Summer with a Fringe

Monday Morning Musings:

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”

―Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

“Don’t you wish you’d go on forever

Don’t you wish you’d go on forever

Don’t you wish you’d go on forever

And you’d never stop?

In that shiny little surrey with the fringe on the top”

–from Oscar Hammerstein, “The Surrey With The Fringe on the Top,” Oklahoma!

 

“The poetry of earth is never dead’

–From John Keats,  “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”

 

When the universe asks,

fill it with music from the stars

sit in joy and laugh

so that flowers bloom in colorful bunches

dropping petals in charming disarray

like garments before a bath

weave clouds of language

into a rainbow of thought and desire

thank the sun

hum with the moon

***

In August, night storms rage

dazzling sleeping eyes awaken

then cloudy skies part

with freshly washed breezes

and summer sings a song

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In the heat and rain

fruit and vegetables grow and thrive

freshly picked,

they sit waiting at farm stands

bursting with flavor,

ripe juices flow in warm sweetness

filling my mouth with the taste of summer

and I hear its song

 

We go to a fringe festival

fringe–an ornamental border,

or something peripheral, extreme, edgy–

I think of the surrey

and of the suede vest my husband wore in high school

(he thought it was so cool)

I think of Fringe, the TV show,

which really was cool

(unlike the vest)

my husband didn’t believe me

but then he watched the entire series on Netflix with me,

and he knew I was right

 

But this festival is none of those things

not suede or surrey or TV

it’s a festival of theater and music

we see three plays in one afternoon,

the first about a boy in school,

there’s a child like that in every class

he can’t sit still

his mind is racing, too.

You’ve known this kid,

or have taught him,

or maybe you were him,

bright, but unable to focus,

excited, eager, but needing to move.

What happens to him?

It’s a one-man show,

the actor fidgets, jumps, somersaults across on the stage

dances with his school desk

We laugh, sympathize, and then we’re stunned.

 

After the play, we eat lunch,

Mexican food

(delicious)

listen to live music

watch the crowds,

the couple with their little dog,

the woman clapping to the tune,

the sun plays hide-and-seek

still, it’s a beautiful day

a bit odd, uneven

yet filled with poetry

and summer’s song

 

 

We see play about Jeffrey Dahmer

another one-man show

I think the actor must be exhausted–

each performance living in the mind of a serial killer–

I hadn’t planned to see this show

(because it’s a play about Jeffrey Dahmer)

but I overhear a man saying how good it was

and he was right,

not exploitive or sensationalistic,

but thought-provoking,

a man who lived on the fringe

battling his demons and desires

 

The third play had an interesting premise

about faith and what it means

famous women from history–

though Eve might be a stretch–

and Mary Tudor?

somehow the threads didn’t all come together

and some did not seem to fit at all,

the whole Islamic subplot,

still it was promising,

a work in progress from a young writer-director

just out of school

still on the fringe, no longer student

but still early in his career

 

We walk around town a bit

as people begin packing up

time is passing,

Sunday evening, the end of the weekend

summer is passing, too

the days a bit shorter

the sun not as high for as long–

the odd uneven time–

still, we wish sometimes it would go on forever

and never stop,

wouldn’t it be nice to sway in that surrey at a slow clip clop?

Passing Time

Passing the Time or Time Passing, Hammonton, NJ

 

At night, we sleep beneath diamond ships

sailing, glittering in an indigo sea

summer drifts, lingering for a while,

we are on the fringe,

autumn is coming

but for now, it’s another storm

another summer song

I hear the birds sing–

The poetry of earth is never dead

 

We went to the New Jersey Fringe Festival in Hammonton, NJ

 

Time Bends and Echoes

Monday Morning Musings:

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past. . .

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory,

down the passage we did not take,

towards the door we never opened,

into the rose garden. My words echo

Thus, in your mind.”

T.S. Eliot, from “Burnt Echo”, No. 1 of “Four Quartets”

 

“So much of history is mystery. We don’t know what is lost forever, what will surface again. All objects exist in a moment of time. And that fragment of time is preserved or lost or found in mysterious ways. Mystery is a wonderful part of life.”

–Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter

 

This week–

a photo,

hidden within a mislabeled envelope, appears

challenging history

what is known and what may be,

tangible, frangible,

certainly mysterious

does it show what we think it shows?

Can it?

Will we ever know more of lives that soared and crashed?

The photo,

a door opened into the past,

within it the people still live

a passage, a channel

leading this way or that

perhaps many such secret passages exist

burrow along well-traveled pathways

winding passages that bend and shape the straight roads of time

time past, time present, time future

 

We go to a play,

three men enter a room, one at a time,

Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, Count Leo Tolstoy

(Barefooted and dressed as a peasant, he says

don’t call me Count, throughout the play.)

The room is furnished with a drawered table and three chairs,

in the drawer, the men will discover notebooks and pens.

(Jefferson is amazed at a pen with ink–amazed he did not think of it himself.)

Though they lived in different times,

each man has just died and entered this room,

At this discovery, Jefferson remarks,

“Evidently time bends.”

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Bulletin board in the lobby of the Lantern Theater.

The door lock after each enters the room,

they cannot exit until—what?

Each man is a writer,

and it turns out each wrote his own version of the gospels,

each man was a visionary of sorts

who wrote about reforming society,

each failed within his own life to uphold the standards he envisioned

and in this amusing and entertaining play,

the men write and argue,

debate their ideas,

and write some more,

facing the mirror—us–

we, the audience, the fourth wall

hear their words,

hear them confess their deeds and weaknesses.

And what if they did meet,

and what if they did debate and discuss,

and what if we could hear them,

bending time

 

On a beautiful summer day,

after the play

we walk the streets that bear traces of Jefferson everywhere

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a medical school and university named for him.

Centuries ago, he walked these streets

sat in a room, penned (with quill) his elegant words*

of sacred rights, of equality and independence,

even while he continued to enslave others,

words that led to a revolution,

words that still resonate today,

I imagine him,

his long-legged stroll across the cobble-stoned streets,

conversing with his unlikely friend John Adams,

perhaps opening a door into a rose garden

there

the scent lingers in the air

the words echo

time bends

Charles Dickens visited Philadelphia, too.

in March 1842, he stayed at the United States Hotel

on Chestnut Street near Fourth,

the part of the city

now called Old City

where Jefferson and other delegates declared our independence

I imagine their ghosts meeting on these city streets

that Dickens found much too regular

longing for a crooked street–

perhaps seeking a place where time bent

and echoes lingered in the air

 

Dickens met with Edgar Allen Poe,

they discussed poetry.

Dickens had a pet raven, Grip,

his stuffed body rests in a glass case

at the Free Library of Philadelphia

Dickens wrote about Grip in his book

Barnaby Rudge,

which was serialized in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

and Poe reviewed the book for a Philadelphia publication in 1842,

mentioning the raven,

and Poe later writes a poem about a raven

whose word “nevermore” echoes in the air

and through time

 

And on this beautiful summer day

we sit outside at a café,

drink wine

(and beer)

 

eat cheese

(luscious)

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I wonder to my husband

how it would have been—

what if a woman had been in that room?

He says, was there one who wrote gospels?

I don’t know,

though I think there must have been

perhaps, lost to history,

or yet to be found,

a mystery,

perhaps to be revealed

in a mislabeled envelope,

or amidst remnants unearthed from a secret passage

in the locus of past, present, and future.

We sit at the table

(a window becomes a mirror

old buildings blend with new)

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watch the people,

listening to words echo

lingering in the breeze

 

We saw The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & County Leo Tolstoy: Discord by Scott Carter at the Lantern Theater Company in Philadelphia.

We went to Tria Café Washington West

A photo said to be of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was in the news this week.

*Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence 

Secrets, Adaptations, and Joy

Monday Morning Musings:

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

–Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice*

 

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

–Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

 

 “Raise a glass to freedom

Something they can never take away

No matter what they tell you

Let’s have another round tonight”

–Linn Manuel Miranda, “The Story of Tonight,” Hamilton

 

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We wandered

wet spring stone,

an ancient bough,

poetry of lonely bird & squirrel

Listen

There

I know

(almost)

this secret garden

life

 

 

The dawn chorus sang

before the sun appeared

their secret language of chirps and trills

floated through the damp air,

early spring.

I began the day.

 

We wandered old city streets

stepped on bricks and cobblestones

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the stories these stones and buildings could tell

the Founding Fathers wheeling and dealing,

letters and documents they wrote, still preserved,

our laws, our past, present, and future,

but what of the buried secrets

items tossed into privies,

and bodies,

uncovered in construction

thought to be moved long ago,

a lie from the past,

the new built over the old,

history in layers,

the way our life tales are constructed

with secrets and stories

hidden and revealed

 

private secrets and public secrets

the lies we tell ourselves,

the lies politicians tell us,

“Let sleeping dogs lie,”

bold-faced lies

little white lies

lies of omission

lies of commission

“What does the president know

and when did he know it?

 

We saw a movie about lies,

the lies a man has told himself,

stories he never told his wife

(omission)

buried in a secret room in his mind

rooms we see on the screen

his past played over and over

more revealed each time,

we all have secret rooms,

compartments,

where history is written and rewritten,

the personal,

the political,

and as we walked along these streets

we push past ghosts who linger there still

in rooms where they told their stories

and raised a glass to freedom

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City Tavern, Philadelphia

 

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We drink to our own freedom. Pondering the second round at Tria.

We saw a play,

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Prague and New York City, 1977

there is an immigrant,

a Czech woman in a surreal dream

wanting the freedom to express herself,

to be an artist,

we hear the folksongs of her friend, Marek,

he was arrested for singing them,

a bird-woman goddess,

she who existed before the Thunder God,

shows the immigrant woman,

what?

Her past?

Her possible future?

Men with pig faces,

followers of the Thunder God,

builders of walls,

conquerors of women,

they exist everywhere,

must we adapt,

live our secret lives within a police state,

a surreal dream

for the immigrant,

what will freedom bring,

What happens when the walls are torn down?

What is the American dream?

Is it a cautionary tale

that anyone can become the president—

cowboy, actor, failed businessman?

Perhaps their time is numbered.

 

We walked past a rally for the current president,

in the neighborhood where men gathered

over two hundred years ago

to give them that right to protest

 

 

in secret hearings

closed to the public,

they crafted a body of law,

then explicitly added others,

free speech,

freedom of the press,

I am thankful to live in a place where the president’s supporters have the right

to gather with signs and make speeches–

though I disagree with their views–

and will use my own voice to protest against hate and ignorance

to sing out

against oppression when I can,

but like a bird woman,

I will celebrate the world, too–

we all need a pop of color on a dreary day,

daffodils in the rain

and secret gardens.

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*Thanks to Robin of Breezes at Dawn for the reminder about this quotation.

The Oracle gave me the magnetic poem that was perfect for the day.

We saw the play, Adapt, a world premiere by Blanka Zizka at the Wilma Theater. We saw the movie The Sense of an Ending.

 

 

 

A New Home, the Kindness of Strangers

Monday Morning Musings:

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

–Blanche,  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

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After he had served his country,

had been a stranger in more than one strange land,

and was home, if not settled,

he joined a community of strangers

who became friends.

Theater brought the couple together,

in A Streetcar Named Desire,

they sparred with words and movement

(a subtext created)

my daughter said “He’s nothing like Stanley,”

reassuring me,

and she,

my practical dreamer, is nothing like Blanche,

the magic of theater,

bringing something of oneself in playing another,

finding empathy for strangers,

a valuable skill, I’d say.

Perhaps a community brought them together,

these two,

so different,

so similar,

they married,

the English teacher bride with her Jane Eyre message,

“Reader, I married him.”

Every year she meets new students,

strangers, whom she will guide.

The groom, studying to become a nurse,

will care for strangers, too.

And through the kindness of strangers,

they now have a house.

Home is where the heart is,

so the old proverb goes,

but it’s certainly pleasant to have four sturdy walls

and a roof—

with skylights.

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Months ago, the process began,

 I saw something online,

I entered to win a house.

Really? we laughed a bit–

because who wins the lottery?

But they did.

The kindness of strangers,

Operation Homefront,

gave this veteran and his wife a rare opportunity,

a home of their own.

 

They waited,

spring turned to summer, fall,

in winter, they finally saw their new home.

a magical day–

after all, we stood without coats in January

when a few days before snow lay on the ground.

the sun was shining,

a gentle breeze lifted and tangle the flag,

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the veteran lifted his bride

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It brought back memories–

when my husband and I bought our house,

I was pregnant with her sister,

our first child,

the house was dirty and needed work before we could move in,

old, musty carpets pulled out, floors refinished, and walls painted,

we relied, not on strangers, but on friends

who helped us with the tasks

(laboring before I labored)

Their house was renovated by strangers,

a little dream house with a yard for their dog,

 

 

sunny windows for their cat,

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a room for friends to stay in,

space to dream,

and a chocolate cake in the refrigerator.

 

We celebrated that night,

pizza and wine,

the servers, astounded by our tale,

thanked him for his service,

we ordered dessert–

it was a celebration,

and yes, that sopapilla cheesecake

(with butter rum sauce)

was delicious.

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It snowed once again,

briefly, white flakes touched the ground and melted,

then the sun returned for moving day,

a long day of packing, moving, unloading trucks and cars–

and doing it again,

family this time, not strangers.

 

We celebrated again

this time with delicious Pakistani food

from a newly discovered restaurant

in their new neighborhood

where the owner, a stranger,

gave them extra naan.

We ate in the kitchen

on paper plates

drank wine from plastic cups,

boxes still to be unpacked,

but they were home,

settled,

and their cat finally came out from hiding to explore,

and settled down in front of the fire.

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That’s the way life goes

days of sun and days of cold,

but they will be snug in their new home,

a dream house,

a house filled with dreams,

with a fire in their fireplace,

from their bed, they’ll watch the moon,

and maybe even hear it hum a lullaby

as the clouds go dancing by,

 

they’ll sleep and dream sweet dreams

and they will be strangely glad

to be home.

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Photo credit: Sheryl C. Smith, 2017

 

Here is a brief news segment about Sheryl and Eric on the day they received the key to their new home.

And an article

Eric and Sheryl received their house through Operation Homefront, Homes on the Homefront

We ate pizza at Holy Tomato

And delicious Pakistani food at Mera Khana

 

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 Here and Now; the Future, the Past

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Monday Morning Musings:

 

Henry: “If you look across the desert, the earth takes on the appearance of the sea. You think you’re standing upon a rock that rises from solid ground only to discover that you’re standing on an island in the middle of the ocean. And you don’t know if you’re looking back into the past or into the future. Water covered this earth and water will cover it again and the days that man walked here will prove just a moment in time.”

–Andrew Bovell, When the Rain Stops Falling

 

The here and now,

the future

from the past

all intertwined.

Back and forth,

each moment lost

before it registers.

This moment,

here, now

is already gone.

 

The play begins with rain falling on the stage,

a fish falls from the sky

and a man picks it up.

It will be his lunch,

lunch with the son he has not seen in many years.

The man had heard rumors that fish still existed

not totally extinct,

but still,

fish do not normally drop from the sky

Then again,

life is full of unusual moments

and strange coincidences.

 

Patterns are repeated

throughout nature,

fractals, the Fibonacci numbers, golden spirals,

tessellations, waves, and ripples,

ripples through,

ripples of time

carrying patterns

the shape, the color of an eye

You look just like your grandfather,

your mother, your sister—

Behaviors,

fathers leaving sons

And so might words also be repeated,

particular phrases also carry through time?

 

In the play,

they eat fish soup

in different times and places.

I think of the fish soup

I made for my husband, for me.

Mine, unlike the one in the play,

was made without heads,

but with plenty of vegetables.

More of a stew, actually,

but still.

It was a few weeks ago,

do you remember?

It was delicious,

and we ate it for a couple of days,

enjoying each spoonful

till it was gone,

in the past,

a memory.

Yet there is a photograph,

posted on social media sites–

the moment frozen in time

lasting through eternity.

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Fish Stew

 

I have a dream.

In it

my mother is younger

her hair still dark brown,

and she is going to work.

She leaves through a front door,

and my cat,

a cat who is my constant companion now,

in the here and now,

goes out the door, too.

I panic,

but he does not run away.

I scoop him back into the house,

where I play the piano,

haltingly.

I tell my sister,

or is it one of my daughters,

(the generations mix and blur)

it’s the theme song I remember,

but it is a Bach minuet.

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I can’t actually remember when my mother was a young girl.

I wasn’t born.

Does she remember it,

youth, I mean?

I see her in a photograph–

that moment frozen.

That moment then

what was

is here now for me to see.

But as I look, my thoughts move on

to the future,

even as I regard the past.

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My parents. I have no idea where they were or what they were celebrating.

When we watch a play,

or a movie,

when we read a book,

we are there,

while being here.

Is this a paradox of human existence?

The here and now,

the past, present, future

time and place co-existing in our minds?

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And in the play

it is raining,

raining for days,

weeks perhaps,

and sometimes it seems,

it seems as though the rain will never stop falling.

But it does,

and we walk out of the theater

and the clouds are gone.

The sun is shining

splendid, glowing

as it has through the past

and will continue to do

for some time, I hope.

The future,

when I am no longer here.

But now,

here and now,

it is shining brightly

illuminating the darkness,

chasing the shadows away.

 

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Post theater consideration of the menu at Tria.

 

We saw When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell

At the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia. I enjoyed it very much, an intriguing play with characters from periods of time between 1959 and 2039, in London and Australia, sometimes on the stage at the same time. The all share a connection.

There is relationship between the family saga and the Anthropocene. It’s possible that I said to my husband, “I love plays that come with further reading.” And that he laughed and said, “I know you do.” There is an interview with the playwright on the Wilma Theater’s web site.

 

 

Love and Marriage: The Independence Day Edition

Monday Morning Musings

In the United States, the 4th of July is a national holiday. It’s the commemoration of the day Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and ordered that it be printed. (Congress actually declared independence on July 2, 1776, and the delegates signed the official document at a later date.) Typically, Americans celebrate the holiday with barbecues or picnics, parades, and fireworks.

This year we celebrated with a wedding.

Our beautiful, kind, and amazing younger daughter married a handsome, strong, and amazing young man. I guess that makes them the amazing couple.

Fortune or Mother Nature smiled on them, and the rain held off for the lovely outdoor ceremony. As their officiate explained, they traced the genesis of their relationship to their casting (by him) in Albright College’s stirring and affecting production of Tennessee William’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire—she was Blanche; he was Stanley. (During the production, the future bride-to-be going out of her way to assure me that this man, “just a friend”—cast opposite her as Stanley–was really nothing like the him.) The sparks that ignited onstage, continued to smolder offstage. Friendship deepened to love. The wedding vows this couple wrote, each making promises to the other, were funny, poignant, and heartfelt. It was as if they were letting the rest of us—people who love them both—in on a private, tender moment. And we were fortunate to be there to share it with them.

After the wedding

After the wedding

With my daughter ( the bride) and my mom

With my daughter ( the bride) and my mom

In a swirl of rainbow colors and whimsy, they were married. As Americans have learned, we are stronger together. Together this young couple can now strive for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”—together. They can stand united against whatever fate may bring. They can take Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words to heart: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

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From now on, the nation will celebrate on their anniversary.  There will be fireworks and parades. Neither will ever have an excuse to forget their wedding anniversary. But, as my husband noted, this day is only the beginning. In his closing words from his toast to them, he said,

“My greatest wish for the two of you is that through the years your love for each other will so deepen and grow that years from now you will look back on this day, your wedding day, as the day you loved each other the least.”

But perhaps each year they should throw a party or have a barbecue so we can celebrate with them.

We’ll bring our crowns.

We got crowned! (Our youngest child was married.)

We got crowned!
(Our youngest child was married.)

Next Monday: Rainbow Challah for a Rainbow Wedding

Anniversary in the City

Monday Morning Musings

“A day spent with you is my favourite day. So today is my new favourite day.”

Winnie the Pooh

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Part I

It was not a day of romance and roses—

And we missed the parade of

Tall ships

With Mama Duck–

Who sprang a leak.

I later discovered.

But we saw great art,

And we talked and walked.

And glimpsed a different view

Of the city.

First,

In the morning

“Discovering the Impressionists”

At the Museum of Art.

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So strange that Degas’s little dancer

And the rest

Were considered shocking.

Collected by Paul Durand-Ruel

A conservative Catholic father of five—

Who embraced the art of those who became known as

The Impressionists.

The critics scorned and ridiculed their work.

I guess he had the last laugh.

A visionary in a time of rapid change,

Inventions like steam engines and railroads–

Changes occurring as quickly and regularly

As Monet’s Poplars changed their color and shape,

Through the seasons.

Transnational and transatlantic collaborations

French artists meeting in London,

American artist Mary Cassatt–

A conduit between the European art world

And the newly rich American millionaires

Who wanted fine art to grace the

Walls of their

New mansions.

Industry and art,

Dancing together like

Renoir’s couples,

Twirling and swaying,

The city couple and the country couple

Both enjoying that moment in time.

And we enjoyed the sight

Of them,

Arms entwined

We see their smiles

And hear the rhythm of the music

As they glide.

Over one hundred years later.

They still live.

Part 2

Up to the medieval galleries.

We looked at the swords

And the mounted knight

In the center of the room

On his armored horse.

Leonard the guard

Spoke to us

With great enthusiasm—

if not total historical accuracy–

Throwing himself to the ground

To demonstrate a knight

Thrown off his horse.

And then following us

To the next room.

To provide a

Somewhat fanciful account

Of how knights cooked their food.

But again,

With great eagerness.

There’s a man who loves his job.

Part 3

We walked to Fairmount

Near the Penitentiary

That looms over the area

A testament to an earlier time

And the zeal to reform

Sometimes harshly.

“Let them think about their crimes,”

The reformers said.

And built the Penitentiary

With single cells

And no talking allowed.

The ghosts linger there,

But not for us today.

Instead

We ate sandwiches

At Ry Bread.

We sat outside in the small back patio.

Opposite each other at the little table,

Opposite tastes, too.

His New York, a corned beef Panini,

Me with the Hollywood,

Whole wheat bread with hummus and vegetables,

I added avocado and cheese,

Because seriously,

Why wouldn’t you?

Then a stroll to the Rodin Museum—

We think with the thinker,

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We empathize with Eve,

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We’re giddy with Eternal Spring,

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And move with The Three Shades.

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Then another walk to the Mutter Museum—

A bit farther than we thought,

But well worth it because

Nothing says happy anniversary

Like seeing a giant colon, right?

And who doesn’t want to be disturbingly informed?

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Part 4

Dinner at Tria,

The rain mostly holding off

Till the end of our meal.

My husband moves his chair closer

To get under the umbrella

But we stay dry,

Well, almost,

Although the menu on its clipboard

Is soaked.

The sky is violet gray

And the air misty

Like an Impressionist painting,

The city swirls about us—

The Impressionists saw

Railroads,

But didn’t have to worry

About cars driving

past sidewalk cafes,

Horns honking,

People walking,

Life going past.

Sometimes too quickly.

But the wine was good,

And the cheese even better.

Part 5

We went to a show next.

It was not Shakespeare,

Or Stoppard.

It was ridiculous fun.

Sometimes just what you need.

Murder for Two

Two actors

Thirteen roles,

And the piano,

That both play—

Sometimes together.

Ballet moves

And silly step dancing,

The actors make it look

So effortless.

They seem to enjoy their work

As much as Leonard does his,

But they’re actors,

So who knows?

And then we go home

To feed the cats

“Where were you

At dinnertime?”

They say.

And we sleep

After our long day of walking.

Impressions of the city

Impressions of Impressionists,

Of life,

Of love,

Fill my dreams.

But thankfully

There are no giant colons

Or surgical instruments

To mar my slumber.

The next day we find that

All across America

It is no longer straight marriage or gay marriage

It is simply marriage,

And other couples will now get to celebrate 37 years together

As we have.

Here are links to the places we visited:

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Rodin Museum

Mutter Museum

Philadelphia Theatre Company

RyBread Café

Tria Café

We didn’t go to Eastern State Penitentiary, but we’ve been there a few times. It’s a very cool place to visit.

Tall Ships

Passion: Love and a Bit of a Rant

Monday Morning Musings

“Just another love story, that’s what they would claim.
Another simple love story – aren’t all of them the same?”

“Loving you is not a choice, it’s who I am.”

–Stephen Sondheim, Passion

On Saturday, we saw Passion, a musical by Stephen Sondheim that explores what it means to love and be loved. What is romantic love? What is passion? What is obsession? How and why do dreams and desires change? These are questions that Sondheim explores in the story of the nineteenth-century Italian army officer Giorgio who is having an affair with a married woman, Clara. The show opens with the lovers in bed singing of their happiness, but then Giorgio reveals that he has received a transfer to a remote military outpost. Shortly after his arrival there, Giorgio learns of Fosca, his commanding officer’s sister whose place is set at the table, but who seldom appears there. Before long, Fosca, declares her love to Giorgio, a man she barely knows. In fact Fosca, who suffers from a vague and debilitating illness, is obsessed with Giorgio. This production at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia had a cast with wonderful voices, but it also featured a great set and lighting design: Clara was lovely and beguiling in pink-hued gowns, and bathed in golden sunshine whenever the shutters in their Milan hotel room were opened. (The lovers could only meet in the afternoon because of her husband.) Clara loves Giorgio, but perhaps her love is a diversion from her humdrum life. Fosca appears in drab gowns with the gray and dreary view of the outpost in the background. Fosca suffers from a disease of the mind and spirit, as well as her physical ailments. Or perhaps they are all one and the same. They consume her, and her obsession consumes Giorgio.

The show is based on the novel Fosca, by Ignio Ugo Tarchetti. Tarchetti was dying of tuberculosis–also called consumption–as he wrote the book, which was inspired by events in his own life. The book was turned into a movie, Passione d’Amore (1983).

What does passion mean? Passion is an intense feeling. Long ago it was associated with pain and suffering, as in the passion of Christ, or the suffering endured by martyrs who were tortured for their beliefs. Passion is often seen as an emotion that is barely controllable because of its intensity. People are often depicted as crazed with passion. Passionate love then can be both good and bad. One can have a passion for a cause that is admirable, or that becomes obsessive.

I’ve been thinking about all this because of events in the news. There is a couple in Australia, Nick and Sarah Jensen, who have vowed to divorce if a gay marriage law is passed there. (See this article.) They are entitled to their beliefs, but I don’t understand how the marriages of same sex couples affect their own union at all. And just as a matter of logic, I don’t understand why if they reject the state’s definition of marriage—if the law passes—they then believe the state has the power to grant them a divorce. I guess it’s passion, and not logic that is in play here.

In the US, evangelist Franklin Graham, called for a boycott of Wells Fargo Bank after the bank began airing a TV advertisement that featured a lesbian couple adopting a child. (The commercial is incredibly sweet.) Well, economic boycotts have a long tradition in the US. My inclinations would be not to support a business that discriminates against a group rather than one that is supporting diversity. Again, Graham has the right to his own beliefs, and he does say businesses should be “gay friendly.” However, he also apparently believes that an organization should not support a position that he feels is contrary to his views–which are based on his interpretation of the bible. Do no harm to others–just don’t allow them all the same rights, I guess. Fortunately, we do not live in a theocracy. (See this.)

Neither Graham nor the Jensens advocate violence. But there are true haters, people passionate in their hatred of others. I saw this article yesterday about a young man who has been beaten and tortured—ostensibly because he is gay. His family and their business have also suffered.

You know what? Sondheim was right that every love story is the same–and every love story is different. But I believe in love. Love is love. I believe love is good. I believe love is good for families and nations. When two people who are in love—consenting adults–want to get married, it does not harm society, even if they are gay, and even if they want to have a family. “Gay marriage” is no different from straight marriage in terms of love and commitment. Couples love and share passion. This is not immoral.

You know what is immoral?

People living in extreme poverty.

People starving.

Women—and children—kidnapped and raped as tools of war.

Slavery.

Sex trafficking.

Depriving people of medical care and education.

It seems to me that if people are truly concerned with the wellbeing of their societies, those are just a few things they might focus on—not who people love. But hey, that’s just me.

As far as those filled with hate for others, I don’t know. I don’t think a hate-filled mind can love, although it can be filled with passion.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead–And So Are Many Others: Memorial Day

Monday Morning Musings

“Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago”

–Pete Seeger, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”

(For a history of the song, see this article.)

Today is Memorial Day. In the US, this is a holiday that pays tribute to the millions of service men and women who have died in the nation’s wars. (For details see the Congressional Research Services, American War and Military Operations Casualties: List and Statistics and Department of Veterans Affairs, “America’s Wars,”).

The history of Memorial Day is disputed. It was first known as “Decoration Day,” a day to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers and mourn their loss. Most histories give former US Civil War General John A. Logan the credit for declaring May 30, 1868 Decoration Day. The date was chosen deliberately because no battle was fought on that date. It is now the last Monday in May. Michael W. Twitty’s insightful Guardian article, however, argues that “the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom.” This is a fascinating brief article that explores West African mourning customs that continued in the traditions of the Gullah people of Charleston.

The Library of Congress blog has Memorial Day images from various eras, as Decoration Day became Memorial Day.

Yesterday my husband and I attended a performance of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead . (Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.) The play is an absurdist piece that owes much to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It is both funny and tragic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Hamlet. Imagine an episode of Star Trek from the viewpoint of two “Red Shirts,” the characters who appear in an episode and always die, most of the time without realizing what is going on or that they were merely cogs to Stoppard says, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the most expendable people of all time. Their very facelessness makes them dramatic; the fact that they die without ever really understanding why they lived makes them somehow cosmic.” They are so faceless and ordinary, that it is a running joke throughout the play that no one knows which is Guildenstern and which is Rosencrantz–even they get confused. Guildenstern (I think) says in his final moment, “There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said—no. But somehow we missed it.”

Although it was a coincidence that we saw this play on Memorial Day weekend, this idea of ordinary citizens caught up in events beyond their control is at the heart of every war ever. Was there a moment that they, or someone, could have said, “no?”

Although I want to honor the men and women who have served the country, I do not want to glorify war. In any war, good people—and bad people–on both sides die. It seems to me the best way to honor those who have fought for freedom is to honor that freedom by learning about history, voting, and working for equality. After the American Revolution, when it became clear that the Articles of Confederation were ineffective, representatives from the states met and hammered out what became the US Constitution. A Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was added to enumerate explicitly such freedoms as freedom of speech and religion, the right to a speedy trial, the right to trial by a jury, and prohibitions against quartering of soldiers in private homes in times of peace, against unlawful search and seizures, and against being compelled to testify against oneself. Over time, many more amendments have been added to clarify law, begin and end practices (that whole Prohibition debacle), and attempt to right injustice and bring equality (the abolition of slavery, the right of black men to vote, the right of women to vote). The loss of lives on a battlefield and the wounds of body and soul do not mean anything, if people do not continue to work for justice and equality in peacetime.

I know it is not appropriate to say “Happy Memorial Day,” especially to a veteran. There is nothing happy about it. At the same time, I do not think it’s wrong to celebrate life on this day, whether it’s getting together with family, going to the beach, or seeing a play. Perhaps I–or you–might pause to think, “Some people died to protect our freedom to do these things.” Maybe someday there will be peace on earth; maybe someday the Star Trek red shirts will not die. Maybe someone–maybe everyone–will just say no, and war will become ancient history that children will learn about in school. I can dream.

After theater wine and cheese.

After theater wine and cheese, Tria Cafe, Philadelphia.