Elsie Whitlow Feliz
courtesy of Don Feliz
Elsie Whitlow Feliz was born and
raised in San Francisco, where her mother’s family settled after
fleeing Stalinist Russia. Throughout her childhood, she was
surrounded by the magic of Potrero Hill, with its views of the
Bay Bridge, ships coming and going into the harbor, and, always,
the lights of the City. In 1960, she married and followed Pfc.
Don Feliz to West Berlin, where she attended the Goethe-Institut
and the Free University. Upon their return, she graduated from
San Francisco State University with a major in Economics.
Elsie’s poetry has been published in Drumvoices, Poetry Depth
Quarterly, Inky Blue, Chrysanthemum, San Fernando Poetry
Journal, The Poet’s Guild, Mediphors, Poetry Now, Rattlesnake
Review and the anthology, We Speak for Peace. She is
the past editor of Free-Wheeling, an annual poetry
journal published by the Towe Auto Museum.
Although she didn’t plan it this way, Elsie’s family lives next
door—just the way Bunya thought things should be.
Elsie Whitlow Feliz Poems
Bunya is baking today.
Flour floats through the air.
She sings songs from Russia.
Suddenly, she's a girl in the grain.
Flour floats thick in the air.
Bunya measures with her eye.
Now she's the girl in the grain
where everything is yellow and ready.
Bunya measures with her eye.
The wheat beckons the sky.
Every grain is yellow and ready
for men with sickle and scythe.
The wheat calls out to the sky.
The women will winnow the yellow,
while men wield sickle and scythe
and the world moves in sunlight.
Women winnowing. The grain dancing.
Listen to this sunny music.
See how they sway in the sunlight
while the men watch, drinking their water.
Listen to Bunya's Russian music
as she bakes throughout this day,
Deddeh watching, drinking his tea,
and she's his golden girl in the grain.
The Music of The Molokans
With thanks to the singers of the Molokan Church
My Russian family sang to praise
work, to praise friendship, to praise
the land, and the Lord God. Their music
echoes in the mountains of Prometheus,
lingers in the wheat fields of Russia. There
are certain streets on Potrero Hill in San
Francisco where their songs play on the wind.
Yesterday my Aunt Mary was buried
to Russian music, and though I listened
hard I could only make out a few words:
God, home, father, go… My Aunt Nancy
and I held hands, each of us hearing voices
of old ghosts. I hear Bunya singing,
she said. I told her I heard Aunt Faye.
The music carried us back to times
when the six sisters sang around Bunya's
house, or at their work. When my Aunt Fran
sang while sewing my Queen-of-the-Maypole dress,
I knew why the black-and-gold treadle sewing
machine was named Singer—Bunya and all my
aunts sang at their work, in Russian or English.
Nancy and I know our time here is short, and we
know our children can never understand this
thing about the music. They will bury us
to a different song, or probably none at all,
but once, not so long ago, our whole family sang.
In February of 2008, Elsie and her husband, Don, released a
SnakeRings SpiralChap (#9), To Berlin With Love, about
their early married life together while Don was serving with the
U.S. Army in Berlin. In fact, they were there when the Berlin
Wall was built (almost overnight!); Elsie was on one side of it,
and Don was on the other! What happened? Did they ever get
re-united? Read their book of poetry, illustrated by photos
taken at the time, and find out.
Feliz was born in Santa Rosa and grew up in Fresno and
various Bay Area counties. After graduating from San Francisco
State University, he enlisted in the U.S. Regular Army in 1960
to serve in Germany, the only assignment area where he and Elsie
could be together. He was selected for the Berlin Brigade before
the Berlin Wall was built midway through his two-year overseas
tour. He has lived in Sacramento since 1968 and started writing
poetry in 1995.
Don’s poems have been published in Brevities, Poet’s Forum
Magazine, Rattlesnake Review, and The Gathering (the
Ina Coolbrith Circle 2005 and 2007 Anthologies). He is a former
co-editor of Free-Wheeling, an annual poetry journal
published by the Towe Auto Museum in Sacramento.
Here are two poems from their book:
The Sergeant’s Surprise
Sometimes American GIs thought
I was a German girl and shouted
obscenities from the trucks. I felt
ashamed for them and my country.
Once in front of the Metzgerei
a Sergeant asked me for sex.
I surprised him with my use of
American expletives, pretended
to be an officer’s wife. He covered
his nametag and ran for his life.
The couple stretches to look
over the Wall and wave at the
bride’s mother who can look
back for only a few moments
—can’t see her daughter’s
bridal dress or how the husband
embraces her shoulder. Mom
missed the West Berlin wedding.
Her low-rent home in East Berlin
includes other hidden costs.