Heroes

Monday Morning Musings:

“She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.”
–Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

“I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.”
–Florence Nightingale (I can’t find a source.)

I watch the veterans gather in the park,
realize the day and date of infamy—once stated–
here on a battleground site, they hold flags and remember
the dead; some were heroes, some were fools
or the desperate or despised–perhaps

if not felled in attacks, in battles,
bombed, bulleted, sabered, shattered
to die in hometowns or foreign places,
to be lost to the sea, buried in a mass grave,
shrouded for eternity—heroes–

Cold December Morning. Delaware River.©️Merril D. Smith 2020

and I think of the nurses, the caregivers,
the resisters, and deliverers of secrets,
carriers of food; those who’ve hidden the persecuted,
the arrested, the tortured, the executed
only for helping and caring, for not despairing

that a better time will come. They strive, they try
and if they wonder why, still they go on. I think of the heroism
of the everyday. The unsung, the ungloried ones,
who feed, teach, defeat addictions, live each day,
finding a way to make it through

another day to night, and again and again,
and perhaps even then to see the beauty of sun, moon, and stars,
to listen to the geese in flight, soar with them in dreams
of a better places and delight
in each small triumph. Wait for storms to pass—

to glory in the light at last.

Light through the clouds. Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield. ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

Merril’s Movie/Theater/TV Club: We streamed Heroes of the Fourth Turning, a production of the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. The cast and crew quarantined and worked in a bubble of rented houses in the Poconos (filling in for Wyoming) to produce this excellent filmed production. Though it certainly is not a play for everyone.
“Four Catholic conservative friends gather at a late-night backyard party in Wyoming, shortly before the 2017 eclipse. As they wait for the arrival of their mentor and newly appointed college president, secret passions and fears surface, revealing their troubled place in a divided country.”—Wilma Theater


We also are almost finished with the second season of The Umbrella Academy (Netflix). Not my usual type of show, but enjoyable, and I’m quite involved in this second season, which is surprisingly relevant. Elliott Page’s recent announcement reminded me that we hadn’t yet seen the second season of the show, and now we have only the last two episodes to watch. Today I read an op-ed by a young transgender activist saying what Page’s announcement meant to her. There are all sorts of heroes.

More on Heroes and Hearts

Swirls Over Spruce

Spruce Street, Old City

Monday Morning Musings:

“She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.”

–Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

“i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”

–e.e.cummings “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]”

 

 

Ancient voices carried on a breeze

float beneath the moon

in leaf-rustle, they speak

in each footfall, they keep time

and secrets

 

that whirl in dusty motes

gathering in silvery specks,

specters of the past

the echo of their heartbeats

caught in a laugh, a scent, a cry.

 

***

Harriet was a true hero,

but she was a woman, too,

who loved and laughed and cried

and if the playwright has her move through time

is that so odd

 

because we still hear her voice,

don’t we?

She walked down this street or that one, perhaps

here the enslaved reached freedom,

here refugees still hide

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Second Street, Old City Philadelphia (From the Arden Theater) Merril D. Smith 2020

their hearts full

or broken.

I learn my friend’s heart literally broke

the day before Valentine’s Day–

but it is patched, stents installed

 

to let his blood flow.

Another friend has an artificial heart,

but like the Tin Man

she doesn’t need a heart

to love or be loved.

 

I read that the Giant Heart in the Franklin Institute

has been refurbished–

it now has the soundtrack of a real heart

with beats that echo

through time and space

 

like Harriet in the play,

like the memory of my grandfather

popping up from the giant heart’s artificial valves

to show me and my little sister

that it was a safe space

 

a place I carry

a memory of a heart

carried in my heart

his heart and that heart

in my heart, they echo

 

as do the voices of women

leading “lives of quiet desperation”

that the assistant sees in the movie

and what can she do

till enough people speak and the system changes

 

as whistles are blown

and heroes speak the truth

even as rich and petty men besmirch them

retaliating with the power of wealth and position–

tin men without the shadow of a heart.

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But still,

I bake chocolate hearts

for all the hearts I carry inside

and we celebrate love

and heroes–

 

because both

transcend time and space.

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We saw My General Tubman, a new play by Lorene Cary at the Arden Theatre.

We went to the Wine and Chocolate event at William Heritage Winery.

Merril’s Movie Club: we saw The Assistant, a bleak but excellent movie with an outstanding performance by Julia Garner.

We also finished Counterpart. We really enjoyed the two seasons. It’s on Prime, and apparently Starz cancelled it because they didn’t feel it appealed to female viewers (!).  You know how women don’t enjoy well-developed plots and complex storylines (rolling eyes).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering

Monday Morning Musings:

“He supposed it was always that way with the dead; they slid away before we knew enough to ask them the right questions. All we could do was remember them, as much as we could remember of them, whether it was accurate or not. Walk the same streets that they’d walked; take our turn.”

Emma Donoghue, Akin

Sunrise on Delaware River

Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, January.

 

January mornings are slow to wake–

the sun lifts his sleepy head

so slowly from his bed

extending his rays over river and sea

while gulls gather on the shore

 

and I watch sun and gulls

while walking into the day,

the clouds lifting, rolling tides

that flow into tomorrow

carrying echoes of yesterday

***

 

I remember yesterday and look to tomorrow

(the present never is, can never be)

no predictions, we don’t know what comes,

only what was and what might be

as the world circles

 

some remember yesterdays of horror

survivors, tattooed numbers on their arms,

scarred bodies and souls–

they ask us to never forget–

the tides ebb and flow, days turn to night

 

carrying secrets

within families

within neighborhoods and nations

the pretense– we didn’t know what was happening,

the fear and shame of discovery.

 

But I have been privileged—

my ghosts mostly benign,

though I hear the ghosts of six million call,

“Remember,”

and I wonder how we can ever forget

 

a world of hate

that hasn’t vanished

where people were—are–

trafficked, enslaved, murdered

simply because they exist.

 

Is there another timeline

where we are not destroying our planet,

where we don’t say a leader is crass,

but I like what he’s doing–

where facts still matter, where the secrets are exposed?

 

I watch the river

carrying ghosts and memories

out to sea, out of sight

and the birds hover and land

and fly away again

like thoughts

that flitter through my mind,

the trivial and mundane,

the weighty and bizarre,

mixing like water and dust

 

raining through my brain.

What will evaporate?

What will stay to form a river

that streams

words onto a page?

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Reflections on Delaware River at sunrise. Red Bank Battlefield. 2020

 

My daughter and I watch the movie

(laughing and wiping tears from our eyes)

and I think of all the movies we’ve watched

sometimes over and over again–

it seems so long ago now

 

this past

where she played Little Women with her Barbies

giving Amy, the youngest, like her,

superpowers—and a car—

that she teaches Jo to drive

 

and in the past

both daughters saw the real Amy’s drawings

still on the walls over a hundred years and many wars later

this past, what I remember, my daughters

existing with the past of the old house—both moving on

 

as we do.

We drink wine

talk of books, travel, life

time slows for awhile,

we laugh enjoying ourselves and each other–

 

the crescent moon smiles

her secret smile

as we drive home

into our future

remembering the past.

 

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My musings are a bit late today because my editor had a few final queries about my book, and naturally I had to answer them right away. Last week, Adobe Acrobat ate the page proofs I had worked on, and I had to re-do everything.

Merril’s Movie Club: My younger daughter and I finally saw the latest movie version of Little Women. We both loved it, though we wished older daughter was there, too. The casting is perfect, and we both liked the way the story went back and forth in time.  We visited Orchard House when our girls were little.

My husband and I finished the Icelandic drama series, Trapped, which we enjoyed very much. There were many secrets and memories in this series, which also touches on political and social issues.

I finished reading Emma Donoghue’s novel, Akin over the weekend. It’s about a man about to turn eighty who suddenly finds himself caring for his grandnephew and taking him to Nice—where he uncovers family secrets from WWII.

We visited Almathea Cellars.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day—the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

 

 

Past, Future, and When

Monday Morning Musings:

“Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,”

You can hear him read the poem here. 

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”

–Justice Hugo Black, New York Times Company v. United States (1971)

 

“Wouldn’t it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true and we could live in them?”

–Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

 

The present passes, becomes the past

the future now, and now is then.

We ask how did this happen and when?

Too fast for us to learn,

to slow for us to train

the grasping hands

the lizard brains?

 

In May 1933, they burned the books–

but that was there and then

now here, and again,

a leader tried to censor the news

suppress the press

(What are the choices? Choose.)

“I am not a crook,” he said

before he fled

his seat of power

(looking ever more dour)

But that was then

and it is now,

though there are echoes of before

(his followers ignore)

hate and fear

always in the air

like war’s harsh glare—

sow discord, let others bleed,

while those in the lead, feed their greed.

 

Bright days turn to stormy nights

we gather inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and hold our fears at bay

waiting for a stay

from thunder and lightning flashes–

the zigs and zags across the sky–

but in the morning,

the birds still sing and fly

this is the present,

the past, the future whys

converge,

the past, present, future merge

as it’s beginning to do within my mother’s head

confusing the threads of history and time

sometimes—no reason, no rhyme—

but just the way it is

a bridge to what is, or could be

if only we can see—

somehow—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We celebrate Mother’s Day

a made-up holiday

from what was a protest against war

to one of flowers and treats—

for some, for us, it can also be sweet—

Flourless Chocolate Cake and Cannoli Dip

and we’ve done all this before,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but still—

my mother has a great laugh—

and it would not be so bad

if that became her epitaph–

gathering with love around a table

as long as we are able

is wonderful and something we need.

No, that is not greed

to desire love and peace.

Perhaps I sometimes long for castles in the air

wish that was here or something there,

want the best for my own little women

as my mother wished for hers

and her mother for her children

in the past, which is now, which was then—

I wonder when?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childhood Dreams, Childhood Memories

“Walkin’ through the world
Things happen
Right before your eyes
Things happen
Soon enough you’re lost
And thinkin’
When I’m gonna go back home”
–John Kander and Fred Ebb, “Go Back Home,”
The Scottsboro Boys

 

I was in my car today listening to Radio Times, as poet Lynn Levin described the doll on the cover of her new book Miss Plastique. The brief discussion brought back vivid memories of my daughters playing with their dolls. They loved playing with “the Barbs,” and gave each one a name. I remember Mary, Colonial, Tracy (aka Tracy-Hopping-on-One-Foot after she lost a leg). The Barbies had so many adventures—some of which, I recently discovered, I knew nothing about. It’s probably better that way. I did witness though, and participated in, many of the dolls’ escapades. Little Women Barbies was a favorite game of my younger daughter that we played together when her older sister was at school. She selected particular Barbie Dolls to be the main characters of Louisa May Alcott’s story. In my daughter’s Barbie version, Amy had superhuman gymnastic abilities and drove a car. And I’m pretty sure I remember Aunt March sang “Bare Necessities.” I’m not certain why.

 

Dolls have existed since ancient times and in cultures throughout the world. (See an example here.)
They can be made from all sorts of material. My daughters made paper doll families, seashell families, and on one family vacation, they made a family from the chopsticks they took home from a restaurant. I was never worried about them being unduly influenced by Barbie’s freakish body. Clearly, the dolls were merely props for the worlds their imaginations created.

 

These reflections about dolls and childhood came after my checkup with my oncologist. He said everything looks great. I was relieved, of course. I know how easily I could have been told something else. Yesterday I had attended the funeral of a young man who died much too soon. He was only 23, barely out of boyhood. I am happy that I am well, but it makes me feel almost guilty. I cherish the memories of my daughters’ childhoods, but they are alive, and this wonderful young man is not. His family has the memories of his childhood to cherish, but he is no longer with them, and memories are all they have.

 

Like many people here in the US, I’ve been feeling that “Right before your eyes things happen.” In the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” it was being on a freight train at the wrong time and place. Last week it was watching a marathon in Boston. Why is one person injured, while someone else moments before just happened to move away? Sometimes randomness is reassuring, but at other times it’s frightening. Since prehistoric times, humans have tried to understand fate, but it is impossible, of course. “Giddy Fortune’s furious fickle wheel”

 

Girl with collection of dolls

Girl with collection of dolls (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

spins and we don’t know what it will bring. Perhaps that is one reason why children are so drawn to dolls. They can be held, loved, and cherished. They can be used to create a new universe where characters in a novel take on new lives, or where a family member still exists. They can help to bring shape and order to a random world.