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 

Dreams of the Future, Ghosts of the Past

Monday Morning Musings:

“bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education & free discussion are the antidotes of both. . . .I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. so good night! I will dream on, always fancying that mrs Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.”

–“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 1 August 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,

 

 

A porcelain ghost looked long

and laughed delicious poetry,

remember this

she said,

or it is over

 

And so, we remember over and over

forgetting what we knew

embracing new ideas,

loving them each time as original and unique

and they are

every time

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We walk cobblestone streets and brick drives

chasing ghosts

followed by shadows

whispering glorious words

“We the people”

history of the past

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Janet Givens and her husband, the past, present, and future all around them.

 

But under a dying star

a naked fool celebrates

his courtiers cheer

his nonexistent suit of clothes

as darkness falls

he eats a second scoop of ice cream

 

Still, we remember

sometimes forgetting to remember

until we remember again

We the People

history of the past and dreams of the future

 

On a day in May

that feels like July

perhaps like the summer of 1787

when a group of men

(white men, only men)

made compromises  and wrote We the People

but on this day,

a day in their future,

we walk with friends to see and read about the past

to hear and read the lofty words

of men who had lived and fought a revolution

and though they themselves were flawed

still their words glow

and grow

from the past, through the present, and into the future

visions they had and hopes

dreams that have been realized

and worlds they could not imagine

dreams of things that are yet to be

 

I gaze at the beautiful handwriting

of educated people

who read and valued learning

and think of misspelled Twitter rants.

We’ve forgotten

and it’s time to remember

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We’ve added and clarified

giving freedom to people who were enslaved

giving rights to women

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ruling on free speech, freedom of religion, individual rights versus the state

fighting a civil war

(yes it was about slavery)

prohibiting the manufacturing of and sale of alcohol

and then making it legal again–

after so many lost jobs and the government lost revenue–

and there was more crime

let’s face it

We the People like to drink

from the past of George Washington’s distillery

to the future of new breweries, vineyards, and manufacturers,

the dreams of We the People

 

 

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This history swirls about us

all the time

because of a revolution

and a convention

a document that still lives

expanding like our nation

built on a strong foundation

like the building

we see as we sit outside on that warm day

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but life is not complete without some treats

(We the People like our sweets)

our nation built on bitter and sweet

dreams of the future, history of past

 

 

Two men, Adams and Jefferson

one, a Massachusetts man against slavery

(though not exactly an abolitionist)

the other, a Virginia plantation owner and slaveholder

dissimilar in so many ways from appearance to beliefs

but both admiring each other

both enjoyed the wit and education of some women

while disregarding them as citizens

with their own rights

and bodies

(I’m looking at you, T.J. Sex with a slave is coerced.)

their friendship suspended after the Election of 1800,

but later renewed,

bridged, despite their differences

liked a structure spanning the gulf between two disparate lands

like the bridge we need now

for We the People

as we dream of the future

and remember the past

and hope that it is not over

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Leaving Philadelphia, heading to New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge

 

For those unfamiliar with it, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the People.” You can read more about it here.

My friend, Janet Givens, was in Philadelphia with her husband to celebrate an event. I will leave her to talk about it, as I’m certain she will in an upcoming post. We visited the National Constitution Center , ate a delicious lunch at Farmicia restaurant, and stopped at Shane’s Confectionery, which has been a candy store on that site since 1863.

 

Second of July

 

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By Frederick Girsch at the American Bank Note Company, for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Restoration by Godot13) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Pomp and parades

to celebrate this freedom day,

pomp and parades

for the declaration, brigades

will fight, fireworks can’t convey

the costs, the lives lost, yet I say

Pomp and parades

 

Celebrate it

with illuminations and shows

celebrate it,

to posterity, we’ll transmit

our hopes through this inspired prose,

this declaration we propose

celebrate it

 

This is a double rondelet. I used some of the words from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, about the events of July 2, 1776. Full text here.  On this day, the Second Continental Congress approved the motion for independence, which Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had brought forth in a resolution on June 7. The Continental Congress approved the actual Declaration of Independence document, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4th. Most of the delegates signed the document on August 2. It is believed that Thomas McKean of Delaware signed at some point in 1777.

And if you’re interested, you can read more about the daily life during this period of American History in my World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia.

 

A Holiday Dinner

Monday Morning Musings:

I often wonder what I would do to survive, to escape

it’s the story of Passover, after all.

the story of a group of enslaved people who escape

(with the help of a few miracles)

and of people all over the world in the past and present.

My grandparents left a repressive land,

pogroms and restrictions,

coming here where they could prosper

they met and married.

Both sets of grandparents—love matches.

They worked hard through the Great Depression

and WWII

making certain that their children were educated.

Some people don’t want to think about

slavery in this country.

They want to visit historic sites

without a reminder that slave labor kept the homes and farms running.

But we can acknowledge the achievements

and the faults of historic figures.

I listen to Annette Gordon-Reed and

Peter S. Onuf discuss Jefferson’s complicated

moral geography—

people and situations are seldom simple

black or white–

and still the world has slavery,

people forced to work with little sleep or food,

beaten if they disobey,

women kept as sex slaves,

a young woman, now a college student here,

who escaped from the

Boko Haram:

“And I say to one of my friends that I’m going to jump out of the truck. I would rather die and my parents will see my body and bury it than to go with the Boko Haram.”

I wonder if I would have had the courage to jump from a truck and run.

I read Those Who Save Us, a novel by Jenna Blum,

and I wonder—

what I would do in war time to survive?

It’s easy to judge others.

And so on Passover,

I think about slavery and escape,

of generations of people celebrating this story with words and foods,

celebrating in basements,

in wealthy homes,

in concentration camps,

We sit around the table(s)—reading from our homemade “Haggadah,”

going through some of the Seder steps, mixed with family lore,

“the spirit of roast beef.”

We read our parts in our Passover play,

and laugh,

this year, the play includes “Pharaoh Trump,

and rap songs.

We eat the food that I spent days cooking–

chicken soup, vegetable broth, knaidlach made the way my mom taught me

with separated eggs,

no recipe of course,

done by feel,

done with love,

but they are light. No sinkers here!

Matzo balls that float,

and don’t land with a heavy thud in your stomach.

Gefilte fish with horseradish

to clear away those spring allergy symptoms

Oh—that’s not what it symbolizes?

We eat my sister’s charoset,

the mixture of fruit and nuts that symbolizes the mortar or mud used to make the bricks in

the Exodus story.

The meat eaters consume brisket and turkey breast with delight.

Those who don’t eat meat, enjoy the roasted sweet potatoes and salad of spring greens.

Many glasses of wine. No Manischewitz!

For dessert, flourless chocolate cake,

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And my daughter’s cheesecake, made with a crust of chocolate almond macaroons.

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And coffee meringues with chocolate chips

And lemon-almond macaroons

My daughter, believing she is addressing a lack in my education,

brings Fireball whiskey for me to do my first shot ever-

It’s a group activity—with dancing.

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I really do dance in my kitchen.

 

I realize suddenly that this is the first holiday in years

where all of my siblings

are here together,

and both of my daughters with their spouses.

My mom is still here, too.

I feel love.

I feel content.

OK. I feel a bit tired

by the time it ends.

But happiness, too.

And love.

 

Recipes for the Flourless Chocolate Cake (to which I add 1 Tbsp. espresso powder and 1 tsp. vanilla, and bake for one hour at 325 degrees) and the recipe for the coffee meringues were in this post from last year. https://merrildsmith.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/a-passover-legacy/

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