Life’s Labor

Monday Morning Musings:

“It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.

The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,

The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.”

From Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Sunset in the City” 

 

“Therefore—we do life’s labor—

Though life’s Reward—be done—

With scrupulous exactness—

To hold our Senses—on—”

Emily Dickinson 

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Dawn comes with a song colored in a blush of dusty pink

whispering secrets

I am light

glowing honey gold

through rose-tinged clouds.

I am sound,

the buzzing drone

of a cicada,

the eager chirping of a sparrow

looking for love.

Look–

Listen–

soon come the shadows

black in the moonlight–

soon comes the silence,

save the skittering of night creatures

over dry brown leaves.

***

It is a week of reflection

abjection and affection

 

glowering grey

and love that stays

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true in hue

though the world’s askew.

 

Hurricanes and guns,

the loss daughters and sons

 

to senseless violence

and no defenses

 

do we have for either wind

or fury underpinned

 

by those in power—

but here in a bower

 

a garden of flowers

we sit for hours.

My mother naps

as the sparrow flaps

 

his wings to no avail–

though he chirps and flails

 

the lady sparrow ignores him

as he follows from limb to limb

 

and along the concrete wall

calling, calling to all

 

“I am here,

my beauty, appear!”

 

On this Labor Day weekend

we labor and bend

 

to the inevitable end

of summer and life, we send

 

thoughts outward with the breeze

we tease

 

joy for moments when we can

flowers, family, pets, wine—and

I remember how my mother worked

and didn’t shirk

 

her duty to home or even nation

bucking rivets, no vacation

 

I’m sure, she tells me of a woman there

who stands up for her—the righteous everywhere—

 

when the haters hate

six million dead does not set them straight.

 

Still, she worked all her life

in stores, as mother and wife

 

and after. An aunt worked sewing

and I wonder, not knowing

 

what the factory was like,

and if they ever went on strike,

 

but my mother got to borrow her clothes

and so, it goes

 

she met my father who lives in her dreams–

he lives on in seams

 

stitched with invisible thread

in memories real and false, but we tread

 

lightly because what else can we do–

as we sit under a sky of September blue

 

knowing that autumn is coming,

but the moon will keep humming,

 

and we will labor, love, and play

life beyond us will go on, each day

 

green or barren, this earth

laboring, revolving, giving birth

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to new possibilities, hopes, and fears

in endless cycles over thousands of years.

 

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Today is Labor Day here in the U.S.  The Mormon Temple near where my mom lives has a lovely little garden square that is open to the public.  We enjoyed wine and cheese at Tria, where on Sunday’s they offer specials that they call “Sunday School.”  My mom recently told me that a woman defended her when a man or men uttered anti-Semitic slurs at her–while she was working as a “bucker” for riveters during WWII.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleeting Impressions

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painted portraits have a life of their own that comes deep in the soul of the painter.”

–Vincent van Gogh, 1885

 

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Angels dance across the sky

kissing the grass with morning dew–

there, a door opens,

there, a door closes

ephemeral as a ghost.

Do you hear the belly laugh

emerging from the silence?

It is wild and warm,

life.

***

Impressions of a week,

moments stored, like snapshots

a truth we seek, we speak

 

of how my mom is weak

our lives tied-up in knots,

and the world is often bleak,

 

but we take a long walk

by fountains and statues,

we talk

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Swann Memorial Fountain, Logan Square, Philadelphia

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“Social Justice” Philadelphia Museum of Art, Association for Public Art

of family, admire brushstrokes and dots

in bathers, poplars, and fields–

impressions formed from all these spots.

I want to be in this scene

I say, and wonder what it’d be like—

I dream. . .

 

but we walk past the sycamore trees,

an urban oasis, cool in the summer heat

from the welcome breeze

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Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

in the garden, a rabbit darts

and bees flit, while birds sing

perhaps all patrons of the arts?

 

The Impressionists would enjoy

the gardens here, I think.

As we walk, I see a little boy

his shirt, says “Just Do It,”

and he looks eager to—

my impressions flit . . .

 

It’s a beautiful July day.

We drink wine, eat cheese,

wanting a moment to stay

 

here, in a bit of peace,

sitting, dreaming, a sidewalk café

(though the texts don’t cease)

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Tria, Washington West, Philadelphia

we drink wine and beer,

eat luscious cheese,

and find some cheer that we’re here.

Then a day with our daughter

(more wine and cheer)

she tells me how her father taught her

and her husband how to fix things.

and we talk of friends and dreams,

and how funny it is, the way life brings

 

us to these moments, and all the feelings—

love and tears, dogs, house, spouse—

the roller-coaster ride that sends us reeling

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and hallucinating. Yet we stop,

read a book, sit here

in a pleasant, tranquil spot. . .

 

Impressions, fleeting

they come together

completing

 

somehow, my life.

Impressions–look, see

forget the moments of strife—

 

there, the lucent moon sails high

her ship glowing

across the sapphire sky.

Morning Moon, June 2019, Merril D. Smith

 

. . .and there are cats.

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The Show Goes On

Monday Morning Musings:

“Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.”

― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”

― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

 “Some birds sing when the sun is bright/my praise is not for them/but the one who sings in the dead of night/I raise my cup to him.” (“I Raise My Cup”).

–Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown

Linger here,

in the never-always

remembering

one thing,

two,

three–

remembering

only this,

who, if not when,

the sunshine dazzling,

as laughter

the bluest sky,

and dreams rising

to dance in the clouds.

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***

Long days

in the approach of summer solstice

long weeks of dread

and anticipation,

of entrances and exits,

of missed cues

and dropped lines.

 

We cherish intermissions

to drink wine in the golden glow

sunsets all the backdrop needed

a show in itself

A Girl and Her Puppy, William Heritage Winery

as the show goes on

as daughters comfort me,

and I try to comfort my mother,

life circles around and around

and around and around–

We talk of pets

and medicine and Pride,

and love is love is love is love is love–

walls come up,

walls are torn down,

sometimes Mother is wrong,

sometimes Mother is right. . .

 

The mockingbird sings

in the dead of night,

a solo turn

in nature’s theater,

I raise my glass to him,

the show goes on.

 

 

It has been a long week. My mom is out of rehab and back in her apartment, but she needs a lot of care. There have been visits, and endless phone calls, texts, and emails. We had glorious weather this past weekend–cool nights, sunshine-filled days. It’s raining today.

We haven’t been to the movies lately, but I take my Merril’s movie club seriously, so I can recommend  I Am Mother on Netflix.  My husband and I both liked it, and it kept me interested after a long, exhausting day with my mom. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where Mother, a robot, is raising her human Daughter. I watched the Tony awards last night. (To be honest, I watched most of it, but I couldn’t stay awake to the end.) Hadestown—which looks like such a Merril play—won best musical and seven other awards. Here’s the Broadway trailer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Step into Spring: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“Let the rain kiss you.

Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.

Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”

–from Langston Hughes, “April Rain Song”

 

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed

Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;

—John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

 

She sings from an ache,

raw winds blow, shake

the bare-branched trees,

and the seas weep

till they are silenced by ice–

but on her daughter’s return

the snow melts,

and the sun burns

brightly, birds flitter and coo

and flowers wake with smiles

–and you?

You, smile, too–because

too soon we bid Spring adieu.

***

In the last days of March,

we walk through woods

find shadows and light

breathe air fresh and bright,

with a hint of chill–still

then comes the rain–again

In the last days of March

birds twitter and tweet

at the mornings sweet

with promise of days fair

then the air turns again

and we learn that spring

is here. . . then there

 

In the last days of March,

we walk down city streets

see a show

and have our treats

of wine, beer, cheese

(yes, a bit more please)

and come home at night

to find daffodils have bloomed

shining golden beacons of light

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In the last days of March,

we make candles

sitting in a room full of scent

invent clever names–

imagine a small burning flame

bringing light,

a small delight,

and we drink wine and talk

then walk

and talk some more

 

of stories and poetry

Langston Hughes, Keats,

Shelley, and Persephone, too.

We talk of teachers we knew

of stories completed in dreams

of how the world seems

sometimes horrid, and

sometimes reborn,

fresh and new.

On the last day of March

it rains—

again—

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we gather to eat—

bagels and cream cheese

my mother is pleased

to be out and about in another place,

but it’s a dog who steals the show—

of course, you know

how it is, and so,

we talk about this and that

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then we go home to feed our cats. . .

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and wake upon a cold April first

(isn’t that the worst?)

Well, I suppose it could be snow,

and so. . .we go forward to the spring

(let the rain kiss you)

and that’s how it’s done, we bring

our past to the future

spring forward, looking back,

we stop, step lightly—

breathe

here, this moment of

yellow flowers, pink blooms

and birdsong–

now, spring looms

and I pause

to listen

to its tune.

 

Today is the first day of April, and the first day of National/Global Poetry Writing Month! Today’s prompt is “how to do something.” I’ve played on it a bit for today’s Monday Morning Musings.

My younger daughter and I went to Wax and Wine in Philadelphia. (It was her belated birthday present.)  And because we’re both nerds, we were actually discussing writing and poetry while drinking wine and eating gorgonzola-fig bruschetta at Vintage Wine Bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NaPoWriMo

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Home, the Kindness of Strangers

Monday Morning Musings:

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

–Blanche,  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

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After he had served his country,

had been a stranger in more than one strange land,

and was home, if not settled,

he joined a community of strangers

who became friends.

Theater brought the couple together,

in A Streetcar Named Desire,

they sparred with words and movement

(a subtext created)

my daughter said “He’s nothing like Stanley,”

reassuring me,

and she,

my practical dreamer, is nothing like Blanche,

the magic of theater,

bringing something of oneself in playing another,

finding empathy for strangers,

a valuable skill, I’d say.

Perhaps a community brought them together,

these two,

so different,

so similar,

they married,

the English teacher bride with her Jane Eyre message,

“Reader, I married him.”

Every year she meets new students,

strangers, whom she will guide.

The groom, studying to become a nurse,

will care for strangers, too.

And through the kindness of strangers,

they now have a house.

Home is where the heart is,

so the old proverb goes,

but it’s certainly pleasant to have four sturdy walls

and a roof—

with skylights.

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Months ago, the process began,

 I saw something online,

I entered to win a house.

Really? we laughed a bit–

because who wins the lottery?

But they did.

The kindness of strangers,

Operation Homefront,

gave this veteran and his wife a rare opportunity,

a home of their own.

 

They waited,

spring turned to summer, fall,

in winter, they finally saw their new home.

a magical day–

after all, we stood without coats in January

when a few days before snow lay on the ground.

the sun was shining,

a gentle breeze lifted and tangle the flag,

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the veteran lifted his bride

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It brought back memories–

when my husband and I bought our house,

I was pregnant with her sister,

our first child,

the house was dirty and needed work before we could move in,

old, musty carpets pulled out, floors refinished, and walls painted,

we relied, not on strangers, but on friends

who helped us with the tasks

(laboring before I labored)

Their house was renovated by strangers,

a little dream house with a yard for their dog,

 

 

sunny windows for their cat,

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a room for friends to stay in,

space to dream,

and a chocolate cake in the refrigerator.

 

We celebrated that night,

pizza and wine,

the servers, astounded by our tale,

thanked him for his service,

we ordered dessert–

it was a celebration,

and yes, that sopapilla cheesecake

(with butter rum sauce)

was delicious.

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It snowed once again,

briefly, white flakes touched the ground and melted,

then the sun returned for moving day,

a long day of packing, moving, unloading trucks and cars–

and doing it again,

family this time, not strangers.

 

We celebrated again

this time with delicious Pakistani food

from a newly discovered restaurant

in their new neighborhood

where the owner, a stranger,

gave them extra naan.

We ate in the kitchen

on paper plates

drank wine from plastic cups,

boxes still to be unpacked,

but they were home,

settled,

and their cat finally came out from hiding to explore,

and settled down in front of the fire.

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That’s the way life goes

days of sun and days of cold,

but they will be snug in their new home,

a dream house,

a house filled with dreams,

with a fire in their fireplace,

from their bed, they’ll watch the moon,

and maybe even hear it hum a lullaby

as the clouds go dancing by,

 

they’ll sleep and dream sweet dreams

and they will be strangely glad

to be home.

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Photo credit: Sheryl C. Smith, 2017

 

Here is a brief news segment about Sheryl and Eric on the day they received the key to their new home.

And an article

Eric and Sheryl received their house through Operation Homefront, Homes on the Homefront

We ate pizza at Holy Tomato

And delicious Pakistani food at Mera Khana