Tangled in History and Art

Monday Morning Musings:

“We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point
Of view
Tangled up in blue”

–Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue”

 

“for a brief, enchanted, almost transcendental point in time, I perceived how history was nothing more than an accident, a fluke, a matter of a few centimeters here or there, a head turned, a sudden gust of wind, a dirty gun barrel, a misfired cartridge, a breath held for a second too long or too little, an order misheard or misunderstood, an itchy trigger finger, a second’s delay, an instant’s hesitation. The idea that anything is ever meant to be seemed nonsensical. . .”

–Philip Kerr, Prussian Blue

 

I wake,

finger-comb my tangled curls

wait for dawn to break,

to overtake,

the midnight blue

and color the world in morning’s hues–

red, pink, gold—

and then the sun and clouds

are “tangled up in blue”

Sunrise, National Park, NJ

I think of my dreams

stories connected–

projected or reflected?

One flows into another,

intersected, another thought appears.

How do we dream before we have language?

In tangled images without names?

(Only later can we reframe.)

 

We see a performance

women on aerials silks and trapeze

moving with ease

in the air and on the ground

they cross and tangle

(sometimes dangle)

life lines that intersect,

disentangle, and connect

(the toddler next to us, calls to her Momma)

which doesn’t detract from the drama,

attests instead to broader connections

and lives that move in several directions

the tangle of work and home,

a woman sings, “I’m fine,”

but from any angle,

our lives and connections are certainly tangled

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We walk

we talk

observe

and swerve

around the other people

on the street

hear bits of conversation

their lives briefly entwined with ours

flies tangled in a web

flowers

to be pollinated in late-night hours

in my dreams

(or so it seems)

 

We drink and eat

watch the men across the street

and make up stories of their lives,

wonder about their families and their wives,

we concoct a total fantasy

with no basis in reality

just men having a smoke,

yet they evoke,

our ridiculous tales

make us laugh and smile

as we linger for a while

the liminal time, before sunset

a time of yet and no regret

stories tangled together, apart

truth, fiction, and sometimes art

 

We see another show,

what is it about?

Theater can explain and deceive

(a nifty magic trick is well-received)

movements, music, and words

fly in tangles, like tiny birds

through our brains

where, I’m not sure what remains

science and speculation

no overwhelming revelation

the beginning, the middle, the end

Big Bang and what comes after

for a family–

there is some laughter–

nothing is predictable, it’s true

we could be tangled up

in blue

or black

when the theater is dark,

but like an ark

it takes us on a journey

Information received

or are we deceived?

Tangles upon tangles in the darkness

no answers here

only questions

But that’s OK, I’m fine.

 

We emerge to sunshine

watch the people

watch the dogs

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At Tria Café, Washington West

and the bikers bike

(we see all types)

we linger, drink, and eat,

poetry of the street

sights and sounds tangled together

(we enjoy the lovely weather)

this moment, this now

I wonder how,

and what,

and if only. . .

We walk to the corner

left or right

which brings us to a sight

we do not know what we will see

or what was then, or what will be

move straight ahead

down that clear path

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what happens then

oh, I see, it’s a dead end

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Do we turn the other way?

Does history change, what if we stay?

Our shadows tangle on the cobblestones,

hands clasped

we head for home

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We saw two of the many, many Philadelphia Fringe Festival shows this weekend

We saw Life Lines by Tangled Movements Arts, which we both really enjoyed. See this group, if you can.

And we saw Hello Blackout by New Paradise Laboratories. See this if you like weird. The program note says to let the show wash over you to give yourself “a right brain vacation.” That’s the fun of Fringe–something different. I didn’t love it, but I’m not sorry I saw it.

We ate at Cuba Libre and Tria Cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Souls Amongst Us, Drifting

Monday Morning Musings:

“None of it was real; nothing was real. Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now must lose them. I send this out to you, dear friends, before I go, in this instantaneous thought-burst, from a place where time slows and then stops and we may live forever in a single instant. Goodbye goodbye good—”

—George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

 

“I met you on a midway at a fair last year. . .”

Joni Mitchell, “That Song about the Midway” (1969)

 

Ancient cycle of souls

between rocks and rivers

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Laurel Hill Cemetery, view of the Schuylkill River

 

walk sweetly

(some say)

follow us in spirit form,

(perhaps)

happy

rising with the moon

blooming with the stars

living in harmony with the cosmos

watching flowers blossom

year after year

the willow weeps for them

amidst angels and urns

obelisks and hands pointing to the sky

 

and here we are, alive

walking amongst them

hearts and bones

flesh and blood

a family outing

the young women–and us

no longer young—

(except in our dreams)

a groundhog warms itself on a gravestone

then disappears

a moment come and gone

nothing is real

everything is real

there are ghosts all around us

We drink wine

enjoy a picnic dinner

the singer plays her guitar strings

sings about the midway

slowing down

birds take flight in a dramatic sky

(in a moment there, then gone)

wearing wings, they looked so grand

hanging upon the face of night

soon scented with petrichor

we move to shelter

as the rain pounds down

drink some more

discover that caramel corn flavored with Old Bay seasoning

may be the snack we didn’t know we craved,

my daughter and I talk of haircuts, then Shelley and Keats

Grecian urns and time

passing fast and slow—

stopping midway, going down

everything is real

the moments paused in my mind, infinitely dear

 

we watch a movie, sweet and tender

about a widowed Hasidic man

we feel sorry him,

he only wants to regain custody of his son,

though he seems to sabotage himself at times

we all know someone like him

yet still, we root for him

it doesn’t matter that they are Hasidic

speaking in Yiddish

nor that it is a patriarchal culture

where the main function of women

is to have children and take care of the home

they could be any father and son

the boy finds a video of his mother

he replays it

a moment from the past

but life goes on, the rabbi says

and we learn to go on, too

 

We discuss the movie over coffee

agree the boy is incredibly cute

(like a Maurice Sendak illustration, I say)

we walk and talk

through old city streets

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past graves

our shadows—

real, not real

fly over graves of Revolutionary War soldiers–

everything starting as nothing

then named and loved,

all the fathers and sons,

the mothers and daughters,

lingering in hearts and minds

remembered

till they are forgotten

midway in time

the cycle begins again

ancient souls float between rocks and rivers

pause

they linger in your mind

you may almost see them

feel them

drifting in the breeze

 

We walked through Laurel Hill Cemetery, founded in 1836, and intended from the beginning to be a recreation site, as well as a burial place. We saw the movie, Menashe. Trailer here.

We walked through the yard of St. Peter’s in Old City Philadelphia. A brief history here.

 

Truth in a Cookie

These cookies, your favorite,

are my favorite, too,

my daughters named them,

“Mommy Cookies,”

I baked these cookies for them

and for me

I baked them for events, for friends,

for moments of heartbreak

and moments of joy–

for memories.

I baked them for you.

 

I think of all the recipes handed down,

mother to daughter over generations,

measured by sight and feel

cooked or baked to taste,

I think of these cookies,

back in Eastern Europe–

the original version–

hard and dry,

kept in a tin,

taken out to have with tea,

but evolving over time

with new additions,

(like families)

becoming sweeter

and more nuanced,

cookies that are made

(now)

with ingredients of old world and new

bridging history in a bite,

tasting of past, present, and future–

what I see in your eyes,

the girl who was

the daughter, the mother, the grandmother,

what I see in my daughters’ eyes,

years gone, years yet to unfold,

bitter, spicy, crunchy, and sweet,

the definition of a cookie,

the measure of a life

 

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This was a poem I wrote for my mom’s 95th birthday.  I made her some of these mandelbrot cookies as a gift.

 

Silent Parade: Tanka

resolute in grief

silence roaring in the heat

July marches past

without confusion time flows

history repeats itself

 

 

The Silent Parade of 1917 is the subject of today’s Google Image.

This if for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge. The prompt words are heat and confuse.

 

Windows and Views

Monday Morning Musings:

“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2

“Then, window, let day in, and let life out.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 5

“Unfix’d yet fix’d,
Ever shall be, ever have been and are,
Sweeping the present to the infinite future,
Eidolons, eidolons, eidolons.”

–Walt Whitman, “Eidolons” from Leaves of Grass

“There’s this phenomenon called the overview effect. It’s this cognitive shift that many astronauts go through when they see Earth for the first time from space. They describe it as feeling this overwhelming sense of humanity. In space you see that we’re all in this together. Astronauts leave the Earth as technicians, but they come back as humanitarians.”

Amanda Nguyen, Rape Survivor, Founder of Rise, Astronaut in Training

Open that vast window

time lives in our embrace

kissing ghost and angel breath

from ocean, sky, and naked dirt

giving poetry to life

for eternity

 

Open that vast window

we experience the world

through our senses

trying to find rhyme and reason

the ghosts flit and echo

souls and poetry intermingle

past and future merge

 

Here we sit in a vineyard,

drinking wine named for a poet’s verse,

 

watching performers speak the words of a writer long gone

his words echo through the centuries

opening windows to worlds we wouldn’t know

as Juliet opened hers to Romeo

time floats

unfix’d yet fix’d

 

Here in this space

the sky is an open window,

vast with promise and possibility

Sunset, Auburn Road Vineyards

we hear night birds trilling and calling,

a bird

(or is it a bat?

I learn eidolon is also a genus of bats)

swoops to catch an insect

while below,

players thrust and parry with swords and wit

life and death around us

windows opening and closing

unfix’d, fix’d

eidolons

 

Later, I remember one of our daughters

spoke Juliet’s words,

it was an audition

for a college theater grant,

leaving home

(the overview effect occurs only then)

a window appears

she opened it,

and in a theater,

(eidolon-filled)

finds her sun,

and he burns brightly

for her,

eclipsing everything else

 

We see another play,

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before it begins

we listen to the people near us talk,

they’re all involved in theater,

the woman sitting to my left, we learn,

is in a play in another theater that night

she plays the grandmother—again!

they all laugh

the light dims

our play begins,

one actor on the stage here in Philadelphia,

the other in London

they communicate through SKYPE–

live theater

the wonders of high-speed connections–

we see his house in London

on screens

like windows

but he looks through windows, too

seeing the present, imagining the future

 

The play is set in the near future

the butterflies have died,

but new ones have been created

along with other animals and plants

like chaos theory

or dominos

each extinction creates another

each creation has unknown effects

people rebel and resist

ecological warfare, starvation,

the world owned by a corporation

a better world

through gene manipulation,

what could possible go wrong?

 

After the show,

we walk across the street

from a story of the future

to a building of the past

Christ Church, Philadelphia

on this hot, summer day

we wander

see flowers still growing

(sigh of relief)

the sixth extinction may have started

but it’s not visible here yet,

not to untrained eyes,

birds flit and sing

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we stop for ice cream

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see a wedding, and another, and another

(couples beginning new lives

closing doors, opening new windows)

I find openings everywhere

windows from the past

looking at the present,

I wonder if ghosts wander here

do they experience an overview effect?

seeing Earth, their lives now from a new perspective?

unfix’d, fix’d

eidolons

 

We head home

the sky darkening

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the sun not visible through the clouds,

and the thunder rumbling–

but in the morning

it rises in the east

shining through my window

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(the present)

poetry of the here and now

sweeping to the future

 

There was a dVerse prompt on windows last week that I missed, but I suppose I’ve been thinking about windows. The Oracle gave me the first stanza. She really is all-knowing.

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We visited Auburn Roads Vineyards.  We saw Tiny Dynamite’s production of Perfect Blue at the Christ Church Neighborhood House.

 

 

Time Bends and Echoes

Monday Morning Musings:

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past. . .

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory,

down the passage we did not take,

towards the door we never opened,

into the rose garden. My words echo

Thus, in your mind.”

T.S. Eliot, from “Burnt Echo”, No. 1 of “Four Quartets”

 

“So much of history is mystery. We don’t know what is lost forever, what will surface again. All objects exist in a moment of time. And that fragment of time is preserved or lost or found in mysterious ways. Mystery is a wonderful part of life.”

–Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter

 

This week–

a photo,

hidden within a mislabeled envelope, appears

challenging history

what is known and what may be,

tangible, frangible,

certainly mysterious

does it show what we think it shows?

Can it?

Will we ever know more of lives that soared and crashed?

The photo,

a door opened into the past,

within it the people still live

a passage, a channel

leading this way or that

perhaps many such secret passages exist

burrow along well-traveled pathways

winding passages that bend and shape the straight roads of time

time past, time present, time future

 

We go to a play,

three men enter a room, one at a time,

Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, Count Leo Tolstoy

(Barefooted and dressed as a peasant, he says

don’t call me Count, throughout the play.)

The room is furnished with a drawered table and three chairs,

in the drawer, the men will discover notebooks and pens.

(Jefferson is amazed at a pen with ink–amazed he did not think of it himself.)

Though they lived in different times,

each man has just died and entered this room,

At this discovery, Jefferson remarks,

“Evidently time bends.”

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Bulletin board in the lobby of the Lantern Theater.

The door lock after each enters the room,

they cannot exit until—what?

Each man is a writer,

and it turns out each wrote his own version of the gospels,

each man was a visionary of sorts

who wrote about reforming society,

each failed within his own life to uphold the standards he envisioned

and in this amusing and entertaining play,

the men write and argue,

debate their ideas,

and write some more,

facing the mirror—us–

we, the audience, the fourth wall

hear their words,

hear them confess their deeds and weaknesses.

And what if they did meet,

and what if they did debate and discuss,

and what if we could hear them,

bending time

 

On a beautiful summer day,

after the play

we walk the streets that bear traces of Jefferson everywhere

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a medical school and university named for him.

Centuries ago, he walked these streets

sat in a room, penned (with quill) his elegant words*

of sacred rights, of equality and independence,

even while he continued to enslave others,

words that led to a revolution,

words that still resonate today,

I imagine him,

his long-legged stroll across the cobble-stoned streets,

conversing with his unlikely friend John Adams,

perhaps opening a door into a rose garden

there

the scent lingers in the air

the words echo

time bends

Charles Dickens visited Philadelphia, too.

in March 1842, he stayed at the United States Hotel

on Chestnut Street near Fourth,

the part of the city

now called Old City

where Jefferson and other delegates declared our independence

I imagine their ghosts meeting on these city streets

that Dickens found much too regular

longing for a crooked street–

perhaps seeking a place where time bent

and echoes lingered in the air

 

Dickens met with Edgar Allen Poe,

they discussed poetry.

Dickens had a pet raven, Grip,

his stuffed body rests in a glass case

at the Free Library of Philadelphia

Dickens wrote about Grip in his book

Barnaby Rudge,

which was serialized in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

and Poe reviewed the book for a Philadelphia publication in 1842,

mentioning the raven,

and Poe later writes a poem about a raven

whose word “nevermore” echoes in the air

and through time

 

And on this beautiful summer day

we sit outside at a café,

drink wine

(and beer)

 

eat cheese

(luscious)

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I wonder to my husband

how it would have been—

what if a woman had been in that room?

He says, was there one who wrote gospels?

I don’t know,

though I think there must have been

perhaps, lost to history,

or yet to be found,

a mystery,

perhaps to be revealed

in a mislabeled envelope,

or amidst remnants unearthed from a secret passage

in the locus of past, present, and future.

We sit at the table

(a window becomes a mirror

old buildings blend with new)

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watch the people,

listening to words echo

lingering in the breeze

 

We saw The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & County Leo Tolstoy: Discord by Scott Carter at the Lantern Theater Company in Philadelphia.

We went to Tria Café Washington West

A photo said to be of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was in the news this week.

*Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence 

Dazzled

Monday Morning Musings:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — (1263)

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —“

–Emily Dickinson

 

 

A brilliant she is born

here, there, in the past, now

she lived, flowered—perhaps

a rose with thorns—

or a pale bud that only blooms unseen,

but the fever, the desire to create

to know

to explore

is not enough,

confined by men,

labeled

(only a woman)

put in a box

(too weak)

on a shelf

(an ornament)

in a cage

(shackled and punished)

Don’t think too hard, they say to her

your insides will be twisted,

you’ll go mad,

but she rises, resists

her voice rings out

and we wake

 

***

We see a new movie about Emily Dickinson

I learn afterward that

before she confined herself to life to Amherst,

to her home, garden, and poetry

she traveled a bit,

to Boston,

and to Philadelphia

walked the streets we’ve walked

I imagine her ghost lingering still

though the streets are paved and surrounded by new buildings,

 

she published only a few poems during her life

though she wrote thousands

she admired the Brontës,

women who had their work published

(though first under pseudonyms )

they loved their homes and families,

neither Emily married

(wives did not have time to write)

 

What was her truth

and what is truth

and does it slant,

or do we slant it?

Are facts facts

or alternate facts,

difficult, didactic, diffused

gradually, dazzlingly, deliciously

revealed?

 

We see a performance of Gypsy

I remember watching the movie on TV

with a bit of a crush on Natalie Wood–

the way girls admire older teenage girls–

we’re entertained

we let them entertain us

and make us smile.

the orchestra sweeps us along with Mama Rose,

the ultimate stage mother,

annoying, unyielding, and yet we feel sorry for her

as she seeks the American dream for her children

during the Great Depression

and watch, listen to the music and words of Laurents, Styne, and Sondheim,

the great American musical

 

 

I think the real Gypsy Rose Lee must have dazzled

but not all at once–

or rather showing only some, not all–

hinting–

so that men would not be blinded,

but rather left with wanting more

as she entertained them and made them smile.

 

After the performance

on this Memorial Day weekend

the sky suddenly clears

slowly,

dazzling gradually

delaying the delectable,

revealing the late spring night of beauty

 

and we sit, eat, drink

 

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and watch the people walk by

listen to their conversations

wonder about their plans

the young woman leaning on the car taking a selfie

the man with his children waiting for their table,

the trio at the table next to us, discussing diets,

a couple strolls by, the woman says,

“But he’s no longer addicted.”
my husband and I agree that’s good,

even if it seems unlikely.

 

I think about Memorial Day

the day to honor and remember the military fallen,

the long weekend celebrated with parades, barbecue grills,

and trips “down the shore”

Isn’t it strange?

though perhaps not,

to celebrate life, instead of death

and isn’t that what they fought for–

so that we could sit and eat with our families in peace

so that all can receive educations, and not just those who can afford private schools

so all will be able to sort fact from fiction

so that all men and women, all genders, all races, and religions

can live in freedom

isn’t that why they fought

so that I can write these words

and you can read them?

my truth,

slanted like the sunglow as evening falls

blinding, dazzling

truth

revealed gradually

coming full circle

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Today is Memorial Day here in the US. I am mindful and thankful for all the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives, even if I have not supported the wars and conflicts in which they fought.

We saw A Quiet Passion and Gypsy. We ate at Cuba Libre.

I dreamt poetry last night, but sadly I will not have much time to write it this week. As some of you know, I am reading, writing, and editing articles on rape, and my manuscript deadline is. . .um, gulp. . .this week. So. . .I may not be so active in Blogland for the next week or so. Then again, I do need to take a break occasionally. 😉

 

 

 

 

Dreams of the Future, Ghosts of the Past

Monday Morning Musings:

“bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education & free discussion are the antidotes of both. . . .I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. so good night! I will dream on, always fancying that mrs Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.”

–“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 1 August 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,

 

 

A porcelain ghost looked long

and laughed delicious poetry,

remember this

she said,

or it is over

 

And so, we remember over and over

forgetting what we knew

embracing new ideas,

loving them each time as original and unique

and they are

every time

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We walk cobblestone streets and brick drives

chasing ghosts

followed by shadows

whispering glorious words

“We the people”

history of the past

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Janet Givens and her husband, the past, present, and future all around them.

 

But under a dying star

a naked fool celebrates

his courtiers cheer

his nonexistent suit of clothes

as darkness falls

he eats a second scoop of ice cream

 

Still, we remember

sometimes forgetting to remember

until we remember again

We the People

history of the past and dreams of the future

 

On a day in May

that feels like July

perhaps like the summer of 1787

when a group of men

(white men, only men)

made compromises  and wrote We the People

but on this day,

a day in their future,

we walk with friends to see and read about the past

to hear and read the lofty words

of men who had lived and fought a revolution

and though they themselves were flawed

still their words glow

and grow

from the past, through the present, and into the future

visions they had and hopes

dreams that have been realized

and worlds they could not imagine

dreams of things that are yet to be

 

I gaze at the beautiful handwriting

of educated people

who read and valued learning

and think of misspelled Twitter rants.

We’ve forgotten

and it’s time to remember

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We’ve added and clarified

giving freedom to people who were enslaved

giving rights to women

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ruling on free speech, freedom of religion, individual rights versus the state

fighting a civil war

(yes it was about slavery)

prohibiting the manufacturing of and sale of alcohol

and then making it legal again–

after so many lost jobs and the government lost revenue–

and there was more crime

let’s face it

We the People like to drink

from the past of George Washington’s distillery

to the future of new breweries, vineyards, and manufacturers,

the dreams of We the People

 

 

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This history swirls about us

all the time

because of a revolution

and a convention

a document that still lives

expanding like our nation

built on a strong foundation

like the building

we see as we sit outside on that warm day

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but life is not complete without some treats

(We the People like our sweets)

our nation built on bitter and sweet

dreams of the future, history of past

 

 

Two men, Adams and Jefferson

one, a Massachusetts man against slavery

(though not exactly an abolitionist)

the other, a Virginia plantation owner and slaveholder

dissimilar in so many ways from appearance to beliefs

but both admiring each other

both enjoyed the wit and education of some women

while disregarding them as citizens

with their own rights

and bodies

(I’m looking at you, T.J. Sex with a slave is coerced.)

their friendship suspended after the Election of 1800,

but later renewed,

bridged, despite their differences

liked a structure spanning the gulf between two disparate lands

like the bridge we need now

for We the People

as we dream of the future

and remember the past

and hope that it is not over

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Leaving Philadelphia, heading to New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge

 

For those unfamiliar with it, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the People.” You can read more about it here.

My friend, Janet Givens, was in Philadelphia with her husband to celebrate an event. I will leave her to talk about it, as I’m certain she will in an upcoming post. We visited the National Constitution Center , ate a delicious lunch at Farmicia restaurant, and stopped at Shane’s Confectionery, which has been a candy store on that site since 1863.

 

Freed Minds and Imprisoned Bodies

Monday Morning Musings

“And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

“The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I hold this slow, and daily, tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

–Charles Dickens, 1842

A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.

–Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

 

In the deep soft blue of night,

a full bright moon murmurs

which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

I ponder mysteries of life and time,

the paths we choose, the where and when

the roads that make us who we are

the journeys that lead to discoveries,

do the words I write,

the forms of things unknown,

take flight across the world,

in a poetry chaos theory

to effect change?

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One of my writer workout shirts.

 

I’m at a book fair,

I don’t sell many books,

my profits come from knowledge gained

or reaffirmed,

books have power,

the reason why slaves are not taught to read,

they release the minds of those bound by ignorance

they free those imprisoned by walls of stone

or by barricades of bigotry,

they build bridges of enlightenment,

people are drawn to them

in excitement, wonder, and surprise

I watch the boy’s eyes

open wide at the thought of reading magical adventures

then disappointment,

“My mom doesn’t have any money.”

“Today is your lucky day, says the author,

“I have something special,

a free book for you–

see, the cover is slightly damaged.”

 

He signs the book for the boy

who takes it,

holds it reverently,

a treasure.

I hope he remembers this moment.

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West Deptford Township Book Festival. Yes, I did bake cookies, too.

 

My husband and I visit the art museum

not for any particular exhibition,

“Sunday at the museum,” someone says,

people there from all over the world

(even though the “Rocky Steps”  are closed)

I hear many languages: French, Chinese, Russian.

We walk through the Impressionists,

see the real and surreal,

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View from the Duchamp Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

look at art and people,

adults and children,

viewed and viewers.

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Reading at the Museum—Mary Cassatt, Family Group Reading (c. 1901) Philadelphia Museum of Art

We walk from the museum

 

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across the Parkway to Fairmount

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and on to Eastern State Penitentiary,

 

 

the world’s first penitentiary,

conceived with a purpose–

to induce penitence in its prisoners,

the original building completed in 1836,

though the process began earlier

with efforts to relieve the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail,

in 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded a group to reform prisons,

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons,

an organization that still exists,

the new penitentiary is thought to be humane,

a wonder of technology and innovation,

a central hub with spokes,

cells with plumbing and heat

designed by architect John Haviland,

but prisoners were cut off from human contact

and sometimes went insane.

Charles Dickens wrote of the torture of solitary confinement

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and later the prison became too crowded for the concept to continue,

a second tier of cells was built

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and prisoners shared cells.

We listen to actor Steve Buscemi

tell us about it in the audio tour,

we’ve been here before,

but it is good to be reminded,

and there are new exhibits we haven’t seen

there are other visitors and tour groups,

but when it is quiet, without other visitors around,

I feel the ghosts around me

there amidst the rubble

 

Prisoners

in dark fevered air

decayed concrete and old secrets,

a dirt home

listen to who was

they live not

but almost open,

in time

 

It is a reminder

of good intentions gone wrong,

yet there are traces of beauty and goodness,

even here,

the tales of good and humane guards

the art created by inmates,

the synagogue

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The original synagogue door. (For my blogger friend, Robin.)

 

but still there are ghosts,

the imprisoned,

some died here,

and I have no answers for those who are imprisoned still

but I hope they have books and art

and that their minds can roam, even if their bodies cannot

do they wonder about the paths of their lives?

Which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

Tonight I dream of wide-eyed boys

of beauty and art

amidst decayed walls

a cat purrs softly in my ear,

I am home, but my mind roams free.

 

The kind author was Ben Anderson, who shared a table with me at the West Deptford Township Book Festival at Riverwinds Community Center. His books are chronicles of Irish fantasy, targeted for middle grade readers, but suitable for “eight to eighty-eight” he says. You can read about them here .

We joke about the Magnetic Poetry Oracle, but she gave me this poem (incorporated above) the morning of the day we went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. She also came me part of the opening.

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You can find out more about Eastern State Penitentiary here.   Here is an article on programs for prison literacy.   And a list of additional resources here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth visiting, even with construction going on.

 

 

 

Ephemeral Beauty in the Book of My Memory

Monday Morning Musings:

In the book of my memory—the part of it before which not much is legible—there is the heading Incipit vita nova [here begins a new life].

–Dante Alihieri, Vita Nuova

“There are lovely things in the world, lovely that don’t endure, and the lovelier for that.”

–Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song

“People like films because stories are a structure, and when things turn bad it’s still part of a plan. There’s a point to it.”

–Tom Buckley in Their Finest

 

Dawn opens the book

write or draw upon the page

ephemeral life

transitory beauty, grasped,

chronicled by poet’s hand

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Every morning, I wake and turn another page,

what will be written there that day?

Not a book, a story, a movie, a play,

our lives

we plan, we think there is a structure, a plot

reasons for our rhyme

we study the past

but put our trust in hope and beauty

 

My husband and I eat Chinese food

sitting in our living room we watch a movie,

about a woman who lived a hundred years ago in Scotland,

using technology that did not exist in that era,

and that will become outdated all too soon,

it’s a rural life of hardship and beauty,

of fighting and song,

an abusive father, a depressed mother, a brother who leaves,

she puts away her books,

but there is the land to sustain her

she falls in love and marries

but the land is still there,

glowing through the director’s vision,

though the work is hard,

her husband goes to war

(the war that was to end all wars)

it changes him

it changes the nation

and all the nations that lose so many of their young men

the poets write, the tyrants sing

dulce et decomum est pro patri mori

the old lie,

that vicious lie,

life is ephemeral,

but love,

that is true and lasting

 

In the morning, I wake and turn another page,

we see another movie

this one about the next big war

about keeping the spirits up and boosting morale,

the movie is funny and charming and sad,

I enjoy it very much,

my husband does, too,

though he says, “It’s a Merril movie.”

And I guess it is,

though I’m not sure what that means,

the movie is mainly about a woman

who gets a job writing “slops,”

the women’s dialog for war movies,

this one is about unlikely women heroes at Dunkirk

the war ministry wants it to have everything though—

even an American and a dog–

and we see the writing (the clicking of typewriters)

and the construction of the movie

location and studio

while the world around them shatters,

and we know that the world will get worse,

and women will take “men’s work,”

then be forced back into their boxes,

but there is romance and Bill Nighy

and really what else do you need in a movie?

 

After the movie,

the spring day turned fine,

we walk around the old city,

where traces of the past remain,

though much has vanished,

structures, people,

and before that

giant creatures who once walked the earth

 

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American Philosophical Society

 

we drink coffee,

enjoy the view,

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laugh at the booming voice of a tour guide

helpfully informing a group that

“Carpenter’s Hall was built for carpenters.”

(though the term carpenters is misleading)

 

Nearby stood the house of a bodice-maker

now house and man, long gone—along with the fashion

all fleeting moments in time

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Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia

 

In a garden, we see tulips

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but many of the early spring flowers are already gone,

the petals of the flowering trees float to the ground

joining piles of catkins

(leaving pollen to blow everywhere)

the fleeting life of a butterfly,

helping to create beauty in the world,

ephemeral beauty

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the beauty of spring, fading into summer

lovely things that don’t endure

and are they lovelier for that,

and is that the point?

What will I remember,

what will be retained in the book of my memory?

These moments of beauty, I hope.

We go home

feed our cats and ourselves,

the mundane tasks of life

that have their own beauty and joy,

we sleep,

and in the morning

I wake and turn another page,

hoping for beauty, though it may not endure,

wondering if there’s a plan

wondering and hoping

holding love close

 

We watched the movie, Sunset Song, on Netflix. Here’s a review. I haven’t read the book, which I know is a classic in Scotland. We saw Their Finest in a theater. Here’s a trailer.