Stories Beneath the Surface

Monday Morning Musings:

“I could be

In someone else’s story

In someone else’s life

And he could be in mine. . .”

–Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, “Someone Else’s Story,” from the musical Chess

“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.”

-François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 292


On a sunny day–

spring in February thinking of May–

we stroll through sun and shadows

façades that hint of love inside

I wonder if it is—

and who they are–

wonder about their stories

(someone else’s story)


All of the stories that have been lived

as the centuries turn

eighteenth to nineteenth and on

through changing façades–

those that remain–

past and present merge

modernized, expanded, reformed–

like this church–

where beneath the surface

lie the remains of those

who once lived and breathed here

Old Pine Church looking toward St. Peter’s Philadelphia


their breaths becoming part of the ecosystem

their steps leaving footprints,

sometimes larger in death than they were in life.

Other people’s lives,

Someone else’s story


When they lived,

did they wear their hearts openly—

like the cutouts on the door,

or did they keep their feelings buried

deep inside

behind a façade of smiling respectability?

I wonder how many had secret lives

yearnings that they could never admit?

Complex creatures

we divide ourselves

closing doors—saying this is not allowed

we must not live that story,

but times change

and churches, too,

and love is love is love


In the quiet here, there is not silence.

Do their ghosts walk by my side here?

that sound

the wind,

or their sighs

telling me their stories?

In the unquietness of this place,

filled with hundreds of stories

of birth, love, sorrow, and death

a living child with his mother screams in delight

and runs over the graves. . .

what happens at night behind the gates?


We wander back to the movie theater to see

someone else’s story—

there up on the screen

A Fantastic Woman

and she is

what does it matter that she was born a man

(we all have our façades)

but she was loved

and still is by her sister and friends

and a dog–

who doesn’t care about societal labels–

some do not treat this woman well

they threaten and humiliate her

but life and her story go on

because she is a fantastic woman


And after –

we talk and walk

to where fire recently destroyed part of a block

nineteenth-century buildings

one will have to be demolished

all but it’s first floor cast iron façade–


Third and Chestnut, Philadelphia February 2018


the stories of these places–

the people who lived there now displaced–

and while we stand there

gazing at the devastation,

I get a text from a friend,

find out about her son’s illness—

the dangers of the invisible world

within our bodies

beneath the surface,

we don’t always see or know what is there–

(thankfully, it seems he will be okay)

and though this is someone else’s story

they are my friends,

so it becomes part of my story, too.


The next day, it turns cold again–

February’s story–

we turn the heat back on

eat homemade pizza, drink some wine,

huddle under blankets,

watch Netflix–and our cats—

we text our daughters,

sending virtual hugs–

behind the walls of our house

this is our story,

and I don’t want someone else’s life.


A Fantastic Woman stars the fantastic Daniela Vega,  a trans woman (who also sings in the movie). The movie was made in Chile, and it is nominated for best foreign film. I keep thinking about it. See the trailer here.

The architecture of the fire-damaged buildings is described here.












Ups and Downs, Time Lost and Found

Monday Morning Musings:

“That you are here—that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

–Walt Whitman, “Oh Me! Oh Life!”

“There is regret, almost remorse,

For Time long past.”

–Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Time Long Past”



Months ago, in summer weather,

when temperatures were up,

I walked down,

and saw a watch

left on the stairway

of the parking garage,

black band

(digital, no hands)

encircling the red railing, like a wrist.

Was it an object lost, then found?

Or a statement perhaps—we are time bound?

A metaphor, let me expound–

the passing of time

or of us passing while time stands still—

make of this what you will,

but I think of it still.


This has been a strange week

of ups and downs

in life and weather,

one day snow and one day spring

not knowing what the next will bring

the stock market rises and falls

the calls hidden behind the White House walls

(well, what isn’t Twittered

from a president who needs a babysitter!)

life seems so unstable


things I once took for granted,

now it’s arguments and views slanted.


On a cold morning,

I take the train into Philadelphia

the day after The Big Game

and though to me, sports are all the same

still, it’s good to see people happy

sharing, caring,

instead of being mean and snappy.

Walking in the cold

looking at the new and old

I’m anxious about a meeting,

but I feel joy in my heart,

as I suddenly notice, then stop—

to take photos of public art.



During this week of ups and downs

we look for papers to document my mother

(to prove she is not some other)

her existence in black and white upon a page

to prove—at this stage—

she is who she is.

She needs them for government services,

and we are filled with anxiety, nervousness

that we will not be able to prove she is who she is—

till we find them in a box

events dated, time stopped

on this day born

on this date married

documents of a life lived and varied,

while time is carried

through ninety-five years

of laughter and tears–

the ups and downs of joy and fears.


We go to a movie about verbal abuse and life,

men insulted, but they’ve lived in strife

and though one claims he does what he does

not for himself, but for his child and wife,

it is all about him

(as it always is,

women learn to live with this

the catcalls, the taunts, even physical abuse

now suddenly, in the news).

We learn that both men are more than who they seem

at first

(as are we all)

both have nursed

fears and sorrows,

have wanted better tomorrows,

and though the film takes place in Lebanon

there are universal feelings and issues that we understand

and may or may not agree upon–

house repairs, urban renewal, and immigrants—

the costs of war—

there is more,

as up and down,

the movie becomes a courtroom drama—

with family issues—and if not karma,

then resolution, of a sort.


From there we go to taste wine

paired with chocolate

anticipating Valentine’s

we sip, and smile, and feel fine

(understand, it’s not just the wine).

All who pour

smile, as if it’s not a chore,

a woman says her mother knows my husband

her brother is at the other table,

We leave them tips

because we’re able

and life goes up and down, unstable.

Then we buy chocolate and wine to have later,

perhaps we’ll debate, which is greater—

but only after taken, do I see the watch in the photo—

time’s message of  then or when,

And I wonder again. . .


In the night, I dream

of finding blue glass and paintings,

in a post-apocalyptic world,

beauty and art–

the message there,

time passes on

through ups and downs–

I take them to share–

contributing my verse.


We saw the movie, The Insult, which is nominated for best foreign film.

We went to William Heritage Winery.

I’m having an issue with WP. It won’t save unless I use the old format editing, so everything seems a bit off. Sigh.












Journey in Place: Beginning and End

Monday Morning Musings:

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969. Often misattributed to Hemingway.

 “To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”

–Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea

 “What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. . .

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”


It’s a stressful week, we burrow in—

hunker down

in restful verbs and tasty nouns,

lighting candles in the night,

casting shadows against the bright

light and darkness


without one, is the other missed?

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I journey in place

keeping pace

(I hope with grace)

flowing, risking with rhyme and meter,

thinking of a double feature–

perhaps tonight–

traveling without moving

wondering if I’m improving

no matter,

if it’s soothing. . .


to stay in my pajamas

listening to public radio,

interviews with Nathan Lane and Laura Marling,

unsnarling the day’s news with Michel Martin–

mostly disheartening–

I make dough and bake pizzas

enough for us and the shadow figures, too—

of course, wouldn’t you?

I mean, if they should they care to join us,

we’d have enough

and so, we dine,

drink some wine

watch a movie of two families, white and black

see, there’s no going back,

when time moves forward

we go onward,

even while people are wandering

out of place

lost in space–

well, you can take the boy from Mississippi,

but what happens when he returns a man?

People don’t understand

the legacy of poverty and hate,

and racists don’t want to debate

truth seen in a black and white–

it’s easier to fight.


So much to consider,

and some of it makes me bitter,

I think about the six million dead,

those who never got a chance, never fled

wonder if my family’s genes were among them—

hemmed in

forced to live in shadows, in nightmares

or rather, left in there

suffering and forced to die

their cries reverberate

(never abate)

we light a candle in their memory


(never forget)

the sorrow of their journeys,

(remember me)

their souls shout out

but what do my words create–


and what good is an epitaph for them or us—

is what time was forever thus?

Perhaps to foist a new beginning,

or to change the end

when life circles round,

we can start again.



Not watching the movie.


Holocaust Remembrance Day was on Saturday, January 27. We watched the movie, Mudbound, on Netflix.






Winter Changes

Monday Morning Musings:

“No Notice gave She, but a Change—

No Message, but a Sigh—

For Whom, the Time did not suffice

That She should specify.”

–Emily Dickinson, from “No Notice gave She, but a Change”


“The things that never can come back are several—“

–Emily Dickinson*


“But now they only block the sun

They rain and snow on everyone. . .”

–Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”


We see movies about women who experience life changes

change that ranges

through ages, horrors, and time

one mother with a daughter murdered and raped

shaping the rest of her life

(ignoring her son)

she puts up billboards and rages,

feels guilt and regret in stages

for what was said and done, she can’t forget

and yet,

there are people who care

and I like that we’re made aware

that most people are not simply bad or good,

but a mixture, often misunderstood,

complex and confused

the movie is anger-charged, yet funny, too

showing how people might change–

or perhaps we see them differently—

that could be,

they might exchange their views

(or sometimes not)

though they may sigh

and may not specify,

what it is they desire or want

though the things that never can come back are several.


The other movie is about a daughter who is coming of age

she and her mother who love each other

but argue persistently and consistently

as the daughter experiences first love and heartbreak

(Remember that age when so much seems at stake?)

in family life and strategies

we see life’s comedies and tragedies

as the young woman tries to break free

while realizing there is so much she didn’t see

or comprehend–

the value of a friend–

and a home that she will see anew, perhaps long for

someday, again.


(Bonus here, the high school theater scenes

where so much goes on in-between–

from auditions to production

and a director’s hilarious instruction.)


Changes come, with a feeling of sadness imbued

such as when the old garage was torn down,

and replaced now with the new

carried by truck through town


Through the window, I see the shed delivered.

set up quickly by the men,

and here it stands

still to be painted

for now, we’ll just get acquainted

as the weather alters to winter cold

the clouds move in to block the sun

and snow falls then on everyone

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and gone for now is land and sky

as winter-white flutters and flies

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Watching the snow

I catch a flake upon my hand

and wake to a winter wonderland

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But now I prep for a colonoscopy

(SO many places I’d rather be

than here doing this)



though right now, I’m so literally not full of shit

unlike our leaders, who sleep, leap, and wallow in it

every day, trapping us deeper in the mud and crap

our nerves so frayed and ready to snap

changes from when people felt hope and optimism

now the monsters who before were hidden

roam openly, and they will not be forgiven

by history or time–

if we survive–

still as long as the dawn still rises

and cracks get filled with light

and there is poetry, movies, books to bring delight,

we won’t give up the fight

or take flight

or be numbed to evil that lurks

but find what works

to make the darkness go.

As Christmas lights shine brightly on the snow

and we light candles and decorate

hope the season of peace and love will penetrate

overtake the hate and fear

that seems to have swallowed the year

if only the scents of cinnamon and nutmeg–winter spices–

could bring forth niceness.

For now, winter snow blankets my world in white

and I, warm inside, can savor the sight–

noticing how it absorbs and reflects the light,

I stare,

wonder if it changes the air,

if hope can rise above despair.

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We saw Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, trailer here.

And Lady Bird, trailer here.

Both were excellent movies, though I think my husband and I preferred Lady Bird. Frances McDormand (the part was written for her), Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf were all wonderful, as were the rest of both casts. Fun fact: Lucas Hedges, the young man in last year’s Manchester By the Sea, is in both movies.


*Emily Dickinson wrote this poem on the back of a recipe for coconut cake. This short article is about her and baking, and I plan to try some of her recipes soon.









Starry Nights: Musing and Shadorma Challenge

Monday Morning Musings:

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,”

–Vincent van Gogh to Theo, Saint-Rémy, France, 1889

“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 broth Theo, July 1888


It was midday, but we saw stars,

swirling lines

and colored bars

65,000 hand-painted frames

aiming to depict the art and life

the vision, the strife

artistry in different forms–the imagination

to take his art, recreate, use animation

caught us,

and we flowed with the waves of light

through bright days and starry nights.


Vincent loved

his brother, Theo.

Wrote letters,

long missives

every day penning his thoughts

on art, love, and life


The movie involved a bit of mystery

born not just from art, but from Vincent’s history

of writing these letters to brother Theo

and so

Postman Joseph Roulin


Sends his son to deliver one


found after Vincent’s death

Armand travels, meets the people with whom Vincent interacted


Vincent van Gogh, “Dr. Paul Gachet,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Learns what they felt, and how they reacted

to his art and eccentricities,

some charged, by his electricity,

others repelled,

the story told almost Rashomen-style

different versions of the artist and the man

and we’re left to understand him, as best we can.


An artist for a few years only,

failing at other careers,

art dealer, missionary,

he was a visionary

though his stern parents thought he was a failure,

he painted over 800 paintings in his short career

and it is clear

that he suffered for his art

and gave from his heart

his mother disposed of his work in a crate

finding out–only too late

though she thought he was dim and full of whims

others a genius thought him


We walk out into the warm November day

drink coffee


And look at the colors play

Through city streets and historic sites

And think about Vincent’s short life


A few days later

We’re immersed again in art

Using a gift from friends–

sisters of my heart–

we ponder, peruse,

perhaps a snooze,


or eat and chat

perhaps a scream


(imagine that)

I think of light

And creativity

of sun and clouds


and starry nights


Ceiling of van Gogh Café

And so, to bed

pillows piled high

from a cat, a gentle sigh

the night here cloudy

perhaps we’ll sleep soundly.

but in our dreams

nothing is as it seems


in our dreams

we fly, starry skies

swirl and flow

on light beams

we ride, silver stardust flows

magic of the night


Immersed in art

through starry nights and clouded days

seeing magic, creativity,

imagination, a constant, that stays


We saw the movie Loving Vincent. Trailer here.

We visited Ground for Sculpture. I have many more photos that may appear at some point.

I missed a couple days of Eliot of Along the Interstice’s November Shadorma Challenge,

so I’ve put a couple into this week’s musings.

Two Trains: Haibun

“Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’m going. . .”

–Elizabeth Cotton, “Freight Train”

I sit in the movie theater watching a documentary. Mississippi, June 1964–Freedom Summer. Two groups of idealistic white men search for African American delta blues singers, Skip James and Son House, they know of them only from old recordings. The seekers are unaware of what the segregated South is like. While they search, other idealistic, naïve, white college students are heading to Mississippi to set up freedom schools and to help with voter registration. Black activists know those in power do not react to black lives lost, so it’s crucial to have these white civil rights workers involved, too. On June 21, 1964, African-American civil rights worker, James Chaney disappears from Philadelphia, Mississippi, along with white colleagues Michael Schwerner and Andrew Chapman (their bodies found weeks later). They vanish as the musicians are found. The stories converge—two trains running–music and the civil rights movement. I watch all this—the old film footage, the animated scenes, the talking heads. I hear those lonesome, vibrant, haunting blues. The music train arrived, but the civil rights train is still running, fueled by hope and persistence, despite the obstacles on the tracks.


Ghosts still walk these roads

haunted sighs in summer winds

rhythm of the blues


Embed from Getty Images


This Haibun is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Tuesday. The prompt words were ghost and haunt.

We saw Two Trains Runnin’. More info here.



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


Laurel Hill Cemetery, view of the Schuylkill River


walk sweetly

(some say)

follow us in spirit form,



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


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


till they are forgotten

midway in time

the cycle begins again

ancient souls float between rocks and rivers


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.


Dreams, Again (Again)

Monday Morning Musings:

“We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream.”

. . .Who is the dreamer?”

Twin Peaks, Season 3, Episode 14, From Gordon Cole’s dream


In my dream, I was me, but different

and you were someone else, but you,

together, we were other beings, ourselves, but not–

or were we?

If we lived in that dream world

would we long for a more stable world

where we were people,

bound by time,

not creatures of space,

carried on the slipstream of light waves


We drink wine

talk about the past

think about the future,

the musicians sing

Rocket Man and Major Tom floating in his tin can

his dreams, our dreams

blowing spindrift from space

landing, covering our minds



We celebrate a friend’s retirement

(from teaching, not the world)

his mother says to me she’s happy he’s retiring now

he can still enjoy it

they can travel

live a dream.

we talk with friends we haven’t seen in a while

past, present, and future–

tenses merging together–

remember when I saw you last,

here, but then

(this was the future)

marriages, births, and death–

dreams born and died

or perhaps still floating

drifting from the stars

in tin cans

on waves



We go to a movie

two strangers meet–

a woman who feels she must care for her mother

a man who feels stuck waiting for his father to recover or die

they discuss architecture

and the film lingers on the jewels of Columbus, Indiana

framing the characters in doorways and through windows

it is a movie in which marginalia assumes importance,

just as those asides are often important in lives,

the chance encounters,

the remarks remembered,

the dreams dreamed,

and set aside

we discuss the movie over coffee,

walk through the streets

and down to the river,

where people walk, living dreams,

where people once arrived,

full of hope

or full of fear,

tired masses,

spices and slaves,

a new land.


We watch movies,

and when we become involved,

we are the dreamers

experiencing their world

true of books, too,

once I dreamt

(a vivid dream)

I was the character in the book I was reading

I rode a horse

in northern England, centuries ago,

I spoke like I lived there,

it was so real

I was sure I had been there,

perhaps I was.


I had a dream I was me, but different

and you were someone else, but you,

a woman and a man

walk over a bridge

it happens over and over again

different timelines

variations on the theme of life

until they meet,


they share a bottle of wine

the bottle and label are green

like her eyes

(like my eyes)

other beings, ourselves, but not–

or were they?

perhaps, we are inside the dream

we are the dreamers

we are the dream


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© Merril D. Smith, 2017

We saw the movie, Columbus. Trailer here.  The more I think about it, the more I like it. Definitely not an action movie. It’s a quiet poem of a movie.


Ghosts From Whistling Space

Monday Morning Musings:

From whistling space

dust swirls and burns



lighting the universe

reaching shores,

then, like tides

sweeping back to the sea

tumbling again and again

in a wave

a new formation

a new song

a new life born

an old life lived




We go to the movies

a ghost in a white sheet

views his life

rooted to a place, a home,

a place always there and not

time moves differently for him

and for us, in watching him watching

beautiful, sad, but perhaps hopeful, too

(open to interpretation)

there is much for us to discuss

over coffee, of course,


and as we walk through a city

filled with old and new


A Path to the Past in Summer Bloom


observing how the seasons alters its look

summer flowers making everything bright and beautiful


the city changes over time

here was once a creek

that grew filthy with waste

a sewer


covered now by grass and trees

bucolic space in urban expanse

expansive thoughts arose here, too

made a nation


Maybe someone should write a musical about him. 

bodies buried now

yet ghosts still walk among us

paths that bend in time




we hear their voices whistling in the wind

in the space around us

feel their ideas


ebb and flow

the things they left behind


We take my mom on an outing

away from city ghosts

though they linger in memory,

she talks of her parents

her mother sewed piecework for a time

during the Great Depression

her father was upset that his wife went to work

But she worked in their store, didn’t she?

Yes, but that was different, she says and laughs

her brother, my baby brother, I miss him, she says

he was an active child

always falling out of things—the carriage, his crib–

he fell out of my mom’s bed once

she was supposed to be watching him

he bumped his head on the radiator,

she never told her mom

but, I guess it didn’t hurt him

he lived a good life,

though it ended before my mom’s

and now we share the memory of him,

a ghost living in our hearts


We sit drinking wine, overlooking the vineyard

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it’s a beautiful day

we watch families

children playing with a beach ball on the grass

hawks flying overhead

we sit discussing the past and the future

our conversation ebbs and flows

thoughts linger, pause—

and float up into space


We eat Pakistani food at my daughter and son-in-law’s house

their dog chases creatures, real and imaginary

birds whistle and sing,

echoing us,

or do we echo them?

We sit with greenery all around us

then eat cupcakes that look like flowers

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My daughter’s beautiful and delicious creation.


I wonder about the people who used to live in this house

and what was it before them–

Field? Farm?

And before that?

Did native Americans walk here

in migrations that followed the seasons

circling round, year after year

ghosts walking among us

watching us

rooted to this spot

waiting for something or someone

waiting for a sign,

a message,

a whistle perhaps

a thought that has floated up

swept up in time

and brought back down again

lighting the universe


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We saw the movie A Ghost Story.  Trailer here.   I think it’s a movie that people will either love or hate. It’s a definite Merril movie, but my husband loved it, too.


We drank coffee at Customs Coffee House at 2nd and Chestnut, Philadelphia,

went to Sharrott Winery  

And ate Pakistani food from Mera Khana Restaurant   I could eat those vegetable samosas every day!








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



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



American Philosophical Society


we drink coffee,

enjoy the view,




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


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


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.