By the Sea We Gather, NaPoWriMo, Day 16

Monday Morning Musings:

“My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Secret of the Sea”

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”

–L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

By the sea, we gather, we four

full of longing to share our secrets–

no special sequences–

but in the way of friends

they flow like waves, rolling to the shore

tumbling, one after another

silvery shadows and thrilling pulses

visions of things almost seen

things that are and things that might be

 

We embrace and sit in this lovely space

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

this place in which my friend has found welcome shelter

a temporary place for body, if not heart,

a house between homes,

a loan

where she and her husband have lived

between and around unexpected circumstances—

well, life is chances,

no smooth sailing on this ocean–

sometimes we turn about

sometimes we tack into the wind

begin again,

navigate through a choppy sea

till we are free

to sail calmly and be

 

So, we

sit in this interim home

where we can hear the water play

(come this way, stay)

and seagulls laugh as they fly about

black-tipped white wings sing in the sky

with the sun glowing warm and high

and the wind sighs from sea and land

spindrift covers windows, cars, my hand. . .

 

is held out to my friends

we gently hold each other’s hearts

apart too often to know the everyday annoyances

of ailing mothers and troubled kids,

roosted egos, wandering ids–

we talk of husbands and silly cats,

all of the this and all of the that

and move from living room to kitchen

pitch in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(though it is all prepared)

take our chairs

and over quiche

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

we relax some more, release

and feel a bit at peace. . .

 

to venture out to see some history of place and space

a concrete ship, a lighthouse, a bunker, the beach,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

where we walk a bit and feel

the sand beneath our feet–

in this moment, life is sweet,

away from troubles and toxic tweets,

this faux-summer day

holds us in its sway

I am mesmerized by the tumbling waves

the ocean takes, the ocean saves,

(à bientôt, inside, I say)

as we turn and walk away

 

back to the not-vacation house

where my friend offers us food and drink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and we sink

into a relaxed state,

where troubles abate,

as we talk and drift

(eyes open, close, open again)

the golden sun beats down through window panes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and slowly in a ball of fire, sinks

extinguished in the sea

 

we see it after we’ve walked

(ten miles one friend exclaims)

heading for a restaurant, but too long a wait,

no debate

and none of us that hungry anyway

no need to stay

so over pizza we watch Letterman, Seinfeld, and Obama

wishing we could get rid of the current nightmare, drama

and farce, in every moment, tweets and cheats–

the outside world, outside this place–

but even here the temperature drops

and the sun hides the next day, stops

her summer-teasing ways,

and in the morning, we watch branches sway

and the tom-catting chairs dance and prance

out on the deck

and the windows are specked

with salt and rain

we hear the sea

calling. . .

but let it be

 

to breakfast or brunch

(perhaps call it lunch)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and linger around the table,

unable,

unwilling to part

our lives and thoughts

tumbled like my friend’s sea glass

smoothed and polished by laughter and tears,

friends together,

friends apart

friends in joy, in troubles,

friends for years

we’ve shared our secrets here by the sea

now it’s back to reality,

(we sigh)

we must do this again

spend

time together,

let’s do this, friends–

time flows and bends,

(an arc)

and ripples like the sea

and on it our friendship sails

(an ark)

so, we’ll journey together, and then—

well, we’ll see.

 

 

 

I’m off prompt for Day 16, NaPoWriMo.

Unusual formatting due to WP gremlins and a cat sitting on my keyboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.napowrimo.net/day-sixteen-5/

A Dream Whispers, NaPoWriMo, Day 14

For my friends

A dream whispers over my head,

a chant,

it is time–

with friends,

smell roses and cool water spray,

let sweet shadows ache

as sun lives through summer storms—

we do and have and will

love the beauty of these days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve, 2016
We are linked, heading into 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off prompt for NaPoWriMo because I have a busy weekend with friends. The Oracle knows!

 

Cabarets and Conviviality

Monday Morning Musings:

“Life is a cabaret, old chum

Come to the Cabaret!”

–John Kander and Fred Ebb, “Cabaret,” from Cabaret

 

“Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?”

–Jane Austen, Letter to her sister Cassandra, June 15, 1808

 

On a summery autumn day,

we left the sunlight

to enter the smoky den–

(the Cabaret, old friend)

Germany in the 1930s

but goose steppers are looming

the winds of war are moving

soon the guns will be booming

but for now, there is consuming

beer and goods,

here in the night,

the women are beautiful

the men are beautiful

they slink and glide

in barely-there wear

the Emcee, in heels and gowns

feather boa and garters,

looming

grooming the audience

flirting and diverting

we’re there, but here

then, but now

I’m surprised–

though why–

startled at my own emotion reaction

because it’s no longer an abstraction,

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me”

and Nazi insignia–

my throat constricts,

the body knows what the mind refuses to accept

(more goose steps)

I hear “some very fine people” gather

drivel and blather

echoes of then and now

the need to fight and disavow

what do politics have to do with us

the characters ask

We’re Germans,

(We’re Americans)

that can’t happen here,

our rights will never disappear

people standing tall and proud

arms held straight in devoted salute

They worship him

(no matter what he says)

small steps with profound consequences

(build a wall and many fences)

the slippery slope

and where’s the rope to pull us back

to ring the warning bell

to tell us now that all is well

So, what would you do

My brave young friend?

Would you pay the price?

What would you do?

What should we do?

What will you do?

 

 

We walk and talk

a wonderful production

the set well-designed,

the orchestra well-tuned and engaging

the voices delightful

the direction, insightful

altogether, quite a show

but—

(rightfully so)

a little too close to current events

(Maybe this time)

we’ll be lucky

maybe this time

he’ll go away

 

We wander some more

through old city streets

encounter wedding parties

one right after the other

brides, grooms, sisters, brothers

“the wedding stalker,” my husband says,

but it makes me happy to see love and joy

(where some want only to destroy)

affirmations of love and life

after the violence, hate, killing, and strife

 

We drink coffee

stroll across the cobblestones

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where men met to create a nation

to establish here a firm foundation

(remember the ladies, Abigail said)

but no, they simply went ahead

We’ve come a long way, baby

but still and all–

life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

flawed men with lofty ideals

feet of clay

and yet they found a way

it’s still the best we have

pledges made then and now

pledges these couples make in wedding vows

to love and cherish

to pursue life and happiness together

to do their best

we must do our best

(to join together)

 

After the play, we join our friends

friends of years

through love and tears

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kindred spirits

saying farewell to one couple’s house

not their first

but one where babies were born and nursed

here a family gathered

here we’ve shared many meals

often, like tonight Chinese food

IMG_7096

viewed one way

something we’ve done before

but there’s always something new and something old

moments to cherish and hold

close here to heart and mind

to bring out and remember

should we ever find the need to,

we say farewell to the house

but not the friendship,

remember that time, we say?

That day?

And then?

Remember when?

“What do you talk about? one friend’s daughter asked.

How do you describe the talk of old friends?

We talk of all our important nothings

and then we talk some more

of children, homes, work, and retirement

of travel, plays, movies, and books

of bats in our houses

and grandchildren in our beds

of catching mice

and stalking cats

of coffee cups and chocolate cake

of food and wine

and all the time

of then

and now

and all things fine

(and some things not so)

until finally it’s time to go.

We part with hugs effusive

despite the hour

and as the moon peeks from her cloudy bower

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we part–

Auf Wiedersehen,

but not goodbye

À bientôt

Enjoy life’s show–

it may be a cabaret

but if so, the set changes every day

and yet love, the light, true friends remain

and all our important nothings

in turns out

are really something

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams, Again (Again)

Monday Morning Musings:

“We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream.”

. . .Who is the dreamer?”

Twin Peaks, Season 3, Episode 14, From Gordon Cole’s dream

 

In my dream, I was me, but different

and you were someone else, but you,

together, we were other beings, ourselves, but not–

or were we?

If we lived in that dream world

would we long for a more stable world

where we were people,

bound by time,

not creatures of space,

carried on the slipstream of light waves

 

We drink wine

talk about the past

think about the future,

the musicians sing

Rocket Man and Major Tom floating in his tin can

his dreams, our dreams

blowing spindrift from space

landing, covering our minds

IMG_0206

 

We celebrate a friend’s retirement

(from teaching, not the world)

his mother says to me she’s happy he’s retiring now

he can still enjoy it

they can travel

live a dream.

we talk with friends we haven’t seen in a while

past, present, and future–

tenses merging together–

remember when I saw you last,

here, but then

(this was the future)

marriages, births, and death–

dreams born and died

or perhaps still floating

drifting from the stars

in tin cans

on waves

 

 

We go to a movie

two strangers meet–

a woman who feels she must care for her mother

a man who feels stuck waiting for his father to recover or die

they discuss architecture

and the film lingers on the jewels of Columbus, Indiana

framing the characters in doorways and through windows

it is a movie in which marginalia assumes importance,

just as those asides are often important in lives,

the chance encounters,

the remarks remembered,

the dreams dreamed,

and set aside

we discuss the movie over coffee,

walk through the streets

and down to the river,

where people walk, living dreams,

where people once arrived,

full of hope

or full of fear,

tired masses,

spices and slaves,

a new land.

 

We watch movies,

and when we become involved,

we are the dreamers

experiencing their world

true of books, too,

once I dreamt

(a vivid dream)

I was the character in the book I was reading

I rode a horse

in northern England, centuries ago,

I spoke like I lived there,

it was so real

I was sure I had been there,

perhaps I was.

 

I had a dream I was me, but different

and you were someone else, but you,

a woman and a man

walk over a bridge

it happens over and over again

different timelines

variations on the theme of life

until they meet,

destiny,

they share a bottle of wine

the bottle and label are green

like her eyes

(like my eyes)

other beings, ourselves, but not–

or were they?

perhaps, we are inside the dream

we are the dreamers

we are the dream

 

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© Merril D. Smith, 2017

We saw the movie, Columbus. Trailer here.  The more I think about it, the more I like it. Definitely not an action movie. It’s a quiet poem of a movie.

 

NaPoWriMo: Friday Night Memories

Dollar hoagies, truthfully not very good,

filled with bologna, the rolls a bit soggy,

but for a time, as much a Friday night ritual as Sabbath candles

and braided loaves.

Friday nights,

we usually met at J.and I.’s house—

because they had a house–

and then children.

We were young, with budgets of newlyweds,

beginning teachers, and graduate students,

just learning to be adults,

we could afford those sandwiches,

but not much more,

well, beer, too, of course,

though I didn’t drink it,

and potato chips.

Friday nights,

sometimes we had pizza,

which I preferred,

and there was a place that sold mussels, too–

C.’s face when she tasted them—

an expression of bemused disgust

documented in a photo somewhere.

 

Friday nights,

in the summer, we sometimes went for ice cream

from a local stand, a wooden structure

with lines of people in shorts and flip flops,

returning to the house with cups of dripping sweetness,

cream and hot fudge, the taste

blending with the scent of summer blooms, eaten with

the sound of crickets chirping in the yard.

Friday nights, getting together to discuss the week,

we talked the way old friends do,

comfortable,

shedding our pretentious like shoes

to walk barefooted,

talking and laughing,

C. discussed the pregnant teens she worked with,

I told of the latest discoveries from the archives,

eighteenth-century stories of sex–

the stocking warmed and dangled before the fire

by the woman who wanted to excite her older lover?

Yes, C. still laughs about that one.

Friday nights,

we laughed over everything

and we laughed over nothing,

but as the years went on,

and we all had children, jobs, schedules,

it became more difficult to get together,

“the lost years,” a friend calls them.

Now we’ve resumed the friendships that were never truly gone,

just dormant for a while,

like bulbs buried in the ground to emerge as flowers

when the conditions are right.

And yet, I remember those Friday nights vividly,

when we ate dollar hoagies

and we were young.

 

NaPoWriMo, Day 29. Today’s Challenge: “to write a poem based on things you remember. Try to focus on specific details, and don’t worry about whether the memories are of important events, or are connected to each other.”

 

Resolute in Hope

Monday Morning Musings:

This post was sparked by Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge 11—A poem based on a common saying. It’s probably not what she had in mind.

I also drew inspiration from this Washington Post column by Dana Milbank.

 

You can’t pee on my back and tell me that it’s raining.

The phrase is probably more striking in Yiddish*,

But I don’t speak the language of my ancestors

Though my mother spoke it fluently.

Now she remembers only bits and pieces

Of the language her grandparents spoke.

My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, knew it–

Only that, as a small boy, until teased by others

He forgot his first tongue.

Tongue-tied by American society.

 

In the car, my mom recounts old memories, her past,

Sitting there in the front, with my husband driving,

Roads and time both traveled, both flowing past.

She recalls how she and a school friend

Practiced dancing after school.

They were about twelve years old or so.

Giggling together and gliding about the floor,

1930s music and Depression dreams,

Just two schoolgirls having fun.

Children of immigrants in Philadelphia.

 

The dancing could not last long, sessions ending because

My mom had to make dinner, both her parents worked long

Hours in their candy store.

Her friend had chores to do, too,

Since her mother had run away with her lover,

He had been a boarder in their house–

Everyone had boarders in these immigrant homes–

Relatives, friends, and friends of friends.

We’re treated to gossip about people long since gone

And long ago scandals.

 

My mother said her cousin, the artist Abe Hankins,

Also practiced dancing with her, since he lived with them

For a time. She’s not sure how long.

Glamorous and sophisticated, she thought him,

He had just come from living in France.

He knew the latest styles. I suppose.

Was he studying art there

Before the winds of war blew that world away?

I learn he was wounded fighting in the first world war.

He was singer before he was a painter.

 

“He married his niece, you know,” she offers casually.

My eyebrows shoot up from the back seat.

“Oh. . .I didn’t know,” I say.

His brother’s daughter.

Well, the marriage lasted, I guess.

And his paintings now hang in museums. 

Perhaps her story is not quite true

But mixed with others’ stories in the past.

I wonder if my mother is thinking of someone else.

Family history confused.

 

Reflecting on the past as the year turns over and we look

To the future. Reflections and dreams streaming through

A prism of what we know, bending and forming a rainbow

Colored by memory.

My husband and I have celebrated

The turning of the old year to the new with our dear friends.

For almost forty years, we’ve shared a celebration.

How is that possible?

Will we tell our children of long lost relatives?

Confusing their stories with others we knew?

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We’re Still Young at Heart

 

January, named for the two-faced Janus. Backwards

And forwards we go. Should I make a resolution?

THIS is what I did last year.

THIS is what I will do this year.

Good luck with that, if you choose.

But no, not for me. I’ll just wing my way through

Another year, as I always do.

Making daily lists that I often ignore.

But oh, crossing items off feels so good,

Doesn’t it?

 

Looking back and looking ahead, I suppose I could say I’ll

Learn Yiddish. But I won’t.

I could just as well say I’ll learn Italian, Latin, or Greek.

But I’m certain I will not.

I know enough Yiddish though

To know you don’t say anyone got schlonged.

So please do not pee on my back

And tell me that it’s raining.

I know the difference, I assure you.

Even if I can’t say it in Yiddish.

 

Instead, I will resolve to be the best I can be.

And if I fail–Well, it’s in the striving, isn’t it?

Learning comes from books, movies, and even watching TV.

From good talks with friends, and from listening, too.

The new year begins with old and new.

And I can dream of peace and light and good things to come.

Or as Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey says,

(As we bid the cast farewell this year)

“We must always travel in hope.”

 

* Du kannst nicht auf meinem rucken pishen unt mir sagen class es regen ist.

For New Year’s Resolutions, nothing can beat Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulin’s. He resolves to brush teeth, to love everybody, and to beat fascism– among other things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Forward and Looking Back

“Actually I prefer to see myself as the Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra, warning of the future and perhaps living too much in the past—a combination of both.”

–Ray Bradbury

Many people make New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t.

However, this is a good time of year to reflect upon the past and think about the future.

On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I celebrated with friends we’ve known and celebrated with for decades. Decades! Did I really write that? We met one couple when we were all in college—over forty years ago. Yikes! How can that be true? We met the other couple shortly after we were married. A third couple could not join us this year because of a death in the family.

Old friends. We’ve been with each other for births, deaths, weddings, and funerals. We’ve seen parents die, and we’ve seen our children grow up. We’ve seen career changes and retirement. We’ve laughed and cried together. And we’ve celebrated.

Oh, those celebrations! They no longer involve copious amounts of alcohol (well, perhaps at the weddings), but there is always plenty of food, and usually chocolate, and often wine and beer. We may have given a name to the beverage dispenser that a friend uses to hold sangria. I can neither confirm nor deny this.

So on New Year’s Eve 2014, my husband and I celebrated with the two other couples. We missed our absent friends and mourned their loss. We ate takeout Chinese food (also our tradition for New Year’s Eve)—on China plates. We discovered that the locally produced spiced pear wine goes really well with it. We caught up on news. We talked of recent events and discussed our futures. We decided we should take notes of our conversation for our missing friends, but we didn’t actually do it. Sorry Pat and Tom. We also decided that if we did, there would have to be several asterisks and footnotes to explain some of the more . . .hmmm. . . . outrageous?  questionable? bizarre? statements. We checked the weather in Yaak, Montana. It’s cold there, in case you’re wondering. We shared our fortunes; we ate dessert (flourless chocolate cake and Christmas cookies). We drank more wine. One cat stayed close while we talked, laughed, and ate, but the other one hid. He is wise.

We suddenly realized that we had had so much fun talking around the table that the hours had passed without us realizing how late it was. It was nearly midnight. We turned on the TV to watch the ball drop in New York City and hugged and kissed when it reached it midnight. We heard fireworks exploding from nearby streets and from Philadelphia, across the river. Our friends left. Both cats reappeared, and then followed my husband and me to bed.

The next morning, New Year’s Day, I was up at the usual time, and then went to the gym. When I returned, I had a protein drink and called my mom to wish her happy New Year. Then I ate a Cinnabon while watching the Call the Midwife holiday special. . .because, after all, it was a holiday. It all balances out, don’t you think?

Some days you need to eat a big, gooey Cinnabon and curl up under a blanket with a cat on your lap. Especially after you’ve had only a few hours of sleep and a workout at the gym.

Life is made up of days at the gym and hard work. It is also made up of time spent reading a book or watching TV. Life includes salads and chocolate. It has love and heartbreak. All of these things go together to make us who we are.

Some days you need to reflect. Some days you need to celebrate. Some days you need to think about how lucky you are to have such great friends. Some days you just need to sit back and relax.

James Baldwin wrote:

Some days worry
some days glad
some days
more than make you mad.
Some days,
some days, more than shine:
when you see what’s coming
on down the line!
–from “Some Days” by James Baldwin

Wishing all of you few days of worry and a year filled with days that more than shine.

Here’s a beautiful version of Baldwin’s poem sung by the fabulous Audra McDonald