Sunday, October 26, 2014

Day 26: Dreaming moon

Not so long ago, a blood moon
rose in this autumn sky,
portent of the end of days
and happenstance,
a statistical anomaly for those
who number nights 
and measure the cosmos
with light years.
Instead the pull of gravity,
brings us to this moment,
woman's moon,
a dreaming moon
rising and falling in the night,
a perfect round of days,
nine months if we are counting,
and a child is born. 
All we know,
all we aspire to,
begins anew.

Today's prompt from Octpowrimo is to write of sleep or dreaming. Immediately, I thought of a dreaming moon and a grandchild-to-be who should arrive in the  next week or so. The photo, "Harvest Moon," comes from Wikipedia

Read what others have written in response to this prompt by going HERE.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 24: On the value of letters

I cried when I landed here,
at York Factory,
This is my home; this my husband.
I shall write letters, and all will be well.
We walked up the hill from the boat,
leaving behind that wretched small room
smelling of sickness and the sea,
careful to stay on the wooden path, 
clouds of mosquitoes
surround us, the air so cold 
it catches in my chest.

Margaret steps off the boardwalk
to slip ankle-deep in the marshy mud,
her white stockings stained.
The piano will be uncrated later.
I look out the tiny window
of my new quarters, four rooms,
and know that beyond the palisades
for miles and miles, past the rolling hills
of the marsh, past that row of tall pines
on the horizon, there is nothing.

Letitia Hargrave (1813-1854) is honored today as the first woman to write of her experiences living in Upper Manitoba as the wife of Chief Factor James Hargrave, at York Factory, just off Hudson's Bay, a key post of the Hudson's Bay Company. 

Her letters, available online, are a treasure of detail. Isolated, alone, yet with a finishing school mentality, Letitia wrote to her family in a close hand, cross-written with thin ink that froze in the winter, yet tell us much of life in mid-19th Century frontier Canada.

Read more of Letitia's life on Wikipedia.
Read her letters here at the Library of the University of Toronto.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 23: Turn the page

The nouns go first, no matter
how fast we hold on to sentence sense,
like penguins, black and white,
who slither along the ice,
useless wings flapping, until they
fall at last into the cold, cold water.
There, those birds so awkward on land,
fly through deep seas, at home.
And so I do not think
beyond nouns. It is enough
the seasons turn, and the sky
this morning brightened with promise.

Penguins (Gianfranco Goria on Flickr)

Check out what others have written for Octpowrimo, a month long challenge to write a poem a day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Poet's Voice

I scan the words,
their pattern on the page
as clear as lines
that mark
the way

What difference would it make,
to hear the poet's voice
to know with any
that here,
in this space,
the poet lost her place,
her voice trembled, and I can
no longer trust her truth,
hard won it may be;
she is as human
as me.

I'm remembering 
a certain temple at Delphi.
On the hill above, the men
raced horses to their destinies;
here on a small ledge below,
in the cracks of the earth,
women breathed in mysteries,
danced by Athena's sacred spring,
and spoke in tongues,
poets all.

Athena's Temple at Delphi, Greece (Camp 2004)
Today's prompt from challenges us to record an audio version of our favorite poem written this month. I have no time this  morning (commitments begin early today), but somehow this meandering poem took me back to a mystical day spent at Delphi. Athena's temple was nearly hidden in the ledge below the main temple of Apollo. 

We could walk right up to the holy stone near the cave where the women meditated and foretold their prophesies. Such holy stones, were found throughout Greece, but here at Delphi, this stone is the symbol of the sacred Oracle.

Holy Stone at Delphi (Camp 2004)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Day 21: Waking Poem

Suddenly it is dark
in the morning,
as if the sun needed to stay below
the horizon a little longer,
the earth tilted away
to hide her treasure,
like the basket I found in my dreams,
dust-covered, colors faded,
but the design true, a note inside
scrawled with tiny letters
and a number.
Maybe this once belonged
to someone’s grandmother,
this basket. I shall carry it home
and make it whole.

A basket made by Californian Lucy Telles
now in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
(source: Wikipedia)

The first lines of this poem came on waking this morning, a very dark morning before daylight savings time kicks in now that we're two-thirds of the way through October. I think I know what it means: that urge to preserve and protect artifacts from previous generations, perhaps an acknowledgement that I cannot 'see' what is valuable of my own. 

Even if I have not written every single day, this month long commitment to try comes from  -- Go see what others have written HERE.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Writer's Found Poem

I peer out from behind 
the dividing screen,
unseen, walled in by doubt,
wondering why I stay
in this country of
costumes and capers,
a dream of story-telling,
my writing hand stilled.

Childhood was like that,
a series of hard knocks,
until I learned I could leave.
And so I will step away,
walk along leaf-strewn paths,
hear again the call 
of Canada geese flying south, 
and breathe in the season’s turn
in the little sharp bite of the wind,
knowing I will write again tomorrow.

Honey Locust at Finch Arboretum (Camp 2014)

Yesterday’s poetry prompt from asked us to write a ‘found poem’, a poem constructed from a page chosen at random from a book in our library. 

I chose Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (page 269), a book long on my ‘to read’ pile and then wrote the poem above, drawing from these words: writing hand, why, country, stay, knows, walled, knocks, costume, capers, childhood was like that, unseen, dividing screen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Of Elephants and Morning

Could I dance with elephants,
eyes closed?
Sometimes creativity
is about trusting
that inner voice
that celebrates all of life,
a dance we step into,

This morning I was supposed to write a book review, but, as we sometimes do, I checked e-mails, made schedules, looked at Facebook, and worried about the coming day.

I found this very reflective Post by Alternatif Hayat  on Facebook. I'm not sure you can see it unless you have access to Facebook, but these powerful images of water, elephants, and celebrants shake me out of the ordinary.

Here is a similar video I found on youtube . . . 

May your day be filled with harmony. Check out what others have written for OctPoWriMo HERE.

Friday, October 17, 2014

An Afternoon in Normandy

On this beach, Arromanches,
the Allied troops in the thousands came ashore 
on D-Day, June 24, 1944. 
We walked along the sun-warmed sand 
seventy years later
and could not imagine
the fierce battle
in this place.

Bunkers at Arromanches 
Bunkers still face the sea, mossy now,
the rocky coast
once an objective, now background;
the rolling incoming waves
as constant as the passing of time.

Pont du Hoc sea view

Longues sur Mer 
Across the way, fields of wheat
camouflaged yet more bunkers,
a simple boundary between the place of landing
and a field of white crosses.

Memorial of the Fallen
Back on Omaha Beach,
metal forms reach to the sky,
a memorial for the fallen.

Omaha Beach Memorial (Camp 2004)
We had joined a parade in Paris, simply to show support for those who marched in favor of peace. An old woman, perhaps then in her eighties, came up to us and asked in French if we were American. When we told her, "Yes," she began to cry. She fell to her knees right there on the cobbled street and thanked us for sending Americans to fight during World War II.

These pictures bring back the memories of that visit to Normandy and the D-Day sites. My father and father-in-law both served during World War II, as did thousands of others. Now the battles seem like old history, very far from our daily life. But here in Normandy, the Americans and the Canadians and the British are remembered.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cluny: The Beginnings

I stepped into this shadowed round room
in the Museum of the Middle Ages
to find a circle of tapestries,
woven sometime in the late 1500's,
at the center of each,
a young maiden,
flanked by a lion and a unicorn.
Here placards in French tell
the mystery of the tapestries,
lost and found, restored,
now treasured.
Six tapestries, but no one to decode
the story told by each weaving:
Some say in the very last tapestry,
the maiden renounces love
to enter a convent.
But I see the lion and the unicorn,
and I think they tell a different tale.

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries
Museum of the Middle Ages (Cluny)
(Camp 2004)
Much better pictures of these beautiful tapestries (and their history) are available on Flickr, at the Museum of the Middle Ages (alas, only in French), and on Wikipedia. Tracey Chevalier has written a tale of these tapestries as well, The Lady and the Unicorn.

From the moment we stepped into the courtyard of the Museum of the Middle Ages (formerly the Cluny Museum) and noticed three curious large shells mounted on a front-facing wall, we were enchanted by these beautiful artifacts from so long ago. The shells testify someone who once lived here had gone on pilgrimage, perhaps to Jerusalem. 

Photo of the Museum of the Middle Ages by Victoria Coffman who noted this estate was built in the 15th Century.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Visit to Versailles

Met by pigeons, we enter the gate,
the crest of the king in gold filigree and iron,
the grand promenade, a car park,
before us, massive Versailles,
residence of French kings since the 17th Century.
Guards monitor our passing,
our sandals and tennis shoes, a Gallic shrug.
Would the king have said,
“Off with their heads!”

Entry to Versailles (Camp 2004)

Should the king wish to pray,
his private chapel awaits, surely ornate enough
To inspire thoughts of God.

Ceiling, Upper columns,
King's Private Chapel (Camp 2004)

We walk past the king’s bedroom,
Courtiers arrived each morning
to assist him in dressing, even to the chamber pot.

The King's bedroom (Camp 2004)

Stunned by opulence, we continue,
down the Hall of Mirrors so arranged
the king could admire his progress
to the Queen’s bedroom or beyond. 

Hall of Mirrors (Camp 2004)

Who could imagine
at the end of World War I,
Germany signed the Treaty of Peace here?

Detail, Queen's Bedroom (Camp 2004)

Would a jug of wine, a loaf of bread
be sufficient in such a place?
The long halls, empty of furniture and portable art,
throng now with tourists and history.

In the Royal Theater, 3,000 wax candles
burned at each performance.
Perhaps artisans were well rewarded,
I only recall this excess
led to the French Revolution.

Versailles (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An apartment in Paris

Somehow we found this place, quiet, 
up four floors from the Rue Jussieu,
no elevator but a view
of the Eiffel Tower, 

View from our window
a round table for four, a kitchen small enough
that I could touch both walls, bright paintings
and warm bedding; in the bathroom,
a towel warmer of simple rods.

The tiny kitchen
very well organized
Downstairs, crepe boy 
at a streetside stand, tosssed
batter, sizzling butter, dazzling crepes
before our eyes.
We stood in line at the bakery around the corner
for warm, crusty French baguettes.
Across the street, we could descend 
to the subway and travel to any district,
our French good enough for the day's touring,
then home, Allen translating the news for me,
his voice low, then slower
and slower as the newscaster shifted
to matters of importance.

Welcome home!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Monet's Garden . . .

Monet's Garden at Giverny (Camp 2004)

One afternoon, we wandered 
through Monet's garden at Giverny,
a day trip away from Paris,
with a few hundred others
and two lovers.
I don't think they noticed
the water lilies or
the formal gardens.
Instead they stopped to sit 
on a Japanese water bridge
and dreamed of what lay ahead,
as ethereal and shimmering
with promise
as one of Monet's paintings.

Rachel and Nick at Giverny (Camp 2004)
Monet came to live at this lovely, quiet estate in 1883. The story I remember most is that he worked closely with a gardener to reshape and replant the gardens to his exact specifications. Then, early and late, he would go out to the garden to paint those amazing studies of his gardens that fill museum rooms today. Later in Philadelphia, we saw an exhibit of Monet's works. One room had been set aside for the very large water lily paintings. Outside it was snowing and dusk was falling, but inside, we were surrounded by Monet's garden.

Where Monet once lived at Giverny (Camp 2004)
Visit the gardens at Giverny online HERE for some amazing photos and more of Monet.

Hydrangea at Giverny (Camp 2004)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Day in Bayeaux . . .

Detail, Bayeux Tapestry (Wikipedia)

Early in February, we left Paris by bus
for the Normandy coast,
to see the famous tapestry, that ancient,
woven tale of the Normans and their invasion,
the battle shock caught
in women’s threads, the tapestry
once brought out each year at the Cathedral,
now enshrined behind glass
in the Bayeux museum.

We walked slowly along its length
in this darkened room set aside for the tapestry,
murmuring anew at its history,
the panels and embroidery that yet reveal
the passion of the battle,
dead bodies litter the border of this tapestry.
Later, we wandered along the River Aure,
the canals past the water trestle,
the old stone house where Balzac once wrote,
appreciating the green of another spring,
wondering anew why we have wars
that mar the turn of seasons,
grateful for those who stitched long ago.

Canals at Bayeux, France (Camp 2004)

The Bayeux Tapestry shows 50 scenes that led up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (the Norman Conquest). Made of embroidered cloth, what remains of the tapestry measures 224 feet long x 1.6 feet high. No one is quite sure who commissioned the tapestry, nor who made it. Since the Battle of Hastings was fought October 14, 1066, it seemed appropriate to write about it in the month of October.

I’m assuming that women made this tapestry, though nowhere did I find this confirmed. The sewers, using wool yarn (outline stitch and fill-in), completed the tapestry about 1070 in England (11th Century), though it has been preserved in Bayeux since about the 1470s. 
Halley's Comet,
Bayeux Tapestry (Wikipedia)

I found it interesting that the tapestry documents the first known picture of Halley’s Comet.  Such handworks also are studied closely for clues about daily life and beliefs at that time, for the borders show mythical animals, farm workers, as well as battle and court scenes (note the English are shown fighting on foot, while the Normans were on horseback). 

During the French Revolution, the venerable tapestry, all 224 feet long, was repurposed to cover wagons, rescued by a Bayeux lawyer and hidden. Later the tapestry traveled to Paris where government officials battled over where it should rest. Finally, the tapestry came home to Bayeux. 

At the little gift shop, I purchased a book that replicates the tapestry; in class, we opened up the book and some 15 students held up portions around the room to show the amazing length and scope of this fabulous tapestry.

Friday, October 10, 2014

If I were in Paris . . .

Along the Seine (Camp 2004)

If I were in Paris
once again, I would stroll
along the Seine near Notre Dame
and watch the tourists queue up
to ride the boats past the Pont Neuf,
where stone heads grace
that oldest surviving bridge.
I would follow the scent of fresh croissants,
yes, French bread,
only sold within an hour of baking,
and sit outside one of many small cafes
to sip bitter espresso and talk with you
of travels past, books unread,
kings dethroned, the Bayeaux tapestry,
a trip by train to the country,
and loves lost.

I'm looking through photos of that month we spent in Paris and attempting to write a daily poem as part of October's OctPoWriMo and Ultimate Blog Challenge. So much was beautiful of this time in the early spring, even the unexpected music of singers from Tibet, street performers very much in the tradition of Paris.

Mussicians from Tibet in Paris (Camp 2004)
Read a little of the fascinating history of Pont Neuf HERE.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Picasso . . . because

you saw something different
so long ago, a collection of African masks
at an exhibit in Paris,
art slid sideways
into the new.

All your classical training,
the blue period, the rose period, 
You challenged yourself
to make images
never before seen.
Called decadent, the scribblings of a child,
you did not care.
You made art.
After the bombing of civilians at Guernica,
you made art.

Pablo Picasso, "Guernica" (1937, Wikipedia)

Sometimes we see something or understand something without knowing how or what is involved. The painting "Guernica" with its call to protest and to remember that bombing of a civilian town by the Germans in 1937 was my first introduction to Picasso. 

So when we spent a month in Paris already ten years ago, we visited a small studio on the Left Bank where Picasso once lived. We saw for ourselves where he painted "Guernica," the very room not quite big enough for the scale of this painting; the canvas so large it had to be tilted at an angle to fit into his studio.

Picasso's studio is now a tiny museum filled with paintings, drawings, and sculptures, even including his clay cups, created in amazingly diverse forms. We also visited the larger Picasso Museum with a very formal array of paintings from every period. Even today, I marvel at his creativity and his growth as an artist.

Read more about Picasso's studio and the Picasso Museum or visit the Picasso Museum in Paris at Wikipedia

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

We'll always have Paris . . .

We spent a month here
wandering along the Seine,
cobblestone streets in the old districts,
Montmartre, standing in awe
outside the house where Van Gogh 
discovered color.
We fell in love with crisp croissants, 
crepes made before our eyes at roadside stalls,
iconic museums, street art, 
gargoyles, church spires, stone mansions,
and then we took the elevator up the Eiffel Tower
to stare at the Seine shimmering in the sunset:
Ah, Paris, we remember you!

A blogger, writing in My Creative Wings, talked about writing a list of twenty things you love. Something or someone or an event that brings you joy. As I went through this busy day today, I found myself thinking of  that month in Paris.  

One moment reverberated. We had taken the elevator up the Eiffel Tower and stopped briefly at the first platform (190 feet above the ground). We decided not to continue on to the third platform (nearly 900 feet above the ground), because we could see this platform at the very top of the Tower swaying in the wind. Yes, I am a little uncomfortable standing on a chair, let alone ascending to the second platform. But this was unforgettable Paris. 

A View of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower
We stayed a long while at this second highest platform (376 feet above the ground) to watch the Seine shimmering as the sun set and the lights of Paris spread before us.

Tired, we descended, more than ready to go back to our apartment, when the crowd began to ooh and aah. We turned around to see a surprise of lights as the entire Eiffel Tower lit up before us. I remain grateful for this memory, captured in a 16-second video.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Seeking blue . . .

I could fall into your blue squares,
pieced together stitch by stitch. 
The tea pots promise reflection, 
the curling leaves thread across the quilt's 
perfectly shaded, soft yellow squares;
these background colors fade,
and I don't quite recognize 
the precision of each square, 
I'm lost in blue, 
the choices we make.   

A quilter knows her design,
what fabrics to choose,
when to sew, and
 when to rip away
to create that 
balance between 
and becoming.

This poem comes sideways and a day late from a trip to Sisters, Oregon, for their annual quilt show, several years ago. Quilts are hung everywhere throughout this small town, in every store and restaurant, gallery and fabric shop. We wandered through crowds of really thousands of people, but it's still a quilter's dream for a perfect summer day.

I dream of making this hand-appliqué quilt one day, the pattern is by Maggie Walker Design and called "The Blue Collection."


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Afternoon in Lerwick . . .

One rainy, gray afternoon, we walked
along the narrow, cobbled streets of Lerwick,
to find a knitting shop 
tucked around a corner,
The Spider's Web, 
the sign did not invite us in.

Instead we stopped for ginger beer,
and as the sun collapsed
into the sea, we took the ferry
back to the Mainland,
knowing without saying
we would never return.

I still remember this ginger beer for it hints at my second book, Years of Stone, set in Australia, then just a glimmering of an idea that began on this trip to Scotland. We had spent hours at the museum in Lerwick. More about that tomorrow!

Friday, October 03, 2014

A crofter's cottage . . .

A crofter's cottage made of stone,
its roof of grasses tied down with rope,
a heap of peat stacked neatly nearby,
A boat upended becomes the roof of a storage shed;
a few sheep in the field overlooking a gray sea,
empty fields marked by stones.

We step inside this small two-room cottage
to find darkness leavened by tiny windows bringing light
to whitewashed walls of stone.
In the fireplace, peat smokes and burns,
banked for a slow fire, soot marks above the fireplace
where a fiddle hangs next to the gun, its powder horn nearby.

I see hard work here:  
this family had a grinder for making flour,
a pestle for pounding grains into food
no stove, food cooked at the hearth 
in heavy iron kettles,
bread rising atop the wooden lids,
the bed a wooden box to the side of the central room,
with doors to close those inside, a patched quilt, 
squares uneven to keep them warm,
no precise pattern, found fabrics not needed elsewhere,
the chair for Grandsir 
almost a coffin 
with box like sides 
to keep the draft away,
the churn nearby, 
a basket of knitting, 
another of raw wool 
to spin into thread.

Hands were never still in this house,
even the men sat of an evening making rope, 
their hands twisting and knotting, 
traps for fish, halters for horses,
baskets for carrying, 
repairing the tools used every day,
for in these old ways,
they could survive the cold times,
the hungry times.

We took these pictures at the Crofters' Museum near Lerwick, northern Scotland. I know from reading about the Clearances that these crofters were displaced by sheep during the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere you still can see empty fields marked by stone fences and the remnants of abandoned stone cottages, a sad history of struggle, survival, and loss, part of the story I wrote about in my book, Standing Stones.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Lake Titicaca once again . . .

I remember most stepping
onto those islands made
of woven grass, and then I learned
of the constant work to
weave those grasses into land,
for the water, peaceful on the day we visited,
is insidious, its natural inclination
rots the woven land we stood upon.
But all of what we see and do
is somehow constructed reality,
our houses, foods, the daily routine,
'tis natural to see growth and decay
practically in the same breath,
to lose and then recover those treasured bits 
we surround ourselves with, a grandmother's quilt, 
a tiny alabaster elephant, an African violet,
photos of long ago and far away.

One of my dreams when we planned our tour of South America was to visit Lake Titicaca. I had read of the floating islands but knew little more.

But as we crossed the border from Chile into Peru, my computer and journal (with pictures, writing and drawings) was stolen. What meant the most to me would not be of value to anyone else.  So I have lost those pictures of our visit to the Uros Islands and the friendly people there. Here I'm relying on the kindness of people sharing their work on Flickr to recreate some of what we experienced.

Joe Marx, Flicker, Totora reed boat, Lake Titicaca

CLICK on the picture above to see other images of Lake Titicaca and the people who live there. Read more of Lake Titicaca and the Quechuan culture HERE.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A murder of crows . . .

"Crow on a Branch" by Kawanabe Kyosai (Wikipedia)

My eyes follow a murder of crows
as they browse along 
the carefully watered lawns
in my neighborhood. 
They lift into the sky, 
calling each to each,
warning of some thing I cannot see.
Sometimes the new
outpaces our ability to take it all in,
to make some sense of order or harmony.
I'm left behind, remembering 
crows are more intelligent than we know,
and I wonder what bird-like wisdom
I fail to see. 

Today's entry began as a reflection on a photo of some lovely Shetland ponies I saw in Lerwick, Scotland, on a trip there. The green, green grass they grazed reminded me of the crows I saw this morning, and so I shifted closer to home with this poem.