean,
Moves to winds that fleck with foam
Waves that chase the seagulls home.

Westward, fork├ęd lightning flashes;
Thunder follows, deeply growling.
Eastward, see, a lantern rises --
Jove's great planet, brightly shining.

Deus omnipotens, deus pater!
Almighty god, of gods the father!
Lord of lightning, lord of thunder!
He who splits the skies asunder!

Sudden, fearsome lightning blazes;
All around, Jove's thunder crashes!
Swirling dark, the storm is here,
Beckoned by Great Jupiter!             /3

Arjun Janah < >
Brooklyn, New York
January 2004


1.  This came to mind during a walk, after sunset, by the bay
in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  A bright star was rising over the
darkening, wind-tossed  waters. Storm clouds were gathering
over land and sea, and there were flashes of lightning in the distance.

2.  In English literary usage, a zephyr is a light breeze. But in Greek,
Zephyros was, specifically, the wind from the west.

3.   In India, where we were born, the first monsoon thunderstorm
delighted our hearts. But here, as the cold winds blew and the
storm approached, I had a foreboding of impending violence.

It had been been but two years since the attacks on the towers
in Manhattan.

A few days later, my sister Monua, who had moved from New York
to the west coast, died there, at age 44.