Winter Solstice, Light Again

Monday Morning Afternoon Musings:

Crystalline sky turns grey, and again,
the sun holds sway, briefly a queen,
till retiring her light in longest night,

John Heinz Wildlife Refuge Center, ©️Merril D. Smith 2020
Sunrise on the Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, December. ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

thoughts flit in shadows, reappear
to soar on broad heron wings
toward faint morning’s misty glow, and slow

the brightening, diffused through pink-tipped clouds. But–
do you hear the river’s tongue, lapping up the shore,
waking the day? Watch, stay

there, from a tree a cardinal chirps and robins sing,
remember spring. And here, amidst festive red and green,
we recall summer bright

and keep its flames burning in candlelight, reflecting out
across the miles, ever fainter, like the stars
that gleam, while

the moon hums a silver sheen
across the snow. And buried below,
are seeds and dreams, waiting–

and so, it goes. Again, birth to end,
spinning earth, time flows, and light transcends
us all, singing, winging across and beyond space

that shimmering star glow.

So a quick bit today for the winter solstice because I’m behind on everything, including reading others’s work. I apologize. I hope to catch up this week.

My birthday was last Tuesday. We took a long walk at the John Heinz National Wildlife Center at Tinicum. I will post more photos another time. It’s a wetlands sanctuary. The day was cold and there was ice on the water, but the sun was shining, and it was beautiful. We tried a new to us Indian restaurant for take out dinner, and it was great! (And we had it for two more dinners!). Younger daughter baked and delivered a chocolate-salted caramel cake. We celebrated the rest of Hanukkah this week, and I started on Christmas baking. Santa Claus drove by on a fire engine (no, I can’t explain it)—but in this time of Covid, everything is exciting.

Merril’s Movie/Theater Club: We streamed The Wolves for my birthday. An excellent production by the Philadelphia Theater Company. We watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a terrific film adaptation of August Wilson’s play. Nuanced and powerful performances from all, and an especially fine performance by Chadwick Boseman in his final role. This is an intense and beautifully filmed movie. We also watched Enola Holmes, which was perfect, lighter viewing. It’s a lot of fun. Both movies are on Netflix.

Constant Turning of the Light

Monday Morning Musings:

“Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the water of the heart
Push in their tides;”
Dylan Thomas, “Light breaks where no sun shines”

Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield early morning. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020

Seek the stillness in the storm,
as grey consumes,
delight in light, within cold blue,
find warmer hues

Geese flying toward the light. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020

aglow in candle flames;
await the glimpse of golden glimmer;
delight in company–and dinner–
watch the shimmer

of sun on water; and if time
flows, listen for its shadow-wings
that soar and circle back, to bring
song from stars, soul-stirring

heart-burnished flickers. Rejoice in blood-pounding,
and surf-tossed waves; a symphony blend
of love, life, light begin and end,
the past returns, and over again

in the passage of indigo night
to rose-tipped sky
find all is right, in the lullaby
of the moon, the gentle sigh

of wind recalling
earth-yearning, and the constant turning
to find the songs and all the light, burning.

Mid-afternoon sun already low in the sky. William Heritage Winery.

Last Thursday marked the start of Hanukkah. In this pandemic year, we could not be with family, but still we celebrated. I bought my sisters, daughters, and myself a bracelet that says “kvetch.” It seems appropriate.

As we move closer to the winter solstice, the sun sets earlier and earlier, but our weather has been crazy. We’ve had storms and sunshine, and the temperature was in the 60s F yesterday. We met my sister-niece to exchange gifts and walk on Forbidden Drive along the Wissahickon. We met younger daughter and her husband at William Heritage Winery for an early birthday celebration. Right now, there’s a steady rain. We’re supposed to get snow on Wednesday.

Remembering the Light

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Monday Morning Musings:

 

“I have forgotten that dark Berlin winter.

I will not forget the light of the horses.”

–from Pablo Neruda, “Horses.” 

 

Winter has its own beauty–

bright holiday baubles and candle light

glowing flickers within window frames

stars twinkling in December night,

their glow a memory from the past

 

and we remember, too, the past

celebrations in other places with people now gone

but stop we say, we are here, and now

with family and friends gathered together

we cook, we open gifts, we light the candles

 

first night

second night

each night one added

until finally, eight candles burn

and if there is no miracle, at least there is light

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My mother does not remember–

how many candles? Ten? she asks.

But she sings along in Yiddish with the rabbi,

songs from her childhood

songs of another world, now gone.

 

We walk in twilight through city streets

winter here, a different kind of beauty

of lines, reflections, and angles

people on holiday time without the frenzy–

the train at rush hour, not so crowded.

Philadelphia December Cityscape, Merril D. Smith, 2019

Philadelphia, Lines, Angles, and Reflections

 

Winter has its own allure–

dramatic grey clouds and stark, elegant branches.

We drink mulled wine and eat Christmas cookies,

we watch a show of space exploration and new worlds–

love and war the constants of human experience.

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Reflections at Red Bank Battlefield, December 2019.

 

Winter holds its secrets tight–

rising behind the clouds, the sun blazes and the moon shimmers,

beneath the snow, green sprouts watch and wait

beyond the darkness, comes the prancing light of horses,

carrying yesterday into tomorrow, and I remember

 

the light.

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Older daughter made this ornament for me.

 

Last night we watched a movie on Amazon Prime called Remembrance (original title: Die verlorene Zeit or The Lost Time) 2011. It’s loosely based on a true story of a couple who meet and fall in love in Auschwitz. He’s a Polish Christian, and she’s a German Jew. He smuggles photographs out of the camp, and he helps her escape. The movie toggles back and forth between her remembering the 1940s and the present (set in the 1970s.)  It seemed a fitting movie for the last night of Hanukkah–and I suppose their escape was a bit of miracle, too.

We’re also nearing the end of The Expanse.

The Little Things

Monday Morning Musings:

My mother washes her hands

I flashback to a memory–

my grandfather, her father

rubbing his hands over and over

to dry them

 

We’d been out walking in the woods–

was this the day we were startled by riders on horseback?

(A magical sight.)

My sister and I were little

my grandfather was wise,

 

in the way that grandparents are

to young grandchildren

who see beyond the surface

to the hearts beneath

beating with love.

 

And there’s an understanding

that time exists in the now–

the autumn of one life,

the spring of another

co-existing in this moment

 

I tell my mother about this memory

and we talk of this and that

I go through her old cards

reading portions to her

as I clean out a drawer

 

a past, relics, consigned to a trash bag.

Who was this person?

Where was this photo taken?

My mother can’t see and can’t remember—

all the little things that make up a life.

 

All the little things that make up a city, a world–

the reindeer on a roof display

the stone carvings on a building

the snowflake on a lamppost

the candle burning in a window

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We celebrate the first night of Hanukkah,

fry the latkes,

light the candles

toast “L’Chaim!”

I dance to “Ocho Kandelikas.”

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My husband and I watch the candles burn.

We talk of this and that–

old memories and to-do lists,

the little things that make up a life,

the everyday ordinary and the magical exceptional.

 

 

Every year, Santa comes through town on a fire engine. I have no idea how this started, but his helpers give candy canes to the children (and adults) who come out to see him.

There are a bunch of movies I want to see, but I haven’t had a chance, and I don’t know if I will have any time in the next week. It’s a crazy time of year, isn’t it? I had an anxiety dream the other night, which I haven’t had in a long time. But–we finished watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and we’re on to the finally season of The Expanse. And there are latkes and candles and cuddly cats. . .so life may be stressful, but not awful.

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Thank you to all of you who take the time to read my writing. I truly appreciate you. I feel like I’m Mr. Rogers saying “It’s you I like,” but it’s true. Happy Holidays to all of you!

Here’s Pink Martini performing “Ocho Kanelikas.” Feel free to dance along!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Watch the Candles Light the Past and Future

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“History is all about ‘what ifs’”

“It was a long time ago now. And it was yesterday.”

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

“And while we are playing
The candles are burning low
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago”

From the song, “Hanukkah oh Hanukkah” Traditional

And so, again, we celebrate Hanukkah

as the nights grow longer

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the days grow colder

I make soup, bake bread,

time passes, a thread

connecting me to the past

 

I think of ancestors, steadfast

(I wonder) in determination

 

to leave the past, a cessation

of persecution, a new life.

 

We watch Mrs. Maisel, no longer wife

laugh, but still I think of the past

 

Borscht Belt and women’s rights, she and cast

moving through Paris, the Catskills, New York City

 

with dazzling designs and dialogue so witty

each episode a Hanukkah present,

 

and so it goes, we’re content

to pass the Hanukkah nights

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watching the candles burn bright

then I fry latkes again

with daughter remembering when

we grated, stirred with spoons

 

and listened to these tunes–

the maidel with the ladle—

 

I am happy we’re still able

to be together, to cook

 

to discuss friends, life, a book

and dance, sing, drink some wine,

eat some donuts, the company is fine–

as are the pets–

 

an asset to any set,

with tails wagging

they brighten moods flagging,

hers look for scraps on the floor

 

and bark at any noise at the door,

while mine watch the candles bright

and play with the dreidel in the light.

Generations, birthright, hindsight–

 

generations, frying latkes in the night

hoping for a miracle and promised lands–

 

my hands—

reach forward,

 

toward the unknown, hold present close,

but touch the past.

 

Still life goes on

as we remember days long ago,

 

time moves fast, or it goes so slow,

circling, dashing, we travel, with it flow.

 

Eighth Night of Hanukkah 2018

 

We’re watching Season Two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime). Here’s the Season 2 Trailer. For years my daughters and I have listened to an album, A Child’s Hanukkah by the Jewish Wedding Band. Here’s the first song, which includes the phrase “kiss the maidel with the ladle.”

 

Lights and Life: Quadrille Haibun

First Night of Hanukkah, December 2018

Candles burn, in winter darkness, a miracle of light. The ancient hatred is rising again. Six million and more, but we survive. We clink our glasses lightly, saying not, “Cheers,” but “L’chaim.”

twilight comes early

shadows blanket ground and trees—

light glows in windows

 

De, aka Whimsy Gizmo, has asked us to write a quadrille using some form of the word cheer for dVerse.  I’m also linking to Frank’s Haikai Challenge to write a poem that alludes to Advent or Hanukkah.

I know I wrote about Hanukkah yesterday, and there will probably be more—but you know, it lasts for eight nights. Tonight will be the third night of Hanukkah.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December Comes with Cold and Light

Monday Morning Musings:

“Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.”

–From William Carlos Williams, “Winter Trees”

The first of December is mostly grey,

but not so cold—winter held at bay

 

for a while, but we smile to see the glow–

the sun on remaining leaves of trees slow

Philadelphia Parkway, December 2018

to sleep in winter’s arms,

and we walk to see the city’s charms

 

even in the bleakness of late fall—

almost winter—some magic calls

 

there, Diana shines atop the stairs

gilded anew, she seems aware

Diana, Philadelphia Museum of Art

of her strength, though she charms–

with arrow frozen in her arms

 

goddess of the hunt,

a moment, centered, upfront

 

there, I greet her like a friend

each time I visit, happy to see her send

 

(not the arrow), no never,

but she seems much too clever

 

to harm–such determination in her face–

perhaps she could send us hope and grace

 

we see dolls reflecting the passion

for both play and fashion

 

the bisque baby catches my eye

or the phrase captures my ear, why?

it sounds funny to me,

and so, we wander and see

 

a sibyl and monuments and Eve

through museum and streets, we weave

our way, and see the sights,

some Christmas lights,

 

drink mulled wine

feeling fine—then laugh to see that sign

we walk back and down the hill

where no joggers jog, all is still

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except the duck, who with quack and flap

jumps into the river—a slight slap—

 

against the surface, he swims

the sound, a chorus, a winter hymn

 

before the start of winter rain

with sun gone, shadows come again

 

bringing a misty afternoon twilight,

yes, this is December’s light.

 

Then Hanukkah comes with candle light

to bring us wonder and delight

 

I fry latkes in a pan

listening to a man

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discuss his life

some of the strife

 

escaping the Holocaust

in Kindertransport, crossed

 

to Sweden, his stuffed monkey with him*

the object now brings some joy, an era dimmed

 

by tragedy and time—family reunited

evil not forgotten or righted

 

exactly, but comforting to know

that helpers were there, not so long ago

 

and still, that there are people who did good

and do it still, do what they can, should and could

 

and so, we light the candles on this first night

eat latkes and smile at the sight

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Latkes!

of them burning till the flames die,

watch them belie

 

the darkness of night and soul

as believing in miracles makes us whole

 

more perhaps than what we seem–

the sum of what we hope and dream.

 

First Night of Hanukkah, December 2018

 

Hanukkah seems both more poignant and more important to celebrate this year.

I think I shared this story before from a previous All Things Considered segment, but Michel Martin interviewed Uri and Gert Beliner again last night.

We visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the members’ weekend and the Christmas Village.

Candles

Monday Morning Musings:

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

—Attributed to Anne Frank all over the Internet, but without any source that I can find

 

A single candle

(for miracles)

flickers in the night

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joined by others

till eight in a row

they burn, and then they go

leaving only melted wax behind

and yet, perhaps I find

something, a sense of peace

in watching them increase

and we remember how our daughters

bet on which candle would stand last

one that burned not quite as fast—

lovely memories from the past.

 

 

A single candle

(for wishes)

flickers on a cupcake

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baked with love

and so sweet, delivered as surprise treat.

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It’s a strange birthday,

things don’t quite go my way

I lose a filling, and due to the snow

we stay and home, and don’t go

to dinner and a show,

but we eat pizza and drink some wine

and it’s fine, I say,

we’ll do something another day.

 

Everything a bit off this week,

small victories tinged with apprehension

tension over what might come, or be

a tax bill to help the rich–

oh, if only I could flip a switch

to eradicate ignorance and greed

wish on candles and stars that people would read

would help those in need

and instead of hindering, would keep freed

thought and scientific inquiry.

 

The CDC, an agency, supposed to be science-based

is not supposed to use the word

it’s not to the taste

of the current administration

who would like to see a nation

without education based on facts

but the monster simply reacts

without nuance or tact, but snaps,

just twitter taps and taps and taps

 

We fry latkes

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and when we’re through

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we eat them–and donuts, too

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because it’s a holiday of oil and sweets

and it’s a treat to share them with love

we eat the food and laugh and talk of–

oh this and that–

we watch their dog and see their cat

climb in search of treasure—food!

Yes, we’re in a holiday mood

as candles flicker and lights glow

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but soon it’s time to go.

 

I spend the next day working

(cats around me lurking)

I have too much work to do

I sit at my computer

in a bit of stupor

but as night falls

we light the candles

and watch the shadows on the walls

from the flickering glow

I think of miracles past

(wonder if our country will last)

but let those thoughts slide

subside for a more festive mood

as we eat our Chinese food

and watch the Christmas shows

I might doze. . .

 

 

In the morning, before the dawn

I yawn and look up at the sky

and know that hope like a feather flies

and though the clouds block the stars

I know exactly where they are

I close my eyes and make a wish

I hope it flies and travels far.

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Awakening: Haibun

This poem is for dVerse’s Haibun Monday. Frank asked us to write about being pleasantly surprised.

I wake to the pleasant surprise that Doug Jones has won the Senate race in Alabama. The win gives me a tiny bit of hope that people have been awakened, though I am still disheartened by the closeness of the race. Like Daedalus, we could create; like Icarus, we could rise and soar, and we could rescue those who dare to dream but fall, so that they can try again. Instead, we sink into the muck, believing lies and embracing bigotry, ignorance, and greed. My husband and I light the Hanukkah candles. I watch their flickering glow and think of miracles. Later, as I turn out the bedside lamp. I hear geese honking in the winter night. Do they beat their wings to the songs of the shimmering stars? Do they dream of soaring higher? I wonder and think again of miracles.

 

wait for the sea change–

the winds shift and the waves roll

awakening spring

 

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Lucílio de Albuquerque, “The Awakening of Icarus,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

Light in My Heart

Monday Morning Musings

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“I like on the table,

when we’re speaking,

the light of a bottle

of intelligent wine.

Drink it,

and remember in every

drop of gold,

in every topaz glass,

in every purple ladle,

that autumn labored

to fill the vessel with wine.”

Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Wine”

 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Desmond Tutu, New York Times, March 4, 2010

 

“Like Dian’s kiss, unasked, unsought,

Love gives itself, but is not bought:

Her voice, nor sound betrays

Its deep, impassioned gaze.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Endymion”

 

My younger daughter told me it would be a birthday celebration

with her sister and her sister’s wife

(since they couldn’t be here for the one with my sisters)

a girls’ night, they’d devise

with the location to be kept unknown from me

a surprise.

 

We traveled down dark country roads,

my husband the designated driver,

I wondered where we were going,

But when we pulled into the Monroeville Winery driveway

I began to suspect this was going to be something more

than an evening with my daughters.

“Surprise!” my friends shouted,

as we walked through the door.

The tasting room was decorated for the holidays,

and for my birthday celebration, too,

the tables glowed with lights,

made by my daughter

from bottles the winery saved for her.

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I like light on the table,

the light of a bottle

(Intelligent wine?)

Hugs and kisses all around

(I felt like I walked above the ground.)

Greeting from friends–

some I hadn’t seen in quite a while—

and that made me smile,

I felt love

unasked for, unsought,

but freely given

(or so I hope).

There were delicious treats: cheeses and dips,

a huge chocolate, chocolate cake

with chocolate frosting, too,

(Have I mentioned I like chocolate?)

and wine, of course,

poured in the barrel room

where one could schmooze a bit

with the gracious vintner

about the various selections.

I was given my birthday crown,

and daughters performed a song parody–

All of the things I didn’t know they had done

when they were children

and that they were now sorry for

 

We did things we regret, like shaving the heads of our Barbies

Cause we need just one more shot at forgiveness

I know you know that we hid candy maybe once or twice

By once or twice I mean maybe until all the ants arrived

 

So now I know,

light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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My 60th Birthday part at Monroeville Winery

 

We went to my niece’s house,

our traditional Christmas Eve brunch

my niece, a bit of a stressed-out mess

because we were meeting some of her

her father’s family for the first time

(it’s a long story)

“Classic family” and new family mingled

we ate

so much food

(of course)

and there were light sabers

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and cookies

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I baked a few cookies. This is a sample.

 

a Christmas challah

 

 

presents

 

and love

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and we lit her menorah before we left

and then she put it in her sink

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because she was afraid her house would burn down–

Crazy family,

I love them so much.

There was light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We came home to light our own Hanukkah candles

and to decorate our Christmas tree

Merry, Happy Chrismukkah!

 

 

On Christmas morning,

dark, quiet, and still,

I saw the moon

radiant,

a crescent miracle of light

Jupiter and Saturn nearby,

shining brightly

and I felt hope in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We ate our traditional Christmas fondue

with Buffalo wings for the meat eaters.

We opened presents,

lit the Hanukkah candles,

and drank some wine,

drops of gold and sips of purple,

we told fart jokes and laughed

laughter and love

light in the darkness

and light in my heart

 

 

We will go to see my husband’s family

exchange hugs and presents,

and come home to fry latkes,

the house will smell like oil for days

lingering like memories,

but we will light the candles

and we will laugh

and there will be light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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