I’ve always loved the language of the sky. I grew up on top of a hill where I could see lots of sky in all directions. Though we lived in a suburban development the open sky was freedom from all the congestion below, and I watched them march overhead, across the valley, in all seasons. Watching the sky was like watching the facial expressions of a deity.
When I had my first solo art exhibit, in addition to the artwork, I worked my writing into the exhibit by pairing images with poems or essays or statements to make little flyers that I could print out on 8.5″ x 11″ paper and mount on the wall. Even though no line in the poem describes the painting, I used the poem Clouds with the purple clouds of an autumn rain looming over the bright trees surrounding a waterway in “Autumn”, part of the four seasons series of paintings.
Dedicated to the people and places of the Chartiers Valley after the flood of September 17, 2004
After a day of rain
the creek has been rising
and by night it thunders down its channel
writhing around its curves like a medieval dragon,
pulling at its banks and anything overhanging,
carrying whatever it can grasp along the way,
and I have seen this creature before
in the creek’s rise and fall,
now tamed by engineering,
filling its channel to the brim, then receding
each spring and summer
and not felt threatened but fascinated
by its power, power not of humans,
power to change absolutely to a form
unrecognizable from its usual character,
yet always returning to the quiet,
sleepy nature which I had explored from childhood.
But I am remembering another night
when the creek refused to stop at its brim
but spilled over and over and over,
thundering down all the hillsides came its sustenance
tributaries filling their valleys as never before,
rushing to join with the writhing creature,
mixing and turning and thrashing and smashing anything in its path
so drunk with its own power
that it forgot all those who loved it,
who lived on its banks and in its valleys,
listened to its soft murmuring voice in the darkness of a summer night,
but even as I pleaded with the creature to stop, it had gone too far,
my friend, my refuge, how could you betray me,
I knew that the creek would not listen,
it was no creature gone on a rampage
it was simply following its nature, and this one time
it defeated our intelligence with its simple power
and all our homes, possessions, lives
were nothing in its path.
The next day the beast no longer raged,
the sun shone and the air was mild,
and the autumn continued like any autumn before,
but we were changed, all of us,
the long journey ahead, longer than we knew
and our place here will never be the same.
On September 17, 2004, Hurricane Ivan stayed a little too long in our valley, dumping torrents of rain on our hillsides, already sodden from the visits of three other hurricane remnants in the month prior.
I’d watched Chartiers Creek flood from the time I was a child, and not only did I go to the Catholic school just blocks from the creek but my father’s family lived in the flood plain and nearly every spring there was water in the basement and in the streets, and we would drive to the bridge over the creek at Carothers Avenue and watch the thundering brown water writhe just below our feet on the walkway of the bridge.
When I was young, I was near enough to a bend in this creek to leave our house on the hill and run down through the old pasture to the valley below, along the road and the railroad tracks and to the creek, walking alongside its rippling path or even in the creek bed in the dryness of midsummer. In the late 70s an engineered solution to control the floods dredged and widened the channel, and for 35 years, there were no floods at all, the pollution in the creek from all the industries along its banks cleared up, and we watched the native flora and fauna return as we canoed the channel. Those ramblings with my friend, the creek, have been the inspiration for much of my creative efforts in landscape painting and photography, my poetry and stories, and became the theme for my series of poetry readings and the title of the very first, as well as the folio of my poetry, Paths I Have Walked.
So this flood was a huge shock. We heard later the flood control plan had protected us up to a “100-year flood”, and many of these had passed with no flooding, but the flood we’d experienced was a “500-year flood”, and indeed in all the memories and records of floods in Carnegie, the water had never been this high, rising in a matter of hours in the afternoon and into the night to fill the first floor of some homes on low ground, and as high as eight feet in some areas of Main Street, wiping out nearly every business along Main Street for up to three months.
The flood changed us all. Many people and businesses took years to recover, and some of them never truly recovered at all. My godparents lived in the family’s fine house that had weathered so many floods but floodwater had never entered the first floor, and at their age they were trapped on the second floor with no power, their portable oxygen running low. Though they were rescued and lived with a daughter for a month while we cleaned up the house for them to move back, it was temporary as they realized the house was difficult for them, and they moved to an apartment a few months later.
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 early morning work in my garden and yard when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Thinking it was an unfortunate accident I continued listening to the radio for details and shortly thereafter 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. The previous year my brother had suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident. I was integral to their recoveries and care, and my carefully-planned self-employment was unraveling.
When I heard the news just before 9:00 a.m. that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, 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. 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 was that it was likely an accident, planes had hit buildings in the past. Then the second plane hit the other tower, and even though we had no proof it seems we all knew it was intentional. Everyone in the area was looking at the towers at that point and saw the direction, the turn, the increase in speed prior to hitting the tower, and suddenly a perfect morning had turned unreal.
After the plane hit the Pentagon, I put Moses, my garden cat, inside the basement, much to her consternation, as if she needed to be protected from what might be happening, and 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.
Jets fly overhead all the time. I have lived in the flight path for Pittsburgh International Airport all my life and close enough 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.
Then in the growing quiet, 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, just back from several months in various hospitals after lung cancer surgery that unexpectedly nearly killed her. She was still weak and needed 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 was in a 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.
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. I live very near Pittsburgh International Airport and 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 but became unnerving as the hours of daylight passed and we had no more of our questions answered, nor know 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.
A field of grass,
Never still, never silent,
Responding as one being to wind and weather,
Rippling in breezes, dancing in rain,
Changing each moment in its fervent march
To ripened maturity;
In the spring, new bright green velvet
Undulating in capricious spring breezes,
Laying flat to reveal the shining silk beneath,
And cast with shadows of clouds moving quickly
Over hillside and valley;
In June, tall and deep green
With eager pale seed heads
Standing tall and youthful,
Dancing carelessly in storm winds and evening breezes;
In the amber of late summer
Under the relentless faded August sun,
It stands in simple primitive beauty
At the moment of its ripe maturity,
Whispering in anticipation
Of the end of its journey.
Growing up on the remains of a recent dairy farm I spent quite a bit of time in the steep hillside pasture, barren of cows, grass growing taller than me in some places. The grasses themselves, like water, had a collective presence that I always felt I was walking among.
When I had my first solo art exhibit, in addition to the artwork, I worked my writing into the exhibit by pairing images with poems or essays or statements to make little flyers that I could print out on 8.5″ x 11″ paper and mount on the wall. I used the poem Field of Grass with the ripened late summer field from Settler’s Cabin Park that I’d stood in the middle of the old park road to sketch on a piece of Canson pastel paper, watching the sun and shadow move across, watching the stalks wave together and whisper like a clique of teenagers .
I can give you my word that Roosevelt, the man, has a deep personal hatred for war. Roosevelt, the president, has the task of carrying American Democracy forward under God against any resistance.~Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd.
Pirates Run Over Phillies, 12-2.
College days are with us again as students across the nation start cutting rugs and classes.
At the “New Carnegie Theater”, Carnegie, PA, Cary Grant, James Stewart in “Philadelphia Story”, also Cartoons and News.
Hitler’s Broken Promises Occupy Nearly 1,000 pages in his own words—“My New Order” from Reynal and Hitchcock.
Ten Homewood children, between the ages of 7 and 12, held a lawn fete last Friday afternoon at the corner of Gettysburg and Edgerton Streets for the benefit of the Milk and Ice Fund. Today The Press received the proceeds, $3.57.
Among the novelty high shoes this season is one of black patent leather having bowknot patterns showing an underlay of white kid.
And when we witness the downfall of dictatorship—what then? A world union of self-governing peoples to guarantee and enforce peace.~Associate Justice Owen Roberts, U.S. Supreme court.
Today’s newspaper boy, tomorrow’s leader—When Robert S. Bogda, son of Mr. and Mrs. S. H. Bogda of McKees Rocks, finishes high school, he intends to go into the steel mill with his father. He is the junior merchant who delivers The Pittsburgh Press daily and Sunday to subscribers around Ridge Avenue. Bob likes to travel and also runs errands for neighbors to augment his fund for travel.
A program that is heralded as the world’s first all-Negro opera will be previewed on KDKA at 8:30 tonight as Negro performers from all over America perform selections from “Celeste Aida”.
Bellevue couple welcomes twin girls.
But did anyone see the storm darkening the horizon?
Several years ago I pulled several things from a pile of trash at a house that was about to go up for sale. I have no qualms and no embarrassment about this because I often find not only useful items, but also things that in their own way are deeply inspiring and have been the subject of poems and short stories.
One of the items I found in this particular pile was a large oval wicker basket with handles, darkened with age. I’d call it a laundry basket, and that is what I used it for, except that it was padded in the bottom with a hand-stitched muslin “cushion” that was filled with newspapers, and this cushion was in turn hand-stitched to the reeds of which the basket was woven. A testament to the durability of things made years ago, the fabric was still sound, though dirty, and not a thread was broken on the heavy “shoemaker thread” that held it together.
The newspapers were just folded and torn pages of the Pittsburgh Press from August 28, 1941, ripped into large squares and folded to fit the makeshift cushion. I pictured a large dog who loved his bed.
I of course began to read the newspaper pages, and was intrigued at the mix of items included from news, features, shorts, ads and classifieds. Noting the date, just a few months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and our official entry into WWII, I wondered what had happened to all those mentioned in the stories. Behind a sunny image of the back porch of a white Victorian house with a woman in a 1941 house dress covered by an apron leaning down to feed a big happy dog I saw a dark cloud rising over the hill of houses behind. Instead of a painting, I wrote a poem from the strength of the image I visualized, and have since written a short story, not quite ready for publication.
In 1941 my father was 22 years old, my mother was 16, and the war molded their lives as it did all Americans and the country itself. My father volunteered early the next spring, and I shared this poem and posted a portion of the group photo including him at boot camp at Camp Lee, VA in June 1942on Pearl Harbor Day.
Today, so close to the actual date, I’m sharing a photo I found of my mother from the summer of 1941; she’s the one on the right. The lives of both her and her friend Martha were about to change dramatically as they finished high school during the first year of the war, said goodbye to so many childhood friends who went off to war and came back dramatically changed or not at all, they scrimped and saved and recycled and conserved for the war effort immediately following the deprivations of the Great Depression, and their futures changed forever with the tide in the following four years.
And looking at the social and political climate of today, I wonder if there is a cloud on our horizon to darken our days in the coming months..
It rained this morning, softly whispering in the trees all around the house, and I have been remembering my kitty Kelly and this poem inspired by her and a certain drizzly summer morning in 2009. I could have no better tribute to her gentle and loving personality. August 11 was the day she left us in 2012, and I’ve been working on her story as a book inspired by the five-part rescue story I wrote about her, “A Little Bit About Kelly”, which is what it started out to be, before I realized how much she had to tell.
Pawprints and Raindrops
in the early morning, still dark
and little Kelly, sensing my awareness
hurries over and steps on my back;
I feel her tiny cold paws dimpling the surface of my skin
as I drift off in the murmur of her purr and the rain
I think of raindrops on water,
I am the water, my skin the surface
and I can look up and in the increasing daylight
see the circular ripples of contentment
mingling on my own surface.
You can listen to the poem too—see the link below.
~ ~~~ ~
About the poem…
Kelly really did this one early Saturday morning in 2009. I listened to the rain in the blue light of early dawn and she knew I was awake and came over and walked all over my back, purring. We were the only ones awake. Kelly had tiny paws and they were always cold, something that was uniquely her, and picturing those tiny paws dimpling my skin through the sheet as she walked on me was what connected the rain, the water, Kelly and me. I remember visualizing the lines of this, images first, descriptive words later.
The night’s eternal darkness shifts to a color less black
and time begins again,
cobalt to cerulean spreading across the sky to snuff out the stars
and a glowing edge on the horizon heralds the sun
rising quickly to sparkle on leaves and faces
infusing the dank pre-dawn mist with warm yellow sunbeams
and the world is fully alive again
a miracle equal to life itself.
Since before our existence
consistently every day the sun brings its gift
travels across the sky at the same pace regardless of our issues
bright afternoons of life and work
remembered in the quality of light on that day,
the weather on another,
do you remember that sunny morning, cold and frosty?
no, it was late in the afternoon that happened, during a thunderstorm
the sun now drifting, dropping toward the opposite horizon
its loving light mellowed with the toil of its task
the ancients watch in fear as the aurora of color
heralds the loss of their life-giving god
and soon all is again covered with a nestling blanket
and we may perish if it remains
but even the world, the busy life of this planet
must rest in darkness for part of the day
lest we destroy ourselves with our own productivity,
the sun must disappear
take the burden from its shoulders
loiter just out of sight
until you turn around to see
the change in the shade of black. Rest, another day will come.
At a bend in the trail, The scent of wild apples greets me. A tree abandoned from an old orchard Or sprung up on its own from old stock, wild and uncultivated, Stands trailside, Heavy with small round burnished apples. The late summer heat releases their scent, Sweet and tart, that the world may know they have reached their prime; The wild perfume of the coming season.
From another tree one single leaf lets go And falls, papery, dry and curled, slipping through branches Clattering to the summer-hardened clay of the trail, Loud in the silent heat of the August afternoon. Months before, Winter lost her grip, and, one by one, The wildflowers of spring began to bloom, Which, in their turn, faded into the shadows of the dense summer woods. Now summer is losing her strength, Autumn is thinning the woods And bearing her own flowers and fruits, Changing the palette of the landscape With bright summer greens turning gold, Deep rich shadows fading hazy blue.
Soon autumn will blaze along the trail, And songbirds will move their chorus south. Already winter has touched my hair, And the smell of wild apples is in the air.
Seasons meld from one to another, not at the equinox and solstice but halfway between, in the quiet time when there are no other celebrations, but the sensitive person can feel the change, especially standing in the quiet relentless heat of a backwoods trail in August. I visited the trail on the traditional Celtic cross-quarter Lugnasadh and the Christian Feast of Lammas, when summer gently gives over to autumn, growth turns to ripening, the natural world begins to settle itself in for harvest and rest in the dark of winter, and later that day the sense of change, in the woods and in myself, was still strong with me, and I wrote this poem. It became a symbol and celebration of my own developing changes, my mother’s failing health and ultimate death, and reaching my own half-century mark shortly after, seeing that as my own Lugnasadh.
Also enjoy a recorded version including a slideshow of images.
We notice these changes in ourselves in the great cycle of our own lives. I had drafted this poem during an earlier summer, but I finished it for my first poetry reading, which was at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie.
The gradual changes we barely notice were the topic of my 2009 poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Change of Season. I have published the collections of poetry from each of the four poetry readings, 2007 through 2010, in a book entitled Paths I Have Walked, which you can purchase on my poetry page on this website and also the Books section of my main website.
I’m proud to offer a folio of my poetry
Paths I Have Walked: the poetry and art of Bernadette E. Kazmarski
FROM FOUR ANNUAL POETRY READINGS AT ANDREW CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY & MUSIC HALL IN CARNEGIE, PA
People who attended one or more of my poetry readings encouraged me to publish some of my poetry in a book from the beginning.
Once I completed my 2010 poetry reading, my fourth featuring the final piece of artwork in the “Art of the Watershed” series, I decided it was time to publish something and it should be those four poetry readings.
Poetry books are not best-sellers; it’s difficult to convince a publisher to risk effort on a beginning poet, and while self-publishing is the best option it’s not inexpensive and once you’ve got the book, someone’s got to market it. Plus, I’m a graphic designer and I designed books for years, and I want things my way.
All of this is a recipe for a little bit of trouble, but I decided the book was well worth the effort so I designed the book myself and had a set printed—no ISBN or anything formal, but it’s a start! I’m really excited to offer it.
Books are 4.25″ x 11″, 40 pages of information and poetry, with glossy covers featuring “Dusk in the Woods” and little thumbnails of all four pieces in “Art of the Watershed”.
$10.00 each including shipping (they are oversized for mailing first class).
My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.
In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I was astonished to find my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers.
My poetry readings and art exhibits were the vision of Maggie Forbes, executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, after learning of my publishing of those two poems. I owe her many thanks for encouraging me to present this combination of my visual and literary art, a first for me. I love that building, every inch of it, and the opportunity to bring people in to visit is an honor.
I first posted this with my daily photo on my photo blog Today and knew I’d end up drafting a poem. I began the draft there, and shared it above. We’ll see how it works out in the next few weeks or months.
Green, green waves ahead
diminishing to blue over the northern horizon
exalted rises and shadowed valleys gradually made plain
to rolling hills and misted hollows
interstate unrolled as ribbon
around hill and following valley,
signs noting unseen destinations
bearing hopeful small town names:
little hamlets of Pennsylvania coal being crushed to diamonds,
glittering in the vales;
a gauze curtain of rain shower flows across hills
soaking opposite side of road
but the sun shines brightly ahead,
occasionally a sudden cluster of official orange obstructions
gives instructions to change directions
slowing pace to allow a close and careful study
of native plants along the roadside,
a stately brick farmhouse, a skull with empty windows, abandoned,
its outbuildings only roofs in the tall grass
as if melting back into the earth from whence they were created;
then a curving exit that leaves the noise of four lanes behind a rise,
a sojourn on a quiet two-lane three-digit backroad,
once the lifeline before the interstate, now empty;
clusters of buildings at intersections, one traffic light flashing yellow,
old farms and equipment,
rusted industrial structures,
a field gone entirely to Queen Anne’s Lace,
some cows on a hillside,
and everywhere roadside stands
celebrate the first flush of mid-summer bounty;
collect loose change from pockets and floor of car
and with the dole,
buy fresh homegrown sweet corn to feed thy soul.
In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar; this poem was one of those selected. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I was astonished to find my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers. Every time I take that ride north on the interstate in the summer all the scenes and lines from the poem come back to me.
About the artwork
“Summer” is an abandoned farm field on a high ridge which I passed regularly on the way to work each morning for six years, seen right after an early morning storm. I would reach this portion of my drive and pause to look at this field with the morning unfolding above it, different each day, take a deep breath, and go on. The site was developed a few years later, but I still remember that each time I pass by it, even now. It’s one of a four-part commission I painted years ago featuring the four seasons in Western Pennsylvania. Read an essay about the painting, “Summer”, above, and purchase a digital, giclee or canvas print from my shop, Portraits of Animals.