Saturday, November 03, 2018

My Sister's Miracle Mantra

Now the purple flowers are tucked into the ground.
Now the first miracles appear.
Last Sunday, not even a week ago, my sister was making this and that sound, and saying lots of words too, like “Hi Dad” when my 92-year old father appeared by her bedside, when all of a sudden she said with great urgency the word
“BOUND.”
Her daughter, my niece Lauren, repeated it and again my sister said “BOUND” and her eyebrows flew up and screwed in the way that they do. So desperate was she to say something, but what?  
“BOUND BOUND BOUND”
Again and again and again she kept saying the word.
Lauren sat by the bed, puzzled. Why would her mother get stuck on one word this way, what was she trying to say? So the two of them started to play a kind of charades with my niece saying this and that and my sister going no no no no and around and around they would go her saying bound and bound and bound and no and no and no
And suddenly out of nowhere (it only took half an hour or so) Lauren throws out the words, “BOUND AND DETERMINED?”
That’s when my sister screams “YES!” and that’s when her spirit fires up and her eyes glow and she seems to come alive, no longer is she lying so limp and pallid against the pillow.
The next day the speech therapist says Karen’s swallow reflex is suddenly strong enough that they can give her a taste of
vanilla pudding and applesauce, ten tastes from a spoon.
My sister’s eyebrows kept flying up, one mouthful at a time -- try going a month without a single thing to eat or drink, not even water -- anything (even mouthwash) tastes good.
That was Monday. Bound and determined as she now is,
by Wednesday, only two days later, she excelled on the so-called swallow test (I should have known, this brainy sister of mine routinely got 100s on her chemistry exams as a student.)
The nurses and aides were thrilled, the speech therapist was speechless -- never had he seen such rapid progress in a patient before. Immediately the staff gave her half an egg salad sandwich to eat and then, a very blessed chocolate chip cookie.
On Thursday, I sat with my sister while she ate a plate of Swedish meatballs and noodles for lunch. The thrill of it is hard to express.
Yes, miracles do happen and here I want to say that it’s hard but extremely important to stay in gratitude as long as possible, to keep holding onto the attitude that “I respectfully thank you over and over again dear God for helping my sister get off the feeding tube so very quickly.”
Alas, it doesn’t take long before I see myself starting to get greedy, I start imagining other miracles, one perhaps where she stands up and takes her first step. I will stop myself right here. I will spend today in thank you thank you thank you.
And rest with the magical mantra,
“Bound and determined.”

I am very grateful to my mother-in-law, Abigail Kirsch, who painted this wonderful watercolor of an iris. Knowing my sister's love for this flower, Abby spent countless hours in the last few weeks getting the painting just right! I know my sister will love it!!


Friday, October 19, 2018

Poetry and Prayer

Poetry and Prayer
Yesterday morning, I dug up irises from my sister's yard. I carried them home and planted them in my garden in the afternoon.
On Saturday, September 29, 2018, the day before her 63rd birthday, my sister, Karen Ricci, suffered a stroke. It was a serious bleed on the left side of her brain, in the area where language and motion reside. Karen survived surgery, in which they removed a blood clot the size of a tennis ball. She has now begun intensive rehabilitation. We are asking people to join with us as we pray for her speedy recovery. When I was sick with cancer years ago, I wrote poetry to help my body and spirits heal. Last week, I decided to write poetry to help my sister recover. 

The weather has snapped cold.
I am holding my sister threaded in my heart.
She has started on the long road to recovery.
It’s hard sometimes to see that she needs help to do simple things, like touch her finger to nose.
At those moments when my faith begins faltering, I imagine a column of the brightest light.
I step inside. I remain there. I breathe in hope and acceptance, I breathe out despair.
I strike love like a match and it fires up crisply in the center of my chest. I rest with my hands clasped at my breast.
I stare out into the sky, sometimes white, sometimes blue. I gaze into the trees, their leaves green, yellow, red and brown. I know for sure there is a place called heaven, because even now, even through all of this torture, there is  the mystery and joy of love and love and love.
And there is the awe of all things grown.
Karen, an avid gardener, loves purple flowers.  
There are those irises that my sister particularly adores. Irises that three or four decades ago, she transplanted from my grandfather Angelo’s astonishing garden in Bristol, Connecticut. Karen carried and planted them in Hancock, Massachusetts, and then when she moved to California, she carried them and planted them in the desert air of Santa Clarita. And then when she moved back to Easthampton, Massachusetts three years ago, she planted them a third time.
A few months ago, when she visited me in my new house in North Egremont, Massachusetts, she said,
“Come September, Claud, I will divide up Grandpa’s irises and you can plant some here.”
And so, this week, as fall’s sharp weather warns us of winter, I will do it for her. I will go to her house and divide up the purple flowers. I will bring some home and dig them snugly into my garden.
And then I will say a prayer of thanks, that there are all those miracles we call flowers. I will say a prayer of thanks that that there is a miracle called language. That there is something magical called poetry, which can feed you in times of great need.
I will marvel and say prayers of gratitude that there is such great power in the words that we form in our mouths. That we share with our teeth and our tongues. That we draw and write in black squiggles onto white paper. That we tap into keys. That pour out onto screens.
I pray that my sister may once again have words, that they may pour from her like water crashing over great white blocks of rock.
My niece yesterday texted me this: that my sister for the first time made noises, her first attempt at speech.
I pray that I may be steady in my faith, that I can reach into myself and find a way to keep saying thank you thank you and thank you endlessly, and please and please and please forever, that she may one day soon be once again whole.

October 14, 2018


Sunday, October 07, 2018

Miracle Mind

It sits deep inside my sister's mind
that bloody wound
while someone and someone and someone and so many someones
are all calling to her. I believe that
Karen hears the sound in a growing whisper. 
This now is the prayer,
this is how we plead:

 
we beg you not to listen to
the doctors who have little hope.
Focus instead your eyes here,
On this Burning Bush,
On the parting of the Red Sea
on every miracle Moses witnessed
and each and every gem and blessing
that is every moment of every single day.
This is how to live:
above all else,
give yourself and others love and love and love
and heavenly vision.
Don’t just recite poetry
eat it morning, noon and night.
Feed too on divine light and breathe 
your mind and heart right into hers.
As I write these words, a new flock of birds has settled on the limestone rocks.
There is a curious golden color coating the underside of their wings.
And a splash of white on their tails.
They slip in and out of view
And land on the trees like woodpeckers do.
And you too, your eyes slip in and out of view
But today I’m taking take comfort in this:
Both your eyes opened, over and over again, and when you beheld your daughter, you vise-gripped her hand. 
That was yesterday.
And today is still one more day for miracles.

October 7, 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

I Dreamt About Them Last Night!

By Richard Kirsch

I dreamt about them last night, their faces rising in my dreams and each time I awoke. Hers – sad, powerful, dignified. His angry scowl barely hiding a smirk. 

Can you imagine if she acted like him: raging, crying? What they would say about whether an hysterical woman has the temperament to be on the Court?

She answered calmly, quietly. Reliving her nightmare with dignity. Asking for the truth so it could help her be of more service to her country.

He bobbed and weaved, evading questions, attacking his questioners. Angrily denouncing a great conspiracy. A conspiracy of truth? And he has a judicial temperament?

He was silenced for a moment when Senator Durbin asked him whether he personally believed there should be an FBI investigation. Because he knew the answer was yes –  he also knew it wasn’t up to him, because he had to kowtow to the orders of the President and Republicans in the Senate. Showing himself to be the political hack he still is, even as he sits on a federal court.

Where do we look for hope? Yes, in her heroism. Yes in the millions who declare they believe her and other women. And men. Yes in the movements we have seen surge around the country these last few years, movements that were rising even before Trump’s election. Movements rising more and more since.

Does the moral arc of history bend toward justice? I often ask that when I’m looking for hope. When I’m looking to spring from the anger of injustice to the activism that powers my life. Anger the trampoline. Hope the sky above. But does that sky really have a rainbow bending toward a moral pot of gold?

Yes and no. Yes, over time the world has become a more just place. But not as an arc. More like a lightning bolt – zigging and zagging from the deepest most awful periods in which tyranny and cruelty and hatred and the cowering, scared, tribal, awfulness of humanity dominates. A lightning bolt of fire and destruction. To periods when justice and solidarity and love and people and our governments acting out of the profound understanding of our common humanity triumph. A lightning bolt of progress that transforms lives for generations. 

But today I’m sad. Their faces haunt me. As the faces of children separated from their families have haunted me. And the faces of families fleeing war in Syria have haunted me. As …

I’ll have to sit with that. 


Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Grey Morning With Nothing to Say

This morning when I went into the forest to collect the words
I found that they were grey and damp from the cold autumn rain.
I picked up an armful of dark phrases from the forest floor, and carried them back to the house.
I set them there beside the hearth and wondered once again
how can I possibly light a fire or write a poem without kindling or paper or the possibility of matches?
That was the moment you poked your head in the door and said no matter that it was 53 degrees, you were going to dress in winter clothing and sit with your rainbow hat and the prayer beads out on the deck.
Why do I need reminding that I too can aspire to some kind of peaceful start to the day?
Or at least, I can sit calmly, my hands covering my heart, my mind like a squirrel flittering over the rocks, and me lifting my eyes and staring out into the battleship-colored clouds.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Of Hummingbirds and Lions"

Two Drops of Ink, one of the most popular on-line writing sites, has published my poem, "Of Hummingbirds and Lions:"

"Two hummingbirds come to the weathered rail of the grey porch, poke in and out of the red boxed flowers, back away.  


They hover beside my ear, wings beating the air, bringing the only hope of a breeze.
 
Beyond the sharp beaks, pointing, lie blonde hills topped by smoky blue haze.  The tawny mountains drop, disappear imperceptibly into the ocean..."

To read the entire poem, check out
 Two Drops of Ink.

To order
 Sister Mysteries, my new novel, go to claudiajricci.com or Amazon.com. 

It's no coincidence that the setting of the new novel is the same golden California hillside that appears in this poem. I wrote the poem while at a writing colony in California. And I wrote a lot of the novel at the same colony.

Readers are giving the new novel high praise:


“Ms. Ricci writes a real page turner; I found it challenging to put this book down! The immediately-engaging characters of Sister Renata and Gina develop a complicated relationship across time that sweeps the reader up in the dramatic events of the story that turns out to involve them both. In addition, Sister Mysteries is a wonderful fugue on the power of writing and also the power of music--a lot to accomplish. The author does this with seeming effortlessness--Bravo!” 

"Just an absolutely amazing piece of work. The vivid imagery, the poetry, the artistry.  Her writing has a flow and cadence that penetrates and turns the reader into a fellow traveler. I can't wait to share this with others."

"
Claudia Ricci is an amazingly gifted writer. Beautiful, painful, torturous, true, mysterious, provocative and healing -- a story of courage and friendship in the face of greed, power and betrayal."

"
Her descriptions are so vivid and the story itself is so intriguing."



Sunday, September 09, 2018

"A Real Page Turner!"




You spend what feels like an eternity writing a book, and then, once it’s published, you wonder, are people going to like it?

But when readers start sending in reviews like the one below, a great weight is lifted.
“Ms. Ricci writes a real page turner; I found it challenging to put this book down! The immediately-engaging characters of Sister Renata and Gina develop a complicated relationship across time that sweeps the reader up in the dramatic events of the story that turns out to involve them both. In addition, Sister Mysteries is a wonderful fugue on the power of writing and also the power of music--a lot to accomplish. The author does this with seeming effortlessness--Bravo!” 

For those of you who have purchased the book, a hearty thanks. Are there one or two friends to whom you might recommend the book? Are you part of a book group?

Discounts apply, and I would be happy to visit with the group for a discussion.

To buy the book, please visit my website, www.claudiajricci.com, or go to
 Amazon.com for either a paper copy or an ebook.

 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski plays at the book party!

Maria Zemantauski is a virtuoso guitarist and composer, and -- I am very fortunate to say -- a good friend.  She was kind enough to drive an hour and a half on Sunday to come to my party celebrating Sister Mysteries. The book revolves around flamenco guitar, and practically everything I know about flamenco I learned from Maria, during many years of guitar lessons. A more patient teacher I’ve never met. Nor have I ever met anyone more passionate about music and the deeply  important role it plays in human life.
If you like classical guitar, you will love her music. I highly recommend all of her albums; the newest, entitled "Maria Zemantauski," and available on her website,
is a compilation of songs she’s written or arranged in the last 20 years.

She brought a very special energy and flair to the book party; the guests were enthralled with her spectacular playing, as are all of her thousands of fans worldwide.

A special thanks to her. And thanks to all of you who came to the party and purchased the book. 

Another special guest was my cousin Barbara Sergio, who made the drive from Connecticut. Barbara was for many years a nun, and on Sunday she told me that one of the nuns in her convent was named Sister Renata!

Meanwhile, readers continue to praise Sister Mysteries:



"I just finished reading Sister Mysteries. From the very beginning I loved Sister Renata. I really liked the Gina sections too — I like the way Gina is trying to write the stories. I particularly liked how Gina moved across time — sometimes she is with Sister Renata and then sometimes she becomes the nun. I also like how Señora moves across time. It has a magical realism quality that makes sense for the entire novel. It reminds me of Isabel Allende's writing. I also like how the book is really about the power of writing — writing saves Sister Renata because it brings Senora to the courtroom. Writing saves Gina too. The book is great!!!" 

To purchase the book, I encourage you to go to my website, where you will pay no shipping fee. You may also purchase an ebook or a paper copy of the novel through Amazon.



Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Readers are praising Sister Mysteries!


The first people to read Sister Mysteries are giving the book high praise:

"
Just an absolutely amazing piece of work. The vivid imagery, the poetry, the artistry.  Her writing has a flow and cadence that penetrates and turns the reader into a fellow traveler. I can't wait to share this with others."

"
Claudia Ricci is an amazingly gifted writer. Beautiful, painful, torturous, true, mysterious, provocative and healing -- a story of courage and friendship in the face of greed, power and betrayal."

"
Her descriptions are so vivid and the story itself is so intriguing."

You can order from Amazon or my website, claudiajricci.com.
 And if you're nearby, you can celebrate the novel this Sunday, August 26th, from 4 to 6 p.m. at 5 General Knox Lane, in North Egremont MA. The driveway has two stone pillars at the top. If you're coming, please let us know. Our phone number is 413-528-4213.
Sister Mysteries, set in 1883 in California, is a framed tale: the inner story focuses on a young Dominican nun -- Sister Renata -- who is accused of killing her cousin Antonie, who writes erotic fantasies portraying Renata as a seductive flamenco dancer.  The web of words Antonie spins incriminates Renata directly in his murder.

More than a century later, a writer named Gina Rinaldi is lured back to the past by Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos. Señora wants Gina to rewrite the nun's story to reveal the truth about Antonie's death. Is Gina as delusional as Antonie, or is she living a past life reincarnated as the nun? Is she whisked back through time on a mission to save her soul, and the nun, or has she begun to unravel?

To buy the book in print, I encourage you to purchase directly from me on my website, via Pay Pal or credit card, as Amazon takes 50% of the book proceeds. And buying from me you pay no shipping fee.

You can purchase an
 ebook or a hard copy from Amazon.

Thanks to all have ordered the book! Your support is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018


It’s here! At long last, Sister Mysteries is between book covers. Besides being a murder mystery, the novel is a 19th century #MeToo tale.

Set in 1883 in California, the book focuses on a young Dominican nun -- Sister Renata -- who is accused of killing her cousin Antonie. This is the same cousin who writes erotic fantasies about Renata, portraying her as a seductive flamenco dancer.  The web of words Antonie spins incriminates Renata directly in his murder.

More than a century later, a writer named Gina Rinaldi is lured back to the past by Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos. Señora wants Gina to rewrite the nun's story to reveal the truth about Antonie's death. Is Gina as delusional as Antonie, or is she living a past life reincarnated as the nun? Is she whisked back through time on a mission to save her soul, and the nun, or has she begun to unravel?

In 
Sister Mysteries, says one reader, you are in store for "powerful drama, passionate writing, well defined and compelling characters, erotic passages, religious fervor, the metafictional presence of the writer and her problems, a heady mix of narratives and voices, suspense...and more."
To buy the book in print, I encourage you to purchase directly from me on my new website, via Pay Pal, as Amazon takes 50% of the book proceeds. And buying from me you pay no shipping fee.

You can purchase an 
ebook or a hard copy from Amazon. You can also purchase a hard copy from The Troy Bookmakers.

For those of you who live near Great Barrington, MA, I'd love to have you join me at a 
book party on Sunday, August 26, 2018, from 4 to 6 p.m. My home is at 5 General Knox Lane, in North Egremont. Please RSVP by August 20th.
I hope you'll join me and Renata in the mystery of the golden hills of California!