B. Franklin and the Kite

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Source: The Youth’s Book on Natural Theology, 1840 

 

First a rumble

grumbling in the night,

then a crack, the light

jagged and brightly-white

zig-zagging, where the kite

with hemp strands and key

conducts electricity–

a sight to see,

but from afar—

 

(check the jar)

 

this experiment of wonder,

science, lighting, and thunder.

 

A  quadrille (a poem of 44 words) for dVerse where De asked us to use the word “crack.” If you don’t know anything about Benjamin Franklin’s experiment, here are the details from the Franklin Institute—it includes a passage from his article in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He actually electrified the hemp from the charged air, not directly from the lightning, but poetic license. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Close My Eyes and Dream

Monday Morning Musings:

“For myself, I declare I don’t know anything about it. But the sight of the stars always makes me dream.”

Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, July 1888

“I think about our ancestors. Thousands of years, wondering if they were alone in the universe. Finally discovering they weren’t. You can’t blame them for wanting to reach out, see how many other species were out there, asking the same questions.”

–Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek Voyager, Episode, “Friendship One”

 

At night

ghosts sail to stars

dazzling the universe

with wild poetry,

that thing there—

see it?

the liquid blush of desire

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Earth spins and orbits our Sun

but all is not right

(in day or night)

the heavens rage

the surface heaves

the forests burn

the oceans churn

(do you hear them sigh)

and creatures die

on the stars I make a wish

for planet, us, for birds and fish

and then under the glowing stream

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

I wake to see bright Venus,

high above

she sings of love

there in the eastern sky

she dances and she wonders why

(as do I, oh, as do I)

we are not swayed from the hate

and do not counter or negate

the dotard’s words of folly

but instead sink into a melancholy—

(as do I, oh, as do I)

under starlight’s beam

once again

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

We watch Star Trek Voyager

Earth’s greeting of friendship gone wrong

a civilization pushed headlong

into nuclear winter,

the next day—synchronicity

a radio story of the real Voyager

the golden record as it would sound to aliens

Simplicity? Specificity?

We want to reach out,

to know we’re not alone

the moon smiles and gleams

I close my eyes and then I dream

 

We have a holiday dinner

missing daughters, sister, and niece

still I present the soup and loaf

(a masterpiece!)

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with apples, honey, and some wine

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we drink and eat and we are fine

(we pour more wine)

talk of movies and van Gogh

(there’s a new movie out, you know)

wonder about Ben Franklin’s diet and life

then matter-of-factly my mother’s zinger

that he did not sleep alone

at ninety-five, she was so in the zone!

and with that, the laughter lingers

sweet

like the honeyed fingers

from the baklava and apple cake

she mangles the middle

and picks at the pieces

but sister laughter

follows after

and after

 

We drink more wine, again we’re fine

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under moonlight sky and starry stream

I close my eyes and then I dream. . .

 

of the universe’s wild poetry

of singing stars and humming moons

of spirits soaring and swaying to the tunes

before dawn’s blush of desire

turns the sky to fire

I wake and look up to the sky

to see Venus shining bright

I gaze and wish

for us, for cats, and fish

for dogs, and horses, and for birds

(and yes, even for the dotard)

for the planet, earth, and trees

and for the seas

under Venus’s beaming gleam

I close my eyes and wish and dream

 

So, we watched Star Trek Voyager and saw an episode about the result of a probe that was sent out from Earth that was very similar to the real Voyager and its golden record. Then the next day, I heard this story on NPR’s Weekend Morning Edition and the Oracle gave me that poem. Synchronicity?

 

Some of you may know because I’ve ranted about it   that I’ve been working on two reference books about rape. I am happy to report that both manuscripts have now been sent in. I also finished another project over the weekend, so I should now have time to answer e-mails and respond to comments and prompts. At least until, I receive copyedited manuscript (first one is coming next month).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadow Portraits: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“We kiss in a shadow

We hide from the moon

Our meetings are few

And over too soon”

From “We Kiss in a Shadow,” Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, The King and I

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; “

–From William Butler Yeats, “When You are Old”

 

When our older daughter was young

she was afraid of shadows

perhaps she sensed that they were alive,

captured, like Peter Pan’s

when our porch windows were shut.

“Shadows hurting you,” she would say,

only “you” meant “me,”

her pronouns confused,

and so, we played in another room

where the shadows were benign.

those porch shadows are long gone

the girl is a woman,

her small, curly-haired shadow gone,

except in my heart,

now older, I take out these memories

like a book,

to read before the fire.

 

We go to a dance performance,

a fusion of dance and shadow puppet theater,

a full-length production

of athleticism, grace, and imagination,

we’re caught in traffic on the way there,

an entire block closed,

a large crane in its center, reaching to the sky,

casting a shadow over the street

where police officers chatted,

(ignoring the frustrated drivers).

We manage to get to the theater,

pick up our tickets,

get to our seats

(close enough to see the dancers’ muscles),

about a minute before the show starts–

it’s worth it.

The story opens with a girl getting ready for bed

her parents kiss her goodnight,

she goes to sleep on her bed made of dancers,

she begins to dream,

the walls spin,

and she becomes trapped in a land of shadows

where she goes on a voyage of discovery

turned into a dog-girl

experiences the joy of a dog riding in a truck,

the horror of being forced to perform in a circus,

controlled by a whip,

the ecstasy of first love,

the girl becoming a woman,

the shadow world is a magical, fantasy world,

the dancers’ bodies tumble, roll, fly

the hour and a half goes by quickly,

the dancers perform an epilogue,

a shadow tribute to New York City,

bodies creating the Statue of Liberty, the library lion, 42nd Street,

and other iconic spots,

and then to Philadelphia,

the Liberty Bell, the “Rocky Steps,” Pat’s and Geno’s Steaks,

at the final bow, the dog-girl dance leaps into the air,

seemingly still full of energy,

the shadows of the show behind her now–

until the next performance

 

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We leave smiling

into a day of sunlight and shadows

in a city where history has cast a long shadow,

shadows through history,

now and always,

shadow worlds

where people are forced to work,

living secret lives,

held in bondage

or living hidden,

an underground economy,

people who can only kiss

in shadows,

though love is love is love

there are shadowlands all around us

obscured by smiles and sunshine

 

 

We walk and talk,

see students celebrating Holi,

their faces and shirts bright with colors,

no shadows on their smiling faces,

on this spring day

the flowers smile and dance in the radiant light,

we drink coffee

discuss the show

later, we go out to dinner,

drink some wine and talk some more,

when we leave

the moon is shining brightly

though not quite full,

I look at her,

wonder what secrets she has seen

from her shadows deep,

hidden lovers and girlish fancies,

we head home,

I dream of shadows and the moon.

 

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This musing is for NaPoWriMo, Day 10. The prompt was portrait.

We saw Pilobolous at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia.

You can see a brief clip of this show performed at another location here.

NaPoWriMo: Richard and Ben

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Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1748 edition, Library of Congress

 

Both entertaining and useful,

my Philadelphia publication,

the aim, to instruct,

to construct for the common people,

a guide of this and that

They scarcely buy any other book.

So I look

to the future—

not really an adventure

(though I could tell you some).

Poor Richard’s Almanack will be a venture

an enterprise, both profitable and astute.

Imagine the success, imagine the acclaim

and several editions to my name.

But printing being as it is,

I’ll fill in spaces, viz,

but not bad lines of my own

When good ones of other people’s are so plenty.

I’ve borrowed the name, too,

you may have noticed, as you glance through.

Poor Richard seems to suit.

Here you will find wisdom of the ages,

the days in Old Style and New.

Oh, perhaps something you knew?

But I have included

for your edification,

The anatomy of Man’s Body

As govern’d by the Twelve Constellations

And information on many nations.

I’ve provided the phases of the moon

and whether the tides comes in morn or noon.

Each month has a particular number of days.

April hath thirty days, you see?

The planets are also of great interest:

though the sun’s light shines on Mercury,

in such a way that makes it

intolerable to our eyes, unfit

some believe, yet still that distant sphere

may just be inhabited.

Lest you think I’ve scattered too many words

upon the page here

Let me now offer you some free advice

(normally you must pay the price)–

Paintings and fightings are best seen at a distance.

Follow these sage words, my friend,

And perhaps you’ll also be an emissary

to the French Court or elsewhere be

someday, with reports that might be read.

Yet keep your wits about you,

and be wary of the words you spew–

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

 

NaPoWriMo, Day 16   Today’s prompt was Almanac Questionnaire, but I chose to write about an actual almanack.    No idea what this form is–apparently Ben speaks in rhyme. Why not?

 

Marriage and Growing Pains

[W]hen you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.  ~Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally

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Last night my husband and I attended a wedding. We have been friends with the groom’s parents for about thirty-five years. The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, and the couple were clearly very happy and in love. At the reception, we ate and ate, and then we ate some more. We danced and danced. People got drunk. There was some behind-the-scenes drama. In short, it was in many ways a typical American wedding celebration, but for the couple and their families it was a unique and extraordinary event in their lives.

Our older daughter will be getting married in about a year. Recently, she and her fiancée moved to a new apartment, and purchased, as she said “grownup furniture.”

Our younger daughter is starting her first grownup job next month. She will be living at home—at least for the next several months. She said it doesn’t bother her living with us, her parents, but she is eager to have her own place, as many of her friends now have. I can certainly understand this.

It amuses me when people make assertions about marriage and marriage customs based upon some mythical past. They describe the virginal bride dressed in white who married in her late teens or very early twenties in a church ceremony and who then stayed at home while her husband worked. This is a fairly recent trope. And of course it was only ever typical of some middle and upper class couples. Women have always worked, especially poor women and farmwomen. And does it surprise anyone that many brides have not been virgins on their wedding day? Yes, even in Puritan New England, although a couple could get in trouble if a baby arrived too soon after the wedding. (See Else Hambleton’s Daughters of Eve )Incidentally, marriage in 17th century New England was deemed a civil union, not a religious one—and divorce was legal.

As young adults many men and women lived apart from their families because of choice, economic need, and enslavement. Some couples lived together without being married (and of course, slaves could not legally marry). Benjamin Franklin and Deborah Read lived as husband and wife for forty-four years without an actual marriage ceremony.  Deborah had been previously married to a man who deserted her. The couple’s household in Philadelphia in the 1730s included Benjamin’s illegitimate son, William.

When couples married in previous centuries they did not always move into their own home. Neither did they always live with one of their families, although these things occurred. It depended on time, place, and a variety of factors. Age of first marriage has also fluctuated over the centuries. For the children of late eighteenth-century Maine midwife Martha Ballard, weddings were simple affairs. After one such wedding, the bride continued to live with her family, while her new husband visited occasionally for the next month or so. During that time, the women made quilts and collected items the couple would need. It was only after that that the couple moved into their own space and “went to housekeeping.”

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove past a group of houses set back from the road in their own small court. I remarked how nice it would be to live in a setting like that—we would have one house, our daughters and their significant others could have other houses, and my sisters and their families could each have houses. We would all have privacy, but we could just walk out our doors to visit one another. My husband looked at me in horror. Different dreams, I suppose. Ha!

My sisters and I have sometimes talked about how fun it would be to live in a setting like the one the grandparents have in the TV show Parenthood. Of course, we do not have the year-round lovely weather they seem to have there for the dinners the extended family enjoys.

I know my daughters will move on to next phases of their lives—as they should. At the same time, I will cherish the moments when they are here, and enjoy every one of those fleeting family moments. But really that family compound would be nice.

There is too much to discuss on marriage and divorce here. I discuss these subjects in more detail in Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord In Pennsylvania, 1730-1830, Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America, and Women’s Roles in Eighteenth-Century America.