About My Mother

Mom

My mother died on January 25, 2011. She had been ill for years, and this last time she’d gone to the hospital in congestive heart failure it was clear she would not recover. Kept comfortable by the hospital staff, we waited around her bed for her last breaths.

Later, after several phone calls, a visit from a friend and more calls, I had my time alone and was up quite late. As I sat outside in the quiet of the January night watching the snow gently fill the air and fall in a soft blanket on all around me, the poem came to me in nearly one complete piece. I carefully went inside and tiptoed to my desk and quietly went back outside to the swing, wrote it down slowly, line for line, all as if I was afraid I’d scare it away, all the beautiful words I’d been thinking, or maybe I’d break it, like a bubble. I changed very little in a rewrite.

I read this poem at her memorial. And I had decided I would go through with my poetry reading, just two days after my mother died, because it was an opportunity to share her with others to read the new poem.

I could never encapsulate 85 years of a life into one blog post or one photo or one poem, so I won’t even try, but I want to share this. The photo above is the one we placed in our mother’s casket, her wedding photo from 1946 when she was 21 years old. The little scrap of red in the lower left corner is the shirt she wore, the one she loved best, and I knew she’d want to be remembered in it; our mother was one who could wear a red chiffon blouse in her casket and be proud.

About My Mother

Regardless of the many outstanding qualities any person may have
we are essentially remembered for only one of them.
In my mother, all would agree
this one would be her remarkable beauty.

All through her life the compliments trailed her
as she carefully maintained “the look”, her look, so glamorous,
from tailored suits to taffeta dresses to palazzo pants,
hair perfectly styled, nails manicured and painted
a collar set just so, cuffs casually turned back,
hair worn long, past the age of 50,
a dark, even tan and shorts into her 80s,
lipstick always perfectly applied,
and even at 84
people marveled on her perfect skin,
dark curly hair,
and big bright smile.

I see that smile
when I see my sister smile,
and I see my mother’s active, athletic bearing
when I look at my brother,
and her gray eyes are mine.
In each of her grandchildren
and great-grandchildren
I see her round face,
graceful hands, pert nose,
proud upright posture
and a million other of her features and habits
and in all of us
her wild curly hair
is part of her legacy to us.

When we look at each other from now on
we will see the part of her she gave to each of us,
this little cluster of people who came from her
and who were her greatest treasure,
and when she looks at us from wherever she is
she will know that
she cannot be forgotten.

Poem About My Mother © 2011 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

A Winter Sunset

A Winter Sunset

Soft colorful sky
soaring, trees black rough earth
bound; winter sunset.

Poem, Haiku, A Winter Sunset by Bernadette E. Kazmarski © 2013,  may not be reproduced in any way without express written permission of the author. Links to this page are fine.

Poem for Saturday: I Had to Call My Brother

Pirates-hat-1000px

They traded Andrew McCutcheon
and I had to call my brother and
hear his side of the story,
I don’t care what the Pirates do
or really anything about sports
but my brother lived for it all
and I liked to hear
his normal voice discussing
games and stats and history
as if it was the history
of the world,
his voice,
the one without the
vodka or Jack Daniels,
quick and clear,
humorous,
alive,
but he is not.

I will not call,
but I will enjoy that moment
that might have been.

Poem I Had to Call My Brother by Bernadette E. Kazmarski © 2018, may not be reproduced in any way without express written permission of the author.

Every once in a while we want to share a moment with someone who has died, and sometimes this is painful if we’ve momentarily forgotten they are gone. I knew my brother had died when this moment came up, but still I wanted to hear his answer, and that voice speaking from who he might have been. My brother died in 2016, somewhat unexpectedly, but perhaps not considering his lifestyle.  Through the years, even back to his teens, I had grown so tired of the rambling drunken conversation that though I really don’t pay any attention to sports I would hear some nugget of information that I knew he would talk about. The Pittsburgh Pirates really did trade Andrew McCutcheon, who seemed like a great guy as well as a good player and was extremely well-liked by the team and the city which was how I recognized what this trade was news. I knew Mark would have a lot to say about this one.

I just drafted this poem and for the moment I’m pleased with it. I may find some things to change about it in time, though. I don’t mind letting poems evolve.


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I Don’t Want to Be Colorblind

january20-2014-1000px-2

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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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?


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Poem: Let Our Hearts Fly

Let Our Hearts Fly

A cardinal
flashing red in the bare winter landscape
innocent of my intent
I missed my shot, my camera open to receive too much light
yet it was then that I heard
of the shooting of other innocent birds
on this brilliant morning
colorful plumage
melodic chatter
gathered in a trusted place
a flash of red
too many left behind
others holding hands
closing eyes to run.

No.

Please let it not be so.
For those who can no longer fly
let our hearts fly to be with them
flashing red in the brilliant and bare winter morning.

Let Our Hearts Fly © 2012 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Let Our Hearts Fly
Let Our Hearts Fly

My heart was heavy with the news of the school shooting in Newtown on December 14, 2012. I really was photographing the cardinal and missed my shot, and then heard the news. May we remember the innocent children, the adults who tried to protect them, and the families they leave behind.


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The Kingfisher

The Kingfisher
Kingfisher on the power lines.
Kingfisher on the power lines.

The other day as I walked into Carnegie I saw the flock of Canada geese congregated along the creek and a small tributary in the center of town, doing goose things. At the same time I heard a familiar chittering and finally found the tiny shape of a kingfisher on the power lines above the creek, loudly scolding the geese and likely telling them to get out of his territory. They paid no attention, but the kingfisher did not relent.

The Kingfisher

Blending with the scenery, more chittering sound than sight,
you are more than just a bird fishing for an afternoon snack
but evidence of changes that have already come
and those certain to be.
Little indicator of the health of a stream
and by that the health of a community
and a region
your presence here means we have made change,
we have turned around and made right something we had spoiled
and we have made welcome not just for you
but for ourselves as well.
We can stop for a moment to appreciate
but you tell us to be ready for new accomplishments and adventures.
Even better awaits us.

Poem The Kingfisher © 2014 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Kingfishers are not large birds, barely larger than a robin but with a stubby tail and an almost top-heavy head, very protective of its territory along a waterway. They are small but bold, and are also known to be a harbinger of the health of a stream because they needs to feed directly from creatures that live in the water and will leave if there isn’t enough to eat.

Once Chartiers Creek was so polluted even plants died on its banks, but after decades of a ban on dumping and a mandate for cleanup the waters were safe to be in, to fish in and fish and other aquatic species began to return. I had been hearing a kingfisher’s chittering along the creek for a couple of years but the actual bird was hard to spot. Finally one March afternoon I saw the actual bird and photographed it diving into the water. We had reversed a century of pollution.

The kingfisher splashes into the creek.
The kingfisher splashes into the creek.

I saw the kingfisher two days before my 2014 poetry reading celebrating the 110th year of Carnegie’s existence, and wrote the poem then and read it at my reading. Kingfishers also symbolize adventure and future accomplishments and tell you to be bold, so perhaps we’ve not only healed past ills, but also it may mean the best is yet to come.

Kingfisher watching the water.
Kingfisher watching the water.

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Snow at Night

Alley in Dusk, 8 x 10, acrylic © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I check under the streetlight whenever I pass the window,
the still night scene like a Hopper painting, tranquil and perfect,
or the set on a stage, ready for the players, the houselights dim.
I anticipate the first action of the play,
and I grow impatient—
the stillness, the leaden sky as the afternoon aged
weighted with promise,
the early darkness,
then suddenly a bit of movement under the arc of the streetlight,
I hold my breath and still myself—was that it?
then a pause, then again, at an angle, a bit of ash gently drifting,
and another, then two at once,
then five,
then too many to count, meandering,
all in the same direction,
appear in the streetlight’s cone of illumination, then disappear.
I am transfixed
as the flakes simply continue as if without agenda,
my neighbors’ windows are all covered,
lights and flickering TVs behind curtains and blinds,
I am the only one who has witnessed the beginning.

poem Snow at Night ©2006 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I don’t know about you, but I’m waiting for that first snowfall, quietly appearing as if by magic under the streetlight.

I read this poem at my recent poetry reading “Walking Around” as one of the experiences we share in a small town.

The painting in this post, “Alley at Night”, is available as a print from Portraits of Animals.


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Poem: Effortless

Autumn in the Valley, pastel, 31″ x 27″, 2010 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I paddled the canoe around the bend,
and was faced with the effortless beauty of the panorama,
the trees in all their colors, the sky with changing clouds,
the water moving and reflecting simultaneously,
all perfectly arranged,
I realized that my creations are but raindrops in a puddle,
wisps of cloud that change and dissipate
my solitary accomplishments borne of great effort
would never equal this one solitary scene
or the one I would have seen the day before or the day after
evolved on its own, no one to frame it and display it and promote it
as it quietly exists through the day.
We humans sometimes get to think everything happens because of us
but these trees and grasses and hills arrange themselves
and create great beauty effortlessly
simply in the process of their everyday existence.
So I did a painting that can never match the original
so that I may remember my place.

Copyright ©2009 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Sloping hills blaze with autumn color at a rocky, rippled bend in Chartiers Creek, yet on the horizon deep gray-purple clouds hover; although the day was sunny I remember it being distinctly chilly with a sharpness to the breeze, especially on the water in a canoe, and winter is literally on the horizon.

For two reasons the scene was reminiscent and inspiring: first, that I rounded the bend to see this natural splendor in all its detail, brilliant color, fluttering leaves, rippling water, changing clouds, happening all on its own with no help from me or any other human ; and, second, it was an example of that “change of season” with the gray-purple clouds of winter arriving on the horizon, two seasons blending into one another. I needed to share this image, and it was so moving that the inspiration also became a poem, and the title for my third annual poetry reading and art show at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Change of Season.

And again, no, I couldn’t paint while paddling, and my little digital photos didn’t do the scene justice, yet other than wading down the creek and setting up an easel in the middle of the water, there was no other way of painting this. To take the scene from the tiny digital image to the full-size painting took a good bit of memory and visualization; it’s a good thing I’m very familiar with scenes like this. I don’t often work at this level of detail, especially at this size, but in order to share what I took from this moment, I found myself worker ever deeper into the minutiae of the scene so that others, viewing it, could hear the light lapping of the water, watch the clouds move, feel the warm sun on your back but the chill wind on your face, and the glory of those tree-covered hills.

You really have to get into “the zone”, though, while working at that level on the painting, letting go of your space, yourself, to get back to that moment and all your perceptions from that time. I still go there when I look at the original, which was purchased and made a gift to Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall and hangs in the Reception Hall.

In the mini-ecosystem in the valley along Chartiers Creek, the color show begins a little later and the trees keep their leaves a little longer, perhaps because of the extra humidity along the water through the dry heat of late summer. The diversity of species is generally much greater in both the trees and the understory brush and grasses, which encourages a greater diversity of foliage color and shape. When the show begins, it’s absolutely breathtaking and it gets more stunning every day until a November storm rips the last of the leaves away.

This area of the creek is approximately below Rosslyn Farms, between Carnegie and Crafton. In this area, the creek’s channel was widened and dredged deeper and the banks made more sloping through the Fulton Flood Control Project, allowing all the runoff from upstream communities to flow ever faster down the valley to the Ohio River without overflowing the banks or backing up into Carnegie, as had happened prior to the Project. Also, many of the trees were removed from the banks up to a certain level. Still, even with that modification, the channel remains beautiful and inviting in this lovely and unseen area of Chartiers Creek.

I actually wrote a poem about the scene before I did the painting, so inspiring was that particular moment.

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


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The Cabinet

The Cabinet

The wounds of trauma,
the sin of killing,
the witness of unspeakable acts
against the bodies and minds of others
the leaving behind of others held more dear than lovers
another world, all too real,
all came home in the duffel
unpacked into the house
worn like unwanted medals
that could not be removed
but with your hands you made this lasting monument
to prove to yourself you could still build, create, give
to start your new life,
not the one you left behind.

poem copyright 2014 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Several poems I’ve written are about or refer to things that I’d…found in the trash, and the stories they told me, mixed with the experiences of my own life.

Many homes around town had been owned and occupied by only one family from the 1930s or 1940s to today, and contain a lot of things people kept for various reasons, things that tell a story about life in that house, and the eras the house was occupied, typical of Carnegie and towns like it.

The Cabinet is so named for a cabinet I saw one evening out of the corner of my eye as I hurried off through my day. The cabinet looked to be in good shape, the drawers stacked on top, and I’d take it just to look it over, maybe I’d stop later, maybe I could pass on this one, but then I saw the little scalloped and curved decoration at the bottom. It reminded me of things around the house my father had made of wood that had just such decorations: awnings outdoors, cornices above the drapes, room dividers in our little post-war ranch house. My mother had designed the idea, my father had designed the item and made it by hand.

My errand on that evening was my daily visit to my mother in a critical care hospital. She’d had lung cancer surgery two months previous but her hypertension had caused her to unexpectedly slip into a state of dementia from which she was not expected to recover. I visited her twice each day, about mid-day and evening, and I knew I did not need to take on a stray wooden cabinet. Driving through the evening to see her the cabinet had led me to remember those projects the two had created before I was born, that I saw in the house each day when I stopped to pick up the mail and check things over; if her recovery had been as normal, she would have been back in the house, but this strange netherworld of waiting, and the quiet calm of the house with no one in it followed me as well.

So of course I swung past that cabinet on the way home from my visit to my mother, took a closer look and saw that indeed it was a sturdy cabinet, handmade with a birch wood top and red Bakelite handles very common and popular just after WWII, all the drawers were solid, and I crouched down to run my finger along that simple decorative curve, the only decoration at all added to the bottom to span from foot to foot of the cabinet just below the door with the thumb latch that held it closed.

So I struggled to fit it all into my little wagon and drive about a half mile home with the wagon door open, unloaded it and carried it into my basement for inspection. The paint was older, that shade of warm white that older oil-based paint became after years of sitting on the surface. The birch wood top was partially covered with real “linoleum” in a distinctly late-40s pattern, faded, dirty from probably motor oil, and more than half scraped away.

My parents lives had been marked by WWII, and all the indications that this had been made or at least updated at that time were pulling on those stories. My father had served in the Asia-Pacific theater from 1942 to 1945 and come home not knowing he had developed Parkinson Syndrome from a malarial fever that had nearly killed him. My mother had graduated high school in 1942, and all her memories of late high school, her early working career and life as a young adult were bound up in the American homefront experience during the war. I only heard the good stories, but in time I determined there was much sadness and pain underneath the shiny surfaces.

As I walked around the back of the cabinet, a single bare, unpainted panel darkened by age, I saw handwriting at the top. There, in pencil, was written:

MADE BY R.O.M.
1946

And the story began to write itself of the person who’d returned from overseas with all the pain and trauma and trying to get back to “normal” life, creating this cabinet by hand, and letting this simple creative activity help to start the healing.

The story was always intended to be a short story. My mother actually recovered and lived 10 more years though she was ill and needed constant care, and many stories never came to be during that time. I still have the cabinet in my kitchen, see it, touch it, use it every day, and had to share something of it in my own creative efforts, so I wrote the poem for my 2014 poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, “In This Valley”, commemorating the 110th anniversary of the merge and founding of the town of Carnegie because my parents were so much of this town, and the town itself, like so many others, was marked by that war. I read it again in my recent reading, “Walking Around”, because this finding and the inspiration for my own creation perfectly illustrate things you find when you carefully observe your surroundings, and how things we need sometimes magically appear when we need them.

I have not matched anyone from our town’s history with those initials—yet, but I hope to find a clue someday. But for the story it told me, lending its own magic to my memories and experiences, this will always be the tale.


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