Book of Days

Monday Morning Musings:

The first sunrise of the year. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

The last moon of 2020 reflected in the river. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

The days blend together—
mere words on a page, turned,
the end of one chapter, becomes the start of the next
without pause, the action, or lack thereof continues

one walk becomes another,
but still full of wonder, and sometimes surprise—
the truth in beauty, and I the Sylvan historian–

if I ask why on a dreary morning,
a voice within says look, listen—
the sky wakes with a slow, secret smile. . .

and it does.

This first Monday in January is grey and dreary. I haven’t gone anywhere or done much of anything in the past week. I keep forgetting what day it is. New Year’s Day felt like a Sunday. On New Year’s Eve, we did a Zoom meeting/dinner with dear friends. We ate Chinese food, as we’ve done for decades on New Year’s Eve, and we opened a bottle of champagne, too. I got a somewhat ominous fortune. I made a spicy black-eyed pea stew on a round loaf of bread for New Year’s Day, thinking the year needs all the help possible.

We’ve been catching up on shows. The Good Lord Bird, based on James McBride’s novel, is excellent—funny, sad, and timely. Ethan Hawke as abolitionist John Brown is wonderful, and equally good is Joshua Caleb Johnson as Henry “Onion” Shackelford, a young man who Brown thinks is a girl. Both my husband and I thought the show was good—acting, music, and the Fargo-like sly humor—but we weren’t really caught up in it until about half-way through, when suddenly we were. We also watched a French mystery, Frozen Dead (Netflix) (hoping there’s a second season), and started Occupied (Netflix), a Norwegian thriller set in the near future. The first few episodes are quite exciting.

I’ve read a few novels in the last couple of weeks: Kris Waldherr, The Lost History of Dreams; Cat Winters, The Uninvited; David Gillham, Annelies: A Novel, and I’m currently reading Susan Ella MacNeal’s The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent (Maggie Hope, Book 4–I think I’ve read one and three). I’ve been able to get all of these through our county library’s contactless pickup system. I also have a bunch of books on my Kindle for just in case. 😏

There Might Be Ghosts

Monday Morning Musings:

There might be ghosts in this story–
a tale of family secrets, a haunted house,
nightmares and night terrors

(what if they came for you?)
the spirits, specters, demons, and devils–
a frisson of fear, a shiver and a quiver

as you hear the tale,
it’s not real (you tell yourself)
these things don’t exist

(unless they come for you)
the secret police, the armed agents
to detain, to torture, to turn your life

upside-down, the world we live in now,
where we see the light reflected and wonder how
it is here and there, and wanders

Puddle Reflection, Upside-down World. ©️Merril D. Smith, October 2020

from shore to distant horizon
between what we see
and what we think we see

Autumn refracted and reflected through the mist. Red Bank Battlefield,.©️Merril D. Smith October 2020

in the fog, all is a blur,
sound is distorted, it echoes,
a soft purr of distant cars, the honk of a goose

Heron in the misty ripples of the Delaware River. Red Bank Battlefield. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020

here birds stop, then soar,
but I stand, rooted like the trees,
in the midst of autumn splendor

(I like to think)
still rising, still growing,
knowing that roots connect underground–

so be it. And healthy cells grow, too,
though the malignant tumors stand out,
they are not the entire body (politic),

Still, I sigh, watch the birds fly,
read the horror tales, feel the feels,
they’re not as scary as what is real–

the ghosts of 215,000, rising, plus,
and thus, what’s to come with the scary clown,
while the Constitution is whittled down

we ache, body and soul,
as the fluff-headed victors sound the death knell
to tell of democracy’s demise—yet the story to tell

is that the moon still hums, the stars still sing,
and scatter the light brightening
all, it radiates, falls

in ripples, like the stone I cast
into the river, watch the ripples pass
flowing on, the present an illusion, it doesn’t last,

past to future, goes, in ridges and waves
like light, with colors we won’t ever see,
an essence remaining, like a ghost of ancestors, or you, or me,

the whispers of earth, the songs of the sea.

Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield. Autumn Splendor. ©️Merril D. Smith, October 2020

Merril’s Movie/Theater/Book Club:
We watched a live-streamed production this week, STATE VS. NATASHA BENINA, which you probably won’t be able to access, but if you do get a chance, it’s well-worth it. I wondered how a production done live on Zoom would be (the audience was muted, and I turned off my camera, as I didn’t want people to see me in pjs in our living room). The actress was so good, portraying a Russian teen, who was raised in an orphanage, and now is accused of a crime. The audience is judge and jury, and votes at the end, but that serves more as a lead-in to discussion.

We were going to go out to a winery in the late afternoon yesterday, but the weather was not very nice, so we cancelled. I made a dinner, similar to one we might have had after Philadelphia theater dates, and we watched a filmed play, which is now on Amazon Prime. What the Constitution Means to Me is Heidi Schreck’s award-winning play, and it is excellent. I have heard pieces of it on the radio, as she discussed how she paid for her college education by giving speeches as a teen on the Constitution, but the entire play is really wonderful, as she weaves her personal history, her family’s history of domestic violence, women’s rights, and other issues into the narrative.

We also watched the new version of Rebecca on Netflix. We both enjoyed it. I like Lily James, though she seems rather more attractive and charming than the book character, and Kristin Scott Thomas is very good as Mrs. Danvers. From what I remember, this version does not have the overall menacing, Gothic feel of the Hitchcock movie or the book. I think it’s better to take it as it is, and not compare it to either.

We’re also started watching Borgen on Netflix, a Danish political drama. I like it, though it took a couple of episodes for me to get into it (and to understand the Danish political system).

And I finished The Year of Witching, and I’m almost finished with Home Before Dark. Horror reading—not nearly as scary as reality.

Lost and Found

Once upon a glimmer

of desire and hope,

 

the girl

opened a book

 

and she was lost

in the pages,

 

in the story,

she found

 

she was not alone

and there were other

 

worlds, and truth–

it was out there–

 

but also, within her.

 

Cécile_Anker_1886

Albert Anker, “Cécile Anker, 1886” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For dVerse, Lillian has asked us to write a poem beginning with “Once upon a  ____, ” using any word except for the word “time.”

 

 

 

 

Horror, Storms, Pass the Wine, and Look for Grace—Monday Morning Musings

Monday Morning Musings:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

–Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

“(“Do not equate nationalism with patriotism,” Perry warned Juliet. “Nationalism is the first step on the road to Fascism.”)”

–Kate Atkinson, Transcription

A storm comes and roars,

in waves upon the shores

and tears through towns

with rains and winds—the sounds

of climate wars

where there were homes

there’s now a void–

so much destroyed.

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Here we have only some rain and wind

nothing unmoored, nothing unpinned

from where it should be

the only horror we see

comes on TV,

where things go bumping in the night–

though not as scary as reality

yet we wish and keep hope afloat

that we’ll live to see things be all right.

 

Once we had a president who sang “Amazing Grace,”*

now we have one without a trace

of empathy or wisdom,

separating families,

putting them in prisons

behind barbed wire—

and who does he admire?

Dictators!

(and those who feed his ego—

please all of you, just go!)

 

So, as the days get dreary

I try to be cheery,

find color in pumpkins and leaves

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that fall on ground and eaves.

I cook and bake

hope to shake—

if not the world—

then wake a few,

hope and wish,

the good and true

will outlast, outshine

redefine the new.

 

On a chilly day,

we brighten our spirits

with family, a dog, and wine

spend time conversing

about this and that

we chat about birth

(with a bit of mirth)

as my son-in-law is studying

to be a nurse–

(quite a path he’s traversed

to get there)

and we sit as children ask

to pet their cute pup—

until at last the time is up

and we must go

our separate ways—

well, it’s getting too chilly to stay.

 

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Clouds over William Heritage Winery

I wake to morning mist–and sigh

think, today, I’ll take my apples

and bake a pie.

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We’ll eat it as evening

darkens the room

perhaps to brighten

fall’s impending gloom.

The cats will sleep on cushions nearby,

and we will bid the day goodbye.

 

 

*I was reminded of this when I heard Joan Baez on the New Yorker Radio Hour. Here the song is illustrated in a lovely, moving short animated film.

We watched the first episode of Netflix’s sort of adaptation of the Haunting of Hill House.  The original movie terrified me. I thought the first episode of this version (if you can get over that it’s not actually an adaptation of the story) was OK, but not great. But we will watch the next episode.

But we also watched the movie Eighth Grade–which really was wonderful–even though we all know that age has its own horrors.

I’m reading Transcription by Kate Atkinson. It’s wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday Wishes: Haibun

I think of my dad today and how he admired Tony Hillerman’s novels, mysteries involving the Navajo Tribal Police. Once he wrote Mr. Hillerman a letter and received a gracious reply. It’s been twenty years now since my father died. He’d be ninety-nine today—perhaps he’d have new favorite books and authors. He was a man filled with passion—for food, women, art, history–and for his children and grandchildren. He thought we were the best and brightest, no question. Though he expected all to wait upon him–courtiers of the court of Lee–yet—he was generous with love, presents, and hundreds of restaurant meals. He was always proud of me and assigned my first book to his history classes. (Sorry). I wish my dad was still here to read my words. I love you, Dad. I miss you.

 

yellow-green stems grow

vivid blooms in summer’s heat—

then red-gold leaves fall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is for open link night at dVerse, where Lillian is hosting. I’ve given a nod to National Book Lovers Day in my Haibun.

 

 

Simmering the Stories

Monday Morning Musings:

“We order our lives with barely held stories.”

“I know how to fill in a story from a grain of sand or a fragment of discovered truth. In retrospect the grains of sand had always been there. . .”

–Michael Ondaatje, Warlight: A Novel

“A poet once said, ‘The whole universe is in a glass of wine.’ We will probably never know in what sense he said that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look in glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. . .”

–Richard Feynman, Lectures on Physics, quoted in Brainpickings.

 

 

 

We hold memories, winter to summer

try to put them in sequence in order,

but there are no real boundaries, no border,

all and everything colored by the moment—

and by every second after.

They pile together, memories,

more than accessories, the clothes

tumbled in a heap on the floor,

stories that flow one from the other,

cooked together and through

into a stew–

What is desire? What is true?

Pick out the potato,

a childhood experience here,

the job carrots there,

find the herbs of love. . .

all of the above,

blended together,

each stew different,

though the same in name,

constantly changing

while it simmers over a flame,

new ingredients added,

not expanded so much, as made richer,

a broader picture.

But one day the flame goes out,

the stew gets tossed, buried, old news,

but the aroma lingers—to flavor other stews.

Summer Color
Ratatouille

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now summertime, the days still long

though getting shorter, the sunshine bright,

when not clouded,

parks and beaches crowded

and summertime bounty is everywhere

on tables, and farm stands, and fairs

where people display their colorful wares

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And peaches are fragrant and full of juice

that drips down by chin—oh sing a hymn

to summertime produce,

eat it raw or cooked, baked into crumble or pie.

Mixed-berry Crumble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I talk to a friend at a festival to celebrate the butterfly.

There are bees and plants and flowers in bloom

through which insects flitter and above birds zoom,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a little girl dresses the part,

her heart dances as the butterflies dart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there’s wine, made from the fruit

now growing on vines, waiting for harvest

rooted, grapes well-suited

to the clime

to make a beverage sublime.

We sit and sip our wine

dine on paella,

enjoying the weather

sitting together

in summertime.

William Heritage Vineyards
“Vino and Vibes”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We learn about wine in barrels

so much more than shells,

containers to hold the wine,

aging and flavoring it–

we learn to swirl and sniff and taste—admit

we enjoy it. We’ve done this tour before.

Still we learn more, then step out the door

to sit with glass and food—

the mood?

Call it relaxed and at ease

in a summertime breeze.

Sharrott Winery
Barrel Tasting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so—

I hold moments, tiny, grains of sand

let them trickle from my hand

watch them expand

till there’s a beach

where I can walk and leave a mark,

in the darkness, stark upon the sand

as the sun rises, and the tide

slides over them again and again,

and then

they become part of the sea–

the memories, the fruit, the wine, and the bee–

all connected,

all what was and what will be,

as summer turns to fall and then winter,

time may splinter

into paths that wander back

elusive, barely there–

the traces of a footfall

or a scent still in the air.

Red Bank Battlefield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Break in the Rain

Monday Morning Musings:

It seems to rain from moon to sun

rain over and over, never done

and then a break, till it thunders

again and again.

I feel lethargic and dull

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and it’s hard to mull

over this or that—

the people who insist the world is flat,

or guns don’t kill, people do,

except there are more dead kids shot through,

and it seems we will never cease

with hate and violence, the human disease.

 

But in the midst of death we see the love—

yes, pomp and circumstance, uniforms and gloves,

the fascinators, and the meters-long train

(and the sun-filled day with no hint of rain).

It’s storybook fantasy, mixed with Stand By Me,

gospel choir amid the history and pageantry,

but these two appear so much in love,

and if it helps, gets us thinking of

better things, well, I can take a break

in the coverage of hate, it’s not a mistake

to celebrate love, or a wedding day—

a bit of color amidst the world’s gloomy grey.

 

Still–spring insists on being seen

and here, the world is turning green,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

though I don winter clothes because it’s turned cold

and we go through rain, to visit

friends of old.

We eat Chinese food, laugh, talk over the meal

how we can’t understand the hypocrisy of those who feel

the man in the White House is okay

when they were upset at bare arms and a tan suit,

birthers and ape images, just try to dispute

there’s no racism there,

some very fine people on both sides–but I’d beware.

 

The next day, the clouds break and the temperatures soar,

everyone wants to get out of doors,

I see a hawk atop a weathervane,

Hawk atop a weathervane at Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

perhaps she’s trying to ascertain

the state of this territory, her domain,

which no doubt is full of tasty things

grown and born in rain and light of spring.

We walk city streets, where life beats

A flirty car

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

in harmony and patterns, under the blue sky

and birds sing and fly,

and there is so much green and flowers in bloom

filling the air with their perfume,

May in Old City Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and it is a relief from gloom and rain,

though I know people are in pain

and children are dead, and women are raped

and the world is shaped

by guns, disease, and violence

and we must break the silence—

but for today, just let me feel the sun and say

nothing but “see the hawk there”

and smell the roses over there.

We see a movie about motherhood and coping

with a newborn and others and life,

sometimes mom’s need an extra wife

or helping hands and people to truly see

beyond the façade, the hyperbole

of motherhood’s joys to the cries and sleepless nights

the clutter and exhaustion—along with the delights.

We drink coffee, walk and talk some more

then it’s home to feed the cats, take care of chores.

At Customs Coffee House, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the night, my mind wanders and roams

far from home

(Macbeth has murdered sleep)

But in my dreams, I hear the chirps and cheeps,

As the mockingbird sings through the night

and we are fine, it’s all right,

 

the dawn comes with bird choir and radiant light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw the movie Tully, which we both thought was excellent, but I don’t want to give anything away. I’ve seen it described as a comedy. At least not in the modern sense.

I’m reading Jo Nesbrø’s take on Macbeth, set in a Glasgow-like city in the 1970s.

Sorry about the weird formatting and gaps. WP gremlins are still hanging about.

 

 

 

 

 

Fair and Foul and Fair

Monday Morning Musings:

“So fair and foul a day I have not seen.”

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act I, Scene 3

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

“A library is infinity under a roof.”

—Gail Carson Levine

 

I lust for language–

a thousand symphonies play in my head

like light on water, ripples tripling

the glowing

flowing,

sending words, like spindrift into the sky

never lies,

but truth amplified.

I see the storms of summer spring

and hear the mockingbird sing

in night and day

he stays–

wanting love and standing guard

his tiny body working hard.

I feel

(ever present)

the ghosts around me sighing

and do they fear

from year to year

what was and what will be?

The circling of time

and life beating

(so fleeting),

but renewed again and again.

 

We walk through galleries

and by the river

(life giver)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

flowing through a city that has grown

built with wood, and bricks, and stone,

a nation conceived, and ideas flown

(now people find them on their phones).

But still—here they are gathered

scattered on grass

biking, running,

or rowing, sun-glimmered,

forward and back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

like time

(the Muse says)–

they’re in their prime

now

in this clime

the moment frozen in a thought

or captured in a rhyme

but before long

they will be gone.

 

Museums and libraries

I celebrate–

spread my books out on a table

enabling those who pass to see them better

West Deptford Public Library Book Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to read the letters and titles

though mine don’t sell

people stop by to wish me well

and support the work I do—

telling the truth

when some others seldom do.

 

We go out later to drink some wine

and dine in the open air

Sharrott Winery, Hammonton, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the day turns fair, then foul, then fair

where birds flutter and fly

and children cry

with delight

running in fields in the fading light.

 

We see the Scottish play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

on a cooler day–

then again it moves from foul to fair

threatening skies to a more spring-like air.

But inside this grand library

Free Library of Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

something wicked this way comes

though there are only two witches instead of three

(something in this version that bothered me).

Yet the acting is good, and the Macbeths

both powerful and vulnerable

to fate

that they help to make.

As the drum beats. and the swords fly

time in the theater passes by,

and tales from another age verify

the universals truths of humankind

(though this production streamlined),

all the tomorrows,

and the yesterdays,

the sound and the fury,

our vision often blurry

during our brief stay—

and yet we find a way

with stories and art

to share our hearts.

 

Once we had leaders who valued art

and learning,

understood the yearning to know

truth and beauty.

It is our duty

then to spread such ideas,

no matter what he says

and they believe

the false faces and words

that constantly deceive.

Yes, the storm is coming

and let it blow

away the discordant tunes

and the starless nights

for bright humming moons

and radiant light.

 

Sister Cities Fountain

 

 

 

 

Anticipation: Tanka

This tanka is for Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday, using synonyms for the words experience and new.

 

Anticipation—

through space and time I travel

novel paths explored

 

treasures buried in a phrase

discovered, they haunt my dreams

 

I went to West Deptford Township Public Library yesterday to return my books and renew one. Of course, I left with a new stack, even though I have books piled by my bed and a long list on my Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Feathers: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time. . .

a girl left her home as the morning moon shone through the tree branches and hummed a farewell song.

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Before she began her daily chores, she wanted to enjoy the peace of the forest, to hear the birds sing, and to see the sun rise and gild the treetops in golden light. These moments of beauty both stirred and quieted her soul. Her village was expanding, but somehow the lives of all who lived there were shrinking. They parroted the words of the king and expected riches to follow, but life had not improved. Her parents had seen no reason for her to continue with her schooling. Other villagers felt the same way, and so the school closed. It stood empty on a hill, a silent beacon.

The girl walked, enjoying the feel of the cool morning air against her face. From above, the dawn star winked, startling her and causing her to stumble and fall on a small pile of feathers. They sparkled, iridescent, blue, silver, and red. She wondered what sort of bird could have dropped the brilliant plumes. As she stroked the silky quills, a door appeared in the forest. It shimmered in the air, and opened just a bit in silent invitation. The girl opened the door wider and walked through.

Inside was a land filled with light and color. Wisdom dripped from the trees, and animals licked it up. A deer came up to her, and shyly nuzzled her hand before sprinting off. Her hand tingled, and she was filled with joy. She learned the feathers came from the bird of knowledge, which was perpetually in motion. Its size and color constantly changed, and it looked different each time she caught a glimpse of it. Over time, the girl learned many things in this world from the trees and the animals, but eventually she wanted to go home.

She found the door and opened it–for it was never locked–and she stepped back into her forest. It looked sadder, smaller. Her parents were happy to see her, but they too, looked sadder and smaller. The villagers were disillusioned. The village had not prospered, and though many still dutifully echoed the king’s words, others were seeking something more. The girl joined these seekers, as they reestablished the school, and she shared an important message:

Ignorance brings fear; knowledge leads to hope.

The girl became a woman, and she remembered the lessons she had absorbed. She made time for books and nature, and when she had children, she read to them every night. She told them the story of the bird of knowledge, and showed them one brilliant blue, silver, and red feather that she had kept. Sometimes the dawn star looked down at them and winked.

Girl_with_Pigtails_-_Samuel_Henry_William_Llewellyn

William Llewellyn, “Girl with Pigtails,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

This is for a writing challenge that Jane Dougherty and Jeren of itsallaboutnothing concocted. You can read about it here.

Well, I suppose this is too long for flash fiction, and it doesn’t involved insects, and I guess it’s fairy tale, not a folk tale, but other than that it fits the challenge perfectly!