Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

–Leonardo da Vinci
 

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

–Vincent Van Gogh

 

My sisters and I call each other

“No one’s dead,” we quickly chirp,

a macabre affirmation of life,

a precaution for my perpetually panicked sister-niece,

(she answers the phone expecting disaster)

we laugh—because what can you do?

but then comes news of two deaths over the weekend,

my husband’s former colleague and a college friend,

we’re of a certain age now,

most of our friends have lost at least one parent,

some both,

middle-aged orphans,

I think about links to the past,

disappearing the way beads slide off string one by one

 

and I watch a miniseries about the Gay Rights Movement

see again the AIDS quilt,

memories squared and love-knotted,

blanketing the National Mall,

a memorial, a declaration

we protest with poetry and art,

against wars, against injustice,

fighting for the right to live

and to die in dignity,

(love is love is love is love)

in the epic story of our lives,

we are the heroes,

and its tragic victims

 

We dream and we create,

our lives, like intricately folded origami

unfolded in a split second,

a discovery that the crane

is now simply a wrinkled bit of paper

 

We take my mother to our daughter’s house for brunch,

my mother, once a child, now the matriarch,

a ninety-four-year-old orphan

her parents, her brother, and many of her friends are gone,

she can barely see, but still she paints

the vision must be in her mind and hands

felt, rather than seen,

poetry in paint,

tactile sensibility,

she has her first mimosa

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and we talk of this and that

old hairstyles, Dallas nightclubs,

stories my daughter has never heard before

of a world and people that no longer exist,

I imagine a mirror with endless reflections

and the world through the looking glass

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We’re through the looking glass in a mirrored room, transported to an 18th century French palace. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

we laugh over misunderstood words

the kind of laughter that brings tears,

and we are entertained by pets,

sitting in the kitchen,

a domestic scene,

that could come from the past,

generations sitting around a table

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My husband and I go to an exhibition of watercolors

an amazing show, 175 paintings on display,

the show traces the history–

how watercolor became an American medium

from what was essentially work done in the home,

by women, decorative artists, as well as illustrators

becomes much more after the Civil War

and Philadelphia,

with publications and art schools

becomes a center

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The exhibition describes the painters’ techniques

the importance of the paper in the watercolors,

various textures and colors

watercolors are luminous, but fragile

reflecting light,

but also, fading in light,

the picture dies

the image no longer exists,

and I think of the building, landscapes, and people in the paintings

that no longer exist

except in these depictions

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where the sun still shines and wind still blows

and alligators huddle together in the mud,

lethargic beasts with deadly grins

 

at night, I dream of light and art,

I paint my dream into a poem,

a dream of misty luminosity with opaque spots

brushed by the artist

(look there closely at the strokes)

on an unusual type of paper, with texture both rough and smooth

folded over and over,

to form different creases,

like wrinkles on faces in time

endless, like reflections in a mirror

 

Information:

We watched the miniseries, When We Rise

We saw the exhibition, “American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent”

You can see a trailer on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Website.

It is a stunning exhibition, but because watercolors are fragile, it will only be seen in Philadelphia. No photography is permitted.

 

 

Freedom: Microfiction

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Ilya Repin. “What Freedom!” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Sergei took Vera’s hand and pulled her toward the sea. Vera had never before seen him looking so relaxed in his uniform. As though he was wearing a costume for fun, she thought. Similarly, she felt loose, unconfined—and free–in her elegant midnight blue traveling gown.

They stood encircled by the swirling water. Waves of blue and white crashed over and about them. Foam and mist dotted the air, but not a drop of water dampened their clothing.

“Where are we?” Vera asked in delight, and accidentally dropped the fur muff she had carried. It stopped mid-air, then began to dance to the rhythm of the waves. It jumped back into her arms. Vera laughed. She could hear the sea singing—and felt its song throughout her body.

“We’re in our place,” Sergei answered. “Where we can be together always. Don’t worry. It will all be clear soon.”

Vera woke, disoriented.  She was sitting in a chair in her parlor, holding the telegram telling her of Sergei’s death at the front. A blue fur muff lay on her lap. She stared at it and wondered. She had always trusted Sergei. Perhaps it would all become clear in time.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge, using the above painting by Ilya Repin as a prompt.

Song of the Stars

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Jess Mann [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

I watched the stars as they danced by,

They glimmered brightly in the sky.

I heard their song, mellifluous,

I heard their song, I thought of us.

 

I heard the lap of river waves,

They touch the edge of muddy graves.

I thought of war and bloody fields,

I thought of death and broken shields.

 

But still your touch remains with me,

Though different skies and stars we see,

Come back to me, before too long,

To watch the stars, to hear their song.

 

This week for her poetry challenge, the ever creative Jane Dougherty asked us to concentrate on sound and meter. I’m not certain I succeeded, but here it is.

The prompt words were: Stars, night, and water. The image is the one above by Jess Mann.

 

 

 

 

 

Microfiction: Kiss at the Window

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Edvard Munch, Kiss By the Window, Public Domain, Wikipedia.

Inside the house, lamps and hearths glowed, banishing the darkness of the Norwegian winter. As they stood by the window, Fredrik gently placed the pearl necklace around her neck. The lustrous white spheres were cool against her skin. He kissed her, first gently, and then with more urgency. The faint scent of his pipe tobacco clung to his clothes. A knock at their bedroom door made them break apart, as her maid, Sonya, announced that their first dinner guests had arrived. Elisabeth vowed to remember everything about that December night forever. It was her twenty-fifth birthday.

Now alone in her hospital bed, body aching, she watched that memory, a movie in her mind. It had been nearly seventy years ago; twenty years since she had last heard Fredrik’s voice. She sensed—something–the air felt charged. She smelled pipe smoke. She heard a voice say, “Are you ready, my darling? I’ve missed you so.” Her heart fluttered. She noticed a window draped in blue, a fire burning in fireplace. She felt a necklace, cool against her throat. She smiled. She took Fredrik’s hand and walked with him into the glowing light.

 

This story is in response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The prompt was the painting above with a two hundred word limit; mine was 191 words.

Magic All Around Us

Monday Morning Musings:

“Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made of out magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden—in all the places.”

–Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

 

“A church is place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is—at least for a moment—made visible.

The theater can be that too.”

The Christians: An Essay by Lucas Hnath,” Playwrights Horizon Bulletin

 

It is the season of life,

spring, when flowers bloom

and birds sing and chatter from dawn till dusk,

and then some,

squirrels chase each other up and down

the tree’s umbrageous limbs,

rabbits hop, stop, and sprint across the grass

dotted with yellow flowers,

probably weeds,

but eye of the beholder and all that,

now, today

it’s rainy and gloomy, and

we commemorate the fallen.

Lights out,

All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Nothing dies that hasn’t first lived

and there are ghosts all around us.

 

At the start of this holiday weekend,

we go to see The Secret Garden,

pathos and harmonies,

glorious score, creative set,

stunningly beautiful voices.

(“Yummy,” said the woman next to me.)

There was a secret garden

once loved, but left to languish,

rediscovered, it is brought back to life

a bit of earth blooms

sorrow, not forgotten,

but eased,

a garden and a family recreated.

In the magic of theater, I’m bewitched, entranced,

enthralled.

I dream of ghosts and enchanted gardens

with songs floating in the air,

Come to my garden.

 

The next day, we see another play

about faith and changing beliefs,

about questioning and communication,

the pastor has a powerful urge to communicate

I wonder if his message resonates more powerfully

with believers?

Still, the play sparks conversation

as we sit outside at a wine café on a beautiful afternoon,

although I have to lead with

(vent about)

the person sitting next to me,

man-spreading into my personal space

(fortunately, I’m small)

fidgeting and reaching for his water

on the floor between his spread legs,

non-stop for the first ten minutes of the play,

before he abruptly gets up and leaves.

Perhaps there is a god.

But still

I dream of ghosts and enchanted gardens

with songs floating in the air,

Come to my garden

 

Before the first play,

(the yummy-voiced musical)

we walk in the garden of

Christ Church

People had crises of faith then, too–

and wars–

life blooms all around

in the garden

on this beautiful summer-like day,

as do reminders of death

life and death

an endless cycle.

But still

I dream of ghosts and enchanted gardens

with songs floating in the air,

Come to my garden.

 

That night

(after the yummy-voiced musical)

we sit outside,

enjoying, the beautiful evening

family, old and young

different generations

shared loved

love that blooms

and blooms again

like the flowers in a garden,

the magic of life, the sorrow of death

circle of life recreated and recast every second

as cells are sloughed off and created,

people and animals born and die.

Every spring, the earth awakens

Magic!

in a garden

on earth

And I dream–

I dream of ghosts and enchanted gardens

with songs floating in the air,

Come to my garden.

 

We saw The Secret Garden at the Arden Theatre

Christ Church, Philadelphia 

We saw The Christians at the Wilma Theater 

Some history of “Taps”  

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Walk

NOR Måneskinn, ENG Moonlight

Jane Dougherty’s challenge this week was to write a poem using this painting as a prompt and some or all of these words:

winding – moonlight – follow – heavily – path

 

She stood in the moonlight

sensing his presence behind her

waiting did not bother him

he was patient

as was she

knowing, but not yet ready,

not quite ready to follow him.

He stood still, behind her

a shadow image

hovering

not unkind

simply there.

Then it was time.

Death took her hand,

and they walked together

through the moonlight

down the winding path

 

 

 

 

 

 

May

20110309131133“the month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.  For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May, in something to constrain him to some manner of thing more in that month than in any other month, for divers causes. For then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman, and likewise lovers call again to their mind old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence.”

-Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur

In southern New Jersey, where I live, spring is in full force. Gone are the early harbingers, the crocuses, snowbells, and daffodils—we’ve moved on! Now tulips, azaleas, and other late spring flowers dot the landscape, along with the last of the flowering trees, still adorned with petals of pink or white. They sway lightly in the breeze like a ballerina’s tulle skirt, strong and fragile. The leaves on the trees are still mostly small and that yellow-green that exists only in the spring; the trees have not yet donned their larger and darker summer-green raiment.

The days are sunny and bright. The nights are cool and still require a blanket. There is hope in the gentle spring breezes. It floats in the air and sings a duet with the birds.

It is all so beautiful. My heart rejoices in the loveliness and makes me feel reborn.  This is the season of rebirth. A few nights ago my husband saw scores of bats swarm into the evening sky. According to what I’ve read, they are now emerging from hibernation and looking for suitable areas to set up their “maternity wings.” I hope they stick around and eat the mosquitoes that will soon be taking over our backyard.

Death and rebirth. These themes appear in religions and cultures throughout the world. The Corn Mother dies so that corn can appear to feed her children.  “The circle of life.”  “To every thing there is a season.” “And the seasons they go round and round.” These ideas are almost—but not quite—clichés. We all know that the seasons go round and round, but every one of us experiences it differently. Every birth or death of a loved one is unique. It doesn’t matter how many times it has happened before. The first steps or first words of your own children are minor miracles—to parents and grandparents, but not to anyone else.

Death and rebirth. There is a personal connection for me in May. My father died in May years ago when our daughters were young. He did not live to see them grow up to become amazing and wonderful young women.  Our daughters were conceived in May. Yes, “the lusty month of May.” Ahem. Death and rebirth.

In the United States, May is the month of college graduations–death and rebirth of another sort. The ceremony during which academic degrees are dispersed is called “commencement.” It is the end of a course of study, and the beginning of a new life.  Three years ago, our older daughter graduated from college, and in a couple of weeks, our younger daughter will do so. Millions have gone through this ritual, but to us, the proud parents, these two graduations are unique and wondrous, as they should be. One daughter has embarked upon her “grown up” life, and the other will soon do so. I am incredibly proud of them. 

In May, we see life reborn, both literally and metaphorically. In May we are restored, “for then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman.” And although we cannot go back, we can continue to hope and dream. As Joni Mitchell wrote:

“There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.”

 

“When joy like these salute the sense,

And bloom and perfume fill the day,

Then waiting long hath recompense,

And all the world is glad with May.”

–John Burroughs, “In May”

 

 

Childhood Dreams, Childhood Memories

“Walkin’ through the world
Things happen
Right before your eyes
Things happen
Soon enough you’re lost
And thinkin’
When I’m gonna go back home”
–John Kander and Fred Ebb, “Go Back Home,”
The Scottsboro Boys

 

I was in my car today listening to Radio Times, as poet Lynn Levin described the doll on the cover of her new book Miss Plastique. The brief discussion brought back vivid memories of my daughters playing with their dolls. They loved playing with “the Barbs,” and gave each one a name. I remember Mary, Colonial, Tracy (aka Tracy-Hopping-on-One-Foot after she lost a leg). The Barbies had so many adventures—some of which, I recently discovered, I knew nothing about. It’s probably better that way. I did witness though, and participated in, many of the dolls’ escapades. Little Women Barbies was a favorite game of my younger daughter that we played together when her older sister was at school. She selected particular Barbie Dolls to be the main characters of Louisa May Alcott’s story. In my daughter’s Barbie version, Amy had superhuman gymnastic abilities and drove a car. And I’m pretty sure I remember Aunt March sang “Bare Necessities.” I’m not certain why.

 

Dolls have existed since ancient times and in cultures throughout the world. (See an example here.)
They can be made from all sorts of material. My daughters made paper doll families, seashell families, and on one family vacation, they made a family from the chopsticks they took home from a restaurant. I was never worried about them being unduly influenced by Barbie’s freakish body. Clearly, the dolls were merely props for the worlds their imaginations created.

 

These reflections about dolls and childhood came after my checkup with my oncologist. He said everything looks great. I was relieved, of course. I know how easily I could have been told something else. Yesterday I had attended the funeral of a young man who died much too soon. He was only 23, barely out of boyhood. I am happy that I am well, but it makes me feel almost guilty. I cherish the memories of my daughters’ childhoods, but they are alive, and this wonderful young man is not. His family has the memories of his childhood to cherish, but he is no longer with them, and memories are all they have.

 

Like many people here in the US, I’ve been feeling that “Right before your eyes things happen.” In the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” it was being on a freight train at the wrong time and place. Last week it was watching a marathon in Boston. Why is one person injured, while someone else moments before just happened to move away? Sometimes randomness is reassuring, but at other times it’s frightening. Since prehistoric times, humans have tried to understand fate, but it is impossible, of course. “Giddy Fortune’s furious fickle wheel”

 

Girl with collection of dolls

Girl with collection of dolls (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

spins and we don’t know what it will bring. Perhaps that is one reason why children are so drawn to dolls. They can be held, loved, and cherished. They can be used to create a new universe where characters in a novel take on new lives, or where a family member still exists. They can help to bring shape and order to a random world.

Saying Goodbye

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“Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.”

Dr. Seuss

Last night, our old lady cat Tasha died. I made the very difficult decision to terminate her life. She was 19, and up until a couple of weeks ago, despite kidney disease and arthritis, she was still coping well and holding her own against the two little boy cats who shared her home. Yesterday though was something else, and when it seemed to me that she was actually in pain and not able to eat, I didn’t want to prolong her suffering. The veterinarian and the staff were kind and compassionate, and Tasha’s death was very peaceful.

Pets are part of the family. If they’re not, then why have a pet? I believe that once you have a pet, you are responsible for it, as you would be for any family member. Coping with their illnesses and death are part of the package. In return for your care, they give you love, keep you company, and provide you with an endless source of amusement. It seems like a fair trade. I resisted getting any kind of pet for many years after my husband and I married because I knew I could not do it lightly. But when our young daughters wanted kittens, my husband and I gave in. That was the start. I had grown up with dogs, and I never suspected how much I would love my cats.

As Tasha became old and frail, it became hard to remember her as the young cat who leaped into the kitchen sink to get lettuce—and that she ran to the kitchen at the sound of the lettuce spinner.  Or that she once had the curiosity and sense of adventure to figure out how to open the cabinet under the bathroom sink, crawl into the space around the pipes, and run around in the area between the bathroom floor and the kitchen ceiling.

One of my daughters (lovingly) referred to her as a diva, and she was. She demanded immediate attention, and this attitude increased, as she got older.  We referred to her as the old lady princess cat. She also began to howl (that is the only way to describe it) in the bathroom when she wanted water from the sink, which she did, constantly.

One time, however, her howling helped to rescue another one of our cats. After a period of very heavy rainfall, our basement had flooded. That night as my husband was trying to pump the water out of it, we think our cat Ricky got scared and escaped through the window, but we did not discover he was gone until the next morning. I was in tears for two, long days as we tried to find him, assisted by friends and friends of friends.

Finally, my husband and I camped out in the dark of our backyard. I placed fresh food, the litter box, and one of my dirty gym shirts on the ground near the window from which we think he made his exit. We accidentally scared Ricky away once. Then cautiously he returned. As we wondered what to do, from the open bathroom window, we heard Tasha howl and howl again. Ricky replied with one his strange little squeaky sounds. I called to him then, and he ran to me.  I scooped him up and brought him back inside. Ricky got food and hugs; Tasha got water from the bathroom sink.

Tasha did not like our other little boy cat, but she tolerated Ricky. She let him sleep next to her, and even let him lick her head.

Tasha could be annoying, and I do not miss cleaning up after her. But I would love to hear one of her howls now. Rest in peace, Tasha. You were well loved.