Harbingers of Hope and Fear

Monday Morning Musings:

“They look like what you aren’t expecting. What you aren’t paying attention to.”

Neil Gaiman, “Click-clack the Rattlebag”

“Between those happenings that prefigure it
And those that happen in its anamnesis
Occurs the Event, but that no human wit
Can recognize until all happening ceases.”

–W.H. Auden, Epigraph in his Homage to Clio

 

I wanted to write about spring,

about flowers and birdsong–

petrichor–

the things before

the sky turned grey

and people were killed

as they prayed

(they were prey).

 

Here I see the crocuses bloom,

sunlight pours into the rooms

through windows opened wide.

(How do we stem the tide,

the hate and fear

that appears

year after year

after year?)

 

He says there’s no big threat

as he foments and abets,

time before and time after

disasters loom

say the forecasters

tornados and floods

in the heartland

(land of hearts—

What is the sound of them breaking?)

 

My heart beats

some no longer do–

the ones who aren’t you

reading these words

that fly across the page,

free to sing,

uncaged birds

of nouns, adjectives, and verbs

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of action

and reaction

What should we do?

What can we say

to drive the hate away?

Verbs: endure, resist, speak out, sway

push against the rising tide

the climate’s changing

(too many dead).

 

And is it wrong to drink some wine?

celebrate life

while there’s time?

To laugh at a chicken amidst the vines–

more verbs: to love, to dance, to find romance?

If we don’t do these things

then don’t fear and hate win–

making us grovel and dour

unable to see or smell the budding flowers?

 

And so, we listen to music

“Making the best of a bad situation,”

he sings

we laugh

we tap our feet with the beat

of guitar strumming,

the music remains in my head

humming–

though fear

still floats through the air,

between the happenings

the imaginings

and the paying attention

through the misdirection–

sometimes they look like what

you’re not expecting–

you might misconstrue.

But beware,

sometimes they do.

 

Yet—when I open my door

at the start of day

wondering if I’ve lost my way–

my soul rises and soars

to hear the predawn choir sing

returning to nest again

in budding trees,

I seize this moment

make it mine,

the joy it brings–

harbinger–

now, I write about spring.

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We saw Tom Rush at the World Café in Philadelphia last night. His concerts are always a treat. This concert was my husband’s birthday present.

***The WP Gremlins were enjoying themselves last Monday. Some people told me they never got a notification about my post that day. Here it is, if you didn’t see it and you’re interested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Through Time and Space

Monday Morning Musings:

“I think the life of my community and most communities depends on the storytellers. We only know anything about the Roman Empire or about the lives of the people within the Greek polis from the plays that exist. We can find out from historical archives what laws were in place, but who they affected and how they affected those folks and those people – we only know from the stories and from the storytellers of that culture.”

–Tarell Alvin McCraney, playwright, from an interview on All Things Considered, March 2, 2019

 

 

We see, hear, feel art,

the stories of people and places

through many times, in many spaces. . .

Here–in a building of beaux-arts design

an enthusiastic staff helps us find

our relative’s work–mostly signed–

they pull boxes and boxes, and we’re delighted,

excited to see so many sketches and prints,

a box from his WPA tenure, hints

of the world around him,

and then some of tropical splendor–

realism and abstract and in-between–

perhaps a Chagall influence can be seen?

I like to think they knew each other

from their Belarus and French connections

though these are merely my fantasy, projections

I send out into to space

to find a place

in a story I tell. . .

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Well—onward

to another place,

we traipse a bit north

to a university

to see–

and listen

to our daughter talk of art

(be still my heart)

and therapy—

and I’m aware

of all the tales that could be told

young, old, sad, bold–

hers and mine

and those around us,

we capture moments, capture time,

art, part of our stories,

part of our hearts

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Arriving in the mail,

these little bowls,

not great art, but

that wasn’t the goal

instead, when we look at them

we’ll remember part of our story—

a date—a day

to work with clay.

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Then comes another night

another artist

takes his place

with tales and music

we embrace

 

Bruce Springsteen’s show

he says it’s magic

and so, we’re caught in his spell

as he tells us about his life

his parents, his mentors

his friends, his wife,

we learn about the boyhood beech tree

he climbed, but now it’s ceased to be,

moving tales of his father

then his mother

and all the others,

people who influenced him

to tell his stories in music,

the songs of generations come

and gone.

 

Another day,

there’s rhythm and swing,

and it does mean a thing

telling a story of people and place

strings, horn, and bass,

blues chords and a riff–

there, a glimpse of what if?

Ella and Count Basie,

nothing too racy, just jazz with a pop

a trumpet note that might never stop,

and we’re clapping for the tapping

but when we go outside

the rain has turned to snow.

The mood? Let’s call it indigo

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Watching the Snow

Watching the snow. Mood Indigo, or perhaps Kind of Blue.

 

And so, it goes–

we walk to the train

and it’s home again

to think of stories in music,

and rhyme

that have inspired us,

traveled through time

from place to place

and made homes

in our hearts and minds.

This urge to create,

we’re fated to generate

and express our feelings,

our truth, our passion–

whatever the fashion,

the stories find their way

even when we go,

they stay–

a testament to what was,

or what could be,

a world that maybe

only the artist can see.

 

My daughter made this Web site about Abraham Hankins. It’s a work-in-progress

The staff at the print department at the Free Library in Philadelphia were so helpful and enthusiastic. What a pleasure to visit there! You can follow them on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/freelibrarypix/

We watched Springsteen on Broadway on Netflix. Trailer here.

Friends very kindly offered us their tickets for a Philly Pops concert when they couldn’t use them. It was a fun concert, though we cancelled our plans to go out afterward because of the weather.

 

 

Grey Clouds, White Snow, and Beautiful as You Feel

Monday Morning Musings:

We’re frozen in a shadow world of dreary grey clouds, not even interesting enough to be chiaroscuro, just day after day dismal bleakness. Finally, the sun appears, and though the wind is gusting, and it is cold, I am thrilled to see sunshine. I have a doctor’s appointment, and we decide to make the rest of the day into an afternoon date—lunch and a movie. Before the movie, Green Book, I discover a little pond by the multi-plex parking lot. Beauty in unexpected places.

sun shines one fine day–

cold white clouds on blue surface,

rippled by webbed feet

Pond beside Multiplex, Voorhees, NJ--Merril D. Smith 2019

A friend stops by–just for a moment to drop off a belated birthday gift. The presents are lovely, but it’s the thoughtfulness that I cherish more. We’ve been friends since our college years when our now husbands were roommates. She’s a friend I could call in the middle of the night if I ever had to.

know you’ve got a friend

in January’s dark cold

to bring glimpse of spring

 

We’re watching The Man in the High Castle. In this alternate reality, the United States is split between the Nazis on the East coast and the Japanese on the West. In one episode, a Jewish man (who practices his religion in secret) tells another character to continue to create art, to find beauty so that “they” don’t win. He says Jews have outlived evil before, and they will do it again. I hope he’s right.

creating beauty,

wondering if it’s too late

for seeds to flower

Sylvia Schreiber Painting

One of my mother’s paintings.

Sun and wind, then grey skies again. A Sunday morning snowfall, quiet and beautiful.

there, up on the roof

snow lays a silent white quilt–

inside all are warm

 

We eat mussels and pomme frites at a Belgian bar. Then we walk through the cold city streets, where some holiday decorations remain.

 

small blankets of white

lights twinkle so far away–

city winter night

In the beautiful Academy of Music, we see Beautiful. The show tells the story of Carole King’s life, focusing on her relationship with Gerry Goffin, her husband and writing partner, and their friendly rivalry with songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The show ignores the social and political events going on at the time, though her declaration of independence got a cheer from women in the audience. Still, the songs that carry the show along—and they, of course, are wonderful. The show begins (“So Far Away) and ends with Carole alone on the stage at the piano (“Beautiful”).

light so far away,

you’re beautiful as you feel—

hope in dark of night

 

We go home to dream–of some kind of wonderful.

White Cat on Grey Couch, National Park, NJ

Each of the haiku–and the final line– includes a line from a Carole King song:

“One Fine Day” (Gerry Goffin and Carole King)

“You’ve Got a Friend” (Carole King)

“It’s Too Late “(Carole King)

“Up on the Roof “(Gerry Goffin and Carole King

“So Far Away “(Carole King)

“Beautiful “(Carole King)

“Some Kind of Wonderful” (Gerry Goffin and Carole King)

And here’s a bonus for you from when Carole King was honored at the Kennedy Center.

If you’ve never seen this, then you’re welcome. And if you have, then you know–Aretha Franklin, the Obamas, and Carole King herself–all the feelings!

 

Of Lies and Better Things on the Way

Monday Morning Musings:

 

Men should be what they seem,

Or those that be not, would they might seem none!

–William Shakespeare, Othello, Act III, Scene iii

“ they are not men o’ their words: they told me I was everything; ’tis a lie…”

–William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act IV, Scene vi

“Here’s wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness
I know that better things are on their way.”
–from Dar Williams, “Better Things”

 

We walk through a living, mortal city

see buildings transformed

here an insurance building, now condominiums

a Starbucks at its base

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is the history erased

or still held there, a trace of perfume or smoke

left somewhere in a bit of old oak

and here, the cobblestones and bricks remain

some things, perhaps, stay the same

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We travel through space and time

in books, movies, theater, art

from my small town’s fall festival

to Philadelphia streets

then we enter the London theater

of centuries ago—a show,

the stage framed with the red velvet proscenium curtains

uncertain what we will see

amongst the esteemed company

there at Convent Garden

where a substitute actor

steps in to play the part of Othello, the Moor–

a black man? Well, that’s not been done before!

A character declares, “People come to the theater to get away from reality.”

The cast members of this well-known London troupe are divided,

some undecided about how they feel,

but willing to try some new techniques

or at least to somewhat tweak

their stylized manner and gestures

though scandalized at how Othello touches Desdemona

Do they understand the play and his persona?

We see a bit of the handkerchief scene

enough to glean how it might have been

the critics were vicious, in racist prose

derided Ira Aldridge’s performance in the show.

He is an anomaly upon the stage

We see there both passion and his rage

later hear him, as Lear in madness decry the lies

as fury builds and slowly dies,

around him, slavery still exists

(and even now)

though we can hope through sorrow

that better things come tomorrow

and better things are on their way

 

We discuss and dine

and drink some wine

(well, beer for him)

we’re both well pleased by the cheese

that we nibble sitting there as day turns to night

caressed by a breeze

perhaps it’s wandered round the world

unfurled and carried hope and sorrow

and we discuss the present and the lies

ignorance that triumphs over facts or the wise

but still we hope that tomorrow

better things are on their way

 

Younger daughter and I go to a concert

Dar Williams sang of the pagans and Christians

sitting at the table–

and just like them, we’re able to sit with different folk

but at least they were silent, and no one spoke

and I was more fascinated than annoyed

by the man touching the woman and the other woman stroking her hair

both unaware, I suppose, that we couldn’t help but stare

as we enjoyed the songs, the reading, our food and wine

so yes, we also came to dine

(a bit like the Gilmore Girls—

if they were vegetarians with curls)

and Dar sang of the babysitter, now urban planner

and “positive proximity”

(despite city’s life often anonymity)

she spoke of transformations she has seen

spaces empty and dark, now full of life, green

and when she sang “Iowa,” we all sang along

we all sang the chorus to the song

and despite lost hopes in November

our fears and sorrow

we left in hopes for better things tomorrow

that better things are on their way

 

In the blood

in the dreams

in the cities

and in the seams

and it seems

and it seems

that we wade through streams

against the current

things that are and things that weren’t

sometimes floating

ever light

drifting far and out of sight

journeys through space, time, day, and night

to ponder, to wonder

at art’s spell, we fall under

does it hide or amplify

the truth and the lies

and those who are afraid of women

and those who lie, quite unredeemed

or even worse

(notes on a theme)

they are exactly what they seem

but in our sorrow, we can dream of tomorrow

and let hope linger here, now stay

better things are on their way

 

We saw Red Velvet at the Lantern Theater Company.  The play is based on the life of the real actor, Ira Aldridge. We saw Dar Williams at World Cafe Live.

 

 

 

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

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Laurel Hill Cemetery, view of the Schuylkill River

 

walk sweetly

(some say)

follow us in spirit form,

(perhaps)

happy

rising with the moon

blooming with the stars

living in harmony with the cosmos

watching flowers blossom

year after year

the willow weeps for them

amidst angels and urns

obelisks and hands pointing to the sky

 

and here we are, alive

walking amongst them

hearts and bones

flesh and blood

a family outing

the young women–and us

no longer young—

(except in our dreams)

a groundhog warms itself on a gravestone

then disappears

a moment come and gone

nothing is real

everything is real

there are ghosts all around us

We drink wine

enjoy a picnic dinner

the singer plays her guitar strings

sings about the midway

slowing down

birds take flight in a dramatic sky

(in a moment there, then gone)

wearing wings, they looked so grand

hanging upon the face of night

soon scented with petrichor

we move to shelter

as the rain pounds down

drink some more

discover that caramel corn flavored with Old Bay seasoning

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

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

Grecian urns and time

passing fast and slow—

stopping midway, going down

everything is real

the moments paused in my mind, infinitely dear

 

we watch a movie, sweet and tender

about a widowed Hasidic man

we feel sorry him,

he only wants to regain custody of his son,

though he seems to sabotage himself at times

we all know someone like him

yet still, we root for him

it doesn’t matter that they are Hasidic

speaking in Yiddish

nor that it is a patriarchal culture

where the main function of women

is to have children and take care of the home

they could be any father and son

the boy finds a video of his mother

he replays it

a moment from the past

but life goes on, the rabbi says

and we learn to go on, too

 

We discuss the movie over coffee

agree the boy is incredibly cute

(like a Maurice Sendak illustration, I say)

we walk and talk

through old city streets

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past graves

our shadows—

real, not real

fly over graves of Revolutionary War soldiers–

everything starting as nothing

then named and loved,

all the fathers and sons,

the mothers and daughters,

lingering in hearts and minds

remembered

till they are forgotten

midway in time

the cycle begins again

ancient souls float between rocks and rivers

pause

they linger in your mind

you may almost see them

feel them

drifting in the breeze

 

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

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

 

Dream a Dream

Dream a little dream of me

as starlight blooms, high in the sky

the tears, I see,

are now wiped dry,

the night birds call from sycamore trees

sleep now, my love, sweet lullaby,

dream of me, body free,

but spirit hovering, still nearby

john_everett_millais_the_somnambulist

 

So, this actually fits two dVerse prompts. De Jackson, aka WhimsyGizmo, asked us to write a quadrille using the prompt dream. 

Mish asked for a poem using a verse from a song.  For some reason, the dream prompt made me think of this song. I’m wondering if I’ve heard it recently on a soundtrack.

Here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (with Louis Armstrong).

 

I often use song lines as prompts in my Monday Morning Musings, and I know I’ll be writing more about dreams, but this is what I have for now.

August: Songs in my Heart

You would have been ninety-eight today. I mark the date as the day awakens—crickets chirping, and birds beginning their morning chorus, a little later now in August than June. I imagine you as you were before you got sick—larger than life, or so it seemed. Until you shrank, encased inside a body that had become frail, and then your life shrank, too. In your last apartment, filled with bric-a-brac (a word that always sounded like a magical game to me), the Chinese vases and statues, the antiques that shared space with other collections–books and papers, drawings and old art projects we had made—later, after you were gone, and the space echoed with silence, we found the old school lunch boxes and report cards in your closet.

 

Your grandchildren, my daughters, played on your balcony. I remember red geraniums there, but perhaps I’ve added them in my mind, as I’ve added them to my kitchen window box. I think about my daughters playing and singing, wonder if their love of music came from you. I wish you could have seen the women they’ve become. You would be so proud of them. (I hate that you are gone.) I suspect you, and not my mom, bought the Broadway soundtrack recordings that my sister and I listened to so often when we were little, making up plays in our Dallas bedroom. I remember you singing. Did you have a soundtrack running in your head, as I do?

When I was a teen, you drove me crazy singing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” over and over again. I hated that song (I hate that you are gone); I’d love to hear you sing it again. With age, I’ve realized the universe is filled with music, though we don’t always hear it. Some songs drift through your brain, others you hear in your heart.

 

Heart-songs float through time

stars, the proud troubadours, sing,

tones linger like dreams

 

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My dad’s birthday was yesterday, August 9. This Haibun is for Colleen’s Weekly Poetry Challenge. The prompt words were hate and pride. I had another idea that used the words much more definitively, but this happened instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Footbridge: Tanka

glimmer-green dancers

flow in Sarabande rhythm

beneath the footbridge

music travels through space, time

captured by the artist’s brush

 

1963-116-11-pma

Claude Monet, The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny, 1899
The Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr., Collection, 1963
Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

Claude Debussy, Sarabande pour le Piano, L95 

This is a tanka for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge.

The prompt words were music and art.

 

The Violin: Haibun

I awaken in a clean bed, my curls still soap-and-water-damp, but no longer tangled with tears and sweat. Kind people have taken me in–giving me a home and a violin to replace the one Papa gave me years ago. The one the soldiers smashed. It is old, this violin, and as I cradle it under my chin, I wonder what secrets it carries beneath its varnished surface, what tunes lie buried within the fine wood. I look out the window to see the stars, fairy lights that twinkle and beckon in the dark. I quietly hum an old folk tune, the motif of the piece I’m writing, blending old and new–a continuous and repeated theme, as in life, a melody of sorrow and hope. And now, from my window, I see the dawn– pink, orange, and red wings feather-brushed across the sky above the golden sun. The day is bright with magic and possibility. I am ready to greet it.

 

The strings laugh and cry,

sing music of many souls

through light and dark clouds

life twinkles brightly, then blinks

to fly through space, dance through time

 

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Lorenzo Lippi, “Allegorie der Musik” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This haibun is for Colleen Chesebro’s weekly poetry challenge. The prompt words were fairy and magic. She is celebrated fairies and the summer solstice this weekend. Go visit her!