The Owl: Haibun

It is my birthday. Now in the middle of December, it is cold outside, and darkness descends earlier each day. But the house is filled with light, warm and scented with the aroma of holiday baking. My husband, our two young daughters, and I are to meet my father at a restaurant north of us, in the Philadelphia suburbs to celebrate. It will be a highway trip through rush hour traffic, but the reward will be an excellent meal and the company of my family. I turn to a living room window to pull down the shade—and stop. A white owl with black and brown markings sits in the tree directly in front of me. I stare at her, and she stares at me, both unblinking. I am transfixed, knowing that this is a special moment, not knowing I will remember it in twenty years, still uncertain about its meaning.

 

The Owl dispenses

winter wisdom from oak trees–

time paused in passing

 

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Caspar David Friedrich, Owl on a Tree,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a Haibun for dVerse, where we asked to write about owls. I’ve combined it with this week’s prompt from Colleen Chesebro , using synonyms for the words, smell and cozy.

 

 

 

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Is it, Was it, Ever Thus?

Show me the beauty

beneath mist a thousand pictures,

in shadow whispers

time’s music urges, please

recall when,

and if—

was it so

or no?

 

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Claude Monet, “Waterloo Bridge, Effect of Fog,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Oracle was being coy today. It took me a few attempts to coax anything from her, and then apparently she looked outside my window to see the misty day.

Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

If Only: NaPoWriMo

 

I sometimes write a letter in my head,

“Dear Dad,” I think,

have you heard, did you see, what do you think–

or perhaps a phone call,

like when I called to tell him I was pregnant,

standing in the kitchen of that apartment in Woodbury,

the first floor of a house,

shaded by oak trees,

old enough to have seen

its former glory,

before multiple pairs, young couples

who, like the seasons,

moved in and moved on,

but that day,

door and windows open

the summer

was warm with promise,

(or so I remember it),

nature—and I–bursting with life,

he tried to speak,

but couldn’t,

overcome,

his voice caught,

words tangled in salty threads of joy.

The baby is grown now,

and so is her sister,

they only got to know him for a short while,

he didn’t own a computer,

died before phones were smart,

but I amuse myself imagining him ranting on social media,

calling out the swamp monsters,

and adding heart emojis to photos of children and pets.

“Dear Dad,” I think

I’d love to talk to you again.

 

Day 16 of NaPoWriMo. The prompt was to write a letter.

 

 

 

 

Spring Shadows: NaPoWriMo

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Chincoteague/ Assateague, March 2016

 

Shadows dance beneath bubble clouds,

shimmering ghosts,

twist and skip in the sparkling spring breeze,

jarring my memories–

that melt,

spill,

as dawn,

a balloon whispering of journeys, rises

(on cue)

roses and green leaves open,

unscarred,

breathe,

grin, giggle, and uncurl,

lulling me

 

First poem for this year’s NaPoWriMo.  Instead of today’s prompt, I did a challenge from dVerse and used all of the quadrille prompt words. (I think I got all of them.)

Dance, lull, bubble, grin, melt, shimmer, twist, skip, green, breeze, spill, rose, journey, jar, leaves, open, shadow, cloud, spark, cue, breath(e), scar, curl, whisper, dawn, ghost, giggle, spring, balloon

 

 

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.

 

Haunted by Waters: Walktober 2016

Monday Morning Musings:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
–Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

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It was a mixed-up crazy day,

an autumn day that thought it was summer.

It was a day meant for outdoor dining,

we chose a restaurant at a river park.

 

The park also had a personality disorder,

an urban park, but around a river

peaceful and serene by the water,

traffic whooshing by on the other side.

 

But sitting on the terrace,

we didn’t hear the cars

we heard only the music playing from the speakers,

innocuous, adult contemporary,

loud enough to notice, but not too loud.

Our friendly server, Emily,

brought us food and drinks

I even had a glass of red wine,

a California Cabernet,

the ruby red color,

echoed the color of the changing leaves.

We ate and talked,

shaded by an umbrella,

but drinking in the sunlight with our meals,

savoring both to remember

in the cold months to come.

 

We took a walk after lunch,

truthfully, not that much of a walk,

I thought there would be nature trails,

But it didn’t matter

because behind the restaurant

my husband said, “Look at the heron.”

and then I saw there was more than one.

 

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We walked a loop,

Veterans’ Island,

and we watched the birds,

I was fascinated by these black—what are they?

Some type of geese?

They flew together into the water,

a group in water and air

and flapped their wings loudly

 

We saw a turtle hitchhiking on a branch,

floating in the water

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Without a path, we walked across the grass

stopping sometimes to look at the river,

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Then we had to walk on the sidewalk by the street

and around construction sites

where a weed bloomed amidst the rusty steel

hope and determination

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We saw a Holocaust monument

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Areas of manicured park

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And a forked tree by a picnic table

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But still the river beyond,

ancient and knowing.

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I think of how life was centuries ago,

when a river ran through it,

lifeblood of a settlement,

thoughts run through my head

neural pathways, like a river.

 

I am mesmerized by water, rivers, ponds, lakes, and oceans,

ensorcelled by the sparkles, the drops, the spray

the creatures that live in and around it

and that fly overheard,

I find the words hidden under rocks in my head–

I remember going to the pool when I was a child,

going to a lake as a young married woman,

I remember taking my young daughters to a pool,

and to the ocean,

memories that swim together, floating in my mind

I am enchanted

I am haunted by waters.

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This post is also my  Walktober. offering for Robin of Breezes at  Dawn. Visit her blog with its beautiful photos of nature and wildlife and more.

Last year, my Walktober offering also involved a walk around water, Wissahickon Creek after lunch at Valley Green Inn.

In this post, I described our meal at Cooper House , and we walked around Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, NJ.

 

With Wrinkles and Mirth, Remember it All, Remember it Well

 Monday Morning Musings:

 H: We met at nine

M: We met at eight.

H: I was on time.

M: No, you were late.

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

We dined with friends

M: We dined alone

H: A tenor sang

M: A baritone

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

–Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “I Remember It Well, Gigi (1958)

(You can watch the clip here.)

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1

 

The weekend began, a cancelled flight

a change in plans, arrival not in morning light

but dinner time instead

the arts and crafts afternoon postponed, but summer roll making takes place

dipping rice paper, filling, and rolling; no art or grace

perhaps,

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but we like to eat and talk and talk and eat

spicy, hot, crunchy, and sweet,

We say L’chaim, and toast with Sangria,

my girls and their spouses here together

we celebrate good news, now in summer weather

with cats under foot and spirits high

we laugh and talk, and so time flies.

 

With mirth and laughter

I remember it well.

 

The next day, for my mom, her birthday party

she’ll be 94, though not as hale, she’s still hearty

coming, too, her cousin S.

They live in the same Philadelphia building, on different floors,

they’ve both lived years, well, let’s say scores.

S. says at her age every birthday is a big one

(She’s just celebrated her 90th, but still ready for more fun.)

My husband and I drive them to my sister’s

our daughters and their spouses are in another car.

We pass a street, and S. recalls, a memory from afar

of a friend of hers that lived there once.

S. says, “They had a drugstore.”

and a husband who thought he was more.

He was not very bright, but rather full of himself,

 

With mirth and laughter

She remembers him well.

 

S.compares him to a current political candidate.

He thought he was so great,

he lost his business, a gambling debt

then became a maître d’ at a fancy restaurant

where he put on a fake British accent, no savant

that accent sometimes came, then went.

We pass an apartment house where S. once resided

my mom jumps in, with a remark, decided

a refrigerator S. mentions is like one they had in France.

 

(Now pause while I digress from rhyme

while Mom and S. discuss this time.)

 

“Where in France?” asks S.

My mom at first does not remember.

But then with triumph, announces, “Paris.”

“We were never in Paris!” says S.

“I don’t like Paris. It’s a big city like New York.”

“It was Paris,” my mother insists.

“You bought dishes,” says she.

“Oh, you’re right,” S. says. “It was Paris. I bought some dessert plates.”

“You bought a whole set of dishes,” my mom says, “You had them sent.”

“No, I bought some small plates. They tied them in a box with strings

and we carried them.”

Ah yes, they remember it well.

 

At my sister’s house, we arrive to celebrate

Generations eat, talk, laugh, debate

(Because we love to eat and talk)

We do so, then there’s cake with candles

My young great nephew expertly handles

this carrying it in with proud aplomb

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so for cakes, there’s more than one

because we need more birthday fun

My young grandnephew eats his—using both his fork and his hand

(because sometimes life is just so grand)

Then it’s time to share some cards and art

signs of affection, from the heart.

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Repeal Hyde Art Project, Megan J. Smith

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

There’s a movie of S. with a scene from one “real”

She was young, the movie quite “B”, a clip from the reel.

She tells us the story of how she was a director’s assistant

then became the line coach for actresses not gifted

with brains, as much as beauty, and lines they uttered shifted

or could not be recalled at all.

So S. was given a scene and sits at a desk, but she asked for pay first

no more work without being reimbursed.

My daughter-in-law tell of her analysis of a survey of teenage risky behavior

There are more stories that day, of middle school age problems and dramas

It’s the age, we all agree, nodding daughters and mamas,

Oh yes, we all agree, but they outgrow the drama.

 

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

We head out, S. says it was a lovely party.

(I am glad both my mom and S. are still so hearty)

Then S. says with a laugh

“It makes you want to get another year older, just so you can do it again.”

And so we set out then, set out then, driving in the rain

to take them home from this celebration

with food purchased and packaged in the trunk of the car

which I carry upstairs, thankfully not too far.

A day of stories and celebration–

We may not remember it all, but we remember it well.

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

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Microfiction: Kiss at the Window

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Edvard Munch, Kiss By the Window, Public Domain, Wikipedia.

Inside the house, lamps and hearths glowed, banishing the darkness of the Norwegian winter. As they stood by the window, Fredrik gently placed the pearl necklace around her neck. The lustrous white spheres were cool against her skin. He kissed her, first gently, and then with more urgency. The faint scent of his pipe tobacco clung to his clothes. A knock at their bedroom door made them break apart, as her maid, Sonya, announced that their first dinner guests had arrived. Elisabeth vowed to remember everything about that December night forever. It was her twenty-fifth birthday.

Now alone in her hospital bed, body aching, she watched that memory, a movie in her mind. It had been nearly seventy years ago; twenty years since she had last heard Fredrik’s voice. She sensed—something–the air felt charged. She smelled pipe smoke. She heard a voice say, “Are you ready, my darling? I’ve missed you so.” Her heart fluttered. She noticed a window draped in blue, a fire burning in fireplace. She felt a necklace, cool against her throat. She smiled. She took Fredrik’s hand and walked with him into the glowing light.

 

This story is in response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The prompt was the painting above with a two hundred word limit; mine was 191 words.

Words Remembered

A child’s first words,

delightful dawning

apperception of sounds

communication beyond smiles

and touch.

 

First words

followed by more,

sentence streams.

 

Sister talk,

talk and play,

play creating new worlds

from their imaginations.

The Barbies,

each with her own name

and personality

lined up on bathtub rim

they play there for hours,

creativity more than cleanliness,

whimsy in the water

(I’ll never know what “a cup of Margaret” is

but how marvelous the mystery that lingers.)

listening to them then

listening to them now,

both existing

like an overdubbing in my brain

the babbles turned to words

the words turned into essays

and then to college theses

words spoken and sung

at home

and on stages

(shy little girls becoming confident women with strong voices)

words that both girls now teach to others

and use in caring

words of love

words magical

words memorable

words spoken and unspoken

words lost in time

remembered in my heart

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© Merril D. Smith 2016

 

This is in response to the The Secret Keeper’s Writing Prompt

This week’s words: child/talk/home/time/play