Philadelphia, 1793: So Much Left Unsaid, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

I want to say, Dear Mother, do not fret
I am gone, and all is set,
you think, I know, our Father’s will and rule–
but, oh I wish I lived to see my babies go to school!
And all the sisters out at play—
instead of here. The way

(my body disappeared
I seem to float without it.)

I remember now, how yellow turned my skin and eyes,
and mournful were my sighs and cries
from aching head–
and then overspread
the blackest bile from within my bowels
over all the sheets and towels. . .

and yet you tended me
till I ceased to be

me.

I no longer feel the pain.
But Mother, I wish I remained.

For the NaPoWriMo prompt today to “write your own poem in the form of a monologue delivered by someone who is dead” and for the dVerse prompt where Grace asks us to write about the body. I wasn’t going to do either prompt, but then this came to me. It’s based on letters I read that were written during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Many fled the city, but over 5,000 people died. The disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, so the epidemic subsided once the weather cooled. I remember sitting in the Quaker Archives at Haverford College reading one letter and nearly bursting into tears.

Wine and Stories

Monday Morning Afternoon Musings:

Passover a few years ago. Lots of wine–and sparkling wine?

With stories,
we entertain, ascertain, explain the past,
another glass of wine drained, slow or fast–

is it enough? We remember
to forget

how seasons turn, grey to green,
but loved ones gone, remain unseen

like ghosts
white blossoms drift
leaving trails . . .we follow.

It’s poetry month, and I’m having a hard time getting anything else done between all the poetry writing and reading. So, I’m making my usual Monday Morning Musings very short and combining it with the dVerse quadrille prompt, where Linda asks us to write about wine.

Passover ended yesterday. I celebrated with pasta, garlic bread, and wine. During a traditional Passover Seder (Seder means order), we tell the story of the Exodus and during the course of the night drink four glasses of wine. My family, when we’re together, does a very untraditional Seder, and we drink maybe one, two. . . maybe more. I’m looking forward to seeing them someday soon.

Merril’s Movie Club: We watched Quo Vadis, Aida? It’s Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Oscar entry, and it’s a harrowing and heartbreaking, but also an excellent and nuanced movie. It chronicles the failure of the UN peacekeeping forces and the mass genocide by Serbian army in Srebrenica, as seen through the eyes of UN interpreter. The director said she had been waiting for someone to tell this difficult story, but she finally did so herself, and she does so without relying on showing tons of blood and gore. It’s available to rent on Amazon. We also watched Mank (Netflix). We both enjoyed it. It tells a fictional story of 1930s-1940s Hollywood, and the making of Citizen Kane, centered on Herman J. Mankiewicz, the writer, played by Gary Oldman. I thought Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies was particularly good.

The Laundress

That man, the painter—
nothing better to do

And so, I’ll begin the sketch. She is magnificent–
her sturdy body, and her muscled arms—

they ache–bent over scrubbing all day–
my back, my legs! And still the ironing,

not done. The light is fading. The color, not quite right.
But that glow illuminating her? Our lady of the laundry. . .
.

yes, I pray, but. . .oh, this basket top-full and heavy.
Come child, give me your hand,

so tender

my dear little one. I’ll tell you a story–
once there was a man who painted

her face

all the weariness gone.


Honoré Daumier, “The Laundress” (1863?), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

April is Poetry Month, and there are so many challenges and prompts! I won’t be doing or posting every NaPoWriMo prompt, but today I’m combining this “early bird” prompt with the dVerse poetics prompt where De asked to write about laundry. This formatting took way too long to figure out. Tomorrow is the start of Paul Brookes’ Ekphrastic Challenge.

Once More

Once more, we tilt, revolve again toward light–
winter gone, the robins sing to welcome spring
as dark days pass, earth’s hues ignite

swifter than the bullets’ hate-filled flight,
blue jays and red cardinals soar bright-winged,
once more, we tilt, revolve again toward light.

Now in daffodil glow, the poets write
of love and fate, and April’s state—that sting
as dark days pass. Earth’s hues ignite,

but the moon hums to fade their sight
and around us all the constellations ring–
once more, we tilt, revolve again toward light.

With shots in arms, we find delight
in friends and bowers, and nature’s might.
As dark days pass, Earth’s hues ignite–

not in bombs, or gunshot fight, but flowers bright.
Against despair and doom, to hope we cling
once more. Now tilt, revolve again toward light.
Watch! Dark days pass, and Earth’s hues ignite.

For dVerse, where Peter asks us to write poems that circle in some way. I was determined to write a villanelle, since I haven’t written one for a long time. I used Sarah’s template when she hosted the villanelle form for dVerse.

Dreams Unknotted

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
–Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, 1888

In wavy lines and shimmering spots,
his knotted thoughts, unspooled

the counted crows, a postman, impasto
flowers’ golden glow–

but most of all the stars, not stilled,
the night a colored motion sea–

ripples of what he saw–and dreams of what might be

A quadrille for dVerse, where Mish asked us to use the word “knot.” I read this article today about how after van Gogh’s death, the sale of his paintings—then valuable—paid for his sister Willemien’s care in a mental asylum. I suppose it helped her, but I also felt it was so tragic that she spent decades—almost forty years–there.

The Question

Mortal, we
free-fall in life-aches’
whispered, whys.
Dark matter
attracted, but questioning
the spin, the drop–still

carbon-based,
not immortal, but
time-holding–
swallowed stars
coursing through our veins, scattered
light diffused, always

there waiting,
the flame, unknown or
forgotten,
a beacon
within brain, heart, skin–or soul-
dimmed till it’s released.

In a dream,
a blue river shines,
calling me,
and I wake
with the vision remaining.
I send it soaring.

And does it
live on in space-time?
Not human,
not mortal,
but eternally, star-sparked–
circling forever.

Cloud Reflections on the Delaware River at West Deptford, NJ ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

A shadorma sequence for Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday, where I chose the theme, “Immortality.” I’m also sharing this with dVerse for Open Link Night, which is live tonight! I really did wake from a dream of a blue river

River of Possibility

Seurat, Georges; The Seine seen from La Grande Jatte; The National Gallery, London

Sometimes the past seems more real than the present. We float on tributaries of seconds, minutes, and years—merging in the river of time. Do we choose the course we take, or do we simply follow the currents?

Could I have chosen differently? Could you have?

Our brief time together was fueled by danger, not dances or riverside picnics–I still hear jackboots in my nightmares. I don’t even know if you’re alive. But I’ve always preferred knowing even the hardest truths, and I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility that existence has its own reason for being. I will keep looking for you, Paul. I still miss you, as though a piece of my core has been lost—despite the possibilities.

Did you betray me?

I look down at the Seine, but it gives me no answers. It reflects only the present.

Another episode of my spy story for dVerse , where I am hosting Prosery Monday, prose of no more than 144 words that includes a line from a poem chosen by the dVerse host. The verse I chose for everyone was an unintended challenge.

“I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility that existence has its own reason for being.”
— Wisława Szymborska, “Possibilities”

Shadows Break for Spring

And in the after of dreams
do you whisper why,
as purple shadows hover,
drift, shift, slide, and sigh?
Death-doused year passes,
robins come again, pinked dawn
sings—hope comes, hands clasped

we embrace, sun’s soft shimmer
attracts gathered gulls,
to hear mockingbird perform–
warbles and chatter.
Cruelty of spring
comes in remembrance–lives lost—
but still—daffodils.

For dVerse, Grace has asked us to write a seguidilla.

“The Seguidilla is:
• stanzaic, written in any number of 2 part septets. (7 lines)
• syllabic, 7-5-7-5 : 5-7-5 per line. There is a slight pause between L4 and L5 suggesting L4 should be end-stopped.
• rhymed by assonance xAxABxB or xAxABAB. x being unrhymed. True rhyme is generally not used.
• composed with a volta or change in thought between L4 and L5.
• sometimes serves as a conclusion for another verse.”

Yesterday was the anniversary of the declaration of the current pandemic. Last April my mom died of Covid, the same week one of our cats died. But I’m feeling hope in the air with vaccinations and spring weather. Yesterday, our first daffodil of the season bloomed. This morning, I heard a mockingbird putting on quite a concert.

Time Has No Edge

Gustav Klimt, “The Kiss”

Time has no edge, no borders fence
its undiscovered frontiers,
the shadowy seas of before merge
into the ocean of after. The currents carry us,
voyagers on a ship of life, knowledge, and memory
as we sail in-between, barely noticing,

the spindrift carried by the wind, drifting,

barely remembering
how a month was forever at five years old, then understanding
that an entire lifetime can be lived in a minute’s dream,
and realizing
that a glance, a smile, a laugh, a kiss can last forever—and beyond,
timeless.

For dVerse, where Lisa has asked us to write a poem about edges or fringes. Work in progress. 😀

Before the Before, and After

Before the before
of star-danced light
and rippling time, before
there was what is now,
what was

wonder

in the after, in the bang and crash
of stellar flare and dust, there was
a time of infinite possibilities–

chance,

our meeting, or fate? All that was before,
leading to it. In the crash and bang of bodies,
we’re born

and give birth to others. And in the after,
the wonder of infinite possibilities,

chances we take, paths to follow, as the light
of the past twinkles on future dreams.

For dVerse, where Peter asks us to think about turns in poetry.