Hope Rises and Falls, Like Us All: NaPoWriMo, Day 2

Monday Morning Musings:

“Remember only that I was innocent
and, just like you, mortal on that day,
I, too, had a face marked by rage, by pity and joy,
quite simply, a human face!”

From “Exodus,” by Benjamin Fondane, murdered at Auschwitz in 1944

“But where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, June 6, 1944, written after Anne hears the news about D Day.

“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, July 15, 1944

 

This Passover—at least at the start,

my husband and I dine alone–

we’re on our own

for this Seder

(apart from the cats,

who join us later).

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It’s been a strange week of that and this

things not quite right, a bit amiss–

the whole afternoon at the doctor for my mother’s hand

in a city office

(the building still grand)

 

I look at my hands

starting to look like my mom’s

when did this change begin of fingers and palms–

these strange hands turned from mine to others

how did they become so much like my mother’s?

 

The weather turns from cool to warm

but still I feel the coming thunder, the storm—

I read about a French woman who survived hate and the camps,

stabbed by her neighbor to whom she showed only kindness–

but he was caught up in blindness

(of the soul)

if that is how we can characterize it all—

this hatred or fear,

we should remember her

not him,

Mireille Knoll,

for whom the bell finally tolled.

 

This climate of fear

seems to grow daily

the president goes on another Twitter rant

and I just can’t–

listen to him (sniff sniff) speak or chant

transplant

fiction in his supporters’ brains

(enough of them still remain)–

where and when does it end,

will it ever stop,

the firing of the latest shot,

the hate, the finding of scapegoats to label

the fear of the intelligent and able?

There’s fear in the air,

but does fear rise above hope?

Which is denser, which one floats?

 

We see a performance, a play

people forced together, every day

having to live in close quarters

annoying each other, parents, strangers, daughters,

dependent upon friends for food—

for everything

never permitted to go out

or glance through a window—or shout–

forced to be silent all day—

even chatterbox Anne must sit still and stay,

but she finds a way,

observing and recording

in her diary she writes,

somehow hope rising above despair

as if she’s gathered it from the air

“Think of beauty,” she writes,

and

“I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Her writing, an art,

though she’s doing her own part

for the war effort, for after, for when life re-starts,

revising her words for the novel she hopes will one day be—

when the war is over—when they’re all free—

We know watching, that it is not to be,

and yet, still, I hope for a different ending,

one that ends without sending

them off in cattle cars to the East

to be treated worse than beasts

to die hungry, filthy, covered with lice,

wonder why she and others had to pay such a price—

would she then have written what she did–

as she slid

as if down a well

from hiding into Hell?

 

We celebrate miracles, the Exodus,

I’m not religious, but the history of us

of pogroms and hate at this time—

the crimes—

make me honor those who came before me

and who were not free

to celebrate or see—

here now–

a day of sun and clouds,

voices talking out loud,

the daffodils in bloom,

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I hope they don’t disappear too soon.

Then a rainbow appears way up high

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It seems magical, and though I’m cynical,

perhaps it is a Passover miracle,

whatever, it’s beautiful, I think,

and so, we eat matzah and drink

(more wine)

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Passover Walnut Cake

and before desert, the full moon appears to hum in the sky–

filling me with wonder and whys

 

The human face,

if we could only see it

instead of looking at a space

feel—seek out!– the pity and the joy

but instead, we destroy.

Fifty years ago, this week, a man was killed

perhaps from him, some hope was spilled

“I have a dream,” he said,

but before long, he was dead.

He urged others onward in the fight

for justice, for light.

Anne Frank, a young girl, also died

her family, too, only her father survived.

she wanted to be remembered, a famous writer

and so, she is, with life gone and so much missed.

I don’t know that our future looks any brighter,

(Do you hear it? The wind carries their cries.)

and yet. . .when I look up at the sky

I still see the stars and moon, and then I sigh,

hoping their dreams will never die.

 

We saw, The Diary of Anne Frank at People’s Light in Malvern, PA. 

This is Na/GloPoWriMo, Day 2.  The prompt was to play with voice, but well, these are my musings.  🙂

 

 

Candles

Monday Morning Musings:

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

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

 

A single candle

(for miracles)

flickers in the night

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joined by others

till eight in a row

they burn, and then they go

leaving only melted wax behind

and yet, perhaps I find

something, a sense of peace

in watching them increase

and we remember how our daughters

bet on which candle would stand last

one that burned not quite as fast—

lovely memories from the past.

 

 

A single candle

(for wishes)

flickers on a cupcake

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baked with love

and so sweet, delivered as surprise treat.

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It’s a strange birthday,

things don’t quite go my way

I lose a filling, and due to the snow

we stay and home, and don’t go

to dinner and a show,

but we eat pizza and drink some wine

and it’s fine, I say,

we’ll do something another day.

 

Everything a bit off this week,

small victories tinged with apprehension

tension over what might come, or be

a tax bill to help the rich–

oh, if only I could flip a switch

to eradicate ignorance and greed

wish on candles and stars that people would read

would help those in need

and instead of hindering, would keep freed

thought and scientific inquiry.

 

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

is not supposed to use the word

it’s not to the taste

of the current administration

who would like to see a nation

without education based on facts

but the monster simply reacts

without nuance or tact, but snaps,

just twitter taps and taps and taps

 

We fry latkes

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and when we’re through

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we eat them–and donuts, too

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because it’s a holiday of oil and sweets

and it’s a treat to share them with love

we eat the food and laugh and talk of–

oh this and that–

we watch their dog and see their cat

climb in search of treasure—food!

Yes, we’re in a holiday mood

as candles flicker and lights glow

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but soon it’s time to go.

 

I spend the next day working

(cats around me lurking)

I have too much work to do

I sit at my computer

in a bit of stupor

but as night falls

we light the candles

and watch the shadows on the walls

from the flickering glow

I think of miracles past

(wonder if our country will last)

but let those thoughts slide

subside for a more festive mood

as we eat our Chinese food

and watch the Christmas shows

I might doze. . .

 

 

In the morning, before the dawn

I yawn and look up at the sky

and know that hope like a feather flies

and though the clouds block the stars

I know exactly where they are

I close my eyes and make a wish

I hope it flies and travels far.

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The Beauty Is: NaPoWriMo

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night –William Shakespeare, Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5

“And the beauty is, when you realize, when you realize, Someone could be looking for a someone like you.” –Adam Guettel, “The Beauty Is” from the musical, The Light in the Piazza  Song here.

“At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is “Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.” My advice is: “Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy. –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, March 7, 1944

It’s a rainy Earth day,

the grey skies swaddle pink and white blossoms

Spring, verdant, full of life, thirsty, greedily drinks like a baby,

unselfconscious and we the admiring parents watch her,

she is beautiful, even when she’s a dirty mess.

 

A mother-daughter outing to see Beauty and the Beast,

the theater has reserved seats that we recline in ready for the magic to begin

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My daughter is comfortable in the theater.

 

— the Disney version of the story,

though we’re both impressed by Gaston, more nuanced than his cartoon version,

possibly charming at first in an oafish way

until the true darkness of his soul is revealed,

the mob scenes remind me a bit too much of history and recent events,

mobs inflamed by ignorant narcissists,

it’s happened throughout the ages

it happens now,

but how can I not enjoy a story where the heroine loves books,

a movie that is a shout out to literacy,

and where lovers bond over reading,

Belle reads poetry to the Beast,

he knows a quotation from her favorite play, Romeo and Juliet,

there’s singing and dancing, people and objects,

I had forgotten Audra McDonald was in this movie–

until she sang,

and I didn’t know Dan Stevens had such a fine voice,

(remember that time he was in a little series called Downton Abbey?)

we get a backstory for the Beast (which we both like)

Belle’s backstory is inserted more awkwardly,

Still it is an enjoyable couple of hours of mother and daughter time

And there is more beauty in the day

the beauty is. ..

a bowl of lemons

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not exactly life giving them to us

as going to the store and buying six bags of them

and rather than lemonade, we mix them with vodka to make limoncello

aren’t grownup daughters fun!

(And beautiful?)

So, we grate lemon peel,

the kitchen becomes gloriously lemon-scented,

a Chopin polonaise plays softly in the background,

(her husband’s study music),

we talk, of her girlfriends, of work, of this and that,

my husband has been doing yard work

(it’s not raining that hard, he says),

he sits at the table with us,

their dog chews on his toy,

their cat ventures out to see if it’s dinner time

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Not pleased by the citrus scent

 

When we’re finished, we eat takeout Pakistani food,

my husband and my son-in-law learn

the kind and talkative restaurant owner was educated at Oxford

(perhaps he is a book lover, too?)

And what do I do the next day with leftover lemons?

Make lemon cake, of course!

 

 

It’s beautiful and delicious.

And though there are beasts all around, the beauty is. . .

spending time with people you love,

enjoying good food and wine,

beauty simple and sudden,

striking you, when you look up from your morning coffee

to see the sun dawning over the neighbor’s white dogwood tree

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The photo does not capture how beautiful it was

 

the profound beauty of birth, mixed with blood and pain,

the simple beauty of a smile,

the beauty that is there within the beast,

the beauty is

it surrounds us

the beauty is. . .

in yourself and in everything around you

 

Today is Day 24, NaPoWriMo. We’re asked to write a poem of ekphasis, a poem inspired by a work of art. We’re challenged to base a poem on marginalia of medieval manuscripts. I suppose you could very loosely say I’ve done this, as they are beautiful and filled with beasts. (Such as this one )

Huffington Post summarizes some previous versions of Beauty and the Beast here.

Today is Yom HaShoah ( This year, it’s Sunset, April 23- Sunset April 24), Holocaust Remembrance Day. I wonder what Anne Frank would be writing about now, and if she would still see beauty in the world.

Ghosts

Monday Morning Musings:

“Do you remember when I was in your belly,

And I hiccupped,

And that made you laugh?”

My daughter was about three at the time

When she asked me this.

She was in the backseat of the car.

We were listening to The Sound of Music,

“Sixteen Going on Seventeen”

I think,

Because she thought Rolf was funny

In the movie—

That’s before he becomes a Nazi,

If you’re keeping track.

I was startled by the question

She so casually threw out to me

And soon forgot.

Could she have actually remembered

A time before she was born?

Another day

My older daughter and I sat at the breakfast table

And discovered we had had the same dream

The night before.

How is this possible?

I don’t have a clue.

And the dream itself is long gone,

Vanished into that gray mist

Of long lost thoughts.

I think it involved a flute,

But I could be wrong.

I should have written it down,

But I was not in the habit of recording things then.

I think of a young girl who

Decades ago now,

Recorded the her daily life

Living in a Secret Annex

With eight other people

For two years

Until they were discovered.

Despite the world crashing

Around her

She believed people were

Basically kind.

Only her father lived

Through the horror though.

But her words remain.

Ghosts of a sort,

They conjure up the past

And people who exist now

Only in black and white images

And in her vivid descriptions.

I think about an episode of The Twilight Zone*—

A former S.S. Captain revisits

Dachau

He is driven insane by the ghosts of the inmates

He tormented.

They try him for crimes against humanity.

I think of horrors and war crimes that still go on.

I wonder if the tormentors are ever tormented

By ghosts

And if they live in their own Twilight Zone hell.

I hope they do.

Is that wrong?

I read in the newspaper that Philadelphia

Is planning to celebrate a day of kindness.

Surely, that should be every day,

But still

It is something.

Perhaps a truce for a day is better

Than nothing

Like the Christmas peace in the trenches

During WWI.

Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.

Did you know there was a spiritualism craze

In the nineteenth-century?

And séances in the White House?

Humans trying to make sense

Of the unknown.

I sometimes enjoy the tingle

Of reading fictional tales of haunted houses

And spectral beings who bump and thump

In the night.

But real life horror is different.

And scarier.

There are ghosts that I feel duty-bound

To remember.

To honor.

To try to make sense of.

There are many types of ghosts though.

Not only the tormented souls

Stuck in time and space

Unable to move

Forward

Or to find peace.

There are ghosts of our own pasts, too.

Happy ghosts.

Some live as memories

In our hearts and minds

They bring us comfort,

Make us smile,

And they make me wonder.

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*”Deaths-Head Revisited”(Season 3, Episode 9, written by Rod Serling, originally aired, November 10, 1961.)

Do Not Stay Silent, Though April Can Be Cruel

Monday Morning Musings

 “April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain. “

–T.S. Eliot. “The Waste Land”

Today is April 13. The sun is rising on what promises to be a lovely spring day in New Jersey with bright sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures rising into the 70s. Yet as T.S. Eliot noted, April can be cruel month. In the warmth and light, as the once white snow melts into the thawing soil, tender buds appear on trees, wisps of green appear in yards and woods, flowers suddenly burst through the ground almost overnight, and birds smartly chirp, “I’m back!”—as new life creeps out from the gray and decay of winter and the natural world is reborn, so are people who have huddled and hidden from the cold. April, a month of life and beauty, is also a time of protest, conflict, and death.

Last week many in the United States celebrated the unofficial ending of the US Civil War 150 years ago, as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. The surrender did not, however, end the fighting entirely, and pockets of insurgency continued for months, followed by years of military occupation of the south and the process of Reconstruction. Five days after the surrender, on April 14, 1865, the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, as he and first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, watched the play, Our American Cousin. In Booth’s eyes and those of his co-conspirators, the war and the southern cause were not finished.

This week in April marks the Week of Remembrance, to remember the Holocaust.

“The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Each year state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, religious organizations, and civic centers host observances and remembrance activities for their communities. These events can occur during the Week of Remembrance, which runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) through the following Sunday.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943. On that date—deliberately chosen because it was the eve of Passover that year–German forces were about to begin an operation to totally liquidate the ghetto. Earlier attempts in the previous fall and winter had been met with resistance, and although thousands of Jewish residents of the ghetto were deported and others were killed in fighting, the Nazis temporarily suspended transports. The renewal of the Nazi attempts to completely liquidate the ghetto was a signal for the Jews there to begin the uprising. Ultimately, the German forces razed the ghetto, and though they expected the fighting to continue for three days, it lasted for over a month. It was an important symbolic fight for Jews throughout occupied Europe. You can read more about it here.

Not all Jews were instantly transported to ghettos and concentration camps. Some hid, helped by others who brought them food and necessities, and who sometimes betrayed them, too. Anne Frank was one of many Jews who hid in secret place during the Holocaust. Most know about her life because of her famous diary, which was published after her death and has been read by millions throughout the world. In recent months, new information has been uncovered, including that she and her sister Margot most likely died in February, not March 1945. Information about her and her life can be found in many places, including the house itself, now a museum and educational center. Here is a link to the Anne Frank House .

Annefrank.org.uk is commemorating Anne Frank’s brief life by celebrating it with her words instead of a with a moment of silence.

“Instead of a one minute’s silence to commemorate the end of Anne Frank’s short life, we invite you to read out loud a one minute passage from Anne’s inspirational writing at any time on or after Tuesday 14th April.” You can find out more here. They ask participants to use the hashtag #notsilent.

This is one of my favorite passages:

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

We will never know if Anne would still have written these words after the horrors she witnessed and experienced at Bergen-Belsen before her death there in 1945. But as the passage makes clear, she knew of the horrors; she knew that all around her people were dying, along with the world she had known. While hiding in the Secret Annex, however, she also experienced on a daily basis, the kindness, goodness, and bravery of people who risked their lives and those of their families to help Anne and hers.

Choosing not to be silent can be dangerous, but when possible, it can bring enormous good. Humans have an almost infinite capacity for evil, but I like to think we have the same capacity to be kind. When cruelty and evil can be documented and exposed in cell phone videos, Internet campaigns, and newspaper articles and editorials, it is a good thing, and it’s very different from spreading gossip about people or events. Sharing Anne Frank’s words might not do any tangible good, but hearing and reading her words may inspire others to believe in goodness, and they may demonstrate that though this intelligent, vibrant young woman was destroyed, her spirit lives on. April is also National Poetry Month, and it is a time to celebrate the wonders of human creativity and emotion. We know that even in the concentration camps, some people–against all odds, it seems to me–continued to write, to create art, sing, and play music.

April can be cruel; so can the other months of the year. I choose to see its beauty, the buds on the tree, the sweetly blooming flowers, and the poetry and music of life.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

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Love and Marriage, Part 2: War

There are marriages that turn into war zones, as husband and wife become enemy combatants in the trenches and minefields of their shared lives. But sometimes partners who love each other have the misfortune to live or to be separated during an actual war and to live in a real war zone.

 

Lovers parted by war. It’s a theme found in ancient myths and stories, as well as more recent tales. Homer’s famous epic poem, The Odyssey, is the story of Odysseus, as he journeys back to his home and his wife Penelope in Ithaca, following the Trojan War. The Odyssey has provided inspiration for many works. In 1997, for example, Charles Frazier recast The Odyssey as a Civil War tale in the novel Cold Mountain. In this story, W.P. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, becomes a deserter. As he travels back home to find his love, Ada, he is helped and hindered by people and situations resembling some of those in The Odyssey. Although they knew each other only briefly, it is the thought of seeing Ada that keeps Inman going. The story alternates with Inman and Ada narrating chapters. Ada learns how to survive and finds strength she never dreamed she had. The novel was made into a successful movie and will soon be an opera.

 
The wonderful quirky 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? by Joel and Ethan Coen, was also loosely based on The Odyssey. It involves 1930s-era escaped convicts led by Ulysses Everett McGill, played by George Clooney. It also boasts a wonderful soundtrack of country, bluegrass, blues, and gospel that features Allison Krause, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, The Soggy Bottom Boys, and others.

 
But the reality of war is something else. It boasts soundtracks of battle cries, tears, moans, gunshots, and bombs, as well as music. War separates soldiers and their families, sometimes forever. Those in the midst of battles and ambushes might literally fight for their lives, while those left at home are sometimes left to face occupying troops or deserters, destruction of their homes, and food shortages. The recent tragic and sometimes horrifying news from places all over the globe demonstrates that these situations still exist. We humans are very good at finding ways to destroy our cultures and ourselves.

 
And yet, love endures. Goodness, hope, and beauty endure.
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
–Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

 
As I work on my next project, an encyclopedia of daily life during the American Revolution, I’m reminded of two things—life goes on during war AND daily life is changed by war. Sometimes it is undeniably and irrevocably changed, for the better or for the worse. For many Americans, the era of the American Revolution is confined to images of “Patriots” fighting “Redcoats,” the “Founding Fathers” gathering in Philadelphia, and perhaps some faint knowledge of the Boston Tea Party. It is something remote. But of course, as in all wars, there were real people who fought, died, profited, mourned, and just went on living. There were also those left at home who planted crops, sewed and washed clothing, gave birth, committed crimes, were victims of crimes, wrote poetry, got drunk, lived, and died. And they loved and were loved.

 
Those who were literate and had access to paper, ink, and a way to get letters delivered, attempted to communicate with their friends and family.

 
“I am rejoiced to hear you are well; “I want to know many more perticuliars than you wrote me, and hope soon to hear from you again. I dare not trust myself with the thought of how long you may [illegible] perhaps be absent. I only count the weeks already past, and they amount to 5.”
–Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14-16 September 1774

 
War. It goes on. But so does love.

 
In one of the most poignant and beautiful letters that emerged from the blood and horror of the American Civil War are these lines from Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah:

 
Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name.”

 
Sullivan Ballou was killed at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.
You can read the entire letter here.
http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=253