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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleeting Impressions

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painted portraits have a life of their own that comes deep in the soul of the painter.”

–Vincent van Gogh, 1885

 

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Angels dance across the sky

kissing the grass with morning dew–

there, a door opens,

there, a door closes

ephemeral as a ghost.

Do you hear the belly laugh

emerging from the silence?

It is wild and warm,

life.

***

Impressions of a week,

moments stored, like snapshots

a truth we seek, we speak

 

of how my mom is weak

our lives tied-up in knots,

and the world is often bleak,

 

but we take a long walk

by fountains and statues,

we talk

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Swann Memorial Fountain, Logan Square, Philadelphia

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“Social Justice” Philadelphia Museum of Art, Association for Public Art

of family, admire brushstrokes and dots

in bathers, poplars, and fields–

impressions formed from all these spots.

I want to be in this scene

I say, and wonder what it’d be like—

I dream. . .

 

but we walk past the sycamore trees,

an urban oasis, cool in the summer heat

from the welcome breeze

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Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

in the garden, a rabbit darts

and bees flit, while birds sing

perhaps all patrons of the arts?

 

The Impressionists would enjoy

the gardens here, I think.

As we walk, I see a little boy

his shirt, says “Just Do It,”

and he looks eager to—

my impressions flit . . .

 

It’s a beautiful July day.

We drink wine, eat cheese,

wanting a moment to stay

 

here, in a bit of peace,

sitting, dreaming, a sidewalk café

(though the texts don’t cease)

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Tria, Washington West, Philadelphia

we drink wine and beer,

eat luscious cheese,

and find some cheer that we’re here.

Then a day with our daughter

(more wine and cheer)

she tells me how her father taught her

and her husband how to fix things.

and we talk of friends and dreams,

and how funny it is, the way life brings

 

us to these moments, and all the feelings—

love and tears, dogs, house, spouse—

the roller-coaster ride that sends us reeling

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and hallucinating. Yet we stop,

read a book, sit here

in a pleasant, tranquil spot. . .

 

Impressions, fleeting

they come together

completing

 

somehow, my life.

Impressions–look, see

forget the moments of strife—

 

there, the lucent moon sails high

her ship glowing

across the sapphire sky.

Morning Moon, June 2019, Merril D. Smith

 

. . .and there are cats.

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Walking Into the Future, Haibun

We walk through an exhibition, “Modern Times”—art and music of an age now past. In a museum, moments are captured, set, and time seems to stop. Real is what the artist sees; it has its own truth. We walk outside. The sun sparkles on the Schuylkill River, as it did in Thomas Eakins’s time. The rowers could almost be those he painted—except that now there are women rowing, too. Cars zoom by on the street where horses and carriages once cantered. Bicyclists and runners pass us on the path. Spring is moving on, too, and summer’s lush greenery is appearing. My husband and I walk west, then circle back, and into our future.

 

Spring buds and blooms fall

drifting like fragrant snowfall–

time moves in circles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday, at dVerse Björn asked for poems on walks/walking for Haibun Monday. I’m posting this for dVerse’s Open Link Night, where Björn is hosting again.

 

 

Old Masters and Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“To wrestle with the angel—Art.

–Herman Melville, “Art”

 

“So come the storms of winter and then

The birds in spring again

I have no fear of time

For who knows how my love grows?

And who know where the time goes?”

Sandy Denny, from “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

 

I wonder how I’d explain a museum to someone from another world

the whys of collecting, the how, and the who

and what they thought they knew

about this technique or about this blue

(see, the artist mixed it here with red instead)

how tastes and trends change over time.

The Old Masters painted their world as they saw it

mastering techniques, adding some wit,

(perhaps even a bit of spit)

brushstrokes broad or fine, celebrating less the ordinary,

and more the sublime

wondering about fate and time

and posing a patron though it’d cost him dear

as wise and good, a god among men

(though insincere)

with bright façade and a gilded veneer.

 

Curating and restoration reveal meanings

what the artist really meant or thought

(perhaps different from when the painting was bought)

Here we see a painting thought to be about frivolity

but skilled work shows it true intention–

a work about consequences and mortality

and the artist herself overlooked

when past her time

the same old story again and again–

her paintings are attributed to well-known men.

 

We wander through the museum’s Great Hall

Diana is illuminated for the season, and all

the world,

(at least this part)

seems festive,

see here, she’s positively glowing

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and the Calder mobile across from her is blowing,

or perhaps I imagine it so,

as Diana breathes a winter sigh

and sends the mobile flying high.

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We leave the museum,

walk down the steps, now immortalized by a fictional boxer

though I prefer to simply admire them as they are

(a part of the whole, and not the star)

walk down the Parkway, heading toward the river

the air is fine for winter, Mother Nature delivers

a perfect day to walk and talk

on so, on to the Rodin Museum

we stand before the Gates of Hell

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and the Burghers of Calais, and a shade

was he afraid

of ghosts and spirits,

the sculptor wrestling with demons, wrestling with art

depicting emotion with single body parts.

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Rodin, “The Cathedral”

 

We walk on, the day still warm

the storms of winter, not yet come,

pass buildings and monuments-

people, places, and events—

and books and art, the contents

of our history and culture

still standing, still valued, sometimes revered

though the purveyors of ignorance and hate, have feared

the spread of truth and beauty,

and are more willing to incarcerate

than educate–

roads well-travelled through time and space

yet still I hope we can erase

the fear and hate

to wrestle with the angel art

because our time is brief

and who know where it goes?

We close our eyes,

and on it flows

carrying the monuments and the art

like Oyzymandias, nothing will remain

but while we can,

we carry it in our minds and heart

in the sound of the birds and laughter,

and museum art–

we take these moments

to watch the people and drink some wine

to glory in this, yes, unexpected sunshine.

As past, present, and future conflate

for a moment, here in this urban landscape,

this Christmas fete

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from behind us the music, and skaters skate

round and round and figures eight

and I remember and contemplate

a memory of my sister and me

from a hotel window high above, we

watch skaters there from long ago–

I wonder, where did they go?

 

Later that night, I watch the moon, bright and full

and hear the geese honk to friends and mates

it’s time to go

I wonder, do they ponder about their fates

or simply accept what is, not what might be

do they see how time flows and goes?

And as for me, I circle round through time, through art,

through dreams and memories held closely in my heart

I’ll wait for the storms of winter

and for the birds in spring again

I’ll wonder where time goes

why it’s sometimes fast, but sometimes slows

but know only that on it flows

and like light and hope, drifts through the cracks,

and somehow, circles back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diana Glows

 

In lustrous beams that glow and flow

I bear the light to brighten night

with streaming rays

(so unlike my brother’s sun displays)

that silvers tracks in woodland parks

where fairies dance and foxes bark

to echoes of my glistening songs

that travel here and float along–

Listen, do you hear me sing?

Watch for me, as my stag I’ll bring

and hope to women in childbirth scared

look there—

now my radiance aired, my light is shared

 

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“Diana,” Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1892-1893,  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

I love this statue that stands at the top of the Great Stair Hall at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The statue once stood on the tower of Madison Square Garden (installed in 1893). It has been at the museum since 1932. In 2013-2-14, museum conservators repaired and restored her original gold leaf finish.

This poem is for Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Prompt

The words were:  Song/Rays/Lead/Track/Scare

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Between Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“A Light exists in spring

Not present on the year

At any other period

When March is scarcely here.”

—Emily Dickinson, “A Light exists in spring,”Full Text Here

 

In the between-time, dinosaurs dreamt,

their breathe swirled in the misty air

floating to mingle with ours

their feathers bright

with gaping jaws and thunder cries

amidst the fern-like leaves,

always summer

 

we dreamt their dreams

and they dreamt ours

warm blood flowing through our veins

(uniting heart and mind)

we sat on their backs as they flew

large wings outspread

feeling their power and grace

and they listened to our stories

of love

of kings and queens

raptors enraptured,

always summer in our dreams

 

But now

in this between-time of winter-spring

the flowers bloomed, they danced and sang

(we heard their songs)

then felt their pain

(tears fell from the sky)

as winter touched them with cold fingers

covering them in an icy blanket

yet the days grow lighter

brighter

and yet still whiter

 

 

In this between-time world,

this in-between season,

forces of good and evil fight

but most of us, dinosaurs and humans,

remain in-between,

compliant, complacent,

lost in dreams,

thinking of summer

 

This weekend, we ate Hamantaschen

(a lot of Hamantaschen),

 

we drank wine,

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I read about Queen Esther,

who may or may not have existed,

(an in-between world)

she married King Ahasuerus

who ordered his first wife, Queen Vashti,

to stand naked before his male guests at a banquet,

displaying what he owned

(what he could touch with his small hands)

she refused,

and he banished her–

magnanimously did not executed her–

but made a new law—

men would have complete authority over their wives.

Esther, plucked from his harem,

became his new wife,

a new trophy.

This king ruled a vast empire,

but he was petty,

thin skinned

(orange tinted)

easily influenced,

as for Esther,

fourteen years old

did she have a choice?

She was Jewish,

a secret descendent of exiles,

in palace full of secrets and intrigue,

she and her uncle Mordecai foiled a plan to kill the king,

winning his trust,

but the eunuchs involved were killed,

collateral damage,

And Esther skillfully manipulated the king,

outwitted his prime minister Haman

(the evil man behind the throne

disseminator of alternative facts)

and prevented the mass slaughter of the Jews

(though they still had to fight)

She is honored now,

Haman is reviled,

but still I wonder,

she remained with the king,

bore him a son,

a woman caught between men,

and I wonder about her

what did she give up

what did she give in to

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Credit Line: Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, “Esther before Ahasuerus, (1738-1740)
Purchased with funds contributed by the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in honor of their 100th anniversary, 1982

 

I wonder about being complicit,

collaborating with the enemy,

we watched a TV show about Earth after aliens have taken over

letting humans do the work of enforcing their decrees

those who work for the aliens get good homes and other perks

resisters are sent to work camps or to “the factory,”

from which they never return,

a spin on WWII and Nazi-occupied countries,

or any country under a dictator,

complicity

collaboration

(What would you do to save your family?)

though the air feels warm

sometimes, it’s always winter

 

But I know spring is coming

sense it from the light,

different from other times of the year,

brighter, losing the gloom of winter,

a signal,

a beacon of hope

I drink more wine,

eat some sweets,

ignore false honeyed words

take a break

deep breaths

relax

because

we value love

and art

and beauty

and joy

we tell stories

of dinosaurs and ghosts

of ancient worlds

and kings and queens

and believe in people

we hope, but resist

and do not become complacent

even as the days grow longer

and we are lulled by spring’s sweet siren song

and dream our dreams,

ours and the dinosaurs,

in the in-between time

 

My conceit about dreams mingling with that of dinosaurs was inspired by Kerfe and Jane’s discussion on this post. 

The recipe for Shakshuka Hamantaschen can be found here on What Jew Wanna Eat.  I used part whole wheat flour for the pita. The recipe for the Cannoli Hamantaschen can be found here.

We’re expecting a big snowstorm tomorrow. Sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

–Leonardo da Vinci
 

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

–Vincent Van Gogh

 

My sisters and I call each other

“No one’s dead,” we quickly chirp,

a macabre affirmation of life,

a precaution for my perpetually panicked sister-niece,

(she answers the phone expecting disaster)

we laugh—because what can you do?

but then comes news of two deaths over the weekend,

my husband’s former colleague and a college friend,

we’re of a certain age now,

most of our friends have lost at least one parent,

some both,

middle-aged orphans,

I think about links to the past,

disappearing the way beads slide off string one by one

 

and I watch a miniseries about the Gay Rights Movement

see again the AIDS quilt,

memories squared and love-knotted,

blanketing the National Mall,

a memorial, a declaration

we protest with poetry and art,

against wars, against injustice,

fighting for the right to live

and to die in dignity,

(love is love is love is love)

in the epic story of our lives,

we are the heroes,

and its tragic victims

 

We dream and we create,

our lives, like intricately folded origami

unfolded in a split second,

a discovery that the crane

is now simply a wrinkled bit of paper

 

We take my mother to our daughter’s house for brunch,

my mother, once a child, now the matriarch,

a ninety-four-year-old orphan

her parents, her brother, and many of her friends are gone,

she can barely see, but still she paints

the vision must be in her mind and hands

felt, rather than seen,

poetry in paint,

tactile sensibility,

she has her first mimosa

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and we talk of this and that

old hairstyles, Dallas nightclubs,

stories my daughter has never heard before

of a world and people that no longer exist,

I imagine a mirror with endless reflections

and the world through the looking glass

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We’re through the looking glass in a mirrored room, transported to an 18th century French palace. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

we laugh over misunderstood words

the kind of laughter that brings tears,

and we are entertained by pets,

sitting in the kitchen,

a domestic scene,

that could come from the past,

generations sitting around a table

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My husband and I go to an exhibition of watercolors

an amazing show, 175 paintings on display,

the show traces the history–

how watercolor became an American medium

from what was essentially work done in the home,

by women, decorative artists, as well as illustrators

becomes much more after the Civil War

and Philadelphia,

with publications and art schools

becomes a center

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The exhibition describes the painters’ techniques

the importance of the paper in the watercolors,

various textures and colors

watercolors are luminous, but fragile

reflecting light,

but also, fading in light,

the picture dies

the image no longer exists,

and I think of the building, landscapes, and people in the paintings

that no longer exist

except in these depictions

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where the sun still shines and wind still blows

and alligators huddle together in the mud,

lethargic beasts with deadly grins

 

at night, I dream of light and art,

I paint my dream into a poem,

a dream of misty luminosity with opaque spots

brushed by the artist

(look there closely at the strokes)

on an unusual type of paper, with texture both rough and smooth

folded over and over,

to form different creases,

like wrinkles on faces in time

endless, like reflections in a mirror

 

Information:

We watched the miniseries, When We Rise

We saw the exhibition, “American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent”

You can see a trailer on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Website.

It is a stunning exhibition, but because watercolors are fragile, it will only be seen in Philadelphia. No photography is permitted.

 

 

Together and Alone: The Essentials

Monday Morning Musings:

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

–Ann Patchett, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship
 

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.”

–Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

 

“Art bears witness to human existence through the prism of beauty.”

– – Wajdi Mouawad

 

Art, the creative impulse,

my husband and I

witnessed it in many ways over the past few days

We see the movie Manchester By the Se,a

the acting is exceptional

making us feel like we know these people.

We’ve met people like them,

ordinary and unique,

as we all are,

the New England backdrop reflecting the characters,

gritty, hard, seemingly unyielding, but fluid,

and grief comes in waves like the sea.

Later, after our dinner at a Thai restaurant,

I say to my husband,

We didn’t discuss the sound track.*

It was beautiful, but I was so aware of it—perhaps it was even a bit intrusive?

What was in the soundtrack? I didn’t notice it.

He tends to listen to music when he is working.

I do not. It’s already in my head.

We carry the essentials with us.

 

The next day we go to tea.

More accurately, we go to lunch

in a tea room.

He gave me the gift card almost a year ago,

we finally use it.

The room is quaintly Victorian,

or perhaps Edwardian.

We chose our teas and have a full spread.

(More than the essentials.)

We talk of this and that,

cozy in dining room

with Christmas music playing in the background

a break from work,

a small retreat,

and I understand how this became a ritual,

it is difficult to discuss weighty issues over small, crustless sandwiches

and dainty iced cakes.

I think of tea parties and Tea Party,

attempts to return to a time that never was,

like this tea room,

an escape from reality.

He eats some of my sandwiches,

I take home some of my sweets.

 

Afterward, we go for wine,

we have a shipment to pick up at a local winery

We sit, sipping wine

discussing this and that again

timeless moments

watching the sky,

warmed by space heaters,

music comes from a frog speaker nearby

and I wonder if there’s a metaphor there

but I can’t find it,

it slips away,

unessential

and there is already too much that I carry

in my heart and mind.

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Heritage Vineyards

The day after,

(Sunday by now)

we visit the museum

we get there just after opening,

Again, we go through the exhibition on Mexican artists

who painted the revolution,

who were revolutionary,

(And perhaps all artists are)

overturning the flotsam and jetsam in their brains,

discarding the unnecessary

salvaging the essentials from the debris.

We see Diana surrounded by Christmas lights

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I share a moment with Renoir’s “Washerwoman,”

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So many forms of art

created and collected.

We stop for free coffee (also essential)

It is members’ day. Yay!

 

Next we go to a play

I must say I’ve never seen anything like it

Seuls—alone

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The artist asks:

Qui sommes-nous? Qui croyons-nous êtres? (Who are we? Who do we think we are?)

I should mention that the play is in French—a bit of Arabic—with the English translation projected on a screen.

It is a one-man show,

not autobiographical exactly

but based somewhat on Wajdi Mouawad’s life

As a child, forced by war in Lebanon,

his family left for Canada,

his and his character’s,

As a child, Harwan, the character,

counted the stars in the night sky,

he tried to paint them

he wanted to be a shooting star.

When they left Beirut, they brought only the essentials.

What happened to his paintings, he wonders?

and what if they had never left?

Harwan is struggling to finish his doctoral dissertation,

to find a conclusion.

His relationship with his father is fraught with words unsaid

in French or Arabic,

and broken memories–

it is the story of immigrants

and artists

Harwan, goes to St. Petersburg,

he has mistakenly packed paint instead of clothing.

Only the essentials?

His father is in a coma from an accident.

Or is he?

We travel with the character, with the artist

to a place inside his mind,

perhaps.

The story of the prodigal son is told,

a son’s journey

a father’s forgiving heart,

a story told and retold

we paint the story of our lives,

we bring the essentials,

bearing witness

we paint over truth and lies,

we create new truths

we are alone—together–

and on a stage, the artist is alone

but we are there with him.

 

After the play, I say

We will have much to talk about.

I need to think about what I’ve just seen,

My husband says.

 

We walk through City Hall to the courtyard.

Once the world’s tallest building,

completed in 1901.

Now there are taller buildings

but this one is unique,

beloved cultural icon topped by the statue of William Penn

we walk through the Christmas village,

we drink hot, mulled wine

I watch my husband watch the children posing for photos

with a man dressed as The Grinch

they shriek and laugh as he changes his pose

my husband laughs, too.

We stroll some more,

I wonder what creatures from other worlds would make of

our need for light

to brighten the darkness,

our joy in tea and wine,

and Christmas baubles,

We carry joy and sadness

in our souls,

we create and recreate light in the darkness,

we generate new worlds within our minds

construct, paint, and

imagine the impossible

to discover the essential

bearing witness to our existence.

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*Lesley Barber, “Manchester By the Sea Chorale”

We went to Amelia’s Teas & Holly

Heritage Vineyards

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Seuls, Written, Directed, and Performed by Wajdi Mouawad

At the Wilma Theater

Christmas Village in Philadelphia  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Past, the Future, Ghosts, and Drag in the City of Brotherly Love

Monday Morning Musings:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

“This play is so American. . .[it] shows us that transformation can only happen when we break apart our fears, our suspicions and our judgments. Because the America I know is not the one that is portrayed by only a few, isn’t the one that discriminates against its citizens for their differences. NO. The America I know and cherish and honor is one that all these characters are creating.”

— Emmanuelle Delpech, From her Director’s Notes, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Arden Theatre, Philadelphia

 

When was the last time the four of us had spent a day together at a museum?

We all wondered, but couldn’t remember,

somewhere amidst childhood’s ghosts

left behind with dolls and story books,

ghosts of Halloweens past

when little girls dressed in costumes

that they slept in,

a princess and a clown

(not a creepy one at all).

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And so we went,

a family outing,

our girls married women now,

but still crazy sisters, having fun,

interpreting the works of art

 

 

And since the big new exhibit is on Mexican revolutionary art

and it’s close to Halloween

there are Day of the Dead displays

 

We eat Wawa hoagies*

(My daughter misses them in Boston.)

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I score Super Momma points

by making hot fudge sauce,

totally spur of the moment

(in record time)

so we can have it with our coffee ice cream

as we watch Grey’s Anatomy

It’s another ghost from the past.

 

It is Halloween weekend,

my husband and I go to the theater

(which, I guess fits, when you think about it)

In the play,

a man discovers his inner femininity—

becoming a drag queen,

with the help of a real drag queen.

After a slow start,

the play picks up

struts its stuff,

so to speak,

along with the actors,

a feel good show

about finding your passion

and not giving up,

accepting those who are different from you.

A good lesson, don’t you think?

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After the show, we drink coffee

sitting on a bench outside of Christ Church in Philadelphia.

 

a beautiful October day,

we watch the people in the present

learning about the people of the past,

as they walk in and about the beautiful eighteenth-century church

where George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others attended services.

We walk the streets, some still cobbled,

where founding fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers

once walked,

where free and bound lived and worked.

 

None of them was perfect,

neither are we.

But the past is a foreign country.

people then did not know all we know now

(perhaps we have lost some of their knowledge, too)

Progress and human rights come slowly

as babies crawl tentatively before they walk and then run eagerly

to explore the world.

So are there stages

of nations

that rise and fall.

And of discoveries that humans uncover and embrace with hesitation

or delight.

Thirteen colonies came together,

representatives walked the streets we now walk,

worked together to fight for independence,

and later, to form a more perfect union,

evolving over centuries

with greatness from the start,

along with evils,

slavery, racism, sexism, xenophobia.

We should not move backwards

to the foreign country of the past,

not regress, but rather progress,

build upon the great to make greater.

 

We travel to another part of Philadelphia,

Fairmount Park,

one of the largest urban parks in the world.

We are there for a Lupus Run/Walk

my younger daughter and her husband run,

my husband and I walk,

some people drag their heels,

some are in drag,

well, costumes.

There is a team of Star Wars characters,

others in purple tutus,

a sea of purple t-shirts.

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We begin at Memorial Hall

(now the Please Touch Children’s Museum)

with its figure of Columbia at the top,

it was an art museum,

constructed for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876,

a huge exhibition with many buildings

and many visitors.

A Women’s Pavilion gave women a chance to display and demonstrate

the new opportunities available to them in professions and business

there were displays of dress reforms, too.

But women were segregated in their own pavilion,

and still denied the vote.

And so we run/walk through

beautiful Fairmount Park

passing statues of Civil War generals

and the Japanese Tea house

I imagine women in suffragist white,

ghosts flitting among the statues

I think they would echo

“When they go low, we go high,”

standing calm amidst storms of hate.

Women have always had to fend off and fight

the gropers and grabbers,

and some of them loved other women

though not out in the open.

I amuse myself by imaging Susan B. Anthony

reading grievances while drag queens in the audience cheer.

(This did not happen.)

 

But the past is a foreign country

we can’t impose our views on it.

Our own pasts, well, perhaps they change

with, in, our memories

which are imperfect.

merging and shifting,

taking on new tones and meanings.

On this Halloween

my memories of Halloween past

merge with the present.

I think about the future,

We are at the crossroads,

there are ghosts all around.

We must push back the hate and fear.

We dream.

A wise man once had a dream

of freedom for all

freedom for those of every color, of any religion.

He was killed by hate.

But still we dream.

I think about the future

with dread

with longing

with hope

with dreams.

 

*Hoagie is the Philadelphia name for a sandwich served on a long, tapered roll. Wawa is a convenience store chain that is much beloved in parts of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

We saw The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez at the Arden Theatre.

Christ Church, Philadelphia

The Please Touch Museum/Memorial Hall

On suffragists on Independence Day 1876, see this.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream speech.