I drafted this about a week ago when I posted this photo, just as a sentence, knowing I wanted to work with it. The photo was a difficult catch, the flurries in movement and the rose hips holding still and glistening. I tried to capture the feeling of the movement and contrast that I remembered, and that still inspire me.
I composed the first draft poem in the past tense as was the original statement.
Then I felt it would work better in present tense.
I think I’ll leave it here for today, and I know I’ll come back to it.
This was just a quick realization while standing in my kitchen one afternoon: five and five and five and stars. I wrote it down and stuck it on the refrigerator and today, January 1, I decided I would write at least a few words each day, aiming for five days a week. This little scrap has been waiting. So we’ll see how I do with that goal.
I don’t know when I will close the door
for the last time
long days of summer freedom
endless open windows as if
outdoors was in
warm days, birdsong, butterflies
cool nights, lightning bugs, crickets
days and nights of sundresses
my bare feet on the tile
on the wood
on the concrete
on the grass
on the soil of my garden
sundress now dropped in the laundry
days brief and shadowed
quick change through shorts and tanks
and tees and capris
to pants and long sleeves
socks between my feet and the Earth
I close the door
envision one of many bright spring mornings
I was not originally a lover of summer, preferring the quiet solitude of winter. At some point when autumn arrived I felt a pang of something…regret? loss? I realized I would miss the freedoms of summer: the open windows, easy cool sundresses, bare feet, even in hot weather days were less complicated by working for comfort. And once I began working at home I realized that the long afternoons of summer were just as quiet as I worked in solitude. Maybe, in some ways, better than winter?
No need for comparison. I still love winter. And I love summer too. And spring and autumn, the lead-up to each one, eases that transition in the most joyful way in spring, and the most solemn and contemplative way in autumn.
Summers are overly busy when I am a vendor at various weekend or even weekday events, though I still enjoy the long days of solitude in between. But writing time is scarce, though the inspirations are not.
When September arrived and I decided I would quit the events for the work I had in hand at home, I also decided I would at least take some notes on my thoughts and draft quick poems or essays and develop them later if need be. I used the “notes” application on my phone to record my voice as my hands were busy much as I once used my little tape recorder as I drove to work in the morning.
I pledge to myself to develop these ideas and get myself back in the habit of writing. I hope you enjoy!
My mother died on January 25, 2011, and each year around that date I remember her in a post and share the poem I wrote for her the day she died.
She had been ill for years, and this last time she’d gone to the hospital in congestive heart failure it was clear she would not recover. Kept comfortable by the hospital staff, we waited around her bed for her last breaths.
Later, after clearing out her room at the nursing home, all the necessary phone calls, a visit from a friend and more calls, I had my time alone and was up quite late. As I sat outside in the quiet of the January night watching the snow gently fill the air and fall whispering in a soft blanket on all around me, the poem came to me in nearly one complete piece. So that I would not distract myself from the flowing words in my head I carefully went inside and tiptoed to my desk for a tablet and pen, quietly went back outside to the swing and wrote it down slowly, line for line, all as if I was afraid I’d scare it away, all the beautiful words I’d been thinking, or maybe I’d break it, like a bubble. I changed very little in a rewrite.
I read this poem at her memorial. And I had decided I would go through with my poetry reading scheduled for just two days after my mother died, because it was an opportunity to share her with others and to read the new poem.
I could never encapsulate 86 years of a life into one blog post or one photo or one poem. The photo above is the one we placed in our mother’s casket, her wedding photo from 1946 when she was 21 years old. The little scrap of red in the lower left corner is the red blouse she wore, the one she loved best, and I knew she’d want to be remembered in it; our mother was one who could wear a red chiffon blouse in her casket and be proud.
About My Mother
Regardless of the many outstanding qualities any person may have
we are essentially remembered for only one of them.
In my mother, all would agree
this one would be her remarkable beauty.
All through her life the compliments trailed her
as she carefully maintained “the look”, her look, so glamorous,
from tailored suits to taffeta dresses to palazzo pants,
hair perfectly styled, nails manicured and painted
a collar set just so, cuffs casually turned back,
hair worn long, past the age of 50,
a dark, even tan and shorts into her 80s,
lipstick always perfectly applied,
and even at 84
people marveled on her perfect skin,
dark curly hair,
and big bright smile.
I see that smile
when I see my sister smile,
and I see my mother’s active, athletic bearing
when I look at my brother,
and her gray eyes are mine.
In each of her grandchildren
I see her round face,
graceful hands, pert nose,
proud upright posture
and a million other of her features and habits
and in all of us
her wild curly hair
is part of her legacy to us.
When we look at each other from now on
we will see the part of her she gave to each of us,
this little cluster of people who came from her
and who were her greatest treasure,
and when she looks at us from wherever she is
she will know that
she cannot be forgotten.
Just past snow
through the detritus of last year’s final folly
faded brown and crackling beneath my feet
you reach a slender tendril of faith
to bear aloft your flag of conquest
a complementary flower
arms open wide
let the rain fall soft on our faces
herald the joy of spring.
I’m always happy to see the periwinkle flowers, and this year I haven’t yet had the chance to move all the leaves so they display their soft blue-violet in front of reddish-brown leaves, a color complement.
Usually I’ll run my mower over the yard to pick up and mulch the leaves and let them fall back where they were, and the vines grow atop the mulch. But this year they’ve had to push their way through the maple and mulberry leaves that fell last autumn.
This is what happens when I wake up and the snow is enchanting and I hear that a maternity hospital in Ukraine was bombed by Russia and I have to do something with all of it.
Someday They Will Sing
where have all the flowers gone,
long time passing,
young ones have picked them,
every one of them
gone for soldiers,
returned to graveyards
and graveyards gone to flowers,
long time ago,
and again and again
when will they ever learn,
why did they never learn
(#SlavaUkraini, and for all other people oppressed by war.)
I drafted the poem on the trail on Saturday, what happens when I come face to face with nature on a trail feeling the earth beneath my feet and the sun and breeze filling my head and my thoughts. I have been singing the song since the invasion began and was singing as I walked along, and every so often wrote another line of my thoughts.
The song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” was inspired by a traditional song of the Cossacks, Slavic peoples who lived in rural regions of both Ukraine and Russia, though the source of the song is Ukrainian. Pete Seeger adapted some of the lyrics and wrote the first three verses in 1955, Joe Hickerson wrote the rest in 1960.
It once was that men marched off to war while women stayed behind and tended the flowers in the graveyards, but I have heard a few folk singers (can’t remember) who have sung lyrics updated to reflect that young women become soldiers as well as young men, in fact, young people of all sorts become soldiers. With both society’s norms and folkways and beloved folk songs, breaking the mold can be difficult, but I could finally feel an update was natural.
I watch the creative soul of Ukrainians in this fight, so many musicians, artists, poets, writers, playing piano at the borders, making art to describe the conflict and their opposition, making Molotov cocktails instead of beer, a brass band of soldiers standing in fatigues to play the Ukrainian national anthem around the spot where a Russian missile hit, and the least I can do is awaken my own, possibly my inheritance from my Ukrainian ancestors, to reflect my support.
The illustration above is a sampler of all the shades of pastel I’ve used while painting portraits and sketches of people of all different “colors”, skin tones and ethnicities. All of them appear in all skin tones. Tell me, who is “black” and who is “white”? And what does “colored” mean?
In truth, we are all “colored”. Each of our faces has the darkest and lightest tones and all those in between, and even some colors we’d be surprised to find in skin tones. I can tell you that all the colors I smudged there have appeared in the highlights and shadows and mid-tones of every face. It largely depends on where you are standing in relation to the light.
Some people have suggested that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of black children and white children going forward hand in hand, the ideal of seeing a person not for the color of their skin but for the content of their character, had the goal of a “colorblind” society. That’s a noble ideal on one hand, where we just don’t notice the color of a person’s skin in any situation and go on from there.
But does that truly bring justice to wrongdoing and change society in a way that makes the injustice people have suffered because of that color unacceptable? To suddenly begin to ignore the color of a person’s skin and jump immediately to integration is to jump right over the injustices done to people because of the color of their skin. It’s also ignoring an essential part of another person, shutting the door on a section of their life, a part that makes them distinctive. King did not use the term “colorblind” in any speech or written document, but his point is described by historians as a more “color aware” society where we recognize our differences, celebrate them and thereby heal through those very differences among ourselves.
When I create a piece of visual artwork I look for what makes the subject inspiring to me, what makes it distinctive, what makes me excited to share it with you. I like contrasts, I find what makes my subject different in its class, what makes it stand out from its surroundings. It’s my joy to find and share “the extraordinary in the ordinary”. If everything I painted looked the same, what need would there be for artwork?
Looking at people has always been like looking at a field of flowers for me—I find it hard to settle on one before I skip to another while I enjoy the visually exciting effect of all those different colors and shapes and heights and structures. Then I can can pause on each one and get to know each in its own unique detail.
When I rode the bus, long before I painted anything let alone a human portrait, I quietly studied all the faces around me for color and shape and texture, eye color, the hair that framed it, accessories and jewelry, and was often started by a stern expression of someone who didn’t understand why I studied them so intently. I was just looking for the things that made them unique and beautiful—not in the classic sense of beauty but in the classical sense, in that beauty is truth, in being true to who we are inside showing that on the outside, like the flower in the field that can’t help but be what it is.
If we are colorblind, we intentionally ignore some of the fundamental differences that make each of us irreplaceable. That denies a basic part of our personal existence and of human existence as a species; it denies a portion of our very identity as an individual.
That takes an awful lot of effort. Why not admit to our differences and get to know each other in full, and find the beauty in each of us. We have always been and will always be different from each other and might as well get used to it.
I turned off the lamp
but light still shone,
my bed awash with cool blue
pulls my thoughts to follow a path
up toward the full Wolf Moon
the imperative solo light of January nights;
I hear her distant howl across the valley
and feel her pull on me
to follow her path
past the effect of old wavy glass
through the tangled branches of the spruce
to the clear cold blue night of adventures
that might have otherwise been mine.
A poem in progress inspired by the actual nearly-full Wolf Moon that shone in my bedroom window last night, so bright I could do nothing but watch her slowly move past the branches of the spruce, distorted by the wavy glass of my old windows, and think. My camera had captured the distortion in even more depth as it always does, as if it either wants to prove to me how my vision had dismissed the distortion of the glass as a mistake yet I should see it as it actually was, or show me how distorted my views really were. Those long, cold, quiet nights often bring reflections of could have beens and should Is, especially when the Wolf Moon howls for my attention.
My daily photos often inspire poetry or prose that I try to get back to and develop into something more finished. That’s what this site is for. So my hope is that I can collect these thoughts here and find an easier way to get back to them.
The mornings this September have had that particular autumnal cool with a little mist and I thought the spell might have been broken. But the morning this September 11 is sunny, blue, and warm, and eerily quiet, so much like that morning 20 years ago.
Aside from being in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, I am nowhere near New York or Washington DC. I am, however, barely an hour away from Shanksville. On the hot sunny morning of September 11, 2001, I was just finishing work outdoors in my back yard when I heard on the radio that a plane had the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Thinking it was an unfortunate accident I continued listening to the radio for details and 20 minutes later heard that a second plane had hit the South Tower and knew instinctively, as I’m sure we all did, that it was no accident.
My radar for tragedy was sensitized; just a few months before my mother had unexpectedly nearly died after lung cancer surgery, held on for six weeks then miraculously awakened from a near-coma one day and gone on to recover, rehabilitate and return home, though weak and fragile, needing my constant support. The previous year my brother had suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident and at that time lived in a nursing home 30 miles away. I was integral to their recoveries and care and was legal guardian and power of attorney, and my carefully-planned self-employment was unraveling.
When I heard the news, I was out on my garden patio by the basement door, putting another coat of paint on some vintage wooden chairs I used on my deck before winter would peel the last of it off. Garden cat Moses was dozing on the warm bricks, soaking in the sun, the tip of her tail gently tapping the bricks in contentment. I always worked in my garden and did small projects early in the day to make sure they got done before I hit my computer, and to make sure I didn’t hit the computer as soon as I got up and stayed on it all day long. It was a hot, sticky late summer morning, my verdant garden a green jungle, birds twittering everywhere stocking up for migration and winter, and work waiting for me indoors. The first report that it was likely an accident, planes had hit buildings in the past, staved off some worry. Then the second plane hit when everyone in Manhattan was looking at the towers and saw the direction, the turn, the increase in speed prior to hitting the tower, and suddenly a perfect morning had turned unreal.
Jets fly overhead all the time. I have lived in the flight path for Pittsburgh International Airport all my life, and just as close to an Air Force base, and not only do they fly overhead, they circle and slow down and make noise and fly at crazy angles as they come in for a landing. A noisy plane flying low overhead is something I didn’t even notice. But two planes had just hit the two towers of the World Trade Center and a third had hit the Pentagon. I suddenly noticed that the sky was very quiet for that time of the morning.
After the plane hit the Pentagon, I put Moses inside the basement, much to her consternation, as if she needed to be protected from what might be happening, and I suddenly felt exposed under the clarity of that blue sky. As the story grew I thought of my mother and brother and if I should get them and put them somewhere just to make sure they were safe too. Everything seemed suddenly slightly askew.
Then in the increasing quiet as traffic cleared the roads, in that empty perfect clear blue September sky, a single plane went overhead and my hackles rose, a cold tingle running to my fingers on that warm morning as I watched it seeming to struggle through the sky overhead. Shortly thereafter we heard about the crash in Shanksville and I imagined the comforting familiarity of perfect green rolling hills of my Western Pennsylvania home bathed in morning sun, now wrenched open and strewn with the wreckage of violence.
I hurried inside, no longer feeling safe under that warm blue sky. I thought of my mother in her home about a mile and a half away, still weak and needing daily assistance for most activities, many prescriptions and home oxygen. If all this was suddenly disrupted, what would I do? Should I go to her house now? Should I try to get her to a more secure place, like a hospital?
And my brother in the nursing home 30 miles north of me, continuing his recovery from a traumatic brain injury the previous year, also requiring a lot of daily care, medications and supervision. Should I try to move him closer? What if I couldn’t get to him?
And my sister a few miles away with her younger daughter and grandchild? And my niece and her three babies, one of them just six days old, a few miles in the other direction? Should we all find a place to go?
Anyone else would have run for the television, but I didn’t have one then, and I don’t have one now, so I never got to see the very first images that showed up on CNN that morning, heard the fear in the newscasters’ voices. I listened to the familiar voices of the local and NPR reporters describing the events on my radio, feeling calmer listening to their words and being able to move around my house than I would have being trapped in front of a television. I called my mother and later went to her house and watched there.
Did any of us know what to do in those first hours and days, even those of us so far from the terrible scenes of death and destruction more horrible than we could imagine?
It wasn’t until the gentle, perfect beauty of September 12 that the effects of what had happened became reality for me. Not only do I live very near Pittsburgh International Airport, I am also at the intersection of two interstates right outside of Pittsburgh and hear the noises of all this traffic every day, especially in the morning. The next day, with travel restricted on land and in the air, was so eerily quiet. The beauty of the warm sun and clear blue sky, the peaceful twitters of birds and hum of bees we could rarely hear with traffic and daily noises, the clear views of the tree-covered hills made the morning seem like paradise at first, as if everything would be okay after all. But the clear stillness became unnerving as the hours of daylight passed and we had no more of our questions answered, nor knew the extent of the damage and death as it was still unfolding in all three areas.
Perhaps those perfect September days were given to calm us before we learned how our lives had changed.
Today looks no different from yesterday but forever against the backdrop of a blue September sky we will now remember the loss of our innocence.
September 11 was a blur of images and fears and unknowns, and for me it wasn’t until September 12 dawned and brightened into another seemingly perfect September day, blue sky and all, that what had happened, and the permanent change it brought, really settled in.
My daily photo today unexpectedly inspired some verse. It just began writing itself in my head so I thought I’d bring it here and work on it.
When I share my daily photos I typically write something about it, often just a mundane note of what or where it is, an identification of a wildflower or butterfly, or sometimes just a thought; sometimes an extended thought that becomes an essay or a poem. I go where it leads me.
Here is the original version:
In late summer, in the fullness of plenty,
I filled my arms with your brilliant yellow and warm green,
followed by bees besotted with your gentle scent,
burying my face into your softness, thinking of beds made of your flowers;
today in the cold, punishing wind, the swirling snow,
all decorations weathered away,
I could see your naked strength holding your essence outright,
with faith in spring.
I had intended to talk about the spareness and simplicity of the scene, a pure little moment, but my mind went to the flowers and identified them as goldenrod and one of our native wild sunflowers, likely jerusalem artichokes. That made me remember what those plants look like in late summer when they begin to bloom most heavily, how I love to see them, their volume of stems and leaves and flowers, their light fragrance and the hum of hungry bees, and the contrast with what is left behind, the essentials, swaying in winter wind, catching snowflakes, holding onto those seeds of the future until spring.
I knew the words weren’t quite what I wanted, but getting the thought down was important. I had to move on with my day and wanted to let it sit for a while, then come back to it. So here I am. And here is an edit, though there may be more.
In the heat of late summer,
in the fullness of plenty,
I filled my arms with your brilliant yellow and tender green
amid the hum of bees besotted with your gentle scent,
buried my face in your softness, thinking of beds made of your flowers;
today in the cold, punishing wind, the swirling snow,
all ornament weathered away,
I could see your naked strength as you held your essence in your outstretched hands,
with faith in spring.
It became a sort of love poem too, with an intimacy in the imagery. But isn’t that what nature is all about?
I think that’s good for now..
I began this year with a pledge to myself and my art: To be certain I won’t let ideas pass me by I’m setting myself up for a personal painting challenge in February, similar to the painting challenges I’ve participated in in past years. I aspire (but don’t expect) to create a painting or sketch every day in the month, to be posted on my blog each day.