Look Around: Seen and Unseen

Monday Morning Musings:

KERNER: “The particle world is the dream world of the intelligence officer. An electron can be here or there at same moment. You can choose; it can go from here to there without going in between; it can pass through two doors at the same time, or from one door to another by a path which is there for all to see until someone looks, and then the act of looking has made it take a different path. Its movements cannot be anticipated because it has no reasons. It defeats surveillance because when you what it’s doing you can’t be certain where it is, and when you know where it is you can’t be certain what it’s doing. .”

–Tom Stoppard, Hapgood

 

“I cannot tell how Eternity seems. It sweeps around me like a sea. . .”

–Emily Dickinson, from a letter to her cousins, 1882

 

“the future and the maps

Hide something I was waiting for.”

–from Edward Thomas, “When First I Came Here”

 

The seen and the unseen

sleight of hand,

the extemporaneous, the planned

blink, you miss it,

not in shadow, in sun or fluorescent light

missing what is in plain sight,

nature, spies, bumps in the night

 

Look in front of you—there it is.

Raptors in the Park

Rainy Day Sight at Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ

 

How far is eternity,

how wide and how deep?

Does it stretch through

cloudy skies

glance and stretch its size

through shadowed ground

and then around

to reach the stars,

(falling, calling)

a metaphysical quasar,

whose ways and days are

hinted at, but unknown.

 

I walk, and there are wonders,

two deer, twins perhaps

(you could almost miss them as you pass,

but there they are, in the grass)

their future mapped

or unknown,

become full-grown,

or decline

or killed by a hunter’s gun—

but now they recline,

unphased, in the waning sun.

Resting in the Park
Red Bank Battlefield
National Park, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We see a play

of Cold War spies,

particle physics underlie

the everyday,

in lines it overlays,

a metaphor of surveillance

and life

assailants and strife—

the personal, the political

watch—it’s critical,

because we don’t always see–

there may be a twin,

or there may not be.

We can’t anticipate

what will come,

life is random—

the way a moth flits,

it darts and hits

this way and that

and you can’t be certain

what it’s doing

is it pursuing

or pursued?

This is how it should be viewed

(the scientist explains)

electrons are like that moth–

then so are our ideas

within our brains

unchained,

they fly,

and we can’t plan

where they’ll go

with the flow–

but, they might stop, sink, fly

no reason, no what, no why—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and on this equinox

we go falling

headlong into the next season

yes, there is reason, it’s time,

but it seems without rhythm or rhyme

one minute it’s warm, the next it’s cool

there seems to be no rule.

So, we move on, walk and talk

about the play we’ve seen

(Look up and around)

 

Victory Apartment Building, Philadelphia

Quince Street, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

drink with cheer

our wine and beer

 

At Tria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and later the rain

comes again,

but we sleep soundly

to dream—un-profoundly–

while a cat softly snores,

and beyond our locked doors

and behind the clouded sky

the moon hums

to her own rhythm, and why

is unknown–just listen–

eternity in her lullaby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently, the Oracle has also seen Hapgood by Tom Stoppard. Of course, she knows everything.

We saw the Lantern Theater production.

 

To dark air

she could ask

dazzle the night.

Though she is fooled in the open

like this—

her heart

always listening,

only here you are–

and over there—

not magic,

but life

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.

 

Awkward Fantasy and Ghosts

Monday Morning Musings:

“We have grown to trust blindly in our senses of balance and reason, and I can see where the mind might fight wildly to preserve its own familiar stable patterns against all evidence that it was leaning sideways.”

–Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

The weather has been erratic. Storms followed by sunshine, but always hot, only the level of humidity changes. The volatile, vacillating moods are echoed in the movie we see about a woman with an abusive husband and their custody battle. Neither child wants to see the father, but the daughter, who is almost eighteen, doesn’t have to. It’s the ten-year-old son, Julian, who must submit to visiting his father in this movie that becomes an intense thriller, rather than a legal drama. After the movie, we walk through Old City, where ghosts still walk, flitting through gates to hover over flowers, and drift over the cobblestone streets.

 

Sun-chased charcoal clouds

tumble through the evening sky

bright blooms smile hello

Summer in Old City, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We sip wine another night as the sky changes once again—blue turning grey. But we stay.

Wine glasses turn red,

echoes of the summer blooms

coloring the gloom

 

William Heritage Winery, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We travel to the New Jersey Fringe Festival in Hammonton, NJ—“Blueberry Capital of the World.” We see three short plays, funny, touching, strange. (It is fringe after all.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer festivals

walk through human emotion,

taste laughter and tears

We see a play about two fantasy worlds colliding,

sliding together

the man who lives in a porno world

meets a woman

then hurled

into her action hero world.

We thought the script could be tightened,

some excised, some enlightened,

but it was silly fun—and we’d only just begun

 

when off to the next one

about a man with two cartoon character names

and a most awkward life,

not so much filled with strife,

rather loneliness and seeking to connect

(even when his house is wrecked)

it’s whimsical, with ukulele and narration

and women who give him quite an education

in their multiple roles in his life, unlucky as it is

somehow, we see some hope at the end in his.

 

We pause to shop and eat gelato

 

NJ Fringe Festival,
Hammonton, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

walk through the flow, and then go

onto the next play

stay there in the small, hot basement room

listen to the man, the actor, speak,

we jump at every creak

we’ve seen him before

(someone opens the door

to cool the room a bit,

and still we sit).

Last year he performed here

serial murderer Jeffery Dahmer,

he is compelling, in this telling

of the ghosts and demons he has seen.

All the evidence leaning sideways,

We always

Try to make sense of what we see and fear

And here

With theater we sway a bit—wonder what is real

What did he see? What did he feel?

Is it all a metaphor for inner trauma,

Packaged as paranormal drama?

And does it matter if it is?

We take what he gives

entertainment and thoughtful reflection

we walk and talk in the direction

of our car. Then off to dinner, a day well spent

in this summer event.

The clouds fly by—

perhaps it’s my fantasy

to see ghosts and shadow figures in the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to play with form a bit today–Haibun and rhyme.

We saw the French movie, Custody. Trailer here. We went to the NJ Fringe Festival and saw, Wildest Fantasy, The Most Awkward Love Life of Peabody Magoo, and Ghost Stories.

We ate dinner at Mera Khana in Berlin, NJ, where I finally got my vegetable samosas. (Everything they make is delicious.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts and Questions

Monday Morning Musings:

“Some questions remain long after their owners have died. Lingering like ghosts. Looking for the answers they never found in life.”

–Michael Frayn, Copenhagen

 Bohr: “A curious sort of diary memory is.”

Heisenberg: “You open the pages, and all the neat headings and tidy jottings dissolve around you.”

Bohr: “You step through the pages into the months and days themselves.”

Margrethe: “The past becomes the present inside your head.”

—Michael Frayn, Copenhagen

 

We go to bed with snow on the ground and wake to spring. We step through the door, and into the day.

 

Winter’s ghostly forms

banished by the golden light—

one bloom has opened

We walk down city streets. Here, as we approach Chinatown, sound travels faster than sight, if not light.

We hear the drums and firecrackers, long before we see the lion. We step into the crowd. The lion dance, a centuries-old tradition. The noise of the firecrackers, the constant beating of the drum, and the lion itself will scare away evil spirits. Perhaps the ancestors smile.

 

Lion’s head and tail

sweeps away year’s bad fortune

brings longevity

 

We stop for coffee, and walk and talk, passing nineteenth-century buildings that co-exist with their newer neighbors. I feel the ghosts around us.

 

We step into the theater. We step into time and space. We are in Copenhagen. No, we are sharing the memories of these three: German physicist Werner Heisenberg, his Danish mentor Niels Bohr, and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe with whom he shares everything. We are in some sort of limbo.

 

They are ghosts, perhaps–

well, no longer living–

in this place,

this space

where they try to remember

what was said

and by whom,

recreating a meeting

when Heisenberg, who worked in Nazi Germany

visited Bohrs in occupied Denmark.

Late September, Copenhagen, 1941.

 

We learn about quantum mechanics,

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle,

Bohr’s Complimentary,

nuclear fission,

calculations made and not made,

the Jewish scientists who flee the Nazis,

taking their knowledge to England and the U.S.

(those who are not murdered.

The characters move around the stage,

like electrons,

but who is the nucleus?

That depends on who is telling the story.

Are we each the center of our universe?

But then why can’t we see what others see?

Going through several “drafts” trying to remember

realizing that every moment becomes the past,

looking for answers

to questions that they never asked when they were alive.

 

It is a play about science.

It is a play about morality.

It is a play that asks what is truth?

It is a play that I wish the abomination in the White House

could actually understand.

 

Like Bohrs and Heisenberg, we step outside,

walk and talk,

try to make some sense of the play,

if not the world around us–

 

We drink wine and beer—

celebrate my husband’s birthday—

We discuss the play

We laugh.

We’ve been together a long time.

Sometimes our memories are different.

“I’m afraid you’re wrong, dear.”

“The seasons, they go round and round”

But are we captives of time,

or did we create it?

 

Winter turns to spring,

time travels with light and sound

Do ghosts know the answers?

 

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Maybe they reframe their stories.

living them over,

trying to find the right questions to ask,

but as for us,

we live now–

seeing the beauty in a single bloom,

even as it becomes the past,

and our diaries pages jumble and fade,

it lives on in our memories—somewhere—

perhaps twisting and turning like a Lion Dance–

in time and space.

 

I played around with this, and I suppose it is a sort of Merril Musings Extended Haibun. 🙂  We saw the Lantern Theater Company’s production of Copenhagen. I highly recommend it, but since it was the last performance, you won’t be able to see it.

 

 

 

 

Passing (Strange) Along the Stage

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,”

–William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act Two, Scene 7

 My story being done, she gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
She swore, in faith ‘twas strange, ‘twas passing strange.”
–William Shakespeare,  Othello, Act One, Scene 3

 

“Because your mother’s love might seem insane
It’s ’cause she really knows everything
Too bad it takes so long to see what you’ve been missing…

(Love like that can’t be measured anyway)
Too bad it takes so long to see what you’ve been missing”

Stew and Heidi Rodewald, “Love Like That,” Passing Strange

 

The weekend is a many-act play

we’re immersed, we stay

(of course),

actors reacting to sudden cues

a little bruised, confused

wondering how to choose–

pratfalls on the shrinking stage,

soliloquy from the acting sage,

we spout our lines and ramble on

waiting for the denouement

 

We pass in and out

both clueless and without a doubt

stage to stage

filled with joy and filled with rage,

youth to adult

then on to elderly and frail

without fail–

we pass along

we pass in song

we pass through sunshine and shadows–

what will stay and what will follow?

It’s all a mystery,

but before too long

we’ve passed (strange) along, and then we’re gone.

 

In the midst of these farcical days

we pause to see an actual play

through city streets with rainbow flags

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swaying, zig zagging past cars and bikes, we go

wondering, but do not know

when last we three sat this way

(Love like that can’t be measured anyway)

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The play is of a young man coming of age,

there on the stage,

the narrator is the older him,

while he, the youth

tries to find life’s truth

fleeing LA,

passing through European cities

leaving before it all become too real

afraid perhaps of what he’ll feel

passing strange

passing as black,

is there any going back?

We all hide behind our chosen masks

going about our daily tasks

art can save us, or can obscure even more

(we hear this in the clever score)

It’s a wonderful play, we say,

and at the end we clap and sway

thankful to have this balm for our crazy days.

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We walk and talk and drink some wine

 

 

discuss the play, and feeling fine

we talk about my mother,

whose own mother, I find, used to sing

but stopped, when embarrassed,

and it’s strange, in passing

to suddenly hear such things, the past trespassing

in the here and now, and at this age–

yes, the world’s a stage

“Too bad it takes so long to see what you’ve been missing”

 

And so, we leave the warmth for frozen streets

the city marching to a different, syncopated beat

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and we,

well, we’re passing strange

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through our own domains

sometimes the hero, sometimes a supporting role

we see it all

sometimes fall

and fail to reach the unknown goal

(strange)

but journey on

with hope for more laughs than tears

and love to help us with the fears.

we make a wish upon a star

wonder who and where and what we are

then pause. . .

in early morning’s brightening light

the moon gently hums before she fades from sight.

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We saw the revival of the award-winning musical play, Passing Strange, book and lyrics by Stew, Music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald at the Wilma Theater, and we went to Tria Cafe, Washington West, afterward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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