Below are samples of published work by Debka Colson.
A Distant Landscape
In black and white: two saplings intertwined, flirting with sunlight. Years ago, still smooth around the edges, I left for new terrain. And you behind.
Only now, as the night passes over a bent trunk worn down from years of rubbing against one hard truth, can I understand how much I needed you, always in the foreground.
By Debka Colson, published in Slab, Issue 9, 2014.
Stew and Roses
Back at school I skipped two classes to smoke cigarette after cigarette in the girls’ room and waited to get caught, hoping for a suspension. I got community service instead: a whole Saturday helping you.
I stood in your kitchen with my arms crossed tight; stroking my nipples under the lace bra I got with the money snuck from Ma’s purse. Old as dirt and nearly blind, you didn’t notice. I asked what you had for me to do.
“Fetch the bag from that icebox,” you said, and when I handed it over, you cradled it in the crook of your arm before reaching inside and pulling out a squirrel, fur matted and one leg mangled. “You ever seen a fatter one?”
I tried not to hurl.
“Getting yourself in a fix ain’t hard,” you said, stroking that dead thing like a pet. “Now let’s see if you got enough smarts to skin this critter and make us some stew.”
I had nothing to prove, especially to you, but I took the knife and held my breath, pressing the blade clean through the fur and into the flesh. You got your stew all right—we ate it on chipped plates, sitting together beside three wilted roses in a glass—and I got something I didn’t see coming: a Saturday that tasted real, the way most things these days hardly ever do.
By Debka Colson, published in Open to Interpretation: Fading Light, a juried book competition of photography, poetry and prose, July 2013. This story received Honorable Mention. For more information see: http://www.open2interpretation.com.
The photo above, titled “At Ninety-Eight,” is copyrighted with all rights reserved by Elizabeth Siegfried. For more information about Elizabeth’s work, please see her website: www.elizabethsiegfried.com.
Healing in Oaxaca
A statue of San Juan Bautista stood with me in a room lit by candles, wax pooling on the floor near sprigs of basil and a fresh white egg. A healer clad in Levi’s poured holy water slowly from a Coke bottle into a widemouth jar then circled, reciting prayers in Zapotec I didn’t understand.
I arrived that morning with an agitated stomach hoping the healer, pale brown and wrinkled like an old iguana, would cleanse my spirit. He lifted the basil to brush San Juan’s body before striking mine fervently from head to toe. The herb’s pungent scent stuck to my skin. After laying the shredded sprigs on the dirt floor, the healer grasped the egg with long calloused fingers and, tapping, released the raw contents into the glass jar. I stood on tiptoes to peer over his shoulder while San Juan stood still in the shadows. The healer smiled at the floating yellow yolk and studied the message delivered by the egg. He turned and for the first time looked me in the eyes. “You are sick,” he said. As if making a toast, the healer raised the jar and nodded, then asked for twenty pesos and left.
“Wait!” I said, too late, as a clump of egg white sank to the bottom of the jar. I wished San Juan Bautista could intervene. My stomach growled. Outside, a woman shooing flies sold chicken tacos fried in oil the color of strong black tea.
By Debka Colson, published in the 2nd issue of Roar Magazine, Aug. 2012
In youth, the apple: crisp smooth tart
in shiny bright come-hither red
encircling, protecting cool white flesh.
Ah, but if dropped and discarded
she is quick to offend and easily bruised.
Her strength an illusion—a cut to the core
surrenders a spume of shallow tears,
mourning her fall from grace.
The abandoned apple: flaccid and wrinkled,
frozen, forgotten in cold northern climes.
In youth, the mango: unsavory hard recluse
in somber green ignored and slow to ripen.
Only with age the plump flesh softens:
abundant, ready to yield, her skin
blemished and marked by time,
enveloping a flush of warmth, exotic juices.
The mess and mystery of life lived,
sustaining a strong inner core.
The mature mango: tender and succulent,
luminous, summons heat from the tropics.
By Debka Colson
Published in North American Review
Volume 291, Numbers 3-4
Giving Back: Robert Naka
F. Robert Naka was a sophomore studying engineering at UCLA when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Two months later, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order for the evacuation and mass internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. Robert Naka was one of 11,070 individuals sent to the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Though they were full American citizens who had committed no crime, the Naka family were forced to relinquish their home and their livelihood without due process to be incarcerated in an American concentration camp.
Manzanar was located in the isolated, arid Owens Valley desert 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Five persons, sometimes from different families, shared a living space no larger than 20 by 25 feet inside barracks sheathed with tarpaper offering little privacy for sleeping or daily living. As the hastily constructed, uncured wooden structure shrank, the prisoners endured inadequate protection from the hot dusty winds of summer or the cold of winter. The mess hall, communal toilets and showers were placed in separate buildings. “Not only was their use inconvenient,” Robert remembers, “but showering for modest Japanese women was embarrassing.”
During this time, the American Friends Service Committee and its affiliate group, the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, was raising scholarship funds and helping to find colleges for Japanese American students. Through these efforts, nearly four thousand students, including Robert, were moved from incarceration in the camps to colleges located in the interior of the country.
“I arrived at the University of Missouri on a cold, cloudy February day. There I was pasted back together. The Quakers did a marvelous thing in persuading the faculty to look after my well-being so I wouldn’t be ambushed or hurt in any way. This was at a time when there was no television yet, travel was by train and everything was slow. The reactions of the people on each coast never permeated the Midwest. I was okay….
…With determination and compassion, Robert Naka set aside the suffering he endured from being seen as a distrusted American to using his skills and academic training to become one of the U.S. government’s most trusted employees handling highly classified information. Precisely fifty years after his incarceration at Manzanar, Robert and Patricia established an endowed fund “in grateful appreciation of the American Friends Service Committee, which assisted and supported me at a very critical time in my life.”
By Debka Colson Excerpt from article published in Quaker Action, Spring 2011, Volume 92, Number 1
After Williams’ NantucketThe flowers are not specific, the varieties not named. At first I imagine boxes filled, lavender and yellow: Easter. But also crocuses outside the window when winter has passed. I wonder: How are flowers changed? I peer through translucent curtains and the world softens, white changes vivid colors to pastels, away from the mustiness in spring. On Nantucket and throughout New England, days heat up through the course of afternoons after mornings spent at the water’s edge, turning stones and dipping toes in cold water. Lunch over, a drowsiness sets in. New guests due at the bed and breakfast, and a glass tray— not plastic or wood or metal—reflects the late day sun. And the glass pitcher on top, a matched set, the tumbler upside down to keep dust out: the guests have not yet arrived.
By Debka Colson, Published in Poetry Cram 11=Poetry² by ChicagoPoetry.com Press, April 2011 and in Poetry Cram: The Ultimate Chicago Poetry Anthology.
Raul Matta: Leading by Example
“My mother was born in Puerto Rico,” says Raul Matta, “and when we were children, there were times when she supported the four of us on no more than $18,000 a year.” His mother, a single parent, made sure her son attended an after-school program called the Youth Leadership Academy, and that’s when Raul first encountered AFSC. He participated in a Help Increase the Peace (HIPP) workshop co-sponsored by the Academy.
“At first, I didn’t understand what AFSC was,” Raul said, “but when I learned about Quaker beliefs—that every person has value and every problem has a nonviolent solution, I could see they were at the core of what I believe.” When he struggled in high school, the Service Committee gave him both the opportunity and the language to talk to adults about marginalization and racism. He gained the tools he needed to become an effective organizer, his experiences were given value, and he saw that he could make a significant contribution to a better community and a better world.
In 2005, Raul was a Youth Fellow with the AFSC Western Massachusetts office. In addition to overseeing HIPP trainings, he reached out to hundreds of public high school students about alternatives to the military at the same time that his stepfather, an Air Force Reservist, was deployed to Iraq. Raul understands the complexities involved in counter-recruitment work and talks of the importance of stopping U.S. military intervention while supporting veterans and family members affected by the war.
Following his graduation from Hampshire College (in Amherst, Massachusetts), Raul became a Program Manager for an HIV/AIDS prevention and screening program with the Holyoke Health Center. In spite of a busy schedule, he stays involved with the Service Committee as a HIPP trainer and as a valued volunteer on several committees. He recently was appointed to the new National Youth Advisory Board. He believes AFSC needs young people “to light a fire” and bring their perspectives to the organization. And he remains committed to diversity and incorporating the richness of human experience in all aspects of the Service Committee’s programs and governance.
By Debka Colson Published in Quaker Action, Summer 2011, Volume 92, Number 2