DEBI ELLSWORTH

The Thought of You

 

Ronald Paul Gevry (a.k.a. Ronnie) was born on November 2, 1961. At the age of three, he was placed, along with me and our sister, at St. Joseph's Orphanage. He was to remain there for ten years.

 

Ronnie’s life started out hard, with severe abuse inflicted at the hands of our mother. When he entered the orphanage, he was a frightened toddler. He needed love, hope and kindness and what he received there was just the opposite. It was easy to see the progression of my brother’s pain and rage. Each year we were at St. Joseph's it grew.

 

Ronnie tried his hardest to make the best out of life. He was a good student and an excellent athlete. In the right circumstances and with gentle guidance he may have become a good man with morals and values, but that was not to be. Six months after we obtained our freedom from the hellhole of St. Joseph’s, Ronnie was placed in a boys’ juvenile detention center.

 

If you followed the slits on his arms you would get an idea of the suffering that he held inside. Cuts so close together they resembled burn marks rather than razor slits. When I was a child, it was hard for me to fathom why he cut and lied and stole and chased me around with bad intent, but I understand now. He lived what he learned.

 

When Ronnie was 18, he met a girl. She was wonderful and seemed to be just what he needed. They married and had a daughter. It did not take long for his wife to realize she had made a huge mistake, when Ronnie went to jail for the hundredth time. After he was released, he went home to her family. They tried to make it work and in between tries a son was born. The boy was named Ronnie Jr.

 

After the last separation from his wife, Ronnie drifted from place to place, not knowing where to land. He tried to convince me to allow him into my house. But at this point I had a young daughter to protect. There was no way that my brother was going to get near her. He drifted off to California and that was the last I heard from him until the coroner called.

 

My brother passed away at the age of 34, in some halfway house in God knows where, California. I didn’t believe the coroner until he described the cuts down Ronnie’s arms. At that point there was no denying it was him. My heart broke and I cried for days.

 

Ronnie was a victim in the purest sense. He sustained abuse at the hands of my mother, the nuns, the priests and a system that was there to protect children.

 

Today, I have forgiven my brother for the pain he redirected towards me. But I will never forgive the nuns and priests who inflicted so much abuse upon him that he broke. In the end, Ronnie was just an empty shell, living in his own hell. May the Lord hold him forever in his arms and may my brother rest in peace.

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Cheri, ten, Ronnie, seven, Debi, six

Mystery of the Human Being

 

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it.

 

The birds feel no need to recite these verses, for upon the branches they sit and sing to the early morning sun as the dew evaporates from the grass. The world goes around in such a regular way. Each day seems to duplicate the next but in the tiny details, things change. From tiny they become big, huge even, and not a notice is taken until it is just too plain to see.

 

Do the birds notice their aging as they fly from tree to fence post, to nest? Do they distinguish one year from the next? Why has God saddled humans with the knowledge of existence? It’s a wonder to watch nature and in turn to watch humans as they interact within it. Why the anger, the sadness, the need to constantly be at odds with one another and the natural world? Did God not place peace into the heart of man? It is so easy to conjure up feelings of envy, hatred, wishes for revenge. Yet, how far we must dig to find contentment, kindness and understanding for our fellow man.

 

Sacred temples and ancient cathedrals seem to hold the blessing in a bubble. As if every human being that ever laid a brick, painted a wall, placed a candle or held another’s hand in prayer had added a special kind of oxygen. An atmosphere in which the next visitor could breathe and find peace. Could the entire earth be a temple?

Crowbar

 

Crowbar, Crowbar
come pry this out
there’s something in my gut
and I need help
so many methods, I’ve tried in despair
chatted with many who pretended to care
I’ve sat for hours
with my fingers just right
I’ve prayed to God
well into the night
yet still it’s stuck
this feeling I’ve got
that I’m just not right
I’m just not right


Crowbar, Crowbar
you’re iron strong
with your strength, I can’t go wrong
I am useless in this fight
weak and trembling, I have no might


Crowbar, Crowbar
use your steel
dig into the dirt
expose how I feel
each day is a struggle
the demons hover near
stealing from my life all that I hold dear

Crowbar, Crowbar
forget what I say
I will seek a different way
because I know
as I grow old
that each day is a day I can be free
if I drop the rocks they loaded on me

This Sister, This Snake

 

Perched upon a wooden pew
well within my little view
sat a snake
tongue lashing its warning
eyes scanning
narrow pupils quickly moving
to-and-fro.


Draped in black and white
she kept her prey within her sight
and waited, spring loaded.
When would she strike?


I peered around the corner
just to have another look
that’s when I heard the rattle
that’s when my body shook.


Poisonous venom
ruptured my skin
millions of tears I held deep within
but the snake, she grinned
joyously recording another win


slithered back, a neat little ball
as if she’d never struck at all.
But I felt the pain.
It has yet to wain.

Jesus, Jesus on the wall
please save me
from this evil woman
who heard your call


The cross that hung on a collared neck
the one that swung with every step
did it not remind her
of her choice
to walk with the Lord
to be His voice?


Still her French tongue thrashed
and her heavy hand bashed
until I came to believe that
I was evil
I was mean.


In the darkness of those days
she tried her hardest
to have her way
to break me down, body and soul
to make me half not whole.


Instead I chose to seek the light
to find life’s pleasures and its delights.
I smile when I want to cry.
I pray to the Lord with all my might.

I thank Him every day
that I did not crumble
I did not break
beneath the sinister hand of
this sister
this snake.

ON REVISION: AN INTERVIEW ABOUT PROCESS WITH DEBI ELLSWORTH

 

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the process of developing and revising “This Sister, This Snake?

A: I liked the way this grew through nine revisions. One of the things we learned was that we should save every draft. And I found that very useful. I would have a new idea or find a new direction. Then I’d read through my previous drafts. The first draft was very tight.

 

Q: I remember your saying that the draft was taut. I found that quality a powerful one in relation to the occasion of the poem. Can you describe what you mean by the poem being very tight?

A: There were sections I could expand, and I’d work with one section at a time, changing a couple of words here and there. That became Draft II. It was almost like hopscotch.

 

Q: An Interesting image for the revision process! I notice that you changed the end a lot.

A: When I got to the end, I was having a problem with how hurried it felt. I realized that I’d rushed through rather than diving into it. So, I talked to my husband and he said, “Why don’t you make it a victorious ending…leave the poem on a high?” I sat with what he’d said for a while, two days. Then I just kept making more and more and more revisions. The process was amazing. Like when you write a story and you don’t know where the characters came from. It’s as if they’ve come out of the air. I knew the ending had to be victorious, that it somehow had to say, “I’m not going to let them win.” It was cool to watch. Like watching a flower.

 

--Debi Ellsworth and Carol Adinolfi in conversation