Freed Minds and Imprisoned Bodies

Monday Morning Musings

“And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

“The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I hold this slow, and daily, tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

–Charles Dickens, 1842

A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.

–Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

 

In the deep soft blue of night,

a full bright moon murmurs

which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

I ponder mysteries of life and time,

the paths we choose, the where and when

the roads that make us who we are

the journeys that lead to discoveries,

do the words I write,

the forms of things unknown,

take flight across the world,

in a poetry chaos theory

to effect change?

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One of my writer workout shirts.

 

I’m at a book fair,

I don’t sell many books,

my profits come from knowledge gained

or reaffirmed,

books have power,

the reason why slaves are not taught to read,

they release the minds of those bound by ignorance

they free those imprisoned by walls of stone

or by barricades of bigotry,

they build bridges of enlightenment,

people are drawn to them

in excitement, wonder, and surprise

I watch the boy’s eyes

open wide at the thought of reading magical adventures

then disappointment,

“My mom doesn’t have any money.”

“Today is your lucky day, says the author,

“I have something special,

a free book for you–

see, the cover is slightly damaged.”

 

He signs the book for the boy

who takes it,

holds it reverently,

a treasure.

I hope he remembers this moment.

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West Deptford Township Book Festival. Yes, I did bake cookies, too.

 

My husband and I visit the art museum

not for any particular exhibition,

“Sunday at the museum,” someone says,

people there from all over the world

(even though the “Rocky Steps”  are closed)

I hear many languages: French, Chinese, Russian.

We walk through the Impressionists,

see the real and surreal,

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View from the Duchamp Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

look at art and people,

adults and children,

viewed and viewers.

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Reading at the Museum—Mary Cassatt, Family Group Reading (c. 1901) Philadelphia Museum of Art

We walk from the museum

 

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across the Parkway to Fairmount

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and on to Eastern State Penitentiary,

 

 

the world’s first penitentiary,

conceived with a purpose–

to induce penitence in its prisoners,

the original building completed in 1836,

though the process began earlier

with efforts to relieve the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail,

in 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded a group to reform prisons,

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons,

an organization that still exists,

the new penitentiary is thought to be humane,

a wonder of technology and innovation,

a central hub with spokes,

cells with plumbing and heat

designed by architect John Haviland,

but prisoners were cut off from human contact

and sometimes went insane.

Charles Dickens wrote of the torture of solitary confinement

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and later the prison became too crowded for the concept to continue,

a second tier of cells was built

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and prisoners shared cells.

We listen to actor Steve Buscemi

tell us about it in the audio tour,

we’ve been here before,

but it is good to be reminded,

and there are new exhibits we haven’t seen

there are other visitors and tour groups,

but when it is quiet, without other visitors around,

I feel the ghosts around me

there amidst the rubble

 

Prisoners

in dark fevered air

decayed concrete and old secrets,

a dirt home

listen to who was

they live not

but almost open,

in time

 

It is a reminder

of good intentions gone wrong,

yet there are traces of beauty and goodness,

even here,

the tales of good and humane guards

the art created by inmates,

the synagogue

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The original synagogue door. (For my blogger friend, Robin.)

 

but still there are ghosts,

the imprisoned,

some died here,

and I have no answers for those who are imprisoned still

but I hope they have books and art

and that their minds can roam, even if their bodies cannot

do they wonder about the paths of their lives?

Which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

Tonight I dream of wide-eyed boys

of beauty and art

amidst decayed walls

a cat purrs softly in my ear,

I am home, but my mind roams free.

 

The kind author was Ben Anderson, who shared a table with me at the West Deptford Township Book Festival at Riverwinds Community Center. His books are chronicles of Irish fantasy, targeted for middle grade readers, but suitable for “eight to eighty-eight” he says. You can read about them here .

We joke about the Magnetic Poetry Oracle, but she gave me this poem (incorporated above) the morning of the day we went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. She also came me part of the opening.

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You can find out more about Eastern State Penitentiary here.   Here is an article on programs for prison literacy.   And a list of additional resources here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth visiting, even with construction going on.

 

 

 

Time’s Glow: NaPoWriMo

 

We sojourn on between the moons

climbing full and white and bright and clear

but still the dark I feel is near

though here there is more luminous light

where comes the song of ancient sprites

wandering through shade, illuminating sight,

nearby, a diamond girl shimmers and glows,

ensorcelling face, radiant clothes,

her tongue sings music of forest and glen

urging spring and summer, again, again,

and time is endless here and always

with shadows splashed by sun-shining blazes

and roses bloom with sweet perfume

like golden apples of the sun, yet unconsumed

and gleaming, Earth seesaws now between beginning and done,

we’re dreaming, spindrift from slipstream, time’s run

 

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Odilon Redon, Beatrice,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 29, WaPoWriMo. The penultimate day.  The prompt was to take a word or phrase from a favorite poem, free associate, and then write a poem. I took some words and phrases from the Magnetic Poetry Oracle and went from there.

I’ve borrowed an image idea–using one that is similar to the one Jane Dougherty used in her dreamy vision–because I thought this golden Beatrice fit the poem. So thanks, Jane. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Earth, For Earth Day: NaPoWriMo

 

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Sweet spring shines

come flower,

bird, and bee,

squirrel over tree,

a secret song,

pure poetry

must grow, thrive

at peace, but knowing

if my blue earth, a sanctuary

is soon through,

we blossom, berry, bough, follow, too

from sacred garden to prairie brown,

how eden leaves

 

 

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By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 22, NaPoWriMo.  The Magnetic Poetry Oracle was true to the prompt. She gave me an Earth Day Georgic Verse.

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Joy Smiles: NaPoWriMo

 

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Window to a secret universe,

perfume of coffee & caramel

brilliant colors, velvet words, day & night,

heart & desire remembered,

it is here time

it is eternity

breathing magic,

joy smiles

 

This is Day 15 of NaPoWriMo. We’re halfway through, so the prompt was to write about something in the middle. This is more of in-between than middle, but I love the ideas that the Magnetic Poetry Oracle gave me today, and I won’t have time to write another one today.

Secrets, Adaptations, and Joy

Monday Morning Musings:

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

–Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice*

 

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

–Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

 

 “Raise a glass to freedom

Something they can never take away

No matter what they tell you

Let’s have another round tonight”

–Linn Manuel Miranda, “The Story of Tonight,” Hamilton

 

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We wandered

wet spring stone,

an ancient bough,

poetry of lonely bird & squirrel

Listen

There

I know

(almost)

this secret garden

life

 

 

The dawn chorus sang

before the sun appeared

their secret language of chirps and trills

floated through the damp air,

early spring.

I began the day.

 

We wandered old city streets

stepped on bricks and cobblestones

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the stories these stones and buildings could tell

the Founding Fathers wheeling and dealing,

letters and documents they wrote, still preserved,

our laws, our past, present, and future,

but what of the buried secrets

items tossed into privies,

and bodies,

uncovered in construction

thought to be moved long ago,

a lie from the past,

the new built over the old,

history in layers,

the way our life tales are constructed

with secrets and stories

hidden and revealed

 

private secrets and public secrets

the lies we tell ourselves,

the lies politicians tell us,

“Let sleeping dogs lie,”

bold-faced lies

little white lies

lies of omission

lies of commission

“What does the president know

and when did he know it?

 

We saw a movie about lies,

the lies a man has told himself,

stories he never told his wife

(omission)

buried in a secret room in his mind

rooms we see on the screen

his past played over and over

more revealed each time,

we all have secret rooms,

compartments,

where history is written and rewritten,

the personal,

the political,

and as we walked along these streets

we push past ghosts who linger there still

in rooms where they told their stories

and raised a glass to freedom

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City Tavern, Philadelphia

 

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We drink to our own freedom. Pondering the second round at Tria.

We saw a play,

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Prague and New York City, 1977

there is an immigrant,

a Czech woman in a surreal dream

wanting the freedom to express herself,

to be an artist,

we hear the folksongs of her friend, Marek,

he was arrested for singing them,

a bird-woman goddess,

she who existed before the Thunder God,

shows the immigrant woman,

what?

Her past?

Her possible future?

Men with pig faces,

followers of the Thunder God,

builders of walls,

conquerors of women,

they exist everywhere,

must we adapt,

live our secret lives within a police state,

a surreal dream

for the immigrant,

what will freedom bring,

What happens when the walls are torn down?

What is the American dream?

Is it a cautionary tale

that anyone can become the president—

cowboy, actor, failed businessman?

Perhaps their time is numbered.

 

We walked past a rally for the current president,

in the neighborhood where men gathered

over two hundred years ago

to give them that right to protest

 

 

in secret hearings

closed to the public,

they crafted a body of law,

then explicitly added others,

free speech,

freedom of the press,

I am thankful to live in a place where the president’s supporters have the right

to gather with signs and make speeches–

though I disagree with their views–

and will use my own voice to protest against hate and ignorance

to sing out

against oppression when I can,

but like a bird woman,

I will celebrate the world, too–

we all need a pop of color on a dreary day,

daffodils in the rain

and secret gardens.

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*Thanks to Robin of Breezes at Dawn for the reminder about this quotation.

The Oracle gave me the magnetic poem that was perfect for the day.

We saw the play, Adapt, a world premiere by Blanka Zizka at the Wilma Theater. We saw the movie The Sense of an Ending.

 

 

 

The Moon and the Sea: Magnetic Poetry

 

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Moon needs music,

recalling in honey’d language

like smooth chocolate

the sea symphony she wants still,

watching with sweet crush

shining beauty from above,

over dreams–

there–

in purple shadow time

 

Guillermo Gómez Gil, “Moonrise,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsGuillermo_Gómez_Gil_-_Salida_de_la_luna

 

 

A poem for the full moon. The Oracle was not in the mood for poetry yesterday, but she came through today.

 

Between Here and Always

Monday Morning Musings:

The Oracle gave me this poem over the weekend.

 

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Between here and always

is light–

vivid soul-blossoms living wild,

secret garden from dark night,

world was and is

 

In February, this month of birthdays,

time moves backward and forward,

fluid

here and always

what was, what is, and what will be

 

even the weather seems confused,

time and season changing from day to day

light and dark

warm and cold

flowers bloom,

secret gardens amidst leaves

covered as snow falls

 

here

always

 

We celebrate my husband’s birthday with Pakistani food,

the owner remembers him and my son-in-law

they picked up food there on the day my daughter and son-in-law

moved into their house,

yes, they looked tired that day, the man says,

(he is pleased we’ve returned)

the food is delicious,

we eat flaky samosas with yogurt sauce and green chili sauce

then our various entries—slow cooked beef, lamb, chicken,

and vegetarian dishes of eggplant and moong dal with palek,

the chef comes out to meet us,

we tell them we’ll come back

here

 

We have wine and cheesecake afterward at my daughter’s house,

 

 

the house crackles and creaks a bit as the heat of the gas fire warms the room,

ghost sounds,

my daughter-in-law mentions a John McCain poster figure

her father used to hide it around their house to startle people,

I recall the mannequin my sister and a roommate had in their apartment

they used to dress her for different events,

one daughter says she saw a woman on the T carrying the arm of a mannequin–

silence,

there must be a story,

then, other daughter asks, “are you sure it was a mannequin’s arm?”

 

here and always,

food, love, and stories.

 

Later, I pull out tablecloths

they’ve been buried at the bottom of a cedar chest

almost two decades now,

once a special part of our daughters’ birthday parties

years of drawings and comments,

words written by children

now grown

scribbled messages,

ghosts of the past,

each daughter takes a tablecloth

Happy Birthday, I say.

They are always in my heart.

 

 

I make a photo/memory album for my mother-in-law

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I have an assistant.

 

born in 1937,

the middle of the Great Depression,

1937,

Amelia Earhart disappeared, Japan invaded China, the Nanking massacre took place, the Hindenburg exploded,  the Golden Gate Bridge opened,

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered, and Of Mice and Men was published–

my husband says, yes but the most important thing is that my mother was born

and of course, to her, to him, and to me, it is

without that,

he would not be here

and our children would not be

perhaps there is another timeline,

perhaps there is another always,

ghosts that flicker

just out of sight

another story

but not here

 

We celebrate her 80th birthday

at our house

 

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a friend of hers stops by,

an eightieth birthday party surprise

(“I won’t stay long,” the friend says,

“I’ve just had a heart attack,”

a story I could not make up)

daughters and I have made enough food

to feed twice as many people,

 

 

enough for more surprise people,

or any strangers who might wander in,

we eat and talk

and memories flow–

what was, what is–

my mother-in-law’s wish–

to see my nephew, her grandson, grow up

What will he be?

(What will be?)

At some point, we will look back

at this moment

in snapshots

time frozen

what is now will be then

this warm sunny day,

filled with light,

here and always

our souls blossom

with love

here

always

 

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Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

If you are in the Sicklerville, NJ area, I highly recommend Mera Khana restaurant. It’s a small, unassuming restaurant in a strip mall–but such delicious food and wonderful people.

 

Cries and Sunshine: Magnetic Poetry

I felt the need to consult The Oracle today.

 

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From an enormous fiddle

a delirious cry,

stormy music.

We live in a black mist,

stop.

 

But then she gave me something a bit more hopeful.

 

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drunk,

frantic,

but sleep,

ask of beauty–

sky sings and sun red on rocks,

there we soar,

you

I,

us

 

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By Kenner, George, Storm and Rainbow, Symbol for Near the End of WWI, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Blood, Ghosts, and Morning: Magnetic Poetry

The Oracle is very sensitive, though not great at spelling. She picked up that I’ve been reading articles about rape for my books, and that I’m disgusted by how women are treated all over the world, and of course, the current political climate.

 

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Secret rhythm of women

red blush

men must not see

an eternity dying

ghosts linger

 

I remembered hearing this story.

 

 

Then the Oracle decided to give me something more pleasant.

 

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remember the morning

candy heart perfume

picture it warm

we explore time

liquid & soft

it is flowering

look

 

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By Mmacbeth – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30614607

 

At Night Ghosts Fly

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Francisco Goya, “The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters,” Capricho 45, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday Morning Musings:

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

–Francisco Goya, full epigraph on Capricho No. 43

 

At night ghosts fly,

breezes like ice over ocean

can eyes not see this,

our hearts devoured and haunted?

And peace,

a secret perfume

This time,

wake and remember.

–A poem constructed from what I remembered of a magnetic poem before The Oracle ate it.

 

 

An oracle gave me a poem of dreams,

then she swallowed the words

leaving me to wonder about both prophecies

and dreams–

wispy, frangible ghosts,

they vanish,

leaving a trace of perfume in the air.

 

And so, I think of dreams—

there was that one from a few nights ago,

Lin-Manuel Miranda told an interviewer*

that someone had “a curvy name.”

What did that mean,

I thought about it when I woke,

I think he meant the name sounded curvy

somehow,

pleasing and delicious,

on the tongue,

a sort of mouth-feel,

an umami sound.

And I wondered who it was he spoke of?

And I will probably never know.

nor why I dreamt it.

 

That is fine.

At night, our minds try to sort and explain the mysteries of the day,

at dawn, we don’t know what dusk will bring,

though we trust the sun will rise and set,

every day is an adventure,

mysteries delightful or terrible may unfold.

But I would not want to know my future, would you?

And who believes the prophets anyway,

treated like Cassandra

mocked and ignored.

 

But in this new year,

How should we feel?

Peace seems ever elusive,

just beyond an ever-changing horizon.

Reality and truth are meaningless,

Lie-laden Tweets

(the lines neither warm nor curvy)

the thoughts of a man who wants to be a king

or a god,

revered and adored,

But he is a little man,

a bully,

with a handheld bully pulpit,

and so, we must resist,

holding fast against the fetid swamp waters

where the monsters live

and where their dreams thrive and grow,

emerging like demons in the night,

like a vampire, tapping on the window,

do not invite them in

to suck your blood

and still your beating heart.

People like to think the monsters are not real,

but oh, they are,

and they are ready to grab you in the night.

(Quickly, pull the blanket up over your head.)

Yet the evil beasts can be stopped–

because there are heroes,

and there is still good in the world,

and there are still truth-tellers

and truth-seekers,

and we can make a choice,

light or darkness.

 

It was a cold, snowy weekend,

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we ate homemade pizza and binge-watched a Netflix show,

an ordinary day,

frozen and white outside

inside, the warmth of wine,

the scent of bread dough baked at high heat,

we watch,

the young woman, who has died more than once,

she may be an angel,

or maybe not.

And is human life and its mysteries explained?

Perhaps,

Or perhaps not.

But she has chosen to remain on earth

to fight, to rescue the people she loves,

people who have become a family.

And there is light and darkness,

and things seen and not seen,

movements that curve,

like a name maybe,

(she has more than one)

to express words that do not exist.

She needs helpers.

and like her,

we must always look for helpers,

and we must strive to be heroes when we can

to wake from our dreams and remember,

to fight the ghosts and monsters of the night,

to scent the air with the perfume of peace,

 

 

Jane Dougherty named the magnetic poetry site, “the Oracle.”

*I heard Lin-Manuel Miranda interviewed on Fresh Air. I don’t think he mentioned any curvy names, but let me know if he did.

We watched OA on Netflix, a series starring Brit Marling. She is also the co-creator with Zal Batmangli. Here is the trailer.