Portrait of a Mystery

Monday Morning Musings:

Delaware River, West Deptford, NJ. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

My dreams–a language-storm of do,
or not,
I try to recall

and wonder who are you—
and which is me—
all is enigma and mystery,

like a portrait-sitter lost in time
sublime or shaded, half-smile, three-quarter face
a hint of her wishes, or the artist’s embrace

of unconscious desire, inspiration
in symbols of her worth, still in last laugh–
she gazes into the future,

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine

can she imagine
how she’ll be carted through wars, another spoil,
a wall-hung prize, monster-cherished–

the attraction of beauty to the beast—
opposites, and circles
of the sun and moon–

with light comes shadow,
honeyed joy and bitter sorrow
alternate—the universe’s tessellated patterns

Oak Tree Shadows

as time moves on. . .

Now, little bird
silent-sitter, waiting to strike–
living dinosaur, a portrait, too.

We finally have a beautiful day after days of oppressive heat, humid, and storms.

I just finished The Night Portrait, a novel by Laura Morelli. I enjoyed both the writing and the story. It takes place in the fifteenth century as Leonardo da Vinci is painting Cecilia Gallerani, then the young mistress of Ludovico Sforza, and during WWII as the Nazis and confiscated art, and the Monuments Men are trying to find the stolen art.

We watched an Icelandic series on Netflix called Katla. If you like dark brooding Scandi-noir mixed with a bit of the supernatural, you’ll like it. It reminded me a little bit of the German series Dark. It’s about a town, now nearly deserted because an underwater volcano has started erupting, and mysterious things begin happening. . .We were really intrigued by it and finished the series in a few nights.

We also watched the first episode of season 4 of Unforgotten (PBS). I’m excited that it’s back on.

The Influence of One

“Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.”
–George Eliot

“We don’t make a photograph just with a camera, we bring to the act of photography all the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the music we have heard, the people we have loved.”

– Ansel Adams

Influence. Who influences us and who do we influence, perhaps unknowingly? A recent blog post by Laurie Buchanan on her Tuesdays with Laurie blog made me ponder these questions.

We’re all influenced by the times in which we live. Perhaps a Neolithic storyteller imagined worlds beyond ours, a place filled with fantastic creatures that swooped down from the sky. It’s possible. But it’s unlikely that he or she imagined televisions or the Internet. Perhaps though that storyteller inspired others to create new tales or paint, or think of worlds beyond. Entirely possible, and a scene I like to imagine. Still, although a rare genius such as Leonardo da Vinci can imagine or predict objects far beyond the imaginations of his or her contemporaries (see for example, his moveable cart, “the world first self-propelled vehicle” ), most of us are constrained by our times and knowledge.

As a historian, I study the past and past influences. In turn, I’m influenced by the words and actions of those who lived long ago. As a writer, I’m influenced by everything around me. But who knows for sure where that creative spark comes from? I have some way of seeing things that others perhaps do not, some odd synaptic firing that allows me to put images into words on a page. But I am still influenced by what I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, music I’ve heard, art I’ve admired. I’m influenced by the sound of the crows outside my window engaged in their “Marco Polo” calls to one other, the sunlight reflected and glimmering on the butterfly bush gently swaying in the faint summer breeze, and the cat sleeping next to me, lost in his feline dreams.

As a writer, I hope that my words influence my readers, and make them think, laugh, or cry. As a human being, a parent, wife, and friend, I also hope that I’ve influenced others, as they’ve influenced me.

Last week all of these various worlds—history, creativity, family, and influence came together in one wonderful example.

Those who read my last post, know that in my house the Mandelbrot cookies I bake are known as “Mommy Cookies,” and that I baked them for my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Two days after the wedding, while visiting a historic site, my newly married daughter and her wife encountered a historical interpreter portraying an early twentieth-century Jewish immigrant making Mandelbrot in her New England kitchen. My daughter’s reaction was to get a bit teary-eyed (as I did when she told me the story), as she thought of how I make those cookies, our Mommy Cookies. A traditional recipe that I’ve updated became a family tradition that has influenced and affected my daughter and me. The reenactor, however, will never know how her portrayal in that historic site resonated and influenced my daughter.

And now that I’ve told you, the influence of that portrayal has expanded.

 

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5