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Monday, December 10, 2012

The Food Court at Yorkdale

Today my daughter has errands to run at Toronto's Yorkdale Mall - if, she tells me, we can find a parking space.  (Indeed, as we passed it enroute from the airport on Sunday morning, cars waiting to enter the Mall were lined up for several blocks along the approaching street.)  But on this gray, November Monday afternoon we are fortunate, and quickly find a convenient space in the well-lit cream colored underground garage.  No dreary concrete gray here.
The mall is a testament to the term 'upscale,' both in terms of shop ownership as well as in description of the physical space.  There are shops whose names I usually only read in magazines, upscale, and airplane magazines: Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Holt Renfrew,  _(kitchens)__, you name it.  Shops whose wares are top of the line, wares sometimes funky, but not always discernible from those you'd find at Target, Kohl's, Penney's or, face it, Walmart ...except for the price tag.  The walkways are generous, and generously filled with shoppers, or folks sitting on ample benches deployed among banks of the season's poinsettias.  Storefronts are of ubiquitous mall floor-to-ceiling glass, floor-to-ceiling of the store, that is, with marble continuing the wall up to soaring ceilings. Walls and floors, ceiling, all light colored, and well let as well.  Plenty of eye candy at every turn.
The shoppers, however, are a testament to Toronto's identity as a multicultural mecca, and folks of every color and description sit down together to satisfy their appetites at Yorkdale's white color-themed, food court.  Opened just last summer, the airy, open sided third floor ellipse is reachable by polished steel elevator (out of order today) or sleek escalators rising to second and third floor spaces overlooking the main level of the mall.  Supposedly there is a table reservation service, but while we were there, we and other folks found our places easily enough on our own.
At least nineteen restaurants surrounding the ellipse offered foods from around the world, and each of them was doing a brisk business at one-thirty when we arrived.  (Perhaps a smaller section nestled between two of the restaurants was the reserved area.) I perused the offerings from one Greek and two Chinese eateries before settling on barbecued pork and veggie noodles from the latter.  There were short, fast moving lines at each restaurant, where three to four polite and efficient servers tended the drink dispensers, and cash register and counter, which another one or two constantly replenished with food fresh from their kitchen.  Diners could choose between eat in or take-out, disposable or real cutlery.
A shoulder-height white wall ran here and there between the counters and the thousand seat eating area, where white tables bore inscriptions reminding customers to return (white plastic) trays to the white tray counter, where a woman cleared and stacked trays and dishes for a runner to trundle to wherever they were to be washed.  Italian designer chairs with black seats, fortuitously sturdy and comforting to my arthritic bones, lent a subtle air, while gray benches flanked both sides of the white half-walls.
People watching was as satisfying as the meal, and I settled down to do just that as daughter set out on more errands than I needed to know.
Next to me sat a middle aged white man finishing his lunch, on the other side an Asian woman of about the same age and occupation.  A well built young security guard passed by, eyes ahead, subtly adjusting what must have been a bullet proof vest by slight movements of his shoulders. What must've been copious tattoos just peeked out from under his short sleeved shirt.  Slender young women in black and jeans walked or stood with studied unconcern on tall, black, high heeled boots.  An Afro beauty with both pompadour sporting a burst of miniature braids, scanned the menu board same as anyone else.  A middle-aged blonde found an open space, and glided by on her motorized chair, smoother and faster than many of the walkers, dipped in closer to read a menu, zipped on the the next place.  Young couples with babies in carriers or strollers, hopeful-faced toddlers in the mall's bright red signature strollers, grandparents with no other agenda than to not worry, and be happy, sometimes with each other, sometimes just a grandmother with children (usually a daughter) and grandchildren in tow, young men in a variety of guises...some 'just guys' laughing and moving toward their choices with ease, some business-world hopefuls in suits fitted at the waist, a predominance of dark, if not black hair, skin of every color.
A slender maintenance woman with a huge roll of toilet paper under one arm would periodically pass
me, pushing a slender mop in a single line, round and round the ellipse.  A young blonde mother carefully positions a blanketed carriage near the couple's selected table, where the dad soon appears with their lunch as she peeps under the blanket to reassure herself before sitting down with apparent pleasure.  An Asian mother carries her tiny baby in a front-carrier while she pushes the stroller, apparently re-thinking the weight of motherhood and how irrevocably her life has recently changed.  A quintet of young adults walk in talking and laughing of the guys stops to stare at the variety of restaurants, while a young woman in the group continues talked as she scans one whole side of the ellipse in a single glance.  They move as one to the chosen venue.
The tone is busy, purposeful, upbeat, satisfied.  An ambience like a busy bazaar in most any place in the world.  A pleasant place, the pleasing company of people on a common mission, a pleasant way to spent an afternoon.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Comforts: A List

Potatoes, cooked most any way; macaroni and cheese; old fashioned dark russian rye bread with butter and a glass of buttermilk; dark chocolate (short break while I go and get some...); sunshine; many windows in my house; my study; soft jazz; classical music played with delight; singing, soaring freely to the top note, humming softly a favorite tune; poetry, especially when I can share poems that resonate with another person; woods in the springtime, collaborating with one spirit, walking with a friend, the fragrance of fresh wood shavings anytime; writing; my family, grandchildren; fond memories of parents; friends who call or show up at just the right time, and any other time; a book that I just can't put down; warm fuzzy blanket; bright colored scarf; sun shining in a unique place and way; sunsets; fresh air, the fragrance of clean sheets dried outside; knowing how to operate machines and technology that help me, that help me communicate; a good, clean joke; laughter; writing and forgetting about the time; a good night's sleep; the kitchen clean when I go to bed; a hot meal ready; affirmations; fresh flowers; a hilarious show or story; a warm hug; silence; photos of happy times and dear people; worship; being accepted just as I am; knowing that I have helped/encouraged/comforted someone else; bringing a task or project to completion; creating art just for the fun of it; a letter---writing or receiving one; falling into bed tired but satisfied with the day; knowing that I am loved with an everlasting love.  Thinking about what I am thankful for as I fall asleep.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paris: A Tuesday List

Writer friend Lynn Fisher (her blog:  On and Off the Page) refers to 'the Tuesday list' and I find myself forming one as I read hers, a brief one coupled with a picture of her visit to Paris...which fuel
a list of my own Paris memories:

Paris...a chocolate that was just that, retro restaurant with heavy red velvet curtains, sidewalk bistro, large train station with pay toilets and no coins, walking a mere fraction of the louvre, hot August day at Versaille, Mona Lisa, train to Normandy, peering up through the legs of the Eiffel Tower, night barge on the Seine, streetside art kiosks, non-English-speaking airport, marrow bone appetizer, meditated in and on the structure that is Notre Dame, sated rainspout/gargoyles brooding over the city, bought a marionette...

I think I'll share this Tuesday/list thing on my blog too :-).  Thanks for the idea, Lynn,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17, 2012

After reading only a few pages of Mark Doty's Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, it's already as though my vision has been equipped with a wide-angle lens.

On my way back from Northwords Writers group this morning, I think of a revision for my poem we'vs just discussed.  Pulling the car into the first public parking place on my way, I reach for paper and pen, and begin to write, only to glance up and notice a tree, park, and river setting more picturesque than I might have expected.  Thankful for the prompt, I throw in a less-than-amateur sketch of the tree.  Its branches diverge like fantastic fingers, leaflorn twiggy appendages spread like a sigh, or a welcoming cry, toward the sun-pierced, November sky.  (It's all in how you look at it, right?)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Curiosity I

What happens when a poem enters
your head while you're ill?
Does it chill and shudder while
you yawn, tired at the thought
of the hard work that you know
must come before the sickness leaves
or the words are written?
Or must it stand there, waiting
             to be invited in,
hat in hand, and coughing slightly
to get your attention?
Are you willing to risk the germ,
to sow and tend, water and reap,
gather up the fragments for later,
until, finally, you
           and the poem
lie down together,
spent, and flat?
What happens when a poem
enters your head?
A Curiosity II

What happens when a poem
enters your head when you're ill?
Does it come warily,
asking how you are today?
Does it stand, hesitating,
in the doorway, hat in hand,
waiting to be invited in?
(And do you say wait, or come in?)
Does it swell in your brain
until you get a fever,
or shrivel on the spot?
Does it chill and shudder,
already tired at the thought
of the work that is to come,
sowing, tending, weeding, reaping
until you both lie down, spent
and flat, together?
What happens to a poem
that comes to you when you're ill?

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Stories are verbal acts of hospitality." -- Eugene Peterson

I wonder how, then, to characterize poems?  Verbal dances?
Hm,I like that idea...something more musical and/or metrical,
surprising and allusive, than 'ordinary' prose.

I did a dance this week, around two of my poems, Pieta, and Sweet Sixteen,
that won prizes in a League of Minnesota Poets' competition, in which writers
from around the country participated.  Thank you, Grandma Lahti, and my
daughter, who inspired those poems.

They say write what you know; many of my poems are tiny stories about family. But
I wish I had interviewed and known more, especially about the women in my family.
(How could I not have known how important it was, when they were so readily
available?)  Even so, I am getting to know my family, and myself  better, as I write
poetic anecdotes about them and/or me.

Perhaps even enough to fill a book.

So, welcome stories.  Come on in!  Let's have a chat.  Then let's dance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day Six

Last April's Day Six's poem is/was to be about an animal, creative (of course) and playful in form as well as content...written our kitchen in India, where conditions are very different from those in Minnesota, in mind.

The Mouse in Our Kitchen

Lives in a box
in a nest of boxes
behind the meat safe
in the screens of which
he has gnawed fruitless holes
in search of sustenance
but finding none
in our absence.
he lets us know he
his wife and his family
are present, or presently
going to be here, and hungry.
So the two nibble and gnaw
as they make their home
and their way through
the nest of boxes.
We don't mind
they don't find
our real provisions,
or cause any divisions
in ingredients we crave
or were planning to save.
They can forage in the dustbin,
they can

NaPoWriMo Day 4--Playing 'Catch up'

Speaking of intentions, a browse through a list of my blog entries reveals a number of drafts that never got entered, so here begins a series of 'catch up' entries.  This one is from April 4, a day in the write-a-poem-a-day month.....................

Today's prompt is to write a poem in the form of a musical structure. Wimping out due to time constraints, I'll go for the 'easy' one suggested...a blues 12-beat line....

Glorious Food

Don't go! Let me tell you what I think about food.
I eat my quota of carrots, but only raw,
I eschew brussels sprouts and broccoli, 'cause, awe
shucks, they behave in a manner similar to beans,
like cauliflower, cabbage, any veg with means
to power a vehicle or damage friendships:
aw shucks, I think you probably know what I mean.
We could feast on a turkey or pig out with pork,
and eat most anything with a spoon or a fork.
But a double chocolate chip cookie trumps all.

When things come together

My previous post garnered one comment, and that one was on our son's birthday.  Significant in that, after a pleasant visit with our daughter's family,  this month has been largely focused on his growing enlarged by the birth of his first child, a daughter, later in the month.  We grandparents have just returned from a trip to attend the event and a thrilling weekend getting acquainted with a sweet little child and her parents.  Sweet, and yet demanding, in ways natural to all new babies. The play over which I periodically wring my hands lay idle.  Fortuitously, embedded in the sermon at church on Sunday was a nugget of very significant insight for the play.  Different kinds of insights.  Different rates of growth. Significant events feeding one another in ways we couldn't have anticipated.  Am I superstitious?  Or is it simply a fact of life that when we attend to what we are intended to be doing, other pending projects/intentions grow too, albeit, like babies, in their own time and their own way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Light on the Subject

Early on, I wrote a poem with the lines, 'sometimes a light surprises.
                                                                 What it quickens, I can't deny.'
And oh, how many times, in how many ways,  it seems to apply (rhyme not intended, but, there it is!) to what I am thinking, to what I am remembering, to an abandoned project that won't let me go.  Such are the insights, reminders and opportunities that surprise me with their possibilities for the play I developed from a writing assignment in the late 'seventies.  How guarded I am with the whole project, not letting myself get to work on the shelf bulging with notes and drafts of this project, not believing it would capture an audience, not seeing where and how to 'tweak it' as one local theater director suggested, not daring to ask yet another person to read it and possibly demur from commenting.  Yet, time and again, an unexpected light will surprise.
This week it is in reading the end of a book I'd abandoned as insight-less, at least to me, and finding it actually insightful, that I have a crucial insight about one of the minor but necessary characters in my play. (REMEMBER is the name of it.  Be looking for it on Broadway.  There, I've set my sights...)
I won't share the clarity here (I demur), but the book is THE WOUNDED HEALER, and the insight, really the crux of the book, is where the author, Henri Nouen speaks of the characteristics of leadership.  I can hardly wait to get back to the redrafting of the play from the perspective of this particular character, caring, believing, persistently hoping...revising in the light of this most recent surprise. 
You writers know that the process can be daunting and lonely, no matter how exciting.  I need to put this new-found energy into the work, rather than dissipate it by leaking out a little bit at a time (which is why I demur from further details.)  But, ask me how it's going.  It'll be on my mind and increasingly on my desk, lordwilling moving from my computer to the stage...SDG.  Hold me accountable to this new surprise.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Today Simran Khurana, in 'About dot com,' quotes a poem that seems pregnant with meaning. Does it speak of a single day, a certain age, or a lifetime?
Whence are the flowers, and whose?  Why are they faded?  Why would anyone have a question for the flowers themselves?  If you could, what would you ask? (Hm, this might be a subject for one of those idea-exploring, letters to an inanimate object!)  And how can dried flowers be a 'measure' of an absence?
What has the speaker experienced, to be gaunt and dusty gray?  Define 'roaming.'  Is this an accidental encounter?  Is anything spoken aloud...or, is this an afterthought? Who is 'I' and who 'you'?  "You walked a way beside me to make me sad to go..." is that  bittersweet, or just bitter, or regretful...and why?
Much as I eschew literary analysis, preferring,  like C.S.Lewis, to let the words have their own say, the questions keep coming.  Why this poem today?  Why me? ( I'll take this poem with me, into today.) Here it is: 

"Flower Gathering," by Robert Frost

I left you in the morning,
And in the morning glow,
You walked a way beside me
To make me sad to go.
Do you know me in the gloaming,
Gaunt and dusty gray with roaming?
Are you dumb because you know me not,
Or dumb because you know?

All for me? And not a question
For the faded flowers gay
That could take me from beside you
For the ages of a day?
They are yours, and be the measure
Of their worth for you to treasure,
The measure of the little while
That I've been long away.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting Unstuck

Kamy Wicoff on asks what writers do when they get stuck, and the answers are many and varied
as the possibilities.  I hardly begin to describe the tip of the iceberg in my comment, vis:

"I eat.  'Works better when the edibles are nutritious--fruit, veggies, high fiber snacks, lowfat cheese, and of course DARK CHOCOLATE, tea.  I call one of my 'team.' Friends who know my writing woes and work, and encourage me to try again.  I exercise.  Walking with or without a neighbor, isometrics designed to keep me limber, stairs, laundry, groceries (yes, I call these exercise.)  Read a book.  The current one-in-progress or one that is calling my name.  Look out the window.  Nature is everywhere, waiting to be observed.  Go to a concert, lecture, reading, or art exhibit. Freebies are to be had everywhere in our city. Work in another medium than words for awhile.  Take a pencil and pad of paper on a walk, inside or outside, and record your observations without words.  Nap.  With an insistent timer set for 30 minutes or less.  Call on an older person who is isolated. The benefit is reciprocal. People watch.  At shopping center, playground, on my street.  Volunteer.  Reading stories at a nursery school is my favorite.  Cries of "Grammy Shirley's here!" really set me up.  Last but not least, bring something, anything, to run past my writers' critique group.  Gets me going, every time.  Getting stuck happens to all of us.  What we do with it is up to us."

I can still hear my father saying, jovially, but very earnestly, "Don't just sit there.  DO something!"  I agree!

Friday, September 7, 2012

In a Manner of Speaking, or, Reading into Pooh

I have discovered a delightful neo-Pooh title, THE TAO OF POOH, by
Benjamin Hoff, who uses Winnie-the-Pooh-like language to explain the
concepts of tao.  It's catching--in the following, which came into my
head on my morning walk today, I've attempted to imitate that manner of
speaking.  I can hardly wait to finish TAO and read THE TE OF PIGLET
by the same author!

"Hmphnysh," muttered Pooh, not yet quite awake.
"What?" asked Piglet.
"Love," said Pooh, stretching himself a little, and
"Oh," said Piglet. Then, after awhile, Piglet added,
"I thought you said 'laugh.'"
Pooh, now fully awake, lost no time in setting
the record straight. "Same thing," he replied.
It was in the fall of the year, and a good day to be alive.
Eeyore nodded, as he plodded along behind them. -- SF

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Where did April go?

A poem a day during April's NaPoWriMo challenge turned out to be only a dozen.  Still and all, I am glad for the challenge.  Since then I've spent eager hours preparing nearly forty pages in support of an application to spend an extended period with a small cohort under the direction of several writer-mentors.  Alas, I did not even make the 'short list' for consideration. 
But late spring and early summer have provided enough stellar days to brighten anyone's spirits, and I have intensified my efforts to weed out closets and shelves, empty boxes and bins, clear counters, desk, and my  mind for the work that is to come.  For work I shall.  I shall persevere in writing and, lordwilling, publish words of encouragement for others.
I am thankful for members of several groups (writing, spiritual growth, speaking), as well as family, neighbors and friends who support and encourage me for who I am and for who I am becoming as a writer and a person.
Is it possible that I have just entered my seventh decade?  I am still a teenager/young adult at heart, with much to learn!  I am also thankful for this.

Monday, May 7, 2012

NaPoWriMo Day Twenty, a travel poem

Get me to my group on Time.

Try as I might to be on time
just when I'm trying the hardest
something happens to hold me up
like printing out enough copies
for each one in my writing group
and developing a back kink
as I rushed to get out the door.
So it's back to the microwave
where I heat therapeutic beads
in a sack to put on my back
pause long enough for it to take,
determined to go anyway.
For once I remember to take
my purse, my keys, and all the work
that I hope I can share today.
Rain dulls the day, freshens the earth,
reminds me to take care en route.
Saturday freeways are busy
as I carefully change the lane
from entry to right, then to left,
then back to right and the exit.
I like the River Road exit,
smoothly execute the gentle turn,
gliding forward as I slow down
to a respectable thirty-five,
past the suburban train station,
a new and needed addition
to life in suburban Fridley.
I carefully pay attention
so I don't overshoot my turn
into the modest parking lot
of the Banfill-Locke Art Center,
only half an hour late.
A small bell welcomes, at the door.
My comfortably clogged feet
leave a message on the floor:
She's coming...late, again.The group
is already at work, reading
and listening to each other,
looking at their work with new eyes.
they eye me as I enter, sit,
and join in the conversation.
They welcome me, and, already,
I am calm, and  I'm affirmed.
I wouldn't miss it for anything.

A Clerihew (gesundheit!)

Just kidding; a clerihew is not a sneeze, but a specific poem form: a short biographical poem with end-rhyme scheme of  AABB but no particular rhythm.  Though national poetry month is but a memory, I want to honor its memory by activating a few of the daily prompts, to challenge my poetic brain to get itself back into writing gear (I had taken a break to submit an application requiring a forty page writing sample. And after that, a break to recover from the frenzy of doing so.)  Today, a clerihew:

I intended to write a clerihew,
or at least something to encourage you.
Unfortunately, my brain took a walk
while I frittered time away on eating and talk.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

NaPoWriMo Day 18: A Lullaby

Rocking Chair Lullaby

Sweet baby-you,                   (affetuoso)
please me immensely.

You make me smile,
smile all the while
even while sleeping.

Now is the day
gone far away,
shadows are creeping.

What's done is done,
tell every one
they are forgiven.

Then, think of you,
what did you do:
You're also forgiven.

So close your eyes,
dream paradise,
while you are sleeping.

please me immensely.

Honey-bunch, you
sweet- ba - by - you, 
sleep now -- in - tense - ly...  ( poco a poco Rallentando)

NaPoWriMo Day 17: An Epistolary

Today's challenge is to write a poem in the form of a letter to an inanimate object, including a song lyric, historical fact, odd adjective/noun combination, a fruit, a neighborhood street, and a measure of distance.

Dear Time,

How are you, dear friend? I've heard you've done a lot of flying lately.
I've always been here, but where are you?

You always seem to be flying away somewhere mysterious. Some would say I abuse you. How is this possible? Goodness knows, I've tried to behave wisely with regard to you, but, to tell the truth, I'm forever, well, often, blowing bubbles. Like, when visiting the centuries-old astronomical observatory, Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi, I'm fascinated by the ochre shapes of the place as much or more than their accuracy in reflecting the time and the season. And then I have to admit, Oh, it's time to go?...But I haven't read the inscriptions yet...etc.

Do you suppose it's deliberate distraction? Can't be...that's an oxymoron anyway,
I think. There you go again...'I think'...I think thinking distracts me. When I'm trying to leave my house, I keep thinking of one thing or another that I could/should do first, and suddenly it's time to be where I'm supposed to be, and I haven't left yet. Same thing from room to room. Same thing from topic to topic in a conversation.

I really appreciate the times you've laid out a timeline or schedule for me, like the day I had to remember to bring the smoked turkey and grape salad for the potluck at Nancy's place a couple of blocks down and two houses over, on Venus Avenue. Even though I haven't always 'come through', to being on time, it helps, and keeps me in touch with the goal...I do try.

At any rate, Time, I've told you a little about how I feel. I hope you are okay with that. I hope that we can continue this dialogue sometime in the future. I need all of you that I can get. I hope to see you soon!

Love, Shirley

The Good Ol' Gals (NaPoWriMo Day Sixteen)

The Good Ol' Gals Meet Again

Hey gals, it's time to meet once again,
bring your hot dish, family photos,
and, if they're willing, your men.

Remember the days in the old college dorm,
where the entrance at curfew was often a swarm
of friends and young lovers keeping each other warm?

Later, in the lounge, long after ten,
taking breaks from study or sleep,
we would exercise, laugh, and gossip again.

Where did you go, what did he say,
what did she reply then?
And who got engaged at the end of the day?

Now it's children and recipes, and grandchildren, who
pre-occupy our gossip, our activities too. Oh,
Girl friends, it's hard to imagine life without you!

NaPoWriMo Days Fourteen and Fifteen

Let's see whether fourteen makes it to the's supposed to be a sonnet, and it's still a work-in-progress.

So you don't have to hold your breath, here's day fifteen's poem, the prompt being 'a silly parody.' I've chosen a folk song that my dad sang from time to time. It was supposedly written by a bum during the depression, and it's already a parody, so this is a parody of a parody. The 'original' "Hallelujah I'm a Bum" lyrics, found on-line, had thirteen verses, of which three were repeats.

Hallelujah I'm a Reject

Oh, why don't I write like MFA's do?
How the heck can I write when distracted by you??

chorus: Hallelujah! I'm a reject, Hallelujah amen,
Hallelujah! give us some feedback, and revive us again.

Oh, I love my computer, my computer loves me,
But word processing leaves me baffled and angry. cho:

Well, springtime is late, snow is still on the ground,
Away from the library, I'm sad and housebound. cho:

Oh why don't you spend all the money you earn?
If I ever earned any, my pockets would burn. cho:

Oh, I like my peer group, their comments are fine,
Some have their work published, but not me and mine. cho:

I'm not taken seriously, 'cause I'm just a hack,
With little in print yet, I seriously lack. cho:

I went to a reading to try th'open mike,
but before my turn came, the place declared a strike. cho:

I went to a workshop, I wrote something fine,
But after their feedback, alone I am cryin'. cho:

Oh why can't I just have a byline or two?
I'll keep trying, keep writing, and I will show you. cho:

Whenever I get all the money I should earn,
The editor will be broke and to work he must turn. cho:

I'd stay in my room, put a lock on the door;
but my family says they want to see me some more. cho:

I went to a editor, and I asked for advice;
The editor said,"Writer, just chill on the ice." cho:

When summer arrives, we'll all feel so fine,
We'll admit we are rejects, and study online. cho:

Friday, April 13, 2012

NaPoWriMo Day 13

You may be mystified unless you read this edited version of NaPoWriMo's description of "our prompt today...write a old Persian form of poetry [in] couplets. Traditionally, the two lines of the first couplet end with the same word or phrase [which is then] used to end the second line of each succeeding couplet. All of the lines are supposed to be of about the same length [but with] no formal meter or syllable count. If...super traditional/technical, the last couplet [refers] to the name, or...some...allusion. obligation for the various couplets to have...anything to do with one another. ...each couplet [is almost a self-contained poem.] The unity of the poem as a whole doesn’t derive from narrative logic, so much as from the repeated refrain that ends each couplet."

At My Desk in April

Just outside my window sway branches of birch trees.
I am distracted by the swaying of birch trees.

The morning is gray but April buds are yellow,
drooping, prolific, from the branches of birch trees.

Robert told us writers there would be days like this,
that we could do worse than be swingers of birch trees.

My thoughts are prolific, to-do list - horrific,
but this morning's thoughts are pre-empted by birch trees.

He's in the kitchen, he won't know how I'm stuck here,
with so much to do, yet telling you of birch trees.

Neither my brothers nor I confessed to the crime.
Each had to bring his own switch; mine came from birch trees.

But, wait! I am enlightened, and not besmirched, by
the whiteness and yellowness of spring birch trees.

Shirley is finally at work--Robert, you were right,
She could do worse than be a singer of birch trees.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

P.S. to Day Twelve

Several attempts in my previous blog entry failed to record the Poetry International Organization website provided by NaPoWriMo, so I hope you can extrapolate it from this sentence. It has an interactive list of links to many countries and some of their contemporary poetry, which you may enjoy exploring.

Day Twelve, a homophonic translation

Today's prompt, as I understand it, is not to translate a poem, but to write what only the sounds of the words seem to say in English. Using the link to provided by NaPoWriMo, I chose a Finnish author because of heredity and a teeny tad of familiarity with Finnish, and the poet Sirkka Turkka simply because I have a relative named Sirkka.
With apologies to both Sirkkas, I came up with my own creation based only on the suggestion of sounds and guessed meanings of faintly familiar words. Only after writing will I go back and read the website translation of ST's poem. Here goes....
[Later: Sirkka's poem, "Tähdet ovat taas kuin itkuinen balladi," turned out to be a lot darker, according to its English translation, than I would have liked to write, so I am glad for what I wrote after all.]

Aiti Sang of a Summer Evening

That was not a thoughtless ballad, the one about evening.
Mother's voice joined the mourning dove's alleluias
as sun departed, bidding it return tomorrow,
thankful for yard and garden at peace, so very much
in tune with the evening scene were her songs.
Not that all evenings were clarity; sometimes fog and smoke,
as when father lit his pipe, expanded on the cooling air.
Ask yourself:  Where you were last night? Did you enjoy,
did you travel, did you read, and remember without regret?
Whether with cup of ice cream or a flute of wine, it doesn't matter.
I don't require an explanation of where or what or why.
I have no wish to view the guest register, or ask the waiter
whether you still insisted on real butter for your bread.
Such ordinary questions arise and tend to answer themselves.
The only peace I desire of an evening is to remain at your side,
to eat or drink, or simply to sink in your arms, mellowing,
like the setting sun.

by Shirley Smith Franklin

Friday, April 6, 2012

Days Four yet to come, and Day Five

Day four was to be based on a musical form...that one is still to come!

Day Five was to be about a sport and/or an opening, a first. I'll write, instead, about
waiting, despite obstacles, until the time is right...

Times Like This

by Shirley Franklin

Amavaasam, night of the dark
of the moon.
Anticipate darkness,
enter the real darkness,
do nothing new for some time.
The dark night will lighten, soon.

Indians take a different attitude
toward unanticipated
arrivals and departures.
Fate aur fait arrive and depart.
Whichever, oh, so true. But
fate, inauspicious, can be capricious

So just wait for some more time, they say,
we can talk, they say, and have tea.
This too will certainly pass.
Mother said there'd be times like this.
So talk, and let the time pass.
You could do worse than a cup of tea.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NaPoWriMo Day 3: Epithalamium

Today, a poem about a wedding. The form, epithalamium, dating back at least to Catullus (get thee to a reference, to read about this ancient Greek!) Classically, addressed to the bride. Modernly, about 'the whole wedding experience.' That should be easy enough, since we are less than a year away past one family wedding, another imminent. (postscript 1: Now I have written, but despair at having more generalities than details, more prose than poetry. Ah, but that's the fun of NaPoWriMo, the whole process is fuel for further writing.) (postcript 2, Day 4: And thus I have edited it, as it reads now:

by Shirley Franklin

Now there's a mouthful for you.
So you're the young woman who has stolen our son's heart. Slender and small, gracious to the core, spunky, and smart. I can see why he likes you, loves you, fell in love with you the moment you met, moment of amazing grace, at the wedding reception of his sister's friend.
I braced my mother's heart, prepared for bouts of jealousy, but none occurred. Only that surprising chill as he exclaimed, "Mom! See that girl over there...Isn't she the most beautiful girl in the world?? I'm going over to talk to her..." A shiver whisked down my spine. I looked, but couldn't as yet discern you, one among a bright, laughing cluster of young women and men across the room. All looked beautiful, to aging me. But I shivered with - what?, because I knew, this time, that his words rang true.
Soon you came, laughing, together, toward me. "Guess what, she says you know her parents!" Also true. Unwittingly, an old friendship was renewed. Though we heard little for a year or two, there remained the possibility of you. Protective parents, we all doubted. We pouted. But to no avail. You were on a trajectory toward a family of your own. Gradually you became more real to us, your unexpectedly husky voice urging, 'Let me do the dishes,' cheering our children on in a marathon, joining us on our senior neighborhood walks, travelling, returning, sharing your hopes and dreams.
A friend to our son, patient keeper of the dream, still, you waited til your studies were complete, waited til both families, finally, had to agree. Amidst joy and jobs, trips at home and abroad, to relatives, to each other, you were on a trajectory toward a family of your own. Listening, explaining, helping, suggesting, laughing, reminding. I watched, and saw it was true. I saw grace and joy, peace and contentment, mutual concern.
Your wedding was a fairy tale, colorful blur of conviviality and celebration. Sunshine, God, our families, friends...all blessed you and rejoiced in your joy. A wedding, with all its ceremony, ritual, angst and joy may be over in a week or a day, but the real heartbeat of wedding is a commitment that will not always be easy to keep. Participants and guests, tired, happy, breathless, all go away. We share for moments, with luck, years, the treasures of son and daughter in law, daughter and son in law, and pray that they will cherish each other after we move on; that their commitment to family, a life together, that the treasure continue, we pray.
So you're the young woman who has stolen our son's heart. It would be hard not to love you. We can see why our son loves you, fell in love with you the moment you met. We like you, we love you too.

Monday, April 2, 2012

NaPoWriMo Day 2

There was an extra prompt, to write a 'triolet' (eight lines, ABaAabAB), which I combined with the second day's prompt, to write a poem inspired by the earliest popular song you remember...One of them was "The Blue Skirt Waltz," set to a Bohemian tune adapted by Frankie Yankovich, who was known as the waltz and polka king. It's only one of the many songs mother sang along with the radio when I was young...I want to expand on that theme and this personal memory in future writing...
This one does not evidence the pathos of the juxtaposition of the song, the dance, and the as-yet unannounced event.

Skirting the Blues
a memory, in triolet
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Come back, blue lady come back, don’t be blue any more.
Mom sang with the radio, while I was sick in bed.
I’d watched my parents twirl the living room o’er.
Come back, blue lady, come back, don’t be blue any more.
To me, a child, the waltz was a bouyant score,
we were all unaware that an uncle had just died.
Come back, blue lady, come back, don’t be blue any more.
Mom sang with the radio, while I was sick in bed.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

NaPoWriMo Day 1

April is NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month, a challenge to write a poem a day. Here are my first ‘scratchings.’ Today’s prompt was to explore the theme of ‘carpe diem.’ Today I also learned that 'hosanna' means 'save us,' not 'alleluia,' as has been widely presumed.

Palm/AprilFool's/Sun/day by Shirley Smith Franklin

Winter was very mild this year, once or twice storms,
later, brief morning dustings; nothing ever stayed.
Noon sun beamed, early buds swelled.
Usually buried, or at least dormant, by March,
tiny spears of green had silently reappeared.
Still, each day’s dawn was cold, as usual.
Winter had been extremely mild; dared we expect
such early spring? Temperatures rose, runners
donned their shorts, or their short shorts,
buying into the season, ready or not.
Winter had been so mild, returning birds sang almost
tentatively, calling forth April with nervous chuckles,
lest the cold return in jest.
Today, children followed their parents to church,
processed with the choir, waved palms, cried hosanna.
Later, they ran out to play.
It can be spring if you want it to be,
like the lone, chilly tulip, its scarlet cup
bending to catch up a moment of sunshine,
or the scarlet cardinal, finally convinced,
spilling over with bubbling joy.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Wedding in Warangal, Part I

Half a century ago, wedding invitations in India were commonly issued 'with best compliments of' aunts, uncles, and/or other close relatives of the couple who were, in turn, entering a marriage arranged by said relatives and/or a marriage broker. The recipient was invited to attend 'along with family and friends.' In 2012 the last phrase is omitted, but the custom continues. This February we were invited by a Minneapolis Telugu friendto attend the wedding of her brother's granddaughter in Warangal, a town in Andhra Pradesh, a couple hundred kilometers from our place in India.

We set out by train (32 steps down to an underground passage and 32 steps up to reach the right track) at 5:30 in the morning. (Train travel in India is very convenient, and would be more of a joy if the windows were clean enough to enjoy the stunning landscape of passing villages, rice fields, palms, pastel towns, and folks waiting at railroad crossings.) In the past we were beseiged by red-shirted and turbaned helpers, then called 'coolies,' before the train had entirely halted. On this trip, we saw that people have learned to carry their own luggage; we had to search, ask, and wait for a porter to tote our luggage on the steps and overbridge for us. There seemed to be even more than 32 steps up and down the bridge spanning tracks in Warangal, and at least a thousand people, hurrying, limping, staring, and/or chattering as we made our way up, over and down the chain-link-fenceded bridge enclosure. We took an auto-rickshaw several kilometers, through late morning traffic, to the City Grand Hotel, a small, modern, and comfortable place on the main road...a broad and straight thoroughfare which we were to travel several times during our visit.

We'd barely time to put down our suitcases when our hostess called to say she had sent a car to fetch us for a pre-wedding ceremony taking place at the bride's home. Other Minneapolis friends had driven from Hyderabad, and gone right to the house. Abandoning plans for a bath and clothes change, we quickly freshened up and found our friend and another niece waiting for us with their driver and car, a recent model Innova, at the parking area on the ground level of the hotel.

The joint family home is a new building built on the site of the ancestral home, completely surrounded by commercial buildings...we approach through an old and irregular passageway, open one one side to several tiny (no more than 8 x 8 feet, if that) one of them, a silversmith bends over what is apparently a refiner's fire. Cross a busy street of larger (but not much) shops, and up a flight and a half of stairs to the apartment which is full of people who have come for the ceremony just concluding.

They have delayed closure of the bride's blessing with her parents and priest until we arrived, we are told. She's seated between parents on the floor, facing religious icons and items of silver, flame, and flower. The priest and father are clad in traditional white dhotis, the bride and her mother and other women guests in rich silks. Harika, the bride, is decked with bejewelled golden ornaments including a wide belt, chains, bangles, armlets, hair pendant, as well as necklace, earrings, and ankle bracelets. A dazzling array. We are invited to sprinkle rice and add our blessings to the trio.

The girl's parents, aunts, uncles, even her very young grandmother, all greet us warmly and usher us to sit on a sofa and armchairs. The aunts and uncles are introduced and their relationship described. We are garlanded with flowers, and are each given a gift of silver. The parents bring the bride to meet us; all three of them greet each of us with deep respect, touching our feet. This last gesture is hard for me to receive, as my psyche and spirit protest that only God deserves such obeisance. But, I am told by our HIndu hosts, "It is our custom."

Next the womenfolk participate in a traditional "talambralu", each one first giving a few token beats to bits of dried turmeric root, using two giant pestles in a large, yellow mortar, then sitting to sprinkle and grind a handful of dry lentils in an antique handmill, followed by grinding of a handful of cumin seeds, evidently a symbolic wish for the abundance and success of the couple's future home.

All the while, a home made meal is being prepared, and serving begun, for the "small" crowd, who eat standing around the same rooms, or upstairs. The family women serve our Minnesota group, first the men, then women, at a special table. There are a dozen home-made vegetarian items ranging the gamut of tastes: sweet, sour, hot, salty, spicy...okra, bell pepper, spiced garlic-and-dry-coconut powder, fresh 'pickle' of green mango bits marinated in red chillies, spices and oil, two or three varieties of lentils, and freshly deepfried, chilly pepper potato bits, two kinds of rice, fresh yogurt, .

More and more relatives arrive; each is introduced to us. A niece goes out to buy the silver gift we Minneapolis ladies have decided to present the couple. She returns with our selection and an alternative, 'just in case,' in short order. It seems that family silver shops are nearby.

Next, some of the uncles take us to visit an old family rice mill which is being renovated by some of the bride's uncles. The fragrance of dusty fresh grain in dim sunlight transports me momentarily to the granary of my maternal grandmother's farm, where I spent languid childhood summer afternoons reading a series of girls' books left there by an older child.

We decide to visit a much-touted local site, the thousand-pillar-temple, whose gate is set between small houses on a small lane just off the main road. The car needs to park elsewhere, and we walk the lane, a bit taken aback, as we learn that the thousand pillars have been numbered and put into storage until the temple, its grounds, and grand entrance can be renovated, a project that has been 'on the books' for several years already, with little visible progress.

Then a break, at our hotel, where we are finally able to take a hot bath and change from clothes we've worn since our early morning train trip. For dinner, we are invited to the home of a white-clad aunt who had greeted us earlier today with a hearty "Om, shanti." (I leaned forward to read what appeared to be a small nameplate pinned to her saree, but the nameplate turned out to say the same words.) Here. we Minneapolis folk are the only guesets. Again, we are welcomed and gifted (This time with a simple dish, handkerchief, and an envelope containing several hundred rupees.)

We spend a pleasant evening chatting with the auntie and her recently married son and daughter-in-law, young professionals, who live with her. Auntie is a widow, and devotes mega-time to Hindu prayer. The three cheerily serve us another multi-course curry dinner, typical Indian except for the Asian veggie rolls, which, her son tells us proudly, were prepared 'at home.' As often happens, I am to sit with the men at the table, while the women sit in the living room. Auntie serves the other ladies and instructs them, while they eat, in her theory and practice of spirituality.

The night seems incredibly short as we return late to our hotel. We have to be ready to leave for the wedding at 8:30 the next morning. Thank goodness that the stars of this couple (horoscopes are routinely consulted for Hindu alliances) did not require the wedding to be in the middle of the night!

(There's more to come...we're not even at the wedding yet!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cacophany or Epiphany

You may think of India as a tranquil place, where you might go to learn yoga, meditate, or perhaps participate in a mission trip. But, in any 'middle class' [what is that??] neighborhood in town, outside your air conditioned hotel, you would find a lot of living going on, in full color and, as likely as not, at full volume. Take this mid-morning in Guntur, a city of a million, more or less, about forty miles from the Bay of Bengal, just under the 'bump' that juts out from the center of the east coast of India.
Simply navigating what my fatherinlaw would call 'the morning needful' involves a series of interpersonal encounters which, while not unexpected, nevertheless challenge this writer's slow-wakening brain to pay attention or be left behind. Someone, thankfully my brotherinlaw, needs to turn on (and off) an outdoor pump for an hour between three and five a.m., in order to fill the rooftop tank for the day's household water supply. An hour or more of silence, before the crow of a rooster, the neighbor's motorcycle revving up, the chirp of sparrow and throb of nightingale, and the cry of the first vegetable vendor of the day are heard in the lane.
Then it's unlock the padlock on the gate, pick up newspapers ("Saakshi" ['truth'] in Telugu, "Deccan Chronicle" in English) from the sidewalk, let the moaning dog out for a morning run, open the kitchen door to let the cook in, make a cup or wait for her to make the morning chai, and be available when it is served, fill vessel to heat bathwater on the same two-burner gas stove(others might have 'geysers,' overhead water heaters, in their bathrooms), decide who will have their bucket-mug pour-bath first, confer with the cook over what to have for breakfast, make sure water is heated for the next person's bath, sort clothes for the laundry, separating those to wash personally, by hand, while in the bath, bathe, soaping and rinsing one limb at time, dress, eat breakfast which the cook has now gotten ready, notice that the 20 liter container of purified water is nearing empty and leave twenty rupees on the kitchen table for its delivery later today, send someone with clothes washed yesterday to the ironing man, who plies a giant, brass, charcoal-filled iron at his cart on the other end of the block, all the while paying attention to paired doors of the interconnected kitchen/bedroom/bathroom areas for privacy for whoever's turn it is, at whichever task.
By now it's mid-morning, and I have some time to think about the day ahead, my thoughts leaning into the surround-sound of the neighborhood. As I start writing this, I can hear rapidfire news, movie songs, a woman shrieking, all on tv in the next room where my brotherinlaw flips channels (evidently a universal male activity). My husband rolls up his grass exercise mat with a faint swish. With the rasping buzz of his idling motorcycle, a cyclist plays an echo game with a mockingbird, until the cyclist gives one long rasp and the mocking bird falls silent. The motorcycle rumbles away. A large Indian crow in the widespreading gulmohar tree shading the front gate breaks into hoarse laughter, haww, haww, haww, haww.
You can almost feel the hammers rebound as a team of carpenters pounds away at doors and windows in an apartment building under construction a few feet beyond our back compound wall. (Window and door frames are the only wooden parts of houses and walls in this city of concrete, brick and stone; even homes with air conditioning will open shutters and doors to fresh air during most or all of the day; so every little sound is amplified to some extent.) Childish voices nearby vie with their mothers' matter-of-fact tones as they negotiate the time and space between getting up and getting ready for the school bus due to putter by a few minutes later.
Each car backing out of its parking space and every cell phone has its own unique, repeating ringtone. Beeps, hums, bumbling black-canopied automobile rickshaws, fathers' motorcycles, and small yellow buses with school names emblazoned on the sides compete for ear and road space. Blue and white uniformed students, bowing under the weight of bulging book bags, walk seriously by, intent on their way to early morning tuition at the crumbling English Medium School at the near end of the block. Two college girls speed by on a smaller motorcycle, headed in the opposite direction.
Metal vessels grate against stone as the neighbor's helper washes last night's dishes in the outdoor laundry/water area in a corner of their verandah. Water splashes from the single, cold, water faucet.
At appointed times you might hear the lonely call of a muezzin from a nearby neighborhood mosque, or, during their festival, life-change, and auspicious times, the voice of a priest reciting a mantra or invoking the names of their Gods at the home altar of a Hindu neighbor. Except for a periodic rise, fall and full-stop of his voice, it evokes the atmosphere of a busily humming beehive.
Then there are the ubiquitous ceiling fans, the inevitable caller who drops in to deliver an invitation, then sit and chat, and share a cup of tea, and, today, the whoosh of the washing machine (yes, the electronics industry here is booming). At the end of the cycle, the machine spins out a cheery version of an apt and familiar hymn: "There shall be showers of blessing..."
It's easy to understand why a friend here rises at 4 a.m. in search of a quiet time for scripture and prayer, or to imagine why Jesus so frequently sought quite times and places to pray alone or with his disciples: to avoid such daily cacophony! But, as another friend said, describing the movement of people and traffic on Indian city streets, this is probably the only way you could move so many through such a limited space in a short period. Quiet time, meditation, emptying the mind and agendae: It seems like we have to do it however, wherever, whenever we can, no matter how interrupted or full our days become. It's a daily blessing to be alive, so why complain about the interruptions and noise? India is teaching, nay, requiring me to learn to say, like St. Paul, "I have learned in whatever situation I find myself, to be content."
And Amen to that!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Whatever happened to carolling parties?

This past Christmas season, a group of immigrants from India has taken the idea of traditional caroling parties to a new level.  Members of TCFMN
played the custom forward, caroling at homes of members and friends who'd invited them for designtated  nights, mid-December 2011..  Perhaps the carollers recall, as I do, groups of little boys bearing home-made stick and tissue paper stars, lustily rendering a carol or two before shouting "Meddy KristaMUSS, Happy KristaMUSS, Meddy KristaMUSS!!" and collecting donations (ostensibly for their Sunday School) throughout Christmas Eve nights, mid twentieth century, in India.  Perhaps some of the Minnesota carolers were those very little boys, later roaming their neighborhoods with friends and a loudspeaker, blaring carols from the back of a truck, now, with their young families, driving in cars around the Twin Cities to sing for others.

My husband and I knew it would be a unique experience, so we'd invited American friends and neighbors in for conversation and cider before the event.  The carollers were scheduled to come and sing at around nine p.m.  We had just warned our guests that "Indian standard time" usually meant later than planned, when an advance team arrived to check that we were ready (!). It was a good thing, too, because no sooner had we scooted our chairs and sofa to the walls, to better accommodate the group, than the carolers themselves arrived at nine p.m.on the dot.

The carolers literally burst into the room, an accordian player confidently leading the way, singers of every age pouring in, to the strains of 'O Come All Ye Faithful,' a tall boisterous Santa and a handful of timid children following them.  Johnson, the leader, strode around the group (as far as 'stride' was possible, since they and we were packed into our living dining room, knee to knee and side to side!), singing and gesturing to increase the volume and the enthusiasm.

We 'audience' laughed with delight as the carolers sang song after song with such joy and enthusiasm that outdid our imaginations' wildest interpretation of the first Christmas's angel rejoicing. Aware that the group had two other homes and dinner ahead of them that same evening, I invited them to partake of cider and treats we had waiting for them, but they chorused "We have MORE!!" and launched into carol after carol again. 

Finally there was a pause.  Santa reminded us of the original reason for the season, young Stephen read out the Christmas chapter from Luke, and his father John recalled the message, that the Christ of Christmas came for all, a visible form of God's love for the world. Then it was the littlest children's turn to shine.  Even the youngest, clinging sleepily to her father until then, brightened and ran forward to join them ato sang "We wish you a merry Christmas!!" And of course, did not have to be prompted twice to claim a cookie or too.  It was an evening to cherish.

So why am I still remembering Christmas caroling in the late January warmth of Southern India?  Perhaps it's a far stretch, but I can't help comparing it to the way Muslims and Hindus call the faithful to worship: calls of the muezzins from minarets in different neighborhoods some of the first sounds of early morning, the last of evening, float out over the town. Itinerant priests visiting homes and businesses to deliver a prayer and a blessing.  carolers in Minnesota.  entering homes to call to remembrance the one God who reigns over all, though we know and seek him by different names, but always with a song, praising God from whom all blessings flow.

May your homes be filled with faith and song, and a very happy new year, in 2012!!