Healing, Now and For the Future

Periwinkle Party

Today is the six-month anniversary of my hip replacement surgery. I have long been back on my feet, but still working my in-home physical therapy for strengthening and flexibility all over, which is not a bad thing for someone my age and work needs: sitting or standing for hours on end. I am grateful for this surgery. I really didn’t think I’d regain all my personal ability and strength after the surgery, I’ve always been active and flexible, still climbing trees and tying myself into knots to get a good position to photograph one of my cats from an interesting angle. But I have, and it’s like a new life after two years of debility, a great thing to be celebrating here at the beginning of spring.

The world has changed dramatically in these past six months. The day I went into surgery, October 3, 2019, the temperature was 85 degrees and overnight was a record 65 degrees, and I had barely slept for the heat and worrying about the unknowns of my surgery and recovery, and wishing this crazy weather would just stop already. As I recovered ability more quickly than I thought, I looked forward to just about this point in time because, while full healing really takes a year or more, by this point I’d be able to clean up my garden (in the photo) and start planting, ride my bike to the grocery store, clear away the housekeeping mess from two years of inability to move and carry things, even vacuum the floor, pack up my car and go to some of my first vendor events and start replacing my income once again.

I will do many of those things, but I think with where we are today, facing the unknown of what this pandemic will do to the things we’ve always done and the ways we’ve always done them, I have changed my goals from returning to the way things were for me to working with the way things are, and getting ready for the changes to come. I still have sustaining income to replace. I need a car and a furnace, and a long list of things that I need to do to my house, but realistic expectations are what work best in uncertainty. It’s like the state of my garden right now—the structure is there underneath the two-year overgrowth of neglect, and I’ll be able to clear things away and get a garden started again, but I’ll likely never have the mature, productive vegetable haven I had. Instead, I’ll have what I need for today, and next year, which will be different from my beloved garden developed over decades; it will be more of what I need, less of what I want, and in reality that’s what made my older garden so successful.

I know the best way to navigate uncertainty. I got to and through my surgery and recovery with the help of a safety net and many friends generous with time and skills, and I’ve started my economic recovery with the generosity of many others who shared my story and have purchased art and merchandise to help replace income I clearly won’t get without vendor events. I know the power of helping each other, and the best way to get through this time of uncertainty and change is—virtually at the moment—hand in hand, supporting each other in both individual and common needs. We all have needs, and we can all help another with their needs at the same time. We fit together like puzzle pieces, and imagine the complexity of an 8 billion-piece puzzle that is all of us on this blue globe, floating through space.

I’m back on the earth and looking forward to tackling that garden over this coming weekend of beautiful sun and spring weather. I hope you have great plans too!

February 2020 Personal Creative Challenge, Day 27: Winter Bouquet

dried wildflowers with snow
dried wildflowers with snow
Winter Bouquet

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,
catching snowflakes,
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,
catching snowflakes,
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.

This is my work from Day 27. See other creative efforts in this and other creative challenges on the page Creative Challenges on www.PortraitsOfAnimals.net.


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Friendship Friday.

The Blush That Rise

Softish glow

The blush that rise at end of a winter’s day
to meet the early falling darkness,
shine like roses of June
among tracings of trees,
light our hearth fire,
cast each other
in warm tones
of familiar
devotion.

poem © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Draft composed for this week’s prompt “blush”.

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.

This is my work from Day 17. See other creative efforts in this and other creative challenges on the page Creative Challenges on www.PortraitsOfAnimals.net


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One Chance to Be

crocus buds
crocus buds
One Chance to Be

Cycle turning biology undeniable
tender green pushes through
soil hard and frozen,
offers budding violet hope
as bitter storm roars in,
opens to adversity
hesitate, hide, wait, unthought
for only one chance to…be.

I’ve been working out this concept since the gray morning I saw the first flower color of this year—violet crocus buds. I ran out to photograph them and posted that on Instagram with a brief comment, but continued to think about it. Though the weather has been warm, an arctic cold front was headed our way with snow, winds and several days and nights of severe cold. Here was my original thought:

“Not concerned about incoming storm. Can’t wait to see them bloom!”

This happens each spring. The crocuses sprout and bud, later the crocuses do the same, and even later the tulips, and cold fronts come and go, frosty mornings, inches of snow, and yet they bloom and freeze and flowers open again, as if nothing had happened to them.

It’s not like they have much choice. They are literally rooted in place. They are on a biological schedule and really can’t choose to put things off, or tuck themselves back under the soil because freezing weather is on the way. They just do what they do, and somehow they survive despite brutal setbacks. Here they were, tiny delicate yet colorful little things, facing down a winter storm that humans were out racing around for toilet paper and milk in order to survive.

I knew a poem was in order even before the Instagram post. A couple of days later I shared the photo on my photo blog with the original draft of my thoughts.

Unconcerned about incoming storm,
hiding impossible,
crocus buds stand tall,
open leaves to adversity,
brighten world with color,
ready for one chance to…be.

And I liked that, but by writing it I discovered that my core point of inspiration with the crocus buds was that while the crocus might perish in the prolonged subfreezing temperatures, it was on a biological schedule of development and maturity with one purpose: to flower and produce the next generation. Hiding itself, protecting itself it would surely die, without light to continue developing it would stop, then start an irreversible decay. Going forward and dealing with what it was given was the best chance for it to . . . be.

Of course, these are my human thoughts, how brave the little crocus be to stand upright and present tender buds to the storm, we should all be that valiant. It doesn’t have a choice, we do, we could bundle up and stay inside in a real winter storm, as we metaphorically could when adversity comes our way, but we could also deal with it. We can take many chances at a goal, the crocus only has one chance, and is usually successful. So I tried to create that with different words.

Here is the poem again:

Cycle turning biology undeniable
tender green pushes through
soil hard and frozen,
offers budding violet hope
as bitter storm roars in,
opens to adversity
hesitate, hide, wait, unthought
for only one chance to…be.

Sometimes it’s interesting to see how it develops.

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.

This is my work from Day 15. See other creative efforts in this and other creative challenges on the page Creative Challenges on www.PortraitsOfAnimals.net


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A Walk in Black and White Film

I loaded a roll of black and white film into my old Pentax K1000 and headed out to walk to the grocery store, bringing back images from around my neighborhood along with my groceries.

Though this is a photo essay I also describe the process and reason for taking my camera on mundane walks to find extraordinary things, including story and poetry ideas. In fact, there will be at least one story out of this walk, and it’s in there among the photos. I can’t wait to see where it starts and where it goes!

One of the reasons for using black and white film is that removing the distraction of color permits other interesting elements to shine and become the story, and using film slows me down, makes me think a little harder about using one more frame on this roll. When I’m out with my digital DSLR I just let go and photograph anything I darned well please, and I need to do that too, let go and just be part of the scene and record it as I feel it.

But sometimes, just as with writing, to get to the core of something, you need to slow down, tighten up and focus, search yourself and funnel down to exactly what it is you want to say. Going “old school” with black and white film in the old (but still beloved) Pentax K1000 is like writing your stuff on a tablet with your favorite writing implement: pencil, ballpoint pen, marker, fountain pen. I love my gel pen on a legal pad, but when a poem comes along any scrap of writable material and any writing implement will do for a draft.

So enjoy the photos and the essay on my photography blog, Today: A Walk in Black and White Film


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I Don’t Want to Be Colorblind

january20-2014-1000px-2
january20-2014-1000px-2
I Don’t Want to Be Colorblind

I Don’t Want To Be Colorblind

I don’t want to be
colorblind,
I want to paint
what I see,
the colors of our faces
like flowers,
not different
but tones of each others’
faces
as we turn toward the light,
we blend so beautifully.

poem and artwork © 2014 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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. 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.

This 1996 essay entitled “Misusing MLK Legacy and the Colorblind Theory” explains more about King’s “color awareness”.

~~~

Read more poetry here on Today or visit my poetry page to see more about my poetry and other writing, and to purchase Paths I Have Walked.


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Bridal Wreath

bridal wreath
Bridal Wreath

The bridal wreath is beginning to bloom around so many of the older houses in town. Bridal wreath is an old-fashioned shrub, blooming briefly from mid-May to Memorial Day in waves of snowy white blossoms, then to return to a nice, quiet dark green bush.

I read this poem initially at my 2009 poetry reading, “Change of Season”, soon after I’d written it. I read it again at “In This Valley”, my poetry reading to celebrate Carnegie’s 120th birthday, since I felt it was one of those poems that had described life in this town for many, both those mentioned in the poem, and especially my memories of the neighborhoods when I was little. Every house had bridal wreath spirea growing in front, and everyone was immensely proud of it when it bloomed. Cuttings and small shrubs for planting were given to young married couples who’d purchased a new house. As I read, I was surprised to see heads nodding in agreement and smiles. It was familiar to us all.

This poem was inspired by an actual home, more on that after the poem. Because the bridal wreath blooms at this time of year and because the life of the bride I mention are deeply touched by wars, I keep this poem for that time between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.

Bridal Wreath

Blooming in drifts so dense and tall they hide the entire porch
The bridal wreath greets the May bride
Though she first crossed the threshold decades ago when the shrubs were new,
And placed a vase of the blossoms on her first dinner table,
Has since raised her children,
Lost her son in Viet Nam
And her husband to cancer,
Her daughters moved out
And she has held her grandchildren and great-grandchildren
Through it all the bridal wreath unfailingly welcomed her in the morning every May
In the neighborhood lined with large, neat family homes.
Now the paint is peeling,
Drawn window shades hang in tatters
The bride herself is gone,
Her home the only one remaining on this dusty deserted block
Yet the bridal wreath blooms as fervently as ever this May
Remembering her.

Bridal Wreath ©2009 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Below is the actual home that inspired this poem. Nothing special about it except that it is the only family home left in what had been a block of these homes, and it’s fenced off because it was shortly thereafter bulldozed for the CVS that now stands there.

House with bridal wreath.
House with bridal wreath.

Read more poetry here on Today or visit my poetry page to see more about my poetry and other writing, and to purchase Paths I Have Walked.

 


poetry book

Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.

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”.

$8.00 each plus $2.50 shipping (they are oversized for mailing first class).

You can order one on my poetry page, or in my Marketplace.

About the books and the poetry readings

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.


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Beautiful

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
but if no eye beholds it, is it still beautiful?
Does the heart truly love, if there is no lover to receive it?
Or does it wait to be beheld, holding within its substance
the essence that needs another to be complete?

Poem © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I’m participating in the 5 Lines or Less challenge on Patricia’s Place.

 

Fragments

Fragments
Kublai on the landing, in the sun.
Kublai on the landing, in the sun.

I’m not one to think everything happens for a reason, that things align through time to lead one to an epiphany of some sort, but that we are the ones who choose that alignment in the moment, and a moment later, or a different poem in that book, could lead to an entirely different epiphany.

I moved the furniture around in my bedroom yesterday to better accommodate the overflow from my studio while still giving me space to walk in both rooms. I’ve also realized that, with my guardian tree gone from the front of the house, I no longer want to sleep under the window where I can hear her whisper on summer mornings and watch the stars held in her branches on cold winter nights. This is something I’ve wanted to do for months and can finally accomplish, slowly and carefully, with my hip healing more each day.

A parade of surprised felines joined me in the evening as they awoke from their extra-long afternoon naps on a cold rainy day. As I took a break to let them explore the mess I’d made I picked up a small book that had fallen on the floor behind a bookcase I had moved, The Oxford Book of English Verse. A digest of oft-quoted poetry I’d picked up somewhere and tucked in a random small space wherever it fit and forgot about, I had never actually read through it because I’ve already read just about every poem likely contained in it. I have several dozen small and large books of poetry but can’t seem to pass one up, especially free in the library’s shelf of donated books.

I held it in my right hand and slid my thumbnail between the gold-tinged edges of the pages, letting it fall open to see what arbitrary verse I’d find.

Kubla Khan
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:…

…the poem for which, as a junior in college majoring in English, I’d named Kublai, my first black cat, back in 1981. Not because of his bravery in battle and exploration though this was true of him, but what cat doesn’t look around and decree this space to be a stately pleasure-dome for himself? Of course, the poem lists human pleasures, which bring no real pleasures to cats, so I stopped there.

I looked at the multitude of black cats walking over the tops of piled clothing, exploring cardboard boxes full of picture frames and having a quick bath in cool new spots they’d discovered. Twenty-nine years ago I moved into this house, and Kublai came with me in the weeks before I moved in while I repaired and patched and readied it for me and my household of six felines, my first rescues. October will always remind me of that time, first the bright empty rooms with him as we felt the potential of our own home, then with boxes piled in every room as I’d moved from a rented house twice the size, and that family of felines climbing over and creeping around them, finding cool places to have a quick bath to relieve the stress of the change.

I also remember another October overhaul of this room, in 1997 preparing for Namir and Kelly’s arrival when I’d found several black whiskers in the carpet I pulled up prior to painting the floor. Only Kublai had had black whiskers, and as that family of cats swirled around me as I worked I paused to remember, the grief still fresh just a year past.

Those cats are gone, of course, as are many others come and gone who spent their lives with us in this little house. The memories are bright but the moment is bittersweet because I know that at some later date I will stand somewhere in reflection and all these felines I now watch will be memories in that future moment. I am reminded to be in this moment with them, but not frightened of that future moment:

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long.

From Shakespeare’s seventy-third sonnet, speaking to his love the truth that while we see the loss of those we love even as we look into their eyes with love, that very knowledge of loss makes our love even stronger, to realize the love in each moment before it’s gone.

Perhaps I picked up that free book just to find it in this particular moment and have it fall open to that exact poem and remind me of this lineage of memory, little fragments that become a whole, the lives of all these individual cats and their roles in my life, my role in their lives, and that role of mine in life itself, in the world around me. I’m not one to think everything happens for a reason, that things align through time to lead one to an epiphany of some sort, but that we are the ones who choose that alignment in the moment, and a moment later, or a different poem in that book, could lead to an entirely different epiphany.

But beside the loss and potential loss each of those fragments represents, and the associated pain thereof, is a moment of love and beauty, then, now, and tomorrow, that we hold and have shared, forever a part of our spirit. We are made of these fragments.

This essay was first posted on The Creative Cat on October 27, 2019. Visit The Creative Cat for more essays and articles on pet loss.

More intelligent than many people I’ve met, friends of mine will remember Kulai as the cat who opened the refrigerator door, took out a container, opened it, and helped himself to the contents. I finally decided that the best depiction of his personality is of him being silly, rolling around in the sun and making sure I noticed how handsome he was. Read more and order.

portrait of black cat on floor
Are You Looking At Me? pastel, 17″ x 22″, 2005 © B.E. Kazmarski

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Poem for Saturday: Vintage

Vintage
Vintage
Vintage

Colorful beaded necklaces, orange and apple green,
and pearls and plastic flowers,
a linen hankie with soft green lovers-knot lace edging,
a blue and white stripe pillow cover, real pillow-ticking,
a ruffled chair cushion,
what made these things so cherished
that they survived the years intact,
ready to be cherished again
even when similar things, in other hands
were broken, stained, discarded?

Were they curious heirlooms from a dear ancestor,
whose very touch caused an item to be cherished?
A gift from lover to beloved,
kept for the memory of a special night?
A young girl trying her hand at
the lovely things her nurturing grandmother taught her?
Jade beads purchased to match a special dress and kept “for good”,
just a glance at the box recalling a fond memory?

Though we’d like to choose noble symbols for our memories
we mark them with what is at hand, familiar everyday items;
the next generations may shake their heads and wonder
even as they set aside their own vintage memories.

Poem “Vintage” by Bernadette E. Kazmarski © 2011, may not be reproduced in any way without express written permission of the author. Links to this blog are fine.

What a variety of color, shape, pattern, object…this still life was totally unplanned and nearly unseen, carefully gathered and placed on a chair in an antique and vintage shop: a Lover’s Knot Lace-edged hankie, colorful beaded necklaces from various eras, a traditional pillow-ticking pillowcase. What preserved these items, I wondered? How do everyday things become beloved?


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