Unquiet

“I’ve spent a lifetime 
trying to learn the language of the dead”

~ Jim Harrison from “Sister” in  Songs of Unreason

 

In the graveyard they lie

cool and peaceful, undisturbed

by us walking there—so we deny,

forget they suffered, dying, the verb.

 

What is the language they speak–

they in their graves, and we strolling by

reading a headstone, what truth do we seek–

once she lived, now hear the sigh

 

of ghosts who wander just out of sight–

that shadow there behind the tree

you almost see, a dress of white–

and wonder now, memories or fantasy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is for Day 15 of Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason, poetry inspired by Jim Harrison’s poetry. We’re just over halfway through, but you can still join in the fun.

I’m also linking this to Open Link Night at dVerse.

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On Its Banks

“The hardest part is when the river
is too swift and goes underground for days on end”  

~Jim Harrison from Songs of Unreason

 

Here,

heedless of morning light

or evening flight

of geese across

the river runs,

through history

of people who

in transitory transit

camped along its banks

when silver shad streamed,

fished for oysters and pearls

of wisdom

flowing from,

with,

to

the sea.

Rolling river

pushes and pulls

life through seasons

and time

changes

everything.

Turn, turn

around

and underground

the hidden bones

turn, turn

to dust–

ghosts walk

beside the water

dreaming of what was,

waiting for what will be.

 

Delaware River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is for Day 14 of Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason–poetry inspired by the poetry of Jim Harrison.

Unfinished

“I took a nap and wept for no reason”

~ Jim Harrison from Songs of Unreason

 

My sisters and I

sat at my father’s deathbed

he, though unconscious, raged–

we held a vigil through the night,

waiting for the dawn,

and light

to see him released,

the raging ceased.

I napped then

for days it seemed

dreaming

I heard his voice,

crying when

I realized

it wasn’t real,

but love

disguised.

 

This poem is for Day 13 of Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason, using Jim Harrison’s poetry for inspiration. I guess this is an early Father’s Day poem.

 

 

It Was Something But Not Enough

“I feel my failure intensely
as if it were a vital organ”

–Jim Harrison, “Vows”

 

I couldn’t save them

all the children,

but I did what I could

hiding them under blankets,

sneaking them away in coffins

beneath the dead

who didn’t complain,

perhaps grateful for companionship.

I couldn’t save them–

all the children–

and those who lived,

but without parents,

family history erased

save for the ghosts

and the dirge they sing–

survivor’s guilt

they say now,

this feeling

that part of my heart is gone forever.

 

 

This is for Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason, Day 3, basing poetry on quotations from Jim Harrison’s poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts of Guilt, NaPoWriMo, Day 30

Monday Morning Musings:

“Not only are selves conditional but they die. Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead.”

–John Updike, quoted here.

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

–Stephen King, The Shining

 

There are ghosts we see—or don’t

invoke, as though if left uncalled for

we’ll not provoke

those of the past,

who vanish–or won’t

go gentle into that good night,

the ghosts of guilt,

may waft or wilt

drift silently,

(seen just from the corner of your eye,

fly by)

but whether unexplainable

or declaimed

they are us

and soon, we’ll be them.

 

We see two movies,

walk in between,

to see the vibrant glow of spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first film set in Hungary in 1945,

a small town that seems not war-torn,

some have even thrived.

The town clerk owns a well-stocked drugstore,

more–he lives with his family in a large town house.

Others have also gained homes and wealth

obtained by stealth,

though it’s all legal, they explain

(show the papers,

for goods and property

no one left to claim).

But they are haunted by their complicity

no joy at an upcoming wedding,

where there should be felicity

secrets begin to seep—

they’re all around–

Look! Two Jews in town.

What do they want, these nearly silent men?

As they walk behind the cart,

like mourners to a grave site.

Dark, somber,

(the film shot in black and white)

Here, it’s always “God Bless,”

and the brandy seems ever handy.

There’s a Hungarian saying about this brandy–

“Palinka in small amounts is a medicine,

in large amounts a remedy.”

But there’s no remedy for what they’ve done.

What have they lost, and what have they won?

The Germans are out, the Russians are in–

A new dawn

when the Jews are gone?

But these two, why are they here,

and what is it the town folk fear?

Dark smoke billows from the train,

sun-filled day fills with thunder and rain.

The monsters are real. The ghosts are too.

They are us, and we are them.

 

We walk and chat

about the movie, this and that–

the susurration of sparrows,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the murmurings of spring

though the ghost of winter, touches

with icy fingers clings

as we turn from sun to shadow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

whispers–

you can’t flee me forever,

I’ll return in November or December,

when seeds then huddle underground,

sharing the cold comfort of the dead.

But now is for the living instead,

in blooms of green and pink and yellow and white

glowing, vibrant in the light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walk, seeing weddings and brides in white

smiling groups, life in color and in light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We see a second film,

this one with ghosts up front

that an investigator will confront.

He’s a skeptic, he doesn’t believe,

but perhaps there are events he also grieves

There are scenes that makes us jump–

doors that rattle, and things that bump,

demons that are locked away,

but are released,

perhaps, to stay.

Three cases become woven together–

Will there be a happily ever after?

(Cue the nervous laughter).

 

We walk some more,

The Signer stands tall

The Signer,
Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

through many seasons–

he’s seen them all—

and thus,

though he represents freedom

he’s surrounded by ghosts

who flit over cobblestones,

manning their posts,

due diligence, remember the past—

remember us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My cat wakes me from a dream—

a ghost tells a character in a play

(stories within stories within my dream, it seems)

“we mourn the dead, but we move on.”

They are us,

and we are them.

Life moves on–

we begin again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final NaPoWriMo prompt asks us to “write a poem that engages with a strange and fascinating fact.” Well, I included some facts. They may or may not be strange or fascinating. For more on “odd facts” about Hungary, see here. And here is more on the Holocaust in Hungary  The Signer statue is in Philadelphia’s Old City.

We saw the movies 1945 and Ghost Stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Home: Haibun, NaPoWriMo, Day 12

Here, are two, then three, then four, then two again. Here, atop a settling foundation and slightly slanting floors, are family dinners, friends, love, and tears. Here, the venerable oak tree stands tall, shading and shadowing, though the swing set that stood beside it is long gone–and here, decades-old daffodil bulbs still bloom. Generations of mockingbirds have sung through summer nights perched on the new greenery of aged trees. Here is home, where amidst clutter and dreams, cats gaze from windows–then look within.

 

blooms and snowflakes fall

drift through Earth’s revolutions–

ghosts sing to living

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s NaPoWriMo  prompt was to write a haibun “that takes in the natural landscape of the place you live.”

 

 

 

Haunted, NaPoWriMo, Day 7

Ghost–a breeze dances,

always born away,

like ocean rhythm

remembered,

haunted, I listen,

she said, “Give joy—laugh,”

and her smile lingers. . .

there, broken window sash flies in, out,

come

go,

it is but life, some magic velvet thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some words from the Poetry Oracle for Day 7.  I revised just a tiny bit, so I hope she doesn’t get upset, but she clearly understands portals.

Omphalos: NaPoWriMo, Day 6

Enveloped in mist, she was there, or she wasn’t.

Time stopped—perhaps—it’s hard to say

now

what was past, present, or future—

or what happened at all.

 

It might have been a dream,

that figure,

pearly gown and midnight cloak–

or a ghost,

her auburn hair glowing,

blowing in the wind,

born there, nascent,

or ancient, always there?

She stood atop the stone.

Did she breathe–

inhaling, exhaling,

expanding time?

 

Why did she appear?

What was her message, if indeed there was one?

She was silent,

her words buried in antiquity,

or not yet spoken—

only flowers circling the stone

where none had bloomed before.

 

Day 6—playing with line lengths.

 

 

 

Past and Future, Touched

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

–Stephen Hawking

she once had

a mortal body

long ago–

or was it?

Unbound by time, she’s unsure

drifting in moonlight. . .

 

and starlight

and in brightest sun–

it is all

part of her

and she of it. Wandering,

she touches your heart–

 

you feel it,

a shock, fear–and awe,

but also

desire

for knowledge. Look at the stars–

time and space folding

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

This is for dVerse. We were asked to write a shadorma with the prompt “phantom.” I’ve done a series of connecting shadorma stanzas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories Beneath the Surface

Monday Morning Musings:

“I could be

In someone else’s story

In someone else’s life

And he could be in mine. . .”

–Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, “Someone Else’s Story,” from the musical Chess

“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.”

-François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 292

 

On a sunny day–

spring in February thinking of May–

we stroll through sun and shadows

façades that hint of love inside

I wonder if it is—

and who they are–

wonder about their stories

(someone else’s story)

 

All of the stories that have been lived

as the centuries turn

eighteenth to nineteenth and on

through changing façades–

those that remain–

past and present merge

modernized, expanded, reformed–

like this church–

where beneath the surface

lie the remains of those

who once lived and breathed here

Old Pine Church looking toward St. Peter’s Philadelphia

 

their breaths becoming part of the ecosystem

their steps leaving footprints,

sometimes larger in death than they were in life.

Other people’s lives,

Someone else’s story

 

When they lived,

did they wear their hearts openly—

like the cutouts on the door,

or did they keep their feelings buried

deep inside

behind a façade of smiling respectability?

I wonder how many had secret lives

yearnings that they could never admit?

Complex creatures

we divide ourselves

closing doors—saying this is not allowed

we must not live that story,

but times change

and churches, too,

and love is love is love

 

In the quiet here, there is not silence.

Do their ghosts walk by my side here?

that sound

the wind,

or their sighs

telling me their stories?

In the unquietness of this place,

filled with hundreds of stories

of birth, love, sorrow, and death

a living child with his mother screams in delight

and runs over the graves. . .

what happens at night behind the gates?

 

We wander back to the movie theater to see

someone else’s story—

there up on the screen

A Fantastic Woman

and she is

what does it matter that she was born a man

(we all have our façades)

but she was loved

and still is by her sister and friends

and a dog–

who doesn’t care about societal labels–

some do not treat this woman well

they threaten and humiliate her

but life and her story go on

because she is a fantastic woman

 

And after –

we talk and walk

to where fire recently destroyed part of a block

nineteenth-century buildings

one will have to be demolished

all but it’s first floor cast iron façade–

 

Third and Chestnut, Philadelphia February 2018

 

the stories of these places–

the people who lived there now displaced–

and while we stand there

gazing at the devastation,

I get a text from a friend,

find out about her son’s illness—

the dangers of the invisible world

within our bodies

beneath the surface,

we don’t always see or know what is there–

(thankfully, it seems he will be okay)

and though this is someone else’s story

they are my friends,

so it becomes part of my story, too.

 

The next day, it turns cold again–

February’s story–

we turn the heat back on

eat homemade pizza, drink some wine,

huddle under blankets,

watch Netflix–and our cats—

we text our daughters,

sending virtual hugs–

behind the walls of our house

this is our story,

and I don’t want someone else’s life.

 

A Fantastic Woman stars the fantastic Daniela Vega,  a trans woman (who also sings in the movie). The movie was made in Chile, and it is nominated for best foreign film. I keep thinking about it. See the trailer here.

The architecture of the fire-damaged buildings is described here.