I’m so thrilled to have two poems up in the first issue of Wellington Street Review. It is “a new quarterly journal specialising in creative responses to the past. ” This entire issue looks fabulous. I appreciate the editorial kindness and dedication of those involved with this publication–so wonderful to work with them–and I thank them for publishing my poems The Pogrom and In Memoriam: Their Names .
Monday Morning Musings: Truth and Lies and In Between
“a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. . .
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark”
–Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
“. . .
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon. . .
. . .When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.”
From Maya Angelou, “A Brave and Startling Truth”
You can read and listen to the entire poem here on Brainpickings
Here within the pale blue dot
in this place within the speck
in this space, wrought
by nature and time, unchecked,
the days grow colder
the days grow colder,
and the vultures circle
the lies grow bolder
as the sky turns purple
and choppy is the sea
to which the choppy river flows–
do you see?
There it goes,
while elsewhere people flee
retreat from tyranny
retreat, flee, from tyranny
on flimsy ships, in caravans
not criminals, but wanting to be free
yet stopped by wall-builders’ bans
the bans that echo through history
the bans built on lies
about the other we hate
their skin color or nose size
perhaps their rising birth rate—
rouse the crowd, don’t make them wait
no, don’t make them wait,
their blood is pumping now,
so never speak the truth out straight,
and if lies are revealed somehow,
well, kill it—you know how.
You know how journalists die
through censorship—and worse–
rehearse your stories, fly your lies
praise the dictators and yes, truthtellers curse—
while we hope times will get better, and not worse
we watch movies about lies and hate
but also, truth and kindness, the human spirit rising
to help others, to banish and negate
the hate, to uncover the lies, without compromising
and we come to it
remembering history and seeing friends
remembering that someday the cold
will grow colder, but that it will end,
and the lies will grow bolder than bold
but we will love and each other hold
with care, eat comfort food, drink more wine
cuddle under blankets, dream, it’s fine
to remember time was born
in a brilliant cloud
from a void, torn
with a bang, how loud
if no one heard the birthing horn
or saw the light that’s now allowed
to flow and dance throughout all space
within the cracks and every place
where darkness lurks and surrounds
with beauty, hope, and grace
And so, we come to it,
in this time and place
on this pale blue mote, recommit
to seek the light—or at least find a trace.
We streamed two movies this weekend. 22 July about the terrorist attack in Norway. Though certainly a grim subject, we both thought it was done well, without a lot of gratuitous violence. It focuses more on the aftermath, particularly on one survivor and the trial. We also watched Three Identical Strangers, a documentary about triplets that delves into the moral issues that I won’t go into to, in case you want to be surprised.
My creative non-fiction piece, “Pearl,” is up at Rhythm & Bones. My thanks to Tianna G. Hansen for publishing this story that was looking for a home. I’m pleased to be a part of this issue.
Monday Morning Musings:
“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
–Fortune Cookie Wisdom
Moon music whispers
a lust for life—and light
in the darkness.
Ask—does the sky ache above
seeing death below?
There, like the shadow
that lies black beneath the rose.
The power of her voice in song–
now only her shadow sings–
caught on video and audio, sing along–
to “A Natural Woman,” it brings—
as now a nation fears
the future filled with tweeting jeers.
He and they try to destroy the press
but those of us who cherish thought
protest. We need the freedom to express
ourselves without duress.
Though the shadow ones know—some are bought—
some are complacent, some complicit–
elicit the illicit.
We sit outside, it’s still summer hot
though autumn hovers in the shadows
and we begin to think ahead, no, perhaps not—
there’s still time to sip wine, dip our toes
into pools or walk a sandy beach
and reach. . .
for love. Seek time with friends
fight the shadows, that lurk around us
and yes, we can’t know how it ends
hate is around, and it’s been ever thus.
It’s a fine line we walk
but we must talk
about the hate we see, it’s been freed
no longer do they lurk in the dark
the white-robed shadows proclaim their creed
of white supremacy–they bark
and parade in the open to dog whistles from above
and we must spark the light, the dove–
she flies somewhere high, beyond this rainy sky
where we walk through puddles on cobblestones
the air scented with summer flowers, and all the whys
float through the air, and do we care about the bones
that lie beneath us
the souls that flit above us
in the shadowed world, we cannot see
we shine a light, where is the door,
where is the key?
In the before,
we look for the after
and the in-between
is still to be seen.
There is no moral, this is no fable
but disaster can come suddenly, coffee spilled
across the table.
A recap of my week. Aretha Franklin died, the nation’s press fought back against 45’s attacks, we drank wine, and we saw the movie BlackkKlansman. Trailer here.
Monday Morning Musings:
“I would build a cloudy House
For my thoughts to live in;
When for earth too fancy-loose
And too low for Heaven!”
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The House of Clouds”
“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all.”
–Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”
Striking in their billowing shapes, watch them drift, the clouds.
Somehow relaxing, to see them shift, the clouds.
On a beautiful afternoon in July,
we walk, a blue bed is the sky
for puffy clouds to lay upon
transient, seen, and then they’re gone—
like the inhabitants who once held sway
on these cobblestone streets, walked each day–
in daily life and times of strife they lived in these houses
with children, relatives, with their spouses,
do their spirits yet walk here under moonlit clouds
shy, hesitant, or fierce and proud?
I must ask my friends who once lived herein
if they ever encountered such ghostly denizens.
We watch a movie about a baker of cookies and cakes
who travels under a cloud, with a life that’s fake
but ghosts and memories bring new love–
(The pasty looks delicious, but the story hard to convey
without giving too much away.)
We eat pizza and drink wine while the weather is fine—
against more green, blue, and white, we sip and dine
taking advantage of this unusual meteorological blip
before the storm clouds roll in and the forecast flips—
which it does, the skies turn grey
the white clouds drift away
and I build cloud houses from my thoughts
turn them away from should and oughts
but I dream of houses with stairs to nowhere
or perhaps from here to there,
if only I can find the right paths (or footwear)—
a dream with goals and friends and cats,
and if there’s unfinished business—
well, I can live with that.
I’m sorry about the spacing here. I can’t quite figure out how to fix it.
People still live in the homes of Elfreth’s Alley. You can read about it here.
We saw the Israeli movie The Cakemaker. Trailer here.
We went to Auburn Road Vineyards.
Monday Morning Musings:
“How close people could be to us when they had gone as far away as possible, to the edges of the map. How unforgettable.”
–Paula McLain, Circling the Sun
“I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,”
-Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”
In the quiet morning breeze
I gaze at the sky, the pink-tinged frieze
of clouds, a line then brushed
by sun and wind, its blush
faded to white, in the diffusing sunlight.
I breathe in the ancient longing
belonging to us all—for affection,
to find connections
(despite an election)
After all, we’re all made of stardust,
and we’ve emerged from the sea,
to inhale the air made by our trees–
all related, far enough back, we share the same genes.
I don’t know what it means,
But we’re all people, not infestations,
no matter our color, religion, or nation.
My cousin comes to visit–
his father was the brother of my mother,
we share this blood-bond
but I don’t think we’ve ever talked
so much, so one-on-one
of this and that
(we pause to watch and pet the cat).
I display some family genealogy
and we try to parse a chronology
of those from our past,
discuss and compare
the connections we share,
different views of relatives we know
(bring out more photos to show),
Stories of growing up
an old joke about the Penn Fruit store,
which is no more–
residing now only in our youthful before,
part of the memory,
a moss of summer dreams
that stick, it seems
even in the frost,
when autumn leaves fall,
still they call.
We visit the battlefield park,
watch the geese swim in formation
the same way they fly in the sky
(all the whys)
and wonder at their destination,
watch the planes, look at the Philadelphia skyline—
this day is more than fine—
we walk and talk
amidst the ghosts of a battle past
after the guns fired and the cannons blast,
the Hessian soldiers here that died.
But they are quiet, and if they tried
to communicate, perhaps it was too late,
we didn’t hear them today
as we walked the pathway
in and out of yesterday.
We go on to our daughter’s,
whose soul glows bright,
sit with family by firelight,
laugh and talk
and pet their dog,
content to be in the moment here
multi-generations, with faces dear,
and if you were perhaps to overhear
amidst the jokes and banter,
you might find fear
of the future,
but it would be mostly love, you’d hear.
“The hardest part is when the river
is too swift and goes underground for days on end”
~Jim Harrison from Songs of Unreason
heedless of morning light
or evening flight
of geese across
the river runs,
of people who
in transitory transit
camped along its banks
when silver shad streamed,
fished for oysters and pearls
pushes and pulls
life through seasons
the hidden bones
beside the water
dreaming of what was,
waiting for what will be.
This is for Day 14 of Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason–poetry inspired by the poetry of Jim Harrison.
Like a ghost,
a man already dead–
of knowing others bled
and he was complicit
in acts morally,
if not legally,
Would he be called enabler,
The victors tell the story,
when truth is denied,
then histories lie.
But his eyes betrayed–
me too, they said,
to what he was thinking–
that he was lost, sinking
lower and lower,
flowing out with the tide
he tried to divert the course
perhaps too late.
And now he only watches
wondering how and why he was chosen.
Like his ancestors there
against the plaster
on the wall—
in the famed paint of dead masters.
For dVerse, Amaya asked us to take two quotes from different sources and use one for the first sentence on a poem, and the other for the last sentence. I used Munich, a new novel by Robert Harris, which is about the Munich Agreement of 1938. Despite knowing the outcome, it was still a bit of a thriller. I also used a phrase from Maya Angelou’s, “California Prodigal.”
“In the shadows, at the back of the study Hartmann watched it all without seeing, his long face blank and ashy with exhaustion—like a ghost, though Legat, like a man already dead.”
–Robert Harris, Munich, Knopf: New York, 2018, p. 251
“Under the gaze of his exquisite
Sires, frozen in the famed paint
Of dead masters. Audacious
Sunlight cast defiance
At their feet.”
Maya Angelou, “California Prodigal
Monday Morning Musings
“I guess I can say that I just wasn’t connecting to everything, because I wasn’t given enough information to know that we all are connected somehow. To every living breathing thing.”
–Denis Dodson, a Maryland prisoner, in Anna Deavere Smith’s, Notes from the Field
“On Passover, among other traditions, we pass down “the spirit of roast beef” and how to make light and fluffy kneidlach instead of “sinkers.”
—from our family Haggadah
Winter turns to spring,
the week is fraught
and we are caught–
the minor annoyances and major fears
(of fate held back, now it seems, for years
the morning call about my mom—
not as frightening as one late at night,
but still the toll
the stress of them all. . .
And so, we are comforted by rituals
though celebrated past the date
still cherished, even if they’re late
connecting with our ancestors,
connecting with our past
remembering absent faces
remembering all that’s passed
Passover, a celebration of freedom
but so many are still not free
we watch a filmed performance
about people caught in circumstances—
a need to redesign
the school to prison pipeline,
though many are disinclined
(after all, there are profits to be had
in the incarceration of those considered bad)
But how to address the major issues–
there will always be officious officials.
There are big problems, addressed in this drama
food desserts, racism, epigenetic trauma?
Freedom Fighters, John Lewis
the brightest, the truest—
and still problems go on—
a young girl thrown across a room,
and I wonder if we’re doomed?
We celebrate freedom
we were slaves, now we are free
but for so many that will never be.
My family picks and chooses our traditions,
most of us without true religion,
accepting each other and the love that we need
and so, we sit at the Passover table to read
my daughter’s Passover play
(this year’s edition)
each reading our part,
with laughter, we start–
some allusions maybe going over some heads–
the Pharaoh likened to current leader who believes his lies,
(despite the facts before his eyes)
and Moses to Hamilton who’s not going to throw away his shot–
perhaps high art, it’s not,
but we laugh as we sing and say
and name the plagues,
then almost through
pour more wine
and let us dine
In the after-dinner glow
I am comforted by our rituals
and all we hold dear,
connections to the past
my niece says do you know—
grandmothers literally hold a part of their granddaughters in their bodies
in the already present eggs of their girl babies in utero?
and so, it goes–
this love of family
past, present, future—
through which we pass
in the parade of time
moving forward and back,
and we here are fortunate not to lack
nourishment of love, food, the mind.
I see the students march,
hear my daughter talk of how she teaches,
begin to hope that some glimmers of light reaches
floating through both words and deeds
following the leads
of young and old
truth and justice, never old
hoping this trend to hate recedes
hoping the light grows
hoping truth and beauty proceed
Here’s an article from The Atlantic on Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman play, Notes from the Field, in which she plays many different roles. A filmed production is currently on HBO. I did some research on prisons for my forthcoming books on rape and sexual violence. Some people may not be aware that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Day Nine’s Prompt for NaPoWriMo is “to write a poem in which something big and something small come together.” I feel like that is always what happens in my Monday Morning Musings.
It was a busy weekend, so I’m behind on reading, but I will try to catch up later today!
Monday Morning Musings:
“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969. Often misattributed to Hemingway.
“To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”
–Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. . .
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.”
–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
It’s a stressful week, we burrow in—
in restful verbs and tasty nouns,
lighting candles in the night,
casting shadows against the bright
light and darkness
without one, is the other missed?
I journey in place
(I hope with grace)
flowing, risking with rhyme and meter,
thinking of a double feature–
traveling without moving
wondering if I’m improving
if it’s soothing. . .
to stay in my pajamas
listening to public radio,
interviews with Nathan Lane and Laura Marling,
unsnarling the day’s news with Michel Martin–
I make dough and bake pizzas
enough for us and the shadow figures, too—
of course, wouldn’t you?
I mean, if they should they care to join us,
we’d have enough
and so, we dine,
drink some wine
watch a movie of two families, white and black
see, there’s no going back,
when time moves forward
we go onward,
even while people are wandering
out of place
lost in space–
well, you can take the boy from Mississippi,
but what happens when he returns a man?
People don’t understand
the legacy of poverty and hate,
and racists don’t want to debate
truth seen in a black and white–
it’s easier to fight.
So much to consider,
and some of it makes me bitter,
I think about the six million dead,
those who never got a chance, never fled
wonder if my family’s genes were among them—
forced to live in shadows, in nightmares
or rather, left in there
suffering and forced to die
their cries reverberate
we light a candle in their memory
the sorrow of their journeys,
their souls shout out
but what do my words create–
and what good is an epitaph for them or us—
is what time was forever thus?
Perhaps to foist a new beginning,
or to change the end
when life circles round,
we can start again.
Holocaust Remembrance Day was on Saturday, January 27. We watched the movie, Mudbound, on Netflix.