Exits and Entrances, NaPoWriMo, Day 23

Monday Morning Musings:

“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”

–Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

 “Were there words beyond which they could never touch, or did all that is possible enter their consciousness? They could not tell. .

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

“This train doesn’t stop at City Hall”

(the conductor says)

as the world streams by

the rushing tracks,

clackety, clackety, clackety clack,

the engine hums, it’s zhhhumy zhumms,

my reflection in the window sways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am traveling there

but does part of me stay

(a train beat away)

entering here

exiting there?

 

We walk–and

spring is a promise whispered over a wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Please silence your cell phones and other devices.”

(the announcer says)

before the start of the play,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a somewhat dated farce,

act two and three are clever

better than the first

the play within a play from backstage, reversed

the stage rearranged, the set turned around

so, front is back

a player tumbles and falls,

and we see it all–

again, as the troupe performs months later–

each actor then has two roles,

and the timing and action is right

but as a whole,

well. . . it was OK

we both say

and the tickets were free—

something to see

with excellent seats

in America’s oldest theater,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so now it’s later

and we walk and talk

see spring a-springing,

the birds still singing,

eat a giant bowl of fries

(in a very noisy bar room)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

then wander back to cats and home,

to see the daffodils still in bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day–

another play.

(still no stops at City Hall)

“The kitchen is small,”

says one man to another,

“But the apartment looks out at the rocks, and

the water is right there.”

“Maybe Rehoboth would be better,”

The other man murmurs

he has to stay in New Jersey.

We exit, a bit early,

before finding out if they make a plan.

“A little shifty,” that man,

(my husband says)

as we walk out into the day—

where now spring is more than whispering,

and we say, yes, this weather, please stay.

 

We walk through Washington Square Park

I insist some roots look like feet

though they’d find it hard to tap a beat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trees are blooming in pink and white

Washington Square Park, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and people are out to see the sight

of them, feel the gentle heat,

sun on their faces,

filling the outdoor spaces

and even the walls shout of spring

Mural by David Guinn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

while the birds trill and sing—

(“Phoebe Phoebe, sings the chickadee,

“Peter Peter” the tufted titmouse calls,

and the mockingbird repeats them all.)

Spring fever all around

Penn’s green country town.

Pennsylvania Hospital

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please silence your cells phones—again,

the play is about to begin,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and thought-provoking it is,

the playwright’s words are his,

but “a fantasia inspired” from Forster’s book

though people and countries are never named

other than with letters,

Country X and Country Y, could be any nation

the characters not assigned by the writer to any gender, race,

or sexual orientation,

F, R, H, M, D, Q, J, B

plus, a mosquito and a gecko–

and, of course, there are those echoes. . .

we hear them, reverberating through now, the ages,

all around us–

and on stage, thus–

F speaks of the people in the darkness,

Dr. B is arrested for a crime he did not commit,

and G breaks the fourth wall to talk to us

questioning,

and yes, it’s a bit uncomfortable–

Are we supposed to answer her out loud?

I wonder, and are we different from another crowd?

 

Later, I say,

“I’d like to see that play all over again with another cast.”

How different would it be to see people of a different race,

or gender, play the roles we just saw?

Because, I think, we must draw

pictures in our minds—leap to conclusions—

have preconceptions that we cannot help but make,

and would it break them–

somewhat–

if what we saw was not,

well, exactly the same.

I imagine this part of the writer’s aim.

(I learn there is a hashtag, #ChenMindFuck)

but my mind is rather more struck

than fucked I think,

and we have much to discuss over food and drink.

Can one be friends with one’s oppressor?

The idea leads to variations and degrees of power

not only of gender and race, but

CEO and factory worker, student and professor,

Black Lives Matter and #MeToo,

seeing things from another’s view. . .

The server brings more bread,

I wonder what lies ahead.

At Tria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walk and talk back to the train,

ideas swirling in my brain.

“This train doesn’t stop at City Hall.”

but time flows through spaces and goes to places

unknown,

calls–

Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.

 

 

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt to use sound. “The poem, for example, could incorporate overheard language. Perhaps it could incorporate a song lyric in some way, or language from something often heard spoken aloud (a prayer, a pledge, the Girl Scout motto). Or you could use a regional or local phrase from your hometown that you don’t hear elsewhere, e.g. “that boy won’t amount to a pinch.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Lies and Better Things on the Way

Monday Morning Musings:

 

Men should be what they seem,

Or those that be not, would they might seem none!

–William Shakespeare, Othello, Act III, Scene iii

“ they are not men o’ their words: they told me I was everything; ’tis a lie…”

–William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act IV, Scene vi

“Here’s wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness
I know that better things are on their way.”
–from Dar Williams, “Better Things”

 

We walk through a living, mortal city

see buildings transformed

here an insurance building, now condominiums

a Starbucks at its base

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is the history erased

or still held there, a trace of perfume or smoke

left somewhere in a bit of old oak

and here, the cobblestones and bricks remain

some things, perhaps, stay the same

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We travel through space and time

in books, movies, theater, art

from my small town’s fall festival

to Philadelphia streets

then we enter the London theater

of centuries ago—a show,

the stage framed with the red velvet proscenium curtains

uncertain what we will see

amongst the esteemed company

there at Convent Garden

where a substitute actor

steps in to play the part of Othello, the Moor–

a black man? Well, that’s not been done before!

A character declares, “People come to the theater to get away from reality.”

The cast members of this well-known London troupe are divided,

some undecided about how they feel,

but willing to try some new techniques

or at least to somewhat tweak

their stylized manner and gestures

though scandalized at how Othello touches Desdemona

Do they understand the play and his persona?

We see a bit of the handkerchief scene

enough to glean how it might have been

the critics were vicious, in racist prose

derided Ira Aldridge’s performance in the show.

He is an anomaly upon the stage

We see there both passion and his rage

later hear him, as Lear in madness decry the lies

as fury builds and slowly dies,

around him, slavery still exists

(and even now)

though we can hope through sorrow

that better things come tomorrow

and better things are on their way

 

We discuss and dine

and drink some wine

(well, beer for him)

we’re both well pleased by the cheese

that we nibble sitting there as day turns to night

caressed by a breeze

perhaps it’s wandered round the world

unfurled and carried hope and sorrow

and we discuss the present and the lies

ignorance that triumphs over facts or the wise

but still we hope that tomorrow

better things are on their way

 

Younger daughter and I go to a concert

Dar Williams sang of the pagans and Christians

sitting at the table–

and just like them, we’re able to sit with different folk

but at least they were silent, and no one spoke

and I was more fascinated than annoyed

by the man touching the woman and the other woman stroking her hair

both unaware, I suppose, that we couldn’t help but stare

as we enjoyed the songs, the reading, our food and wine

so yes, we also came to dine

(a bit like the Gilmore Girls—

if they were vegetarians with curls)

and Dar sang of the babysitter, now urban planner

and “positive proximity”

(despite city’s life often anonymity)

she spoke of transformations she has seen

spaces empty and dark, now full of life, green

and when she sang “Iowa,” we all sang along

we all sang the chorus to the song

and despite lost hopes in November

our fears and sorrow

we left in hopes for better things tomorrow

that better things are on their way

 

In the blood

in the dreams

in the cities

and in the seams

and it seems

and it seems

that we wade through streams

against the current

things that are and things that weren’t

sometimes floating

ever light

drifting far and out of sight

journeys through space, time, day, and night

to ponder, to wonder

at art’s spell, we fall under

does it hide or amplify

the truth and the lies

and those who are afraid of women

and those who lie, quite unredeemed

or even worse

(notes on a theme)

they are exactly what they seem

but in our sorrow, we can dream of tomorrow

and let hope linger here, now stay

better things are on their way

 

We saw Red Velvet at the Lantern Theater Company.  The play is based on the life of the real actor, Ira Aldridge. We saw Dar Williams at World Cafe Live.

 

 

 

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 

Fa La La: A Birthday Carol

Monday Morning Musings:

“Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, oh and I am aging,

Oh, aren’t we aging well?”

–Dar Williams, “You’re Aging Well”

 

“I am the ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

On my sixtieth birthday, I wake,

and I feel fine,

the same as did when I was fifty-nine.

I’m Merril the same as I have always been

with the calm certainty that I am me,

and this is forever who I will be.

 

Celebrations take place over several days,

(like a Jewish holiday, you know)

each one with food and wine,

and I feel fine.

 

First my husband and I go to Monk’s Café

we’re bundled against the cold night

but still I appreciate the Christmas lights

as we scurry from our car to there

breathing bursts of frosty air

till we’re seated at a window table where we watch people

rushing and bustling, walking dogs of every size

we’re in a bit of a hurry,

as we have tickets to a show,

so we forego their famous mussels, but not the fries,

I have a glass of wine, and I feel fine.

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Pommes frite at Monk’s Cafe

 

The show is called The Carols,

set in a VFW Hall in New Jersey,

it’s 1944, the men are gone because of the war,

heartfelt, if not brilliant,

but their voices beautiful

much more than suitable,

there are Yiddish phrases and 1940’s slang.

We laugh though the jokes are old,

it’s kind of sweet, and we are sold,

the retelling of A Christmas Carol

with a Christmas brisket is very funny,

(and well worth the money),

and the Christmas tale, the Yiddish shtick,

the sister love, the examples of

reminds me of my family, too,

and all the silly things we do,

the ghosts of Christmases, past, present, and future

combine in memory,

aged in my mind, and I feel fine.

 

 

The next night, my husband and I see La La Land

like an old-fashioned musical

the stars sing and dance amidst the stars,

there is jazz and heartbreak,

snappy rhythms, and we hear the beat,

not of Forty-Second Street,

but of Los Angeles,

City of Angels, City of Stars

shining just for them.

We discuss the movie over Indian food,

I am in complete movie musical mood,

So when my husband says, “It was a Merril movie,”

he is right, and I feel fine.

(And the onion bhajia are divine.)

 

Another celebration, another day,

with one daughter and sisters,

more food and wine,

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more talk and laughter,

and it could go on forever after.

One sister brings some funny headwear,

and we take photos in the restaurant,

when I try on a hat

another says,

“You look so cute. Like a pirate. A pirate baker.”

We laugh because it’s all so silly,

but in these uncertain times, we run willy-nilly

and seek shelter in our love and family jokes,

these are the people I love, my folks,

and they give me the gift of their time–

and cheese, and chocolate, and some wine,

and yes, indeed, I do feel fine.

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At Tria Cafe Rittenhouse for my 60th birthday celebration.

 

Afterwards, my daughter and I walk to the Christmas Village,

she’s not seen it, and she snaps a selfie

with us in our silly hats–

and I think we’re wealthy,

my daughter and I to share this love and bond

that goes so far, and much beyond,

and later I read the poem she has written me,

cry a bit, at the beauty

of feelings that she has, and lets me see.

 

 

My other daughter sends me a text

that the end of the Sound of Music seems too real,

and it makes me sad to hear such fear,

and though we must fight, and though we ache,

still, there’s much to celebrate,

to climb every mountain and ford every spring

to find our dreams,

yet I think we are right where we are

and we are aging well,

though only time will tell.

And so, with family and friends,

I’ll hold on to love,

I’ll fit it closely like a glove,

and stare defiantly at fate,

raise a glass of blood-red wine

and tell the world, that I feel fine.

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Birthday card

 

It is rumored that more celebrating is on the way, so stay tuned!

Here is Dar Williams singing  “You’re Aging Well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Here and Now; the Future, the Past

ayers_rock

User: (WT-shared) 耕太郎 at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

 

 

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ceridwen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Guernica at the Whitechapel It is no idle whim to include an image of this tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s great anti-war painting but because it is so significant for the political and cultural stance of the Whitechapel Gallery, the only British venue to exhibit the painting in 1939. The original work is now too fragile to leave Madrid; this tapestry was loaned to the gallery, for its re-opening, by its owner Margaretta Rockefeller. Normally it hangs in the United Nations in New York where in 2003 it was controversially veiled prior to a speech by Colin Powell on the eve of the Iraq war.”

Monday Morning Musings:

 “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”

–James Baldwin

 

After the tragedy,

in the calmness after the storm,

then we hear about the heroes.

On that sunny September day,

fifteen years ago,

as a gentle breeze blew,

and the world’s course shifted,

there were soldiers and fire fighters,

there were flight attendants and passengers,

there were ordinary people

who were decent and kind

who helped others before themselves,

and who became heroes.

 

From the hell of the Warsaw ghetto,

Irena Sendler saved hundreds of children,

burying their real names in jars,

and though she was captured,

interrogated, tortured,

she did not give up the information,

then, forced to hide herself,

like the children and their names,

she waited, till

after the wind blew

and the course shifted,

so she could dig up the jars

and return the children to their families–

if any relatives remained.

 

Decades later,

school children in Kansas

(a place known for violent winds)

began researching her life

inspired by the classroom motto

“He who changes one person, changes the world entire.”

They researched, developing a performance piece,

that captured the attention of the people in their area–

and then a larger area.

They discovered that Irena Sendler was then still alive,

and wrote to her, sharing the correspondence with universities

and other groups,

raising funds, and finally meeting her and some children she had rescued,

One called them, “rescuer’s, rescuers of Irena’s story.”

They were children, now adults,

who wrote about a woman, who worked bravely to change the world,

and in their work about her,

they, too, hoped to change the world,

one person at a time.

 

I think about the censoring of artists,

the silencing of poets and painters,

of novelists, musicians, and dancers

who proclaim truth and dare to create

silenced by dictators,

the strong men admired by someone here

who can spout his hate-filled rhetoric

only because our Constitution

allows for freedom of speech and expression.

Yet he would like to censor the press.

Is this the definition of irony?

 

I remember sitting, mesmerized before “Guernica”

decades ago in New York

I can still feel the power of that Picasso work

and remember those moments

though the other details of that college trip remain hazy.

The painting itself was in exile,

returning only after the death of the dictator, Franco,

but by then Picasso was also gone.

 

On a beautiful September evening

we sit in the city of Philadelphia,

we drink wine as a gentle breeze blows,

we see a performance piece,

a sort of homage to James Baldwin,

“Notes of a Native Song,”

created by Stew and Heidi Rodewald,

a memorable evening of music and social commentary

that is a reaction or celebration of Baldwin

rather than an adaptation of his work.

On this September night

as a gentle wind blows

I think about artists

and about heroes

I think about the winds of war

and the changing course of political winds

I think about artists

I think about heroes

And I think

sometimes they are one and the same.

 

“I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”

–James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

 

Information:

James Baldwin

Guernica

“Life in a Jar: The Irene Sendler Project

Wilma Theater 

Tria Cafe

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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

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.