Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

Do Not Stay Silent, Though April Can Be Cruel

Monday Morning Musings

 “April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain. “

–T.S. Eliot. “The Waste Land”

Today is April 13. The sun is rising on what promises to be a lovely spring day in New Jersey with bright sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures rising into the 70s. Yet as T.S. Eliot noted, April can be cruel month. In the warmth and light, as the once white snow melts into the thawing soil, tender buds appear on trees, wisps of green appear in yards and woods, flowers suddenly burst through the ground almost overnight, and birds smartly chirp, “I’m back!”—as new life creeps out from the gray and decay of winter and the natural world is reborn, so are people who have huddled and hidden from the cold. April, a month of life and beauty, is also a time of protest, conflict, and death.

Last week many in the United States celebrated the unofficial ending of the US Civil War 150 years ago, as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. The surrender did not, however, end the fighting entirely, and pockets of insurgency continued for months, followed by years of military occupation of the south and the process of Reconstruction. Five days after the surrender, on April 14, 1865, the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, as he and first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, watched the play, Our American Cousin. In Booth’s eyes and those of his co-conspirators, the war and the southern cause were not finished.

This week in April marks the Week of Remembrance, to remember the Holocaust.

“The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Each year state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, religious organizations, and civic centers host observances and remembrance activities for their communities. These events can occur during the Week of Remembrance, which runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) through the following Sunday.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943. On that date—deliberately chosen because it was the eve of Passover that year–German forces were about to begin an operation to totally liquidate the ghetto. Earlier attempts in the previous fall and winter had been met with resistance, and although thousands of Jewish residents of the ghetto were deported and others were killed in fighting, the Nazis temporarily suspended transports. The renewal of the Nazi attempts to completely liquidate the ghetto was a signal for the Jews there to begin the uprising. Ultimately, the German forces razed the ghetto, and though they expected the fighting to continue for three days, it lasted for over a month. It was an important symbolic fight for Jews throughout occupied Europe. You can read more about it here.

Not all Jews were instantly transported to ghettos and concentration camps. Some hid, helped by others who brought them food and necessities, and who sometimes betrayed them, too. Anne Frank was one of many Jews who hid in secret place during the Holocaust. Most know about her life because of her famous diary, which was published after her death and has been read by millions throughout the world. In recent months, new information has been uncovered, including that she and her sister Margot most likely died in February, not March 1945. Information about her and her life can be found in many places, including the house itself, now a museum and educational center. Here is a link to the Anne Frank House .

Annefrank.org.uk is commemorating Anne Frank’s brief life by celebrating it with her words instead of a with a moment of silence.

“Instead of a one minute’s silence to commemorate the end of Anne Frank’s short life, we invite you to read out loud a one minute passage from Anne’s inspirational writing at any time on or after Tuesday 14th April.” You can find out more here. They ask participants to use the hashtag #notsilent.

This is one of my favorite passages:

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

We will never know if Anne would still have written these words after the horrors she witnessed and experienced at Bergen-Belsen before her death there in 1945. But as the passage makes clear, she knew of the horrors; she knew that all around her people were dying, along with the world she had known. While hiding in the Secret Annex, however, she also experienced on a daily basis, the kindness, goodness, and bravery of people who risked their lives and those of their families to help Anne and hers.

Choosing not to be silent can be dangerous, but when possible, it can bring enormous good. Humans have an almost infinite capacity for evil, but I like to think we have the same capacity to be kind. When cruelty and evil can be documented and exposed in cell phone videos, Internet campaigns, and newspaper articles and editorials, it is a good thing, and it’s very different from spreading gossip about people or events. Sharing Anne Frank’s words might not do any tangible good, but hearing and reading her words may inspire others to believe in goodness, and they may demonstrate that though this intelligent, vibrant young woman was destroyed, her spirit lives on. April is also National Poetry Month, and it is a time to celebrate the wonders of human creativity and emotion. We know that even in the concentration camps, some people–against all odds, it seems to me–continued to write, to create art, sing, and play music.

April can be cruel; so can the other months of the year. I choose to see its beauty, the buds on the tree, the sweetly blooming flowers, and the poetry and music of life.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

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