Microfiction Challenge: Lonely Boy

 

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Peter sat in his pen, bored and lonely. He hadn’t seen his Papa in a few days.  “Don’t worry, little one,” Papa had told Peter. “Soon we’ll be safe. I just have to buy the right papers.”

But now Peter wondered where his Momma was. When she had put Peter in the pen and told him to take a nap, her face looked pinched. After she kissed him, she left quickly, forgetting to place Horsey in the pen with him. Peter put his thumb in his mouth, but he couldn’t get comfortable without Horsey.

Peter heard a voice. Was it Momma? He pulled himself up and stood holding the rail of his pen. No, these were loud, commanding German voices. The voices came closer; German soldiers entered the room with Momma’s friend, Charlotte.

“No, you are mistaken. This is my house, and my little boy.” She picked Peter up. “Here are his papers. See, he’s named Elbert, after my dear, late husband.”

“Those nasty Jews do not live here anymore,” she said with a shudder of disdain.

The soldiers left.

Charlotte held Peter tightly. As tears rolled down her cheeks, she said, “Your Momma is gone. Now you must call me Momma. Thank goodness your father left these papers here before those German pigs picked him up.”

 

This story is in response to Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge. This week’s challenge uses the painting above as a prompt. The artist, Else Berg and her husband, Mommie Schwarz were both Jewish artists living in the Netherlands when WWII broke out. They refused to wear yellow stars. They either did not go into hiding or they were betrayed (the accounts vary).  In either case, they were picked up in November 1942 and murdered at Auschwitz.

Past, Present, and Future Meet at a Conference

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is not present or future—only the past, happening over and over again—now.”

–Eugene O’Neill, A Moon for the Misbegotten

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I attended an academic conference–

for the first time in many years.

It was a conference about the past,

well, it was a history conference, after all,

the history of the early American republic,

and I was there to comment at a session.

I was prepared to talk about the past

well, perhaps the present and the past,

(The past happening over and over again, now.)

but I also found my own past there,

past and present crashing into each other

strolling out from amongst the scholarly papers

to say hello,

Do you remember me?

“Do we do the awkward hugs,” I say to her,

my friend from graduate school days.

 

We haven’t seen each other for–

What is two decades? Three?–

So we sat and talked

over New Haven thin-crust pizza and wine,

and the years melted away.

We were two old friends,

well not that old,

but without the self-consciousness of youth.

We didn’t have to impress anyone at this conference,

we weren’t looking for jobs or tenure,

people either knew our names,

or didn’t.

We talked of our children and spouses,

we talked of those we had both known who have died

we talked of work and play

of current events and cats.

It was so good to talk to her again

I hope we keep in touch.

I think we will.

 

The sessions I attended were stimulating,

so much so,

as to make me inarticulate when I got up to present,

my thoughts flowing and churning in my brain so fast,

faster than I could get them out in spoken words

(Sorry about that)

But still,

perhaps I made a fool of myself

but there are worse things,

at least I didn’t spill food on my dress

or vomit at the podium

and people were kind.

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The past, present, and future all running together,

rape, rape culture, the subjugation of women

a crime of the past

a crime of the present

and what of the future?

Rape cultures exist all around us.

The term can describe the situation of enslaved people

in the nineteenth-century

(“Let’s just call that baby ugly,” said someone in the audience.)

it can be seen in the misogyny of the recent RNC convention,

in the power of celebrities and politicians and on college campuses.

My husband and I hear a NPR report on the car radio

on women in Brazil

where women are raped, battered, and murdered,

a “woman killed every two hours” there

and “assaulted every 15 seconds.”*

Taught and expected to be submissive

the property of men

like the women of the session I commented on,

the enslaved women of the south,

the women depicted in nineteenth-century pornography

the women in the literature and pamphlets of the time

submissive, docile,

those who speak out, those who don’t marry

those who are “ruined” by rape or seduction,

forced to become prostitutes, slaves, or they die

a cautionary tale

to marry, to obey,

the past, happening over and over again, now.

 

But I make a new acquaintance

to share ideas and experiences with over lunch,

such fun

to come out of a session on such horrors.

As she eats her salad, and I drink my smoothie,

I gaze at the poster

saying refugees are welcome.

We have a history of welcoming and denigrating refugees,

the past happening over and over again, now.

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Then on to another session

honoring a historian who was beloved

by friends, students, and colleagues

but who tragically died too soon,

a moving session to attend,

although I had only met her once or twice

I wished I had known her.

Her legacy lives on in her writing

and in the students she inspired.

They are the future.**

Perhaps they are rare, these inspiring teachers,

yet, we read about them throughout history,

the past happening over and over again, now.

 

My husband and I have dinner,

Ethiopian food in a restaurant across from the hotel.

There is only one server,

a cheerful woman who managed to be friendly and helpful

though she had to serve, seat, and clean all the tables by herself.

Brain and stomach full

we settle down for the night

I think of the past, how it happens again and again, now,

the future.

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Vegetarian Sampler at Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant, New Haven, CT

 

*”For Brazil’s Women, Laws are Not Enough to Deter Rampant Violence,”

–Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Weekend Edition Sunday

**C. Dallett Hemphill Publication Fund

Magnetic Poetry Challenge: Soft Sweet World

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gentle morning sun dance

hug me

laugh

bloom and charm

touch hand and arm

soft sweet world

be kind

 

The fridge oracle, as Jane Dougherty has named it, finally came through with a nice one for me. This is for Mr. Elusive Trope’s Magnetic Poetry Saturday Challenge. You can play along by going to the magnetic poetry site here.

 

Once Upon a Time: The Rider

 

 

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Once upon a time, there was a prince riding in the moonlight

He rode under a cobalt sky

with soaring stars and watchful moon.

He wandered over mountains high

seeking the princess and her tune.

 

Lance at hand to slay a dragon,

his shield and bridle from a king,

and for the thirst, wine and flagon,

to shatter war’s curse, she must sing.

 

Strapped to his back, he bore the gift

to ease the conflict in their land,

tirra lirra, go fast and swift,

his horse galloped across the sand.

 

The journey seemed to last a year,

the urn of peace, well-locked, kept dry

till he came to her castle, here,

riding his steed ‘neath cobalt sky.

 

The princess sang and shattered urn,

the prince journeyed on, far and wide.

And so war died, did not return,

Now peace is here, and will abide.

 

Here is another peace poem. This one in response to Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge. The prompt was the painting above by John Bauer, which carries the caption, “Once upon a time there was a prince riding in the moonlight” that I used for my opening.

The prompt words are: Star, gift, wander, soaring, cobalt.

 

 

Come Peace: #Poets for Peace

Come peace,

blossom overnight

like a moonflower, glowing

reflect the streaming light

through gentle winds blowing.

 

Come peace,

bury your roots deeply

and send your branches high

make of them a sanctuary, steeply

angled green and brown, reaching to the sky.

 

Come peace,

and war be gone, vanish

as winter snow melts and disappears

running to the sea, then banish

the anger, the sorrow, the hatred, the tears.

 

Come peace

like a flowing river changes course

pretend it is not strange to turn aside

from destined paths, to value life instead of force,

we will not know until we’ve tried.

 

This poem is in response to Secret Keeper’s writing challenge, using these words: Gone/Change/Pretend/Strange/Life

It is also in response to poets for peace, which is being hosted on the Forgotten Meadow s blog. I’ve also posted it in the comments there.  You can read about this poetry collaboration there and add your voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legacies

Monday Morning Musings:

 

I called my mother

just to say, “hi,”

a seemingly inconsequential chat

that opened a door to an unknown world.

We talked about the house my younger daughter will soon have

the number of bedrooms, the bathroom–

and suddenly my mother remembers

as though hurtling back in time.

 

When my mother was little

she tells me,

she sometimes visited her grandmother

and stayed overnight,

the house had a summer kitchen

where they kept pickles,

her unmarried aunts lived on the third floor

they placed a bucket there at night

because there was only one bathroom in that house,

on the second floor

where the artist, her cousin, Abraham Hankins, lived for a time.

Sometimes there were other boarders, too.

Was it convenience or concern for propriety

and the virtue of unmarried women

that caused the bucket,

the literal pot to piss in

to be a fixture of that third floor room?

Who emptied it? That is what I wonder.

A question that will never be answered.

 

When my mother was little,

she tells me,

around four years old,

she had diphtheria.

It’s an ancient disease,

described by Hippocrates,

it can cause the throat and other membranes to swell,

It can be fatal.

There may have been an epidemic that year in Philadelphia,

there were several diphtheria epidemics in the 1920s,

thousands of people, mostly children, used to die from the disease*

before there was an effective vaccine.

(Were those the good old days?)

An ambulance took my mother to the hospital,

her father didn’t have a car,

they had no way to get her there,

they also didn’t have a telephone.

I wonder who called the ambulance?

She remembers–

she says this a few times–

She remembers

her mother standing there

watching and crying

watching her daughter, my mother, being taken away.

My mother dropped her doll,

and they—whoever they were—

would not give it back to her.

She doesn’t say she was sad or scared

but she remembers this,

losing her doll.

The memory has been with her

for almost ninety years now.

They must have thought it contaminated and germ-ridden,

though they didn’t give her a reason,

or she doesn’t remember.

It doesn’t matter now, but–

I hope they were kind to my four-year-old mother.

When she was finally well,

well enough to come home,

her mother made her oatmeal,

comfort food.

The image of her mother crying seems to haunt my mother.

I suppose she seldom saw my grandmother cry.

My grandparents were immigrants,

no nonsense people.

But I have a different image of my grandmother now,

a young woman fearful that her little girl,

her only child, was dying.

This wasn’t supposed to happen in America.

 

When my mother was little,

she tells me,

her mother spent time curling her, my mother’s hair,

wrapping it around a finger to form a ringlet,

a tender gesture, as I imagine it.

But my grandmother was constantly interrupted by customers,

customers arriving in their candy store.

My grandmother took care of store and household

because my grandfather also worked another job.

Home and shop were separated by two stairs,

a boundary of sorts,

a division between two worlds.

My grandmother muttered about those two steps,

up and down all day long.

I imagine my grandmother,

a small woman, like her sisters,

complaining in a mixture of Yiddish and English,

cursing those two stairs.

 

And now my mother is little again

little in height,

not that she was ever tall,

but now she has shrunk several inches,

though her formerly slender body is now large,

These are my earliest memories

she tells me,

as we talk on the phone that morning,

her voice emerging from her little-large body.

These early memories

of people and places long gone

of a way of life that no longer exists.

Someday my mother won’t be here

but her memories

a legacy

like her curls,

I carry both.

Her memories will

float around the Internet

perhaps forever,

or

until something replaces them,

and perhaps my own daughters will write

of my memories on some device that I can’t imagine.

But for now,

my memories and hers blend together here,

in her telling them to me,

her memories become mine,

they now belong to me as well,

colored by my perceptions and imagination.

I think of a grandmother I didn’t know,

who cried when she feared her daughter would die,

who lovingly curled that same daughter’s hair

And I share that image with you.

 

* “During the 1920s in the United States, 100,000–200,000 cases of diphtheria (140–150 cases per 100,000 population) and 13,000–15,000 deaths were reported each year. In 1921, a total of 206,000 cases and 15,520 deaths were reported.” CDC

 

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Microfiction Challenge: The Gate

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Henri Duhem, La Porte, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

The boy was silent, mute. He had not spoken a word since the day the world had turned dark and grey. Now he was alone, except for his dog, a large, mixed-breed with a coat of many colors. The dog needed no spoken words to know he was loved. The boy had sometimes gone hungry to make sure his companion had enough to eat. They wandered during the day; at night they slept cuddled together.

One day the boy and the dog discovered a gate. Although it seemed to be in the middle of a field, they could not see anything beyond it. The dog nudged the boy and whimpered for him to open the gate. The boy did so, leaving it open as they walked through– into a sunny meadow filled with brightly-colored wildflowers of red, blue, and yellow. From them came a melody in flute-like tones. The boy had never heard the song before, but he knew it. It was the song of peace and love. He opened his mouth and sang the words in a loud, clear, treble voice. The voice of an angel. The sound drifted through the gate, and the world awakened again.

 

This is in response to Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge using the painting above as a prompt. The word limit is somewhere around 200 words. Mine is 198 words.

 

Dreamscape

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Marc Chagall,Le somnambule, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

I.

Moonlight

bathes the figures

balancing and shaking

unsure, spirits of the night world

dreamscape

 

This is in response to Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge. This week’s challenge was a cinquain based on the painting above.

I felt like I wanted to say more though based on this painting and Chagall’s other works.

 

II.

Perilous times.

The moon hums a warning

watching over night-dreamers

and silent screamers

paralyzed with fear.

Uncertainty reigns

at the precipice

the fiddler keeps his balance–

barely.

The roof is steep,

His bows slides, the tune changes

shifts to minor,

a dirge punctuated by the drumbeat of fear

and hate

in the distance,

coming closer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She Sees Him There

 

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“This is a composite photo, assembled from separate images of Jupiter and comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, as imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in 1994.Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was discovered by astronomers Carolyn and Eugene M. Shoemaker and David Levy on March 24, 1993. It was the first comet observed to be orbiting a planet — in this case, Jupiter — rather than the sun. The effect of Jupiter’s tidal forces had already torn the celestial body apart and, eventually, the fragments collided with Jupiter between July 16 and 22, 1994.” Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver and E. Smith (STScI) and J. Trauger and R. Evans (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

 

They met and married, made a life

raised a family, not much strife.

She stayed home, he studied the stars,

shine of planets, Jupiter, Mars

 

At fifty it’s her turn to gaze,

to view the comets and the blaze

of their tails burning brightly

own the sky, see new things nightly

 

When death came and took him too soon,

she sent his ashes to the moon.

Over the tree, it rises now

he smiles from there above the bough

 

This poem is in response to Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Prompt. The words were: Own/turn/shine/tree/star.

The poem is about Carolyn and Eugene (Gene) Shoemaker. Carolyn was featured on this StoryCorps episode, where she talks about their life together. Gene is the only person whose ashes have been left on the moon.