Howard Richard Debs is a poet, writer, photographer, sometime artist, musician, singer/songwriter. At age 19 he received a University of Colorado Poetry Prize; after some 50 years in the field of communications with recognitions including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Educational Press Association of America, he resumed his creative pursuits. A finalist and recipient of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, his latest work appears in Yellow Chair Review, Crack The Spine, Syzygy Poetry Journal, Silver Birch Press, InkStain Press, Clear Poetry Magazine 2015 Anthology, among others, and On Being online in which appears his ekphrastic Holocaust poetry series “Terezin: Trilogy Of Names” and also in On Being online his essay "The Poetry of Bearing Witness." His background in photography goes back many years, both creative and technical, and his photography will be found in select publications, including in Rattle online as “Ekphrastic Challenge" artist and guest editor. Born and bred in Chicago, he now lives in sunny South Florida with his wife of 50 years Sheila, where they spend considerable time spoiling their four grandchildren.
Listing in Poets & Writers Directory: https://www.pw.org/content/howard_debs
The Dead In Me, A Dirge
When I go I want to go suddenly.
They will say he lived ‘til the end.
Today the news reports
a 38 year old
zookeeper named Stacey
was killed by a tiger, not
her own species.
Not one of the 1300 statistics
say will be killed today in
this world by someone
who walks upright.
My life has been
wrenched from my
own hands by the horror
of it, I brood constantly
especially at those times of year I say
the Yizkor prayers of remembrance
for so many murdered souls: my grandparents,
aunts and uncles, cousins all perished
during the Holocaust.
I feel them in my heart,
but have an urging to hear
even just a word from any of
them, all the more to have
the privilege of a question or two
perhaps, with their presence
gracing what would be
such a special moment.
My nephew was
just six during my visit
almost ten years ago,
when I came into his room as
he was talking, so it
appeared, to himself.
He could not say
who was there.
Then just the other day
my own precious little tyke
was found in conversation
with no one in the
living room. A few
weeks went by, when
sorting through a
stack of old photos, while
looking at one of grandpa Samuel,
in whose memory I am named,
my son said, “we talk.”
How significant would be at least
some sign for his namesake.
Perhaps it is a matter of merit.
I will work harder.
Dear Daughter Mine
I know you now live near Washington D.C. far away
from me. I know we keep in touch with phone texts and such
sharing on Facebook virtually. I’m really writing to say
we had a great time, mom and I when you spent
a few days with your husband and
the twins who had their seventh birthday just a while back
yet seem so much older now than when last you came.
I asked them what they liked best, having left here
where they were born, for a more northern clime.
They answered that after it snows and they go sledding
mommy makes hot cocoa. Anyway, the weather
here in Florida is not like there of course this time of year,
you’ve had your first taste of winter that’s for sure.
I know you thought that part of visiting
was fine even on the very breezy day
we all went to the beach to play in the sand,
to squish our toes and feet in the ocean’s
foaming surf, the water aquamarine
like Key West you said, the most
special thing was flying those kites;
first time for the kids, what a sight, they holding
the lines so tight, the flapping flimsy frames
taking the torment of the swirling seaside winds
the news said 20 miles an hour with gusts of more.
So we triumphed there to say the least and I became
grandpa hero once again. Our hootenanny
was lots of fun. One playing a slide whistle the other
the kazoo dancing and prancing around while
I plucked out a banjo tune to Five Foot Two
and Muffin Man before the big finale surprising mom
with Burl Ives’ Big Rock Candy Mountain which her
father sang to her when she was young.
I never learned the song before that night,
It was like my gift to her, I hope she thought so too.
Then the morning that you left, heading back to life
from nine to five, I clicked the PBS website and played
Mr. Rodgers’ You Are Special for the twins; they never
heard it before if you didn’t know so I gave them
copies to practice for our next big show and
I’m really writing to say: “If there ever comes a day
when we can’t be together keep me in your heart, I’ll stay
there forever” which is a quote from Winnie the Pooh, love you, dad.
A More Perfect Union:
Excerpts From A Summer Journal*
(Reading a book in which appear Lincoln’s words given at Gettysburg. That the new nation was brought forth and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal. He said: “We can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow,” those who struggled here have.)
Charleston, June 28th
Arrived on Friday
with church bells
ringing for Carolina Day
sponsored by the
first celebrated in 1777
they say to a year and
six days removed from
The guide, Miss Sara, in her
long cotton dress, a true
southern belle. Her auburn
hair tied up inside her wide brimmed
hat with its yellow ribbon trailing behind
sitting in wicker on the veranda
of the plantation house
drinking sweet tea
a concoction laden with
enough sugar to ensure no
bitter taste from a bygone era.
Walked Slave Street,
euphemistically named compared to
the row of nine original ramshackle
brick shanties where lived in squalor
the great house servants.
Later the United Daughters
of the Confederacy will participate
in a wreath-laying ceremony at
White Point Gardens honoring
the fallen from a fateful day in not
the Civil but Revolutionary War.
New York, July 22nd
Arrived on Saturday.
Across from the hotel
in Manhattan workers are loading
a big red van with the mover’s
name Moishe’s Worldwide
Moving emblazoned proudly on the side
in billboard size white letters
for all the world to see.
The message on hotel stationery
lay on the nightstand in the room:
From Concierge, Vladimir – I was
informed that the majority of the
shops on Orchard Street will be
open on Sunday.
The Lower East Side: A.W. Kaufman lingerie;
Ziontalis, Judaica Department Store since
1920; Kadouri Import, Israeli produce;
Gertel’s Bakery; and there at 97 Orchard Street,
as mentioned in the guidebook,
The Tenement Museum.
The docent was of Italian descent,
with thick Brooklyn accent, and black olive eyes.
He told of his ancestors as so many now
inscribed on the Wall Of Honor erected there,
enduring steerage, and the gauntlet of the gateway, Ellis Island.
He told of Nathalie Gumpertz a German Jewish
seamstress, in 1874 she became the sole support of her
four young children after her husband disappeared.
He told of the hunger, the sweatshops,
the firebrand labor organizers, rabble-rousers
some say, they took to the street,
many were struck down but they won
hard fought victories on that battleground.
Washington D.C., August 30th
Arrived on Sunday. Staying in Georgetown.
It is all very quaint. Walked along the towpath of
the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, like much before
and since the water highway no longer the new way
replaced by the rise of the railway.
Visited the National Gallery of Art,
saw the American Collection,
The White House, the Washington Monument.
There adjacent to the National Mall, stands the
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Somber faced people go in
and come out chastened.
Identification Cards given at the entrance
tell the stories of victims; on each cover
the statement, apt for all time, “For the dead
and the living we must bear witness.”
Across from the Lincoln Memorial is the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a long, slow-rising
wall bearing the names of almost 60,000
Americans who died or remain missing.
It is all chronological, from the
first listed casualty in 1959 to the last in 1975.
The visitors’ grim faces reflect in
the shiny black granite. Many
look for their loved ones’ names--
summer days end amid such sad searches
urging in pleas unvoiced for a more perfect Union. *in homage to Pete Seeger (1919-2014)
The unknown sphere, more real than I dreamed,
more direct, darts awakening rays about me--
Walt Whitman, Leaves Of Grass, 1860 ed.
Turning, staring out the window
the light in the room shows its
reflection in the glass, blades
of light, so the view is a blend
of what’s inside and outside
at the same time. What is outside?
A man on a stroll walks by the window
A woman pulling a dog on a leash
two young children running past
it all happened so fast the revolving
red lights spinning around, the sirens
making an awful sound, the police cars
all showing up, the one with the jacket
and tie must be a detective pointing
across the street where the body lie.
Then the girl appeared like a ghost
in white, she opened the door of her toppled car
crawled out and tottered over to the officers in blue who
waved at her with hard fists, and other officers,
as the crowd gathered, motioning them away
the crime scene tape macabrely festooned
the roadway from side to side where
skid marks tellingly showed the braking and the speed.
The mother of the child on the ground cried.
It was a sad scene, an awakening, far too late.
The Buddhists have an awakening in their view,
the way to the end of suffering, achieved
by overturning false belief, not a vehicle
would that the tragedy witnessed itself be false not true,
follow the Eightfold Path to Nirvana it is urged, but surely
the path leads not down this highway.