I’m Not Yet Ready to Write an Elegy for the World: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world”

—Lucinda Williams, from the song, “Sweet Old World” (Listen here.)

“I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.”

–Florence Nightingale (I could not find a source for this.)

 

When the fool becomes king

it’s difficult to celebrate

to know what is real and what is fake

(news)

a radio host said

it didn’t seem right

to slip in an April Fool’s story

because this year

 

it’s a crazy, mixed-up world

our, sweet old world

 

I dream about Mary Todd Lincoln,

grieving over her dead son and husband,

ghosts that walk the White House,

does the current resident see them,

feel the presence of the great and not so great?

Will he destroy our world?

(the news spins and whirls maddeningly)

I wonder if Mrs. Lincoln crazy,

or was it simply the world about her,

the nation torn apart,

brother fighting brother,

her husband a martyr,

and did she long then to leave this sweet old world?

 

We watch movies about strong women,

twentieth- century women,

one raising her son alone,

we eat pizza and drink some wine

because it’s a sweet old world, isn’t it?

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the woman is confused

but she does her best,

most people do

(as I hope, as I believe)

and I guess she does a good job,

because her son wants to be a good guy

who cares about women,

she does something right,

because, after all, many years later her son will make this movie,

and Annette Benning will play her,

crazy and sweet, this world.

 

The other woman hid people,

(in a zoo)

she truly lived in a crazy world

where the monsters ruled,

living in plain sight,

real human monsters

scarier than fictional demons,

the zoo became a pig farm

because the animals had been killed,

people, animals,

to monsters there is little difference,

the woman’s husband fights bravely with guns,

the woman fights with her soul,

she understands that she needs to woo the monster,

as she does an animal,

though she is terrified,

they are heroes, this couple,

in a world spinning crazily like a dreidel,

will it fall on nun, their “guests” must wonder

or will a great miracle happen there?

They saved 300 people,

perhaps a great miracle did happen there.

they raised pigs on garbage from the ghetto

(the Nazi’s love the irony)

though those in the ghetto can scarcely spare their garbage,

because they are starving

 

And I’m reading a book about a young girl who is starving

in a small, Irish village

starving for Jesus, I suppose,

subsisting on manna from heaven, she says

her nurse, her watcher,

has been trained by Florence Nightingale,

(a nineteenth-century strong woman)

I don’t know what happens,

I haven’t finished the book,

though I hope the girl eats, hope she lives,

hope she gets to grown up in this sweet and crazy world

 

And we go out to lunch,

Indian food,

discuss movies and books,

and this and that,

(not starving),

we come home,

I bake a cake–

because we need sweetness

in this crazy, mixed up world,

and I’m not ready to write its elegy

 

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake

 

It’s Day Three of NaPoWriMo. The prompt was elegy. I hope we do not yet need one for our sweet old world.

We saw the movies, 20th Century Women and The Zookeeper’s Wife.

I’m reading The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue

February Surprise: I Carry Your Heart

Monday Morning Musings:

My daughters and I threw a surprise 60th birthday party for my husband this past weekend, just before Valentine’s Day. He thought he was going to a party for one of our daughters. Today is the official celebration of Washington’s birthday (now always on a Monday). It is sometimes called “Presidents’ Day” and combined with Lincoln’s birthday. The line “I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)” comes from E.E. Cummings.

 

On February 22nd,

When I was young,

We colored and cut,

We painted and pasted

Images of George Washington

Our first president.

A true commander-in-chief

Tested in battle.

The American Cincinnatus,

The first US President,

A slaveholder,

Fighting for freedom.

He carried the hopes of a nation

In his heart.

 

Our February schooldays,

Included holiday units,

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,

Whose birthday we celebrated on the twelfth of February.

And so we carried home to our parents

Our construction paper masterpieces,

Revolutionary era silhouettes,

And tales of truthful George and Honest Abe,

Two leaders in war time–

One war to create a new nation

The other to keep it from dissolving.

Revolution and Civil War,

Battle lines crossed, battlefields bloodied.

And as for politics. Do you think it uncivil now?

Look again at the past.

Early campaigns filled with slander, lies, and duels.

Representative Preston Brooks

Beat Senator Charles Sumner with a cane

In a senate chamber in 1856.

Remember that?

I can imagine it today–

Perhaps battery by selfie stick

After a series of vitriolic tweets.

Any subject is possible.

But then it was a bill, new territories,

Popular Sovereignty, Bleeding Kansas,

And Civil War.

Slavery,

Owning other humans.

Indefensible, irredeemable

And yet, we forget

Events long gone, now

Backlit, perhaps a bit of uplighting,

To infuse a rosy glow

And make the past seem romantic?

O Captain! my Captain!

O heart!

Crimes of the past we carry, along with our celebrations.

 

We also celebrated Valentine’s Day in school,

A holiday that combines ancient Roman fertility rites

And Christian saints.

There’s a combination.

Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote one of the first Valentines

In 1415 to his wife.

He had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt

And wrote poetry while imprisoned in the Tower of London.

He was held captive for twenty-four years,

Plenty of time to reflect and write, though I think it

Just a teeny bit drastic for a writer’s retreat, don’t you?

But no such poetry for our school day parties.

We had pre-printed Valentines–

Roses are red, and violets are blue–

To place in the paper bags decorated with hearts,

A Valentine for each classmate.

We had cupcakes and juice,

Sweet crumbs clinging to our fingers

Like dreams in our hearts

We carried both throughout the day.

 

Our first date, was a school Christmas dance.

Just before my birthday,

A cold December night,

But we were warm with teenage hopes and expectation,

The giddiness of youth.

My mom told my aunt, you “seemed like a nice boy.”

I don’t know what your parents said.

We’ve celebrated many birthdays, and Valentine’s, too,

Since that long ago night.

I’ve carried your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).

 

This year you were surprised

Both by the passage of years–

Are we both nearly 60?–

And by the party.

I worried about the last minute snow

That people would not show,

That things would not go as planned.

But all went went.

And you,

Yes, surprised,

And touched, I think,

By the love that people carry for you

In their hearts.

 

Our daughters, also with February births,

Like you and our Presidents. Our

Family celebrations carried through the month.

We had Valentine’s birthday parties for them

When they were young.

Little girls making heart-shaped cards,

Pink and red, glitter and glue,

Gifts for us and for each other.

Chocolate cakes, sundaes with mountains of toppings,

And sleepovers in the living room.

Later they had their own Valentines,

High school dances, and college romances.

And now our babies are grown

They’ve found love

Beyond parents, friends, and pets

Though those remain, of course,

Because love grows when it is nurtured

It is infinite and endless.

It cannot be contained, though it is carried.

There can never be too much love

To fit,

To hold,

To carry in my heart

With your heart.

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Valentine’s Day Wine and Chocolate at Monroeville Winery

Love and Marriage, Part 2: War

There are marriages that turn into war zones, as husband and wife become enemy combatants in the trenches and minefields of their shared lives. But sometimes partners who love each other have the misfortune to live or to be separated during an actual war and to live in a real war zone.

 

Lovers parted by war. It’s a theme found in ancient myths and stories, as well as more recent tales. Homer’s famous epic poem, The Odyssey, is the story of Odysseus, as he journeys back to his home and his wife Penelope in Ithaca, following the Trojan War. The Odyssey has provided inspiration for many works. In 1997, for example, Charles Frazier recast The Odyssey as a Civil War tale in the novel Cold Mountain. In this story, W.P. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, becomes a deserter. As he travels back home to find his love, Ada, he is helped and hindered by people and situations resembling some of those in The Odyssey. Although they knew each other only briefly, it is the thought of seeing Ada that keeps Inman going. The story alternates with Inman and Ada narrating chapters. Ada learns how to survive and finds strength she never dreamed she had. The novel was made into a successful movie and will soon be an opera.

 
The wonderful quirky 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? by Joel and Ethan Coen, was also loosely based on The Odyssey. It involves 1930s-era escaped convicts led by Ulysses Everett McGill, played by George Clooney. It also boasts a wonderful soundtrack of country, bluegrass, blues, and gospel that features Allison Krause, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, The Soggy Bottom Boys, and others.

 
But the reality of war is something else. It boasts soundtracks of battle cries, tears, moans, gunshots, and bombs, as well as music. War separates soldiers and their families, sometimes forever. Those in the midst of battles and ambushes might literally fight for their lives, while those left at home are sometimes left to face occupying troops or deserters, destruction of their homes, and food shortages. The recent tragic and sometimes horrifying news from places all over the globe demonstrates that these situations still exist. We humans are very good at finding ways to destroy our cultures and ourselves.

 
And yet, love endures. Goodness, hope, and beauty endure.
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
–Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

 
As I work on my next project, an encyclopedia of daily life during the American Revolution, I’m reminded of two things—life goes on during war AND daily life is changed by war. Sometimes it is undeniably and irrevocably changed, for the better or for the worse. For many Americans, the era of the American Revolution is confined to images of “Patriots” fighting “Redcoats,” the “Founding Fathers” gathering in Philadelphia, and perhaps some faint knowledge of the Boston Tea Party. It is something remote. But of course, as in all wars, there were real people who fought, died, profited, mourned, and just went on living. There were also those left at home who planted crops, sewed and washed clothing, gave birth, committed crimes, were victims of crimes, wrote poetry, got drunk, lived, and died. And they loved and were loved.

 
Those who were literate and had access to paper, ink, and a way to get letters delivered, attempted to communicate with their friends and family.

 
“I am rejoiced to hear you are well; “I want to know many more perticuliars than you wrote me, and hope soon to hear from you again. I dare not trust myself with the thought of how long you may [illegible] perhaps be absent. I only count the weeks already past, and they amount to 5.”
–Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14-16 September 1774

 
War. It goes on. But so does love.

 
In one of the most poignant and beautiful letters that emerged from the blood and horror of the American Civil War are these lines from Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah:

 
Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name.”

 
Sullivan Ballou was killed at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.
You can read the entire letter here.
http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=253