Two Trains: Haibun

“Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’m going. . .”

–Elizabeth Cotton, “Freight Train”

I sit in the movie theater watching a documentary. Mississippi, June 1964–Freedom Summer. Two groups of idealistic white men search for African American delta blues singers, Skip James and Son House, they know of them only from old recordings. The seekers are unaware of what the segregated South is like. While they search, other idealistic, naïve, white college students are heading to Mississippi to set up freedom schools and to help with voter registration. Black activists know those in power do not react to black lives lost, so it’s crucial to have these white civil rights workers involved, too. On June 21, 1964, African-American civil rights worker, James Chaney disappears from Philadelphia, Mississippi, along with white colleagues Michael Schwerner and Andrew Chapman (their bodies found weeks later). They vanish as the musicians are found. The stories converge—two trains running–music and the civil rights movement. I watch all this—the old film footage, the animated scenes, the talking heads. I hear those lonesome, vibrant, haunting blues. The music train arrived, but the civil rights train is still running, fueled by hope and persistence, despite the obstacles on the tracks.

 

Ghosts still walk these roads

haunted sighs in summer winds

rhythm of the blues

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

This Haibun is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Tuesday. The prompt words were ghost and haunt.

We saw Two Trains Runnin’. More info here.

 

 

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Dreaming Shapes in the Mist: Haibun

I am dreaming. I traipse across the moors in Brontë country. It’s almost Halloween, and back home I’ll soon be carving jagged smiles on pumpkin faces. As I walk, the sun sinks lower in the sky, deepening the grass’s golden glow. Shadows walk with me, till they are obscured by the darkness. Night lays a black shroud over the naked trees and heathered knolls, covering them completely. A fine misty rain obscures my vision even more. It kisses me all over, lightly like a playful lover, until I am weakened and drenched. I stand, uncertain where to go or how to find my way home. At the sound of a ghostly screech, I jump, then laugh a bit at my fright. It’s just a barn owl. There’s nothing here to frighten you, I tell myself–until cold fingers wrap themselves around my wrist. I try to call out, but no sound emerges from my throat. I try to wake, but I cannot. I am dreaming I tell myself as the bony fingers pull me down to the cold, damp ground.

 

Shapes in the darkness

nightmares come in autumn’s mist

Jack’s crooked mouth laughs

 

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George Lambert, “Moorland Landscape with Rainstorm,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been told a true Haibun is supposed to be based on a real experience, but I decided to have a bit of seasonal fun with this. I suppose it is flash fiction with a haiku, but I’m calling it a Haibun. This is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge. The prompt words were mist and shape.

 

 

Souls Amongst Us, Drifting

Monday Morning Musings:

“None of it was real; nothing was real. Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now must lose them. I send this out to you, dear friends, before I go, in this instantaneous thought-burst, from a place where time slows and then stops and we may live forever in a single instant. Goodbye goodbye good—”

—George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

 

“I met you on a midway at a fair last year. . .”

Joni Mitchell, “That Song about the Midway” (1969)

 

Ancient cycle of souls

between rocks and rivers

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Laurel Hill Cemetery, view of the Schuylkill River

 

walk sweetly

(some say)

follow us in spirit form,

(perhaps)

happy

rising with the moon

blooming with the stars

living in harmony with the cosmos

watching flowers blossom

year after year

the willow weeps for them

amidst angels and urns

obelisks and hands pointing to the sky

 

and here we are, alive

walking amongst them

hearts and bones

flesh and blood

a family outing

the young women–and us

no longer young—

(except in our dreams)

a groundhog warms itself on a gravestone

then disappears

a moment come and gone

nothing is real

everything is real

there are ghosts all around us

We drink wine

enjoy a picnic dinner

the singer plays her guitar strings

sings about the midway

slowing down

birds take flight in a dramatic sky

(in a moment there, then gone)

wearing wings, they looked so grand

hanging upon the face of night

soon scented with petrichor

we move to shelter

as the rain pounds down

drink some more

discover that caramel corn flavored with Old Bay seasoning

may be the snack we didn’t know we craved,

my daughter and I talk of haircuts, then Shelley and Keats

Grecian urns and time

passing fast and slow—

stopping midway, going down

everything is real

the moments paused in my mind, infinitely dear

 

we watch a movie, sweet and tender

about a widowed Hasidic man

we feel sorry him,

he only wants to regain custody of his son,

though he seems to sabotage himself at times

we all know someone like him

yet still, we root for him

it doesn’t matter that they are Hasidic

speaking in Yiddish

nor that it is a patriarchal culture

where the main function of women

is to have children and take care of the home

they could be any father and son

the boy finds a video of his mother

he replays it

a moment from the past

but life goes on, the rabbi says

and we learn to go on, too

 

We discuss the movie over coffee

agree the boy is incredibly cute

(like a Maurice Sendak illustration, I say)

we walk and talk

through old city streets

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past graves

our shadows—

real, not real

fly over graves of Revolutionary War soldiers–

everything starting as nothing

then named and loved,

all the fathers and sons,

the mothers and daughters,

lingering in hearts and minds

remembered

till they are forgotten

midway in time

the cycle begins again

ancient souls float between rocks and rivers

pause

they linger in your mind

you may almost see them

feel them

drifting in the breeze

 

We walked through Laurel Hill Cemetery, founded in 1836, and intended from the beginning to be a recreation site, as well as a burial place. We saw the movie, Menashe. Trailer here.

We walked through the yard of St. Peter’s in Old City Philadelphia. A brief history here.

 

Stones Turned: Haibun

I’m in bed thinking about the day, turning over thoughts and deeds, like stones, to see what lies beneath. Perhaps I’m looking for deeper meanings. I dream of a dead woman I never met, the ex-wife of someone I do know. She is funny, wise, and kind–vital and alive in my mind. She invites us to dinner. “Let’s dress up,” she says, “I think I’ll wear red velvet.” Perhaps she has the answers. But what is the question?

 

thoughts rolling in waves,

an ever-changing shoreline

doors to other worlds–

pipe dreams floating on seafoam,

or ships navigating home?

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This Haibun is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge. The prompt words were stone and turn. I really did have this dream last night.

 

Dream a Dream

Dream a little dream of me

as starlight blooms, high in the sky

the tears, I see,

are now wiped dry,

the night birds call from sycamore trees

sleep now, my love, sweet lullaby,

dream of me, body free,

but spirit hovering, still nearby

john_everett_millais_the_somnambulist

 

So, this actually fits two dVerse prompts. De Jackson, aka WhimsyGizmo, asked us to write a quadrille using the prompt dream. 

Mish asked for a poem using a verse from a song.  For some reason, the dream prompt made me think of this song. I’m wondering if I’ve heard it recently on a soundtrack.

Here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (with Louis Armstrong).

 

I often use song lines as prompts in my Monday Morning Musings, and I know I’ll be writing more about dreams, but this is what I have for now.

Windows and Views

Monday Morning Musings:

“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2

“Then, window, let day in, and let life out.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 5

“Unfix’d yet fix’d,
Ever shall be, ever have been and are,
Sweeping the present to the infinite future,
Eidolons, eidolons, eidolons.”

–Walt Whitman, “Eidolons” from Leaves of Grass

“There’s this phenomenon called the overview effect. It’s this cognitive shift that many astronauts go through when they see Earth for the first time from space. They describe it as feeling this overwhelming sense of humanity. In space you see that we’re all in this together. Astronauts leave the Earth as technicians, but they come back as humanitarians.”

Amanda Nguyen, Rape Survivor, Founder of Rise, Astronaut in Training

Open that vast window

time lives in our embrace

kissing ghost and angel breath

from ocean, sky, and naked dirt

giving poetry to life

for eternity

 

Open that vast window

we experience the world

through our senses

trying to find rhyme and reason

the ghosts flit and echo

souls and poetry intermingle

past and future merge

 

Here we sit in a vineyard,

drinking wine named for a poet’s verse,

 

watching performers speak the words of a writer long gone

his words echo through the centuries

opening windows to worlds we wouldn’t know

as Juliet opened hers to Romeo

time floats

unfix’d yet fix’d

 

Here in this space

the sky is an open window,

vast with promise and possibility

Sunset, Auburn Road Vineyards

we hear night birds trilling and calling,

a bird

(or is it a bat?

I learn eidolon is also a genus of bats)

swoops to catch an insect

while below,

players thrust and parry with swords and wit

life and death around us

windows opening and closing

unfix’d, fix’d

eidolons

 

Later, I remember one of our daughters

spoke Juliet’s words,

it was an audition

for a college theater grant,

leaving home

(the overview effect occurs only then)

a window appears

she opened it,

and in a theater,

(eidolon-filled)

finds her sun,

and he burns brightly

for her,

eclipsing everything else

 

We see another play,

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before it begins

we listen to the people near us talk,

they’re all involved in theater,

the woman sitting to my left, we learn,

is in a play in another theater that night

she plays the grandmother—again!

they all laugh

the light dims

our play begins,

one actor on the stage here in Philadelphia,

the other in London

they communicate through SKYPE–

live theater

the wonders of high-speed connections–

we see his house in London

on screens

like windows

but he looks through windows, too

seeing the present, imagining the future

 

The play is set in the near future

the butterflies have died,

but new ones have been created

along with other animals and plants

like chaos theory

or dominos

each extinction creates another

each creation has unknown effects

people rebel and resist

ecological warfare, starvation,

the world owned by a corporation

a better world

through gene manipulation,

what could possible go wrong?

 

After the show,

we walk across the street

from a story of the future

to a building of the past

Christ Church, Philadelphia

on this hot, summer day

we wander

see flowers still growing

(sigh of relief)

the sixth extinction may have started

but it’s not visible here yet,

not to untrained eyes,

birds flit and sing

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we stop for ice cream

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see a wedding, and another, and another

(couples beginning new lives

closing doors, opening new windows)

I find openings everywhere

windows from the past

looking at the present,

I wonder if ghosts wander here

do they experience an overview effect?

seeing Earth, their lives now from a new perspective?

unfix’d, fix’d

eidolons

 

We head home

the sky darkening

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the sun not visible through the clouds,

and the thunder rumbling–

but in the morning

it rises in the east

shining through my window

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(the present)

poetry of the here and now

sweeping to the future

 

There was a dVerse prompt on windows last week that I missed, but I suppose I’ve been thinking about windows. The Oracle gave me the first stanza. She really is all-knowing.

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We visited Auburn Roads Vineyards.  We saw Tiny Dynamite’s production of Perfect Blue at the Christ Church Neighborhood House.

 

 

The Letter

I open the letter, read the words again and again. But they don’t change. They recount the battle and your acts of bravery. They describe the sudden storm, a tempest that battered your ship against the rocks, as you were journeying home to me. I had warned you not to go. I told you of my dream, where the storm clouds gathered and flew like demons, covering the moon, and you appeared beside me, cold and still, dripping, smelling of the sea, smelling of decay. I felt the pain then, clean and sharp in my breast. You laughed at my fears, called me Cassandra. Perhaps I am, for you did not believe me. I look at the ring on my finger and think of this other love-pledge you have given me, feel him flutter-kick in my womb. A son. He’ll be born in the spring. I will tell him about you.

 

ghosts drift in moonlight

clouds obscure the pale glowing

drops like silver tears

Vermeer,_Johannes_-_Woman_reading_a_letter_-_ca._1662-1663

Johannes Vermeer, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This haibun is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly poetry challenge. The prompt words were clean and sharp. I’ve also used  this week’s Secret Keeper’s  prompt.  The words: | OPEN| ROCK| RING | ACT | LETTER |

Jane Dougherty used the Vermeer image above for a post this week, also using Secret Keeper’s Words.  I like it so much, that I decided to steal use it, too. The painting is carefully constructed and illuminated, of course, but I also like the literacy of the woman that is portrayed as unexceptional. Also, though it is most likely the fashion, the woman in the painting does look pregnant.

 

 

 

 

 

Freed Minds and Imprisoned Bodies

Monday Morning Musings

“And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

“The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I hold this slow, and daily, tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

–Charles Dickens, 1842

A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.

–Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

 

In the deep soft blue of night,

a full bright moon murmurs

which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

I ponder mysteries of life and time,

the paths we choose, the where and when

the roads that make us who we are

the journeys that lead to discoveries,

do the words I write,

the forms of things unknown,

take flight across the world,

in a poetry chaos theory

to effect change?

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One of my writer workout shirts.

 

I’m at a book fair,

I don’t sell many books,

my profits come from knowledge gained

or reaffirmed,

books have power,

the reason why slaves are not taught to read,

they release the minds of those bound by ignorance

they free those imprisoned by walls of stone

or by barricades of bigotry,

they build bridges of enlightenment,

people are drawn to them

in excitement, wonder, and surprise

I watch the boy’s eyes

open wide at the thought of reading magical adventures

then disappointment,

“My mom doesn’t have any money.”

“Today is your lucky day, says the author,

“I have something special,

a free book for you–

see, the cover is slightly damaged.”

 

He signs the book for the boy

who takes it,

holds it reverently,

a treasure.

I hope he remembers this moment.

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West Deptford Township Book Festival. Yes, I did bake cookies, too.

 

My husband and I visit the art museum

not for any particular exhibition,

“Sunday at the museum,” someone says,

people there from all over the world

(even though the “Rocky Steps”  are closed)

I hear many languages: French, Chinese, Russian.

We walk through the Impressionists,

see the real and surreal,

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View from the Duchamp Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

look at art and people,

adults and children,

viewed and viewers.

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Reading at the Museum—Mary Cassatt, Family Group Reading (c. 1901) Philadelphia Museum of Art

We walk from the museum

 

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across the Parkway to Fairmount

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and on to Eastern State Penitentiary,

 

 

the world’s first penitentiary,

conceived with a purpose–

to induce penitence in its prisoners,

the original building completed in 1836,

though the process began earlier

with efforts to relieve the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail,

in 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded a group to reform prisons,

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons,

an organization that still exists,

the new penitentiary is thought to be humane,

a wonder of technology and innovation,

a central hub with spokes,

cells with plumbing and heat

designed by architect John Haviland,

but prisoners were cut off from human contact

and sometimes went insane.

Charles Dickens wrote of the torture of solitary confinement

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and later the prison became too crowded for the concept to continue,

a second tier of cells was built

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and prisoners shared cells.

We listen to actor Steve Buscemi

tell us about it in the audio tour,

we’ve been here before,

but it is good to be reminded,

and there are new exhibits we haven’t seen

there are other visitors and tour groups,

but when it is quiet, without other visitors around,

I feel the ghosts around me

there amidst the rubble

 

Prisoners

in dark fevered air

decayed concrete and old secrets,

a dirt home

listen to who was

they live not

but almost open,

in time

 

It is a reminder

of good intentions gone wrong,

yet there are traces of beauty and goodness,

even here,

the tales of good and humane guards

the art created by inmates,

the synagogue

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The original synagogue door. (For my blogger friend, Robin.)

 

but still there are ghosts,

the imprisoned,

some died here,

and I have no answers for those who are imprisoned still

but I hope they have books and art

and that their minds can roam, even if their bodies cannot

do they wonder about the paths of their lives?

Which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

Tonight I dream of wide-eyed boys

of beauty and art

amidst decayed walls

a cat purrs softly in my ear,

I am home, but my mind roams free.

 

The kind author was Ben Anderson, who shared a table with me at the West Deptford Township Book Festival at Riverwinds Community Center. His books are chronicles of Irish fantasy, targeted for middle grade readers, but suitable for “eight to eighty-eight” he says. You can read about them here .

We joke about the Magnetic Poetry Oracle, but she gave me this poem (incorporated above) the morning of the day we went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. She also came me part of the opening.

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You can find out more about Eastern State Penitentiary here.   Here is an article on programs for prison literacy.   And a list of additional resources here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth visiting, even with construction going on.