To Drive the Dark Away

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Monday Morning Musings:

“Stars, in your multitudes

Scarce to be counted

Filling the darkness with order and light. . .”

–“Stars” from Les Misérables

“So the shortest day came, and the year died,

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.”

Susan Cooper, “The Shortest Day”

“Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be other life somewhere which we know nothing of. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive.”

–Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

 

The shortest day approaches,

we celebrate with tales and light

in centuries-old traditions,

we gather, talk, and drink

to drive the dark away

to drive the dark away

we count the stars

on the shortest day,

they fill the sky

with order and light.

 

With order and light

soon we’ll celebrate

eight nights of Hanukkah

to drive the dark away,

remembering

 

remembering, my mother says

girls were not sent to school,

but her mom knew where everything was

in their store, she could find the peas

the cans had pictures

 

the cans had pictures

and she knew the prices

she could add the figures quickly–

order in this world

like stars in the sky

 

like stars in the sky

we make patterns in our brains

memories form

and we fill in the gaps

stories of might and if

 

stories of might and if–

is the movie a cautionary tale?

What happens when we mess with nature?

Or is it tale of mothers and children,

variations on madness and guilt?

 

Variation on madness and guilt,

describe a host of myth and legends

along with greed, anger, and lust,

in animating stars, clouds, and trees

we try to make order of our world.

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We try to make order of our world

in patterns and statues and stories.

In art and poetry and song, we transform

and celebrate the light within

and without

and without this ability

what would we be?

Worlds unseen, other dimensions

beyond the stars, but here now,

we drive the darkness way

 

we drive the darkness away

with love and light and food

with sisters and sister-friends

with children and mothers and kin

we let the light in.

It’s been a busy, crazy week, and I apologize for being so behind in visiting and reading other blogs. I’m finishing reviewing my copyedited book manuscript. There have been many calls and text with my sisters about my mom’s care. We had to suddenly go to my mom’s when an aide called out sick. While there, we discovered that PBS was showing the 25th anniversary concert version of Les Misérables, which my mom and I both enjoyed. We did a “Nightmare Before Christmas” tour for my early birthday celebration with younger daughter—it turned out to be a fun evening of talking and drinking. We visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Christmas Village.

Merril’s Movie Club: We saw Little Joe. It’s a quirky film about a woman who develops a new plant that she names for her son Joe. But perhaps there are unintended consequences. It’s filmed in bright colors and with a percussive soundtrack. Emily Beecham won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival. We liked it, but I may not sniff a flower for a while.

We’re on the penultimate episode of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. It’s so good—and kind of frightening to think of what could be, what might have been, and where we’re headed with the present administration.

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From “Designs for Different Futures” Philadelphia Museum of Art

And a more peaceful image to leave you with

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Winter trees form a bower outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art–Merril D. Smith, December 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories Beneath the Surface

Monday Morning Musings:

“I could be

In someone else’s story

In someone else’s life

And he could be in mine. . .”

–Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, “Someone Else’s Story,” from the musical Chess

“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.”

-François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 292

 

On a sunny day–

spring in February thinking of May–

we stroll through sun and shadows

façades that hint of love inside

I wonder if it is—

and who they are–

wonder about their stories

(someone else’s story)

 

All of the stories that have been lived

as the centuries turn

eighteenth to nineteenth and on

through changing façades–

those that remain–

past and present merge

modernized, expanded, reformed–

like this church–

where beneath the surface

lie the remains of those

who once lived and breathed here

Old Pine Church looking toward St. Peter’s Philadelphia

 

their breaths becoming part of the ecosystem

their steps leaving footprints,

sometimes larger in death than they were in life.

Other people’s lives,

Someone else’s story

 

When they lived,

did they wear their hearts openly—

like the cutouts on the door,

or did they keep their feelings buried

deep inside

behind a façade of smiling respectability?

I wonder how many had secret lives

yearnings that they could never admit?

Complex creatures

we divide ourselves

closing doors—saying this is not allowed

we must not live that story,

but times change

and churches, too,

and love is love is love

 

In the quiet here, there is not silence.

Do their ghosts walk by my side here?

that sound

the wind,

or their sighs

telling me their stories?

In the unquietness of this place,

filled with hundreds of stories

of birth, love, sorrow, and death

a living child with his mother screams in delight

and runs over the graves. . .

what happens at night behind the gates?

 

We wander back to the movie theater to see

someone else’s story—

there up on the screen

A Fantastic Woman

and she is

what does it matter that she was born a man

(we all have our façades)

but she was loved

and still is by her sister and friends

and a dog–

who doesn’t care about societal labels–

some do not treat this woman well

they threaten and humiliate her

but life and her story go on

because she is a fantastic woman

 

And after –

we talk and walk

to where fire recently destroyed part of a block

nineteenth-century buildings

one will have to be demolished

all but it’s first floor cast iron façade–

 

Third and Chestnut, Philadelphia February 2018

 

the stories of these places–

the people who lived there now displaced–

and while we stand there

gazing at the devastation,

I get a text from a friend,

find out about her son’s illness—

the dangers of the invisible world

within our bodies

beneath the surface,

we don’t always see or know what is there–

(thankfully, it seems he will be okay)

and though this is someone else’s story

they are my friends,

so it becomes part of my story, too.

 

The next day, it turns cold again–

February’s story–

we turn the heat back on

eat homemade pizza, drink some wine,

huddle under blankets,

watch Netflix–and our cats—

we text our daughters,

sending virtual hugs–

behind the walls of our house

this is our story,

and I don’t want someone else’s life.

 

A Fantastic Woman stars the fantastic Daniela Vega,  a trans woman (who also sings in the movie). The movie was made in Chile, and it is nominated for best foreign film. I keep thinking about it. See the trailer here.

The architecture of the fire-damaged buildings is described here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words and Deeds

Monday Morning Musings:

“but looking through their eyes, we can see

what our long gift to them may come to be.

If we can truly remember, they will not forget.”

–Miller Williams, “Of History and Hope”

“Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or loneliness. It consists in daring to do the right thing and facing consequences whether it is in matters social, political or other. It consists in deeds not words.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

 

On Halloween,

a holiday based on Celtic and Christian traditions,

Americanized by collecting and eating as much candy as possible,

we see a Swedish movie

followed by dinner at an Indian restaurant

where the Diwali candles

from the celebration the night before are still on display.

(Multi-culturalism at its best.)

In the near-empty theater,

two women choose the seats directly behind us to talk—

throughout the movie,

fortunately, not too loudly.

The plot of the movie is familiar,

the curmudgeonly old man turns out to be not-so-curmudgeonly,

but the way the story is unveiled, and the acting itself

make it fresh.

We care about this man

who does not know how to show his emotions,

except through anger, scorn, and impatience,

His father did not cry or show much emotion either,

though he loved his son,

love shown by teaching him how to repair Volvos

and how to behave decently while cleaning train cars.

Ove, the old man, learns to love again, even while planning suicide,

helped by a pregnant Iranian refugee,

he learns again the bonds of friendship.

Both words and deeds are important.

 

We go to another movie about a man.

This time without a father, poor, black, gay

living with his drug-addicted mother.

It could full of clichés, but instead,

it is a bleak, but perhaps hopeful movie,

a poem of a movie, lyrical, with magical cinematography,

a great score, and wonderful performances.

The camera lingers on faces and places in this

coming-of-age story,

focused completely on its characters,

though it deals with universal themes,

and moonlight and the healing power of water.

Three different actors portray the main character in three episodes,

as the boy, known as “Little,” the teen, Chiron, and the man, “Black.”

The film never preaches or moralizes,

but the theme of what it means to be a man is central.

He is bullied because other kids sense he is gay, different,

not one of the pack.

A local drug dealer becomes his father figure,

a strong man, who does evil, but also acts with kindness.

a mixed, flawed being.

Little/Chiron/Black’s friend admits to “wanting to cry” but not actually crying,

because boys don’t cry, but he is also tough and tender.

My husband says to me, “I didn’t want the film to end.

I want to know what happened after the end.”

I agreed.

 

We walk around Old City,

I see this sign

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Sign written on a trash can in Old City, Philadelphia

I wonder about it

This message to the world.

 

I think about a candidate who uses his position of power

to spread hate, to bully and denigrate people.

It seems obscene here, walking past these historic buildings,

where men and women have fought

for freedom and liberty.

The “Founding Fathers,” not perfect men,

some held others in bondage,

but still, they gave us a foundation

that it troubles me to see trampled

by ignorance and hate.

It took courage for them to sign the document, declaring independence.

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I think of my own father,

not a perfect man either,

a man who enjoyed his power as a man,

he was the prince of his family,

his mother and sisters doted on him,

and he enjoyed having women wait on him,

yet he thought his daughters—and granddaughters—

could do anything,

be anything they wanted.

And yes, I saw him cry.

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My dad and I when I received my Ph.D.

Women are not better than men

and men are not better than women

white is not better than black

black is not better than white.

Love is love is love is love is love is love is love.

Girls and boys,

need to know

need to learn from history,

the good and the bad

to remember, so that they will not forget,

so none of us will forget

to strive

to dare

to fight

to show with words and deeds

to do the right thing.

 

We saw A Man Called Ove.  And we saw Moonlight.

Don’t forget to vote. #LoveTrumpsHate