Diana Glows

 

In lustrous beams that glow and flow

I bear the light to brighten night

with streaming rays

(so unlike my brother’s sun displays)

that silvers tracks in woodland parks

where fairies dance and foxes bark

to echoes of my glistening songs

that travel here and float along–

Listen, do you hear me sing?

Watch for me, as my stag I’ll bring

and hope to women in childbirth scared

look there—

now my radiance aired, my light is shared

 

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“Diana,” Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1892-1893,  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

I love this statue that stands at the top of the Great Stair Hall at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The statue once stood on the tower of Madison Square Garden (installed in 1893). It has been at the museum since 1932. In 2013-2-14, museum conservators repaired and restored her original gold leaf finish.

This poem is for Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Prompt

The words were:  Song/Rays/Lead/Track/Scare

 

 

 

The Moon and the Sea: Magnetic Poetry

 

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Moon needs music,

recalling in honey’d language

like smooth chocolate

the sea symphony she wants still,

watching with sweet crush

shining beauty from above,

over dreams–

there–

in purple shadow time

 

Guillermo Gómez Gil, “Moonrise,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsGuillermo_Gómez_Gil_-_Salida_de_la_luna

 

 

A poem for the full moon. The Oracle was not in the mood for poetry yesterday, but she came through today.

 

A Wish: Microfiction

 

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By Felix Nussbaum, “Lovers,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin

Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in

Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove

Dance me to the end of love.”

–Leonard Cohen, “Dance Me to the End of Love”

 

Felix and Miriam hurried to reach the new hiding place along the coast. Felix had lost count of the number of places in which they’d hidden. Was it four? Five? In each, he had painted or sketched with whatever materials he could find. The urge to create was powerful.

Although most waterways were heavily fortified, Felix had been told the patrols in this rocky area were infrequent. Still, he wished the night was not so clear.

“I could swim to freedom from here, even with the rocks and waves,” said Miriam. She was a champion swimmer before war and restrictions intervened.

“You could, my little fish,” he replied, as he looked around. Something about the deserted quay did not feel right to Felix. He had always trusted his instincts.

“You hide here,” he told her. “I have a bad feeling about this place.  If it’s OK. I’ll let you know. If it’s a trap, you must run for freedom.”

“But I can’t leave you,” Miriam replied.

“You must. For the sake of our child.” He put his hand on her belly.

She nodded. “First though, we must make a wish on that bright star.”

They held hands and closed their eyes. Then Felix clutched her, kissed her, and left.

He entered the deserted building. In the seconds before the Germans kicked in the door, he heard a faint splash in the distance. He had a good feeling that his wish had come true, and Miriam had escaped. He smiled as they beat him, knowing in his soul, that at least one of his creations would survive.

 

This is in response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt was the painting above by Felix Nussbaum. His family were German Jews who had been proud Germans. His father was a WWI veteran. Felix and his wife, Felka, also an artist, hid in several locations before they were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Felix Nussbaum’s entire family was murdered at Auschwitz. The Leonard Cohen song played in my mind with this painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn is Waking: A Ghazal

The_Dawn_by_John_La_Farge,_1899,_oil_on_canvas_-_Fogg_Art_Museum,_Harvard_University_-_DSC01212

John La Farge, “The Dawn,” 1899, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Public Domain, Wikipedia

 

 

From the sea, in golden robes, from dark night, dawn is waking

Rubbing sleep from rosy cheek, from moonlight, dawn is waking.

 

Robin sings a morning trill, acolyte, as light is breaking

Cats yawn and stretch, then bathe, with bird in sight, as dawn is waking

 

Tides flow and ebb, leave crabs and water sprite, along the beaches

Gulls swoop to capture them, in raucous flight, as dawn is waking

 

And the woman and the man, what of them when light first rises

Seeking warmth, seeking love, embracing tight, when dawn is waking?

 

Smiths of words, with pen in hand, come to light, in morning’s quiet

Waiting for inspiration, for love, write, as dawn is waking.

 

Jane gave us quite a challenge this week in her poetry challenge.  This is my first attempt at a ghazal. You can read how to write one here. Or more here.

The prompt was the painting above, “The Dawn,” by John La Farge.

 

 

 

From Rainbows: Microfiction

 

 

Archip_Iwanowitsch_Kuindshi_009

Arkhip Kuindzhi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

From the weathered porch of the country cottage that had belonged to her grandparents, Astrid sat watching the rain. She loved the scent of rain. Petrichor, she thought, enjoying the sound of the word.

Her mother said Astrid used words to keep people away. Astrid wondered if that was true. She had come to the cottage to sort through her life. Her on-and-off again relationship with another professor was now off, permanently it seemed.

Before the rain began, Astrid had been reading her grandmother’s diary, enjoying her words. She read of her grandmother Elisabeth’s twenty-fifth birthday, a story of love, of an embrace and a pearl necklace.

The rain ended suddenly, as summer storms often do, and a glorious rainbow appeared. As Astrid gazed at the prismed archway, she thought she heard violins playing “Vienna Waltz,” her grandmother’s favorite. Then a couple in old-fashioned formal clothing took form before it, twirling in three-quarter time. The couple danced closer to Astrid; the woman turned and smiled at her. I must be dreaming, Astrid thought as she saw the woman’s face. She heard her grandmother’s voice in her head, “Open your heart and love will find you.” As abruptly as they had appeared, the couple vanished. There was a swirl of light, and Astrid looked down. A pearl lay on the porch floor by her feet, glowing in the rays of the setting sun.

 

This story is in response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The painting above was the prompt. (My husband said, “Interesting how you got this from that.)

You can read Elisabeth’s story here.

Resolute in Hope

Monday Morning Musings:

This post was sparked by Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge 11—A poem based on a common saying. It’s probably not what she had in mind.

I also drew inspiration from this Washington Post column by Dana Milbank.

 

You can’t pee on my back and tell me that it’s raining.

The phrase is probably more striking in Yiddish*,

But I don’t speak the language of my ancestors

Though my mother spoke it fluently.

Now she remembers only bits and pieces

Of the language her grandparents spoke.

My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, knew it–

Only that, as a small boy, until teased by others

He forgot his first tongue.

Tongue-tied by American society.

 

In the car, my mom recounts old memories, her past,

Sitting there in the front, with my husband driving,

Roads and time both traveled, both flowing past.

She recalls how she and a school friend

Practiced dancing after school.

They were about twelve years old or so.

Giggling together and gliding about the floor,

1930s music and Depression dreams,

Just two schoolgirls having fun.

Children of immigrants in Philadelphia.

 

The dancing could not last long, sessions ending because

My mom had to make dinner, both her parents worked long

Hours in their candy store.

Her friend had chores to do, too,

Since her mother had run away with her lover,

He had been a boarder in their house–

Everyone had boarders in these immigrant homes–

Relatives, friends, and friends of friends.

We’re treated to gossip about people long since gone

And long ago scandals.

 

My mother said her cousin, the artist Abe Hankins,

Also practiced dancing with her, since he lived with them

For a time. She’s not sure how long.

Glamorous and sophisticated, she thought him,

He had just come from living in France.

He knew the latest styles. I suppose.

Was he studying art there

Before the winds of war blew that world away?

I learn he was wounded fighting in the first world war.

He was singer before he was a painter.

 

“He married his niece, you know,” she offers casually.

My eyebrows shoot up from the back seat.

“Oh. . .I didn’t know,” I say.

His brother’s daughter.

Well, the marriage lasted, I guess.

And his paintings now hang in museums. 

Perhaps her story is not quite true

But mixed with others’ stories in the past.

I wonder if my mother is thinking of someone else.

Family history confused.

 

Reflecting on the past as the year turns over and we look

To the future. Reflections and dreams streaming through

A prism of what we know, bending and forming a rainbow

Colored by memory.

My husband and I have celebrated

The turning of the old year to the new with our dear friends.

For almost forty years, we’ve shared a celebration.

How is that possible?

Will we tell our children of long lost relatives?

Confusing their stories with others we knew?

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We’re Still Young at Heart

 

January, named for the two-faced Janus. Backwards

And forwards we go. Should I make a resolution?

THIS is what I did last year.

THIS is what I will do this year.

Good luck with that, if you choose.

But no, not for me. I’ll just wing my way through

Another year, as I always do.

Making daily lists that I often ignore.

But oh, crossing items off feels so good,

Doesn’t it?

 

Looking back and looking ahead, I suppose I could say I’ll

Learn Yiddish. But I won’t.

I could just as well say I’ll learn Italian, Latin, or Greek.

But I’m certain I will not.

I know enough Yiddish though

To know you don’t say anyone got schlonged.

So please do not pee on my back

And tell me that it’s raining.

I know the difference, I assure you.

Even if I can’t say it in Yiddish.

 

Instead, I will resolve to be the best I can be.

And if I fail–Well, it’s in the striving, isn’t it?

Learning comes from books, movies, and even watching TV.

From good talks with friends, and from listening, too.

The new year begins with old and new.

And I can dream of peace and light and good things to come.

Or as Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey says,

(As we bid the cast farewell this year)

“We must always travel in hope.”

 

* Du kannst nicht auf meinem rucken pishen unt mir sagen class es regen ist.

For New Year’s Resolutions, nothing can beat Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulin’s. He resolves to brush teeth, to love everybody, and to beat fascism– among other things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumnal Tragedy and Comedy

Monday Morning Musings

“Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none

More wonderful than man. . .

Words also, and thought as rapid as air,

He fashions to his good use. . .

Oh fate of man, working both good and evil!”

–Sophocles, Antigone

The play was Antigone,

A play over two thousand years old.

The chorus entered,

Stark and bleak,

Mouths open in mask-like images of tragedy

And horror

Resembling the figure of Munch’s The Scream.

Greek and English

What are we watching?

I’m not certain.

Afterward, we walk,

My husband and I.

It is a beautiful October day.

Far from that tragedy

In time

And space

Far from Thebes

Or Ankara,

For that matter.

We stroll through the city streets

Through “the Gayborhood.”

The 25th annual “Outfest”

Is taking place.

Men holding hands,

Women holding hands,

Men and women holding hands.

Love is love.

Rainbows

Music

People dancing in the closed off streets.

We just miss a hula hoop competition.

We walk some more,

To a wine café,

Wine for me,

Beer for him,

Cheese to share,

And coffee after.

We discuss the play.

The spitting and the drool

From the actors’ mouths.

“Well, it was visceral,” I say.

“That’s not exactly the word I was going to use,” he said.

“More like gross and disgusting.”

I have to agree.

But I also have to admit the power of live performance—

Because I can’t stop thinking about it.

A play thousands of years old.

How many times has it been performed?

Humans have new ways of killing now.

And new tragedies occur daily.

Families torn apart

By violence.

Women raped.

Children dead.

Human tragedy

Human comedy

We create beauty and destruction.

And please and appease the gods.

Art reflecting life

And life imitating art.

But here and now

It is a beautiful October day.

There are rainbows.

There is love.

We see fans ecstatic about the football game.

There are some happy endings, too.

Walking through the streets of a modern city

Reflecting on life in one long ago.

Anniversary in the City

Monday Morning Musings

“A day spent with you is my favourite day. So today is my new favourite day.”

Winnie the Pooh

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Part I

It was not a day of romance and roses—

And we missed the parade of

Tall ships

With Mama Duck–

Who sprang a leak.

I later discovered.

But we saw great art,

And we talked and walked.

And glimpsed a different view

Of the city.

First,

In the morning

“Discovering the Impressionists”

At the Museum of Art.

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So strange that Degas’s little dancer

And the rest

Were considered shocking.

Collected by Paul Durand-Ruel

A conservative Catholic father of five—

Who embraced the art of those who became known as

The Impressionists.

The critics scorned and ridiculed their work.

I guess he had the last laugh.

A visionary in a time of rapid change,

Inventions like steam engines and railroads–

Changes occurring as quickly and regularly

As Monet’s Poplars changed their color and shape,

Through the seasons.

Transnational and transatlantic collaborations

French artists meeting in London,

American artist Mary Cassatt–

A conduit between the European art world

And the newly rich American millionaires

Who wanted fine art to grace the

Walls of their

New mansions.

Industry and art,

Dancing together like

Renoir’s couples,

Twirling and swaying,

The city couple and the country couple

Both enjoying that moment in time.

And we enjoyed the sight

Of them,

Arms entwined

We see their smiles

And hear the rhythm of the music

As they glide.

Over one hundred years later.

They still live.

Part 2

Up to the medieval galleries.

We looked at the swords

And the mounted knight

In the center of the room

On his armored horse.

Leonard the guard

Spoke to us

With great enthusiasm—

if not total historical accuracy–

Throwing himself to the ground

To demonstrate a knight

Thrown off his horse.

And then following us

To the next room.

To provide a

Somewhat fanciful account

Of how knights cooked their food.

But again,

With great eagerness.

There’s a man who loves his job.

Part 3

We walked to Fairmount

Near the Penitentiary

That looms over the area

A testament to an earlier time

And the zeal to reform

Sometimes harshly.

“Let them think about their crimes,”

The reformers said.

And built the Penitentiary

With single cells

And no talking allowed.

The ghosts linger there,

But not for us today.

Instead

We ate sandwiches

At Ry Bread.

We sat outside in the small back patio.

Opposite each other at the little table,

Opposite tastes, too.

His New York, a corned beef Panini,

Me with the Hollywood,

Whole wheat bread with hummus and vegetables,

I added avocado and cheese,

Because seriously,

Why wouldn’t you?

Then a stroll to the Rodin Museum—

We think with the thinker,

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We empathize with Eve,

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We’re giddy with Eternal Spring,

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And move with The Three Shades.

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Then another walk to the Mutter Museum—

A bit farther than we thought,

But well worth it because

Nothing says happy anniversary

Like seeing a giant colon, right?

And who doesn’t want to be disturbingly informed?

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Part 4

Dinner at Tria,

The rain mostly holding off

Till the end of our meal.

My husband moves his chair closer

To get under the umbrella

But we stay dry,

Well, almost,

Although the menu on its clipboard

Is soaked.

The sky is violet gray

And the air misty

Like an Impressionist painting,

The city swirls about us—

The Impressionists saw

Railroads,

But didn’t have to worry

About cars driving

past sidewalk cafes,

Horns honking,

People walking,

Life going past.

Sometimes too quickly.

But the wine was good,

And the cheese even better.

Part 5

We went to a show next.

It was not Shakespeare,

Or Stoppard.

It was ridiculous fun.

Sometimes just what you need.

Murder for Two

Two actors

Thirteen roles,

And the piano,

That both play—

Sometimes together.

Ballet moves

And silly step dancing,

The actors make it look

So effortless.

They seem to enjoy their work

As much as Leonard does his,

But they’re actors,

So who knows?

And then we go home

To feed the cats

“Where were you

At dinnertime?”

They say.

And we sleep

After our long day of walking.

Impressions of the city

Impressions of Impressionists,

Of life,

Of love,

Fill my dreams.

But thankfully

There are no giant colons

Or surgical instruments

To mar my slumber.

The next day we find that

All across America

It is no longer straight marriage or gay marriage

It is simply marriage,

And other couples will now get to celebrate 37 years together

As we have.

Here are links to the places we visited:

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Rodin Museum

Mutter Museum

Philadelphia Theatre Company

RyBread Café

Tria Café

We didn’t go to Eastern State Penitentiary, but we’ve been there a few times. It’s a very cool place to visit.

Tall Ships

The Influence of One

“Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.”
–George Eliot

“We don’t make a photograph just with a camera, we bring to the act of photography all the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the music we have heard, the people we have loved.”

– Ansel Adams

Influence. Who influences us and who do we influence, perhaps unknowingly? A recent blog post by Laurie Buchanan on her Tuesdays with Laurie blog made me ponder these questions.

We’re all influenced by the times in which we live. Perhaps a Neolithic storyteller imagined worlds beyond ours, a place filled with fantastic creatures that swooped down from the sky. It’s possible. But it’s unlikely that he or she imagined televisions or the Internet. Perhaps though that storyteller inspired others to create new tales or paint, or think of worlds beyond. Entirely possible, and a scene I like to imagine. Still, although a rare genius such as Leonardo da Vinci can imagine or predict objects far beyond the imaginations of his or her contemporaries (see for example, his moveable cart, “the world first self-propelled vehicle” ), most of us are constrained by our times and knowledge.

As a historian, I study the past and past influences. In turn, I’m influenced by the words and actions of those who lived long ago. As a writer, I’m influenced by everything around me. But who knows for sure where that creative spark comes from? I have some way of seeing things that others perhaps do not, some odd synaptic firing that allows me to put images into words on a page. But I am still influenced by what I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, music I’ve heard, art I’ve admired. I’m influenced by the sound of the crows outside my window engaged in their “Marco Polo” calls to one other, the sunlight reflected and glimmering on the butterfly bush gently swaying in the faint summer breeze, and the cat sleeping next to me, lost in his feline dreams.

As a writer, I hope that my words influence my readers, and make them think, laugh, or cry. As a human being, a parent, wife, and friend, I also hope that I’ve influenced others, as they’ve influenced me.

Last week all of these various worlds—history, creativity, family, and influence came together in one wonderful example.

Those who read my last post, know that in my house the Mandelbrot cookies I bake are known as “Mommy Cookies,” and that I baked them for my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Two days after the wedding, while visiting a historic site, my newly married daughter and her wife encountered a historical interpreter portraying an early twentieth-century Jewish immigrant making Mandelbrot in her New England kitchen. My daughter’s reaction was to get a bit teary-eyed (as I did when she told me the story), as she thought of how I make those cookies, our Mommy Cookies. A traditional recipe that I’ve updated became a family tradition that has influenced and affected my daughter and me. The reenactor, however, will never know how her portrayal in that historic site resonated and influenced my daughter.

And now that I’ve told you, the influence of that portrayal has expanded.

 

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

 

 

 

 

Colors of Love

 When we were little

You took us to the library,

our nearby Dallas branch.

My sister and I chose books

in the children’s section,

then wandered through the library,

where we stood over the air vents

and let our skirts fly up as we twirled,

simply because we were young

and it was fun.

I sometimes sat on your bed

and read my books aloud to you,

while you put on your makeup

or brushed your hair—

it was coffee brown then.

You stood in the attached bathroom.

We called it “the pink bathroom.”

But I never realized until just now

how important color was in our lives–

that we labeled rooms by color.

 

You, an artist in your soul,

see color everywhere.

You would liked to have gone to art school,

but your parents thought that was impractical.

And so you chose colors where you could

for your walls,

for your furnishings,

for our clothing.

I remember the blue and gray suede shoes

you saw for me when you worked

at Lord and Taylor’s.

And how fun you thought orange woodwork would be

in the room my sister and I shared

in Havertown.

You collected Chinese ceramics,

the beautiful turquoise hue

adding more color

to your surroundings,

but you didn’t have the time to paint

flowers or landscapes

while we were young.

You were busy working

and driving us to lessons

and taking care of us when we were sick.

But you made certain we knew colors–

and had art—crayons, paper, and homemade clay,

a special treat for rainy days.

And your color-knowledge passed to my daughters.

Our first-born gray-eyed daughter

still a toddler telling her father

she wanted to go to the restaurant

with the green door.

(We had never noticed the door.)

But she always remembered colors,

and taught color names and knowledge to her sister,

before I even had a chance.

What is the opposite of color blindness?

Is it marked on our genes?

 

You and my father,

though you disagreed and parted,

did agree about many things.

You agreed on the importance of art, music,

and books.

I read nearly all of the books

in the built-in bookcase in our family room.

Rows of long shelves filled with books

their spines in shades of brown, blue, red,

green, and white,

bringing random color to the wall.

It didn’t matter what they were,

history, art, the classics—

I read them.

And I found the jumbo-sized

Hershey’s chocolate bar hidden there, too.

I broke off squares for my sister and me–

and then neatly shelved the bar

back into the bookcase,

where it appeared to be just another book.

 

Now your hair is white,

and my tangled brown curls

are gone.

The colors of my childhood have vanished,

but the memories remain.

I didn’t realize that not all households held such treasures—

books, art, and music, I mean.

I didn’t realize

that all families don’t visit museums

or play “the dictionary game” at the dinner table.

I didn’t realize–

how fortunate we were.

There was always love for us.

And books,

And color,

And, chocolate, of course.

 ©Merril D. Smith, May 2014

Image

At Valley Green, along the Wishahickon.