Time Keeping

Wildflowers and Driftwood, the Delaware River at West Deptford, NJ. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

Monday Morning Musings:

Across the morning sky, all the birds are leaving
How can they know that it’s time to go?
–Sandy Denny, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.
–from “Hymn to Time” by Ursula Le Guin

Summer sings on robin trill,
soars on broad-flapped egret’s wing
across the river’s wide expanse,
explodes on thunderclap,
and floats on driftwood
under a laden, leaded sky.

Egret flying above Delaware River

The clocks tick tock, go and stop,
but time ripples, bends, and plops,
to circle through stars and seasons.

Where’s the early promise gone, and why?
The river doesn’t answer, merely flows
with time

in rabbit hops and turkey trots, in smooth deer grace
or hawk’s lazy circling trace across the clouded sky–

the slow descent of morning moon, her song
a sigh, carried high by crow, who never shy,
announces to the world that summer is almost done–
but not quite

Crow and Morning Moon ©️Merril D. Smith 2021

Crow in a Sycamore Tree, ©️Merril D. Smith 2021

whispers the butterfly. I flutter and create a storm,
it circles round, and flowers born—

Hope and Determination. Wildflower among the rocks. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

so, life goes on through seasons fast or plodding,
you remember both tears and laughter—
the sorrow of loss, the joy of what comes after—
memories flavored by love and friendship—savored–
reflections from the past.

Stream of Reflections ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021


This and That:
We’ve had a particularly muggy summer—high dewpoints and humidity (as I write, the dewpoint is 73 and the humidity is 93%). Our air conditioner has been running nearly continuously for the past month. We have another chance of thunderstorms this afternoon. However, we are not facing a hurricane. My thoughts are with friends in New Orleans.

On Tuesday, we went to Valley Green Inn by the Wissahickon Creek. It was my mom’s birthday, and we used to take her mom there for her birthday, until she couldn’t manage it. It was a very hot day, but quite pleasant eating on the porch shaded by the woods. Then we took a walk on Forbidden Drive. On our drive to Valley Green we listened to an interview on the radio with a man who held the marvelous job title of Curator of Timekeeping. He’s written a history of clocks.

Yesterday, we went to a wine festival (Wine Down the Summer at Riverwinds). We’ve attended it in previous years, though it was not held last summer because of the pandemic. We did not do any tastings, as we were not certain about weather or crowds and didn’t want to purchase expensive tickets we wouldn’t use, but we bought wine, brought food, and so, we spent the afternoon with dear friends eating (a lot), sipping wine, talking, and listening to the band. It was a lovely afternoon.

Some of my friends might enjoy Jennifer Ryan’s The Kitchen Front, a novel about a cooking competition sponsored by a BBC radio program during WWII. Like her other books, which I also enjoyed, it’s a sort of cozy historical novel. I really liked it—feel-good, but not sappy.

“A charming tale that will satiate a lot of different tastes: historical fiction lovers, cooking competition fans, anyone who revels in girl-power lit. . . . . This story had me so hooked, I literally couldn’t put it down to cook.”—NPR

Most of you know we watch and enjoy some pretty quirky shows and movies with subtitles, if you do, too, you might enjoy Post Mortem, a new Norwegian dramedy on Netflix. It was fun–only 6 episodes, but hopefully a second season is in the works.


And the new Netflix show The Chair with Sandra Oh is also lot of fun—we watched it in two nights.
You can tell I have eclectic tastes: we’re still watching Dexter, and I’m also re-watching Downton Abbey on Netflix (Mary and Matthew engaged again, swoon).

Dreams on Blackbirds’ Wings

Monday Morning Musings:

“And when we die we say, we’ll
Catch some blackbirds wing
Then we will fly away to Heaven come
Some sweet blue bonnet spring”
–from Nanci Griffith, “Gulf Coast Highway”

Sunrise, the Delaware River and Driftwood

Once, we saw dragons that breathed fire—
now they only crawl or fly,
yet we see our fate in the constellations still—
and I know their ghost light sings

Dragonfly

echoing, even as earth erupts in wars,
and shakes from its very core,
wanting less or wanting more,
I watch the clouds and flying things–

Gull with Philadelphia Skyline ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

the aching beauty of the morning sky
as if it knows it cannot last
but it recalls the seasons past
and dreams that flew on blackbirds’ wings.

Heron, Egret, and Geese— Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield

And in the night, I see the moon,
know her light, hear her tune
as she recalls the seasons past
and dreams that flew on blackbirds’ wings.

One day sun and one day shadow,
the spinning world moves through the clouds
babies born amidst the shrouds—
and yet, still the robin sings

for love, for family, or for warning
as summer turns to fall,
and we recall the seasons past
and dreams that flew on blackbirds’ wings—
and all the songs the world still sings.

Singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith died this past week. She was known for her songs, her lovely, clear voice, and apparently her generosity to other musicians. I’ve been seeing tributes from all over. This has been a sad week for the world—Covid, fires, earthquakes, war.

We’ve been very fortunate. Despite the days of heat and stormy weather, we managed to get out twice to local wineries, where we could sit outside and enjoy wine, food, and music.

I’ll be back later because I’m hosting dVerse today. Today is Prosery Monday—where I provide a line from a poem, and anyone who wants to, can write a short prose piece from it.

We Sing Their Songs in Flight

Monday Morning Musings:

Egret

Open a window to another universe–
there is always an after
and before

the bang and birth of stars,
the flutter-shift of vibrating strings
across dimensions, the light on stellar wings—

he sings, she laughs
the fever-dreams of future-past-
perfect brings

remembrance, she, and we see-saw
imperfectly and fractured–all
colored by mood and life-swings

in revolutions, the Earth spins,
love, laughter, tears, and fears—it begins
and ends

the stars sing, and we catch their light,
swallow to hold it within, and in our dreams,
or in some after, we sing their songs in flight.

Ospreys Flying over the Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield

Today my father would be 102. We’re going to have Chinese food and ice cream for dinner tonight–both of which he loved. My mom’s birthday is later this month, and she would have turned 99. My parents divorced (twice), but in my mom’s final years she believed my dad lived in the same building, and in her final months, she talked about him a lot, always with smiles and giggles. I think she was in love again. Of course, they were my stars.

The first set of photos were taken long before I was born. My brother is about twelve years my senior.

My mom’s first cousin, who was like her sister, turned 95 yesterday. There was a small party for her. My sister, husband, and I stayed masked in the house, but took our masks off outside. We got her a blanket that had a word cloud of English and Yiddish words we chose.

We ate homemade pizza and streamed a play this week: The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington by James Ijames performed as part of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which looks like a beautiful place to see a play. In the play, Martha Washington is dying, and the enslaved people around her are waiting, as they will be freed when she dies. In her fever dreams she imagines them in various guises, as lawyers, Founding Fathers and Mothers, and King George and Queen Charlotte. The play is funny, sad, witty, and unique. Here’s the NY Times review.

Circling: Different and the Same

Monday Morning Musings:

Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

Songs of ancient glowing flow
from stars to river,
the moon hums sweet and slow–

Ospreys Circling the Morning Moon

the language of clouds and light
and shadow-shapes, the drape
of flowered branches, the white-winged flight

Egret. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield

of egret, and the honking geese–
all these feathered things—the sight
of nature, calm, at peace.

We dream as the moon sings
wake to talk in bright sunbeams
of family, books, and everything

mostly trivial, perhaps profound–
in hindsight are we any wiser,
than those underground?

We venerate them, heroes and saints—
but none are perfect
and whitewashed history paints

such a lovely story.
Forget the horror, remember
only glory

But reflections from the past—see?
The world circles. We’ve been here before—
Look at the glass, remember that tree.

Reflections in the Windows of the Merchants’ Exchange, Philadelphia
“My” willow at Dock Street, Philadelphia

So much different and yet the same–
our lives, the city—still,
we’re glad we came.

This was a strange week—stormy weather and tornado watch on Thursday. Then the weather was beautiful. For anyone who is keeping track, I finished the history chapter I was writing (Sex in Eighteenth-century Philadelphia) and sent it off to the editors on Saturday. That afternoon, my husband and I walked around Old City Philadelphia for the first time since the pandemic. I bought some spices at the new Penzey’s store, and we went to Tria for wine and cheese, which became dinner. I kept saying walking around the city was strange–different and the same.


Merril’s Movie Club: We watched three movies this week. Cousins (Netflix) a story of three Maori women who are cousins. It’s a story of family being separated and found again. We both liked it, and of course, New Zealand is beautiful. There are similarities to the treatment of indigenous people in the US and Canada. We also watched A Call to Spy, based on the true story of women who were spies in WWII. We both liked this one, too. It’s a story that most people do not know about. My favorite movie of the three was The Fare (2018, free with Amazon Prime), a pretty much unknown low-budget indie film. It looks and has the feel of an old Twilight Zone episode. Harris, the cab driver picks up Penny. There’s an instant connection (these two actors definitely have chemistry), and then she disappears. We discover they’re repeating this loop over and over. But this is not Groundhog Day. To say more would spoil it, but it’s a unique take, and we both really liked it. Derrick will be pleased to know we ordered a ton of Indian food last night, and we’ll be eating leftovers tonight.

In Feathered Light

Monday Morning Musings:

The moon hums and the sun sings,
and feathered things with outstretched wings
soar into the light

dazzling white, the egrets’ flight,
the eagles’ glide, a majestic sight
above my head

and down below, the scent of dead
attract the vulture’s blooded head—
but even they fly

with graceful beauty in the sky
circling round—hello, goodbye—
life comes and goes

This cormorant spent several days in this spot.
Oh, Hello!

the questions everybody knows,
and none can answer, I suppose
there’s beauty in that, too–

science can tell us why the sky is blue,
yet perceiving it, is that new?
Do we name things so that we see–

or does sight come, and we feel free–
And still, we disagree
about the color of the sea,

fields of grain, and climbing vines
lost to asphalt, modern signs
of progress made,

decisions that now cascade,
a waterfall, decisions weighed
spinning in retrograde, still we shine

in setting sun, sipping wine,
fruits of field and vine,
talking as time slow-walks–

a paradox—the universe’s sleight–
time, truth, the beauty of the feathered light.

Morning— Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield

We went to Blue Cork Winery in Williamstown, NJ this past week, where our daughter gave a talk—a brief history of sangria–and then guided us through making our own using a white and red base they supplied, along with fruit and juices. It was a fun event, and of course we bought a bottle of wine to take home, too.
I’m still finishing that chapter, so I apologize for my slow response time here. Also, I’m hosting dVerse Poetics tomorrow.

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.

Everything: NaPoWriMo, Day 8

Crow flying over the Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield

Listen, as
Crow caws your future—
winter goes,
spring appears,
cycles repeat forever,
light to dark to light

from before
time, it resonates–
the afterlight
of star-birds
flapping their bright-feathered wings,
and traveling on.

Ghost glimmers
spot the sky. Humming
with the moon,
the sea sighs,
everything connected. Now,
listen again. See?

A Shadorma chain for NaPoWriMo, Day 8 inspired by my walk this morning. The crows have been so active, and right now a mockingbird is putting on quite a concert from a nearby tree. It’s a good time of year to look around and listen. Since I’m writing a daily poem for the Ekphrastic challenge, and I’m behind on all my work, I’m mostly not writing for the prompts this year. But, I do love the shadorma form. 😏

Yet, See, Things I know

Monday Morning Musings:

“I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”
--Sylvia Plath, Mad Girl’s Love Song

Ice Puddle at Red Bank Battlefield, ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

We prepare for winter
with blankets, tea, and books,
candles to light the nooks
of home, as heart, brain
given free rein, see in the shadows,
ghosts, cold, pain,

the fear of what frozen months bring,
the fear of known and unknown things—

we prepare to be together,
we prepare to be apart

our hearts sing, sigh
say goodbye in forlorn wandering
the air waves, weaves strands of grey with light
though it also shoots frozen silver darts–

yet, see

there’s magic still simmering, glimmering
at the surface where sea serpents shed their scaly skin
to dance with water sprites

Waves of water, sand, and air. A sea serpent leave her skin. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

and eagles soar from bare-branched trees,
again into light,
over the river, the sky is grey

but the gulls rise, and there are patches of blue–
spring is coming

Clouds

despite the mud-stomped snow,
the geese know time flows

“we’re coming, we’re coming,” they honk and cry,

it’s coming, Spring,
the cardinal couples call,
and the nuthatches laugh,
and the crows gather (not murderous at all)
but aware

that love is in the air.

Valentine’s Welsh Cookies

And if I made you up,
then a wondrous dream it’s been,

there will be more snow, but in birdwing flight
and woodpecker’s drumming

I know spring is coming.

Merril’s Movie Club: So, you know, pandemic. . .we didn’t go anywhere. AND, the GOP senators, except for seven, couldn’t find their spines, or even worse, don’t care to. So. . .I really wanted to see a Merril movie, the kind we would have seen in a Philadelphia theater. I rented one from an NYC arthouse theater instead (filmforum.org). It’s less expensive than going to the movies, but of course, there are more distractions at home, so the experience is not the same. We rented, Preparation to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, Hungary’s entry for the Academy Awards. It’s a noirish story of a neurosurgeon who after meeting a man at a conference in New Jersey, plans to meet him in a month in the Liberty Bridge at the Pest side in Budapest. He doesn’t show up, and when she tracks him down, he says he doesn’t know her. Thus, begins a story of did she imagine this whole romance? My husband and I both liked the movie a lot—he was still talking about it the next day. It’s not up there with Cold War (sigh), but it’s still a good movie, beautifully filmed. The quote from Sylvia Plath was at the beginning of the movie.

He slept through the movie.

Day 7: Special January Ekphrastic Challenge

For Day, I’ve written two poems for Paul Brookes’ Special January Ekphrastic Challenge.

I liked all three pieces of art, but I responding to Kerfe Roig’s “Clarity” and Christine O’Connor’s (CO13).

Clarity

Coming home from the ER, I felt
a sense of clarity amidst the exhaustion,
and in the over-awakened midnight hour, an owl hooted
over and over again

calling for love, not warning,
I decided. And for love, we returned to the hospital
as the sun rose over the bridge to light the shadowed city streets.

Unfinished

There are ghosts in the secret garden
drifting through the flowers’ birdwing-flutters,
she senses them, but they are masked, invisible
against the bright blooms, unfinished with this world,
outside of time, inside the walls, they wait.

January Ekphrastic Challenge, January 7

Paul Brookes of the Wombwell Rainbow is hosting a special January ekphrastic challenge. Today is Day 1. Thank you, Paul.

My poem today responds to Kerfe Roig’s image, “Acquainted with the night close.” I realize it’s probably not a crow in the painting.

Kerfe Roig, “Acquainted with the night close”

Night Seer

Crow soars through the brume, the leaden sky
awash with whirling dreams, spindrift from the sea of night,
and shiny-bright, he gathers them.

No trickster, he, but seer
of what might be in time with chance, he caws
a warning, laughs in love—there’s so much to be done—

in the rustling of ancient winds, he breathes
a break in darkness, drops omens in oceans
and hopes on moonbeams,

watches the stars. His eyes reflect their gleam.