Reflections

Merril D. Smith, 2019, Philadelphia, William Penn and City Hall Reflected

Monday Morning Musings:

“Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.”

–From Sylvia Plath, “Mirror”

“Did you ever wonder if the person in the puddle is real, and you’re just a reflection of him?”

–Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

 

In the window

the world is reflected

prismed into colors bright

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the blue of sky

and clouds of white

refracted sites

 

ripple and sway

changing as you walk

then fading away

 

unlike skyscrapers

that here still stand

monuments to technology

 

in reflections,

magic,

a slight of hand.

 

Now in the puddle

the world is upside down

in shades of beige and grey

Building in a puddle, Philadelphia

diffused light

scattered over slate

and rippling away

 

carried to the river

then onwards

to the sea

 

but here

are windows closed

as eyes asleep

 

and minds imprisoned

in worlds of fancy

and dreams

 

of children

go unheeded

unheard, unseen

 

in cages

they perish

swept away

 

by the latest news

of violence

and thoughts and prayers

 

go out

to remove the games

and images

 

but not the guns

they remain–

see, they’re not to blame

 

and cash

wills out

with slaps on the back

 

for the boys

are boys

who grow to be men

 

and abuse

again

and again.

 

And what do they see

in their reflections?

Do they stop to reflect

 

on the people

they harm?

I read of survivors

 

who try to forgive

when they

can never forget–

 

we must never forget

 

the sights refracted

in sunshine and rain,

and here we sit

 

holding time still

for a moment,

if we could with will

 

in vino veritas,

and truth there is

that there is beauty

 

and light

and days when things

are just right,

moments granted

even when

the world is slanted

 

cock-eyed, the mother

becomes the child,

but when she laughs

 

you wonder what’s real

and see your reflection

there she and you

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and she will never go

to the river again

but here a bird calls–

 

Hear it?

Listen and wonder

what does it see?

 

There its reflection

in the water

it looks at me.

 

Delaware River, Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ

Rain, or the Slightly Scary Inner Workings of My Mind

It’s a cold and rainy day in southern New Jersey. One of the spin instructors at my gym always says, “It’s a beautiful day. You woke up. It’s a beautiful day.” So there is that. The sky is the light, slightly pearlescent gray that would be attractive in a sweater or scarf, but not so much in the winter sky where it blends into the darker gray of the wet street. I started thinking about weather and wondered how often it figured in literary plots. I thought of reading Wuthering Heights when I was in sixth grade–it was one of my prized Scholastic Books purchases—and remembered the scene in which Lockwood, the narrator, is caught in a storm and forced to seek shelter for the night at Wuthering Heights. After dozing off, he is awakened by the tapping of a branch on the windowpane. When he opens the window he sees a ghostly figure, and then when he reaches out, his hand is clasped by an ice-cold hand and voice asking to be let in. Ohhhhh. . .those delicious chills you get from reading about ghosts while wrapped snugly in a warm and cozy place.

This memory of my long ago young self sparked yet another memory of coming home from the movies with my mom and older sister in a storm in Dallas, where we lived at the time. There was hail, which was scary—at some point, then or another time, we had hail that actually broke a window in our house. My mom made us hot dogs and hot cocoa, which at the time seemed very comforting.

(I think hot dogs are repulsive, and I’ve never really liked them, so I think what I actually found comforting were the toasted rolls. Toast is always comforting, especially when it is eaten with cocoa. When my daughters were little, I always made them cinnamon toast and cocoa when they came in from playing in the snow. My husband was the designated snow player, and I was the designated toast and cocoa maker. Cinnamon toast and cocoa would probably be my top comfort food, although I can’t remember when I last had it. Now I’m craving cinnamon toast, aren’t you? My husband will say it always comes back to food with me, and I will say, yes, and what’s the problem? And now I feel the need to make a sour cream coffee cake with cinnamon streusel with perhaps a touch of cocoa this afternoon. You want some, too, don’t you? This is why I go to the gym even on a miserable rainy day.)

(Second digression—my husband said to me the other day in the car, how do you come up with these things? I tend to suddenly ask him weird things or make comments that seem totally random. We were on our way to see a play, The Body of an American, which deals with journalism, writing, war photography, unlikely friendships, ghosts, dysfunctional families, and unlikely friendships—among other things. I said, “We should buy a cheap tray table that we can keep in the car for when we go to wineries and things.” He thought this comment was totally out of the blue. I explained: we had been discussing rehearsal dinners, and I thought of when our older daughter got married last summer. The night before the rehearsal dinner, we went to a local winery and sat outside with my homemade challah and some cheese and drank some wine, but didn’t have a table to put the food on. My husband agreed it was a brilliant idea. And yes, it does always come back to food.)

So back to weather and literature. I think it would be difficult to write a book and never mention the weather. Sometimes it creates a necessary plot device—for example, the blizzard in Stephen King’s The Shining. I recently read Jane Smiley’s Some Luck. Focusing on the everyday life of one family, there are scenes in which it seems like nothing much happens, and yet it is so elegant in its simplicity. That is what life is like for most people. It is made up of the chores we do at home, the conversations we have with our family members and friends, our work, and yes, the weather.

“It was a dark and stormy night. . .” is the opening of the much-parodied sentence by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. (See information on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest here.)

But sometimes it actually is a dark and stormy night. Or a gray and rainy day. And sometimes the weather sparks memories, and sometimes memories spark baking. And these things may or may not lead to good writing. They may lead simply to some great food—and more memories.

And now it’s time for lunch.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
–Langston Hughes, “April Rain Song”

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”

–Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

“Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?”

–Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes