Friendship Blooms–Haibun

We have the restaurant patio to ourselves. Though it’s a hot day, it’s pleasant here in the shade. We’re surrounded by hanging baskets of red, pink, and white flowers that block the outside world. We chair dance to the 80’s music playing in the background. One of my friends says she has few female friends, as she treats us to dinner. She and I tell our friend, who has recently had surgery, how people miss her at the gym. We had her the card that so many people have signed. This has been a bad week for our country, for the world. Not everyone has the luxury to forget the evil around us—because they are experiencing it. We’re fortunate to be able to do so–and I celebrate and cherish this gift of friendship.

 

Summer evening comes–

breezes brush blossoms with joy,

blooms of laughter fall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Haibun is for Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday—using synonyms for the words give and receive.

 

 

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By the Sea We Gather, NaPoWriMo, Day 16

Monday Morning Musings:

“My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Secret of the Sea”

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”

–L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

By the sea, we gather, we four

full of longing to share our secrets–

no special sequences–

but in the way of friends

they flow like waves, rolling to the shore

tumbling, one after another

silvery shadows and thrilling pulses

visions of things almost seen

things that are and things that might be

 

We embrace and sit in this lovely space

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

this place in which my friend has found welcome shelter

a temporary place for body, if not heart,

a house between homes,

a loan

where she and her husband have lived

between and around unexpected circumstances—

well, life is chances,

no smooth sailing on this ocean–

sometimes we turn about

sometimes we tack into the wind

begin again,

navigate through a choppy sea

till we are free

to sail calmly and be

 

So, we

sit in this interim home

where we can hear the water play

(come this way, stay)

and seagulls laugh as they fly about

black-tipped white wings sing in the sky

with the sun glowing warm and high

and the wind sighs from sea and land

spindrift covers windows, cars, my hand. . .

 

is held out to my friends

we gently hold each other’s hearts

apart too often to know the everyday annoyances

of ailing mothers and troubled kids,

roosted egos, wandering ids–

we talk of husbands and silly cats,

all of the this and all of the that

and move from living room to kitchen

pitch in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(though it is all prepared)

take our chairs

and over quiche

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

we relax some more, release

and feel a bit at peace. . .

 

to venture out to see some history of place and space

a concrete ship, a lighthouse, a bunker, the beach,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

where we walk a bit and feel

the sand beneath our feet–

in this moment, life is sweet,

away from troubles and toxic tweets,

this faux-summer day

holds us in its sway

I am mesmerized by the tumbling waves

the ocean takes, the ocean saves,

(à bientôt, inside, I say)

as we turn and walk away

 

back to the not-vacation house

where my friend offers us food and drink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and we sink

into a relaxed state,

where troubles abate,

as we talk and drift

(eyes open, close, open again)

the golden sun beats down through window panes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and slowly in a ball of fire, sinks

extinguished in the sea

 

we see it after we’ve walked

(ten miles one friend exclaims)

heading for a restaurant, but too long a wait,

no debate

and none of us that hungry anyway

no need to stay

so over pizza we watch Letterman, Seinfeld, and Obama

wishing we could get rid of the current nightmare, drama

and farce, in every moment, tweets and cheats–

the outside world, outside this place–

but even here the temperature drops

and the sun hides the next day, stops

her summer-teasing ways,

and in the morning, we watch branches sway

and the tom-catting chairs dance and prance

out on the deck

and the windows are specked

with salt and rain

we hear the sea

calling. . .

but let it be

 

to breakfast or brunch

(perhaps call it lunch)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and linger around the table,

unable,

unwilling to part

our lives and thoughts

tumbled like my friend’s sea glass

smoothed and polished by laughter and tears,

friends together,

friends apart

friends in joy, in troubles,

friends for years

we’ve shared our secrets here by the sea

now it’s back to reality,

(we sigh)

we must do this again

spend

time together,

let’s do this, friends–

time flows and bends,

(an arc)

and ripples like the sea

and on it our friendship sails

(an ark)

so, we’ll journey together, and then—

well, we’ll see.

 

 

 

I’m off prompt for Day 16, NaPoWriMo.

Unusual formatting due to WP gremlins and a cat sitting on my keyboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.napowrimo.net/day-sixteen-5/

A Dream Whispers, NaPoWriMo, Day 14

For my friends

A dream whispers over my head,

a chant,

it is time–

with friends,

smell roses and cool water spray,

let sweet shadows ache

as sun lives through summer storms—

we do and have and will

love the beauty of these days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off prompt for NaPoWriMo because I have a busy weekend with friends. The Oracle knows!

 

Rising

Monday Morning Musings:

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

From Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

Full poem here.

I.

I rise before the sun,

a woman’s work is never done,

or so the saying goes–

but often yet denied a place

debased, erased

from education, business, science, and the arts

kept apart, or not allowed to start

never mind, we’ve given birth to the human race

created beauty and gone to space,

although harassed and worse,

some want progress gained to be reversed

(believing in mythical pasts and Eve’s curse)

but we move onward, oppose coercion

and being brutalized and minimized–

we advertise and mobilize–

trying not to polarize–

OK, perhaps a bit we moralize

but feeling like we’re pressurized

we rise

again, we rise

 

I march (again)

with a friend

she was my daughters’ teacher

(way back when)

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and we talk and cheer

reaching for something dear—

hope, instead of fear—

this is not a fight only for straight, white women,

rights are for all regardless of skin tone or orientation in

who they love

(is love is love is love is love)

yet why do some believe that to have what they desire

means others’ dreams should then expire?

They’d build a bonfire of the vanities

produce dark cavities,

gaping holes in knowledge—truth and beauty gone—insanities—

while the Doomsday Clock shows we more than ever jeopardize

life as we know it

(afraid to admit this)

we reach for the prize

rising still

again, we rise. . .

 

and from the crowd celebrating Womanhood

I wander north–as I said I would

to celebrate two women and art on a smaller scale

because loves trumps hate, and it prevails

 

II.

 

I learned my mom wanted a career in fashion design,

or so she says now, perhaps then she was resigned,

as she went to secretarial school, learning typing and shorthand.

but then war came, with its demands

she willingly bucked the rivets and worked in shifts

then married, raised children—but art uplifts

and it was there for her, when she had time

perhaps no longer in her prime

days, to months, to years, the lows and highs

her parents, my father, her brother died

though weakened,

yet still she’d rise

 

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Her cousin, like a sister, began a Yiddish club

a language almost gone, but rising up

through songs they sing and memories

of parents or grandparents’ spoken tongue

(curses uttered, lullabies sung)

I ask about the story I heard

that my grandmother had a lovely voice

and that she was often the choice

at family gatherings

asked to sing with Abraham Hankins, the artist cousin, famous

(shameless, we name him thus)

she says he studied music first, but his voice was almost done

(because of mustard gas during WWI)

she says–

he learned to paint in the hospital—“art therapy isn’t new”

but an online biography reports the opposite is true

born in Gomel, then sent to Philadelphia to live with his cousins

(I know he lived with my mom’s family, but there were dozens)

talented, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,

then enlisted and wounded

the experts concluded

singing would expand his lungs, damaged from the war’s ravages

it turned out that he excelled in this field, too,

studied in Paris, this is true,

but though music called in tenor voice,

ultimately, he made a choice–

following when his heart said, “art.”

My cousin tells me about his studio

with many windows, but little else

and of the patron who, well-pleased

sent him frozen vegetables–beans, corn, and peas—

along with a freezer to store them in

vegetables at least to eat

not a starving artist, painting in the street

I am impressed by the work, cousins and mother’s

as well as those of many others

I love color, but I can’t draw—

no talent there at all–

maybe it skipped on to my daughter,

as her poster art I’ve carried twice to help me energize

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Rising through the shadows

as we gather to rise

when again, we rise

 

While the art show reception is going on,

my husband puts together with care

for my mother, a new armchair,

kindly doing his share

for the woman who gave his wife life

so she can more easily rise–

it’s more difficult for her now

but she finds a way somehow

to paint and laugh and still to rise

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as women have done throughout the ages

with baby steps, on platforms, and in stages

to rise

again

to rise

 

 

 

 

 

Past, Present, and Future Meet at a Conference

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is not present or future—only the past, happening over and over again—now.”

–Eugene O’Neill, A Moon for the Misbegotten

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I attended an academic conference–

for the first time in many years.

It was a conference about the past,

well, it was a history conference, after all,

the history of the early American republic,

and I was there to comment at a session.

I was prepared to talk about the past

well, perhaps the present and the past,

(The past happening over and over again, now.)

but I also found my own past there,

past and present crashing into each other

strolling out from amongst the scholarly papers

to say hello,

Do you remember me?

“Do we do the awkward hugs,” I say to her,

my friend from graduate school days.

 

We haven’t seen each other for–

What is two decades? Three?–

So we sat and talked

over New Haven thin-crust pizza and wine,

and the years melted away.

We were two old friends,

well not that old,

but without the self-consciousness of youth.

We didn’t have to impress anyone at this conference,

we weren’t looking for jobs or tenure,

people either knew our names,

or didn’t.

We talked of our children and spouses,

we talked of those we had both known who have died

we talked of work and play

of current events and cats.

It was so good to talk to her again

I hope we keep in touch.

I think we will.

 

The sessions I attended were stimulating,

so much so,

as to make me inarticulate when I got up to present,

my thoughts flowing and churning in my brain so fast,

faster than I could get them out in spoken words

(Sorry about that)

But still,

perhaps I made a fool of myself

but there are worse things,

at least I didn’t spill food on my dress

or vomit at the podium

and people were kind.

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The past, present, and future all running together,

rape, rape culture, the subjugation of women

a crime of the past

a crime of the present

and what of the future?

Rape cultures exist all around us.

The term can describe the situation of enslaved people

in the nineteenth-century

(“Let’s just call that baby ugly,” said someone in the audience.)

it can be seen in the misogyny of the recent RNC convention,

in the power of celebrities and politicians and on college campuses.

My husband and I hear a NPR report on the car radio

on women in Brazil

where women are raped, battered, and murdered,

a “woman killed every two hours” there

and “assaulted every 15 seconds.”*

Taught and expected to be submissive

the property of men

like the women of the session I commented on,

the enslaved women of the south,

the women depicted in nineteenth-century pornography

the women in the literature and pamphlets of the time

submissive, docile,

those who speak out, those who don’t marry

those who are “ruined” by rape or seduction,

forced to become prostitutes, slaves, or they die

a cautionary tale

to marry, to obey,

the past, happening over and over again, now.

 

But I make a new acquaintance

to share ideas and experiences with over lunch,

such fun

to come out of a session on such horrors.

As she eats her salad, and I drink my smoothie,

I gaze at the poster

saying refugees are welcome.

We have a history of welcoming and denigrating refugees,

the past happening over and over again, now.

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Then on to another session

honoring a historian who was beloved

by friends, students, and colleagues

but who tragically died too soon,

a moving session to attend,

although I had only met her once or twice

I wished I had known her.

Her legacy lives on in her writing

and in the students she inspired.

They are the future.**

Perhaps they are rare, these inspiring teachers,

yet, we read about them throughout history,

the past happening over and over again, now.

 

My husband and I have dinner,

Ethiopian food in a restaurant across from the hotel.

There is only one server,

a cheerful woman who managed to be friendly and helpful

though she had to serve, seat, and clean all the tables by herself.

Brain and stomach full

we settle down for the night

I think of the past, how it happens again and again, now,

the future.

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Vegetarian Sampler at Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant, New Haven, CT

 

*”For Brazil’s Women, Laws are Not Enough to Deter Rampant Violence,”

–Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Weekend Edition Sunday

**C. Dallett Hemphill Publication Fund

An Adventure

Monday Morning Musings:

“‘I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’”

–Lewis Carroll, “The Lobster Quadrille,” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

I’ve been on an adventure since last Wednesday. Just so you’re clear, it’s a Merril Adventure, so it doesn’t involve car chases, hot air balloons, or ski slopes; no danger involving avalanches or volcanic eruptions. I’ve not been caught in a coup, nor been accused of spying. I’ve not encountered a single lion, tiger, or bear. However, I have seen ponies. (I’ll just pause here for you to say, “awwww.”)

 

It’s an adventure involving women, friendship, and writing. In fact, I’m on a writers’ retreat. It’s not an “official” retreat, that is, it’s not sponsored by a group or organization. That also means there is no pressure. I haven’t spent the last few days hiding away or feeling anxious. Instead, I’ve formed new friendships while learning about writing memoir, fine-tuning passages, and formatting blog posts. We’ve done critiques, but we’ve also eaten great food, drunk wine, shared memories and expertise, laughed, and explored the lovely Chincoteague/Assateague area—apparently the area is a magnetic center that brings people, as well as birds, from all over.

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Janet Givens  instigated this writers’ gathering, offering her lovely vacation home to almost total strangers. Susan Weidener  kindly offered to drive Marian Beaman and me from Pennsylvania. I admit, I was apprehensive about spending a week with women I’ve never met, but it has been a wonderful several days—and I now have new friends!

It’s possible I may have baked and brought my Mandelbrot (aka “Mommy Cookies”) along—because how could I go a week without chocolate goodies? Susan brought chocolate, too—so one crisis was averted. Sigh of relief. Can you imagine me going a day, much less a week without chocolate?

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Just a few left.

 

Our group expanded during the week at Janet’s. Kathy Pooler 

joined our circle from afar. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?

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We were joined—in person–by Mary Gottschalk and Carol Bodensteiner  on Saturday night. Apparently on our blogs, both Mary and I are taller. Who knew blogs had such power? On Saturday night, the six of us gathered together at Janet’s, enjoyed stinky cheese (brought from Vermont), wine, and dinner—along with talk of writing and life. I’ve been among truly brilliant and interesting women who have fascinating tales to share and knowledge to impart.

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Although I’ve missed my husband and cats, it’s been a fabulous several days.

Please do click on the links to meet these women. Perhaps you may also want to buy their books. (You know you want to.)

In addition to walking and talking, listening, and eating, I did do a bit of writing. Here is an echo poem I wrote during this past week–while the weather was beautiful and warm.

 

Chincoteague Island, March 2016

Four women gathered together.

Weather?

Well, it couldn’t be better.

Sweater

off and writing going

flowing

growing with critique.

Incomplete

forms arrested,

tested

by practice and time.

Sublime

words, write, repeat,

delete–

but now it’s time to eat.

Sweet!

Laughter from we four

offshore

gazing and walking

talking of Peace Corps,

more–

Four women together

weathered

bettered.

 

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Essay XII,” Art

Have you ever been on a writers’ retreat?  Please share your experiences.

 

 

 

 

The Nourishment of Friends

“Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.”

–Anonymous

I used to sing this song when I was a Girl Scout—a million years ago, or so it seems. At that time, the words meant little to me. After all, at age 8 or 10 how old can your friends possibly be? But I understood the intent, that we were supposed to welcome everyone, new and old, to our Girl Scout troop, and I did enjoy singing the song as a round.

         Truthfully, at that time I did not have real friends, other than my younger sister—my first and my always and forever friend. I was the shy, nerdy girl who always had her nose in a book. My family was from Philadelphia, and I did not readily embrace Texas culture. The girls in my 1960s Dallas, Texas classes and troop were not mean to me, and I was not bullied, but we had little in common, and I did not know how to make friends with them.

         I’m still not the most outgoing person around, but I do have friends. One of my friends (see?) and I used to joke that since we don’t like to mingle at parties—we should sit and let people come to us. (This works best if you abscond with the spinach dip–and perhaps the wine and best chocolate dessert, too.)

As most people do, I have different types of friends. My very best friends are my sisters. But others are friends of specific time and place—gym buddies, blog friends, and people I connect with and talk to on Facebook but seldom see. They are all real, and I enjoy the interaction. And sometimes, such casual friends “crossover” to become “real” friends.

I met one of my good friends years ago when she sent me an email asking about submitting an article for a book I was working on. For over a decade, we’ve written long—sometimes very long–email “letters”—about history, our children, husbands, houses, books, and of course, food. “Have you read this?” “What are you making for dinner tonight? I’ve made hummus with mint from our garden.” We’ve had long catch-up phone conversations, and a few chances to get together in person, too–most recently in Philadelphia when her husband attended a conference and she came with him.

Long before telephones or the Internet, Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814),the political playwright, essayist, and pamphleteer, kept up an extensive, transatlantic correspondence network that included both intimate friends and valued political leaders—Abigail Adams, Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, among them. In June 24, 1793, she wrote to her friend Sarah Cary, “No my dear Mrs Cary I have not forgotten you. I am not one of those who ever forget their friends.”

         I think it’s important to have friends who do not forget you.

         I have a group of friends who have been my friends since college or shortly after. We went through what one of my friends calls “the lost years” when our children were young and our lives were wrapped—bubble wrapped–around their school and extra-curricular events, leaving us little time to get together. Yet, while we may have gained a few pounds, wrinkles, and gray hair during the “lost years,” whenever we’re together it’s like no time has passed. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Emerson is correct. I’m certain I’ve been stupid with mine, but they are forgiving. Old friends are tolerant of your flaws. They are also supportive of your successes. They share your joys and your sorrows. We’ve shared life events—the births of children—and grandchildren. We’ve mourned the death of parents. We lived through (literally) serious illnesses together. We’ve seen our children succeed and fail. We’ve laughed and cried together. We’ve eaten fabulous meals and enjoyed fabulous—OK, sometimes totally stupid–conversations. And we’ve laughed and cried—sometimes at the same time—and we’ve ranted.

         I understand equating friends with gold and silver because they are valuable. But the value of gold and silver is artificial. The metals are precious because they are rare and people have decided that they are beautiful—and so we attach value to them. I think friendship is better expressed as bread and chocolate. (Yes, I do relate everything to food, and if you’re my friend, you will go along with that. What’s more, you’ll even expect it.) Food is more valuable than gold or silver, isn’t it? Beautiful jewelry may adorn our bodies, but food—and friendship—sustains our bodies and souls. Like bread dough, when we carefully nurture it and treat it correctly, good friends rise to help us. They supply us with strength and nourishment as bread does, but they should not be neglected. We speak of “breaking bread” together. Bread is fundamental. Friends bring sweetness and pleasure, too, like chocolate—and sometimes it’s bittersweet.

         So here’s to my friends—the old, the new, and the yet to be found. You are my bread and chocolate. And while we’re at it, let’s say you’re my wine and cheese, too! L’chaim!

 

        

 

The Holiday Dinner

“It’s a great day for roast beef!” exclaims my great niece.

brisket plate

brisket plate (Photo credit: Maggie Hoffman)

Casseroles in ovens; soup simmering on the stove.

Bread sliced. Table set.

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Cats removed from the table.

People arrive in a flurry of hugs and kisses, doorway gymnastics, and

awkward introductions.

The text message arrives: “Sorry, we’re going to be late. There are some issues. We’re on our way. Start without us.”

Should we wait?

Where’s the wine?

I need more wine.

Do you want red or white? Maybe a glass of white now, and then a glass of red?

This image shows a red wine glass.

This image shows a red wine glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Food on the table; cats off the table.

Everyone seated. Finally.

More wine poured.

Sammy, why are you under the table? Get back in your seat.

Sorry, we’re late.

It’s OK. We’re just getting to the soup. Go sit down.

Have some wine. Or do you want a beer?

I hope the meat isn’t dried out. No, it’s great. You outdid yourself.

Don’t you want to try the noodle kugel? Just a little piece? It’s really good.

(Whispered: Here, I tried it. You take the rest.)

Yes, I’ll have more meat.

Everything is delicious.

So how is your semester going?

Sammy, get back in your seat. Eat your spinach.

Do you like your new job?

Yes, of course I have pictures of my grandson. Here.

Awww. He’s adorable.

Yes, I think I’m feeling better.

I’ve had two knee replacements, you know.

Conversations around the table.

Kicks under the table.

Please pass the wine.

Is it time for dessert?

Where are the kids? Playing video games.

How did your cat get up THERE?

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Is it time for dessert yet? Almost.

Who wants coffee?

It’s time for dessert.

Do you want apple cake or baklava?

I ate too much. Well, maybe a little sliver.

I’m going to vomit.

Do you want to take some food home with you?

How does Aunt Merril make this delicious food?

Oh, I get it—the most important ingredient is love–oh, and beef, says my grandniece.

Well, I don’t eat meat. But it’s all made with love.

Holiday dinners.

Food, family, friends, love.

–And the joy of leftovers the next day.

A sweet new year!

A sweet new year!

For You: Bok Choy and Kale Chips

How do you make the brisket?
Can I have your recipe for Snickerdoodles?
What do you do with bok choy?

baked kale chips

baked kale chips (Photo credit: eraine)

The calls and messages come.
Sometimes they are frequent;

sometimes not often enough.

My friend calls it “the lost years.”

Those years when we were so caught up with our children,
their activities, and work
that we had little time to connect with each other.
It went by in a flash.
I’m past that time now.
My children are young adults.
They do not need me to take them to rehearsals

or lessons.
We talk companionably,
and sometimes with tears,
but more often with laughter.

I cherish every moment.

Your children are still young.
You chase them, and love them,

and take them here
and there
and here again.

“I love your blog posts,” you say,
“Even when they’re not about me.”
You laugh.
So this is for you.

“Make kale chips, “ I say.
“Bake them at three hundred,
but watch them carefully so
they don’t burn.
Maybe you can use the bok choy.”

I know I will not be lost to you.
We’re both amazing women.
But I’m the one with the recipes.