After the Flood

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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.

poem copyright © 2008 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

September 17, 2004

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.


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September 11, and September 12, 2001

September 12, 2001
September 12, 2001
September 12, 2001

September 11

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.

September 12

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.

poem September 12 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski


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My Own Labor History

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First published in 2013

When I was a senior in high school I began my first full-time job as a cook at a local deli, Isaly’s in Pittsburgh. Working part-time nights and weekends until graduation I trained in the day cook’s position of opening the kitchen at 6:00 am to cook the lunch entrée and heat up the soups, open the doors of the shop at 7:00 am for the first customers wanting coffee and a pastry or a brown bag lunch to go, serve meals and beverages and offer counter help at all the stations as needed, plan the weekly lunch specials and soups and order accordingly, also using leftovers, with as little waste as possible, keeping the kitchen and walk-in freezer clean, and deep frying 50 pounds of fish every Friday for a community that still observed this particular weekly fasting menu. Whew!

For this I was paid my full-time wage of $3.50 per hour for all the hours I worked and was an apprentice member of the Hotel, Motel, Bar and Club Workers’ Union, a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, which ensured that my employer gave me what he’d promised—a reasonable schedule for a high school student, maintaining the hours and wages agreed upon, full training for the job I would undertake, and the ability to question or file complaint if anything didn’t meet the standards we’d discussed when I was hired. In addition, the union as well as the shop oversaw my performance, that I learned what I needed to and worked as expected. I guess I did because when I graduated in June the day cook could finally retire as I undertook her 40 hours of weekly duties and also became a full union member, and received full health and life insurance benefits, guaranteed raises and vacation, pension, plus all other union benefits of assistance with further training in my field and the ability to file grievance if I felt one was necessary, and my employer could also appeal to the union if they felt my performance wasn’t adequate.

Now that’s job security.

It was 1979, minimum wage in Pennsylvania was $2.90 per hour. Using the US government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator for wages and inflation, my full-time wages of $3.50 per hour today translate to $11.26 per hour. My 1979 annual salary of $7,280.00 translates today to $23,423.95. Out of my wages I paid $20.00 monthly union dues, but all the rest after taxes was mine, and with that amount of income I could have moved out of my parents’ house into my own place and started my life as an adult, purchased my own clothes, food and necessities, bought a car and other commodities, and even managed to save a portion of it for retirement, a house, vacation, or even investment. In other words, I could live independently on the salary from a fairly unskilled job with training right out of high school. There were other, better jobs as well that required more effort and paid better, I had my choice. In my little spot in the world, nearly everyone was a union member, and a choice such as this had begun many a life-long career that raised many families, bought many houses, paid for millions of college educations and built the strongest economy in the world.

My choice

What I decided to do with that money was invest in my college education. At the same time that I’d applied for the job at Isaly’s I’d also applied, very late, to a state college, urged on by my high school guidance counselor, and been accepted; I’m not sure, but I think I took my SATs when I applied and got my results just in time. While there were, and still are, a dozen viable colleges and universities in Pittsburgh as well as dozens more trade schools and even other union apprenticeships where I could have attended while living at home, my guidance counselor gently pointed me to Edinboro State College, close enough to be easy to get to and full of students from Pittsburgh but far enough that I would have to live there, because they had a good art program and I could also have the option of a teaching degree with their long history as one of the state’s oldest teachers’ colleges. I didn’t have terribly good grades or SAT scores and no distinguishing activities at all aside from the fact I’d always been praised by teachers for my art and writing, but the school wanted students, and also had the lowest tuition of all the colleges in the Pennsylvania state college system at the time. It was perfect for me, beginner that I was.

My parents wavered between ignoring the idea and disdain at the idea I wanted to go to college. My father, we learned a few years later, had Parkinson’s disease, never said much and reactions were barely detectable, but my mother laughed and said I could try this but I’d probably come right back home; I was a minor so they signed my application at least. I don’t remember the reaction when I received my acceptance letter, probably because I’d rather not remember, but my mother was further angered when, while I’d dutifully signed over all other income from part-time jobs and even grass-cutting from the age of 14, I went to one of the banks on Main Street in Carnegie and opened a bank account, depositing my paychecks and learning from the teller how to manage the register and write checks. I actually didn’t think about the impact on my mother, it just made sense.

I paid my fees to the college, bought myself a set of luggage, some clothes, a winter coat and boots for life in what I heard was the “snow belt”, and a backpack, which seemed to be de rigueur for all college students and kept all the rest of the money in the bank. My parents filled out my financial aid forms, though after my first semester I declared myself independent of them and completed them myself. My boyfriend drove me up for Initiation Day just before he left for Air Force boot camp, and I told my employer about my change of plans.

Through the rest of the summer I worked and trained my replacement. On the day I left for college my mother stayed in bed while I piled all my stuff into the back seat of my father’s olive-green Impala and he drove me up, dropped me off, gave me the only hug I remember in all my life, and went back home. After attending four years, including summers, working five or six part-time jobs on and off campus the entire time, taking the bus home only for occasional holidays, making a fair number of misguided mistakes as well as good decisions, I graduated with 178 credits out of a necessary 120 to graduate, only $700 in student loan debt and a BA in English, but I learned much more than grammar and a love of Shakespeare.

Coming back

The world had changed dramatically during those four years as the steel industry and most of the economy in Pittsburgh had totally collapsed. Within years jobs like the one I’d had at Isaly’s no longer existed, and unskilled beginning jobs were non-union, often taken up by unemployed adults, and wages stagnated. For nearly a decade all jobs were uncertain, layoffs were common—I was laid off four times in my first three years out of college—and population dropped as people left for jobs elsewhere until Pittsburgh found its feet again, in education, health care, and hi-tech development and manufacturing.

I didn’t have the chance to go on with the education I’d planned, to teach English and comparative arts at the college level and become an artist and writer in my own right; soon after I’d graduated my father injured himself at his lifetime occupation as a baker in small family bakeries, was diagnosed with lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease and both parents needed assistance of all sorts. I worked any job I could find and began freelancing even then, and by the time my parents’ situation had stabilized with my father in a nursing home and my mother settled in the house but with a car and a drivers’ license, I had some debt to remove and, after a lot of deliberation, decided not to return to school but to try to make a career out of what I could do already. After many twists and turns both in and out of my field, I ended up being a typesetter for nearly 20 years as well as installing ceiling fans for cash and decorating malls and painting signs and all else I could make out of what I’d learned in college and afterward, here I am, self-employed as an artist and writer, and now and then I get to teach something.

My personal labor history

As a young person I was able to begin the course of my adult life by choosing between a skilled job at a living wage or a college education and what that could bring me later. The minimum wage (or even the 1979 server wage of $1.81 per hour plus tips) and slightly higher wage for skilled labor were each living wages and I could either start my career right then or work my way through college because my wages could sustain those choices.

I won’t bemoan the opportunities that are no longer available. The world changes as time passes, and hopefully the changes bring not only different but better opportunities, the things to which we are accustomed are replaced with things that make our lives better and easier, education matches the needs of society and its work force. But the days of working your way through college with a bunch of part-time jobs, or being able to live independently right out of high school, are so far out of reach it must seem to most people that there really are no choices, and no place to go. I was glad for the choice of an unskilled career job that enabled me to learn true independence, save money, and help me set sail, and I’m also glad for the college degree I could afford and without which I would have ended up living in my parents’ basement for the following decades. Today, I would not have the choices I had 34 years ago, and would certainly not have had the courage to make the decision I did to go to a four-year college and see what happened. How can you look forward to your life when your future seems out of reach and unaffordable? What do determined dreamers like me do? I’m not sure, but we need to find a place in the labors of our society for everyone.


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Poem for Saturday: Field of Grass

Summerfield, pastel, 10 x 12 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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
Covers hillsides,
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.

poem copyright 2000 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski


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 .

Poem, "Field of Grass", and painting.
Poem, “Field of Grass”, and painting.

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Poem for Saturday: August 28, 1941

My mother and her friend Martha in the summer of 1941.
My mother and her friend Martha in the summer of 1941.
My mother and her friend Martha in the summer of 1941.

Bits and pieces from The Pittsburgh Press, evening edition, August 28, 1941

1935 Ford sedan for $95.

’33 Auburn Sedan for only $5.68 per month.

Cary Grant’s Mexican jaunt to invest $300,000 in silver mines there.

Fred Astaire is building a private golf course on his San Diego County ranch.

Steelers Make Guard Out of Dan Williams, Texas Tackle.

LifeGuard tires save lives, money, rubber.

America’s snapshots better than ever…most of them made on Kodak Verichrome film—to those in Service, send the news of your new life in the Nation’s service with the portable form of snapshots.

New York Central System, Travel in comfort, every Sunday to Cleveland $2.50.

Mt. Lebanon, New, 6 rooms, 2-1/2 baths, brick, large wooded lot, $9,600.

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?

poem copyright 2008 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski


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..


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Poem for Today: Pawprints and Raindrops

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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.

poem © 2010 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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.

CWA-BADGE_BlackMuseI wrote this poem in 2009 but finalized it just in time for my annual poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in February 2010. “Pawprints and Raindrops” went on to be published on a variety of sites on the internet, and it also won both a Certificate of Excellence and Muse Medallion for poetry from the Cat Writer’s Association in 2010. In spring 2012 I began recording some of my poems, especially those with highly visual content so that I could also create a slideshow of images to accompany the text. I’ve recorded it with a slideshow of images which you can watch right here.

If it doesn’t play above, here’s the link to it on my YouTube Channel (good heavens, I have a YouTube channel): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkXVjMbQTcQ

~ ~~~ ~

You can also read the account of that day in 2011 in “Where’er You Walk“.


On The Creative Cat

Enjoy other poems about my cats.

Listen to other recorded poems about my cats.

Visit my YouTube site for all my recorded poems (so far).


Visit my Poetry page here on Paths I Have Walked.


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Short Story: Into the Storm

Change of Season, 11 x 18, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Change of Season, 11 x 18, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Into the Storm

The morning’s session had gone very well. Leaping aboard her little boat, she clamped her painting onto the easel so she could study it while she washed up and had a little bit of lunch, then she’d get right back to work on it while her thoughts were fresh.

The painting was a large pastel depicting the first tinges of an incoming autumn storm, and though the morning had been hot, the sun cooking her arms and legs and reflecting from the sand up under her hat to dry her face as she stood on the beach, she had felt the first twists of a breeze from the storm, still miles away, coming across the continent to bring autumn from the mountains to the shore. Even the light was changing, dimming just a bit as a thin haze washed onto the blue of the dome overhead like the foam of waves washing onto the beach, the entire palette moving from summery bright blue and warm yellow and white to amber and olive, the ocean darkening to teal.

This was what she wanted to capture in her painting, that moment of change, and that was why the painting had to be so big. She wanted to capture the subtle change across the sky, the dimmer tones inland and brighter tones over the ocean, the first choppy whitecaps, that pathos she had always sensed when autumn crept across the palette of the land, whether in the eastern hills she had known and loved, or the shoreline she studied now. Even the heat on her skin, the flush on her face, and how cold those tiny tendrils of cool breezes had felt on her skin, those had to be in the painting too. She set up her palette of pastels on a table next to the easel, pulling the colors she knew she wanted to the front and arranging them in the way her hands knew best without the need to look down.

It was good to come in when she had, even though only the intense heat had made her stop and come in for cover. She had reached that point where she was in her painting, the point where she had to leave the reality of the physical place for the surreality of the inner place, to interpret her senses and the deeper emotions she felt but could never verbalize, only paint. That was what made her paintings different. Viewers could sense the place, and not just enjoy the view. And this was why she had won the painting contest, and this little painting vacation to visit and paint in the space of her choice without interruption. The chance to be so totally focused on her work was a rarity in her life as an artist, filled with clients and shows and costs of materials and art festivals and getting the car fixed not to mention the commercial design work that actually paid the bills. This week was the chance of a lifetime.

And it was the perfect time of year too as there was no one on the beach to interrupt her focus at this time of year. She stood back from the easel and sat down to focus once more, thinking of the empty beach, devoid of tourists in early October, adding to the sense of desolation—this beach recently filled with colorful, noisy people enjoying their time away at a place they loved, suddenly silent and the storm inching its way across the sky, sly, quiet, no thunder and lightning, just that change in light.

Suddenly she heard a pounding on the door. Startled she looked about and realized she was on her boat. She had thought she was on the beach still, painting. She stood up and noticed the light was odd. Had the storm come up that soon? That pounding and yelling—was someone on her boat? She had been tied to the dock, that wouldn’t be hard to do. But she had fallen asleep–what time was it? She couldn’t see very well—was it night? She fought her way to the door, past her painting, hoping her pastels didn’t land all over the floor, she got to the door and tried to pull it open but it was locked. How to unlock it? That knocking, it was so confusing!

“Are you okay? Hey, Bernadette, please answer!” Pound! Pound! Pound!

Who knew her name here? Who was this? She suddenly didn’t want to open the door at all, and her grasp of where she was seemed to be fading.

Then she saw seemed to snap back to reality and recognized…her studio? At home? In Pennsylvania? What?

And the person at the door, it was Michelle. What was happening?

Then she realized, she wasn’t on the beach at all, there was no boat, she hadn’t won the contest yet. It was a hot summer afternoon and she was working from photos to create this painting for that contest. And she had gone so deeply into place to get the right feeling into the work, and laid down on the floor to think about it and rest her back, and…

~~~

I’ve been short of short stories here since I set up this site earlier this year. I haven’t had quite the time to write as I had hoped so I’m going to share a short story I wrote last year that I’ve been holding to post when the time seemed right, to help make up for that lack and because the season and time are right for this story.

This short story was a submission for the Spring 2016 Writer’s Weekly 24-hour Short Story Contest. You sign up ahead of time, and on the day and time the countdown begins, always a Saturday, the page on the WW website that includes the topic goes live and entrants get a link in e-mail.

Here was the topic:

A brisk breeze pushed through the hatchway, cooling her sunburned cheeks. Saltwater lapped at the hull. A mariner’s lullaby. She smiled, pondering her perfect life. No people. No stress. Just the occasional storm, and sojourns to the mainland for provisions. Just as her tired eyes closed, violent knocking and shouting erupted on her starboard side…

You don’t need to use the exact text or even the scene described, just use it as a starting point. I was kind of lost with the context of being on a boat because I’ve never been on a boat on the ocean, really just a riverboat here in Pittsburgh, or a canoe. I remember the word count was between 800 and 900 words.

I spent some of those precious 24 hours thinking how the heck I was going to be believable in writing about being on a boat on the ocean when I didn’t feel I could imagine it clearly enough, and decided I’d focus on being in the ocean or on the beach, which I could imagine. Quickly I leaped to painting, and then to the painting I included here, one of mine from 1993 after my one and only visit to the beach at Chincoteague Island, VA, as my inspiration for why I was on a boat on the ocean. As I wrote, the whole idea of the painting itself, the painting contest and even falling asleep, just fell right into place because I knew I’d easily fall right to sleep after being out in the sun on the beach painting for the morning.

It turned out to be great fun, and I remember that I got down to the last second to submit because I didn’t remember I had to reformat basically without formatting so that no special software was needed to read it. I didn’t win anything, but I liked how it turned out and I’m happy with it nonetheless.


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Even the World Must Rest

Coral Sunset, 8 x 12, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Coral Sunset, 8 x 12, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Coral Sunset, 8 x 12, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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
of darkness
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.

Even the World Must Rest ©2009 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

The painting that accompanies this poem, Coral Sunset, can be found in the Landscapes Gallery on Portraits of Animals.


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Poem for Lughnasadh: Wild Apples

Grasses and Sparkles
Grasses and Sparkles
Grasses and Sparkles

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.

Poem “Wild Apples” by Bernadette E. Kazmarski © 2007, may not be reproduced in any way without express written permission of the author. Links to this blog are fine.

~~~

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

Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.
Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.

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).

You can order one below or on Portraits of Animals.

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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Support my writing with PATREON

Poem in Progress: A Waning Moon at Daybreak

A Waning Moon at Daybreak

A waning moon at daybreak

awakens, slips sleepily over the horizon

begins her transit when the day is new

left our nighttime dreams unilluminated.

Venus knows

it’s only a phase

soon enough she will wax

full over the horizon before

brother sun has bid goodnight

and fill our dreams with amazing stories.

“A Waning Moon at Daybreak” poem in progress © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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.


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All Rights Reserved.   ♦   © Bernadette E. Kazmarski   ♦   PathsIHaveWalked.com

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Visit my PATREON page.

 

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