How Does the Story End?

Like a ghost,

a man already dead–

the dread

of knowing others bled

and he was complicit

in acts morally,

if not legally,

illicit.

Would he be called enabler,

or traitor?

The victors tell the story,

when truth is denied,

then histories lie.

But his eyes betrayed–

me too, they said,

a clue

to what he was thinking–

that he was lost, sinking

lower and lower,

flowing out with the tide

(conquer, divide)–

he tried to divert the course

of fate—

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—

frozen–

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

 

 

 

 

Rising

Monday Morning Musings:

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

From Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

Full poem here.

I.

I rise before the sun,

a woman’s work is never done,

or so the saying goes–

but often yet denied a place

debased, erased

from education, business, science, and the arts

kept apart, or not allowed to start

never mind, we’ve given birth to the human race

created beauty and gone to space,

although harassed and worse,

some want progress gained to be reversed

(believing in mythical pasts and Eve’s curse)

but we move onward, oppose coercion

and being brutalized and minimized–

we advertise and mobilize–

trying not to polarize–

OK, perhaps a bit we moralize

but feeling like we’re pressurized

we rise

again, we rise

 

I march (again)

with a friend

she was my daughters’ teacher

(way back when)

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and we talk and cheer

reaching for something dear—

hope, instead of fear—

this is not a fight only for straight, white women,

rights are for all regardless of skin tone or orientation in

who they love

(is love is love is love is love)

yet why do some believe that to have what they desire

means others’ dreams should then expire?

They’d build a bonfire of the vanities

produce dark cavities,

gaping holes in knowledge—truth and beauty gone—insanities—

while the Doomsday Clock shows we more than ever jeopardize

life as we know it

(afraid to admit this)

we reach for the prize

rising still

again, we rise. . .

 

and from the crowd celebrating Womanhood

I wander north–as I said I would

to celebrate two women and art on a smaller scale

because loves trumps hate, and it prevails

 

II.

 

I learned my mom wanted a career in fashion design,

or so she says now, perhaps then she was resigned,

as she went to secretarial school, learning typing and shorthand.

but then war came, with its demands

she willingly bucked the rivets and worked in shifts

then married, raised children—but art uplifts

and it was there for her, when she had time

perhaps no longer in her prime

days, to months, to years, the lows and highs

her parents, my father, her brother died

though weakened,

yet still she’d rise

 

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Her cousin, like a sister, began a Yiddish club

a language almost gone, but rising up

through songs they sing and memories

of parents or grandparents’ spoken tongue

(curses uttered, lullabies sung)

I ask about the story I heard

that my grandmother had a lovely voice

and that she was often the choice

at family gatherings

asked to sing with Abraham Hankins, the artist cousin, famous

(shameless, we name him thus)

she says he studied music first, but his voice was almost done

(because of mustard gas during WWI)

she says–

he learned to paint in the hospital—“art therapy isn’t new”

but an online biography reports the opposite is true

born in Gomel, then sent to Philadelphia to live with his cousins

(I know he lived with my mom’s family, but there were dozens)

talented, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,

then enlisted and wounded

the experts concluded

singing would expand his lungs, damaged from the war’s ravages

it turned out that he excelled in this field, too,

studied in Paris, this is true,

but though music called in tenor voice,

ultimately, he made a choice–

following when his heart said, “art.”

My cousin tells me about his studio

with many windows, but little else

and of the patron who, well-pleased

sent him frozen vegetables–beans, corn, and peas—

along with a freezer to store them in

vegetables at least to eat

not a starving artist, painting in the street

I am impressed by the work, cousins and mother’s

as well as those of many others

I love color, but I can’t draw—

no talent there at all–

maybe it skipped on to my daughter,

as her poster art I’ve carried twice to help me energize

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Rising through the shadows

as we gather to rise

when again, we rise

 

While the art show reception is going on,

my husband puts together with care

for my mother, a new armchair,

kindly doing his share

for the woman who gave his wife life

so she can more easily rise–

it’s more difficult for her now

but she finds a way somehow

to paint and laugh and still to rise

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as women have done throughout the ages

with baby steps, on platforms, and in stages

to rise

again

to rise

 

 

 

 

 

Following and Leading with Family and Fish

Monday Morning Musings:

“Where you lead, I will follow

Anywhere that you tell me to

If you need, you need me to be with you

I will follow where you lead.”

–Carole King, “Where You Lead “(Gilmore Girls Theme Song)

 

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

–The final message of dolphins to humans, as they leave Earth before it’s destroyed. Also, the title of the fourth book of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.

 

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”

–Maya Angelou (Tweet, on 23 May 2013)

 

After a long, long week,

a very long week

when we are in shock over the leader

many of our fellow citizens want to follow,

my younger daughter suggests we watch The Gilmore Girls*

while we eat Chinese food and chocolate,

so we sit, comfy in PJs and sweatshirts

while my husband goes for the Chinese food

(General Tso’s chicken for him,

the mock version for us)–

followed by chocolate.

Of course.

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No one can eat like the Gilmore Girls,

but we try to get in the spirit,

choosing an episode from Season Two,

we hear this:

Paris: “That’s crazy. People would rather vote for a moronic twink who they liked over someone who could actually do the job?”

“We can’t get away from it,” sighs my daughter.

“Oy with the poodles already,” I reply.

 

The next day we go to my sister’s house.

meant to be a combination birthday-victory celebration

with a fish tray and bagels.

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It is instead, a much needed gathering of family,

the love of family to sustain us.

 

Son-in-law has never eaten lox–or any of the fish on the platter,

he is forced to try them all.

(“It’s my heritage,” his wife says, though she is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish.)

He thinks the whitefish is too oily,

the lox too salty,

but the kippered salmon is tolerable—with lots of onion.

Daughter says, “He would have gotten along well with Grandpop.”

We remember my dad’s love of onions–

onion sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches on onion rolls

( with extra onions).

Did I mention he liked onions?

My father liked food,

and gatherings,

and gathering over food.

We sustain ourselves with family and family memories.

 

My mother wants coffee,

demands coffee

I want it now she says

with my meal.

She would fit right in with the Gilmore Girls.

 

You don’t argue with a 94-year old woman who wants coffee.

My sister gets her some coffee.

Remembering how we are sustained by family, love, and annoyance.

 

We discuss the current political situation,

daughter worried about how her students will react.

(She has not seen them since the election.)

I say I think she is a good leader,

and hope they will follow her lead.

Her husband, a veteran, deployed three times,

and not happy with the elected leader,

talks to my sister about getting involved in politics.

Sustained, and upheld by family.

 

My mom says she’s lived through many scary times.

I say I remember being terrified during the Cold War–

duck and cover drills and the Cuban Missile Crisis–

“But there were more sane people in control then,” my niece says.

Sigh.

Oy with the poodles already.

Sustained by love of family.

 

My sister and niece say, if we’re going to discuss this

we need to drink–and chocolate.

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drink, drink, drink

 

In truth, we really do not drink,

and then my niece accidentally knocks coffee onto my mom’s lap.

We’re clumsy, but lovable.

And sustained by the love of family.

 

Time for dessert!

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The cake is placed strategically in front of my daughter, so she can pick at it,

and “clean up” the icing.

(Love of family and food sustains us.)

 

My niece, who lives in a divided household

(in a red part of the state)

says she has needed this gathering,

though we’re not celebrating the election,

we are celebrating family.

We’re sustained by family—

and food.

 

We move to other subjects—

Thanksgiving (and food).

I have safely delivered the squirrel mold

(encased in bubble wrap)

to my niece,

the Thanksgiving cranberry sauce tradition

can continue.

We talk of social media

and kids,

and gender identity

and sex education,

a teenage boy taking lotion,

“I don’t understand—why does he want lotion?”

asks my mom.

(She’s so innocent.)

We hear cheers from the next room,

my sister-in-law and husband are watching football.

It is time to go.

We leave, sustained by family,

full from all the food we’ve eaten,

carrying packages of fish and bagels,

bits of love,

like life, delicious and a bit smelly,

So long, and thanks for all the fish,

and all the memories, too.

And though wishing my other daughter was also with us,

I am sustained by love of family,

as we head off into the darkness

where a super moon is rising.

We need light in the darkness

and love always.

 

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*Gilmore Girls was a TV series about single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory. The series opened as Rory was in high school and ended when she graduated from Yale. In between, mother and daughter had many adventures, drank millions of cups of coffee, and eat enormous amounts of take-out food in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. A four-episode follow-up will be on Netflix in about two weeks.

Be a Helper and Rise

fred_rogers_late_1960s

By KUHT [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

So the election has taken place, and the orange creature has been elected. HRC and President Obama reminded us of the rule of law in their gracious speeches. They reminded us to go high when DT has run a campaign based on lies and hatred, a campaign that has consistently gone low. They have been gracious in defeat, even though DT threatened not to accept the election results, if the vote had gone the other way. We’ve had eight years of class, intelligence, and caring, and it will take time to accept that many of my fellow Americans have chosen the opposite. It does not help when I see a ranting post by a Trump supporter (filled with factual and grammatical errors) saying everyone who voted for HRC should be put in jail. It only makes me think that I was correct in my statement that ignorance has triumphed, and we are in for four long years.

I am hoping I am wrong. Of course, I am hoping I am wrong!  I am hoping that rights will not be trampled on, that laws will not be overturned, and that our earth will not be destroyed by people who do not “believe in” science.  I am hoping that DT will say that his hate-filled speeches were jokes. I am hoping that ignorance will not rule.  Yes, I can hope. Perhaps someone will also give the president-elect a copy of the Constitution–or better yet read it to him, over and over again, since he has admitted to not reading very much, and it is evident that he does not understand how our government works. Yes, I have to accept that the reality TV star and failed businessman has been elected; I have to accept that so many voted for hate, but I do not have to like it.

Meanwhile, as Maya Angelou wrote:

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

Full text of the poem here. 

And as Mister Rogers said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

I plan to look for the helpers–and I plan to be one. Join me.

 

Thanks to historian Ann M. Little for reminding me of the quote by Mr. Rogers.

And to Jane Dougherty, here’s to snarly women!  I can smile and snarl.

“I am woman, hear me roar.”

–Helen Reddy

 

 

 

 

 

The River’s Song

Monday Morning Musings:

 “Go forth, and the whores cackle!

Where women are, are many words;

Let them go hopping with their hackle [finery]!

Where geese sit, are many turds.

The Castle of Perseverance, 15th Century morality play

 

“The river sings and sings on.

 

There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing river and the wise rock.”

–Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”

Full text  here.

IMG_4251

What is the song of the river?

though I listen,

noisy are the thoughts unbidden

that flow within my brain,

meandering tributaries, bearing gifts

some chaff, some worthy

But hush, listen.

 

What is the song of the river

as it gently laps against the rocks?

A song of history

from its birth in Ice Age glaciers

to its passage to the sea?

A song of fish, of shad,

of Lenni Lenape

then European settlers,

migration of fish, migration of people

cycles repeated through time.

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What is the song of the river?

A song of birds in flight?

of cargo ships and Huck Finn rafts

Commerce and recreation,

the bustling colonial port,

capital of the early nation

still thrives,

though not as before

when cargo came by ship—

tea, rum, wine, tobacco, and people–

and passage to and from New Jersey was by ferry.

Now there are highways, bridges, and planes.

What is the song of the river?

A song of history

of battles fought

of soldiers dead

of memorials, reenactments, remembering

of fossils and relics.

Generations and regeneration,

children squealing with joy at butterflies

of gardens resurrected

of couples talking

of men and women jogging steps

of people seeking Pokemon,

yes, that here, too.

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And what of the geese?

And what of their turds?

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Yes, they’re underfoot,

chased by children and men in carts

And what of my words?

Do they cackle and crackle

like old whores?

Or do they stream like the river,

my song of musings?

I’m reminded of the history of women

who wrote,

long ago,

poetry, history, and letters,

Milcah Martha Moore, Hannah Griffits, Susanna Wright,

and others

who shared their work with other women

and some men, too.

It’s a song that carries to this day,

along both sides of this river, the Delaware.

 

What is the song of the river?

The sound of people celebrating

though we cannot see the water

from the festival site whose name pays tribute to it.

But we sit with friends

and we talk and we sample wine

Our words flow like the river

singing a song of friendship

and joy to be alive on a summer day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Further Information:

Red Bank Battlefield

Merril D. Smith, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia 

New Jersey Wine Events

Haunting the House of History

Monday Morning Musings:

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

–Maya Angelou

He was 59 years old, 5 ft., 6 inches tall, with grey mixed hair and grey eyes. But there is probably no one left alive who remembers this great grandfather of mine, the father of my mother’s mother. My mother only remembers that he was Orthodox with a long beard and that he worked at a fish store or counter. His naturalization papers say he was a butcher in 1921. Born in Russia, he arrived in the Philadelphia on a ship from Bremen, Germany, in 1913, demonstrating that life’s journeys often take a circuitous path. His wife and children—minus the two eldest who were stuck in England—arrived in 1914. They left their homeland shortly before it was ripped apart by revolution, and much of the world was swept into a war. By the time of the 1920 census, after WWI, the household consisted of my great grandparents, their eight children, and four cousins, including the artist Abraham Hankins. They spoke Yiddish, and they owned a radio.

I’ve never understood the worship of ancestors or the feeling of superiority some people have because their ancestors “came over on the Mayflower” or because they are descended from some notable person of the past. I mean, it’s interesting and it’s cool, but it doesn’t make you a better person. After all, if you go back far enough, we all came from Lucy or someone like her. Laudable figures of the past can have descendants who do horrible things—just as horrible parents can have wonderful children. Our surroundings and our genes may affect us (“Oh, that’s where my grey eyes came from,” said my daughter), and influence us, but they do not rule us. Yet discovering information about these people who lived in the past is fascinating. I don’t know if these ancestors of mine were good people or not, but just like immigrants today, they faced difficult, even life-threatening conditions in their homelands. They bravely boarded ships—taking a leap of faith that their lives would be better in America. It was a journey of both body and mind, a voyage to a new world, leaving old ways and old ties behind. Perhaps it is enough to know this about them.

My mother’s mother was here with her family. My mother’s father left his parents and sisters behind in Russia, and he never saw them again. My mother remembers when her father received a letter telling him that his father had died. That was the only time she ever saw him cry.

My older daughter was with us for a couple of days this past week, visiting from Boston. It was windy and raining outside, the almost nor’easter, but we were snug inside the house. (OK. I’ll be honest– it was cold in the house because I didn’t turn on the heat.) Sitting across from one another at the kitchen table, armed with our computers, and fortified with apple-chocolate scones (based on these from Smitten Kitchen),

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

my Mandelbrot (aka “Mommy Cookies” discussed in other posts), coffee, and tea—because mental journeys require sustenance, too–we used the technology of the present to tackle the mysteries of the past. Wrestling with online documents, trying to read odd spelling and handwriting, and knitting together broken timelines, we created and expanded our family trees. She worked on my husband’s family, and I worked on my parent’s. We labored companionably, occasionally punctuating the silence with “listen to this” or giggling over an odd phrase. A woman who was divorced early in the twentieth century fascinates us. We’re both slightly obsessed by another of my husband’s ancestors, a 15-year-old factory girl who was murdered—shot—by a jealous suitor.

This daughter then went on to spend an evening with her sister and a dinner with my mom. It was definitely a weekend of family, present and past.

Present and past, love and family, are themes in Coming Home, the movie my husband and I saw yesterday. It opens during the Cultural Revolution in China. Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), a former professor, has escaped from the re-education camp he’s been sent to. His wife, Feng Wanyu (Gong Li), called “Teacher Yu,” attempts to meet him at a crowded train station, but their teenage daughter, Dandan, hoping to gain a prize role in a propaganda ballet, has alerted the authorities. The scene at the train station is tense and exciting, but it only sets up the movie for what happens later. When the Cultural Revolution ends, Lu is sent home. Yu, however, does not recognize him. She was traumatized, physically and emotionally at the train station. She loves her husband, but her love of him is rooted in her image of him in the past. He, in the present, attempts to reactivate her memories, to bring the past love to the present moment. It is touching and incredibly sad. The movie also can be seen as a commentary on politics—that nations often forget the painful events of the past, even though its citizens may be traumatized. Yet, both people and nations have to find a way to accept and move on.

After the movie, my husband and I went out for Chinese food. I craved steamed dumplings and tea, both featured in the movie. This was the “fortune” in my cookie.

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I don’t believe that a piece of paper in a cookie can predict my future, but it seemed a fitting note to end a week that had been spent haunting the house of history, catching a glimmer of the ghosts of the past, and storing them for the future.

“What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we lived. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.”

–Ellen Goodman