Dreams of the Future, Ghosts of the Past

Monday Morning Musings:

“bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education & free discussion are the antidotes of both. . . .I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. so good night! I will dream on, always fancying that mrs Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.”

–“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 1 August 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,

 

 

A porcelain ghost looked long

and laughed delicious poetry,

remember this

she said,

or it is over

 

And so, we remember over and over

forgetting what we knew

embracing new ideas,

loving them each time as original and unique

and they are

every time

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We walk cobblestone streets and brick drives

chasing ghosts

followed by shadows

whispering glorious words

“We the people”

history of the past

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Janet Givens and her husband, the past, present, and future all around them.

 

But under a dying star

a naked fool celebrates

his courtiers cheer

his nonexistent suit of clothes

as darkness falls

he eats a second scoop of ice cream

 

Still, we remember

sometimes forgetting to remember

until we remember again

We the People

history of the past and dreams of the future

 

On a day in May

that feels like July

perhaps like the summer of 1787

when a group of men

(white men, only men)

made compromises  and wrote We the People

but on this day,

a day in their future,

we walk with friends to see and read about the past

to hear and read the lofty words

of men who had lived and fought a revolution

and though they themselves were flawed

still their words glow

and grow

from the past, through the present, and into the future

visions they had and hopes

dreams that have been realized

and worlds they could not imagine

dreams of things that are yet to be

 

I gaze at the beautiful handwriting

of educated people

who read and valued learning

and think of misspelled Twitter rants.

We’ve forgotten

and it’s time to remember

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We’ve added and clarified

giving freedom to people who were enslaved

giving rights to women

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ruling on free speech, freedom of religion, individual rights versus the state

fighting a civil war

(yes it was about slavery)

prohibiting the manufacturing of and sale of alcohol

and then making it legal again–

after so many lost jobs and the government lost revenue–

and there was more crime

let’s face it

We the People like to drink

from the past of George Washington’s distillery

to the future of new breweries, vineyards, and manufacturers,

the dreams of We the People

 

 

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This history swirls about us

all the time

because of a revolution

and a convention

a document that still lives

expanding like our nation

built on a strong foundation

like the building

we see as we sit outside on that warm day

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but life is not complete without some treats

(We the People like our sweets)

our nation built on bitter and sweet

dreams of the future, history of past

 

 

Two men, Adams and Jefferson

one, a Massachusetts man against slavery

(though not exactly an abolitionist)

the other, a Virginia plantation owner and slaveholder

dissimilar in so many ways from appearance to beliefs

but both admiring each other

both enjoyed the wit and education of some women

while disregarding them as citizens

with their own rights

and bodies

(I’m looking at you, T.J. Sex with a slave is coerced.)

their friendship suspended after the Election of 1800,

but later renewed,

bridged, despite their differences

liked a structure spanning the gulf between two disparate lands

like the bridge we need now

for We the People

as we dream of the future

and remember the past

and hope that it is not over

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Leaving Philadelphia, heading to New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge

 

For those unfamiliar with it, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the People.” You can read more about it here.

My friend, Janet Givens, was in Philadelphia with her husband to celebrate an event. I will leave her to talk about it, as I’m certain she will in an upcoming post. We visited the National Constitution Center , ate a delicious lunch at Farmicia restaurant, and stopped at Shane’s Confectionery, which has been a candy store on that site since 1863.

 

Coffee and Home

Monday Morning Musings:

 “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

–J.R.R. Tolkien

 

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

–Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

This universe must be home

(has always been home)

I wake warm and comfortable

drink coffee

(always coffee)

live mornings of caramel joy

remember a voice

a smile

cats

celebrate a secret sky waking

 

I wake to the smell of coffee

a childhood memory,

an adult reality,

a scent wafting through time

am image, too, coffee cups and morning newspapers

spread across the kitchen table

(now joined by laptops and phones),

the table in my young childhood home

lived in the kitchen-dining-den space—

my mother hated it—the space, not the table–

and when I was teen, she, no longer with my father,

bought a house with a separate dining room,

a large, center-hall house with five bedrooms

that became too much for her to keep up with

but it was the house by which my siblings and I later measured all other houses.

In that dining room, my boyfriend, now husband, learned about Sunday brunches

with lox, blocks of cream cheese, bagels, herring, boiled new potatoes, and crusty rye bread–

and on the little enclosed porch we’d sit before a fire late on Saturday nights and drink coffee and consume the treats, fried and sweet, from Dunkin Donuts, wiping sugar from our faces with paper napkins and kisses.

 

Food and friendship, more valuable than gold,

I eat Vietnamese food with a friend

we laugh and talk

she tells me (I had forgotten) that she dislikes tomatoes

then is surprised to find them in her stir fry,

we laugh and talk

I slurp vermicelli noodles with extra hot sauce

and we sit, chatting and catching up,

her mother’s house, her childhood home, sold

she is pleased that the new owners seem like good people

another family for the house

to imbue it with new dreams,

the old ones will fade from the walls

like night shadows gradually erased by the dawn

 

We don’t order coffee

though we laugh and talk for two hours,

the restaurant owners, mother and daughter, probably eager for us to go,

but we’re enchanted by the little girl, daughter of one, granddaughter of the other,

eighteen months old

she blows kisses and says good-bye.

 

A few days later, my husband and I go to a first communion party

the daughter of a daughter of long-time friends

we sat with them every Friday night in their first house

a TGIF Sabbath meal each week of dollar hoagies and beer

we were there when our friend went into labor with the daughter whose daughter

we’re celebrating at this party

where I sit and talk the entire time with another friend, my twin

though her skin is darker, her hair shorter,

we’re twins of the heart

we wear our matching bracelets

talk about another friend who could not be there

but who is linked to us

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New Year’s Eve, 2016 We are linked, heading into 2017.

 

and catch up on news, share photos, her sons, my daughters,

it’s a miserable day, cold and raining, more like March than May

but warmed by friendship

 

After that, my husband and I travel to my daughter’s house

bringing wine for her and her husband,

we laugh about all the wine we’ve ordered

delivered to our door all in one day in three large boxes

so that the UPS man thinks we’re having a party

we eat Pakistani food with them at a nearby restaurant,

the genial owner recommends dishes,

“We have new items”, he says,

“try the spring rolls, vegetarian.”

They are different from Chinese spring rolls,

delicious, though not as good as the vegetable samosas,

our favorites,

my daughter and I share the platter,

everything is delicious, eggplant, vegetable korma, naan, the goat our husbands have

(I suppose)

“Always a pleasure to see you,” the owner says as we leave,

and we assure him that it’s always a pleasure to visit his restaurant,

and it is, even on a cold and rainy night.

 

In the morning, a package of chocolate covered strawberries arrives,

a special Sunday delivery,

from my other daughter and her wife,

a thoughtful present,

a scrumptious treat for Mother’s Day

even first thing in the morning.

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Later I will talk to her on the phone,

hear about her trip to national parks in Utah

(while they still exist)

learn about her surprising facility for rock climbing

and allergy to Los Vegas

I miss seeing her, but it is good to hear her voice

from across the miles

 

We have lunch at my sister’s house

where we take my mother for Mother’s Day

 

Before lunch H. had made a grand entrance,

“Hi, I have to pee and sprints through the living room.”

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We later talk about the house she and her husband have fixed up to sell.

It was their first home, bought with an inheritance from my father,

her voice breaks a bit as she describes painting over the clouds in her first baby’s room.

The sun is out, and we sit for the garden for a bit

though it gets windy

My family is goofy and wonderful

I love them

 

I’ve baked a flourless chocolate cake

because there must be chocolate

 

 

and my sister buys, rather than brews, coffee

from Dunkin’ Donuts to have with it,

which makes me think again of those long-ago days

I think of all the mothers and daughters

the houses we’ve lived in

the coffee we’ve consumed

and despite all that is wrong in the world

I’m happy to wake in the morning to my coffee, newspapers, and cats,

to my husband saying, “Can I pour you another cup?”

 

The joys,

transitory like the flowers that have recently bloomed

 

but no less beautiful for that

timeless in our memories

the sky has cleared in the morning,

there is a half-moon hanging crookedly in the sky humming a song of hope

I go inside and pour a cup of coffee

a cat settles on my lap

this universe must be home

especially if there is coffee

–and love

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Queen of the Universe

 In the morning,

a song slips,

slides suddenly into my head

“Shall We Dance,”

a mini-movie in my mind,

Anna and the King twirl

I see her gown swirl

just that,

just for a second

the way dreams  do,

encompassing entire lives

in a flash, flame, and then disappear,

and I wonder

what just happened?

I go about my day,

but later,

in my car,

I turn on the radio,

hear a clear soprano voice sing “Shall We Dance,”

it’s an actress touring in The King and I,

coincidence, synchronicity, cosmic joke?

I wonder

just for a second

(time expands and contracts

paths diverge)

just for a second,

I wonder—

how do these things happen?

Perhaps I really am,

Queen of the Universe,

I could bring world peace,

people would sing and dance,

we’d all have

a clear understanding,

this kind of thing can happen,

can’t it?

(another path perhaps,

another road)

a truck passes me,

I keep on driving

 

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Details of two dancers from the Tomb of the Triclinium in the Necropolis of Monterozzi
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dance, Don’t Fight

The radio interview was on Here and Now .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explorer: NaPoWriMo

Explorer,

what wonders will you see?

As you strike out boldly through the clouds,

spectrometers reading the signs

checking for radio and plasma waves

no dragons in your starry ocean, wine dark,

unmanned, but still the sirens call

(listen)

you sail,

not searching for gold,

not racing for the Northwest Passage,

but pursuing knowledge

taking science, applying it

sharing what you’ve learned—

visions—

(we see them, too)

mileposts and revelations

like life,

weathered,

changed,

scored by the elements,

(floating)

yet I wonder if you’ve heard the music,

of the stars and rings?

Do they chime, do they sing

in contrapuntal melodies,

weaving time and space?

Ancient wisdom there, eternal tides and waves,

(listen)

before you vanish

out of range

(the siren calls)

out of contact

alone,

the explorer

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“This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 7 degrees below the ring plane. The image was taken in green light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 18, 2017.” Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

Today is Day 26 of NaPoWriMo.   I misread the prompt, which was to write a poem about some sort of explorer from the future looking at something here on Earth.  I guess mine is the opposite–inspired by today’s Google Doodle.  I’ve also used Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Prompt words: Strike/Score/Race/Take/ Read

Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

If Only: NaPoWriMo

 

I sometimes write a letter in my head,

“Dear Dad,” I think,

have you heard, did you see, what do you think–

or perhaps a phone call,

like when I called to tell him I was pregnant,

standing in the kitchen of that apartment in Woodbury,

the first floor of a house,

shaded by oak trees,

old enough to have seen

its former glory,

before multiple pairs, young couples

who, like the seasons,

moved in and moved on,

but that day,

door and windows open

the summer

was warm with promise,

(or so I remember it),

nature—and I–bursting with life,

he tried to speak,

but couldn’t,

overcome,

his voice caught,

words tangled in salty threads of joy.

The baby is grown now,

and so is her sister,

they only got to know him for a short while,

he didn’t own a computer,

died before phones were smart,

but I amuse myself imagining him ranting on social media,

calling out the swamp monsters,

and adding heart emojis to photos of children and pets.

“Dear Dad,” I think

I’d love to talk to you again.

 

Day 16 of NaPoWriMo. The prompt was to write a letter.

 

 

 

 

Shadow Portraits: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“We kiss in a shadow

We hide from the moon

Our meetings are few

And over too soon”

From “We Kiss in a Shadow,” Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, The King and I

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; “

–From William Butler Yeats, “When You are Old”

 

When our older daughter was young

she was afraid of shadows

perhaps she sensed that they were alive,

captured, like Peter Pan’s

when our porch windows were shut.

“Shadows hurting you,” she would say,

only “you” meant “me,”

her pronouns confused,

and so, we played in another room

where the shadows were benign.

those porch shadows are long gone

the girl is a woman,

her small, curly-haired shadow gone,

except in my heart,

now older, I take out these memories

like a book,

to read before the fire.

 

We go to a dance performance,

a fusion of dance and shadow puppet theater,

a full-length production

of athleticism, grace, and imagination,

we’re caught in traffic on the way there,

an entire block closed,

a large crane in its center, reaching to the sky,

casting a shadow over the street

where police officers chatted,

(ignoring the frustrated drivers).

We manage to get to the theater,

pick up our tickets,

get to our seats

(close enough to see the dancers’ muscles),

about a minute before the show starts–

it’s worth it.

The story opens with a girl getting ready for bed

her parents kiss her goodnight,

she goes to sleep on her bed made of dancers,

she begins to dream,

the walls spin,

and she becomes trapped in a land of shadows

where she goes on a voyage of discovery

turned into a dog-girl

experiences the joy of a dog riding in a truck,

the horror of being forced to perform in a circus,

controlled by a whip,

the ecstasy of first love,

the girl becoming a woman,

the shadow world is a magical, fantasy world,

the dancers’ bodies tumble, roll, fly

the hour and a half goes by quickly,

the dancers perform an epilogue,

a shadow tribute to New York City,

bodies creating the Statue of Liberty, the library lion, 42nd Street,

and other iconic spots,

and then to Philadelphia,

the Liberty Bell, the “Rocky Steps,” Pat’s and Geno’s Steaks,

at the final bow, the dog-girl dance leaps into the air,

seemingly still full of energy,

the shadows of the show behind her now–

until the next performance

 

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We leave smiling

into a day of sunlight and shadows

in a city where history has cast a long shadow,

shadows through history,

now and always,

shadow worlds

where people are forced to work,

living secret lives,

held in bondage

or living hidden,

an underground economy,

people who can only kiss

in shadows,

though love is love is love

there are shadowlands all around us

obscured by smiles and sunshine

 

 

We walk and talk,

see students celebrating Holi,

their faces and shirts bright with colors,

no shadows on their smiling faces,

on this spring day

the flowers smile and dance in the radiant light,

we drink coffee

discuss the show

later, we go out to dinner,

drink some wine and talk some more,

when we leave

the moon is shining brightly

though not quite full,

I look at her,

wonder what secrets she has seen

from her shadows deep,

hidden lovers and girlish fancies,

we head home,

I dream of shadows and the moon.

 

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This musing is for NaPoWriMo, Day 10. The prompt was portrait.

We saw Pilobolous at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia.

You can see a brief clip of this show performed at another location here.

Five Views of the Sea: NaPoWriMo

 

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Ocean City, NJ

1.

Look closely,

at its sparkling surface

where rainbows dart and dance in the spray,

flowing currents

not green or grey or blue,

but multi-hued,

a thousand variations on the theme of life

 

2.

Beneath the surface,

fish swim, eat, spawn

schools of action, not thought

(or so I think)

their entire universe,

the stars seen through the water

bob up and down

 

3.

The whales sing in whistles and clicks,

a choral group with perfect pitch,

songs of courtship, longing, danger

giant bodies, buoyant in work and play

cooperating, defending,

underwater hearts beat in sea rhythm

 

4.

In small boats, they journey

guided first by the sun and stars,

later by navigational tools,

explorers, fishermen, immigrants

they sailed then,

they sail now,

always and forever,

on the slipstream of time

 

5.

The lovers stand on the shore

holding hands, bodies close

as if to make two, one

gazing at the waves,

each lost in thought,

their dreams mingle, float

drift toward the horizon

 

This is for NaPoWriMo, Day 6. The prompt was to write a poem that explored different views or aspects of something.

In Flight: NaPoWriMo

 

I watch the birds from my kitchen window,

circling, gliding, floating,

a wondrous sky dance,

ancient patterns or improvised movements,

fluttery Bob Fosse jazz wings,

concentric circles form, intersect, break

to avian rhythms unheard

and movements unknown to us,

(mere humans)

I gaze, dreaming, wondering, thinking

what must it be like to rise so high

without fear of falling?

 

This is for NaPoWriMo, Day 5. The prompt was a poem on nature or the natural world. I used the Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Prompt words: Think/Rise/Rhythm/Float/Fall

 

 

 

 

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