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Remembering Brooklyn poet Wynne Henry

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Wynne Henry always had dreams of moving back to Brooklyn.

The Flatbush-bred poet and writer would often talk about it on the phone with her friend Helene Ruiz, founder of the Urban Individualists Collective. They would daydream about moving into adjacent apartment buildings so that they could send food over to each other over the clothewsire and laugh at all the chicken heads below them.

Unfortunately, Henry, who friends often called “poetry dancer,” never got to live that dream. She died in December of last year in California, after a battle with cancer. But her friends ended up giving her the next best thing with a proper memorial in her hometown.

Photos of the late Wynne Henry displayed at her memorial service.

On Friday, several of Henry’s friends gathered in the backyard of an AirBnb in Little Haiti to give the Brooklyn girl a deserving send-off. Throughout her life, Henry worked as a creative writing teacher both in New York City and on the west coast, where she moved several years ago to take care of her mother. Several small plastic fold up tables were set up in the back, each decorated with old photos of Henry and copies of her poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up” that friends would read from.

“She was quiet, simple, practical, and made every effort to do what was good for herself and those around her. She was a woman of her word, and I felt she deserved so much more than life gave her in return,” Kimberly Allen, 54, said. They had been friends for 12 years, originally meeting in the Los Angeles poetry scene.

In everyday life, Wynne was a quiet and introspective person. She wasn’t necessarily shy, but was reserved and often didn’t want to worry friends with her own problems. But in her writing, her voice soared.

“She seemed to really see people. When she brought her poetry and some of the things that she expressed, it let you know that she paid attention to everyday life and the people that she would run across,” Allen continued.

Henry’s poems delved into an array of topics: the scourge of racism, the simple pleasure and disappointments of love and meditations on daily life. One poem, which started as a writing prompt asking poets to define why they write, demonstrates some of her artistic drive.

“I want my poetry to help you find your voice/one word at a time/and when you finally run out of things to say/I want my poetry to speak for you,” a poem entitled ‘I want my poetry to’ reads, from her collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up.

Wynne Henry’s poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO stories up”

And on Friday afternoon, Henry’s words spoke for the friend who months later still struggled to find the words to properly mourn her.

Karen Abercrombie remembers many things about her friend of over 20 years, but one of the first that came to mind was her love of cats. After all, Henry is the reason why Abercrombie has two herself.

One Thanksgiving in North Carolina, Abercrombie took Henry to the local animal shelter. They came back each day just to look at one specific cat to adopt. He ended up getting adopted by another family. So, naturally, Abercrombie ended up adopting two other cats instead: one name Langston, after Langston Hughes (one of Henry’s favorite writers); and the other Finn.

Henry didn’t own a cat herself, Abercrombie explained, and speculated that it was because of the disappearance of her childhood cat. But that didn’t stop her from showering her friends’ pets with homemade crochets or picking up their favorite food when she saw it in a supermarket.

“Everytime I look at my cats – or things we shared together, like our love for African fabrics – I think of her,” Abercrombie said tearfully.

William Washington, a fellow poet, said that Henry had shaped him in many ways.

“So what I remember most about her is that besides great poetry, was the love affair we had that was never a love affair,” Washington said explaining their complicated relationship. Washington explained that while they had deep feelings for each other, Henry often kept him at arms length after her first battle with breast cancer.

“I loved her. And I like to think she loved me,” Washington said, to audible agreements from other memorial attendees.

Washington described his poetry before meeting Henry as mad and angry, which often contained harsh language. But Henry taught him that he could use his words to talk about more than just what enraged him.

“You wasn’t born angry like this. So don’t be afraid to write about love. And even if I was writing about my broken heart, she said write about this therapy. She taught me how to use soothing calming words instead of the words I was using,” Washington said.

While most of the attendants knew Henry in different ways, either in passing through art and poetry shows or decades long friendships, Luis Hidalgo, who never met Henry and attended the memorial with his wife,was equally moved by the ceremony.

“You know, as I get older, I think about my legacy. And to see what a legacy this woman left, the way she touched you. And the way she touched me through the words that you spoke here. What a wonderful thing,” Hidalgo said. “You know, words that were written down 2,000, 3,000 years ago, hundreds of years ago, that still echo today. Words that have taken men into battle. Words, putting men and women in love. And we still read it all these years later. And somehow this lady fits that mold.

Hidalgo continued to say that in reality Henry isn’t gone.

“Because in the Bible, it says if more than two to speak my word, I am present. Well, she’s present then.”

Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial vandalized

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park was vandalized sometime between Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
Graffiti vandals spray-painted “Baby Killers” and swastikas, among other things, in the shadow of several wreaths that were placed there last Thursday morning during a Memorial Day ceremony.
The memorial was dedicated on December 26, 2019. It culminated a decade-long push for the $2.85 million monument, which features a curved bench flanked by two semi-closed granite walls.
One wall bears the names of 371 men from Queens who fought and died in the Vietnam War. The second features a timeline of the war and a map of key locations.
An additional plaque honors the lives of veterans who died from illnesses related to their service in Vietnam. It includes the name of Pat Toro, a former president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 who began the push for a memorial in 2008.
He passed away in 2014 due to complications from exposure to Agent Orange during his time in service.

Forest Hills honors those who gave all

A group of nearly 100 people gathered at the Remsen Family Cemetery in Forest Hills on Sunday for a Memorial Day Ceremony honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country.
The annual parade that usually precedes the ceremony was cancelled for a second year due to COVID.
“Today is a moment of remembrance, reflection, and reverence to all those who sacrificed their lives for god and country,” said Michael Arcati, commander of America Legion Post 1424, which helped organize the event. “We are also here today to salute the first responders, doctors, nurses, EMT, police, and community volunteers who carried us through the dark days of the COVID pandemic when we could not leave our homes and death surrounded us.”
The National Anthem was sung by Abby Payne before Captain Joseph Cappelmann took the podium as the first honoree of the day, receiving the Law and Order award for his service to the community. Cappelmann has been the 112th Precinct’s commanding officer since February of 2020.
“We are here to honor all the servicemen and servicewoman who gave their lives to defend our nation and our freedom,” he said. “Despite all the challenges that our nation has faced lately, the American dream is still alive, and we must honor those who gave everything to defend it.”
Fellow honoree Bob Simpson is an adjunct of Post 1424, as well a three-time Purple Heart recipient.
“Someone once said death is not final until you are forgotten,” he told the crowd. “While I breathe, all of you will live on and your sacrifices for our freedom will be remembered. I salute all those brothers and sisters who fought for us and didn’t come back.”
The end of the ceremony was marked by the laying of wreaths and a formal recognition of Post 1424 members that passed during the last year.
Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, served as grand marshal with Teresa Amato of LIJ Forest Hills Hospital. Chain talked about the value of sacrifice and paid special homage to her father, a veteran of WWII.
“Memorial Day and every holiday has changed in how we are able to participate because of COVID, but despite that the message in our heart has not changed,” Chain said before quoting former president Barack Obama. “Our nation has set aside this day to pay solemn tribute to the patriots who gave their last full measure of devotion to this country that we love.”

A Woodhaven Memorial Day tradition lives on

One-hundred years ago, residents of Woodhaven were still reeling from the brutal one-two punch of the deadly 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and World War I. Out of all that loss and despair, an idea for a beautiful and unique tribute was born: the Memorial Trees of Forest Park.
Located at the top of Forest Parkway and running through the park, each tree was planted in the name of a soldier who left Woodhaven to fight overseas but never came home.
And every year on Memorial Day, friends and family of the fallen would gather in the park to decorate their trees.
We’ve written many times about how this tradition faded away over time, as well as how it came to be rediscovered and revived.
But because we are so far removed from the tradition itself, there are few details on the decorations themselves. Articles in the Leader-Observer 100 years ago mention ribbons and flags, so we’ve incorporated those into our decorations.
And they also mention notes the friends and families wrote to their loved ones, telling them the things they wish they could if they were still alive.
So whenever I’ve imagined former Woodhaven residents decorating the trees, I’ve always pictured a somber scene. Quiet, tearful, mournful.
That would better describe last year’s decorating of the trees in Forest Park when we were limited to four people due to COVID-19. The park was empty that morning. It was quiet. It was somber. Our voices echoed around the back stretch of trees and any passersby kept their distance.
But this year was a little different. And I wonder if, years ago, the decorating of the trees came to more closely resemble yesterday. I wonder if, over time, the decorating of the trees was part of the healing.
I would never compare the last year to what residents of Woodhaven went through 100 years ago, but I think the healing effects of the trees works just as well now as it did a century ago.
It was really good seeing a bunch of friendly faces again in person, not via a computer screen. It felt good to be together again, setting off to complete a job and seeing it all the way through.
To be honest, I really didn’t have to do much. I decorated the first tree as an example, and the group took it from there.
Instead, I was able to amble along and just enjoy everyone’s company. And as they moved from tree to tree, I was struck by the tone in conversation. It was quiet and respectful, but there was also a happy tone, people enjoying one another’s company once again.
As I walked along, I began thinking that if the tradition itself was far removed from us, the people we were honoring were not.
They lived in our houses. If they turned up alive in 2021, most of them would be able to bring you to the very homes they grew up in.
They went to the same schools and churches we go to. They rode the same elevated train we do, though it was just a few years old at the time.
They walked the same streets we do, and they would still recognize their old hometown.
And I think they would be touched to see that their loved ones were still remembered all these years later. I think they would recognize the people who decorated the trees this year as the same kinds of people that began the tradition a century before.
And that’s why this year’s decorating of the trees is one I will remember for the rest of my life. It felt wonderful to see these faces again and enjoy some healing time together in Forest Park.
It felt like the worst was behind us and we were moving forward, that everything was going to get better. It was a very good day.

Maspeth remembers the nation’s veterans

Despite the rainy weather, dozens of veterans, community members and elected officials gathered on Saturday to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
The annual Memorial Day tradition, led by the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth, included wreath-laying ceremonies at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park, the World War I Memorial at Garlinge Triangle, and the monument at Memorial Square, where 128 of Maspeth’s war dead are remembered.
“These brave souls deserve our gratitude,” said Ken Rudzewick, a veteran and longtime member of the organization who hosted the day’s events. “It’s because of them and the many Americans who went before them that we enjoy the great nation we live in today.”
Assemblyman Brian Barnwell acknowledged that his generation often forgets the sacrifices that were made by older veterans.
“That’s why it’s so important to do what we are doing today and share the memories of those who fought for our country,” Barnwell stressed.
Korean War veteran Constantino Carbone Jr., who helped lay the wreaths at each of the sites, noted that 36,752 American soldiers died in Korea.
“These kids gave their lives for freedom,” said Carbone, who served 15 months in combat and will be one of the grand marshals of next year’s Memorial Day Parade, which has been cancelled the last two years due to COVID. “But that’s what we were fighting for.”
Families of fallen soldiers lost in more recent wars also attended the services. Moura Hernandez and her son Juan came to Memorial Square to honor her brother Robert Rodriguez, who was only 21 when he was killed in Iraq in 2003.
Residents said the rain couldn’t dampen their commitment to pay their respects to those lives that were lost.
“They fought in the rain so we can come out in the rain to remember them.” said Marianne Kiskorne, who held a sign adorned with hearts and the words “Thank You.”
Two wreaths were later placed at the American Legion monument and the Civil War Memorial in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Maryanna Zero, president of the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth, said she feared the day would be a wash but felt proud that so many from the community participated.
“Next year we’ll have our parade,” Zero told the crowd, “a parade that is going to be not just the best of this borough, but the best of all boroughs.”

Amato, Chain to be honored at Forest Hills Memorial Day ceremony

ER director recalls first wave of COVID cases

On Sunday, May 30, Teresa Amato will be honored at the Forest Hills Memorial Day Ceremony in Remsen Park.
Selected as one of this year’s grand marshals for her service to the community during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she is the director of the Forest Hills Emergency Room Department and a proud mother of six.
In March of last year, Forest Hills was hit with the first wave of coronavirus cases. While other hospitals in Northwell Health’s network saw a decrease in patients at the onset of the pandemic, for Long Island Jewish in Forest Hills it was the exact opposite.
Typically, the emergency room treats about 100 patients per day, but in March the hospital was taking on nearly 250 patients each and every day. Nearly all of them needed to be treated for coronavirus.
“At the height of it, 95 percent of the patients in the hospital had COVID,” Amato said. “The only sound you could hear in the department was the hissing of the oxygen.”
As patients showed up, Amato said the hospital had to quickly pivot to load balancing as it reached its capacity. Because there were no open beds for patients at Long Island Jewish, they were sent to other nearby hospitals in Northwell’s network.
Amato remembers the “cavalry” of ambulances that helped transfer patients, idling outside the hospital in a line that was so long it wrapped around the entire block.
“You have to have three things to take care of patients,” she said. “You need the space, the staff, and the equipment. We just ran out of space.”
For the first few weeks the entire hospital was running on adrenaline, according to Amato. However, she started to notice signs of fatigue among the staff as time went on.
“Everybody was laser-focused in the beginning,” Amato said. “But as the bombs keep coming and you don’t get sleep and you start to understand the danger, that constant adrenaline paralyzes you.”
The most important thing for her as a leader was to be adaptable, according to Amato. Her office became a changing room for healthcare workers overnight.
Personal protective equipment, like masks and face shields, were stacked up high in boxes along the walls.
The space also served as a place for healthcare workers to decompress during their long shifts and a charging hub for iPads that enabled patients to connect with their loved ones.
Amato recalls an elderly patient who just wanted to see the garden in her backyard one more time before she died.
“Those conversations were really tough and a lot to witness repeatedly,” said Amato. “You really were the eyes and ears to their family, and it felt like you were witnessing a sacred moment.”
When morale was low at the hospital, Amato said she could always turn to the community for support. She is grateful for the validation that the banging of pots and pans from nearby housing gave her nurses, and remembers being in her office the first time she heard people cheering.
“I was so used to everything being wrong, so I ran out of my office and people were screaming thank you and clapping,” Amato said. “It was a real boost.”
Amato worked around the clock until the situation was under control. After six straight weeks of working at the hospital without leaving, she decided to go home and visit her family for the first time since the pandemic began.
The first wave had already peaked at that time, but many including herself were just beginning to wrap their head around the situation.
“I went for a walk with my kids, and I ran into some women that I’m friends with that also live in my part of Queens,” Amato recalled. “They said they’ve seen stuff in the news about COVID, so they asked me how it really was. I didn’t even know what to say or how to explain, it’s like sharing a war story.”

Chain to serve as Grand Marshal
Heidi Harrison Chain will be honored this Sunday, May 30, at Remsen Park during this year’s Forest Hills Memorial Day Celebration.
Serving as the president of the 112th Precinct Community Council for over a decade, she is a lifelong resident of Queens. She will serve as one of the event’s grand marshals.
“As a daughter of a WWII veteran, to be honored in this capacity is a momentous moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’ve participated in this parade for years upon years, so it’s really nice. I can imagine my father will be smiling down on me.”
Chain grew up in Rego Park but now lives in Forest Hills. She serves as a liaison between the local police force and the community.
Her focus is on outreach and providing essential information to residents of the precinct, from run-of-the-mill matters like changes to speed limits to more pressing issues like details on crime suspects.
Chain believes it’s essential to engage Forest Hills through whatever means possible, even if that’s digitally.
“The precinct council has a particularly important relationship to the people because its function is to be an intermediary,” she said. “In order for that to happen people have to be able to easily get a hold of you.”
During the pandemic, that’s exactly what happened. The council shifted gears quickly to address food insecurity because a lot of people were afraid to go outside and get groceries.
“In extreme emergencies cops actually went out and brought food to people’s homes,” Chain said.
Chain believes the annual Memorial Day celebration, which pre-pandemic included a parade down Metropolitan Avenue, is sacred to the spirit of the country and Forest Hills community.
“What we have to do as a society is honor those that died in service of our country so that everybody else can live in freedom,” she said. “We need to understand and honor the people who gave their lives.”

Time to reflect

Dear Editor,
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no Little Neck/Douglaston Memorial Day parade this year.
However, there will be a dedication and wreath-laying ceremony at the Veteran Memorial by American Legion Post #103 on the grounds of St. Anastasia Parish near Alameda Avenue and Northern Boulevard in Douglaston.
It will take place on Memorial Day at 10:30 am.
There will be no parade, but we can still say a prayer for those serving our country today. We can also offer a moment of silence for all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free.
Sincerely,
Frederick R. Bedell, Jr.
Bellerose

Forest Hills sets stage for Memorial Day festivities

The Forest Hills Memorial Day Ceremony is only a few weeks away, and organizers met together last Wednesday at the American Legion Continental Post 1424 to conduct their final preparations for the event.
The occasion will take place on Sunday, May 30, in Remsen Park and pay tribute to all the men and woman who have died while in the U.S. military. Slated to go on for just over an hour, the event will be filled with music, speeches, and honors.
This year, the ceremony will not only recognize fallen service members but will also honor the sacrifice of frontline workers. Members of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps will be honored at the event for their efforts in saving the local community from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michael Arcati is commander of Post 1424 and has been a major force in organizing this year’s ceremony. He served in the navy for a combined total of eight years as both a prosecutor and defense counsel. Specializing in international, criminal, and tax law, he’s been awarded the Bronze Star among other military accolades. It was his goal to extend Memorial Day to as many people as possible. “This event is not just for the veterans but for the community and the service that is central to how it functions.”
Arcati couldn’t envision honoring sacrifice this year without paying homage those who grappled with the pandemic on behalf of Queens, especially those from the volunteer ambulance service. “Like a military they lined up side by side, and put their lives on the line without question,” he said. “These people never asked for a dime, and they need to be recognized.”
Event organizers have also announced their 2021 Grand Marshals for the event. This year there are four honorees: Dr. Teresea Amato, Heidi Chain, Bob Simpson, and Captain Joseph Cappelmann. The selection represents a cross section of public service that is vital to New York, including the director of Forest Hill’s largest emergency room department and the commanding officer of New York’s 112th Precinct.
For many service members Memorial Day is not only a time to honor lost connections but also reconnect with those who have also served. Arcati said he expects to see plenty of familiar faces from Post 1424 at the ceremony. “We have over 100 veterans at Post 1424, and for some of our more senior members it’s the only way for them to socialize and find comradery with their brothers and sisters.”
Vice Commander of Post 1424 Pat Conley has been a member of the organization for over ten years and has seen hundreds of hours go into planning this year’s ceremony. Conley said he’s thankful that the veteran community has been getting their vaccines. “Our members are of all ages and backgrounds, but it’s awesome to see that everyone who needs it is already pretty much double-vaccinated at this point. I think it will be a tremendous celebration and a good day for the community.”
The laying of the wreaths is a pillar of military tradition in the United States and will happen at the end of the ceremony. There are a handful of veterans from Post 1424 that will be honored at that time and have the bell rung in their name as attendees pay their formal respects.
There were countless volunteers who helped make this year’s event a reality, according to Arcati. Whether it was small tasks like putting up flags or bigger responsibilities like manning the grill, he said there was an outpouring of support. “Veterans want to continue serving, even when they’re done with their military obligations, but it’s really wonderful to see people take time out of their schedules to come in and help out.”

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