Windows and Views

Monday Morning Musings:

“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2

“Then, window, let day in, and let life out.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 5

“Unfix’d yet fix’d,
Ever shall be, ever have been and are,
Sweeping the present to the infinite future,
Eidolons, eidolons, eidolons.”

–Walt Whitman, “Eidolons” from Leaves of Grass

“There’s this phenomenon called the overview effect. It’s this cognitive shift that many astronauts go through when they see Earth for the first time from space. They describe it as feeling this overwhelming sense of humanity. In space you see that we’re all in this together. Astronauts leave the Earth as technicians, but they come back as humanitarians.”

Amanda Nguyen, Rape Survivor, Founder of Rise, Astronaut in Training

Open that vast window

time lives in our embrace

kissing ghost and angel breath

from ocean, sky, and naked dirt

giving poetry to life

for eternity

 

Open that vast window

we experience the world

through our senses

trying to find rhyme and reason

the ghosts flit and echo

souls and poetry intermingle

past and future merge

 

Here we sit in a vineyard,

drinking wine named for a poet’s verse,

 

watching performers speak the words of a writer long gone

his words echo through the centuries

opening windows to worlds we wouldn’t know

as Juliet opened hers to Romeo

time floats

unfix’d yet fix’d

 

Here in this space

the sky is an open window,

vast with promise and possibility

Sunset, Auburn Road Vineyards

we hear night birds trilling and calling,

a bird

(or is it a bat?

I learn eidolon is also a genus of bats)

swoops to catch an insect

while below,

players thrust and parry with swords and wit

life and death around us

windows opening and closing

unfix’d, fix’d

eidolons

 

Later, I remember one of our daughters

spoke Juliet’s words,

it was an audition

for a college theater grant,

leaving home

(the overview effect occurs only then)

a window appears

she opened it,

and in a theater,

(eidolon-filled)

finds her sun,

and he burns brightly

for her,

eclipsing everything else

 

We see another play,

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before it begins

we listen to the people near us talk,

they’re all involved in theater,

the woman sitting to my left, we learn,

is in a play in another theater that night

she plays the grandmother—again!

they all laugh

the light dims

our play begins,

one actor on the stage here in Philadelphia,

the other in London

they communicate through SKYPE–

live theater

the wonders of high-speed connections–

we see his house in London

on screens

like windows

but he looks through windows, too

seeing the present, imagining the future

 

The play is set in the near future

the butterflies have died,

but new ones have been created

along with other animals and plants

like chaos theory

or dominos

each extinction creates another

each creation has unknown effects

people rebel and resist

ecological warfare, starvation,

the world owned by a corporation

a better world

through gene manipulation,

what could possible go wrong?

 

After the show,

we walk across the street

from a story of the future

to a building of the past

Christ Church, Philadelphia

on this hot, summer day

we wander

see flowers still growing

(sigh of relief)

the sixth extinction may have started

but it’s not visible here yet,

not to untrained eyes,

birds flit and sing

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we stop for ice cream

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see a wedding, and another, and another

(couples beginning new lives

closing doors, opening new windows)

I find openings everywhere

windows from the past

looking at the present,

I wonder if ghosts wander here

do they experience an overview effect?

seeing Earth, their lives now from a new perspective?

unfix’d, fix’d

eidolons

 

We head home

the sky darkening

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the sun not visible through the clouds,

and the thunder rumbling–

but in the morning

it rises in the east

shining through my window

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(the present)

poetry of the here and now

sweeping to the future

 

There was a dVerse prompt on windows last week that I missed, but I suppose I’ve been thinking about windows. The Oracle gave me the first stanza. She really is all-knowing.

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We visited Auburn Roads Vineyards.  We saw Tiny Dynamite’s production of Perfect Blue at the Christ Church Neighborhood House.

 

 

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Freed Minds and Imprisoned Bodies

Monday Morning Musings

“And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

“The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I hold this slow, and daily, tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

–Charles Dickens, 1842

A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.

–Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

 

In the deep soft blue of night,

a full bright moon murmurs

which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

I ponder mysteries of life and time,

the paths we choose, the where and when

the roads that make us who we are

the journeys that lead to discoveries,

do the words I write,

the forms of things unknown,

take flight across the world,

in a poetry chaos theory

to effect change?

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One of my writer workout shirts.

 

I’m at a book fair,

I don’t sell many books,

my profits come from knowledge gained

or reaffirmed,

books have power,

the reason why slaves are not taught to read,

they release the minds of those bound by ignorance

they free those imprisoned by walls of stone

or by barricades of bigotry,

they build bridges of enlightenment,

people are drawn to them

in excitement, wonder, and surprise

I watch the boy’s eyes

open wide at the thought of reading magical adventures

then disappointment,

“My mom doesn’t have any money.”

“Today is your lucky day, says the author,

“I have something special,

a free book for you–

see, the cover is slightly damaged.”

 

He signs the book for the boy

who takes it,

holds it reverently,

a treasure.

I hope he remembers this moment.

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West Deptford Township Book Festival. Yes, I did bake cookies, too.

 

My husband and I visit the art museum

not for any particular exhibition,

“Sunday at the museum,” someone says,

people there from all over the world

(even though the “Rocky Steps”  are closed)

I hear many languages: French, Chinese, Russian.

We walk through the Impressionists,

see the real and surreal,

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View from the Duchamp Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

look at art and people,

adults and children,

viewed and viewers.

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Reading at the Museum—Mary Cassatt, Family Group Reading (c. 1901) Philadelphia Museum of Art

We walk from the museum

 

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across the Parkway to Fairmount

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and on to Eastern State Penitentiary,

 

 

the world’s first penitentiary,

conceived with a purpose–

to induce penitence in its prisoners,

the original building completed in 1836,

though the process began earlier

with efforts to relieve the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail,

in 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded a group to reform prisons,

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons,

an organization that still exists,

the new penitentiary is thought to be humane,

a wonder of technology and innovation,

a central hub with spokes,

cells with plumbing and heat

designed by architect John Haviland,

but prisoners were cut off from human contact

and sometimes went insane.

Charles Dickens wrote of the torture of solitary confinement

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and later the prison became too crowded for the concept to continue,

a second tier of cells was built

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and prisoners shared cells.

We listen to actor Steve Buscemi

tell us about it in the audio tour,

we’ve been here before,

but it is good to be reminded,

and there are new exhibits we haven’t seen

there are other visitors and tour groups,

but when it is quiet, without other visitors around,

I feel the ghosts around me

there amidst the rubble

 

Prisoners

in dark fevered air

decayed concrete and old secrets,

a dirt home

listen to who was

they live not

but almost open,

in time

 

It is a reminder

of good intentions gone wrong,

yet there are traces of beauty and goodness,

even here,

the tales of good and humane guards

the art created by inmates,

the synagogue

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The original synagogue door. (For my blogger friend, Robin.)

 

but still there are ghosts,

the imprisoned,

some died here,

and I have no answers for those who are imprisoned still

but I hope they have books and art

and that their minds can roam, even if their bodies cannot

do they wonder about the paths of their lives?

Which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

Tonight I dream of wide-eyed boys

of beauty and art

amidst decayed walls

a cat purrs softly in my ear,

I am home, but my mind roams free.

 

The kind author was Ben Anderson, who shared a table with me at the West Deptford Township Book Festival at Riverwinds Community Center. His books are chronicles of Irish fantasy, targeted for middle grade readers, but suitable for “eight to eighty-eight” he says. You can read about them here .

We joke about the Magnetic Poetry Oracle, but she gave me this poem (incorporated above) the morning of the day we went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. She also came me part of the opening.

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You can find out more about Eastern State Penitentiary here.   Here is an article on programs for prison literacy.   And a list of additional resources here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth visiting, even with construction going on.

 

 

 

The Beauty Is: NaPoWriMo

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night –William Shakespeare, Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5

“And the beauty is, when you realize, when you realize, Someone could be looking for a someone like you.” –Adam Guettel, “The Beauty Is” from the musical, The Light in the Piazza  Song here.

“At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is “Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.” My advice is: “Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy. –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, March 7, 1944

It’s a rainy Earth day,

the grey skies swaddle pink and white blossoms

Spring, verdant, full of life, thirsty, greedily drinks like a baby,

unselfconscious and we the admiring parents watch her,

she is beautiful, even when she’s a dirty mess.

 

A mother-daughter outing to see Beauty and the Beast,

the theater has reserved seats that we recline in ready for the magic to begin

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My daughter is comfortable in the theater.

 

— the Disney version of the story,

though we’re both impressed by Gaston, more nuanced than his cartoon version,

possibly charming at first in an oafish way

until the true darkness of his soul is revealed,

the mob scenes remind me a bit too much of history and recent events,

mobs inflamed by ignorant narcissists,

it’s happened throughout the ages

it happens now,

but how can I not enjoy a story where the heroine loves books,

a movie that is a shout out to literacy,

and where lovers bond over reading,

Belle reads poetry to the Beast,

he knows a quotation from her favorite play, Romeo and Juliet,

there’s singing and dancing, people and objects,

I had forgotten Audra McDonald was in this movie–

until she sang,

and I didn’t know Dan Stevens had such a fine voice,

(remember that time he was in a little series called Downton Abbey?)

we get a backstory for the Beast (which we both like)

Belle’s backstory is inserted more awkwardly,

Still it is an enjoyable couple of hours of mother and daughter time

And there is more beauty in the day

the beauty is. ..

a bowl of lemons

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not exactly life giving them to us

as going to the store and buying six bags of them

and rather than lemonade, we mix them with vodka to make limoncello

aren’t grownup daughters fun!

(And beautiful?)

So, we grate lemon peel,

the kitchen becomes gloriously lemon-scented,

a Chopin polonaise plays softly in the background,

(her husband’s study music),

we talk, of her girlfriends, of work, of this and that,

my husband has been doing yard work

(it’s not raining that hard, he says),

he sits at the table with us,

their dog chews on his toy,

their cat ventures out to see if it’s dinner time

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Not pleased by the citrus scent

 

When we’re finished, we eat takeout Pakistani food,

my husband and my son-in-law learn

the kind and talkative restaurant owner was educated at Oxford

(perhaps he is a book lover, too?)

And what do I do the next day with leftover lemons?

Make lemon cake, of course!

 

 

It’s beautiful and delicious.

And though there are beasts all around, the beauty is. . .

spending time with people you love,

enjoying good food and wine,

beauty simple and sudden,

striking you, when you look up from your morning coffee

to see the sun dawning over the neighbor’s white dogwood tree

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The photo does not capture how beautiful it was

 

the profound beauty of birth, mixed with blood and pain,

the simple beauty of a smile,

the beauty that is there within the beast,

the beauty is

it surrounds us

the beauty is. . .

in yourself and in everything around you

 

Today is Day 24, NaPoWriMo. We’re asked to write a poem of ekphasis, a poem inspired by a work of art. We’re challenged to base a poem on marginalia of medieval manuscripts. I suppose you could very loosely say I’ve done this, as they are beautiful and filled with beasts. (Such as this one )

Huffington Post summarizes some previous versions of Beauty and the Beast here.

Today is Yom HaShoah ( This year, it’s Sunset, April 23- Sunset April 24), Holocaust Remembrance Day. I wonder what Anne Frank would be writing about now, and if she would still see beauty in the world.

Dreams

Monday Morning Musings:

“And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or, in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush suppos’d a bear.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 1

The Past and Future Merge

She soared high

amongst the stars,

weightless,

her mind everywhere,

she heard the universe sing

felt its rhythm in her soul,

it was part of her

and she of it,

had always been,

but unaware,

then,

before,

if there was a before and a then,

now she sang with the stars

and knew, she and they were one.

For a moment, she remembered—

a body unmoving on a bed in a white room,

beeping machines now silent,

a man with grief-streamed eyes–

now she saw,

as if looking in a mirror,

hundreds of her, stretching back and forth in time

they were her, and not her

different paths and different planes

all part of the universe,

she sang the songs of the stars and floated through space, time, dreams

 

Now

we wandered through bleak city streets

more like December than March

(but without the holiday cheer),

wet sidewalks with snow piled at the curb,

tinged grey from city dirt,

 

 

we walked into the theater,

found our seats

looked down on a stage,

bare, except for players with instruments,

sitting there,

we’re transported,

through time, space, dreams,

sixteenth-century English,

but timeless ideas,

love gone wrong and right,

couples bemused and bedazzled,

parted and reunited,

magic and fairies,

Oberon and Puck smoking a hookah,

watched what they’ve set in place,

musicians played

and displayed

impressive voices and skills,

(in double roles),

we laughed in delight

puckish Puck, the comical Bottom,

and the mixed-up lovers.

We got a treat at intermission

(for being subscribers)

then hurried back to see the conclusion,

watched the moon rise and set over the stage,

the fairy spells recast,

the lovers paired and married,

and the play within the play,

we applauded and rose,

happy to have been transported for a few hours–

the magic of theater

 

 

 

We discussed the play over coffee,

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me sniffling a bit with a cold and the cold,

and both of us waiting for spring to return,

I said that in Shakespeare’s time

the play would probably be ruder,

I thought of the playwright’s wit and wisdom,

then and now the words hold true,

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

words transported through time and space,

a play about love and dreams and magic

 

 

The next morning, I slept late

(late for me that is),

still befuddled by the time change and the cold

in the night I had a dream,

a musical, like Mel Brooks mixed with a touch of David Lynch

sprinkled with bits of Carole King and Toni Morison,

literary and ludicrous,

I woke briefly,

then had another dream,

my cold had kept me from a regular Saturday class at the gym,

I dreamt the same instructor had a special Thursday class,

consisting

(so it seemed)

of alternating ab work and running,

instead of mats,

we had our winter coats spread in lines,

our spots on the gym floor,

I was there with some of my gym buddies,

die-hards

(a strange and slightly ominous word),

we ran,

panting and perspiring,

but there were others,

who stood about,

I noticed one man,

he wore a sweater vest,

After I woke, I laughed,

my subconscious mind makes bad puns.

 

and I thought about dreams and dreaming

and what a fool I might be

perhaps lacking reason,

but still able to dream,

and laugh,

thinking of mid-summer

in the winter weather,

turning shapes to fancy,

imagining creatures in the night,

giving them names

thinking of love, magical and irrational

yet somehow real,

throughout time and space

and in and out of dreams

 

I thought of how Chuck Berry died the other day,

but his music is traveling through the galaxy,

“Johnny B. Goode,”

the stars add rock and roll to their repertoire,

and the poet’s words have traveled through time,

read and performed in schools, jungles, prisons,

and perhaps in space,

today my words may travel across the globe

and be read in different spaces, various places,

my thoughts of dreams

traveling through space and time

 

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By NASA/JPL (The Sounds of Earth Record Cover) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The first section of this was inspired by Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange Microfiction Challenge.    I didn’t have a chance to get the story in for the challenge. 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Sun Still Rises in The Sky

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Sanford Robinson Gifford, “Sunrise, Long Branch, New Jersey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Full fathom five they father lies,

Of his bones are coral made,

Those are pearls that were his eyes,

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change,

Into something rich and strange,

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,

Ding-dong.

Hark! Now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.”

–William Shakespeare, The Tempest

 

The sun still rises in the sky,

though winter comes and spirits darken,

there is no use in asking why,

when the ground quakes and maelstroms harken,

 

though winter comes and spirits darken,

shifts, sea change, life disarranged

when the ground quakes and maelstroms harken,

not something rich, but something strange.

 

Shifts, sea change, life disarranged,

but wait before we toll the bell

not something rich, but something strange

portends of evil, sighs the ponderous knell

 

Yet come brightness and come hope

there is no use in asking why

must gropers grope, the slippery slope

the sun still rises in the sky.

 

 

With Wrinkles and Mirth, Remember it All, Remember it Well

 Monday Morning Musings:

 H: We met at nine

M: We met at eight.

H: I was on time.

M: No, you were late.

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

We dined with friends

M: We dined alone

H: A tenor sang

M: A baritone

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

–Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “I Remember It Well, Gigi (1958)

(You can watch the clip here.)

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1

 

The weekend began, a cancelled flight

a change in plans, arrival not in morning light

but dinner time instead

the arts and crafts afternoon postponed, but summer roll making takes place

dipping rice paper, filling, and rolling; no art or grace

perhaps,

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but we like to eat and talk and talk and eat

spicy, hot, crunchy, and sweet,

We say L’chaim, and toast with Sangria,

my girls and their spouses here together

we celebrate good news, now in summer weather

with cats under foot and spirits high

we laugh and talk, and so time flies.

 

With mirth and laughter

I remember it well.

 

The next day, for my mom, her birthday party

she’ll be 94, though not as hale, she’s still hearty

coming, too, her cousin S.

They live in the same Philadelphia building, on different floors,

they’ve both lived years, well, let’s say scores.

S. says at her age every birthday is a big one

(She’s just celebrated her 90th, but still ready for more fun.)

My husband and I drive them to my sister’s

our daughters and their spouses are in another car.

We pass a street, and S. recalls, a memory from afar

of a friend of hers that lived there once.

S. says, “They had a drugstore.”

and a husband who thought he was more.

He was not very bright, but rather full of himself,

 

With mirth and laughter

She remembers him well.

 

S.compares him to a current political candidate.

He thought he was so great,

he lost his business, a gambling debt

then became a maître d’ at a fancy restaurant

where he put on a fake British accent, no savant

that accent sometimes came, then went.

We pass an apartment house where S. once resided

my mom jumps in, with a remark, decided

a refrigerator S. mentions is like one they had in France.

 

(Now pause while I digress from rhyme

while Mom and S. discuss this time.)

 

“Where in France?” asks S.

My mom at first does not remember.

But then with triumph, announces, “Paris.”

“We were never in Paris!” says S.

“I don’t like Paris. It’s a big city like New York.”

“It was Paris,” my mother insists.

“You bought dishes,” says she.

“Oh, you’re right,” S. says. “It was Paris. I bought some dessert plates.”

“You bought a whole set of dishes,” my mom says, “You had them sent.”

“No, I bought some small plates. They tied them in a box with strings

and we carried them.”

Ah yes, they remember it well.

 

At my sister’s house, we arrive to celebrate

Generations eat, talk, laugh, debate

(Because we love to eat and talk)

We do so, then there’s cake with candles

My young great nephew expertly handles

this carrying it in with proud aplomb

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so for cakes, there’s more than one

because we need more birthday fun

My young grandnephew eats his—using both his fork and his hand

(because sometimes life is just so grand)

Then it’s time to share some cards and art

signs of affection, from the heart.

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Repeal Hyde Art Project, Megan J. Smith

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

There’s a movie of S. with a scene from one “real”

She was young, the movie quite “B”, a clip from the reel.

She tells us the story of how she was a director’s assistant

then became the line coach for actresses not gifted

with brains, as much as beauty, and lines they uttered shifted

or could not be recalled at all.

So S. was given a scene and sits at a desk, but she asked for pay first

no more work without being reimbursed.

My daughter-in-law tell of her analysis of a survey of teenage risky behavior

There are more stories that day, of middle school age problems and dramas

It’s the age, we all agree, nodding daughters and mamas,

Oh yes, we all agree, but they outgrow the drama.

 

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

We head out, S. says it was a lovely party.

(I am glad both my mom and S. are still so hearty)

Then S. says with a laugh

“It makes you want to get another year older, just so you can do it again.”

And so we set out then, set out then, driving in the rain

to take them home from this celebration

with food purchased and packaged in the trunk of the car

which I carry upstairs, thankfully not too far.

A day of stories and celebration–

We may not remember it all, but we remember it well.

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

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NaPoWriMo: Oh, Deer

“No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas in incarnadine, making the green one red.”

Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2

“Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, / That have been so bedazzled with the sun / That everything I look on seemeth green.”

The Taming of the Shrew, IV.v.56-58

“But we are old, and on our quick’st decrees

Th’ inaudible, and noiseless foot of time

Steals, ere we can effect them.”

All’s Well That Ends Well, Act V, Scene 3

“Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.”

Romeo and Juliet

 

Bedazzled by the sunlight,

or fear,

hearing sounds inaudible to human ears,

he stood still, unmoving, rooted to the place

like the great oaks around him, and

confused by the barricade before him.

Suddenly the power, the desire,

the need–

springing from a source deep within–

he leaped,

heedful of the multitudinous possibilities before him,

recognizing that he could go anywhere,

but knowing that the world is broad and wide,

he might want to be patient

and find his mother before exploring again.

 

NaNoWriMo, Day 24  Mix “fancy” and every day words. Since yesterday, April 23rd, was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, I’ve used some words he invented or popularized.

Yesterday morning, while getting ready to slice the Passover brisket for dinner that night, I looked out my kitchen window to see this deer in my neighbor’s yard. It reminded me of another time when I saw a baby deer and heard him bleating and looking around for his mom.

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She Speaks

 

Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge: Take a Favorite Line

“Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

 

She speaks, and

Words tumble from her mouth,

A flood, rapid and incomprehensible

A torrent of glee

A mad rap

Promote the fear

Push the lie.

And back I fly

To remember

Our daughter at three

With Molly doll held tight,

Delivering a paean, elation-created,

Extemporaneous poetry

Joyful rhymes that

Should have been recorded

Hoarded, to be heard again

And cherished eternally.

So unlike these other words

Shallow, strident

Told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

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Hugs Not Hate

Still Life

Monday Morning Musings:

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

–Leonard Bernstein

(For information on this quote. Go here. )

I had meant to write a different post,

One discussing food and family

Something new,

I know,

But then there was Paris

And Beirut,

And death everywhere.

It’s all I could think about.

But life goes on.

And there was art.

A still life by my mom.

A still life by my mom.

My husband and I went to the museum

To see an exhibition on American still life,

And when I said “still life”

To myself

There was the epiphany.

(From the Greek,

Meaning reveal.)

Art does reveal,

Of course.

But it was the words–

Still AND life

That’s what hit me.

Despite the attempts

By terrorists

To massacre

Not only people,

But to destroy

Art, music, culture,

The history, beauty, and wisdom

Of the ages

They have not won.

There is

Still

Life.

Still life the art form

Displays what people value

Or want to present to the world

It can be a reflection of the ordinary

Or the sublime.

Often both.

Raphaelle Peale’s blackberries

Looked so luscious

I wanted to pluck them from the canvas.

A little girl ran to a Calder mobile,

A water lily,

In delight.

The guard and I smiled at each other.

“It is wonderful to see so many children here,”

I said.

And she agreed.

The next generation

Seeing beauty and creativity,

And all sorts of people were there.

A French-speaking family stood

Behind me.

A woman with gray hair

And a ready smile

In a wheelchair

Moved around the exhibition room

As though her chair was a chariot.

A tall man in a blue sweater stooped

To read a label

Supported by his cane.

From American still life,

Audubon’s birds

“Are they dead?”

The girl asked her mother

To Warhol’s Brillo Pads

We traveled to another gallery.

Rubens’ “Prometheus Bound,”

Bound again

And again

For bringing the fire of creativity to humankind.

He suffered perpetual torture

Until freed by Hercules.

His position mirroring

Michelangelo’s risen Christ.

Wrath of the gods

And resurrection.

The triumph of human spirit

And imagination

Rendered over and over.

Humans suffer for art

And for that creative spark.

And art suffers from human destructiveness.

We saw paintings

Retrieved by

The Monuments Men.

Paintings stolen

In another war.

Evil and good,

History and art,

Gods and men.

In another room

A Buddhist monk in saffron robe and black sandals

Admired Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,”

Another still life

By a tortured soul.

But still,

Life.

We had seen a play the day before.

Equivocation.

That was the title,

Not what we did,

At least not then,

Because after all,

Haven’t we all

Equivocated?

The play was about Shakespeare,

And history,

And truth

And lies

And theater.

In other words,

Life.

The creation of truth

Or legends.

And don’t forget the witches.

Richard III and his hump,

A creation of the playwright,

And Agincourt,

The legend immortalized,

But after all,

The St. Crispin’s Day speech

Is grand and glorious,

We happy few

Going into battle.

Still life

A tableau

A freeze frame

Of a particular moment

In time

On stage,

But in our minds, too,

As we recall

“Where were you when it happened?”

Everyone remembers.

I was in second grade when JFK

Was assassinated.

I was on my way to the gym

When the first plane struck the twin towers.

Moments observed

And never forgotten.

We went to the movies,

My husband and I,

Spotlight

The name of the movie,

A noun and a verb.

A moment revealed

And highlighted.

The power of the press

Uncovering a cover-up

Exposing what had been buried

With the help of many

In the church and government.

What is the opposite

Of wrath of the gods?

The triumph of the human spirit?

Truth

Not equivocation.

Buildings

And photos

Colored in red, blue, and white

In solidarity

Revealing

The human impulse

To do something

In the face of evil

And who says it does no good?

As we are reminded

Time and time again

One person can bring about

Change.

Gandhi said,

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

And

So

In the horror

Of Paris,

Beirut,

The abuse of children,

The censorship of ideas,

The destruction of art,

We mourn,

And

We go about life

Without equivocation

Without hesitation

Revealing truth

Life

Still

But

Not stilled.

Life

Creating

Loving

Being.

More intensely,

More beautifully,

More devotedly

Than ever

Before.

My mom with one of her still life paintings at an exhibit.

My mom with one of her still life paintings at an exhibit.

Further Information:

Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life

The Wrath of the Gods: Masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian

Equivocation at the Arden Theatre. You can read more about the play here.

Spotlight the film

O Brave New World: The Phoenix and Survival

Monday Morning Musings:

“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been the first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but . . .we know all the damn silly things we’ve done. . .someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.

–Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

In mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is constantly reborn. It is associated with the sun—sometimes pictured with a nimbus around its head—and it is said to rise from the ashes of its predecessor. Time and again, civilizations also fall, and others rise from their ashes. Humans seem to have an infinite capacity for destruction. We also seem to have an infinite capacity for expressing our feelings, emotions, and desires through various forms of artistic expression, whether it is painting on a cave wall, secretly writing in a journal, or performing theatrical works in varied and sometimes bizarre locales. We find friendship and love in times of destruction and strife, the need to connect with others often overpowering thoughts of surviving without them.

You know those “what if” games? What books would you want if you were stuck on a deserted island? What belongings would you rush to gather in a disaster? How would you survive a zombie apocalypse? I don’t know. How can anyone know?

The book, Station Eleven, explores survival in the aftermath of a worldwide plague, and along the way it discusses theater, comic books, love, and loss. The story moves back and forth through time and the characters’ lives. One horse-drawn wagon of the Traveling Symphony caravan carries the slogan, “survival is insufficient.” The author of the novel, Emily St. John Mandel, has said she “stole it [the line] shamelessly from Star Trek: Voyager.”

The novel is about how people survive after present day civilization and conveniences no longer exist. What would we value in this brave new world? The Traveling Symphony performs Shakespeare and classical music; one of the actresses collects editions of an obscure comic book and treasures a snow globe. The book makes the argument that art and music of all types are necessary—simply surviving is not enough. Human connection—friendship, love, family bonds—all of these are necessary, too. And sometimes strangers connect us in ways we can never imagine–and perhaps will never know. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, obtaining food and shelter are crucial, but Mandel argues they are not enough. Humans want more. We want stories and art, too.

After finishing the book, I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode that inspired Mandel. (“C’mon,” I said to my husband, “don’t you want to watch Voyager again after all these years?” He did not seem overjoyed, but he watched it with me, demonstrating that indeed in marriage, too, “Survival is insufficient.”) In the episode, Seven of Nine, formerly of the Borg collective, realizes that living in freedom, even for a brief time, is more valuable that living in bondage or in a life you did not choose.

The German movie, Phoenix, explores the idea of survival in a different way. In this 2014 film by director Christian Petzold (that just opened in Philadelphia), Nelly, a concentration camp survivor (the wonderful actress Nina Hoss) returns to Berlin after undergoing reconstructive facial surgery because of injuries inflicted upon her during the war. She has endured unimaginable horrors, and now she wants to find her pianist husband, Johnny. She finds him working as a bus boy in a jazz club, the Phoenix, in the American zone. How did he survive? Did he betray her to the Nazis? How can he not know his own wife? The movie makes viewers reflect upon what we might do in order to survive, and what lies might we then tell ourselves to ease our guilt? We are shown photographs—that person is now dead; that person was a Nazi. “Who him?” asks Nelly. Secrets and lies. What is the truth? There are echoes of Hitchcock here. But in postwar Berlin, many people assumed new identities. Her friend Lene, who knows Nelly’s story, believes she and Nelly should immigrate to Palestine and build a new life. Nelly, however, wants to rebuild her old life—and herself—from the ruins that literally surround her. The song “Speak Low” by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash is repeated throughout the movie, the lyrics speaking words that the characters themselves cannot voice to one another.

“The curtain descends,

Everything ends

Too soon, too soon.”

Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, “Speak Low”

Station Eleven seems to offer more hope in its belief that love and art will triumph. It is set mainly in a post-apocalyptic world, but almost two decades removed from the plague that nearly wiped out humanity. Phoenix is set immediately after the end of WWII. Perhaps a re-born Nelly will, in time, rise in the post-war world. Perhaps she will find joy in song again. Phoenix may not be a great movie, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

In Station Eleven, there is Shakespeare, comic books, art, music, and story telling. Those who remember the past, tell stories of air conditioning and the Internet to those who were born later. In Fahrenheit 451, a passage from which is quoted above, there is a future world where books and reading are banned. Rebel survivors memorize and tell stories so they will not be forgotten. In Phoenix, perhaps it is too soon. Yet Lene plays a record, saying that listening to it helped her survive the war in London. Nelly says she no longer can enjoy German songs. The survivors have survived, but at what cost? Can we be reborn in the aftermath of tragedy?

These are fictional works that share a common theme—they emphasize the importance of literature and art. Sometimes we need fiction to find the truth about our world and ourselves.

         “Some stories are true that never happened.”

-Elie Wiesel