jean feraca | rendered into paradise

30 03 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No. 367 | March 30, 2012


Norbert Blei

My first draft (attempt) to say goodbye ran about 2,000 words, 6 pages. I’ve worked, reworked, trashed most of it, rescued a few notes, some personal memories…and here I come now (still a work-in-progress) huffing and puffing toward your “last-day-on-the-Wisconsin-airwaves” for you (for me, for so many of us)…trying to confess (outside the box) in a few sentences how I loved/love this woman and will oh-so- sorely miss her voice, her laughter, her sense of woman, self, spirit, direction— leave-it-to-me-I-know-what’s-good-for-you. Her choice of guests to interview in her own Feracian way. Her tantalizing tongue/taste in food–a bowl of soup, a slice of bread, a glass of wine (and Thou listening in the wilderness). Erotic desserts fit for only gods (take a deep bite…there, isn’t that divine?). Savor this, that, everything this woman with her heart in her stomach puts on whatever table she has set for you: “Come, mangi! mangi!”

“And here, try this!”—thought, idea, feeling, guest from another part of the world, another planet. “How do you like them apples, buster?” Followed by that, ground swelling, guttural, free-falling, ethereal laughter…strains, volume, cadences that reach back to ethnic Italian-Americana…to family, neighborhood, the streets of Brooklyn up, up in the air…rolling thunder shaped, accentuated by flying hands. The real McCoy, this one. And we were SO damn lucky she brought the whole body and soul of herself here to Wisconsin, where we could kind of claim her as one of us… Call in. Talk to her. Find ourselves on her wavelengths.

Jesus! What are we/what am I going to do without you, out here in these lonely Wisconsin woods? Where IS Feraca on my radio dial? My i-pod? My frequency? A silent Feraca is a mean punishment. Talk about “women of spirit”! –as she often did, as she was prone to.

Oh, blessed art thou, Sister Jean (a little inside humor we shared…a kind of hipster Catholicism salvaged from too many crosses at too many stations not to mention Bless-Me-Fathers…for sins about to be savored)…Sister Jean, you were destined for the convent, though no habit of any description could ever contain you. Your sisterhood went far beyond the hood.

I rummage through these old notes of mine…How I used to enjoy introducing you at times by calling you my second (third?) wife (fictitious)…or how I was a reject priest and you a salacious nun…(fictitious) and we were both doomed to dream in Latin the rest of our lives. Burn vigil lights far deep our nights. Say three Our Fathers and Three Hail Marys just for the hell of it, dwell everyday on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.

There was no escape from Introíbo ad altǎre Dei. Ever.

But I must end this….the second hand is moving On Air. I must find a way to give you the last word.

I want for you everything you may want or need in your lives ahead. For sure, I want more of your glorious poetry—the real voice behind the real voice.

And as for “happiness”?

Maybe begin here… Eat your own words, baby…


It was Swami Satchadananda who set her straight.
You are the source of your own happiness, he told her
out of the blue, looking her straight in the eye
and tapping it into her chest.

Then came the bridegroom, pressing his suit.
Are you capable of happiness? he quizzed her.
This was serious. He had put it to the test
She checked the box marked Yes.
A choice. A deliverance.

All this came as a great surprise
to one who had pressed her face against the glass.
Happiness had passed her by like the boys on their flexible flyers.
It was a shock to have it show up now like her mother in a nightgown
standing on the schoolbus steps waving a lost lunch.

But, no, I must interrupt this poem…this search for a proper poetic Goodbye message, right now, here-on-earth, to bring you…Another tone I hunger for…beyond happiness…

Ah yes…here it is:

Bacchus at St. Benedict’s

Three days after I settled in at the monastery
Bacchus paid me a visit in late afternoon.

I had been waiting all day under the slick leaves of the oaks,
pacing from porch to pool in the heat.
Even the great bell lost its claim on my mind.
I was tuned
to a subtler meld—the faint crush
of gravel on the dirt road.

He was out in a flash, teeth, shades,
sun shining through his red hand, upraised.
It gleamed, waving the wine.
“I found a 1983 botrytis Semillon!” he sang
to someone who’d been chanting psalms three days.

The first surge was the pool, waking up
to his wide plunge.
Big-eyed, I watched the water seize,
rocked to its knees.

We set out along a meadow sliced by swallows
when the sky was turning ruddy.
The road, studded with apple, pear, and mulberry,
veered, and we lost
the red, dipping
into shade below the Sisters’ cemetery.

He nodded at the oratory, approved
the icons, but when we came
upon the chapel, and I explained
holy wine inside the tabernacle,
he had to be restrained, thinking
In there, at least. I’ll find a decent wineglass!

On the porch, he poured the Sémillon,
then a Gewürztraminer
he matched with salmon, pink slabs
of watermelon, white rinds
lined with green grinning from black plates.
Delicacies he presented two at a time,
now a crown of garlic
now a round of bread.,..

He was ceremonious, stirring the strawberries,
his red hand cool,
too classy to disgrace this novice.
It was she, in fact, who finally did it,
setting down her glass to pose the question,
“How long before we take off our clothes?’

Midmorning the day after, he’s gone in a spurt of gravel.
It’s noon before I can resume my life of measure
heeding the bell that calls us to chapel.
‘thinking on death every day.’

Jesus and Bacchus, Jesus and Bacchus, what am I doing?
I’m writing a poem about the god of wine.
Does a wine thief wound the barrel?
Does it matter which vat
(red or white?) we dip from
if it’s rapture
we’re after, why not be drunk by noon?

[from RENDERED INTO PARADISE, Parallel Press, 2002




3 responses

30 03 2012
steve fortney

Did a reading with her once at the Dane County Youth Poetry Festival. Was fun.

31 03 2012
Michael Farmer

I still remember the introduction of Jean as your former wife while at the Clearing. It was a hoot and she just rode the wave…Twas grand, as is she. And yes, she will be missed.

1 04 2012
ami zarchi

I loved the imagery of happiness as your mama’s “lost lunch”, so true and simple, but yet takes you there, reminding it was there, and that in the final count, your mama’s “lost lunch” will always wait for you, and she is always there, waving it. Next time I’ll get on a plane, a train, or any other instrument of movement, I’ll think of your words, and make sure to grab it, hold it tight, and then allow it to nourish me, her happiness completed, mine begun.

From far-away Thailand,


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