Portrait of a Mystery

Monday Morning Musings:

Delaware River, West Deptford, NJ. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

My dreams–a language-storm of do,
or not,
I try to recall

and wonder who are you—
and which is me—
all is enigma and mystery,

like a portrait-sitter lost in time
sublime or shaded, half-smile, three-quarter face
a hint of her wishes, or the artist’s embrace

of unconscious desire, inspiration
in symbols of her worth, still in last laugh–
she gazes into the future,

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine

can she imagine
how she’ll be carted through wars, another spoil,
a wall-hung prize, monster-cherished–

the attraction of beauty to the beast—
opposites, and circles
of the sun and moon–

with light comes shadow,
honeyed joy and bitter sorrow
alternate—the universe’s tessellated patterns

Oak Tree Shadows

as time moves on. . .

Now, little bird
silent-sitter, waiting to strike–
living dinosaur, a portrait, too.

We finally have a beautiful day after days of oppressive heat, humid, and storms.

I just finished The Night Portrait, a novel by Laura Morelli. I enjoyed both the writing and the story. It takes place in the fifteenth century as Leonardo da Vinci is painting Cecilia Gallerani, then the young mistress of Ludovico Sforza, and during WWII as the Nazis and confiscated art, and the Monuments Men are trying to find the stolen art.

We watched an Icelandic series on Netflix called Katla. If you like dark brooding Scandi-noir mixed with a bit of the supernatural, you’ll like it. It reminded me a little bit of the German series Dark. It’s about a town, now nearly deserted because an underwater volcano has started erupting, and mysterious things begin happening. . .We were really intrigued by it and finished the series in a few nights.

We also watched the first episode of season 4 of Unforgotten (PBS). I’m excited that it’s back on.

Green and Growing

Monday Morning Musings:

In June, my world is greening, growing
high, the sky in shades of blue and grey,
but showing a spark, a glow, some bit of light,
even on a cloudy day

before daybreak, the robin sings, brings
the pink of dawn, so bright, the sight
awakens geese and bees to hover on
some golden flowers, and in delight

the little ones scamper, goslings, rabbits, deer
hiding in the shade, wade through bushes for the blooms
of orange, yellow, red, violet, and green
growing, knowing all too soon

the colors fade,
but grandmothers with grey-haired wisdom weigh
and know how plants, pictures, stories grow
when nourished with love sway past grey, to stay

beyond June, in memory greening, growing,
like the mockingbird’s song all night and day
holding heartache into laughter flowing–and showing
a path to make everything okay.

Merril’s Movie Club: We watched Minari this week. We both liked this lovely, tender movie very much. It’s the story of a Korean American family trying to make their own American dream on a farm in Arkansas. The dream is really the husband’s, which causes some conflict in the marriage. Yuh-Jung Youn, who plays the grandmother, won an Oscar for her role. She plants minari, a leafy green plant often used in Korean dishes, and also creates a bond with her grandson, after a rocky start.

Thinking about the movie and seeing all the color in this growing season made me think of my mom. She didn’t know anything about planting, but she did teach my children how to see plants and how to paint them, and she loved flowers and color.

Some paintings by mom, Sylvia Schreiber.

We went to Vino and Vibes at William Heritage Winery with daughter and son-in-law, and we returned there on a Sunday for a members’ only event.

Backstories

Monday Morning Musings:

“Music, when soft voices die,

Vibrates in the memory—”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Yesterday, today and tomorrow are not consecutive, they are connected in a never-ending circle. Everything is connected.”— The Stranger, Dark (Netflix series)

 

I listen to the silent sounds,

a voice inside my head

remembered phrases—and the laugh—

forever gone

that echoes without reverberation

 

save within.

Yet without,

the birds call and sing the melodies

I cannot sing

with human voice, nor fly

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to treetops, or into clouds.

Where do they go?

What do they think

of the shadow’s encroachment?

Is it an annoyance

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to be interrupted

or more? Are we intruders remembered,

discussed?  I watch the crows gather and caw,

“One for sorrow, two for mirth,”

they follow me, it seems

exhorting

with strident calls—

beware or remember?

What am I to do?

And so, I listen, watch, write

 

of  yesterday—and tomorrow.

We walk through corridors,

where the past sits behind locked doors.

Clothing, furniture, paintings—so many paintings!

Scenes frozen in time

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upon a canvas,

the artist looked, remembering,

translating memories into color and form

each brushstroke, a touch from the past,

the whole, a memorial

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Work in Progress. An artist working on a mural. We got lost, and I took this photo through the windshield while my husband was trying to figure out where to go.

 

to what was—

this life now reduced to her things.

We travel over bridges, rising

over a river of ghosts

traveling–

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Low tide, the Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, July 2020. ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

 

through time and tides, 

we go about our lives,

carrying on our daily routines

cooking, cleaning, working, loving

when we can

we erase some backstories,

cherish others–

some will never be known.

Like birds, they’ve flown into the clouds,

drifted away, gone

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never to be seen again,

but we may find a trace, a feather

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Feather–could it be a turkey feather?

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This turkey was walking back and forth around the front of this car–pecking at it.

of what was

like pentimento, the traces of a laugh

left in the paintings’ vivid hues.

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One of my mom’s paintings, title and date unknown.

 

My siblings and I have been paying for a storage unit for my mom’s things. Because she died in April—of Covid 19-related complications during the worst of the pandemic in this area, we could not be with her or pack up her belongings. For some reason, movers were allowed in, and all of her things were packed up and put in the storage unit my sister rented. So, masked and keeping physical distance, we’ve emptied the storage space, an emotional experience. We have not yet held a real memorial for her.

 

Merril’s Movie Club: No movies this week. We finished Dark, a three-season German series on Netflix, which my husband and I both really liked, even though we were totally confused. If you keep with it, the very last episode does explain and tie things up. We started watching The Twelve, a new Belgian series on Netflix, which explores the backstories of the jurors and the people involved in a murder case—actually two different murder cases because a woman is accused of killing her best friend many years before and her child more recently. We’re about halfway through it, and we both like it, and it has a wondering who committed the crime(s).

Also, I read The Women of the Copper Country, a historical novel by Mary Doria Russell. Her books are all well-researched, but she is also an excellent writer with a great ear for dialog and character development. I’ve enjoyed all of her books. This one focused on the copper mines in upper Michigan and the strike in 1913, led largely by the women there. I knew nothing about these mines or the strike, and yet it also seems very relevant. I’m able to get books from the library now in a contactless system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Hearts

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Monday Morning Musings:

“My heart is a shadow,

a light and a guide.

Closed or open…

I get to decide.”

From Corinna Luyker, My Heart

“The people you love become ghosts inside of you, and like this you keep them alive.”

–Robert Montgomery   See a photo of his text installation here. 

 

Yet who whispers

in the summer-sweet night,

where the smell of storms lurk?

There beneath the diamond sky

shadows dance

to the music of life

and death

pants just beyond the light

in the wind-spray of time.

***

I walk by the river park

baby geese and vultures

side-by-side, stark

 

reminders of life and death

cycles like after harsh

winter, spring’s soft breath

caresses mind and soul

and somehow—

we want it all,

 

all the magic of water and air

the delight of light—

time to spare

 

to savor the young

remember the laughter

and all the songs sung

 

and the ones unsung

if we could go back—

trip words from tongue,

 

forgiveness, remembrance

lost gestures and moments

rearranged in order, some semblance

 

of what could be

if or when

or what will it be, see

 

how life circles, the mom me

and she the one needing help

and she doesn’t see

 

well at all,

her vision diminished

unsteady, the mighty fall.

 

Once my daughter said to me

“remember when I hiccupped

inside your belly and you laughed?” See—

 

how do you explain these things?

Circles of life and death

and all it brings.

 

We try to stop time for a bit

eat pizza, drink wine

time to talk—and just sit

 

(doing nothing)

We watch a movie of ghosts and art,

a vulnerable woman

she opens her soul, her heart

 

is shadow-filled, she grieves

sees ghosts,

though she’s not sure she believes

 

but to create

one has to be open–

the muse, a mysterious state

 

of being,

perhaps there are spirits

or some other way of seeing

 

(of being)

 

There is a place in my heart

where my father lives

and all my ancestors, too, a part

 

of my what? My essence, my soul,

the me-ness of me

the all-ness of all?

 

My mother grows old,

but somewhere in time

she is young, in a fold,

 

a pleat, a wrinkled web

where time-space

flows and ebbs,

 

and perhaps ghosts call,

walk in shadowed paths

through my heart, they rise and fall–

 

hear them sigh

as up to the stars

they carry you, me—we fly.

Morning Moon Does Her High Wire Act

Morning Moon Does Her High Wire Aerial Routine

 

We watched the movie, Personal Shopper on Netflix. Kristen Stewart is a personal shopper/medium grieving her dead twin brother–there are ghosts and references to the artist Hilma af Klint. I liked it. Watch it with someone because you will want to discuss it. I may have to watch it again. . .

And here is a bonus, if you haven’t heard this version of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” translated and sung in Mik Maq. I thought of this last night when I was thinking of birds and ghosts (and not quite dead languages).

 

 

 

 

Spring Show: NaPoWriMo

Spring, University of Pennsylvania

Monday Morning Musings:

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul, of the body. And it’s partly the language that we don’t want to show.”

–“Martha Graham Reflects on Her Art and a Life in Dance” (31 March 1985); republished in The New York Times Guide to the Arts of the 20th Century (2002), p. 2734.

“A study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn’t we use a little art jargon? There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”

–Arthur Conan Doyles, “A Study in Scarlet”

 

 

From a garden

nature sings

dressed for spring

she puts on a show.

Can we,

do we

should we know

the answers?

They blow to the sky

in pastel petals—

Why?

***

We board the train

(no more rain)

So, notice the patterns

of shadows and light

the people shedding jackets,

the delight

of sunlight on the skin,

the day begins.

 

We walk—

a limited edition

cityscape

in an oeuvre that is vast

at last

feeling spring is here.

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Oh, look at the river view,

and how the artist expresses

something both old and new

Schuylkill River from Walnut Street

See the trees?

A work of impressionist art

Combined with naturalism,

Realism,

And there a bit of abstract expressionism.

A study in pink,

I think.

(Love in the air.)

Notice the light.

in this installation,

and the palette of hues

the vivid blues,

the pink, the white,

yellow added to this site.

Now inside,

the dancers dance

bodies tango

they go

this way,

slide from couple to trio

fusion of moves

cues

(she’s in high heels)

catch, swerve

in gender-fluid dives

into each other,

what divides us–

the sensual steps,

the turns,

we yearn

for what?

“No exit,” Sartre says

(ideas compressed)

from seeing ourselves

as others do,

and how do we hold on to

me or you?

We wander back

outside where spring

dances, prances, and glides.

An aside–

we converse with Ben

once again.

And the next day,

I’m once again outside

spring fever,

I decide

No cure,

but to immerse myself

once more.

See, there–

we drink some wine

our thoughts aligned

with others

of similar mind

the winery is crowded.

But this April day—

I wish it’d stay.

Then it’s gone—

another painting on the wall

but yet, not banal.

Don’t you adore

the artist’s shading?

Watch how–

there now–

see the bright light of day

slowly fading

to darkness,

come the night.

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Day Eight of NaPoWriMo challenges us “to think about the argot of a particular job or profession, and see how you can incorporate it into a metaphor that governs or drives your poem.”  I used some jargon of the art world.

On Saturday, we saw Union Tanguera + Kate Weare Company, “Sin Salida,” at the Annenberg Center. Here’s a short video from the company.

 

 

 

 

 

December Comes with Cold and Light

Monday Morning Musings:

“Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.”

–From William Carlos Williams, “Winter Trees”

The first of December is mostly grey,

but not so cold—winter held at bay

 

for a while, but we smile to see the glow–

the sun on remaining leaves of trees slow

Philadelphia Parkway, December 2018

to sleep in winter’s arms,

and we walk to see the city’s charms

 

even in the bleakness of late fall—

almost winter—some magic calls

 

there, Diana shines atop the stairs

gilded anew, she seems aware

Diana, Philadelphia Museum of Art

of her strength, though she charms–

with arrow frozen in her arms

 

goddess of the hunt,

a moment, centered, upfront

 

there, I greet her like a friend

each time I visit, happy to see her send

 

(not the arrow), no never,

but she seems much too clever

 

to harm–such determination in her face–

perhaps she could send us hope and grace

 

we see dolls reflecting the passion

for both play and fashion

 

the bisque baby catches my eye

or the phrase captures my ear, why?

it sounds funny to me,

and so, we wander and see

 

a sibyl and monuments and Eve

through museum and streets, we weave

our way, and see the sights,

some Christmas lights,

 

drink mulled wine

feeling fine—then laugh to see that sign

we walk back and down the hill

where no joggers jog, all is still

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except the duck, who with quack and flap

jumps into the river—a slight slap—

 

against the surface, he swims

the sound, a chorus, a winter hymn

 

before the start of winter rain

with sun gone, shadows come again

 

bringing a misty afternoon twilight,

yes, this is December’s light.

 

Then Hanukkah comes with candle light

to bring us wonder and delight

 

I fry latkes in a pan

listening to a man

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discuss his life

some of the strife

 

escaping the Holocaust

in Kindertransport, crossed

 

to Sweden, his stuffed monkey with him*

the object now brings some joy, an era dimmed

 

by tragedy and time—family reunited

evil not forgotten or righted

 

exactly, but comforting to know

that helpers were there, not so long ago

 

and still, that there are people who did good

and do it still, do what they can, should and could

 

and so, we light the candles on this first night

eat latkes and smile at the sight

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Latkes!

of them burning till the flames die,

watch them belie

 

the darkness of night and soul

as believing in miracles makes us whole

 

more perhaps than what we seem–

the sum of what we hope and dream.

 

First Night of Hanukkah, December 2018

 

Hanukkah seems both more poignant and more important to celebrate this year.

I think I shared this story before from a previous All Things Considered segment, but Michel Martin interviewed Uri and Gert Beliner again last night.

We visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the members’ weekend and the Christmas Village.

Time and Timeless

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless.”

–Milan Kundera

Art and music travel through our genes, stopping at some destinations longer than at others, like the train our older daughter takes from Washington, D.C. after visiting archives at the Smithsonian. She takes hundreds of photos of sketch books, correspondence, diaries, and newspaper clippings of our artist ancestor, Abraham Hankins. She shows me newspaper articles—how his mapmaking skills saved his life in France during WWI because he was left behind to draw maps when the rest of his unit was sent into battle and killed. He also trained as a singer, until gassed during the war, and apparently, he wrote some poetry, too. But my daughter becomes even more fascinated by his French wife Estelle, called Esther by my family. After Abe’s death, Estelle makes it her mission to get her late husband’s work into major museums. There is still much to learn, and most of the people who lived then are gone. It is my mom’s ninety-sixth birthday.

 

skipping stones hit pond

concentric circles ripple

spring turns to summer

Abraham P. Hankins,
Pocket Full of Dreams,
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Bequest of Mrs. Abraham Peter Hankins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We celebrate my mom’s birthday in sunshine with shades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

munch on snacks, laughter cascades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

as we discuss pets and art and politics

with eyes rolling—intermixed–

as my niece describes her “other family,” with their alternate truth—

if only we could blame it on the folly of youth—

but salacious tales about the Clinton’s gleaned from right-wing memes,

treasure troves of garbage carried by the false fact streams

they insist it’s true,

what does one do?

We move on to sandwiches and cake

blow out the candles, make

each moment count, and we laugh, dance, and sing—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it’s in our genes, so let’s bring

it on in celebration of familial love

rock the ghosts from rafters above

and around, perhaps they watch from some place–

that shadow there, across your face.

 

The weekend is full with movies, puppies, and wine

we dance, laugh, eat, drink—feeling fine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mom tells us that Abe asked her mother to sing with him at a family gathering. She says her mother had a beautiful voice, but that my uncle, my mom’s baby brother, cried when their mother sang, so she stopped singing. I had forgotten, she says, but now I remember some of those songs she taught me. Songs of the shtetl that crossed the ocean. We, the grandchildren never learned the songs. I like to think though that no song is ever lost. Each note rises. Birds carry some, and others float high into the sky filling the clouds. I think that is why I hear music in the rain, and why rainbows sing, and the moon hums. We are filled with star music, and it returns again and again to us. Music flits like spindrift from the waves of time.

 

Stars sail ink-black seas,

cat against me softly snores,

dreams dance to moon song

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She Dreamt of Flowers

She dreamt of flowers in her head

instead of winter’s gloomy tune

she heard brightness, gently tread

on blossoms silver, underneath the moon,

of a bird in hand, to him, she crooned

(humming sweetly).

 

She started when the sun arose–

happiest with a starry sky

when she could then repose

after eating—feeling time fleeting–

every second, she felt her heart beating–

(questioning what was seen)

if this was life, or a dream?

 

This is for dVerse. Lillian has asked us to use one of Catrin Weiz-Stein’s images.

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Image by artist Catrin Welz-Stein

If (We Could Fly)

If (We Could Fly)

If . . .
we could fly
through the wild universe
on shimmering wings,
kiss in clouds of fire
and watch the birth of moons–
if . . .
we could sing with the stars
with voices that surface from our souls–
if we. . .
dazzling and glimmer-garbed,
could remember these nighttime journeys–
would our silvered spirits
ever return–
glistening and luminescent,
open-eyed and wiser?

Federico Beltran Masses, “Under the Stars,” Wikipedia Commons

I wrote this poem a while ago, but I never published it. This is for Frank of A Frank Angle’s “If” Challenge. It’s an open challenge–stories, poems, essays–anything using If.  Check it out!

 

Old Masters and Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“To wrestle with the angel—Art.

–Herman Melville, “Art”

 

“So come the storms of winter and then

The birds in spring again

I have no fear of time

For who knows how my love grows?

And who know where the time goes?”

Sandy Denny, from “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

 

I wonder how I’d explain a museum to someone from another world

the whys of collecting, the how, and the who

and what they thought they knew

about this technique or about this blue

(see, the artist mixed it here with red instead)

how tastes and trends change over time.

The Old Masters painted their world as they saw it

mastering techniques, adding some wit,

(perhaps even a bit of spit)

brushstrokes broad or fine, celebrating less the ordinary,

and more the sublime

wondering about fate and time

and posing a patron though it’d cost him dear

as wise and good, a god among men

(though insincere)

with bright façade and a gilded veneer.

 

Curating and restoration reveal meanings

what the artist really meant or thought

(perhaps different from when the painting was bought)

Here we see a painting thought to be about frivolity

but skilled work shows it true intention–

a work about consequences and mortality

and the artist herself overlooked

when past her time

the same old story again and again–

her paintings are attributed to well-known men.

 

We wander through the museum’s Great Hall

Diana is illuminated for the season, and all

the world,

(at least this part)

seems festive,

see here, she’s positively glowing

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and the Calder mobile across from her is blowing,

or perhaps I imagine it so,

as Diana breathes a winter sigh

and sends the mobile flying high.

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We leave the museum,

walk down the steps, now immortalized by a fictional boxer

though I prefer to simply admire them as they are

(a part of the whole, and not the star)

walk down the Parkway, heading toward the river

the air is fine for winter, Mother Nature delivers

a perfect day to walk and talk

on so, on to the Rodin Museum

we stand before the Gates of Hell

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and the Burghers of Calais, and a shade

was he afraid

of ghosts and spirits,

the sculptor wrestling with demons, wrestling with art

depicting emotion with single body parts.

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Rodin, “The Cathedral”

 

We walk on, the day still warm

the storms of winter, not yet come,

pass buildings and monuments-

people, places, and events—

and books and art, the contents

of our history and culture

still standing, still valued, sometimes revered

though the purveyors of ignorance and hate, have feared

the spread of truth and beauty,

and are more willing to incarcerate

than educate–

roads well-travelled through time and space

yet still I hope we can erase

the fear and hate

to wrestle with the angel art

because our time is brief

and who know where it goes?

We close our eyes,

and on it flows

carrying the monuments and the art

like Oyzymandias, nothing will remain

but while we can,

we carry it in our minds and heart

in the sound of the birds and laughter,

and museum art–

we take these moments

to watch the people and drink some wine

to glory in this, yes, unexpected sunshine.

As past, present, and future conflate

for a moment, here in this urban landscape,

this Christmas fete

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from behind us the music, and skaters skate

round and round and figures eight

and I remember and contemplate

a memory of my sister and me

from a hotel window high above, we

watch skaters there from long ago–

I wonder, where did they go?

 

Later that night, I watch the moon, bright and full

and hear the geese honk to friends and mates

it’s time to go

I wonder, do they ponder about their fates

or simply accept what is, not what might be

do they see how time flows and goes?

And as for me, I circle round through time, through art,

through dreams and memories held closely in my heart

I’ll wait for the storms of winter

and for the birds in spring again

I’ll wonder where time goes

why it’s sometimes fast, but sometimes slows

but know only that on it flows

and like light and hope, drifts through the cracks,

and somehow, circles back.