Glancing Back

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, The Muse History, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Coy Clio,
with half-smile and backward glance,
her stance unsecured–
she balances time and chance.
Reflected in the glass,
her image wavers, not quite straight,
always moving, she knocks down Fate.
She leaves her scent in dusty tombs,
and book-filled rooms, and there within
a musty cell, a faded ledger in a bin.
There are cries from eras long forgotten,
she sighs through silk and ships of cotton,
whispers through graveyards and dockets, ill-gotten
gains and weathered remains of centuries, unexplained.
Ask her for enlightenment, not for glory,
still she replies there are many untold stories–
look at the monuments, partly erased, salted
and wind-kissed, the lines spaced
unevenly in past’s embrace.
And here, a doll, a letter, a locket
that falls from a red-splattered pocket—
love and connections, a mystery,
blood-drenched fields, the history.

This is in response to Ingrid’s dVerse prompt this week to write a poem invoking a muse. Some of you know I have a history book chapter that I need to finish writing (like now), so perhaps a poem about Clio, the muse of history will help. I’m posting this for today’s dVerse Live Open Link Night.

Philadelphia, 1793: So Much Left Unsaid, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

I want to say, Dear Mother, do not fret
I am gone, and all is set,
you think, I know, our Father’s will and rule–
but, oh I wish I lived to see my babies go to school!
And all the sisters out at play—
instead of here. The way

(my body disappeared
I seem to float without it.)

I remember now, how yellow turned my skin and eyes,
and mournful were my sighs and cries
from aching head–
and then overspread
the blackest bile from within my bowels
over all the sheets and towels. . .

and yet you tended me
till I ceased to be

me.

I no longer feel the pain.
But Mother, I wish I remained.

For the NaPoWriMo prompt today to “write your own poem in the form of a monologue delivered by someone who is dead” and for the dVerse prompt where Grace asks us to write about the body. I wasn’t going to do either prompt, but then this came to me. It’s based on letters I read that were written during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Many fled the city, but over 5,000 people died. The disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, so the epidemic subsided once the weather cooled. I remember sitting in the Quaker Archives at Haverford College reading one letter and nearly bursting into tears.

Field, Memory, Magic: The Traitors’ Gate

Traitors’ Gate, Andrew Wood, Wikipedia Commons



They sail, a slow journey from glory to despair,
above them, vacant-eyed heads grin
in recognition of what was and what shall be–memories

carried as if by magic through the green English fields
where the ghosts wander,

waiting for history to be rewritten in each new reign–
queen to traitor, rebel to hero, recusant to saint.

This is a poem for Sarah’s dVerse prompt. She asks us to choose a set of three words from a list that she has posted. The words correspond to a site in London. I chose “field memory magic,” which if I understand correctly corresponds to the Traitors’ Gate at the Tower of London. The three words are part of larger project, which you can read about on the dVerse page.

Hate, Love, Hate, Love

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Blue Mood with Pegasus clouds racing across the sky. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ ©️ Merril D. Smith 2020

Monday Morning Musings:

“Your voices matter, your dreams matter, your lives matter. Be the roses that grow in the concrete.” –Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give

“There’s a saying in Hebrew, ‘No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there’s always a thread of grace.”—Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace

 

Glowing ships on the aquamarine sea,

Moon and Venus shine their beacons–

 

Farewell night!

The moon smiles a crooked grin,

 

and Venus titters

such fools, these mortals be.

 

***

 

I hate everyone, she says to me.

Well, not you—not my family—

 

and I know what she means, because I feel it, too,

the constant barrage of evil and ignorance,

 

people who refuse to wear masks,

who spread misinformation,

 

and insist they’re not racist while sharing racist posts—

the people, who like black holes, swallow the light,

 

but not all of it.

 

Sigh. Breathe. Walk. Begin again—

 

as each day does–

the sun rises, even if we don’t see it

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shining over the horizon

waking the world

 

again and again,

though some never awaken

 

to see the world around them,

its beauty

 

flowing on a river of hope

reflected over and over

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Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ. ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

a dream

of what was and what could be.

 

Some of the things I’ve seen on my morning walks this week:

These mushrooms that look like umbrellas set up for fairies.

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Deer and red-tailed hawks this morning.

 

On Friday nights, we get together virtually with our children and their spouses. We light the Sabbath candles and share the things that we’re grateful for.

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Saturday night homemade pizza and movie night

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Lots of baking

Merril’s Movie Club: We watched The Hate U Give. (Amazon Prime with an additional slight fee, but I believe it’s on other streaming platforms.) We both thought it was a very good movie, and I highly recommend it. It’s based on a YA novel of the same name. It gets very intense, but in a thoughtful, nuanced way. Here’s a review in The New Yorker. We finished Season 3 of Bordertown, which I mentioned last week. I’m happy that apparently Season 4 is in the works.

I’m rereading Mary Doria Russell’s A Thread of Grace, a historical novel set in WWII Italy. She’s an author who does her research, but also tells a good story with captivating characters. Another story that seems timely when read now.

And this–unconditional love.

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The Color of Truth

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Low tide, blue mood. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

Monday Morning  Afternoon Musings:

The fiddler’s notes float

through the village as he stands,

one foot on the roof, balancing

life and death– all the celebrations between,

colored by love and loss–

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Marc Chagall, “The Fiddler,” 1912

 

blue moon, blood moon, silver moon

sighs and whispers

in a thousand tongues, but

a million ears do not listen–

her voice joins the fiddle notes

 

that hum in the background—

do you hear it?

Crow calls a warning,

heed the past,

beware the future

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Crow caws from the chimney of the Whithall House, Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ

 

the red sky of morning

hinting of the storm ahead

the indigo and grey-shadowed ripples

lighten to azure as the sun rises—

colored by time, tides, and perception,

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Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield

our expectations of what is real,

changed not always by what is there,

but what we are told–

there is no plague, there is no famine,

the leader loves his people

 

(like a wolf loves a lamb), perhaps

 I make connections

between what is, what was, and

what might be

when there is no connection—

 

the sky is simply red,

like the summer flowers

an intensity of the dying season—

verdant woods, vibrant blooms

against the bluest sky,

 

black birds flock in murmurations

telling the truth

that life goes on

in cycles of pain, gain,

the black and blue that fades, the blood red

 

we drink, fruit of the vine

sun-ripened, bursting with intensity

we listen, laugh, love

the ones we’re with, love others from afar

in all the colors we see

 

beauty, life

buzzing

drifting

soaring high

with feathered hope, even if it falls,

 

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we may see the reflection–

upside-down the world still glows

we swim toward the light

float amid clouds,

watch azure turn violet, indigo, midnight blue,

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Cloud Reflections on the Delaware River at West Deptford, NJ ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

 

 

and then, and still,

an apricot glow appears above the horizon,

a blush of pink spreads across the east,

our pale blue dot rolls on,

the colors of truth, immutable, forever for this world.

 

Merril’s Movie Club: We watched Mr. Jones (2019). I don’t think this one made it to theaters near us before the pandemic; we watched it on Amazon Prime (slight fee). It’s probably available on other streaming platforms, as well. My husband and I both enjoyed this one very much. It stars James Norton as Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who tried to tell the world about Stalin in the 1930s, even as others were covering it up. Supposedly, he and his story were the inspiration for George Orwell’s Animal Farm, though that doesn’t really add much to the story.

This week has been packed with wild stories by you-know-who and his followers. Demon sex, aliens, and “thoughts” of rescheduling the election. . . If this took place in a movie, it would be considered too ridiculous.

The Oracle and the world seem full of color right now, but I find connections in odd places. Before watching the movie, I listened to an interview with Welsh actor Matthew Rhys. I don’t have HBO, where he is now starring in a new version of Perry Mason, but I loved The Americans. On that show, he played a Russian spy posing as an American. I was always struck by the extra layer of having a Welsh actor in the role, and he did mention that in the interview. So, for me, there were connections in this interview and movie about Welsh men, truth, lies, deception, Russia, and governments.

Our younger daughter—sommelier in training—did a virtual wine tasting with us on Friday night. Her husband was there for the beginning, but was taking care of pets during the screen shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovely Bright, The Sight

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Monday Morning Musings:

“How clear, how lovely bright,

How beautiful to sight

Those beams of morning play. . .

 

Ensanquining the skies

How heavily it dies. . .

How hopeless under ground

Falls the remorseful day.”

–from A.E. Houseman, “How Clear, How Lovely Bright”

 

 

The line, the flow

the glow

of life, scattering

 

leaves, the gathering of nuts and seeds

(the sky bleeds)

reflecting the spattering

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of wounds, the broken glass

before the gas

and rustlings

 

of war and wind

the leaves are thinned,

but hear them crunch and crackle

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as squirrels scamper and play

in the fading light of autumn day

and the birds fly—geese and grackle—

and hawks and vultures soar

before the train comes, roars

down the tracks

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taking me somewhere—

up and down, stairs

we go, into the wind,

 

the boat sails

and what tales

might it have, of rivers or sea?

Delaware River from Patco train heading to Philadelphia

Delaware River from Patco train heading to Philadelphia

And is there a lighthouse, with ghostly

glowing and horn blowing, or mostly

sunny skies?

 

Time must sail, too

and we a sometime crew

walk through history

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18th Century garden on site of Benjamin Rush’s House, Philadelphia

how can it be otherwise,

the lows and highs

of our own lives, the mystery

 

of others–we see a groom and bride

and I hope they lovingly glide

into a life of love and joy

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A wedding party taking photos at “my willow” at Dock Creek, Old City, Philadelphia

(Pause, we drink coffee and wine

stop for a time—

but time is coy)

and autumn comes cold and dark

but there is beauty, even if it’s stark—

see the moon rise over fields stripped of grain

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Moonrise over a South Jersey field, November.

glowing, humming—this autumn sky

and the clouds and time

the time before the rain, snow, the train

 

of time. The movie train that circles

through the frozen world, almost eternal

but the cost

 

a cautionary tale

of where we might sail

and is our world already lost?

 

Crow calls

the remorseful day falls

setting underground

 

in fiery ball, unheeding

the world goes on, speeding

and we spellbound.

 

But I don’t celebrate bleeding—

or ferocious gods, the leaders leading

into destruction–

 

let poetry fly

through vast haunted eternity, die

the war-fever. Find a new function

 

for our minds and hearts

in words of love, kindness, and arts

that soar with feathered wings–

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how clear, how lovely bright

the sight

of what could be, of hope that sings

 

as the walls tumble down.

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This was a week of elections, cat dental surgery, the anniversary of Kristallnaught (November 9, 1938), and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. In the U.S. today is Veteran’s Day. It was formerly Armistice Day, but of course, war has not ended. I respect all who have served and honor all those who have given their lives in serving their country. While someone like Hitler had to be stopped, it would be better if people did not let such people gain power.

 

For Merril’s Movie Club: We watched Snowpiercer, a 2014 movie we had never seen, but since we recently saw Parasite, and it is an earlier movie by the same director, Bong Joon-ho, we decided to watch it. It’s on Netflix. This one’s in English, and it’s much more of an action movie than I would normally see. Like Parasite, the movie covers the issues of class and climate,and there was definitely much to think about. Overall, we both liked it. There is also fighting and bloody scenes though, so be forewarned. We saw Lighthouse in the theater. It’s also in English. I know, strange, right?  (Don’t worry, we’re still watching Black Spot, so reading subtitles there.).  Great acting, beautiful black and white cinematography. Very strange, surrealistic movie of two lighthouse keepers on an isolated island. Some of the dialogue is taken from Melville and lighthouse keepers’ diaries. It’s somewhat similar in style to his previous movie, The Witch.

 

 

 

1692: Salem

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Evil is growing here. It is in the soil, where our fields lie fallow. Is this the barrenness of harvest or pestilence? Village and town are plunged into darkness, no light remains. But what lives in the shadows? Demons surround us, and the devil gains more converts every day. Even the households of ministers are afflicted. We are torn apart. Undone.

Yet it’s our duty to fight the darkness and expel the evil that lurks here. It is our duty–we the justices–to send the witches to death. This affliction has spread through the region; so many blackened with devils’ marks, though they bleed red as anyone (their master teaches them tricks).

They will suffer the justice of righteousness, crushed by rocks or hanged by a rope, until they die, and we are saved.

But at night I wonder—what if we’re wrong?

 

For dVerse, Prosery #5. Prosery is prose using a line from a poem. Björn has asked us to use the line: “This is the barrenness of harvest or pestilence,” from a poem by Louise Glück. The word limit is 144 words. I rewrote part of an old poem, and I turned the given prompt line into a question.

 

Poem Up in Wellington Street Review

Friends' Alms-House. on Walnut St. Philada. -- Erected in 1745. Taken down in 1841. [graphic].

Friends’ Alms-House. on Walnut St. Philada. — Erected in 1745. Taken down in 1841. [graphic]. Library Company of Philadelphia

 

Thank you to Annabel Mahoney and team for selecting my poem “The Almshouse” for the current issue of the Wellington Street Review. I am so pleased to be included in this issue.You can read the poem here. 

Travelers

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Monday Morning Musings:

 

“My baby takes the morning train

He works from nine till five and then

He takes another home again

To find me waitin’ for him”

Florrie Palmer, “Morning Train (Nine to Five),” (Recorded by Sheena Easton)

 

“Why do you write like you’re writing out of time?”

Lin Manuel Miranda, “Non Stop,” Hamilton

 

“Legacy. What is legacy?

It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

Miranda, “The World Was Wide Enough,” Hamilton

 

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

–Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

 

Blue wind soars

into a day of pink and peach

recall this picture– or forget

how the rhythm of earth

turns grey to dazzling bright,

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and the magic of a cat

in a long, liquid stretch

with a purr that transfers

burrowing into your soul

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How does it happen—

 

that the light of ghost stars

dances into your morning horizon

and you vow to remember this

 

how it travels

in light years

 

but blink—

and it’s gone.

***

We catch the train

walk a cobblestone lane

 

and past the willow tree

where Hamilton’s bank peeks softly

Willow tree at Dock Creek, Philadelphia

through branches still green

past, present, what might have been

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but here we are

to watch women on trapeze bar

 

climbing silks, twirling on a hoop

they move in the air, dance, swoop

 

in transit, a search

for love, a perch

above offers reflection

(and they are perfection)

 

in strength and skill

traveling without a spill

 

from any apparatus

and those hearts grab us

 

the emotions she carries

with colors that vary

 

red, black and blue

well, we understand, do you?

 

The red given to lovers, the black

weighing her down, from the lack–

 

but friends help with the burden

though life is still uncertain.

 

We so enjoy the show

then it’s time to go

 

past a wedding

heading

 

from where the Founding Fathers’ prayed

bridal party and guests all finely arrayed

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and we walk and people-watch

from a little swatch

 

with drinks and apps

then perhaps

it’s time to walk

and talk

 

down streets and alleys

where people have rallied,

 

where a Revolutionary generation

fought, died, and built a nation–

to reflect on light

as we travel into the night.

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We catch the train

the next day—again

 

over the bridge, high

above where boats sail by

Delaware River from Patco train

eat a pre-theater meal

and I’m so excited, I feel

happy to be here

(Hamilton walked near)

 

lucky to be alive right now–

and wow!

the show lives up to every expectation

and anticipation,

 

believe the hype, what they say is true

it’s brilliant through and through.

 

I cry a bit after Philip dies

but laugh and clap, too, and time flies

 

till we’re heading home on the train

again.

 

And though moon peaks from a cloud

humming—not too loud

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Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

 

I dream of things I don’t understand

of Hamilton, and far off lands

 

of immigrants who get things done–

well, my grandfather was one.

 

But where does a dream go

between slumber and slowed

 

breathing and thinking

thoughts slinking

 

and winking in your mind

till you wake to find

 

the dream’s traveled far

beyond time, and where are

 

they? Where do they go

when they’ve flowed

 

from your brain,

but sometimes appear again?

 

My mother asks if my father’s alive

and I ponder and strive

 

to find a way

to say–

 

cause he died

years ago, not alive

 

but I’m helpless when she insists

and the dreams twists

 

then falls away.

 

So, I write, prose and rhyme

because I’m running out of time

 

planting seeds, a legacy

she’ll never get to see.

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We saw In Transit, a show that’s part of the Philadelphia Fringe line-up this year. We both really enjoyed it, and this group of women of Tangled Movement Art who we’ve seen perform before. They combine theater and circus art. “Morning Train” was a song that was repeated throughout the show. Then, of course we saw Hamilton. The show is a bit of a love song to NYC, but Philadelphia knows Hamilton walked here, too.

I’m delayed today because my computer decided to eat my file, but fortunately, I was able to recover it. Moment. Of. Panic.