Christmas, 2021: Still Plagued

Monday Morning Musings:

Christmas, 2021

Winter Solstice

We celebrate in the long dark days—
in the after–recalling what was—
and almost remembering

how we embraced
without care.

But in the lingering kiss of night,
the air whispers secrets,

and dreams float from fiddle strings
taking form–nutcrackers, marzipan castles–
shapeshifters of hope and fear in cold winter days

Nutcracker from the Pennsylvania Ballet

I baked a few cookies.

as the moon hums,
the house fills with the scent of vanilla, cinnamon,
mulled wine, and chocolate,
laughter echoes from beyond to within
and hereafter,

if you wonder–
we’ve always been in-between

shadow and light, spinning as


the colors of time bend
like giant wings, hovering, circling,
and moving on,

reflecting what is, what was, and what might be.

Puddle Reflection, December ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

I never posted my Christmas poem from the Magnetic Poetry Oracle. So, I’ve embellished it a bit here. I hope all of you had a joyous holiday season. It’s so very complicated trying to figure out how to get together right now, even when everyone is vaccinated and some of us are boosted. We saw some of my family on Christmas Eve—testing first, staying masked much of the time. Again, doing the same thing, we saw my husband’s family yesterday, but somehow did not take any photos.


My husband and I had our now traditional cheese fondue and mulled wine for our Christmas dinner. For our Christmas brunch, I made us a Dutch baby, and we watched a show I had recorded from PBS of Alan Cumming with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra telling the full tale of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The story tells the origins of the Nutcracker and explains what happens to the girl and the nutcracker afterward. You can read more here.

I looked up from writing this morning to find my dining room glowing pink.

Reflecting Shadows and Light

Monday Morning Musings:

“Turn a page, walk the lines of sentences: the singer steps out, and conjures a world of color and noise in the space inside your head.”
― Anthony Doerr, Cloud Cuckoo Land

“Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laiden with happiness and tears”
Jerry Bock / Sheldon Harnick, “Sunrise, Sunset,” Fiddler on the Roof

“Let the music commence from inside
Not only one sense, but use all five
Come to your senses
Come to your senses
Come to your senses
Baby come back
Alive”
Jonathan Larson, “Come to Your Senses,” Tick Tick . . .Boom!

There’s an ache for those who’ve passed
into memory, held within our hearts,
carried on in blood, skin, genes within our jeans—

my older child and I once shared a gown, now we share the sky,
our tongues taste the wind, we watch vultures fly.

We gather—together, we form and fashion light,
our senses alive, we’re wicks in scented wax,
held fast

flickering and flaming, creating a glow that burns
in darkness, a miracle reclaiming bright,

the red and gold against the dim
and cold November nights, when

we break bread together, we eat, and we drink
our senses tuned to color, we catch
the rising and setting sun, the clouds, the river

Sunrise Reflections, Delaware River

that flows through shadows, reflecting the gleam–
what was, what might be—unseen–
the ghosts that surrounding,

whisper “remember us,” as we share dreams
of now and tomorrow—
tears come, so does laughter–

our senses alive to shade and hue, the soul-filled tunes,
all the stories of the past—and now,
one season following another through traditions and change,
we turn the page again–and wait—

hear the fiddler, hear his song,
feel the whispers—tree sighs, squirrel chatter, birdwings of light–

all the things there all along, all the joy and grief,
and the magic yet to come.

Our older child and their wife were here last week. We had not seen them since before the pandemic, and it was wonderful to have them here. Our daughter, our younger child, came over and we made candles one day, then broke up loaves of bread for stuffing. On Thanksgiving, some other family members came for dinner, and the famous cranberry squirrel was present again. While our older child was here, we re-watched Fiddler on the Roof. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the entire movie. It was great to see it again. I listened to the soundtrack while I fried latkes last night for the first night of Hanukkah.

Last dinner after dinner, my husband and I watched Tick, tick. . .Boom! (Netflix). It’s truly a love letter to musical theater—a movie based on Jonathan Larson’s 3-person musical about writing his first unsuccessful musical, but the movie is directed by Lin Manuel Miranda, who was inspired by seeing Larson’s Rent–and Larson was inspired and mentored by Stephen Sondheim, who died on Friday. There’s a musical number in the show that becomes a tribute to Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. The real Sondheim leaves a voicemail message in the movie. Our older child’s college essay was on what Rent meant to them, so I guess we’re connected, too.

I’m nearly finished with Cloud Cuckoo Land, a novel by Anthony Doerr. Of course, I love it. It’s such a Merril book (multiple timelines and connections, light, color, history. . .and books, libraries, and librarians.).

Impressions

Monday Morning Musings:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

In the last week of the year, in the dark of December, we gather with family. We eat and eat some more. We drink and drink some more. We exchange gifts. We laugh at our goofiness, and we laugh to keep from crying. Laugh for joy, laugh to keep the ghosts at bay.

winter dark lingers

pale sun hides behind grey clouds–

winter birds still sing

 

 

There are endless lists—the best movies of the year, the best books, and the famous people who have died. This has been a year of horror for many, and a year of fear for my country. Guns, fires, protests, children abused and dying–and those nonstop tweets. We bury our heads in pillows, blanket our thoughts to pretend this is not happening. I listen to ghost stories because they are less frightening than thinking about what could really happen in this world.

ghosts replay stories

winter always, never spring–

still, sapling sprouts, grows

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Theresienstadt Tree

 

The rain comes again and again. Finally, we walk in sunshine. We walk through city streets decorated for Christmas. We see a movie about Vincent Van Gogh, a tortured soul who created beauty with a ferocious passion. His impressions have lasted longer than he did. He taught us how to see the starry night, to see all the shades of yellow in a sunflower, to see the light and color.

red and green doors call

holiday cheer to neighbors–

winter warmed with smiles

Tonight, we’ll gather with our friends. The friends of decades–from before we had children, and they had grandchildren. We’ll eat Chinese food, and find our fortunes in a cookie. We’ll wish each other Happy New Year, though we will all most likely be in bed long before the bells peal, the ball drops, and the fireworks light up the sky. My impression of the old year—tortured souls and broken lives, missing pieces, like van Gogh’s ear. Yet, there is still beauty. Like van Gogh, we need to find light, and paint it quickly with our souls before it fades away. Remember it in our hearts. My heart swells as the dawn rises on a new day, a new year—awaiting new words.

 

old words tucked away,

come new year in harmony–

bird on snowy branch

bravely sings in hope of love

soon cherry blossoms will fall

 

Greeting Dawn    Merril D. Smith 2018

 

Wishing all hearts filled with joy and peace in the new year.

I’m linking this to Frank’s Haikai Challenge for the New Year prompt. We saw the movie, At Eternity’s Gate. Trailer here.  Husband and I agreed it was not a great movie. I think the parts were greater than the sum, but William Dafoe is wonderful as van Gogh, and van Gogh and his brother Theo’s relationship is depicted with great tenderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magic is Coming

Monday Morning Musings:

The week has been busy with chores and long with anticipation. The solstice has come and gone. Full moon and winter sun are concealed behind the clouds—but they are there.

winter moon hidden,

she hums of spring a-coming

dreams bloom like flowers

Almost Full, Almost Solstice

A tsunami crashes upon a beach. Seething like volcanoes, protestors erupt, striking and burning. Children starve. Our government shuts down. Our leader is not one, and he grows increasingly erratic. When will his enablers realize he is a wannabe emperor? When will they finally realize he has no clothes? I look for the helpers. I need to be a helper. I look for the light.

long winter darkness

broken by dawn’s blushing sighs

dormant dreams awake

Solstice--Merril D. Smith, 2018

Our older daughter and her wife arrive from Boston. Our other daughter comes over to eat Wawa hoagies with us and to decorate cookies. We drink warm spiced wine, and they watch a bad movie they asked me to record. I go upstairs to watch the “In Excelsis Deo” episode of The West Wing, my own holiday tradition. I wrap presents and sing along to “Little Drummer Boy.”  My cat lifts his head, then snoozes.

caroling voices

sing in joyful harmony,

Pa rum pum pum pum

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I think about the ghosts of Christmas past–our young girls whispering on Christmas morning waiting for 6 A.M. when they can finally get up. We lie in bed, then hear them sing, “Christmas Time is Here.”  Happy memories. Over the next few days we’ll be seeing family—laughing at jokes and eating and drinking too much. I’ll be enjoying the magic that is now different–but still here.

lights and music now

break December’s silent night–

dreams of magic come

 

Wishing all of you a most wondrous holiday season! I’m linking this to Frank’s Haikai Challenge with the prompt Christmas.

IMG_0819

Santa riding through town in a fire engine.

 

Past, Future, and When

Monday Morning Musings:

“Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,”

You can hear him read the poem here. 

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”

–Justice Hugo Black, New York Times Company v. United States (1971)

 

“Wouldn’t it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true and we could live in them?”

–Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

 

The present passes, becomes the past

the future now, and now is then.

We ask how did this happen and when?

Too fast for us to learn,

to slow for us to train

the grasping hands

the lizard brains?

 

In May 1933, they burned the books–

but that was there and then

now here, and again,

a leader tried to censor the news

suppress the press

(What are the choices? Choose.)

“I am not a crook,” he said

before he fled

his seat of power

(looking ever more dour)

But that was then

and it is now,

though there are echoes of before

(his followers ignore)

hate and fear

always in the air

like war’s harsh glare—

sow discord, let others bleed,

while those in the lead, feed their greed.

 

Bright days turn to stormy nights

we gather inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and hold our fears at bay

waiting for a stay

from thunder and lightning flashes–

the zigs and zags across the sky–

but in the morning,

the birds still sing and fly

this is the present,

the past, the future whys

converge,

the past, present, future merge

as it’s beginning to do within my mother’s head

confusing the threads of history and time

sometimes—no reason, no rhyme—

but just the way it is

a bridge to what is, or could be

if only we can see—

somehow—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We celebrate Mother’s Day

a made-up holiday

from what was a protest against war

to one of flowers and treats—

for some, for us, it can also be sweet—

Flourless Chocolate Cake and Cannoli Dip

and we’ve done all this before,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but still—

my mother has a great laugh—

and it would not be so bad

if that became her epitaph–

gathering with love around a table

as long as we are able

is wonderful and something we need.

No, that is not greed

to desire love and peace.

Perhaps I sometimes long for castles in the air

wish that was here or something there,

want the best for my own little women

as my mother wished for hers

and her mother for her children

in the past, which is now, which was then—

I wonder when?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Stars of Christmas: Haibun

Monday Morning Musings:

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

On Christmas, I see the past, present, and future appear. Perhaps not as actual ghosts, but as memories, experiences, and wishes. As we decorate Christmas cookies, I think of all the times I did this with our daughters. My husband declares this is the first time he has ever frosted the cookies. Perhaps it’s true. My sugar cookies have stars with five points and stars with six points. They’re all equally sweet and delicious. The Hanukkah candles and the Christmas lights both glow in the winter darkness, symbolizing miracles and bringing hope. This year, I give one daughter Hanukkah presents with a Hello Kitty! Christmas card on Christmas Eve day, when we gather with my niece and her family. In the background, Christmas songs written by Jewish men softly play. We sit around a table in a room decorated for Christmas and discuss ancestors in Belarus and Ukraine, people who never celebrated this holiday.

How did they get here, my niece asks? How did they have the means to leave? When she was a girl, my father’s mother hid in a barn during a pogrom. Somehow, they—some of them–found the means to leave, and to come to a country where they were not persecuted for their religious beliefs and culture. Their ghosts appear briefly and stand around us. Perhaps they would not approve of these goyische celebrations, but I hope they’d sense the love. Here and now we eat and laugh together, even as we miss those no longer with us. We will miss our daughters on Christmas, and I will miss being awakened by hearing them sing “Christmas Time is Here” early in morning. But now on Christmas Eve, my husband and I drink mulled wine and watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and I think yes, it is.

 

ancient stars shimmer,

ghost light of winter’s hope

this scintillation

I’m linking this Monday Morning Musings to Frank Tassone’s Christmas Haiku challenge.

Wishing all of you a joyous holiday season filled with peace, hope, love, and laughter!

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Thanksgiving Ghosts: Shadorma

Gratitude

for life, love, and food,

we gather

together

around the table to eat

where ghosts watch, smiling

 

they hover

as we make toasts to

absent friends,

ancestors,

spirits in our memories

sit with us in peace

 

 

This is a Shadorma for Eliot’s November Challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honey and Wine: Tanka

 

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Honey-dipped apples,

sweetness carried through the year

shift light and shadow

dreams of peace and harmony

linger like the velvet wine

 

This Tanka is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge

The prompt words, honey and wine, make me think of Rosh Hashanah, which we will celebrate in about a month. We dip apples in honey for a sweet year, eat round challahs, and drink wine. It’s a holiday full of sweetness. Here, it takes place in early autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Between Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“A Light exists in spring

Not present on the year

At any other period

When March is scarcely here.”

—Emily Dickinson, “A Light exists in spring,”Full Text Here

 

In the between-time, dinosaurs dreamt,

their breathe swirled in the misty air

floating to mingle with ours

their feathers bright

with gaping jaws and thunder cries

amidst the fern-like leaves,

always summer

 

we dreamt their dreams

and they dreamt ours

warm blood flowing through our veins

(uniting heart and mind)

we sat on their backs as they flew

large wings outspread

feeling their power and grace

and they listened to our stories

of love

of kings and queens

raptors enraptured,

always summer in our dreams

 

But now

in this between-time of winter-spring

the flowers bloomed, they danced and sang

(we heard their songs)

then felt their pain

(tears fell from the sky)

as winter touched them with cold fingers

covering them in an icy blanket

yet the days grow lighter

brighter

and yet still whiter

 

 

In this between-time world,

this in-between season,

forces of good and evil fight

but most of us, dinosaurs and humans,

remain in-between,

compliant, complacent,

lost in dreams,

thinking of summer

 

This weekend, we ate Hamantaschen

(a lot of Hamantaschen),

 

we drank wine,

IMG_5602

 

I read about Queen Esther,

who may or may not have existed,

(an in-between world)

she married King Ahasuerus

who ordered his first wife, Queen Vashti,

to stand naked before his male guests at a banquet,

displaying what he owned

(what he could touch with his small hands)

she refused,

and he banished her–

magnanimously did not executed her–

but made a new law—

men would have complete authority over their wives.

Esther, plucked from his harem,

became his new wife,

a new trophy.

This king ruled a vast empire,

but he was petty,

thin skinned

(orange tinted)

easily influenced,

as for Esther,

fourteen years old

did she have a choice?

She was Jewish,

a secret descendent of exiles,

in palace full of secrets and intrigue,

she and her uncle Mordecai foiled a plan to kill the king,

winning his trust,

but the eunuchs involved were killed,

collateral damage,

And Esther skillfully manipulated the king,

outwitted his prime minister Haman

(the evil man behind the throne

disseminator of alternative facts)

and prevented the mass slaughter of the Jews

(though they still had to fight)

She is honored now,

Haman is reviled,

but still I wonder,

she remained with the king,

bore him a son,

a woman caught between men,

and I wonder about her

what did she give up

what did she give in to

1982-89-1-pma

Credit Line: Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, “Esther before Ahasuerus, (1738-1740)
Purchased with funds contributed by the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in honor of their 100th anniversary, 1982

 

I wonder about being complicit,

collaborating with the enemy,

we watched a TV show about Earth after aliens have taken over

letting humans do the work of enforcing their decrees

those who work for the aliens get good homes and other perks

resisters are sent to work camps or to “the factory,”

from which they never return,

a spin on WWII and Nazi-occupied countries,

or any country under a dictator,

complicity

collaboration

(What would you do to save your family?)

though the air feels warm

sometimes, it’s always winter

 

But I know spring is coming

sense it from the light,

different from other times of the year,

brighter, losing the gloom of winter,

a signal,

a beacon of hope

I drink more wine,

eat some sweets,

ignore false honeyed words

take a break

deep breaths

relax

because

we value love

and art

and beauty

and joy

we tell stories

of dinosaurs and ghosts

of ancient worlds

and kings and queens

and believe in people

we hope, but resist

and do not become complacent

even as the days grow longer

and we are lulled by spring’s sweet siren song

and dream our dreams,

ours and the dinosaurs,

in the in-between time

 

My conceit about dreams mingling with that of dinosaurs was inspired by Kerfe and Jane’s discussion on this post. 

The recipe for Shakshuka Hamantaschen can be found here on What Jew Wanna Eat.  I used part whole wheat flour for the pita. The recipe for the Cannoli Hamantaschen can be found here.

We’re expecting a big snowstorm tomorrow. Sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connections

Monday Morning Musings:

as_janus_rostrum_okretu_ciach

 

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

–L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

“Not knowing when the dawn will come
I open every door.”

–Emily Dickinson

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

August Wilson, Fences

Snap!

Thumb and finger strike,

connection made.

Snap!

Synapses fire,

memories triggered.

Snap!

Fingers, feet

feel the beat

New York streets

When you’re a Jet

You’re a Jet all the way

My sister and I listen to the album,

vinyl disk spins,

we watch the movie,

only later do I learn it is

Romeo and Juliet, updated,

and that famous play,

with its star-crossed lovers,

is based on older stories,

tales as old as time,

that connect us with the past.

 

So many movies, so little time before the old year ends,

we see Fences,

(powerful performances),

the sins of the father visited on the son

generation after generation,

connections through pain and history.

I dislike Troy more and more as the movie goes on,

while recognizing the source of his suffering,

and feeling sorry for him

and Rose and the children.

 

I ask my husband afterward

if he thinks he would have been a different father

if we had had sons instead of daughters.

He says yes, he thinks so,

that he would have been harder and stricter

like his father

who was a good man, but stern,

I was scared of him when I first knew him,

and amazed the first time I saw him laughing with his brother.

My father-in-law was so different with his grandchildren,

softer, gentler, singing Sesame Street songs.

I think of how he connected differently with his children

and his grandchildren,

the special bond he and my young nephew had.

 

On New Year’s Eve,

I think of people all over the world,

celebrating the new year.

I see photographs of fireworks,

Sydney and Hong Kong,

long before nightfall here.

We celebrate more quietly with a group of friends,

Chinese food dinner,

a tradition going back decades,

before and after children,

the where and how changing over time,

food and friendship

amidst the Christmas decorations and lights,

we discuss our families,

see photos of grandchildren,

and worry about what the election will bring.

Our friends talk of selling their houses and moving,

not because of the election,

but because we’re getting older

(but better, of course

with years of wisdom now)

we’re still us, though greyer and heavier

about our middles,

and we still connect

in the way of old friends,

with jokes, hugs, and glances that can reveal more than words.

 

One friend gives each of us—her sister-friends—

a bracelet,

matching bracelets,

I think of how bracelets

have been worn since ancient times,

good luck charms,

amulets for long life and happiness,

tokens of friendship.

charms linked to one another

connecting them

as we are connected through our bonds of friendship,

as words connect thoughts in a sentence,

expressing ideas and actions,

taking us into the new year and new worlds

describing our past, describing our future,

connecting them in clauses,

independent and dependent

as we are,

free to make choices,

to keep people out or keep them in,

but also, dependent on those around us

not to destroy our lives, our souls, our planet.

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New Year’s Eve, 2016. We are linked, heading into 2017.

 

We can build fences,

or walls,

but are we protecting or defending?

It’s a myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space,

but the lights of cities do glow like beacons,

lights connecting us in the dark,

connected like the water flowing from river to the sea,

the message in a bottle circling the globe,

Help! Find me. I’m lost.

The connection is made.

But, snap!

Who sent the message?

Is it too late to help?

 

The holidays are over, the clock strikes, we turn the page.

It’s a new dawn, with new words,

but still linked to the past like a bracelet.

Open the door,

peek over the fence,

Snap!

feel the beat,

move your feet,

dream of tales as old as time

and of now.

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I wish everyone a happy and peaceful new year. We may be in for quite a bit of turbulence on this journey through 2017. So buckle up! Have that wine and chocolate handy.  I appreciate all of you who read my posts, and I love the friendships and connections I’ve made here. Welcome to my new readers, too! I hope you’ll stick around to see what the new year brings here on Yesterday and Today.