The Selkie’s Lament: Haibun

In the wild water I thrive. I remember this. When I rise from the cold deep, the waves rock and cradle me. At dawn, the grey northern sea turns to fire. When darkness comes, the moon silvers the water, and I watch the stars twinkle and drift across the sky. I didn’t know how happy I was then, watching the days pass in light and shadow across the ocean. My brothers, sisters, and I danced our sleek bodies amidst the waves, laughing and singing our ancient songs. But I had glimpsed you from afar, and I was curious. When the summer sun lingered long and languid, I swam to the shallows, then walked ashore, my human form dripping dulse and smelling of brine. Love, I thought, but possession I became. And now— my true skin gone–I am marooned here, grounded, the sea forsworn forever more. And yet still it calls to me—come! Oh, my brothers and sisters–do you know my sadness? Do you hear my cries?

 

Tears under moon-glow

fall, drift, mingle with the sea

carried with the tides

 

Guillermo_Gómez_Gil_-_Salida_de_la_luna (1)

Guillermo Gómez Gil, “Moonrise,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a haibun for Colleen Chesebro’s  Weekly Poetry Challenge. The prompt words were happy and sad. Sometimes my inner romantic pours out in a brain-tide. 😉

 

 

Dazzled

Monday Morning Musings:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — (1263)

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —“

–Emily Dickinson

 

 

A brilliant she is born

here, there, in the past, now

she lived, flowered—perhaps

a rose with thorns—

or a pale bud that only blooms unseen,

but the fever, the desire to create

to know

to explore

is not enough,

confined by men,

labeled

(only a woman)

put in a box

(too weak)

on a shelf

(an ornament)

in a cage

(shackled and punished)

Don’t think too hard, they say to her

your insides will be twisted,

you’ll go mad,

but she rises, resists

her voice rings out

and we wake

 

***

We see a new movie about Emily Dickinson

I learn afterward that

before she confined herself to life to Amherst,

to her home, garden, and poetry

she traveled a bit,

to Boston,

and to Philadelphia

walked the streets we’ve walked

I imagine her ghost lingering still

though the streets are paved and surrounded by new buildings,

 

she published only a few poems during her life

though she wrote thousands

she admired the Brontës,

women who had their work published

(though first under pseudonyms )

they loved their homes and families,

neither Emily married

(wives did not have time to write)

 

What was her truth

and what is truth

and does it slant,

or do we slant it?

Are facts facts

or alternate facts,

difficult, didactic, diffused

gradually, dazzlingly, deliciously

revealed?

 

We see a performance of Gypsy

I remember watching the movie on TV

with a bit of a crush on Natalie Wood–

the way girls admire older teenage girls–

we’re entertained

we let them entertain us

and make us smile.

the orchestra sweeps us along with Mama Rose,

the ultimate stage mother,

annoying, unyielding, and yet we feel sorry for her

as she seeks the American dream for her children

during the Great Depression

and watch, listen to the music and words of Laurents, Styne, and Sondheim,

the great American musical

 

 

I think the real Gypsy Rose Lee must have dazzled

but not all at once–

or rather showing only some, not all–

hinting–

so that men would not be blinded,

but rather left with wanting more

as she entertained them and made them smile.

 

After the performance

on this Memorial Day weekend

the sky suddenly clears

slowly,

dazzling gradually

delaying the delectable,

revealing the late spring night of beauty

 

and we sit, eat, drink

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

and watch the people walk by

listen to their conversations

wonder about their plans

the young woman leaning on the car taking a selfie

the man with his children waiting for their table,

the trio at the table next to us, discussing diets,

a couple strolls by, the woman says,

“But he’s no longer addicted.”
my husband and I agree that’s good,

even if it seems unlikely.

 

I think about Memorial Day

the day to honor and remember the military fallen,

the long weekend celebrated with parades, barbecue grills,

and trips “down the shore”

Isn’t it strange?

though perhaps not,

to celebrate life, instead of death

and isn’t that what they fought for–

so that we could sit and eat with our families in peace

so that all can receive educations, and not just those who can afford private schools

so all will be able to sort fact from fiction

so that all men and women, all genders, all races, and religions

can live in freedom

isn’t that why they fought

so that I can write these words

and you can read them?

my truth,

slanted like the sunglow as evening falls

blinding, dazzling

truth

revealed gradually

coming full circle

FullSizeRender 129

Today is Memorial Day here in the US. I am mindful and thankful for all the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives, even if I have not supported the wars and conflicts in which they fought.

We saw A Quiet Passion and Gypsy. We ate at Cuba Libre.

I dreamt poetry last night, but sadly I will not have much time to write it this week. As some of you know, I am reading, writing, and editing articles on rape, and my manuscript deadline is. . .um, gulp. . .this week. So. . .I may not be so active in Blogland for the next week or so. Then again, I do need to take a break occasionally. 😉

 

 

 

 

Women: Past, Present, Future

 

He never saw her / A hidden figure

though there she was / in plain sight

his property, to do his bidding /  a body, with a brain though

she smiled meekly, got his coffee before he asked / she could outthink him any day

he glared when she dared to speak or dream / she wanted to learn all she could

he told her to sit down and be quiet /  so she persisted

he put his hands up her skirt and laughed /  and she tried to resist

he beat her / she fought back when she could

he told her he was in charge / she tried to change the system

men were always at the top / she educated her daughters and her sons

the world depended on it /  they had to be bold for change

iwd2012

 

A cleave poem for International Women’s Day 2017. The theme for 2017 is “be bold for change.” A cleave poem is three poems in one–left side, right side, and the full lines.

Today’s Google Doodle was a slide show featuring women of diverse backgrounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Balloon: Microfiction

le_ballon-pierre_puvis_de_chavannes-img_8274

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes [CeCILL (http://www.cecill.info/licences/Licence_CeCILL_V2-en.html) or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

She had raged against the war, raged against the loss, and raged against fate. Her husband and her three sons had been killed; her grandchildren would never be born. Her city was destroyed, and there was no one left to rebuild it. Bodies lay in the streets, dead of starvation, disease, and hopelessness. Now the fire of her rage had died to embers. Over it, her sorrow had once simmered and stewed, but now, it too was gone. She was hollow, like a shell abandoned on the beach. She wondered if her body carried echoes of her life before–when she had dreams.

As she walked toward the ancient walls of her city, she noticed a balloon rising in the distant sky. A sign of hope or help? Too late, she thought. She wondered if she imagined it, as she watched the balloon ascend higher and higher, mocking her. She knew she would never rise; the only way for her was down. She hoped her flight would be graceful, like the balloon’s, a final bit of beauty amidst the tragedy of her life. She stood at the top of the city’s wall, spread her arms, and dived into the wind.

 

After

She floated, carried by wind currents, by angels’ breath. She floated like a leaf upon the water. She heard a sound, like echoing voices, and a door between worlds opened. There was her city spread beneath her, filled with joyous people, busy with the tasks of everyday life. In a blink, she stood now in the market square. Her eldest son saw her and greeted her with a smile. She noticed a balloon high above her. She dared to dream. Here and always.

 

This story was for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday strange microfiction challenge. The prompt was the painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chosen: Microfiction

grand_dukes_bride_by_repin

Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.

Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.

Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.

As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.

At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.

 

This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.”  There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.

 

 

 

 

Penelope Waits: Magnetic Poetry

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-6-48-01-pm

 

 

Hero fascinated by fighting,

she, sad quiet at home,

a heart full of love.

Goddess protect him—

light night-hours,

in morning,

a gentle promise,

she has hope.

 

The Oracle seems to be bringing me women in history. Last week was Joan of Arc; and this week, Penelope (the wife of Odysseus), though I would not imagine her so passive. I’ve added punctuation.

This is for Magnetic Poetry Saturday  at Mr. Elusive Trope’s Specks and Fragments.

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Penelope,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_penelope

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Penelope,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Rondelet: Poetry Challenge

0_download

Odilon Redon,  La Voile jaune (The Yellow Sail). Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

 

(1.) The Refugees

 

We ached for home,

starting our journey, looking back

we ached for home

though forced to flee, and forced to roam

in our red boat, we had to tack

the golden sail, the night loomed black

we ached for home

 

(2.) The Female Pirates

 

With sparkling jewels

We set sail upon the ocean

With sparking jewels

We challenged men, we broke the rules,

Made our plans, set them in motion

Women! We caused a commotion

With sparkling jewels

 

These two poems are in response to Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge #37. For this challenge, we were to write a rondelet using the image above, Odilon Redon’s La Voile jaune (The Yellow Sail) and the word “journey.” This is a new form for me. Both of these poems are inspired by the picture, but only the first one uses the word “journey.”  A rondelet is a 7-line poem (septet) with two rhymes and a repeated refrain. The refrain is 4 syllables; the other lines are 8 syllables. AbAabbA

 

 

Bridges and Puzzles

Monday Morning Musings:

“Then we got into a labyrinth, and, when we thought we were at the end,
came out again at the beginning, having still to see as much as ever.”
–Plato

“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”
—William Shakespeare,  Love’s Labor’s Lost, Act V, scene iii

 

There are bridges that carry us across rivers

And there are bridges that close gaps in time or understanding

But life is a labyrinth

There are no direct routes

It twists and turns

Until it finally ends

Unsolved

 

We took a bridge to my sister’s house,

Our annual Mother’s Day ritual,

Lunch prepared by my sister and her wife

Stuffed shells, meatballs and sausage for the meat eaters,

A great salad brought by my niece

(ten minutes of agonizing about it over

the phone the day before)

because that’s what we do

The women in my family can make

Not simply mountains out of mole hills,

We can make Mt. Everest out of speck on the ground

But oh, we can spin stories, too–

Best done with food and wine,

Enough food for twice the number at the table

Also part of the tradition–

So we sit at my sister’s table

We talk about our pets

The size of our cats

(big and small)

The time my daughter’s dog

“sprint peed” around her apartment

We talk about family

The “art genes” we carry

The ability to write and a love of chocolate

(Must be carried on dominant genes)

Perhaps a love of spicy food, too,

As no one thought the “hot” salsa was particularly hot

And daughter and I had

a little pizza with our hot peppers the night before

My niece discussing family craziness

“If our husbands die do you want to live together

 and we can drink and be crazy together?”

She might have said this to my daughter

That’s perfectly normal, right?

And then it was off to Macy’s

How many women does it take to shop with my mom?

We have our assigned roles,

Dresser

Assistant dressers

Clothing hangers

Hunter and Gatherer of new items

But sometimes it takes a village

IMG_3789

And this year, we also have

The bra hunter

And dressing room bouncer

Do you wonder what it must be like

Or why we laugh?

You hook the bra, and I’ll put the boobs in

And later a whispered aside:

Just put the pillow over my head if I start wearing bras like that

She has great boobs– you have good boob genes

(Is this carried along with the writing and chocolate gene?)

To the dressing room bouncer,

How about if you close the door– I’m sitting here in all my glory.

Finally, the shopping is complete

My mom has quite a haul– dress, pants, shirts—no new bra

What $40? Forget it?

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

We head back to my sister’s,

where my husband, brother, and sister’s wife

have been watching the Phillies

They won!

Time for dessert,

My brownies and daughter’s cannoli dip

We like our chocolate

FullSizeRender 19

Not much left here!

And coffee

What? You don’t make coffee at home?

Back in the car, driving my mom home

We talk of family history

We learn that some of her family lived in a refugee tent city

In England

Caught there between Belarus and the U.S.

Early in the twentieth century

Perhaps during WWI?

My mom doesn’t know

She said her cousin, then a young child

Thought it was fun—the children got to run around and play–

Their mothers probably did not enjoy it as much–

We arrive at my mom’s, but

Just before she gets out of the car

She leaves us with one more family puzzle

Her father left family in Russia who vanished during

“the war,”

That would be WWII.

I have no idea what to make of this.

What people?

How did they vanish?

Life is full of such puzzles

We can never solve all of them

But there’s a quest to try

To work our way through the labyrinth

Not right now though

It’s late

And so we head back over the bridge,

East with the sun at our backs

To home

Where there is more chocolate waiting for me.

IMG_3796

 

 

 

 

An Adventure

Monday Morning Musings:

“‘I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’”

–Lewis Carroll, “The Lobster Quadrille,” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

I’ve been on an adventure since last Wednesday. Just so you’re clear, it’s a Merril Adventure, so it doesn’t involve car chases, hot air balloons, or ski slopes; no danger involving avalanches or volcanic eruptions. I’ve not been caught in a coup, nor been accused of spying. I’ve not encountered a single lion, tiger, or bear. However, I have seen ponies. (I’ll just pause here for you to say, “awwww.”)

 

It’s an adventure involving women, friendship, and writing. In fact, I’m on a writers’ retreat. It’s not an “official” retreat, that is, it’s not sponsored by a group or organization. That also means there is no pressure. I haven’t spent the last few days hiding away or feeling anxious. Instead, I’ve formed new friendships while learning about writing memoir, fine-tuning passages, and formatting blog posts. We’ve done critiques, but we’ve also eaten great food, drunk wine, shared memories and expertise, laughed, and explored the lovely Chincoteague/Assateague area—apparently the area is a magnetic center that brings people, as well as birds, from all over.

IMG_3546

Janet Givens  instigated this writers’ gathering, offering her lovely vacation home to almost total strangers. Susan Weidener  kindly offered to drive Marian Beaman and me from Pennsylvania. I admit, I was apprehensive about spending a week with women I’ve never met, but it has been a wonderful several days—and I now have new friends!

It’s possible I may have baked and brought my Mandelbrot (aka “Mommy Cookies”) along—because how could I go a week without chocolate goodies? Susan brought chocolate, too—so one crisis was averted. Sigh of relief. Can you imagine me going a day, much less a week without chocolate?

IMG_3619 4

Just a few left.

 

Our group expanded during the week at Janet’s. Kathy Pooler 

joined our circle from afar. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?

IMG_3616 3

 

We were joined—in person–by Mary Gottschalk and Carol Bodensteiner  on Saturday night. Apparently on our blogs, both Mary and I are taller. Who knew blogs had such power? On Saturday night, the six of us gathered together at Janet’s, enjoyed stinky cheese (brought from Vermont), wine, and dinner—along with talk of writing and life. I’ve been among truly brilliant and interesting women who have fascinating tales to share and knowledge to impart.

20160320_180830

Although I’ve missed my husband and cats, it’s been a fabulous several days.

Please do click on the links to meet these women. Perhaps you may also want to buy their books. (You know you want to.)

In addition to walking and talking, listening, and eating, I did do a bit of writing. Here is an echo poem I wrote during this past week–while the weather was beautiful and warm.

 

Chincoteague Island, March 2016

Four women gathered together.

Weather?

Well, it couldn’t be better.

Sweater

off and writing going

flowing

growing with critique.

Incomplete

forms arrested,

tested

by practice and time.

Sublime

words, write, repeat,

delete–

but now it’s time to eat.

Sweet!

Laughter from we four

offshore

gazing and walking

talking of Peace Corps,

more–

Four women together

weathered

bettered.

 

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Essay XII,” Art

Have you ever been on a writers’ retreat?  Please share your experiences.

 

 

 

 

Airing Out Some [Thoughts On] Laundry

“I believe you should live each day as if it is your last, which is why I don’t have any clean laundry, because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of their life?”

–Anonymous

Laundry: a chore that most likely everyone reading this blog has performed, probably numerous times. I’ve been reading and writing about washing clothes in mid-18th century America this past week for my forthcoming World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia, and suddenly everywhere I turn there are laundry references—the latest episode of the TV show, Fargo; the gym friend’s remark about having a pile of ironing to do (My response? I think we have an iron somewhere in the house.), and of course the never-ending piles of dirty clothes that my husband and I manage to accrue. I’m not certain how two people can accumulate so much, but somehow there it is.

         When my husband and I were first married, we lived in a garden-style apartment complex. Laundry facilities were located in a separate building across the large parking lot from our apartment. Because it was not very convenient to carry the clothes over, especially if it was raining or snowing, we waited until we had nothing to wear—I bought us both extra underwear—and then my husband would load the bags and bags of our dirty clothing, towels, and sheets into his car and drive it across the lot. He was willing to sit there at odd hours feeding quarters into the machines, and then driving our clean laundry back to our apartment. (To be honest, it frightened me to sit there or even to go into that building alone.) One of our first purchases after moving into our next apartment (in a converted twin house) was a washer and dryer to go in the basement.

         My mom and dad’s first apartment in 1940s Philadelphia had a clothesline strung between the windows of two buildings. I’ve only seen these in movies. She had to cart the baby (my older brother) and dirty clothes to the Laundromat, bring the now wet clothes back, go up the four flights of stairs, finding a space for the baby carriage, and then hang out the clothes to dry. I know she was happy to finally have her own washer and dryer when they had their own house. I believe my father bought them for her as a surprise—to make her work easier—but I’m fairly certain he never touched the machines himself.

         Still, this was nothing compared to the problems of washing clothing and sheets in the eighteenth-century—or in areas today where there is no running water, a situation that is particularly dangerous for women. (Most of the world now knows that the two young Indian girls who were recently raped, murdered, and left hanging on a tree, left their home to relieve themselves in the fields because they had no toilet facilities. In many parts of the world, women have to travel long distances to haul water back to their homes, risking attacks during these journeys.)

         For Anglo-Americans of the eighteenth century, new ideas about gentility influenced laundry practices. The global economy was also a major factor in changing idea about cleanliness—one of the most important and frequently imported items to British North America was Irish linen. To be considered “genteel,” men and women had to have clean hands and faces, and snowy white shirts and cuffs. The rest of the body didn’t have to be immersed daily, or even yearly, for that matter, nor did silk or woolen gowns and coats have to be washed. The shifts and undergarments that touched the body were supposed to be washed regularly, as they were the garments that absorbed perspiration from the body. Bedding and table linen had to be washed as well to ensure the appearance of being genteel.*

         As the need to appear clean became more important, so did the regularity of washing clothes. Long Island farm wife, Mary Cooper complained about having to miss church meeting because she didn’t have clean clothing. In her diary, Philadelphia Quaker Elizabeth Drinker also mentioned people missing meeting because they did not have clean clothing to wear there. What once had been a monthly, or even seasonal activity became a weekly ordeal by the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth-century. Monday often became the designated laundry day. Water had to be hauled and heated, irons had to be heated, and clothes dried, sometimes by draping it over bushes or on the grass. A rainy day could jeopardize the whole procedure. Laundry was hot, heavy, onerous work, and households that could afford to do so, hired laundresses. Wealthy slaveholders built separate laundry, or laundry-kitchen buildings, partly as a status symbol indicating they had large amounts of clothing to be washed and laborer to do it the task.

         Here are links to two photographs of washing days from the nineteenth-century. The first shows an advertisement for laundry soap with happy housewives hanging their clothes on a line. The second, undated, portrays the reality of doing laundry without running water or machines. The clothes are boiled in the kettle and spread over shrubs to dry. The women do not look happy.

         Undoubtedly laundry is a chore, although one that is not too burdensome in homes with running water, electricity or gas, and working appliances. The loss of any of those three items makes the process more difficult, if not impossible–until one goes to a public laundromat, the machines get repaired, or the power is restored. It is easy enough for me to throw a load of wash in the machine, and then go and do other things, like write a blog post. In the US, laundry is often a cultural reference or a topic for jokes. In one episode of the Gilmore Girls, for example, Lorelai meets her daughter’s headmaster for the first time while dressed in a ridiculous outfit because the rest of her clothes were dirty—it’s laundry day! We joke about the college students returning home with bundles of dirty laundry for mom to wash, and sometimes it’s true.

         Laundry has produced other slang terms and references—a “laundry list” of items, “dirty laundry,” as in gossip about private matters. A friend of mine used the phrase “folding laundry” as a euphemism for sex. Apparently “doing laundry” is also a slang term for sex.

         Have you ever thought this much about washing your clothing? Have you ever wanted to? Hmmm. . .don’t answer that. Do you have a good laundry-related story? Share it below.

*This is a very brief summary, of course. For more on cleanliness in early America, see, Kathleen M. Brown, Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. For more on daily life during the era of the American Revolution, you’ll have to wait for my book!

For Elizabeth Drinker and Mary Cooper:

Elizabeth Forman Crane, ed. The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, 3 vols., Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991.

Field Horne, ed. The Diary of Mary Cooper: Life on a Long Island Farm, 1768-1773. Oyster Bay, NY: Oyster Bay Historical Society, 1981.