December Comes with Cold and Light

Monday Morning Musings:

“Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.”

–From William Carlos Williams, “Winter Trees”

The first of December is mostly grey,

but not so cold—winter held at bay

 

for a while, but we smile to see the glow–

the sun on remaining leaves of trees slow

Philadelphia Parkway, December 2018

to sleep in winter’s arms,

and we walk to see the city’s charms

 

even in the bleakness of late fall—

almost winter—some magic calls

 

there, Diana shines atop the stairs

gilded anew, she seems aware

Diana, Philadelphia Museum of Art

of her strength, though she charms–

with arrow frozen in her arms

 

goddess of the hunt,

a moment, centered, upfront

 

there, I greet her like a friend

each time I visit, happy to see her send

 

(not the arrow), no never,

but she seems much too clever

 

to harm–such determination in her face–

perhaps she could send us hope and grace

 

we see dolls reflecting the passion

for both play and fashion

 

the bisque baby catches my eye

or the phrase captures my ear, why?

it sounds funny to me,

and so, we wander and see

 

a sibyl and monuments and Eve

through museum and streets, we weave

our way, and see the sights,

some Christmas lights,

 

drink mulled wine

feeling fine—then laugh to see that sign

we walk back and down the hill

where no joggers jog, all is still

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except the duck, who with quack and flap

jumps into the river—a slight slap—

 

against the surface, he swims

the sound, a chorus, a winter hymn

 

before the start of winter rain

with sun gone, shadows come again

 

bringing a misty afternoon twilight,

yes, this is December’s light.

 

Then Hanukkah comes with candle light

to bring us wonder and delight

 

I fry latkes in a pan

listening to a man

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discuss his life

some of the strife

 

escaping the Holocaust

in Kindertransport, crossed

 

to Sweden, his stuffed monkey with him*

the object now brings some joy, an era dimmed

 

by tragedy and time—family reunited

evil not forgotten or righted

 

exactly, but comforting to know

that helpers were there, not so long ago

 

and still, that there are people who did good

and do it still, do what they can, should and could

 

and so, we light the candles on this first night

eat latkes and smile at the sight

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Latkes!

of them burning till the flames die,

watch them belie

 

the darkness of night and soul

as believing in miracles makes us whole

 

more perhaps than what we seem–

the sum of what we hope and dream.

 

First Night of Hanukkah, December 2018

 

Hanukkah seems both more poignant and more important to celebrate this year.

I think I shared this story before from a previous All Things Considered segment, but Michel Martin interviewed Uri and Gert Beliner again last night.

We visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the members’ weekend and the Christmas Village.

Turkeys, Squirrels, and Magic in the Air

Monday Morning Musings:

“So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.”

From Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

“The sky is already purple; the first few stars have appeared, suddenly, as if someone had thrown a handful of silver across the edge of the world.”

Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth

The leaves strive to stay,

pops of color dot the landscape

brightening the grey

 

but falling, flying, drifting so

as autumn grows colder,

they must go

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Red Bank Battlefield

as does the day

soon the shadows lengthen

silently sliding their way

 

along pavement and ground

above bare branches wave

without a sound.

 

Violet turns midnight blue

and a glimmering filigree of light

dots the sky, like morning dew.

 

Twilight—this magic time

when fairy tales sprout

in the mind—and so I rhyme

 

Once– if tale be told–

my arm up a turkey,

the day frigid cold

 

I shoo away a sniffing cat

look at the bird’s freakishly long neck–

wonder what kind of dinosaur was that?*

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Survival and extinction

I continue the job

I won’t eat it but some

 

will, it’s the family holiday deal

a mixture of traditions and love

along with the holiday meal.

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Our lovely sommelier

And so, we gather together

unmold the cranberry squirrel—to cheers–

bask in weirdness, warmth in the cold weather.

On this night of full beaver moon

we eat, drink, laugh, and talk

though ever present the tune

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of what will be and what was past,

we try to stay in the moment, mindful

that we cannot know what is cast

 

by the auger’s stones

our fate with the stars

unknown, until felt in our bones.

 

We eat leftovers for days–

and drink more wine

walk and sleep in holiday haze,

 

then we sleep and dream

of a million things

forgotten at dawn, the theme

 

who knows? I hear the birds sing

amidst November gloom–

a little winged thing

 

can achieve wonders, I think,

cat on a lap, a book, a cup of tea—

yes, back to food and drink.

 

In sunny weather, we go to see

a Swedish film, not comedy,

a fairy tale, of sorts, it seems to me

 

border can be taken in many ways

as can gender and eye of the beholder

much in the world and nature may amaze

 

a fable may hold truth—

no matter about who or what is told

shy or bold, cultured, or uncouth

 

Magic all around us

in glowing leaves and laughing speech

known and unknown worlds, ever thus–

And so, we talk

drink our coffee and catch our train,

then our shadows take a walk—

and soon we’re home again

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to sleep under the silvered sky,

to dream of wondrous, magic things,

to ask without answers all the whys,

to hear the stars sing and to them fly.

 

Thanksgiving 2018

*I read this article on Thanksgiving.

 

We celebrated Thanksgiving with family (missing older daughter and her wife) and friends. For those who are new, our cranberry squirrel is a beloved family tradition. The unmolding of it is part of the tradition, and this year my sister made a very funny recording of the event. We saw the Swedish movie, Border. Trailer here. As the trailer says, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It is definitely unusual, but my husband and I liked it. Coincidentally, I’m reading a book that is also a sort of fairy tale but that is set in the area of the world where my ancestors came from. Perhaps more about that in a future post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Inventions from Chaos Comes

Monday Morning Musings:

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos,”

–Mary Shelley, introduction to Frankenstein (1831)

“We should not be held back from pursuing our full talents, from contributing what we could contribute to the society, because we fit into a certain mold ― because we belong to a group that historically has been the object of discrimination.”

–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from an interview with journalist Lynn Sherr

 

It is the night before Rosh Hashanah, but even so, we gather together at the table, old and young, to celebrate the holiday. We miss sisters and others who are not with us, but we also enjoy the extra room to spread out. And isn’t that the way life goes—filled with small moments of joy and sadness? We toast L’Chaim! We wish for a sweet year,and hope for the best, as we eat slices of the round challah and dip apples into amber pools of local honey.

Golden honey streams,

sweetness graces our table–

a wish for the year

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I’ve made enough food for the neighborhood (because what if there isn’t enough?). We have pumpkin soup, salad, brisket, turkey, and noodle kugel. Yes. more wine, please. My great niece and nephew tell us about the start of their school year. Our younger daughter talks about her new students. We discuss truckers, nursing (my son-in-law’s future career), long hours, unions, and pay. My husband and I have recently watched the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and we all share our admiration for her, Notorious RBG. We all wish her a long, healthy life and sweet year. Please stay on the court. We pass plates around, then clear the table. I pack up food for everyone to take home. (Yes, I have more challah in the freezer. I baked six loaves.)  It is time for dessert!

 

Another year comes

harvest moon follows bright sun

green leaves change overnight

 

We walk through wet city streets. Rain and more rain. But still, I find rainbows.

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Thirteenth and Locust, Philadelphia

 

We see a play. Four black men in—where? An afterlife of some sort. The bardo, perhaps. The set is a white space with an incline. There’s a trap door from which they emerge. They need to remember. They need to help one another. They need to make this place a home, a safe space. The playwright says his “guiding principles as a writer” are to “be wild and precise.” The play is both. It is full of physical movement—demanding of the actors who run, tumble, and even dance. There is humor and despair, but this play could only be about black men. “I was eight, when I learned I was scary,” says one. “I can’t breathe,” says another. There’s a toy gun. Games reflect the truth. We watch, as though behind a police interrogation mirror. They see us, but we only watch, never do anything.

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rhythmic breaths, out, in,

times’ losses and gains balanced–

some truths heal, or not

 

It is still raining. We walk and talk. A mural depicts people of many races gathered together–eating and drinking.

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Philadephia Murals, Spruce Street

 

It is hopeful. We go inside, sip wine and beer. Discuss the play.

Our Italian cheese arrives with local honey. Somehow, that seems a fortuitous sign. There is sweetness in the world; there is sweetness sitting here. The sun will come out again. There is no void. The building blocks are all around us. We harbor stardust in our DNA. We can invent new lives and new worlds in our imaginations. We can create beauty and truth from chaos. Behind the clouds, the moon still hums. I fall asleep to the sound of soft cat snores beside me–and we both dream. Past and future merge.

L’shana tova,

a wish extended to all

more laughter than tears

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I’m linking this week’s musing to Frank Tassone’s Haikai Challenge, since he asked us to write about autumn wind, spring wind, or Rosh Hashanah.

If you like Haiku competitions, there is still time to post your haiku and comment on others on this Vita Brevis post.

Pure Haiku is also looking for submissions by September 21. More info here.

We saw Kill Move Paradise by James Ijames at the Wilma Theater.

 

Connections, Past and Future: NaPoWriMo, Day 9

Monday Morning Musings

“I guess I can say that I just wasn’t connecting to everything, because I wasn’t given enough information to know that we all are connected somehow. To every living breathing thing.”

–Denis Dodson, a Maryland prisoner, in Anna Deavere Smith’s, Notes from the Field

“On Passover, among other traditions, we pass down “the spirit of roast beef” and how to make light and fluffy kneidlach instead of “sinkers.”

—from our family Haggadah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter turns to spring,

the week is fraught

and we are caught–

the minor annoyances and major fears

(of fate held back, now it seems, for years

coming due,

in arrears)

the morning call about my mom—

not as frightening as one late at night,

but still the toll

the stress of them all. . .

 

And so, we are comforted by rituals

though celebrated past the date

still cherished, even if they’re late

connecting with our ancestors,

connecting with our past

remembering absent faces

remembering all that’s passed

 

Passover, a celebration of freedom

but so many are still not free

we watch a filmed performance

about people caught in circumstances—

a need to redesign

the school to prison pipeline,

though many are disinclined

(after all, there are profits to be had

in the incarceration of those considered bad)

But how to address the major issues–

there will always be officious officials.

There are big problems, addressed in this drama

food desserts, racism, epigenetic trauma?

Freedom Fighters, John Lewis

the brightest, the truest—

and still problems go on—

a young girl thrown across a room,

and I wonder if we’re doomed?

 

We celebrate freedom

we were slaves, now we are free

but for so many that will never be.

My family picks and chooses our traditions,

most of us without true religion,

accepting each other and the love that we need

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and so, we sit at the Passover table to read

my daughter’s Passover play

(this year’s edition)

each reading our part,

with laughter, we start–

some allusions maybe going over some heads–

the Pharaoh likened to current leader who believes his lies,

(despite the facts before his eyes)

and Moses to Hamilton who’s not going to throw away his shot–

perhaps high art, it’s not,

but we laugh as we sing and say

Dayenu

and name the plagues,

then almost through

pour more wine

and let us dine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the after-dinner glow

I am comforted by our rituals

and all we hold dear,

connections to the past

my niece says do you know—

grandmothers literally hold a part of their granddaughters in their bodies

in the already present eggs of their girl babies in utero?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and so, it goes–

this love of family

past, present, future—

an arch

through which we pass

somehow connecting,

in the parade of time

moving forward and back,

and we here are fortunate not to lack

nourishment of love, food, the mind.

I see the students march,

hear my daughter talk of how she teaches,

begin to hope that some glimmers of light reaches

far away,

floating through both words and deeds

following the leads

of young and old

truth and justice, never old

hoping this trend to hate recedes

hoping the light grows

hoping truth and beauty proceed

Seeking a patch of light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s an article from The Atlantic on Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman play, Notes from the Field, in which she plays many different roles. A filmed production is currently on HBO. I did some research on prisons for my forthcoming books on rape and sexual violence. Some people may not be aware that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Day Nine’s Prompt for NaPoWriMo is “to write a poem in which something big and something small come together.” I feel like that is always what happens in my Monday Morning Musings.

It was a busy weekend, so I’m behind on reading, but I will try to catch up later today!

 

 

 

 

 

Candles

Monday Morning Musings:

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

—Attributed to Anne Frank all over the Internet, but without any source that I can find

 

A single candle

(for miracles)

flickers in the night

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joined by others

till eight in a row

they burn, and then they go

leaving only melted wax behind

and yet, perhaps I find

something, a sense of peace

in watching them increase

and we remember how our daughters

bet on which candle would stand last

one that burned not quite as fast—

lovely memories from the past.

 

 

A single candle

(for wishes)

flickers on a cupcake

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baked with love

and so sweet, delivered as surprise treat.

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It’s a strange birthday,

things don’t quite go my way

I lose a filling, and due to the snow

we stay and home, and don’t go

to dinner and a show,

but we eat pizza and drink some wine

and it’s fine, I say,

we’ll do something another day.

 

Everything a bit off this week,

small victories tinged with apprehension

tension over what might come, or be

a tax bill to help the rich–

oh, if only I could flip a switch

to eradicate ignorance and greed

wish on candles and stars that people would read

would help those in need

and instead of hindering, would keep freed

thought and scientific inquiry.

 

The CDC, an agency, supposed to be science-based

is not supposed to use the word

it’s not to the taste

of the current administration

who would like to see a nation

without education based on facts

but the monster simply reacts

without nuance or tact, but snaps,

just twitter taps and taps and taps

 

We fry latkes

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and when we’re through

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we eat them–and donuts, too

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because it’s a holiday of oil and sweets

and it’s a treat to share them with love

we eat the food and laugh and talk of–

oh this and that–

we watch their dog and see their cat

climb in search of treasure—food!

Yes, we’re in a holiday mood

as candles flicker and lights glow

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but soon it’s time to go.

 

I spend the next day working

(cats around me lurking)

I have too much work to do

I sit at my computer

in a bit of stupor

but as night falls

we light the candles

and watch the shadows on the walls

from the flickering glow

I think of miracles past

(wonder if our country will last)

but let those thoughts slide

subside for a more festive mood

as we eat our Chinese food

and watch the Christmas shows

I might doze. . .

 

 

In the morning, before the dawn

I yawn and look up at the sky

and know that hope like a feather flies

and though the clouds block the stars

I know exactly where they are

I close my eyes and make a wish

I hope it flies and travels far.

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Songs of Squirrels, Beauty, and Tradition

Monday Morning Musings:

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,. . .”

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing”

 

“The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.”

–Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

 

“Perhaps this piece of evolution makes no sense—our hunger for everyday sorts of visual pleasure—but I don’t think so, I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.”

–Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God

 

The long holiday weekend is filled with family, food, love, and traditions

my younger daughter and I break bread for stuffing

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it’s a calling, a mission, with certain conditions

some fluid, others unchanging

though life does some rearranging

through time and space

and so, I flashback in my mind  to my sister and me

watching Thanksgiving parades and tearing pieces from loaves

while our mother is at the stove

producing the magic of holiday meals

(then not appreciated, but now, oh the feels)

Now daughter and I, we break the bread

and watch The Gilmore Girls instead

done the day before,

crossing off this chore,

from the to-do list

and while the old, might be missed

a new holiday tradition it seems is born

taking place while the bread is torn

because sometimes we require them

even when the holiday is filled with so many.

 

On the big day—what to do

when our designated squirrel un-molder is not here?*

Another one is drafted and a crowd gathers

Offering advice on this and sundry matters

as the cranberry sauce does not want to leave the mold:

more hot water

use a spatula

A compliment:

Not only is she smooth on the dance floor,

she’s smooth on the squirrel, too.

Critique:

She can’t bang it, it’s a hundred-year old thing.

There will be no banging!

Encouragement:

Come on little squirrel we love you.

do it do it do it

Oh my gosh I think it’s happening

The crowd goes wild:

Yaaaaayy!

Another year with the squirrel!

and so, we talk and laugh and eat and drink

discuss scuba diving and money laundering

the possibility of my mom having off-shore accounts

(she doesn’t, but the thought produces much laughter).

We discover how many people it takes to get

a ninety-five-year-old woman up the stairs to the bathroom

wonder if we’re doomed,

but at least three, it seems,

still, we enjoy the holiday and dreams

watched by the spirits of those no longer with us

it is ever thus,

the ghosts of holidays past,

“remember when,” the common refrain

joining in a train

the days from before

to what will come hence

past and future tense

blended together,

a holiday casserole of memories and dreams,

like the dish of leftovers my sister tells me she made

layers laid atop one another,

savory, tart, and just a little sweet

the art of distinct layers that together seep

to form when mixed through

something entirely new.

 

The next day, we take our older daughter and her wife

on a journey to see visual pleasures

in nature and art, such treasures

a visit with the boating party

scream at monsters

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or just scream

dine by the water

and dance in the woods

we hear America sing

its varied songs

and glory in Impressionistic delight

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Later, we eat leftovers

and watch The Blair Witch Project–

because nothing says family coziness like horror movies–

with food

America singing its varied carols

 

We do a holiday wine tasting in the barrel room

Scott, assists us, keeping up a lively patter

as he describes the wine and other matters

it is a beautiful fall day

and so, we decide to stay

to sit outside

while we imbibe

watching the soaring hawks

and listening to others talk

looking at the daytime moon

enjoying this weather, thinking winter will be here soon.

We eat Pakistani food

and meet out daughter and son-in-law’s neighbors

who have become friends–the kind of whom you can ask favors,

we discuss how our daughters sound alike,

one tells how she used to sneak about at night,

and we counter with embarrassing childhood stories

(the glory of parental territory)

perhaps the start of a new tradition,

of perhaps it is sufficient

to see and relish the present and the everyday.

 

Now, it’s four o’clock Monday morning,

we’re awake for the sake

of our daughter and her wife

who have to catch their flight

though it seems the middle of the night,

yet I’m strangely alert

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear

of parents and children saying goodbye

of politicians trying to tear apart, like stuffing bread,

when they could be constructing something good instead

of children going off to school

hoping they will learn some tools

to navigate this brave new world

that has such people in’t

both good and bad

some sad, hungering for traditions, or new conditions,

for truth and beauty to negate the hate

I see a squirrel scamper from a tree,

and over us, the moon hums her tune

I watch for the sun to rise in autumn beauty–soon

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We visited Grounds for Sculpture again and did a Holiday Wine Trails tasting in the barrel room at Sharrott Winery.

 

*I explained the tradition of the cranberry squirrel in this post.

 

I Close My Eyes and Dream

Monday Morning Musings:

“For myself, I declare I don’t know anything about it. But the sight of the stars always makes me dream.”

Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, July 1888

“I think about our ancestors. Thousands of years, wondering if they were alone in the universe. Finally discovering they weren’t. You can’t blame them for wanting to reach out, see how many other species were out there, asking the same questions.”

–Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek Voyager, Episode, “Friendship One”

 

At night

ghosts sail to stars

dazzling the universe

with wild poetry,

that thing there—

see it?

the liquid blush of desire

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Earth spins and orbits our Sun

but all is not right

(in day or night)

the heavens rage

the surface heaves

the forests burn

the oceans churn

(do you hear them sigh)

and creatures die

on the stars I make a wish

for planet, us, for birds and fish

and then under the glowing stream

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

I wake to see bright Venus,

high above

she sings of love

there in the eastern sky

she dances and she wonders why

(as do I, oh, as do I)

we are not swayed from the hate

and do not counter or negate

the dotard’s words of folly

but instead sink into a melancholy—

(as do I, oh, as do I)

under starlight’s beam

once again

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

We watch Star Trek Voyager

Earth’s greeting of friendship gone wrong

a civilization pushed headlong

into nuclear winter,

the next day—synchronicity

a radio story of the real Voyager

the golden record as it would sound to aliens

Simplicity? Specificity?

We want to reach out,

to know we’re not alone

the moon smiles and gleams

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

We have a holiday dinner

missing daughters, sister, and niece

still I present the soup and loaf

(a masterpiece!)

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with apples, honey, and some wine

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we drink and eat and we are fine

(we pour more wine)

talk of movies and van Gogh

(there’s a new movie out, you know)

wonder about Ben Franklin’s diet and life

then matter-of-factly my mother’s zinger

that he did not sleep alone

at ninety-five, she was so in the zone!

and with that, the laughter lingers

sweet

like the honeyed fingers

from the baklava and apple cake

she mangles the middle

and picks at the pieces

but sister laughter

follows after

and after

 

We drink more wine, again we’re fine

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under moonlight sky and starry stream

I close my eyes and then I dream. . .

 

of the universe’s wild poetry

of singing stars and humming moons

of spirits soaring and swaying to the tunes

before dawn’s blush of desire

turns the sky to fire

I wake and look up to the sky

to see Venus shining bright

I gaze and wish

for us, for cats, and fish

for dogs, and horses, and for birds

(and yes, even for the dotard)

for the planet, earth, and trees

and for the seas

under Venus’s beaming gleam

I close my eyes and wish and dream

 

So, we watched Star Trek Voyager and saw an episode about the result of a probe that was sent out from Earth that was very similar to the real Voyager and its golden record. Then the next day, I heard this story on NPR’s Weekend Morning Edition and the Oracle gave me that poem. Synchronicity?

 

Some of you may know because I’ve ranted about it   that I’ve been working on two reference books about rape. I am happy to report that both manuscripts have now been sent in. I also finished another project over the weekend, so I should now have time to answer e-mails and respond to comments and prompts. At least until, I receive copyedited manuscript (first one is coming next month).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

Singing an American Tune

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower

We come on the ship that sailed the moon

We come in the age’s most uncertain hour

And sing an American tune

Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right

It’s all right, it’s all right

You can’t be forever blessed

Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day

And I’m trying to get some rest

That’s all I’m trying to get some rest.”

–Paul Simon, “An American Tune”

 

“In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest;

Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place—not for another hour, but this hour.”

–Walt Whitman, “Carol of Occupations,” Leaves of GrassPreparation, Anticipation

  1. Preparation, Anticipation:

I don’t feel as organized this year,

distracted by the election, by the news, by work

and this and that,

still, I cook applesauce, bake challah and pumpkin bread,

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placing them in the freezer to wait for the holiday,

I make mushroom gravy,

(which, by the way, is delicious)

while listening to “Hamilton,”

dancing around the kitchen,

grandchild of immigrants,

I sing an American tune,

preparing for this holiday of food and gratefulness.

 

Two days before Thanksgiving

younger daughter comes over to break bread for stuffing,

packages of sliced white bread

(stuff I would never buy to eat),

it’s what we have always used for stuffing

a family tradition for this family holiday.

My sister and I used to break bread while watching

Thanksgiving parades,

then–long ago–my mother made the stuffing,

but time passes the tradition baton to the next generation,

or, perhaps a different metaphor,

a page turned in a book,

the story continues, characters die, new ones appear,

the plot changes, and who knows how it will end?

But we are here in this hour, in this story, happy and grateful.

 

We watch an old episode of Gilmore Girls,

It is Thanksgiving in Stars Hollow,

mother and daughter—them, not us—

eat four Thanksgiving dinners in one day.

We laugh, as we break the bread into small pieces,

letting them fall, filling my huge stock pot

(did I mention we like stuffing?)

and try to imagine eating four Thanksgiving meals.

H. calls later that night,

Did the cranberry sauce jell last year? I’m trying to figure out how long it needs to cook?

Cooking is not an exact science with us,

it’s done by taste and feel,

with sometimes a ghost or two hovering nearby

they whisper in our heads,

You do it like that.

Remember that time?

 

At H’s house, on Thanksgiving Eve, there is a family cranberry sauce making activity.

I have given her the cherished squirrel mold,

and with my 94-year-old mother in attendance,

they cook, strain, and pour the mixture in the mold.

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  1. The Holiday Meal

On Thanksgiving, here at my house,

my sister-in-law unmolds the sauce.

“You do it once, and it becomes your job,” she says,

 

It takes three of us to wrangle the cooked turkey onto the board to carve it.

Wine opening, similarly becomes a joint effort

after the corkscrew breaks and the cork is shredded on two bottles.

But we need wine at Thanksgiving,

and where there’s a will, there’s a way–

with a new corkscrew and bit of muscle.

 

To my mom:”Are you okay, do you need anything?”

Reply, “Life is good, I just finished my wine.”

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Food and conversation flow around the table

(like the wine)

tidbits of both, chewed, swallowed, or scattered like crumbs,

we all say we miss our older daughter and her wife,

but they will be with us next year,

we tease my great-niece about her boyfriend

We’re only in seventh grade!

We laugh when my great nephew exclaims,

“That’s why we’re sisters!”

(and then realizes what he said).

We have discussions about other Thanksgiving meals,

younger daughter has made mashed rutabaga

for her daddy because his grandmother used to make it,

there is mention of carb-free Thanksgivings–

a group shudder, unthinkable.

 

We discuss my mother’s mother’s cooking.

she koshered the meat, salting it till it was too dry to eat,

my older sister says,

but she was a good baker, my sister says,

“She excelled at carbs!”

We eat, we drink, we are more stuffed than the Thanksgiving turkey,

and there is still dessert–

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But it’s all right, it’s all right,

it’s part of the American tune,

songs of many cultures,

songs of immigrants,

songs of many types of love,

because love is love–

I am so grateful for this family.

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Then it’s over, everyone leaves,

the hiding cat reappears

My husband, designated driver and dishwasher, texts me that he’s stuck in traffic

I put “Hamilton” on again

dance around the kitchen while I take care of dishes

And then it’s time to get some rest.

 

  1. The Day After

Younger daughter comes over to watch the NEW Gilmore Girls series.

We are so excited,

we eat Thanksgiving leftovers–and watch the entire series,

Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Gilmore Girls practically demands binge watching and binge eating,

we do our part.

Happiness in this hour,

and the next

and the next

(stopping to make coffee and get some pie)

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Ghosts from the past on the TV screen,

ghosts from our past, too,

before daughters were grown and married.

Time has marched on for both our families—the Gilmore’s and my own,

people lost, and people added to the family,

traditions continue,

traditions evolve,

life comes full circle,

but still

there is happiness in this time,

in this place,

it’s an American tune

and after the holiday is over

it’s time to get some rest.

 

 

 

For Beauty to Happen

Monday Morning Musings:

 

Warren:

For beautiful to happen, the beautiful has got to be seen

Deb:

Okay. I like that shade of red right there

The spot where the apple is peeling

It’s deep as an ocean but lighter than air

Warren:

It’s simple, familiar, and full of feeling

Deb:

The color of Saturdays here at the Met

Warren:

The color of shouting from rooftops

Deb:

You bet!

Warren:

The color of feeling that life is okay

Deb:

The color of an ordinary day

Adam Gwon, “Beautiful” from the musical Ordinary Days

 

“What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Giddings”

 

We planned for seventeen

but expected sixteen

I bake challahs,

a freezer full,

enough to give some away.

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I buy brisket,

take the plastic-wrapped tray from the butcher’s hands,

I look at the package–

no, she has never seen my family eat brisket,

I pick up another package.

 

I cook,

we clean,

I buy myself flowers to decorate the table–

we never have flowers inside

because of the cats,

just this once I think.

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A series of texts and calls

and there are now fourteen coming to dinner

then thirteen

then eleven.

Final answer.

As guests start to arrive

(The soup is bubbling on the stove.)

one cat is vomiting.

I’m worried he’s eaten flowers that are toxic,

I confer with daughter on the phone.

It doesn’t look like any of the flowers were nibbled.

I decide he’s probably okay.

(I hope he’s okay.)

 

The sun did not come out,

but there is a beauty to the fall breeze,

an ordinary day, beautiful.

The birds and squirrels chatter to one another,

“Fall is coming.”

 

In this year of bullets and bombs,

of hate-filled speech and lurid lies,

I welcome thoughts of a sweet new year,

old traditions that bring comfort,

even without belief

I don’t need god to believe

in man and woman,

and love.

 

We pour the wine,

my niece makes a toast

she reminds us of the importance of family

of love

of gathering together

of being there when others are in need.

 

We dip our apples in honey,

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We’re eating challah and drinking wine

talking with loved ones

and loving the talk.

(We love to talk.)

 

Dinner is full of symbols for the new year–

cycles, sweetness, prosperity–

in the round shape of the challah

full circles of life,

the ordinary made beautiful on reflection,

the golden pumpkin-yellow split pea soup

the burst of red pomegranate in the salad

the apples

tart and sweet—like life.

img_4444

 

My mom starts to mention traveling to Boston

I catch my niece’s eye–

pour more wine—

oh, family!

 

We talk about TV shows,

we talk about school,

there’s a discussion on teachers and parenting,

middle school kids,

Axe body spray and middle school boys

“It smells like BO,” says my niece

“I’d rather smell a room full of Axe than the smell of boys after gym class,”

says my daughter, who teaches 8th grade.

“I keep air freshener to spray in the room at the end of the day.”

(Perhaps sometimes the ordinary does not smell beautiful. But those kids–bursting with life!)

 

We’ve eaten our fill–

plenty of food–

because what if there isn’t enough!

Food for meat eaters and vegetarians

Brisket

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Turkey

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Noodle Kugel

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and enough for all to take some home

 

And then dessert. We want a very sweet year.

Apple Cake

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Baklava

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And brownies with sea salt, too.

(because chocolate)

 

We missed those who could not join us.

I send the flowers home with my mom.

The beginning and end come full circle.

We clean the house.

My cat is fine.

See the beauty.

It is all around,

in the red of an apple

in the golden flow of honey,

in the eye of your child

in the touch of love,

and in the purr of a cat, too.

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L’Shana Tova

A sweet year!

L’Chaim

To life!

Peace to all

Shalom

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