Dreams of the Future, Ghosts of the Past

Monday Morning Musings:

“bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education & free discussion are the antidotes of both. . . .I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. so good night! I will dream on, always fancying that mrs Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.”

–“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 1 August 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,

 

 

A porcelain ghost looked long

and laughed delicious poetry,

remember this

she said,

or it is over

 

And so, we remember over and over

forgetting what we knew

embracing new ideas,

loving them each time as original and unique

and they are

every time

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We walk cobblestone streets and brick drives

chasing ghosts

followed by shadows

whispering glorious words

“We the people”

history of the past

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Janet Givens and her husband, the past, present, and future all around them.

 

But under a dying star

a naked fool celebrates

his courtiers cheer

his nonexistent suit of clothes

as darkness falls

he eats a second scoop of ice cream

 

Still, we remember

sometimes forgetting to remember

until we remember again

We the People

history of the past and dreams of the future

 

On a day in May

that feels like July

perhaps like the summer of 1787

when a group of men

(white men, only men)

made compromises  and wrote We the People

but on this day,

a day in their future,

we walk with friends to see and read about the past

to hear and read the lofty words

of men who had lived and fought a revolution

and though they themselves were flawed

still their words glow

and grow

from the past, through the present, and into the future

visions they had and hopes

dreams that have been realized

and worlds they could not imagine

dreams of things that are yet to be

 

I gaze at the beautiful handwriting

of educated people

who read and valued learning

and think of misspelled Twitter rants.

We’ve forgotten

and it’s time to remember

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We’ve added and clarified

giving freedom to people who were enslaved

giving rights to women

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ruling on free speech, freedom of religion, individual rights versus the state

fighting a civil war

(yes it was about slavery)

prohibiting the manufacturing of and sale of alcohol

and then making it legal again–

after so many lost jobs and the government lost revenue–

and there was more crime

let’s face it

We the People like to drink

from the past of George Washington’s distillery

to the future of new breweries, vineyards, and manufacturers,

the dreams of We the People

 

 

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This history swirls about us

all the time

because of a revolution

and a convention

a document that still lives

expanding like our nation

built on a strong foundation

like the building

we see as we sit outside on that warm day

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but life is not complete without some treats

(We the People like our sweets)

our nation built on bitter and sweet

dreams of the future, history of past

 

 

Two men, Adams and Jefferson

one, a Massachusetts man against slavery

(though not exactly an abolitionist)

the other, a Virginia plantation owner and slaveholder

dissimilar in so many ways from appearance to beliefs

but both admiring each other

both enjoyed the wit and education of some women

while disregarding them as citizens

with their own rights

and bodies

(I’m looking at you, T.J. Sex with a slave is coerced.)

their friendship suspended after the Election of 1800,

but later renewed,

bridged, despite their differences

liked a structure spanning the gulf between two disparate lands

like the bridge we need now

for We the People

as we dream of the future

and remember the past

and hope that it is not over

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Leaving Philadelphia, heading to New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge

 

For those unfamiliar with it, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the People.” You can read more about it here.

My friend, Janet Givens, was in Philadelphia with her husband to celebrate an event. I will leave her to talk about it, as I’m certain she will in an upcoming post. We visited the National Constitution Center , ate a delicious lunch at Farmicia restaurant, and stopped at Shane’s Confectionery, which has been a candy store on that site since 1863.

 

Secrets, Adaptations, and Joy

Monday Morning Musings:

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

–Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice*

 

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

–Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

 

 “Raise a glass to freedom

Something they can never take away

No matter what they tell you

Let’s have another round tonight”

–Linn Manuel Miranda, “The Story of Tonight,” Hamilton

 

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We wandered

wet spring stone,

an ancient bough,

poetry of lonely bird & squirrel

Listen

There

I know

(almost)

this secret garden

life

 

 

The dawn chorus sang

before the sun appeared

their secret language of chirps and trills

floated through the damp air,

early spring.

I began the day.

 

We wandered old city streets

stepped on bricks and cobblestones

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the stories these stones and buildings could tell

the Founding Fathers wheeling and dealing,

letters and documents they wrote, still preserved,

our laws, our past, present, and future,

but what of the buried secrets

items tossed into privies,

and bodies,

uncovered in construction

thought to be moved long ago,

a lie from the past,

the new built over the old,

history in layers,

the way our life tales are constructed

with secrets and stories

hidden and revealed

 

private secrets and public secrets

the lies we tell ourselves,

the lies politicians tell us,

“Let sleeping dogs lie,”

bold-faced lies

little white lies

lies of omission

lies of commission

“What does the president know

and when did he know it?

 

We saw a movie about lies,

the lies a man has told himself,

stories he never told his wife

(omission)

buried in a secret room in his mind

rooms we see on the screen

his past played over and over

more revealed each time,

we all have secret rooms,

compartments,

where history is written and rewritten,

the personal,

the political,

and as we walked along these streets

we push past ghosts who linger there still

in rooms where they told their stories

and raised a glass to freedom

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City Tavern, Philadelphia

 

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We drink to our own freedom. Pondering the second round at Tria.

We saw a play,

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Prague and New York City, 1977

there is an immigrant,

a Czech woman in a surreal dream

wanting the freedom to express herself,

to be an artist,

we hear the folksongs of her friend, Marek,

he was arrested for singing them,

a bird-woman goddess,

she who existed before the Thunder God,

shows the immigrant woman,

what?

Her past?

Her possible future?

Men with pig faces,

followers of the Thunder God,

builders of walls,

conquerors of women,

they exist everywhere,

must we adapt,

live our secret lives within a police state,

a surreal dream

for the immigrant,

what will freedom bring,

What happens when the walls are torn down?

What is the American dream?

Is it a cautionary tale

that anyone can become the president—

cowboy, actor, failed businessman?

Perhaps their time is numbered.

 

We walked past a rally for the current president,

in the neighborhood where men gathered

over two hundred years ago

to give them that right to protest

 

 

in secret hearings

closed to the public,

they crafted a body of law,

then explicitly added others,

free speech,

freedom of the press,

I am thankful to live in a place where the president’s supporters have the right

to gather with signs and make speeches–

though I disagree with their views–

and will use my own voice to protest against hate and ignorance

to sing out

against oppression when I can,

but like a bird woman,

I will celebrate the world, too–

we all need a pop of color on a dreary day,

daffodils in the rain

and secret gardens.

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*Thanks to Robin of Breezes at Dawn for the reminder about this quotation.

The Oracle gave me the magnetic poem that was perfect for the day.

We saw the play, Adapt, a world premiere by Blanka Zizka at the Wilma Theater. We saw the movie The Sense of an Ending.

 

 

 

The Past That Wasn’t And Is

Monday Morning Musings:

“The blacklist was a time of evil. . .no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil. . .it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims.”

–Dalton Trumbo, Laurel Award acceptance speech delivered to the Writers Guild of America West, The Writers Guild of America Newsletter, April 1970.

“Until now, we scientists have only seen warped space-time when it’s calm,” Dr. Thorne said in an email. “It’s as though we had only seen the ocean’s surface on a calm day but had never seen it roiled in a storm, with crashing waves.”

New York Times, February 11, 2016 

Gravitational waves have been heard

A chirp, hitting Middle C

Einstein’s theory confirmed

Space and time moving,

Collapsing,

Causing waves

A cosmic sea

Moving,

Ever changing.

 

We watched the movie, Trumbo

My husband and I,

We missed it in the theaters

But saw it “On Demand”

Yay, technology.

And science education.

Without it, you wouldn’t be able

To stream your shows

Or read the latest gossip news.

Do you think this happens by magic?

 

During WWII,

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was president,

Radio was important.

Sound carried by waves.

Imagine that?

He talked to the nation through

“Fireside chats”

And told us that December 7, 1941

Was “a date which will live in infamy.”

Which it was and is.

That was the date of the attack on Pearl Harbor

By the Japanese military.

Two months later,

February 19, 1942,

FDR signed Executive Order 9066

And with that order

Japanese-Americans,

Citizens of the United States,

Were forced to leave their homes,

And placed in internment camps.

Did you study that in school?

Fear took over.

People were profiled by their ancestry,

By the way they looked.

Locked up.

Does this sound familiar?

 

A political candidate called for

Banning all Muslims from the US.

He wants a wall built to keep

Mexicans out, too.

No matter that it would costs billions of dollars.

Mexico will pay for it, he says.

He thinks Mexicans are all criminals, rapists.

People believe what he says.

 

But back to Trumbo.

Remember, I told you we watched the movie?

It’s about Dalton Trumbo,

The screenwriter

Played by Bryan Cranston

Many people have never heard of him.

Trumbo, I mean.

Perhaps they’ve heard of some of the screenplays though.

He wrote:

Spartacus,

Roman Holiday (a must-see, Audrey Hepburn, in her first big role,

And the always wonderful Gregory Peck.)

Exodus

But those are just a few.

Yet Dalton was not credited with writing these movies.

At least not at the time.

Though they won awards.

Because he was blacklisted.

So he wrote them under other names.

He was one of the Hollywood Ten.

He—and many others–served time for standing up to HUAC,

The House Un-American Activities Committee.

That’s right, the 1950s were not just “Happy Days,”

There was Joseph McCarthy and the FBI

Knocking on people’s doors.

Witch-hunting of communists.

Arthur Miller took the witch part literally

And compared the time to Puritan Massachusetts

And the Salem Witch Trials

In The Crucible.

It was a shameful time

Of fear

The Cold War.

No, the US is not a theocracy,

Though there are people who would like it to be.

But that is not OK.

The separation of church and state is guaranteed

By our Constitution

Our Bill of Rights.

Also, guaranteed is the right to free speech.

So you have the right to

Say what you want.

And I will defend your right to do so.

But I have studied history,

And I can read and fact-check.

I know it is not against the law to be a communist

Or a Muslim.

So it would be fine for our president to be one,

Though he is not.

You can believe the Earth is flat, or

That humans have not been to the moon.

I know those things are not true.

You can believe

That building walls is a good thing,

I have a right to believe you are wrong.

I want to believe

Not in conspiracy theories

But in the value of education

To believe that everyone, men, women, and children

Of all races, religions, and social class

Have the right to learn

To read

To explore

To understand that the past repeating itself

Is not always a good thing.

History,

Water under the bridge

That flows one way only?

Or does it travel in a loop

Splashing like a waterfall

Into a river where it flows

Peacefully until the next storm hits?

An endless cycle.

Space and time

Warped

Disrupted

Changed?

Hate,

Fear,

Walls built,

Walls torn down.

So many people and places gone.

So many crimes repeated.

So much to learn.

 

I can’t imagine never wanting to learn.

I feel sorry for those who fear knowledge.

“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 


 

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead–And So Are Many Others: Memorial Day

Monday Morning Musings

“Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago”

–Pete Seeger, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”

(For a history of the song, see this article.)

Today is Memorial Day. In the US, this is a holiday that pays tribute to the millions of service men and women who have died in the nation’s wars. (For details see the Congressional Research Services, American War and Military Operations Casualties: List and Statistics and Department of Veterans Affairs, “America’s Wars,”).

The history of Memorial Day is disputed. It was first known as “Decoration Day,” a day to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers and mourn their loss. Most histories give former US Civil War General John A. Logan the credit for declaring May 30, 1868 Decoration Day. The date was chosen deliberately because no battle was fought on that date. It is now the last Monday in May. Michael W. Twitty’s insightful Guardian article, however, argues that “the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom.” This is a fascinating brief article that explores West African mourning customs that continued in the traditions of the Gullah people of Charleston.

The Library of Congress blog has Memorial Day images from various eras, as Decoration Day became Memorial Day.

Yesterday my husband and I attended a performance of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead . (Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.) The play is an absurdist piece that owes much to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It is both funny and tragic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Hamlet. Imagine an episode of Star Trek from the viewpoint of two “Red Shirts,” the characters who appear in an episode and always die, most of the time without realizing what is going on or that they were merely cogs to Stoppard says, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the most expendable people of all time. Their very facelessness makes them dramatic; the fact that they die without ever really understanding why they lived makes them somehow cosmic.” They are so faceless and ordinary, that it is a running joke throughout the play that no one knows which is Guildenstern and which is Rosencrantz–even they get confused. Guildenstern (I think) says in his final moment, “There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said—no. But somehow we missed it.”

Although it was a coincidence that we saw this play on Memorial Day weekend, this idea of ordinary citizens caught up in events beyond their control is at the heart of every war ever. Was there a moment that they, or someone, could have said, “no?”

Although I want to honor the men and women who have served the country, I do not want to glorify war. In any war, good people—and bad people–on both sides die. It seems to me the best way to honor those who have fought for freedom is to honor that freedom by learning about history, voting, and working for equality. After the American Revolution, when it became clear that the Articles of Confederation were ineffective, representatives from the states met and hammered out what became the US Constitution. A Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was added to enumerate explicitly such freedoms as freedom of speech and religion, the right to a speedy trial, the right to trial by a jury, and prohibitions against quartering of soldiers in private homes in times of peace, against unlawful search and seizures, and against being compelled to testify against oneself. Over time, many more amendments have been added to clarify law, begin and end practices (that whole Prohibition debacle), and attempt to right injustice and bring equality (the abolition of slavery, the right of black men to vote, the right of women to vote). The loss of lives on a battlefield and the wounds of body and soul do not mean anything, if people do not continue to work for justice and equality in peacetime.

I know it is not appropriate to say “Happy Memorial Day,” especially to a veteran. There is nothing happy about it. At the same time, I do not think it’s wrong to celebrate life on this day, whether it’s getting together with family, going to the beach, or seeing a play. Perhaps I–or you–might pause to think, “Some people died to protect our freedom to do these things.” Maybe someday there will be peace on earth; maybe someday the Star Trek red shirts will not die. Maybe someone–maybe everyone–will just say no, and war will become ancient history that children will learn about in school. I can dream.

After theater wine and cheese.

After theater wine and cheese, Tria Cafe, Philadelphia.