At the Start of the Moment

Monday Morning Musings

“You are here, at the start of a moment,
On the edge of the world.
Where the river meets the sea.”
—“Welcome to the Rock,” from Come From Away

I am here, by the river
the sky is blue—or grey—
cloudy or clear, I am here
at the start of the day

Early Morning on the Delaware River, September.

watching the birds,
remembering the shadows
need the light, and thoughts
need words, to tell how time goes

Geese on the Delaware

Orange sun through the trees–Light and Shadows.

slow, then faster, people gone
before you know to say good-bye.
All the stories left untold,
and new ones born, the river sighs.

There a hawk cries,
There the sun rises, anew—
There a cat finds the light
There you find again the blue

that comes after storms and grey.
We celebrate the holidays—
you are there, and we are here
but we find some ways

to connect and remember.
We toast L’chaim, to life, with wine
and food we commemorate,
and for now, we’re fine

at the start of this moment—
and we soar into the next and the next

without a clue–what’s beyond the blue.

Goose photobombs egret’s big photo shoot.

This week started with Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah—it already seems so far away. We celebrated with our daughter and son-in-law. The next night, we had a Zoom dinner with both children and their spouses. Saturday was September 11. The sky that day was so blue, just as it was twenty years ago. In the afternoon, we went to Blue Cork Winery (where daughter now works) in Williamstown, NJ. It was a gorgeous day to sit outside. We’re going back to summer heat and humidity today.

Last night we watched Come From Away (Apple TV+). I have a couple months of Apple TV free, but Apple does not make it easy to watch on a not-smart TV. This is a filmed version of a live stage production of the musical—filmed recently in a newly opened theater before a masked audience. Although I did not feel it quite so much as when we saw it live in a theater, it is still a wonderful play based on the true events of 9/11—when 38 planes were diverted to the Newfoundland town of Gander. It is heartwarming without being treacly, and it shows people at their best. The play was also performed live on Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

If you’ve seen the show, I just found this article, and it made me happy.

Of Clouds and Sun

Monday Morning Musings:

Sunrise, Delaware River at West Deptford ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021
Reflecting on the River after the storm, Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield ©️Merril D. Smith

Let me tell you about the clouds, the sun,
the flowers, tall and smiling, the tons
of debris left, the work that must be done.

Reaching ©️Merril D. Smith, 2021

Now the hawk screeches and broad-wing flies
in concentric circles, as the wind sighs
at summer leaving, but with the prize of bluest skies

Red-Tailed Hawk

September comes, and we are in-between
the muggy green and russet- gold; not yet seen
the frosted crunch, yet geese convene

debating if–or when–to leave.
But I don’t grieve summer’s end, perhaps naïve
I must believe

that it will come again.

And so, I dip my apples, and ponder time,
drink my wine, as the sun sets and moon climbs.
Another year passes, she chimes,

while the stars in constellated chorus sing,
and light scatters from white egret’s wing
in the universe’s laughter, from winter to spring.

Most of you know we had storms, tornados, and flooding in my part of the world last week. Then we got beautiful September weather. We went to Dalton Farms, where they have a sunflower festival going on. Yesterday we went to William Heritage Winery. It was rainy, but we were fine under an umbrella. Part of their weekend sales were going to help Mullica Hill homes and farms damaged in the tornados last week.

Today is Labor Day, and tonight is Rosh Hashanah. I’ve baked some challahs, and we’ll be dipping apples in honey and drinking wine tonight.

Rosh Hashanah Challahs

Love, Loss, and Dancing Through It

Monday Morning Musings:

Beat away the aching time
in river blues, see serene, sublime

Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield

in those rippling rhythms. The tide rolls in, and thus begins
another round of what and when and who wins

the life and death struggles, the eagle soars, swoops, a pounce
there goes the fish, squirrel, another ounce, but we can’t denounce

an avian predator who wants to eat,
but human ones, we must unseat.

I see the lawn-stuck signs of misguided fools who think
freedom comes with soundbite slogans–but we’re on the brink

standing on a precipice, tottering, about to fall
while they embrace the treacherous, Russians and all–

the lies they think are fine, wish them away, spin, deny
in sheep-like flocks they gather, unmasked, I sigh

as I walk, watch the geese honk and fly
greeting each other, hello, goodbye

I say, wonder what it’s like to twirl and soar
and then, I go home to bake some more,

to dip bread and apples in honey’s sweetness
to wish for good to flourish, feeling a completeness

of life with loved ones, though from afar
with a world increasingly troubled and bizarre.

Every day more and more, surpassing–
we’re saddened by news of a hero’s passing.

More wine, more honey
talk of this and that, find something funny—

hold on to love (is love is love is love is love is love)
dance when you can, look for beauty above

and all around, fight for justice and truth—
remember our heroes, remember Ruth.

We celebrated the first night of Rosh Hashanah with a Zoom dinner with our daughters and their spouses. I don’t know how to make a small holiday meal, even though there are just two of us here. We heard about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg when the news flashed on a daughter’s phone.

Merril’s Movie Club: We saw And Then We Danced, which now is free on Amazon Prime. We had seen previews for it before the pandemic hit, and though I enjoyed the movie, it would have been wonderful to see it on a big screen. The film is about Merab, a member of Georgia’s National Dance Ensemble. It’s an art form that is beautiful, but rigid, and steeped in tradition. Merab and a new dancer, Iralki are first rivals, but then attracted to each other. It is dangerous to be gay in Georgia (the country, not the state). The government would not finance the movie, and there were bodyguards on the set. The choreographer remains anonymous. I fear this is what it could be like here.
My husband and I both liked the movie very much. The drumming music is great. The subtitles could be better, and they even though I watch subtitled movies all the time, I had to full with the settings.

Dance

Monday Morning Musings:

“And may the spirit of this song

May it rise up pure and free

May it be a shield for you

A shield against the enemy”

–Leonard Cohen, “Lover, Lover, Lover”

 

“Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on

Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long

We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love”

–Leonard Cohen, “Dance Me to the End of Love”

 

My absent daughter

draws the golden peacock

but forgets the fallen feather

can also be a quill

to write the words that dance

upon the page of time,

and from love and grief

and longing

the phrases soar in endless flight–

to bear witness of love and loss

in song to spread the light

***

In this week

of lies and revelation

we go about our lives

without hesitation

because there are deadlines

and care

for those we love

and responsibility

to share—

but oh, the sky,

the clouds

the air

that shimmers

and glimmers

on dew drops

in the morning light

that sight–

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and the honk of geese

in victory flight

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and so,

we take a break

forget the cake

I still must bake

 

reflect

upon each passing sight

on this autumn day

the sun is bright

and summer-like

but inside cooler

as the lights dim

and the show begins

the dancers strong

and full of grace

without a trace

of doubt, fluid lines

muscle and bone

move together, alone

upon the stage

they dance

homage to poetic phrase

in each turn or raise

of arm and leg

and yes, I say

it was worth it to pay

though now

I’m even more

behind

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I see love–

coming and going

and isn’t that always the way?

spring to summer and fall

and before long

winter will come

and will we dance then at all?

Yes, I think

we will add layers

to layers

and though our hair

will turn greyer

still we’ll laugh

and dance, press

on

 

my sister-niece says

I love mom’s belly laugh,

and we all agree

a bright spot

in a gloomy sea

that seems endless–

a beacon, a buoy

we embrace,

when she and the world is screwy.

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And though there are fewer

at our holiday table

and we miss those unable

to be with us,

we laugh and talk

and drink our wine

dip apples in honey–

that boy is so funny

the way he loves my challah—

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we eat the meal

and here’s the deal—

time moves on

but our traditions remain

so, there’s brisket and kugel

for the year to be sweet, not dull–

bright gold of pumpkin soup

and before long, dessert—

 

in and endless loop

the seasons pass

and years dance on

from dusk to dawn

in saraband or waltz

sorrow, love–

with just a bit of schmaltz

 

we say our goodbyes

and sigh

(though the men roll their eyes)

we need that family compound

so we can all come around

whenever need be.

That could be

easier for all of us, you see

 

time will tell

somehow, dwell

on the here and now,

we have each other

and sleepy cats—

there is that.

 

We clean up,

put away each dish

I pause, wish

to dance to the end

of light

as it bends

refracts

and twirls

to begin again.

 

Dream–

the spirit of this song.

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Last night was the start of Rosh Hashanah. Wishing all of you a very sweet year!

One of my daughters posted her drawing of a golden peacock from Jewish tradition and a message about what it means to her. You can see her Instagram post here. 

We saw Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal perform Dance Me, “an exclusive creation inspired by the rich and profound work of Montreal-based poet, artist, and songwriter, Leonard Cohen” (from the program notes). You can see some excerpts here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Inventions from Chaos Comes

Monday Morning Musings:

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos,”

–Mary Shelley, introduction to Frankenstein (1831)

“We should not be held back from pursuing our full talents, from contributing what we could contribute to the society, because we fit into a certain mold ― because we belong to a group that historically has been the object of discrimination.”

–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from an interview with journalist Lynn Sherr

 

It is the night before Rosh Hashanah, but even so, we gather together at the table, old and young, to celebrate the holiday. We miss sisters and others who are not with us, but we also enjoy the extra room to spread out. And isn’t that the way life goes—filled with small moments of joy and sadness? We toast L’Chaim! We wish for a sweet year,and hope for the best, as we eat slices of the round challah and dip apples into amber pools of local honey.

Golden honey streams,

sweetness graces our table–

a wish for the year

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I’ve made enough food for the neighborhood (because what if there isn’t enough?). We have pumpkin soup, salad, brisket, turkey, and noodle kugel. Yes. more wine, please. My great niece and nephew tell us about the start of their school year. Our younger daughter talks about her new students. We discuss truckers, nursing (my son-in-law’s future career), long hours, unions, and pay. My husband and I have recently watched the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and we all share our admiration for her, Notorious RBG. We all wish her a long, healthy life and sweet year. Please stay on the court. We pass plates around, then clear the table. I pack up food for everyone to take home. (Yes, I have more challah in the freezer. I baked six loaves.)  It is time for dessert!

 

Another year comes

harvest moon follows bright sun

green leaves change overnight

 

We walk through wet city streets. Rain and more rain. But still, I find rainbows.

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Thirteenth and Locust, Philadelphia

 

We see a play. Four black men in—where? An afterlife of some sort. The bardo, perhaps. The set is a white space with an incline. There’s a trap door from which they emerge. They need to remember. They need to help one another. They need to make this place a home, a safe space. The playwright says his “guiding principles as a writer” are to “be wild and precise.” The play is both. It is full of physical movement—demanding of the actors who run, tumble, and even dance. There is humor and despair, but this play could only be about black men. “I was eight, when I learned I was scary,” says one. “I can’t breathe,” says another. There’s a toy gun. Games reflect the truth. We watch, as though behind a police interrogation mirror. They see us, but we only watch, never do anything.

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rhythmic breaths, out, in,

times’ losses and gains balanced–

some truths heal, or not

 

It is still raining. We walk and talk. A mural depicts people of many races gathered together–eating and drinking.

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Philadephia Murals, Spruce Street

 

It is hopeful. We go inside, sip wine and beer. Discuss the play.

Our Italian cheese arrives with local honey. Somehow, that seems a fortuitous sign. There is sweetness in the world; there is sweetness sitting here. The sun will come out again. There is no void. The building blocks are all around us. We harbor stardust in our DNA. We can invent new lives and new worlds in our imaginations. We can create beauty and truth from chaos. Behind the clouds, the moon still hums. I fall asleep to the sound of soft cat snores beside me–and we both dream. Past and future merge.

L’shana tova,

a wish extended to all

more laughter than tears

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I’m linking this week’s musing to Frank Tassone’s Haikai Challenge, since he asked us to write about autumn wind, spring wind, or Rosh Hashanah.

If you like Haiku competitions, there is still time to post your haiku and comment on others on this Vita Brevis post.

Pure Haiku is also looking for submissions by September 21. More info here.

We saw Kill Move Paradise by James Ijames at the Wilma Theater.

 

Colors of the Morning: Haibun

It is dark now when I wake. Fall is coming, though the air is still summer-steamy. The moon winks good morning and good-bye, in a sky that has turned from midnight blue to indigo. I watch as the sun, heralded by streaks of peach-tinged clouds, slowly rises, and the sky fades to bleached denim. A blue jay screams as he tries to land in the kitchen window bird feeder. He swoops and tries again, then heads back to the trees to tell of his adventures. I drink my coffee as the cats take their morning nap. Rosh Hashanah comes early this year. Soon—despite the heat—I’ll be baking loaves of round challah and simmering a pot of golden pumpkin soup for the new year.

 

lush green leaves and grass

harbor blue birds and brown squirrels—

one red-gold leaf falls

 

 

This Haibun is for dVerse, where Mish asked us to write about morning, and also for Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday. For this 100th challenge, she left the words to us!

Sweetness Restored

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“I know you feel it

The sweetness restored”

From Leonard Cohen, “Leaving the Table”

 

A ship sails across an ocean

crashes, in furious motion,

its treasures sink in the deep

as though asleep

while centuries creep

a chunk of bronze, fragment of the past

did it predict this future, forecast

another ship sailing through a sea of stars

carrying our past to the future

suturing time with invisible stitches?

Beings we will never know

blow forward and back

ghosts drift from stardust

near and far, they must

I think, walk beside us,

(that gust)

whispering in the wind

bringing horror or bringing joy,

bringing completeness

restoring the sweetness

of what has been lost

 

In the year of the dotard

when real is thought fake

(so much at stake)

when false is declared to be true

and people go about life

(without a clue)

when Mother Earth vents her fury on land and sea

and like a banshee

the winds wail and roar

and as the darkness gathers and soars

and millions sit without a light

in the dark, body and souls

between the poles

of north and south

they go without.

When all this takes place

here

in this space

we sit at the table

thankful we are able

with challah and wine

we dine

in honey dip our apple

watch the sun and shadows dapple

the walls,

as evening falls

here in this moment,

here in this place

the sweetness restored

 

We watch a movie about a dancer

a child who dances in the Russian snow

aglow with the joy of moving, doing, being

receiving the best training

(her parents work hard)

and she does, too

through pain of body and soul

is it worth it all?

and she struggles and questions—

technique or feeling?

finding it unappealing

tired of dancing others’ creations

sensations, ideation

she moves in a duet by the water

to find that child again,

form and feeling

to find the sweetness restored

 

My husband and I walk

we talk about the film we’ve seen

watch the street scenes

a pretty window and door

an urban street with more

we see nature’s destruction

turned to art

despite the ignorance and the hate

we humans love

we need to create

art, poetry, and stories

of the fantastic and the real–

we feel–

the family behind us

answering their son’s funny questions

wondering will they be troublemakers

and we are partakers in this bit

strangers meeting on the street

and then we go our separate ways,

stroll a while

but we smile

the family’s moment struck a chord

the sweetness restored.

 

Daughter and I go to a wine festival

the autumn day disguised as summer

We talk and taste wine

and we are feeling fine

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buy bracelets with literary themes

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of hopes and dreams

the sweetness of wine and books

of strangers looks

(okay, perhaps not all)

we people watch as we stand in line

behind the drunk couple

all entwined

the man with his roving hands

the woman who might fall as she stands

our eyes meet

standing there in the heat

no need to say out loud what we are thinking

mother-daughter interlinking thoughts

we talk of teaching

of The Color Purple and Langston Hughes

we talk of friends and we shmooze

if days could be like this

without dotards to lead

without a world full of greed

without hurricanes and earthquakes

without racism and hate—

is it too late?

if we could wrap up and hoard

all the love, the light, make the world bright

would we feel it,

the sweetness restored?

 

We saw the movie, Polina. Trailer here.

We went to the Heritage Vineyards Wine Festival.

I’m kind of fascinated by the antikythera mechanism.

Here is a beautiful video for Leonard Cohen’s “Leaving the Table.” This song is from his last album, made just before he died.

 

 

 

 

Honey and Wine: Tanka

 

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Honey-dipped apples,

sweetness carried through the year

shift light and shadow

dreams of peace and harmony

linger like the velvet wine

 

This Tanka is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge

The prompt words, honey and wine, make me think of Rosh Hashanah, which we will celebrate in about a month. We dip apples in honey for a sweet year, eat round challahs, and drink wine. It’s a holiday full of sweetness. Here, it takes place in early autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Beauty to Happen

Monday Morning Musings:

 

Warren:

For beautiful to happen, the beautiful has got to be seen

Deb:

Okay. I like that shade of red right there

The spot where the apple is peeling

It’s deep as an ocean but lighter than air

Warren:

It’s simple, familiar, and full of feeling

Deb:

The color of Saturdays here at the Met

Warren:

The color of shouting from rooftops

Deb:

You bet!

Warren:

The color of feeling that life is okay

Deb:

The color of an ordinary day

Adam Gwon, “Beautiful” from the musical Ordinary Days

 

“What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Giddings”

 

We planned for seventeen

but expected sixteen

I bake challahs,

a freezer full,

enough to give some away.

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I buy brisket,

take the plastic-wrapped tray from the butcher’s hands,

I look at the package–

no, she has never seen my family eat brisket,

I pick up another package.

 

I cook,

we clean,

I buy myself flowers to decorate the table–

we never have flowers inside

because of the cats,

just this once I think.

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A series of texts and calls

and there are now fourteen coming to dinner

then thirteen

then eleven.

Final answer.

As guests start to arrive

(The soup is bubbling on the stove.)

one cat is vomiting.

I’m worried he’s eaten flowers that are toxic,

I confer with daughter on the phone.

It doesn’t look like any of the flowers were nibbled.

I decide he’s probably okay.

(I hope he’s okay.)

 

The sun did not come out,

but there is a beauty to the fall breeze,

an ordinary day, beautiful.

The birds and squirrels chatter to one another,

“Fall is coming.”

 

In this year of bullets and bombs,

of hate-filled speech and lurid lies,

I welcome thoughts of a sweet new year,

old traditions that bring comfort,

even without belief

I don’t need god to believe

in man and woman,

and love.

 

We pour the wine,

my niece makes a toast

she reminds us of the importance of family

of love

of gathering together

of being there when others are in need.

 

We dip our apples in honey,

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We’re eating challah and drinking wine

talking with loved ones

and loving the talk.

(We love to talk.)

 

Dinner is full of symbols for the new year–

cycles, sweetness, prosperity–

in the round shape of the challah

full circles of life,

the ordinary made beautiful on reflection,

the golden pumpkin-yellow split pea soup

the burst of red pomegranate in the salad

the apples

tart and sweet—like life.

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My mom starts to mention traveling to Boston

I catch my niece’s eye–

pour more wine—

oh, family!

 

We talk about TV shows,

we talk about school,

there’s a discussion on teachers and parenting,

middle school kids,

Axe body spray and middle school boys

“It smells like BO,” says my niece

“I’d rather smell a room full of Axe than the smell of boys after gym class,”

says my daughter, who teaches 8th grade.

“I keep air freshener to spray in the room at the end of the day.”

(Perhaps sometimes the ordinary does not smell beautiful. But those kids–bursting with life!)

 

We’ve eaten our fill–

plenty of food–

because what if there isn’t enough!

Food for meat eaters and vegetarians

Brisket

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Turkey

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Noodle Kugel

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and enough for all to take some home

 

And then dessert. We want a very sweet year.

Apple Cake

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Baklava

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And brownies with sea salt, too.

(because chocolate)

 

We missed those who could not join us.

I send the flowers home with my mom.

The beginning and end come full circle.

We clean the house.

My cat is fine.

See the beauty.

It is all around,

in the red of an apple

in the golden flow of honey,

in the eye of your child

in the touch of love,

and in the purr of a cat, too.

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L’Shana Tova

A sweet year!

L’Chaim

To life!

Peace to all

Shalom

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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