Telling the Story

Monday Morning Musings:

“Go out and tell the story.

Let it echo far and wide.

Make them hear you.

Make them hear you.

How that justice was our battle and how justice

Was denied.

Make them hear you.

Make them hear you.”

— from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, “Let Them Hear You,” Ragtime

 

“Our children

See them running down the beach

Children run so fast

Toward the future

From the past”

–from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, “Our Children,” Ragtime

 

 

Dawn comes to tell the story

of the day,

the sun rising, a fact, or perhaps allegory

of what might be,

but at dawn we still have to wait and see

what will unfold over the hours

wait and behold, to see if it’s sweet,

or if it sours.

Will there be light and flowers,

or angry tears of raging showers?

 

We travel over the cool bridge*

Commodore Barry Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listening to the voice we’ve named Siobhan,

she guides us to our destination

no hesitation

on her part

though we wonder as she directs

us to wander,

and ponder

at her choices—but she gets us there.

And it’s where we want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a hot day,

but fine if we stay

in the shade

and made

more pleasant

by costumed musicians playing flute

and a stringed instrument—but not a lute–

Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so, we munch

our lunches, listening, as we crunch

and enjoy this day–

wait for more of what it has to say.

Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a day of protests,

and I am thankful for those who brave the heat

trying to fight and unseat

the evil—so obvious–that is being done

with children in cages, rights that were won

being stripped away–

a new horror every day–

evil has become commonplace,

even while it’s made banal

(build that wall, he still says

this excrescence, the prez)

And we sway in the breezes of change

wanting to blink and look away

but hoping still

it will go our way–

this story of our days.

 

So, we see this play,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a musical, and I’m amazed

at the way

it’s so timely today–

full of immigrants fleeing

and wanting the American dream

though things are not always the way they seem,

as white women are awakened to life beyond their homes

and people of color

striving for rights and equality,

though there is no apology

for the discrimination, only denial

without fair trial

or justice–

And, ok, I get choked up

when Sarah runs down to meet Coalhouse

even though I knew it was coming

and it’s possible I was crying by the end

of the story—I won’t pretend—

it’s true,

I was moved by the magic of theater,

perhaps you would have been, too.

 

It might seem funny that we see

this musical, not a Shakespearean play

at a festival named for the bard,

Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but it’s not hard

to understand

the popularity of musicals.

But he wrote of current events and history

and it’s no mystery

that his plays would have been performed with song–

perhaps the audience hummed along

to some familiar tunes.

Though all the female roles then were played by men,

well, things go around and around again

(Remember when we saw a woman play Hamlet’s role?

Gender no longer is the control.)

 

We ask Siobhan to guide us home

where we feed our cats,

(upset at being left alone)

wait for the sun to set

and the moon to rise,

wait for people to hear the babies’ cries

to set the course of things to where they should be,

where children are free,

not locked away, torn from their parents’ arms

but instead, quite naturally, kept safe from harm.

And by and by

the stars twinkle and sigh,

sing to us a lullaby.

I make a wish by candle light

for wisdom to come—perhaps tonight,

I’ll tell the stories of truth and right

and wait for some to listen,

Can I make them hear me?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

 

*Our children–actually their stuffed animal friends–named the Commodore Barry Bridge, “the Cool Bridge.

I’ve listened to the music of the musical Ragtime–and in fact, one summer I listened to it so often in the car that I pretty much had it memorized. But I had never before seen the show. This was a wonderful production with Broadway actors with great voices (and some fortunate DeSales students filling in some of the ensemble roles). It was very well-staged and the costumes were great, too.

Here’s Brian Stokes Mitchell singing, “Let Them Hear You.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Safe Harbor: Haibun

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

–from Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”

 

Our ship is stalled in the harbor–the weather, customs duties, bribes to officials—who knows why? We live in suspended time in a liminal space—on a ship, but not at sea; people who have left their homes, but who have not found a new one, refugees. I worry about leaving—perhaps it would not be so bad to stay? But it is too late, we are sailing. Weeks seem like months, as my stomach rolls and heaves with the ship, till at last we arrive. We are weary, but grateful for our new home, a small room in the house of distant kin. At night, we walk to the beach to escape the heat of the day. My sister’s face mirrors my own—relief that the journey is over, sadness that we may never see our parents again, and joy that we are safe. We dance on the sand under a moonlit sky.

 

Faults in men, not stars

lighting a sea-crossed journey

freedom has a price–

beckoning with torch raised high,

the beacon separates, too

 

Winslow_Homer_-_Summer_Night_(1890)

 

This is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge.  The prompt words were mirror and harbor. I remember my grandfather telling me about when he was a boy, after he, his mother, and his sister left Kiev, their ship was stuck in Trieste. I don’t know why or how they got there. Trieste was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I mentioned him in a previous post called Feast of the Immigrant. 

And here’s the Hamilton mix tape based on the line from the show, “Immigrants, we get the job done.”

 

 

Past, Present, and Future Meet at a Conference

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is not present or future—only the past, happening over and over again—now.”

–Eugene O’Neill, A Moon for the Misbegotten

 FullSizeRender 31

I attended an academic conference–

for the first time in many years.

It was a conference about the past,

well, it was a history conference, after all,

the history of the early American republic,

and I was there to comment at a session.

I was prepared to talk about the past

well, perhaps the present and the past,

(The past happening over and over again, now.)

but I also found my own past there,

past and present crashing into each other

strolling out from amongst the scholarly papers

to say hello,

Do you remember me?

“Do we do the awkward hugs,” I say to her,

my friend from graduate school days.

 

We haven’t seen each other for–

What is two decades? Three?–

So we sat and talked

over New Haven thin-crust pizza and wine,

and the years melted away.

We were two old friends,

well not that old,

but without the self-consciousness of youth.

We didn’t have to impress anyone at this conference,

we weren’t looking for jobs or tenure,

people either knew our names,

or didn’t.

We talked of our children and spouses,

we talked of those we had both known who have died

we talked of work and play

of current events and cats.

It was so good to talk to her again

I hope we keep in touch.

I think we will.

 

The sessions I attended were stimulating,

so much so,

as to make me inarticulate when I got up to present,

my thoughts flowing and churning in my brain so fast,

faster than I could get them out in spoken words

(Sorry about that)

But still,

perhaps I made a fool of myself

but there are worse things,

at least I didn’t spill food on my dress

or vomit at the podium

and people were kind.

FullSizeRender 29

The past, present, and future all running together,

rape, rape culture, the subjugation of women

a crime of the past

a crime of the present

and what of the future?

Rape cultures exist all around us.

The term can describe the situation of enslaved people

in the nineteenth-century

(“Let’s just call that baby ugly,” said someone in the audience.)

it can be seen in the misogyny of the recent RNC convention,

in the power of celebrities and politicians and on college campuses.

My husband and I hear a NPR report on the car radio

on women in Brazil

where women are raped, battered, and murdered,

a “woman killed every two hours” there

and “assaulted every 15 seconds.”*

Taught and expected to be submissive

the property of men

like the women of the session I commented on,

the enslaved women of the south,

the women depicted in nineteenth-century pornography

the women in the literature and pamphlets of the time

submissive, docile,

those who speak out, those who don’t marry

those who are “ruined” by rape or seduction,

forced to become prostitutes, slaves, or they die

a cautionary tale

to marry, to obey,

the past, happening over and over again, now.

 

But I make a new acquaintance

to share ideas and experiences with over lunch,

such fun

to come out of a session on such horrors.

As she eats her salad, and I drink my smoothie,

I gaze at the poster

saying refugees are welcome.

We have a history of welcoming and denigrating refugees,

the past happening over and over again, now.

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Then on to another session

honoring a historian who was beloved

by friends, students, and colleagues

but who tragically died too soon,

a moving session to attend,

although I had only met her once or twice

I wished I had known her.

Her legacy lives on in her writing

and in the students she inspired.

They are the future.**

Perhaps they are rare, these inspiring teachers,

yet, we read about them throughout history,

the past happening over and over again, now.

 

My husband and I have dinner,

Ethiopian food in a restaurant across from the hotel.

There is only one server,

a cheerful woman who managed to be friendly and helpful

though she had to serve, seat, and clean all the tables by herself.

Brain and stomach full

we settle down for the night

I think of the past, how it happens again and again, now,

the future.

IMG_4129 2

Vegetarian Sampler at Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant, New Haven, CT

 

*”For Brazil’s Women, Laws are Not Enough to Deter Rampant Violence,”

–Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Weekend Edition Sunday

**C. Dallett Hemphill Publication Fund

Rondelet: Poetry Challenge

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Odilon Redon,  La Voile jaune (The Yellow Sail). Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

 

(1.) The Refugees

 

We ached for home,

starting our journey, looking back

we ached for home

though forced to flee, and forced to roam

in our red boat, we had to tack

the golden sail, the night loomed black

we ached for home

 

(2.) The Female Pirates

 

With sparkling jewels

We set sail upon the ocean

With sparking jewels

We challenged men, we broke the rules,

Made our plans, set them in motion

Women! We caused a commotion

With sparkling jewels

 

These two poems are in response to Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge #37. For this challenge, we were to write a rondelet using the image above, Odilon Redon’s La Voile jaune (The Yellow Sail) and the word “journey.” This is a new form for me. Both of these poems are inspired by the picture, but only the first one uses the word “journey.”  A rondelet is a 7-line poem (septet) with two rhymes and a repeated refrain. The refrain is 4 syllables; the other lines are 8 syllables. AbAabbA

 

 

The Books Left Behind

Old_book_gathering

By Remi Mathis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“When she came to write her story, she would wonder when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.”

–Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

 

I am haunted by ghosts I have not seen

Some departed quickly, others not fast enough

They left the things they could not carry

They left the past behind

 

Some departed quickly, others not fast enough

They lost their loved ones, and in flame, their desires were castaway

They left the past behind

Scarred by war, they traveled far from home

 

They lost loved ones, and in flame, their desires were castaway

Stories written in many voices, stories left unread

Scarred by war, they traveled far from home

Journeying to unknown futures and uncertain fates

 

Stories written in many voices, stories left unread

I hear them calling to me

Journeying to unknown futures and uncertain fates

They shout and cry, do not forget

 

I hear them calling to me

The cast-off shoes, the abandoned books, the photos

They shout and cry, do not forget

These spirits of the past

 

The cast-off shoes, the abandoned books, the photos

Objects of the departed

These spirits of the past

The echoes of destruction, the abandonment of hope

 

Objects of the departed

Held here by shadows and memories

The echoes of destruction, the abandonment of hope

I am haunted by ghosts I have not seen

 

Never forget

 

I was inspired by this article about a Czech schoolhouse still filled with the books of Jewish families forced to leave in 1942—most of them killed in Auschwitz. Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) was May 5.  I thought of the rise in hate crimes, genocide, and all of the refugees who now are forced to leave their homes because of war and hate. Then I read this story about Syrian refugees in Canada who are helping the people who have had to evacuate their homes because of the massive fires in Alberta, and I realize that there are still good people and people who believe in doing good.

©Merril D. Smith, 2016