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

 

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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

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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. 😉

 

 

 

 

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Heroes Who Fly: NaPoWriMo

 “Because of Bessie Coleman, we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”

–Lieutenant William J. Powell

“The air is the only place free from prejudices.”

–Bessie Coleman

 

She saw the sky,

and she wanted to fly

far from the Texas cotton fields

and one-room school

she was smart, nobody’s fool

she wanted to fly,

high amidst the clouds

 

She dared to dream

and so, she schemed

worked and saved and moved away

took flight,

to the City of Light,

a woman of color,

An American in Paris,

her life would have been safe, but duller

if she had stayed at home, somehow smaller,

unable to achieve her American dream

 

Yet once she was trained

could fly up and around,

she was beloved, renowned

for her daring and skill,

for her will

to achieve

despite her gender

despite her race

(though she had stepped from her place)

Queen Bess they called her

as she performed

confronting danger

and perhaps placed a wager

as they sat and cheered

because they knew

knew what she could do

when she saw the sky

and wanted to fly

 

And we need heroes who soar,

to adore,

heroes who persist

heroes who resist

prejudice and hate

to show us it can be done

that evil hasn’t won,

we need heroes who reach for the sky,

who place hope and desire
on their outstretched wings,

who dream a dream,

and fly

 

This is Day 21, NaPoWriMo. I’m off-prompt. Back in January, Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was featured in a Google Doodle. She was the first woman of African-American descent and the first woman of Native American descent to become a licensed pilot.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering for Suffrage

Votes for Women buttons

Collection of pins, Library of Congress

As I walk to the polling place

I think of times not long gone by

Of those not welcomed in this space

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

A robin sings from a pine tree,

Above him blue is the summer sky

Cloudless space, bright tranquility

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Yet elsewhere votes do not get cast

Here flowers bloom, no one will die

To have this right, and hold it fast

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Bread and roses, not much to ask,

Yet, jail and death, and people cry

Freedom and rights, take up the task

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Standing on shoulders of giants,

I walk, I vote, I watch birds fly

Free and high, no fear of tyrants

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Votes for Women

Votes for Women, Washington, D.C. March, Library of Congress

 

For a brief time under New Jersey’s Constitution of 1776, anyone, male or female, black or white, could vote, as long as they could meet monetary or property requirements (this was standard for the time). This right was taken away in 1807. (You can read more here. )

The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited the denial of voting rights to citizen’s based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” thus giving formerly enslaved black men the right to vote.

On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the Nineteenth-Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex.” The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Poll taxes and bogus literacy tests (and intimidation) were used to effectively disenfranchise many black voters in the south until the passage of additional laws, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. More recently, some states have passed voter ID laws, which often prevent citizens from voting.

Of course, in many places, men and women are still fighting for the right to vote, or the right to vote without fear of violence.

Here’s Judy Collins singing “Bread and Roses”  . The words originated in a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim, “Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread by give us roses.” The women striking in the textile mill of Lawrence, MA, used the slogan, and it became popular again in the 1960s.

 

 

 

 

Looking Back at Looking Back

A few days ago while working on a new book, I needed some information on eighteenth-century men and women who left their spouses and turned to my first book Breaking the Bonds. It’s been quite a while since I’ve really read through it. It was a strange feeling to look back at prose I wrote over twenty years ago, but I was pleased to find I still thought it was good. Sigh of relief, right?

As I read about the unhappy lives of people who died long ago, I thought back about my own life.  I was reading history, but I was thinking about my own history—who I was, how I’ve changed, and how the process of research and writing has changed. Breaking the Bonds started as my doctoral dissertation, and because of that, it is the book I spent the most time researching and writing. I wrote each chapter multiple times and presented each one to professors, other grad students, and seminar groups. I presented versions of some chapters to various professional associations.

When I began the research for this book, few documents or collections were digitized. I didn’t do any of the research online or take notes on my computer. (I had one of the first Apple computer models then—a desk top, of course.) I went to archives with pencils (no pens allowed), index cards, and legal pads.

I was the first historian to really use and write about some of the documents and collections I unearthed during my research, although since that time, other, more celebrated, historians have gone on to discuss them. I was fortunate to be at the right place and the right time as archivists were processing some collections, and several graciously shared papers with me or allowed me to go through them before they were indexed. Those who have never visited archives might not realize how papers can become “buried” in stacks of other papers or within dusty volumes. Although I love the ease of finding and searching through online documents—without having to actually get dressed or worry about driving—there is something special about seeing and holding the actual letter someone in the past wrote to a friend, relative, or official. And something exhilarating about discovering a document that proves a point you want to make or leads you down a new path.

 I was a different person when I did the research for Breaking the Bonds. If I wrote the book now, it would be a different book. Not necessarily better or worse, but different.

Being a full-time graduate student is like nothing else. You are in an artificial world where your job is to read, write, and research, and then talk about it. All the time. Not joking. All the time.  It was a fun, exciting, and scary world to me. At the beginning of my grad school days, I was a twenty-something, but I was naïve and looked younger than I was. I always got carded if I went to a bar. Nearly every Friday night, my math teacher husband and I got together with other young married couples–who were not historians or grad students. We ate dollar hoagies (can you imagine?), or occasionally splurged on pizza or Chinese food. They would ask me what interesting stories I had come across in my research. I’d regale them with the pathos and sexual exploits of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Pennsylvanians, such as the woman who warmed one of her stockings and then dangled it in front of her lover before he could “get it up.” (Interested? It’s in the book!)

I was probably attempting to look professional.

I was probably attempting to look professional.

By the time I finished the dissertation, I had a baby daughter. Right before the book went to press, I gave birth to our second daughter (finishing the index just in time). Now both the babies are grown, and I’ve written and edited many books. I’m a different person. I’m probably still naïve, but I no longer get carded.

As I re-read Breaking the Bonds, I thought about how the world has changed since the eighteenth-century. And how I have changed since I wrote the book. At the same time, much in the world remains the same—people fall in love and lust, have children, enjoy eating and drinking with friends, gossip, and do cruel and horrible things to one another.

 Today I will reenact my grad school days. I told my husband that when I was in grad school I used to read a book in a day and write a review essay about it all the time. The book review I agreed to write for a major journal isn’t due until Wednesday. No problem. I guess I should get started though. Any second now. Wish me luck.

 Thanks for reading!

Merril