Cloud Houses of Dreams

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,

Elfreth Alley, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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–

sort of—

(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—

Auburn Road Winery,
Salem County, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Raining on the Ben Franklin Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

His work is done. Sweet Dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Ghosts and Questions

Monday Morning Musings:

“Some questions remain long after their owners have died. Lingering like ghosts. Looking for the answers they never found in life.”

–Michael Frayn, Copenhagen

 Bohr: “A curious sort of diary memory is.”

Heisenberg: “You open the pages, and all the neat headings and tidy jottings dissolve around you.”

Bohr: “You step through the pages into the months and days themselves.”

Margrethe: “The past becomes the present inside your head.”

—Michael Frayn, Copenhagen

 

We go to bed with snow on the ground and wake to spring. We step through the door, and into the day.

 

Winter’s ghostly forms

banished by the golden light—

one bloom has opened

We walk down city streets. Here, as we approach Chinatown, sound travels faster than sight, if not light.

We hear the drums and firecrackers, long before we see the lion. We step into the crowd. The lion dance, a centuries-old tradition. The noise of the firecrackers, the constant beating of the drum, and the lion itself will scare away evil spirits. Perhaps the ancestors smile.

 

Lion’s head and tail

sweeps away year’s bad fortune

brings longevity

 

We stop for coffee, and walk and talk, passing nineteenth-century buildings that co-exist with their newer neighbors. I feel the ghosts around us.

 

We step into the theater. We step into time and space. We are in Copenhagen. No, we are sharing the memories of these three: German physicist Werner Heisenberg, his Danish mentor Niels Bohr, and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe with whom he shares everything. We are in some sort of limbo.

 

They are ghosts, perhaps–

well, no longer living–

in this place,

this space

where they try to remember

what was said

and by whom,

recreating a meeting

when Heisenberg, who worked in Nazi Germany

visited Bohrs in occupied Denmark.

Late September, Copenhagen, 1941.

 

We learn about quantum mechanics,

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle,

Bohr’s Complimentary,

nuclear fission,

calculations made and not made,

the Jewish scientists who flee the Nazis,

taking their knowledge to England and the U.S.

(those who are not murdered.

The characters move around the stage,

like electrons,

but who is the nucleus?

That depends on who is telling the story.

Are we each the center of our universe?

But then why can’t we see what others see?

Going through several “drafts” trying to remember

realizing that every moment becomes the past,

looking for answers

to questions that they never asked when they were alive.

 

It is a play about science.

It is a play about morality.

It is a play that asks what is truth?

It is a play that I wish the abomination in the White House

could actually understand.

 

Like Bohrs and Heisenberg, we step outside,

walk and talk,

try to make some sense of the play,

if not the world around us–

 

We drink wine and beer—

celebrate my husband’s birthday—

We discuss the play

We laugh.

We’ve been together a long time.

Sometimes our memories are different.

“I’m afraid you’re wrong, dear.”

“The seasons, they go round and round”

But are we captives of time,

or did we create it?

 

Winter turns to spring,

time travels with light and sound

Do ghosts know the answers?

 

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Maybe they reframe their stories.

living them over,

trying to find the right questions to ask,

but as for us,

we live now–

seeing the beauty in a single bloom,

even as it becomes the past,

and our diaries pages jumble and fade,

it lives on in our memories—somewhere—

perhaps twisting and turning like a Lion Dance–

in time and space.

 

I played around with this, and I suppose it is a sort of Merril Musings Extended Haibun. 🙂  We saw the Lantern Theater Company’s production of Copenhagen. I highly recommend it, but since it was the last performance, you won’t be able to see it.

 

 

 

 

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

IMG_6761

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

IMG_6802

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.

 

The Week That Was, The Week We Dream

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.”
–Langston Hughes, “Dreams”

 

“I dreamed of 747s

Over geometric farms

Dreams Amelia—dreams and false alarms”

–Joni Mitchell, “Amelia (1976)

 

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

–Jonas Salk

 

Once my older daughter and I dreamed the same dream

in morning light, over breakfast plates

we discussed the dream, the hopes that wait

inside of you

to come at night, and go in day,

but I no longer remember what was said

the images now gone, the message, too,

there might have been a flute, or a dancer, perhaps

and I don’t know how it happened,

how our thoughts entwined or over lapsed,

but we share a common dream with many

a dream of justice for all, and ordinary,

for broken-wings that cannot fly

to soar on golden wings high into the sky.

 

I think of this in the fluster and bluster of the holiday season,

with thoughts that come without reason,

come now in moments of calm and comfort,

hot onion soup and warm spiced wine,

 

breaks for dreams and flights of fancy, transport

from tedium of work, of this and that, and revisions,

and I look down at my lap, try to imagine

the dreams of my cat, of his visions

wonder if there’s hope

or images of what has been.

img_4845

I wonder what he dreams?

 

In the fluster and bluster of the holiday season,

I see a glorious sunset,

visible above the suburban mall,

crowning it, a coronet

of orange and red, streaked with clouds of ash-grey

pausing before I look away

to start my car

but making note of it in my mind,

nature’s art, unsigned

left behind

because it’s cold, and I’m tired

and I so I don’t linger or stay.

 

On my car radio, I hear John Glenn has died,

a true hero, a man with dreams,

who worked to make them come true,

but still seemed humble,

even as he soared, appreciating the sun rising and setting

but never forgetting,

truth and facts matter, too.

I think of watching space missions

on school TVs perched up high on wheeled carts

we never questioned the conditions, the positions,

life took place in black and white then

over and over, again and again,

Us and Them

Cold War and the Iron Curtain,

the phrase, the image

both terrified and perplexed me,

rather than strong and powerful,

existence seemed strained and uncertain.

 

But that was then,

now–who knows?

now the images are colored,

but fear and ignorance is unfurled,

black and white, some still view our world,

see iron curtains, want iron walls.

False prophets and false alarms.

 

I refuse to accept this new normal,

where two plus two equals whatever is

Tweeted and Re-Tweeted

till many believe what never was, is.

I read of heroes,

and I know resistance is not futile

and I will not go gently,

will listen intently,

I will rage against the dying of light

will fight for what’s right,

because there is always the crack where the light gets in.

 

And so—

we eat comfort food

we drink wine

 

watch TV

and wrap presents

we look for magic in the ordinary and the extraordinary.

img_4862

Holiday Magic

 

And so—

I write, spread facts, not rumors

urge others to be consumers

of love and what is real

and what is already great,

but not hate.

I dare to dream,

to make dreams a reality,

to heal the broken-wings of hope

and send it flying

like 747s over geometric farms

I watch the sun rise and set

and think it is not over,

no, not yet.

 

We tasted some delicious wine at Sharrott Winery in Hammonton, NJ. Then drank a bottle with some brie.  And we talked of hopes and dreams.

 

 

See the Geese in Chevron Flight–I Wonder What They’re Saying

“See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow
They’ve got the urge for going, they’ve got the wings to go.”

–Joni Mitchell, “Urge for Going”

Early fall is generally beautiful here in southern New Jersey. The days are still warm, the nights cool, and the sky is a clear, vivid blue. Gradually over the next few weeks, as the daylight hours grow shorter, the sky develops a violet cast. Even days that are freakishly warm are somehow melancholy—the angle of the sun is wrong, the light is dimmer, and despite the temperature, nature whispers, “Winter is coming.”

A few days ago, just before Thanksgiving, I was awakened by the honking of geese as they flew over my house. It was probably about four o’clock in the morning. I dozed off again, and then as I awoke at my usual 5:15 AM time, they came back, honking so loudly that even the cat by my side was startled.

I wondered then—why are they so noisy? And why are they flying in the dark? And why do they like my house? Of course, I looked it up later (not the part about my house), and found mostly that scientists do not know a whole lot about the subject. I did discover that most birds call out as they migrate. Often we don’t hear them because they fly at night. Well, so much for the early bird. Or maybe the early bird gets the worm, but the late night bird gets the prime location? (Great view! Only a few predators!) I know that birds often call as they fly over our house and yard and around the bird feeder, but that’s just one isolated call—“great eats here!” Or “watch out for that hawk.” It’s not a group that’s migrating. But then I started wondering about words for collections of animals—you know, flock of geese, murder of crows. I remembered this video about a murmuration of starlings. If you’ve never seen it, it’s beautiful. It actually has nothing to do with birdcalls, but murmuration is a great word. So just go with it.

Now that you’ve been amazed, back to the geese. I found some information that suggested the V formation used by geese and some other birds is helpful both in orienting the birds and also in helping them to communicate. Apparently, too, the leader of the V changes, according to some unknown bird hierarchy or schedule. Personally, I think they draw up a daily or weekly chores list, a rota of routing, you might say (but probably wouldn’t).

But what do those honks mean? I do wonder what geese talk about as they fly. Those honks can’t just be random. (What me anthropomorphize? My cats do talk, don’t yours?) I imagine conversations like these:

“I’m the leader. I say we turn right at the red house to get to the lake.”

“Gabe, you’re wrong! Why won’t you listen to me?! Boy, I can’t wait till it’s my turn to be leader.”

“Well, it’s my turn now, so shut up, already.”

“Mommmmmm! I’ve got to go!”

“Just hold it a bit longer, Sally. We’re coming up to a good windshield. Wait for it. . .one, two, three, go!”

“That’s my girl. Your aim is getting much better! A double shot–windshield and car roof!”

“Oh, Sylvia. Did you notice how Frank can’t keep his eyes off of you? Didn’t you hear him honking at you?”

“I’m ignoring him; I’m not interested. His feathers are always dirty.”

“Gabe, I told you this was the wrong way. Now, we’re gonna have to turn around.”

“Shut up, Joe! I’m the leader for two more days!”

“Hey, Joe! Hey Gabe! Did you notice Sylvia looking at me?”

“Shut up, Frank. We’re busy looking for the lake. Sylvia’s not interested in you. Ewww– Don’t you ever clean your feathers? “
“Mom! Mom! MOMMMMMMMMMMMMM!”

“Sally, what’s the matter?”

“Are we there yet?”

I know nothing about birds—obviously–but how do you know they’re not having conversations like this? Listen closely the next time they come flying and honking over your house. You just might hear them in a whole different way.

****

Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” is one of my favorite fall songs. Here’s a young Joni Mitchell performing the song.  Enjoy.

Clouds and Illusions

“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”

When I was a child, I thought clouds were soft and fluffy like cotton balls or a down comforter. I imagined stretching out on a cloud, and I thought it would feel like a soft bed. I half-believed I could touch the clouds. Even now, when I know they are composed of water droplets and far beyond my reach, I still half-believe I can reach up and grab a piece of cotton candy cloud.

"Clouds."  On the way home from Ocean City, NJ

“Clouds.”
On the way home from Ocean City, NJ

Illusions.

Our lives are filled with illusions—and only some are the optical type. In a dinner discussion a few nights, my younger daughter commented that she always found the villain in TV shows, movies, and plays to be much more interesting both to watch and to perform. I think that is often true. Very often in fiction, the villains get the interesting lines and the more complex back-stories. They get to be fun instead of righteous.

The most interesting fictional heroes are flawed. I like characters and stories in which people and the choices they make are not black and white. In John Le Carre’s elegant Cold War masterpieces, for example, the lies and half-truths of various governments are echoed in George Smiley’s personal life, and in the lives of many people he encounters.

In real life, I suspect few people know people who are always good and always right. Life is seldom that uncomplicated. Was it wrong for Jean Valjean to steal a loaf a bread to feed his sister’s hungry children? Yes, Inspector Javert says. Stealing is stealing, and there can be no straying from the legal road of right and wrong. Morally, however, was it wrong to steal to feed hungry children? That is

Português: Jean Valjean e Cosette perto do cas...

Português: Jean Valjean e Cosette perto do casamento (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the type of question that most people have to decide on their own.

Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels feature a homicide detective/private detective in WWII era Berlin and in the immediate post-War period. Gunther is not a Nazi—he despises them–but he sometimes works for them to solve murders and find missing persons.  Of course, since there is no lack of either in this time and place, he always has work. He is cynical, and not always likeable, but he is a truly interesting character, the hard-boiled detective transposed to 1930s and 1940s Germany.

In the TV show The Walking Dead, the most interesting thing to me, is how the characters have had to evolve. Their world has changed, and each one of them must decide what he or she will do to survive in it. They must watch out for zombies all the time, but they also have to decide when to help and trust other humans. (I realize many people, if not most, watch the show only to see blood, guts, and gore, but I would be fine without viewing any of that.) Similarly, the young protagonists of  Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy and Julianna Baggott’s Pure trilogy must fight against the morally corrupt governments of their dystopian worlds without becoming corrupted themselves.

In the real world, even those of us not living in war zones or battling zombies must still make daily decisions about right and wrong and how we want to live our lives. In the novels of our lives, we choose to be the heroes or the villains. We may be flawed, but we can still try to be good, while remaining interesting. I can only speak for myself. In my own life, I want my daughters to be as proud of me, as I am of them.

I truly want to believe that most people are good, and that a rainbow will appear after a thunderstorm if I only keep looking for it.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at
heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of
confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned
into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will
destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look
up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this
cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

Anne Frank

We decide what illusions we want to accept and which battles we want to fight. And we dream–because

what would we do without imagination? Who has not looked at the clouds and wondered–if only?

 For those who really enjoy clouds, I discovered there is a Cloud Appreciation Society.

May

20110309131133“the month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.  For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May, in something to constrain him to some manner of thing more in that month than in any other month, for divers causes. For then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman, and likewise lovers call again to their mind old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence.”

-Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur

In southern New Jersey, where I live, spring is in full force. Gone are the early harbingers, the crocuses, snowbells, and daffodils—we’ve moved on! Now tulips, azaleas, and other late spring flowers dot the landscape, along with the last of the flowering trees, still adorned with petals of pink or white. They sway lightly in the breeze like a ballerina’s tulle skirt, strong and fragile. The leaves on the trees are still mostly small and that yellow-green that exists only in the spring; the trees have not yet donned their larger and darker summer-green raiment.

The days are sunny and bright. The nights are cool and still require a blanket. There is hope in the gentle spring breezes. It floats in the air and sings a duet with the birds.

It is all so beautiful. My heart rejoices in the loveliness and makes me feel reborn.  This is the season of rebirth. A few nights ago my husband saw scores of bats swarm into the evening sky. According to what I’ve read, they are now emerging from hibernation and looking for suitable areas to set up their “maternity wings.” I hope they stick around and eat the mosquitoes that will soon be taking over our backyard.

Death and rebirth. These themes appear in religions and cultures throughout the world. The Corn Mother dies so that corn can appear to feed her children.  “The circle of life.”  “To every thing there is a season.” “And the seasons they go round and round.” These ideas are almost—but not quite—clichés. We all know that the seasons go round and round, but every one of us experiences it differently. Every birth or death of a loved one is unique. It doesn’t matter how many times it has happened before. The first steps or first words of your own children are minor miracles—to parents and grandparents, but not to anyone else.

Death and rebirth. There is a personal connection for me in May. My father died in May years ago when our daughters were young. He did not live to see them grow up to become amazing and wonderful young women.  Our daughters were conceived in May. Yes, “the lusty month of May.” Ahem. Death and rebirth.

In the United States, May is the month of college graduations–death and rebirth of another sort. The ceremony during which academic degrees are dispersed is called “commencement.” It is the end of a course of study, and the beginning of a new life.  Three years ago, our older daughter graduated from college, and in a couple of weeks, our younger daughter will do so. Millions have gone through this ritual, but to us, the proud parents, these two graduations are unique and wondrous, as they should be. One daughter has embarked upon her “grown up” life, and the other will soon do so. I am incredibly proud of them. 

In May, we see life reborn, both literally and metaphorically. In May we are restored, “for then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman.” And although we cannot go back, we can continue to hope and dream. As Joni Mitchell wrote:

“There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.”

 

“When joy like these salute the sense,

And bloom and perfume fill the day,

Then waiting long hath recompense,

And all the world is glad with May.”

–John Burroughs, “In May”