The Muse: Haibun

I am dreaming. I stand on a beach in a wild and beautiful land. There is a woman there with burnished skin, like cherry wood, polished and glowing. She’s clothed in a gown of flowers–red, yellow, and white buds that seem to open and bloom before my eyes. As she walks, the air around her parts in song. I hear it, carried on a breeze scented by the sea and tropical blossoms. The sun shines above me, but casts no shadows. I think time has stopped, or perhaps it has no meaning in this place. The woman approaches a doorway at the edge of sand and jungle. Smiling, she turns and gestures for me to follow. I calmly take a step—then wake–but I remember.

infinite doorway

from dream-time the muse beckons

in vision of light

indigo night turns rosy

dawn trailing whispered secrets

 

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D. Howard Hitchcock, “Waikiki Beach in Sunlight,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is for Colleen Chesebro’s Poetry Challenge. The prompt words are calm and wild.

I wrote a poem in my dreams about a week ago. When I woke, I couldn’t remember it. All I remembered was one of my daughters writing about the poem, “OMG, OMG—that poem!” (My subconscious gives me pep talks.) And I had an image of a woman, Caribbean perhaps, dressed in a brightly flowered dress.

I am still crazy-busy writing a final entry for another one that didn’t come through from a contributor. I apologize for being so behind in reading so many wonderful posts and missing challenges and prompts. I’m trying to catch up as I can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Barricade, a Bear, and an Egg

We’re headed to my in-laws’ house, or perhaps the Jersey shore. A family road trip. My husband is at the wheel; our daughters in the back seat. They hold their beloved stuffed animals on their laps. There are no headphones or cell phones. In our future, when they’re older, there will be both. I’ll tune the radio to NPR. We’ll hear the election news or listen to an interview with actor Dev Patel. But here, now, I put a CD into the dashboard slot. The prologue begins, “Look down, look down, don’t look ‘em in the eye.” My husband would be happy never to hear Les Misérables again, but I don’t mind hearing it for the 200th time. Our daughters sing along. Correction. Humpty and Ahh Bear sing along. Aah Bear sings Éponine’s part and sobs with loud bear sobs when she dies. There is no barricade here in the car, but I see it nonetheless. Imagination is powerful, powerful enough to let me hear stuffed animals sing and make the tears of a teddy bear real.

 

Just one performance

life, replayed in memory,

paused and played again

 

 

 

I seem to be stuck on musicals, though that’s nothing new!  This is a haibun for dVerse. We were asked to write about singing along with music on a drive. You can listen to “A Little Fall of Rain” here. (Unfortunately, not the Humpty and Ahh Bear version.)

 

 

The Beauty Is: NaPoWriMo

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night –William Shakespeare, Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5

“And the beauty is, when you realize, when you realize, Someone could be looking for a someone like you.” –Adam Guettel, “The Beauty Is” from the musical, The Light in the Piazza  Song here.

“At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is “Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.” My advice is: “Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy. –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, March 7, 1944

It’s a rainy Earth day,

the grey skies swaddle pink and white blossoms

Spring, verdant, full of life, thirsty, greedily drinks like a baby,

unselfconscious and we the admiring parents watch her,

she is beautiful, even when she’s a dirty mess.

 

A mother-daughter outing to see Beauty and the Beast,

the theater has reserved seats that we recline in ready for the magic to begin

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My daughter is comfortable in the theater.

 

— the Disney version of the story,

though we’re both impressed by Gaston, more nuanced than his cartoon version,

possibly charming at first in an oafish way

until the true darkness of his soul is revealed,

the mob scenes remind me a bit too much of history and recent events,

mobs inflamed by ignorant narcissists,

it’s happened throughout the ages

it happens now,

but how can I not enjoy a story where the heroine loves books,

a movie that is a shout out to literacy,

and where lovers bond over reading,

Belle reads poetry to the Beast,

he knows a quotation from her favorite play, Romeo and Juliet,

there’s singing and dancing, people and objects,

I had forgotten Audra McDonald was in this movie–

until she sang,

and I didn’t know Dan Stevens had such a fine voice,

(remember that time he was in a little series called Downton Abbey?)

we get a backstory for the Beast (which we both like)

Belle’s backstory is inserted more awkwardly,

Still it is an enjoyable couple of hours of mother and daughter time

And there is more beauty in the day

the beauty is. ..

a bowl of lemons

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not exactly life giving them to us

as going to the store and buying six bags of them

and rather than lemonade, we mix them with vodka to make limoncello

aren’t grownup daughters fun!

(And beautiful?)

So, we grate lemon peel,

the kitchen becomes gloriously lemon-scented,

a Chopin polonaise plays softly in the background,

(her husband’s study music),

we talk, of her girlfriends, of work, of this and that,

my husband has been doing yard work

(it’s not raining that hard, he says),

he sits at the table with us,

their dog chews on his toy,

their cat ventures out to see if it’s dinner time

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Not pleased by the citrus scent

 

When we’re finished, we eat takeout Pakistani food,

my husband and my son-in-law learn

the kind and talkative restaurant owner was educated at Oxford

(perhaps he is a book lover, too?)

And what do I do the next day with leftover lemons?

Make lemon cake, of course!

 

 

It’s beautiful and delicious.

And though there are beasts all around, the beauty is. . .

spending time with people you love,

enjoying good food and wine,

beauty simple and sudden,

striking you, when you look up from your morning coffee

to see the sun dawning over the neighbor’s white dogwood tree

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The photo does not capture how beautiful it was

 

the profound beauty of birth, mixed with blood and pain,

the simple beauty of a smile,

the beauty that is there within the beast,

the beauty is

it surrounds us

the beauty is. . .

in yourself and in everything around you

 

Today is Day 24, NaPoWriMo. We’re asked to write a poem of ekphasis, a poem inspired by a work of art. We’re challenged to base a poem on marginalia of medieval manuscripts. I suppose you could very loosely say I’ve done this, as they are beautiful and filled with beasts. (Such as this one )

Huffington Post summarizes some previous versions of Beauty and the Beast here.

Today is Yom HaShoah ( This year, it’s Sunset, April 23- Sunset April 24), Holocaust Remembrance Day. I wonder what Anne Frank would be writing about now, and if she would still see beauty in the world.

Sweetness

Monday Morning Musings:

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

–James Baldwin

 

Today is Rosh Hashanah,

the start of the High Holy Days.

We say “Shanah Tova,”

and wish people a sweet year.

The weekend began with

the anniversary of 9/11.

Never forget.

As if we could.

Then caring for our grandpets.

Doggy kisses

and kitty purrs.

A party.

People with different jobs,

beliefs

interests,

drinking and

playing volleyball.

No, not me.

I’ll just watch.

Having fun.

Enjoying

the beautiful evening.

Meanwhile—

The man with the hair

whips up hate.

Throughout history

demagogues have appeared.

He is merely the latest.

A little man

for all his wealth.

Seeking to rise by

finding a scapegoat–

as all demagogues do.

It is nothing new.

It’s their fault,

they declare.

You don’t have money,

goods,

or

power–

It’s because of them.

Migrants, Jews,

Women.

People with black skin,

or yellow skin.

Educated people.

Illiterate people.

Gay.

Trans.

It doesn’t matter.

They are Others,

not one of us.

Nativists, Know Nothings, and Exclusion Acts—

We don’t want your kind.

“Give me your tired, your poor.”

Lady Liberty cries,

But not too tired, not too poor.

the followers yell.

We don’t want people who

look different.

And

none of that foreign talk here.

Speak English.

Wave a flag,

like a true patriot.

A clerk in Kentucky claims religious freedom by

denying others their rights.

Doesn’t she know that liberty

is inclusive,

not exclusive?

Hate does not win.

Hate brings more hate.

Hate combusts and burns

like the brushfires out west,

consuming everything it touches.

Love,

Compassion,

Empathy,

Education

tame the flames,

to a warm glow,

enough to sit around,

enough to bake bread.

I baked challahs yesterday.

The kitchen smells

Of bread and memories.

And love, too.

“Bread and roses.”

Fuel for body

and soul.

Dip the apple in the honey.

Taste its sweetness.

It is everywhere.

Look.

It is all around you.

Can you see the sweetness

of life?

Stop.

Just look.

Do you see it?

Can you look past the hate?

Can you see how beautiful

Our Earth is?

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Wishing all of you peace and a sweet new year!

©Merril D. Smith

Moving Day

Monday Morning Musings

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And so the newlyweds have moved.

We tell them about our first apartment—

the cinderblock shelves,

the closet made into a study

with the desk that is now theirs.

It has an ink-stained drawer,

damage done by my husband

when he was just a young boy,

and punished for

apparently.

But that was long ago.

As newlyweds,

we ate at

a card table

borrowed from my mom,

with four folding chairs

to go with it.

And we felt lucky

to have it.

And giddy with the excitement

of furnishing our first home.

They have the table

that sat in our basement

I think it belonged

to my husband’s grandmother.

But perhaps I’m wrong.

It has a wood veneer top.

To be perfectly honest,

I didn’t particularly like it.

But somehow it is perfect,

sitting in their kitchen alcove.

Their chairs

are the chairs that went

with the first table we purchased.

in that first apartment

with the cinderblock shelves.

My husband has re-caned

these chairs

for our daughter and her husband.

As he sits in their kitchen

my husband reports

that nothing has broken.

He’s joking,

I think.

I hope.

It is cheerful,

that kitchen of theirs.

Newly painted–

and my daughter was right

about the color.

We bring in boxes

and furniture.

Their dog guards it–

and them.

Their cat hides

in a closet.

We think of other moves.

My husband and his friends

moved my dad several times.

It wasn’t so bad.

They were young and strong.

And they got treated to a dinner

each time.

Not the typical pizza and beer,

although perhaps there was beer,

I don’t remember

because

there was

so much food.

Courses and courses of Chinese delights

At his favorite restaurant.

Perhaps there were other restaurants, too.

My dad loved food.

and playing the host.

In our first apartment

we had a bed

and bureau

bought from my cousin Sali.

We still have them,

the mattress replaced,

of course,

but the frame still sturdy.

There was an old bamboo bookcase, too.

Is it in our basement somewhere?

Moving brings memories,

doesn’t it?

Possessions do not

make a home,

But

each item packed

and then unpacked

tells a story.

Someday they will get our piano,

the piano I played as a child.

The ivory keys are ragged,

damaged by me,

I’m told,

although I don’t remember.

And I was such a good child.

Never mind.

It makes our piano unique.

I remember the movers coming

to move that piano

when we moved into our house,

our first house

where we still live.

I was pregnant with our older daughter.

We were packing boxes

and dreams.

And now we watch our children

do the same.

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Valley Green

Monday Morning Musings:

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

–Pedro Calderón de la Barca

IMG_2640

Valley Green Inn

Valley Green Inn

The restaurant—not really an inn—

Is nestled in a valley,

Set along the banks of

Wissahickon Creek.

And it was very green

Yesterday,

A beautiful August day.

Truth in advertising.

I suppose.

But even in winter snow

And ice

It would be lovely.

It was the perfect spot

For my mother’s birthday celebration.

A Sunday brunch.

In the 1790s,

A large gristmill operated

Downstream

From where we dined

Over two centuries later.

In the 1850s,

People took picnics

To this spot,

Escaping the heat

Of the city.

The new turnpike,

Now Lincoln Drive,

Made it easier for people

To travel to

This valley,

And to stay and eat

At the hotel

Then located there.

We sat indoors,

Foregoing the porch–

This time,

Although we’ve eaten there before.

The old rooms have seen history unfold.

I wonder what stories those walls could tell?

How many other birthdays

Have been celebrated here?

My mom can also

Tell stories.

She has seen many changes

In her 93 years.

No longer a slim,

And beautiful young woman.

Parents, friends, husband—

All gone.

Wars fought,

Men on the moon.

It was a big deal

When her family got

A telephone—

And that was only

Because her father

Had a grocery store.

It was the Great Depression–

But that was long ago.

Here,

Now,

In this inn,

The scent of wood smoke

Still lingers

From the flames

Of past fires.

But none today.

Not in August.

The fireplace cold,

Its mantel adorned

With flowers.

We sat in the old room,

The floors worn and slightly uneven,

With our modern conveniences,

Air conditioning

And cell phones.

My daughter

And her new husband

Share looks across

The table.

My sister and I

Share secrets.

We all seem

To share food.

Sausages passed

Around the table.

Everything is delicious—

Sweet potato pancakes,

Crab and seafood omelets,

Mushroom bisque,

Waffles,

French toast,

And Huevos rancheros.

There are 8 of us here

Drinking coffee,

Talking,

Ordering our entries,

Our fruit salads,

And

A berry cobbler

With a candle

For my mom.

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Filled,

Sated,

We walk outside

To sit by the creek.

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The geese and ducks

Swim in circles,

They look for treats thrown

By those who pass by.

The water burbles,

And children giggle.

Downstream,

A man is fishing.

There are runners,

Hikers,

And bikers,

On the path.

Two musicians sit in the shade,

Playing violin and guitar—

An acoustic version of

“Pinball Wizard”

Drifting out to us

And mingling with the sound

Of water, birds,

And conversation.

Perhaps these should be

The sounds aliens

Hear to understand

Our world.

The sounds of humanity,

Of Earth

Placed on Voyager

As it travels the galaxies.

But would they understand

Birthday wishes?

The love of family?

The sharing of food

And conversation?

Would they understand

The loveliness of

An inn

Set in a green valley

Along a creek

Where we took our

Mother for her birthday?

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You can find out more about Valley Green Inn here.

You can find out more about the sounds Voyager carries here.

Finding My Words

Monday Morning Musings:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” (lines 118-119)

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

–Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

I’m at a loss for them today, so I decided to write about words. Unlike Eliza Doolittle in the musical, My Fair Lady, who sings:

“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above;
If you’re in love, Show me!”

–“Show Me” From My Fair Lady, Lerner and Lowe

I am never sick of words. I love words. I didn’t know—or more likely did not remember—that it was Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass who first explained that a portmanteau word was like the suitcase called a portmanteau: “Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy”. “Lithe” is the same as “active”. You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.” (You can read more about it here.)

One of my favorite Carroll portmanteaus is “chortle,” a word that has entered everyday vocabulary. I love it because it sounds exactly like what it is, and it makes me laugh to even hear the word in my head. You can find some new portmanteaus here. I think “Internest” is a great word because I’ve seen my daughter do it. It means “the cocoon of blankets and pillows you gather around yourself whilst spending long periods of time on the Internet.” Another favorite is “epiphanot”: “ an idea that seems like an amazing insight to the conceiver but is in fact pointless, mundane, stupid, or incorrect.” I’m not judging anyone here. I think I’ve had plenty of epiphanots myself—although I do picture Cliff Clavin from the old TV series, Cheers, when I hear the word.

This weekend my husband and I saw two very different movies—hey, it was movie catch-up weekend—Far From the Madding Crowd and Ex Machina.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba Everdeen (isn’t that a great name?) says in a line from Hardy’s novel: “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” It seems to me that it is not so much the language of the time, as it was the moral constraints imposed on women that prevented them from speaking. Bathsheba could not talk of sexual passion and desire. But the men, too, talked around it. They discussed marriage in economic terms, not in words of love. Much cannot be said, and perhaps was not even thought. Perhaps then there were no words to describe what they felt. Actions, however, have consequences in this story. Women who give in to desire are punished with death or debts. Women who use words thoughtlessly—as in sending a Valentine’s card—must also pay a price. The movie is beautiful—you will want to move to Dorset, England. The acting is wonderful, too. (I found this short article that discusses the movie and book, if you want more information.)

In Ex Machina language becomes not so much a means of defining or limiting gender, but rather, it becomes a method testing what it means to be fully alive. Reclusive billionaire and definite alpha male Nathan Bateman (a bulked-up Oscar Isaac) brings nerdy but cute programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleason) to his estate to Turing-test his A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander). We all know that computers can use words and can be programmed to talk and write, but can they do more? The movie is exciting and thought provoking in its exploration of what it means to be human. Does an A.I. have feelings? Can an A.I. pretend? Can it feel pleasure or desire? And would a human know?

Humans seem to be hardwired to use words and form languages. We like to name things. It would be an epiphanot to say that languages evolve over time. (See what I did there?) I think most people know that whatever language we speak is different from that same language spoken centuries ago. Cultural and technological changes and inventions fuel the desire to create new words.

The creativity of novelists, poets, and other artists has also led to the invention of new words. Who can forget the scary terms coined by George Orwell in 1984? Orwell deliberately invented new words, such as thoughtcrime, newspeak, and of course, doublethink. He wrote, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” English author and former spy, John Le Carré has also created words, such as mole, meaning someone who infiltrates an organization. You can find some others here. Words can bring goodness and light; they can incite evil, too. They can be used to deliberately obfuscate, or to enlighten.

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”
–Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom House”

Words. I was at a loss, but now I seem to have used 939 of them. I’ve finished the job, but I don’t think it’s complete. What is a word for that?

Mother’s Day: Celebrating as a Mother and as a Daughter

 I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,

Four cocks were there, and Hens the rest.

I nurst them up with pain and care,

No cost nor labour did I spare

Till a the last they felt their wing,

Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.

–Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672), “In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659,” Full text here.

 Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, at least here in the US. The holiday began as efforts to help poor mothers, fight injustice, and oppose war. Anna Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia fought to bring sanitation facilities and clean water to people in parts of Appalachia. In 1858, she organized Mother’s Work Days. After the Civil War she gathered mothers and soldiers from both sides of the conflict in a Mother’s Friendship Day. Her daughter–also Anna–wanted to continue her mother’s fight. After Anna Jarvis, the mother, died in 1905, her daughter wanted to organize a Mother’s Day celebration to honor all mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. She lobbied politicians and wrote letters to newspapers, and finally President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914 that established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Jarvis became outraged by the flowers, candy, and greeting card commercialism that the holiday assumed. She ultimately disowned the holiday entirely. (Historian Ruth Rosen discusses the activism and antiwar origins of the Mother’s Day here.)

I certainly understand those who decry the artificiality and commercialism of the holiday. At the same time, I like it. I recently thought about my very first mother’s day as a mother. On my way to my mother’s, my husband and I stopped at a friend’s house to show off our new daughter, who was about 3 months old. I, of course, was madly in love with my little girl, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature in existence, bald head and all. Our friend’s mother, made a big fuss, told me to sit down and waited on me. She said to me, “This is your first mother’s day, and you should feel special.” All these years later, I still remember that. And I did feel special.

Over the past few years, our mother’s day tradition has been to gather at my sister’s house. We have brunch or lunch, and then take my mom clothes shopping. Last Mother’s Day, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my older daughter’s wedding; this year, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my younger’s daughter wedding. It is a bit of an ordeal to take my mom shopping—she can’t move or see very well—but with four of us, my younger daughter, my sister-niece, and my sister—we got the job done. We had to help dress her in the dressing room, which actually led to many laughs. When I think about it, it seems only fair that we help her dress. After all, how many times did she do it for all of us? Happily, she did find an outfit to wear.

My mom and me. I'm about 3 years old.

My mom and me. I’m about 3 years old.

Before we left for the mall, my sister and sister-in-law fortified us with pasta, salad, and bread—all delicious. My sister-in-law, “the men,” and children remained behind at the house. After we returned from our long shopping expedition, we had dessert—a chocolate extravaganza. Did you doubt this? I get my love of chocolate from my mom—so I baked a flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate glaze and sea salt and my Mandelbrot cookies, which are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house. (I have several posts dedicated to this, my favorite cookie. Just do a search.) I kind of had to bake those, didn’t I? My sister added 2 boxes of chocolate to the dessert feast, just in case we didn’t have enough. We sat outside on my sister and sister-in-law’s deck and enjoyed the warm weather and evening breeze.

During dessert we attempted to FaceTime chat with my older daughter, but it didn’t work too well. Still, I did get to talk to her a bit. My younger daughter made me a wonderful Super Momma card that made me feel special—and some baking pans. Chocolate and baking genes run through the generations in my family!

When my mom is no longer with us, Mother’s Day will certainly be different. My siblings and I will no longer have a reason to get together for it, just as we no longer get together on Father’s Day. Although we might grumble about taking my mom shopping, I will miss that tradition and the crazy dressing room antics.

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters