There used to be a house here
snug against the hill
and steps to an upper terraced yard
in this impossible spot.
Breakfasts, dinners, Christmas trees, hot summer nights,
births, deaths, first days of school, graduations, conspiring teenagers,
changing colors of paint and people.
That was before the road was this busy
and its door opened right into traffic.
Now all that is left is a limestone foundation
and broken plastered walls with faded pink paint
embedded into the layered shale hillside,
and a chipped whitewashed alcove where the Blessed Virgin Mary
once spread her hands and watched over the home from the upper terrace.
Soon even that will be gone
and a new road will carry away
the last memory of the founders of this place,
but foundations are beyond physical presence,
and ours to build upon.
I am always sad to see old neighborhoods decay and fall to the wrecking ball, buried under with the backhoe. I’m not against progress, and sometimes a neighborhood has lived its span and is ready to be removed. But for better or worse, those old neighborhoods carry memories of individuals and the collective, people lived and died there, and they are the foundations of what we are today. Without them we are in danger of forgetting both the good we’ve done, and the bad, at risk of forgetting our roots and also repeating the same mistakes we made in the past.
This photo was taken in a city neighborhood, obviously on the top of a hill with an incredible view, a Victorian-style house that fell to decay after standing empty a decade or so and needed to be taken down for the safety of the neighborhood.
The poem was written as I watched what had been a two-lane road out of the city, which had at one time been a thriving neighborhood all on its own, wither as the road became busier and wider, and the homes and businesses closed and stood unused. Seeing the stately old houses, some with lace curtains still in the windows, fall apart and be removed, revealing the pastel paint colors of the walls, faded flowered wallpaper, the structures of what people had made their own home place, thinking of the lives and events that might be forgotten in the process, I wrote a reminder of what might once have been there.
It rained this morning, softly whispering in the trees all around the house, and I have been remembering my little 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 than a poem that also touched many others and won an award. August 11 was the day she left us in 2012, an abandoned or former feral kitty with a long story to tell.
Pawprints and Raindrops
in the early morning, still dark
and little Kelly, sensing my awareness
hurries over and steps on my back;
I feel her tiny cold paws dimpling the surface of my skin
as I drift off in the murmur of her purr and the rain
I think of raindrops on water,
I am the water, my skin the surface
and I can look up and in the increasing daylight
see the circular ripples of contentment
mingling on my own surface.
You can listen to the poem too—see the link below.
About the poem…
Kelly really did this one early Saturday morning in 2009. I listened to the rain in the blue light of early dawn and she knew I was awake and came over and walked all over my back, purring. We were the only ones awake. Kelly had tiny paws and they were always cold, something that was uniquely her, and picturing those tiny paws dimpling my skin through the sheet as she walked on me was what connected the rain, the water, Kelly and me. I remember visualizing the lines of this, images first, descriptive words later.
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.
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,
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.
Winter lost her grip, and, one by one,
The wildflowers of spring began to bloom,
Which, in their turn, faded into the shadows of the dense summer woods.
Now summer is losing her strength,
Autumn is thinning the woods
And bearing her own flowers and fruits,
Changing the palette of the landscape
With bright summer greens turning gold,
Deep rich shadows fading hazy blue.
Soon autumn will blaze along the trail,
And songbirds will move their chorus south.
Already winter has touched my hair,
And the smell of wild apples is in the air.
Seasons meld from one to another, not at the equinox and solstice but halfway between, in the quiet time when there are no other celebrations, but the sensitive person can feel the change, especially standing in the quiet relentless heat of a backwoods trail in August. I visited the trail on the traditional Celtic cross-quarter Lugnasadh and the Christian Feast of Lammas, when summer gently gives over to autumn, growth turns to ripening, the natural world begins to settle itself in for harvest and rest in the dark of winter, and later that day the sense of change, in the woods and in myself, was still strong with me, and I wrote this poem. It became a symbol and celebration of my own developing changes, my mother’s failing health and ultimate death, and reaching my own half-century mark shortly after, seeing that as my own Lugnasadh.
Also enjoy a recorded version including a slideshow of images.
We notice these changes in ourselves in the great cycle of our own lives. I had drafted this poem during an earlier summer, but I finished it for my first poetry reading, which was at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie.
The gradual changes we barely notice were the topic of my 2009 poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Change of Season. I have published the collections of poetry from each of the four poetry readings, 2007 through 2010, in a book entitled Paths I Have Walked, which you can purchase on my poetry page on this website and also the Books section of my main website.
I’m proud to offer a folio of my poetry
Paths I Have Walked: the poetry and art of Bernadette E. Kazmarski
FROM FOUR ANNUAL POETRY READINGS AT ANDREW CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY & MUSIC HALL IN CARNEGIE, PA
People who attended one or more of my poetry readings encouraged me to publish some of my poetry in a book from the beginning.
Once I completed my 2010 poetry reading, my fourth featuring the final piece of artwork in the “Art of the Watershed” series, I decided it was time to publish something and it should be those four poetry readings.
Poetry books are not best-sellers; it’s difficult to convince a publisher to risk effort on a beginning poet, and while self-publishing is the best option it’s not inexpensive and once you’ve got the book, someone’s got to market it. Plus, I’m a graphic designer and I designed books for years, and I want things my way.
All of this is a recipe for a little bit of trouble, but I decided the book was well worth the effort so I designed the book myself and had a set printed—no ISBN or anything formal, but it’s a start! I’m really excited to offer it.
Books are 4.25″ x 11″, 40 pages of information and poetry, with glossy covers featuring “Dusk in the Woods” and little thumbnails of all four pieces in “Art of the Watershed”.
$10.00 each including shipping (they are oversized for mailing first class).
My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.
In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I was astonished to find my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers.
My poetry readings and art exhibits were the vision of Maggie Forbes, executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, after learning of my publishing of those two poems. I owe her many thanks for encouraging me to present this combination of my visual and literary art, a first for me. I love that building, every inch of it, and the opportunity to bring people in to visit is an honor.
Green, green waves ahead
diminishing to blue over the northern horizon
exalted rises and shadowed valleys gradually made plain
to rolling hills and misted hollows
interstate unrolled as ribbon
around hill and following valley,
signs noting unseen destinations
bearing hopeful small town names:
little hamlets of Pennsylvania coal being crushed to diamonds,
glittering in the vales;
a gauze curtain of rain shower flows across hills
soaking opposite side of road
but the sun shines brightly ahead,
occasionally a sudden cluster of official orange obstructions
gives instructions to change directions
slowing pace to allow a close and careful study
of native plants along the roadside,
a stately brick farmhouse, a skull with empty windows, abandoned,
its outbuildings only roofs in the tall grass
as if melting back into the earth from whence they were created;
then a curving exit that leaves the noise of four lanes behind a rise,
a sojourn on a quiet two-lane three-digit backroad,
once the lifeline before the interstate, now empty;
clusters of buildings at intersections, one traffic light flashing yellow,
old farms and equipment,
rusted industrial structures,
a field gone entirely to Queen Anne’s Lace,
some cows on a hillside,
and everywhere roadside stands
celebrate the first flush of mid-summer bounty;
collect loose change from pockets and floor of car
and with the dole,
buy fresh homegrown sweet corn to feed thy soul.
In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar; this poem was one of those selected. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I was astonished to find my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers. Every time I take that ride north on the interstate in the summer all the scenes and lines from the poem come back to me.
They tried to re-create the sun
in all its round perfection,
a flat perfect disc,
They set their creation on its edge
to work the surface smooth
and the edge clean
like the life-giving orb they worshipped,
but it began to move on its own
smoothly along its own track.
It was magic.
The sun moved through the sky
by means no mortal could see.
Now this hand-made sun moved along the earth
by similar means
but they knew, somehow, the portent of this moment
as they followed their stone disc
as it rolled slowly down the path
as if it was patiently showing them
As a child I remember the first times I realized the world had not always been as it was then, and especially considering a world without most of what I knew, a blank slate, yet to be discovered, made me a little fearful but very excited. How did a tree come to be called a tree? How did people figure out how to make bread? Most of what I saw had been invented or developed on the back of centuries of other discoveries, then taught and refined. But how were the origins discovered? Was it all by accident?
One day years later, as an adult, the idea in this poem came to me.
There’s something special about the garden in the morning. The metamorphosis of earth from night to day brings tiny metamorphoses and miracles to all that lives and grows.
I’ve been gardening for decades. Just two years ago, when one of my own trees fell on my garden and fences it finished off the work that two neighbors’ trees had done to other parts of my yard. It’s not manicured, it’s a backyard wildlife habitat with lots of native plants along with shrubs and trees and perennials, and my vegetable garden. My habit even in winter was to start the day with a time outdoors, always work to do, but then I’d find some magic, water droplets, a spiderweb, newly sprouted beans, and off I’d go into a creative wonderland, taking this visual inspiration into any direction I chose: photography, painting, poetry, essay, concept, metaphor.
Even before I began working at home as a creative person this was the best way to start the day, get my exercise and burn off my early morning energy, and awaken those creative sensibilities. I’ve missed it since I’ve been trying to rebuild my yard, and trying to spend every moment working instead, but I knew at some point I’d have to return. I remembered the magic.
I have never loved so deeply
as I did in that moment in the summer dusk,
hearing footsteps in the alley pause,
my heart racing to hear our gate
softly squeak open;
it was you,
I saw your beloved silhouette
enter our sacred space
coming home from work;
before our loving greeting
dissolves to our angry discontent,
to have it
“Eliot and the coffee spoons have found me once again. Take a poem, leave a poem. Enjoying a night of gallery visits right in my home town.”
This I wrote the night I drafted this poem, mid-March this year, as a caption to a photo. My town was having a crawl of businesses, plus there was a major conference ceramics exhibit and other exhibits too. Unusually warm for this winter I enjoyed my walk and spent some time in the coffeehouse.
I filled a plate with snacks and went to the counter by the window where flyers and newspapers gathered, and a box that said “free poetry” with napkins and paper and pens to write them with, and at least a dozen poems in the bottom of the box. On the side was painted, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” a quote from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, hence the reference in my comment above.
I’d had a poem rumbling around in my thoughts, and as I enjoyed the evening of galleries and friends I was wandering by myself and decided I’d make a creative night of it. When I walked into the coffeehouse I remembered the poetry box and knew I could and should spend time drafting the poem that was trying to be formed.
I had seen this actual place in the days just before that night, driven down the alley noted in the text, and the title, or something very much like it, appeared in my thoughts as if on a marquee, some of the lines scrolling through my thoughts like a ticker on the television. Yes, this is autobiographical, and I honor and learn from writers who can write of their own experiences, painful or otherwise; I truly enjoy learning about them, from themselves. But myself, I’m not sure I want strangers knowing that much about me. Or even people I know. But the stories are good, and this image came to me in a well of memory filled with a fair amount of sadness for the pain of that time. Still, I remembered that moment of anticipation and knew I had to write about it.
At the counter in the coffeehouse I drafted the poem, went to see the two exhibits upstairs and downstairs there, had some more snacks and gave it a rewrite, took a digital photo of it and dropped it in the box. Parts of this final poem are very much changed from that draft, parts are verbatim the little scrolling phrases that came to mind first thing.
Oh, please, painting, go away!
Poem, poem, I want to go to bed!
Short story, I will never finish you, especially with you showing up at this late hour!
I wish I’d never allowed myself to start carrying my camera everywhere.
I stop every step and photograph something new and wonderful,
a leaf, the sky, a group of people, my cats, the sun on the wall;
though my walk is ruined by the intrusion,
my day completely rearranged,
they have become an adventure of possibility.
I relax my mind in falling asleep
but an idea blooms meticulously in my imagination
and I have to get out of bed to put the idea back to bed, like a child
whose babbling will soon turn to screams and keep me awake
if I don’t attend to it.
Paintings, sketches develop before my eyes as I simply look around me,
I can visualize the pastels I’ll use, watch my hands blend the colors,
or it may be the distant remembrance of a moment
that nearly broke my heart in its beauty
carried along over time because my heart wants to see that moment again.
Words flow effortlessly in my head, louder than what I hear from the world around me.
Someone talks to me and I struggle to listen above the lyrics,
focus through the beauty and truth being fashioned in my head,
and am grateful for an understanding friend.
I feel besieged by the number of potential creative projects,
bereft at the ones I’ve left undone,
filled with excitement at teetering on the edge of this madness.
Really, I’ve ended relationships over this, almost wrecked my car, fallen off my bike, been late for everything, stayed up all night as in The Clock in the Bathroom, and while it seems like I’m never complete, never finished, being pulled along, for what I can produce when I’m inspired and share later I am eternally grateful.
About the artwork
The painting I’ve included to illustrate this poem is one that grew from one of those cursed moments. I was supposed to be inside working, but the sky was so beautiful I just wandered outside with my pastels and painted the sky. “April Cloud Study”, 9 x 9, pastel, can be found on PortraitsOfAnimals.net.
Working in the garden one sunny later winter afternoon I watched the shadows of birds flying randomly about over my head criss-crossing the soil as I worked, and listened to their babbling mingling with the shrieks and laughs of children running around for the pure joy of it.
I took the photo of the starlings flitting around one of my bird feeders, thrilled to catch three of them in mid-air. I cropped and filtered the photo to serve the mood.