Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

–Leonardo da Vinci
 

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

–Vincent Van Gogh

 

My sisters and I call each other

“No one’s dead,” we quickly chirp,

a macabre affirmation of life,

a precaution for my perpetually panicked sister-niece,

(she answers the phone expecting disaster)

we laugh—because what can you do?

but then comes news of two deaths over the weekend,

my husband’s former colleague and a college friend,

we’re of a certain age now,

most of our friends have lost at least one parent,

some both,

middle-aged orphans,

I think about links to the past,

disappearing the way beads slide off string one by one

 

and I watch a miniseries about the Gay Rights Movement

see again the AIDS quilt,

memories squared and love-knotted,

blanketing the National Mall,

a memorial, a declaration

we protest with poetry and art,

against wars, against injustice,

fighting for the right to live

and to die in dignity,

(love is love is love is love)

in the epic story of our lives,

we are the heroes,

and its tragic victims

 

We dream and we create,

our lives, like intricately folded origami

unfolded in a split second,

a discovery that the crane

is now simply a wrinkled bit of paper

 

We take my mother to our daughter’s house for brunch,

my mother, once a child, now the matriarch,

a ninety-four-year-old orphan

her parents, her brother, and many of her friends are gone,

she can barely see, but still she paints

the vision must be in her mind and hands

felt, rather than seen,

poetry in paint,

tactile sensibility,

she has her first mimosa

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and we talk of this and that

old hairstyles, Dallas nightclubs,

stories my daughter has never heard before

of a world and people that no longer exist,

I imagine a mirror with endless reflections

and the world through the looking glass

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We’re through the looking glass in a mirrored room, transported to an 18th century French palace. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

we laugh over misunderstood words

the kind of laughter that brings tears,

and we are entertained by pets,

sitting in the kitchen,

a domestic scene,

that could come from the past,

generations sitting around a table

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My husband and I go to an exhibition of watercolors

an amazing show, 175 paintings on display,

the show traces the history–

how watercolor became an American medium

from what was essentially work done in the home,

by women, decorative artists, as well as illustrators

becomes much more after the Civil War

and Philadelphia,

with publications and art schools

becomes a center

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The exhibition describes the painters’ techniques

the importance of the paper in the watercolors,

various textures and colors

watercolors are luminous, but fragile

reflecting light,

but also, fading in light,

the picture dies

the image no longer exists,

and I think of the building, landscapes, and people in the paintings

that no longer exist

except in these depictions

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where the sun still shines and wind still blows

and alligators huddle together in the mud,

lethargic beasts with deadly grins

 

at night, I dream of light and art,

I paint my dream into a poem,

a dream of misty luminosity with opaque spots

brushed by the artist

(look there closely at the strokes)

on an unusual type of paper, with texture both rough and smooth

folded over and over,

to form different creases,

like wrinkles on faces in time

endless, like reflections in a mirror

 

Information:

We watched the miniseries, When We Rise

We saw the exhibition, “American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent”

You can see a trailer on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Website.

It is a stunning exhibition, but because watercolors are fragile, it will only be seen in Philadelphia. No photography is permitted.

 

 

The Skulls: Microfiction

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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The princess was awakened in the night by rough hands and gruff voices.  Her attendants were killed, and she was thrust into deep hole, a dungeon known only to few, while her captors decided if she was more valuable to them alive or dead. She was a pawn in dynastic feuds.

She lay there in the dark, too stunned and fearful to think or do anything. A rustling in the fetid space around her, finally got her attention. Somehow she knew the sound came from beings, not only rats–though they probably would come looking for a piece of her to chew on soon.

“Don’t be frightened,” she said. “Someone will help us.

My mother used to tell me stories. Shall I tell you one?”

More than a little frightened herself, she began speaking, telling a tale of magic and light, of music and sunshine, of finding a way home from the darkness. Gradually, figures appeared, glowing spirits. They hovered around her, listening to the tale and illuminating the dungeon with their light. She was now able to see that all around here were piles of bones and skulls, the remains of men, women, and children who had been left here to die alone. The princess told these lost souls story after story, until she, too, was near death.

But the princess did not die. One of her attendants had hidden under the bed and survived the slaughter in the bedchamber. This loyal attendant had run for help, the kidnappers were captured, and the princess was rescued–but she did not forget the lost souls in the dungeon.

Eventually she became queen. Shortly after her coronation, she returned to the dungeon. Ordering her guards to remain at the entrance, she walked down the dark steps alone. She sat there in the dirt and told a story of magic and light, of music and sunshine, and of finding a way home from the darkness. She rose then and told the spirits she would build them a new home.

Before long a section was added to her palace. It was called Hope’s Annex, named for the Queen, who had taken the name Hope. The bones from the dungeon were gathered, sorted, and placed there. The building was filled with light from large windows and glass doors, which were opened to the flower gardens in fine weather. It was furnished with comfortable seats, tables, and bookcases crowded with books. People visited, day and night. They read the books, had concerts, and told stories. And the spirits were happy, at last.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt is the illustration above, which is certainly strange. I have no idea what the original fairy tale was about.

 

 

Murky Water

In murky waters, danger lurks

perhaps unseen

open minds,

connect the dots,

find the spots,

the rule of law

(withdrawal

recuse

resign)

 

In party hats,

they toe the line,

invertebrates, no spine

they conform,

(the new norm)

pats on the back,

time out of whack,

the truth twisted around a smile

(just wait a while)

don’t roil the water

don’t whine

and don’t resist,

but she persists,

defines a problem,

but only the tip,

the iceberg

drifts toward the ship

in a cold, dark sea

 

Or perhaps,

it’s the middle of the labyrinth,

craft your wings from sealing wax,

and fly high

fight the bull

and spoil the fun

don’t shed a bitter tear

 

Or perhaps,

a game of Clue,

Colonel Mustard with a candlestick–

who did what and when?–

find the bodies

dig them up

like a dog, take hold,

shake,

be bold,

persisting

resisting

till they’re gone,

the monsters,

resigned

 

And hope the water turns clear and blue

 

 

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Odilon Redon, “Swamp Flower,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Song and Dance: A Quadrille

Daffodils smile,

dance awhile,

giggle when tickled by the breeze,

tease,

they bask in light,

their faces bright,

listen to the robins sing,

melodies of spring,

flowery laughs join birdsong,

a sing-a-along

till day is gone, all unspun,

the moon rises with a hum

 

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This is for dVerse .  The Quadrille Monday prompt from De Jackson (aka WhimsyGizmo) is “giggle.” (Doesn’t the word giggle make you giggle?) This photo is from a few years ago. Our daffodils haven’t bloomed yet, but they are starting to come up. They make me happy. A quadrille is a poem of 44 words; it is also a dance.

 

 

 

Beginnings and Endings

 

 

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life.”

–Dr. Louise Banks in the movie, Arrival (2016)

“Time is what stops history happening at once; time is the speed at which the past disappears.”

–David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

 

Beginnings and endings,

I hear the mockingbird sing.

 

A spring day in February,

we changed plans,

instead of a movie,

we went to lunch,

where we could sit outside,

 

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Valley Green Inn, February 2017

 

and take a long walk.

our server did Sesame Street character voices

(for the children at a nearby table),

he carried our dishes to us

announced them with a song,

kind of strange,

but so is spring in February.

 

We sat at our table watching people walk dogs,

and dogs walk people,

(dogs pulled leashes,

noses up, sniffing,

pulling toward the porch-

This way! There is food.)

we watched bicyclists,

and one unicyclist,

and I watched the geese

beginning and ending flights,

over and over

the same patch of the Wissahickon Creek,

a gaggle of honks and feathers in short, graceful flights.

Were they the same geese?

Was it a game?

Teenage geese in race?

I watched

wondering when they began

and when they will end this game,

their journey.

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We walked,

we talked,

spring fever,

people smiled

said hi as they passed,

everyone enjoying this glorious February day,

We strolled along the Wissahickon,

 

 

we could have veered off to another path—

(two roads and all that)

I think about other walks we’ve taken

and other times we’ve walked,

and other people who have walked where we walk,

will walk there after us,

wonder if they walk with us, unseen,

I think about paths and time and connections

and music that is triggered in my head

by a word,

a thought,

and the way that books take people through time and space.

I see scenes in my head as I read,

(do you?)

and sometimes I feel that I am there

in that moment,

in that place,

and sometimes I’m not certain if I’ve read a book

or seen the movie

because the scenes are so vivid

and when I write,

the characters become real,

they have always existed,

no beginning

no end

on a timeless path.

 

Days later,

I think about how I love books, shows, and movies with complicated storylines—

stories that move through time,

or are told from different characters’ points of view,

I realize

(of course, you will say)

it’s connected to my fascination with time and timelines,

different paths our lives could/might/may have taken,

the protagonist of our own lives,

a minor character in someone else’s,

a movie extra without lines.

 

I wonder if time passes the same way for everyone,

does the mockingbird singing before dawn

know the sun will come up soon,

that it’s a new day?

I wish I could ask him,

I wish I could understand his answer,

instead, I listen to his song,

and in that song

in the predawn darkness

he does communicate,

an announcement,

I am here. Listen!

Perhaps that is enough,

I relive the moment in my head

a moment past,

but present,

no beginning,

no end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Balloon: Microfiction

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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes [CeCILL (http://www.cecill.info/licences/Licence_CeCILL_V2-en.html) or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

She had raged against the war, raged against the loss, and raged against fate. Her husband and her three sons had been killed; her grandchildren would never be born. Her city was destroyed, and there was no one left to rebuild it. Bodies lay in the streets, dead of starvation, disease, and hopelessness. Now the fire of her rage had died to embers. Over it, her sorrow had once simmered and stewed, but now, it too was gone. She was hollow, like a shell abandoned on the beach. She wondered if her body carried echoes of her life before–when she had dreams.

As she walked toward the ancient walls of her city, she noticed a balloon rising in the distant sky. A sign of hope or help? Too late, she thought. She wondered if she imagined it, as she watched the balloon ascend higher and higher, mocking her. She knew she would never rise; the only way for her was down. She hoped her flight would be graceful, like the balloon’s, a final bit of beauty amidst the tragedy of her life. She stood at the top of the city’s wall, spread her arms, and dived into the wind.

 

After

She floated, carried by wind currents, by angels’ breath. She floated like a leaf upon the water. She heard a sound, like echoing voices, and a door between worlds opened. There was her city spread beneath her, filled with joyous people, busy with the tasks of everyday life. In a blink, she stood now in the market square. Her eldest son saw her and greeted her with a smile. She noticed a balloon high above her. She dared to dream. Here and always.

 

This story was for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday strange microfiction challenge. The prompt was the painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Journey: Tanka

 

Ship berthed, door opens,

friends lost, remembered now, here

the odyssey ends

far from the blue planet Earth,

immigrants from a dead world

 

 

earth_western_hemisphere

By Reto Stöckli (land surface, shallow water, clouds) Robert Simmon (enhancements: ocean color, compositing, 3D globes, animation) Data and technical support: MODIS Land Group; MODIS Science Data Support Team; MODIS Atmosphere Group; MODIS Ocean Group Additional data: USGS EROS Data Center (topography); USGS Terrestrial Remote Sensing Flagstaff Field Center (Antarctica); Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (city lights). (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=57723) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

This tanka is for Colleen Chesbro’s Weekly Tanka Challenge.

The prompt words were friend and door.

 

 

Between Here and Always

Monday Morning Musings:

The Oracle gave me this poem over the weekend.

 

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Between here and always

is light–

vivid soul-blossoms living wild,

secret garden from dark night,

world was and is

 

In February, this month of birthdays,

time moves backward and forward,

fluid

here and always

what was, what is, and what will be

 

even the weather seems confused,

time and season changing from day to day

light and dark

warm and cold

flowers bloom,

secret gardens amidst leaves

covered as snow falls

 

here

always

 

We celebrate my husband’s birthday with Pakistani food,

the owner remembers him and my son-in-law

they picked up food there on the day my daughter and son-in-law

moved into their house,

yes, they looked tired that day, the man says,

(he is pleased we’ve returned)

the food is delicious,

we eat flaky samosas with yogurt sauce and green chili sauce

then our various entries—slow cooked beef, lamb, chicken,

and vegetarian dishes of eggplant and moong dal with palek,

the chef comes out to meet us,

we tell them we’ll come back

here

 

We have wine and cheesecake afterward at my daughter’s house,

 

 

the house crackles and creaks a bit as the heat of the gas fire warms the room,

ghost sounds,

my daughter-in-law mentions a John McCain poster figure

her father used to hide it around their house to startle people,

I recall the mannequin my sister and a roommate had in their apartment

they used to dress her for different events,

one daughter says she saw a woman on the T carrying the arm of a mannequin–

silence,

there must be a story,

then, other daughter asks, “are you sure it was a mannequin’s arm?”

 

here and always,

food, love, and stories.

 

Later, I pull out tablecloths

they’ve been buried at the bottom of a cedar chest

almost two decades now,

once a special part of our daughters’ birthday parties

years of drawings and comments,

words written by children

now grown

scribbled messages,

ghosts of the past,

each daughter takes a tablecloth

Happy Birthday, I say.

They are always in my heart.

 

 

I make a photo/memory album for my mother-in-law

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I have an assistant.

 

born in 1937,

the middle of the Great Depression,

1937,

Amelia Earhart disappeared, Japan invaded China, the Nanking massacre took place, the Hindenburg exploded,  the Golden Gate Bridge opened,

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered, and Of Mice and Men was published–

my husband says, yes but the most important thing is that my mother was born

and of course, to her, to him, and to me, it is

without that,

he would not be here

and our children would not be

perhaps there is another timeline,

perhaps there is another always,

ghosts that flicker

just out of sight

another story

but not here

 

We celebrate her 80th birthday

at our house

 

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a friend of hers stops by,

an eightieth birthday party surprise

(“I won’t stay long,” the friend says,

“I’ve just had a heart attack,”

a story I could not make up)

daughters and I have made enough food

to feed twice as many people,

 

 

enough for more surprise people,

or any strangers who might wander in,

we eat and talk

and memories flow–

what was, what is–

my mother-in-law’s wish–

to see my nephew, her grandson, grow up

What will he be?

(What will be?)

At some point, we will look back

at this moment

in snapshots

time frozen

what is now will be then

this warm sunny day,

filled with light,

here and always

our souls blossom

with love

here

always

 

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Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

If you are in the Sicklerville, NJ area, I highly recommend Mera Khana restaurant. It’s a small, unassuming restaurant in a strip mall–but such delicious food and wonderful people.