Hedgebrook LogoHedgebrook Logo

by Joan Moritz

This is the story of a Hedgebrook alumna who was conned by a marmalade cat. Or maybe this is the story of a woman searching for family who recognized a feline soul mate. It is definitely the story of a poet of witness who died before her work was done.

Helen Eisen was born in a displaced persons camp in 1946 to Polish survivors of the Holocaust. She grew up in New York City, and spent most of her adult life in St. Louis. As a poet, her work was deeply influenced by the Holocaust — both as experienced by her parents and as transmitted to her as a child of survivors — and by the immigrant experience. Issues of family, loss, survival and belonging were central to her writing.

Helen was a resident of Hedgebrook’s Willow Cottage from January-March 2002. During that time she edited many poems for what would eventually become her chapbook, The Permeability of Memory. One of her closest companions during this time was Aldo the cat, a red tabby who shamelessly fed on Helen’s daily offerings of cream and other special goodies. Although Helen herself could not eat cream, and although Aldo was not visibly in need of additional treats, he begged, she gave in, and thus began a mutual admiration society which fed them both.

When Aldo died a couple of years later, Hedgebrook staff were kind enough to notify Helen of his demise. But what no one at Hedgebrook knew — and what is revealed here for the first time, dear reader — is that when I attended a Hedgebrook master class with Carolyn Forché in 2010, I carried with me a memorial packet from Helen for Aldo. One March afternoon at twilight, I buried the little bundle in the front yard of Willow as a testament to their bond.

In 2011, Helen was diagnosed with breast cancer, which quickly metastasized to her lungs and bones. By the time she moved to New York in September 2012 to be close to family, there was no stopping the disease. Helen died on October 29, 2012 at the age of 66.

Helen’s chapbook is included in the Hedgebrook library, along with Drash: Northwest Mosaic, Volume IV, which contains a poem of hers. Family and friends will, at a future date, review her papers and unpublished poems and decide about any further publication.

Here is a poem of Helen’s which appeared in Natural Bridge, Number 10, Spring 2010. Given the subject of this poem, I believe it is relevant to note that Helen died just as Hurricane Sandy reached its peak in New York City. I like to think she hitched a ride on that wild wind and went to find Aldo.


Helen Eisen. Author photo courtesy of M. Hale.









It Was Your Comment about the Bird

Those we love can hear us at night, in the early morning hours
when the winds gust and trees come closer than any other time
to lifting up from their roots, as they mutter swiftly, harshly,
of this and that, their collective voice become backgrounds
for bird song. I wonder then how the birds hold on, as branches
toss about, as leaves and wind take this chance to maybe say exactly
how much rain they prefer, and why did you ignore me when I spoke
last time, like I wasn’t there. What was that about? That’s a good time
to sit on a stone porch if you have one, and tilt, or rock, on some human
contrivance, to whisper your secrets as though you were part of this world,
as those you love wait for you to join them, as the rain begins as we think
the storm is here.


Joan Moritz attended Hedgebrook master classes in 2010 and 2011. She has published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Lyra, Tilt-a-Whirl and Drash: Northwest Mosaic. She was born in New York City, but has lived in Seattle long enough to master the art of walking between raindrops.


Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members

Joan Moritz
About Joan Moritz


  • Anna Alves
    7:18 PM - 31 January, 2013

    When I was a resident in Cedar in the summer of 2000 (after a recent successful treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), Aldo “adopted” me too. I think he had a gift for finding those who were open to loving his steadfast sojourn heart with a like-minded spirit. Sounds like Helen was definitely an “Aldo Girl.” Thanks so much for sharing this post. I’m also a Sandy survivor, so this recollection is especially resonant.

    • Joan Moritz
      8:19 PM - 1 February, 2013

      Anna – I visited Helen at Hedgebrook in 2002 and was lucky enough to meet the inimitable Aldo. In her heart of hearts, Helen knew there were “other women” in Aldo’s life. I’m sure she would have loved knowing what an important role he played in your life. Thanks for sharing your experiences with him and with Sandy.

  • Jan Godown Annino
    8:50 PM - 31 January, 2013

    Both Helen Eisen’s free verse & the memorial from Joan Moritz are profound. Thank you for posting.

  • Sally Charette
    6:37 PM - 1 February, 2013

    Love the poem and the knowledge that we walked the same paths, years apart.

  • Roxi
    6:15 PM - 2 February, 2013

    Beautiful post and testament to both! How sad that such talent has left us but such an inspiring story.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.