Billions of Light-years away a star death reaches us so bright wisemen might follow it
On March 19th, 2008 GRB 080319B was detected by the Swift space telescope – this Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) came from 7.5 billion light-years away and for 30 seconds was visible to the unaided human eye here on Earth. This makes it the furthest object ever visible to the human eye. It is also one of the brightest cosmic events ever recorded. GRBs are thought to herald the collapse or implosion of a star into a black hole or neutron star. GRB 080319B was detected just hours before the death of science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, among many many other stories) and so it has been proposed that this GRB be called the Clarke Event. I don’t know if that has been made official, but it was an inspiration for my poem. Clarke wrote a story called The Star in 1955 and this story (SPOILER ALERT) features a supernova and mass extinction in a distant galaxy that becomes a key aspect of the Nativity here on Earth.
I’ve read multiple articles in the last year detailing the phenomenon of “pandemic organizing/decluttering/good-will-ing” – stuck at home day after day with all of our things, many people are finally deciding to tackle that home organization project they’d been putting off. Well, I finally succumb to the trend a few weeks ago and tackled a clean out of our spare room – this room houses my “studio space” ( = folding table shoved into one corner of the room). This hasn’t been good for new art production but it has been good for personal art archeology! I’ve been uncovering some lost/forgotten/unsent mail art in the last few weeks and thought I’d bring them back into the light. I hope everyone is staying safe and sane as we pass this one year anniversary of the pandemic.
It’s snowing nonstop on the moon over Central Park.
Pop rocks and soda fizz on my face as we go across
white blankets to a penthouse apartment I’ve never seen before.
Later, Jackie Kennedy and I wind up standing in
Joan Rivers’ guest bathroom – the one with the orange wallpaper.
Behind the faucet is a jar full to the top with silver dollars.
Hand on my shoulder, Jackie says Poor lady, she forgot to take them with her.
I originally published this illustrated poem almost exactly 6 years ago as part of a collaborative poetry event called The Full Moon Social – so it seemed a good one to pull from the archive for the full Snow Moon tonight. Joan Rivers had passed away a few months before and her death from complications from a minor surgical procedure had dominated the news cycle for a short time. A little of that coverage had seeped into my subconscious and surfaced as a dream that I worked into this poem.
The army trucks drive so near the children at play they see the men take their siblings away
Today is Red Hand Day – or the International Day Against the use of Child Soldiers – a U.N. observance to call attention to the use of child soldiers and children in war around the world and as a plea for it to stop. Much attention was paid a few years ago to the use of child soldiers in Uganda in the Lord’s Resistance Army (remember the Kony 2012 social media movement?), but worldwide, the use of children under 18 in military conflicts (both as soldiers and in “support” roles) happens mostly out of sight. Some articles on the U.N. day of observance noted that, although we tend to think of this as a problem of the developing world, historically, minors were used as soldiers in every “western” conflict up through World War II. I’d been struggling to write a short poem about this topic/observance until I read that perspective – it reminded me of Sarah Cleghorn’s poem about child labor, “The Golf Links.”
So with apologizes to Sarah Cleghorn, I modeled my little poem after hers. That historical connection also got me thinking about some common experiences we have here in the U.S. with minors and the military. While the U.S. military doesn’t allow minors to join its ranks any longer, military recruitment in U.S. high schools is routine and at least from my experience when I was in high school, could be rather aggressive. Family stories of a now grandfather or great uncle running away from home at 14 or 15 to join the navy or army are fairly common (I personally know of a few) and become part of a family’s origin story. It reminded me that the history of children (minors) in the military is not as distant in developed nations as we might like to think.
moon slice pie peeking we rush to see the comet before it fades
This transfer print was a bit of an experiment – when I was cleaning out my father’s house, I found a box of old tarnished ultra-thin silver leaf for gilding or embossing. I’m guessing my Dad got this at a garage sale or the like since he does not do anything (hobby or past career-wise) that would require books of silver leaf. I saved the box and decided to see if I could transfer print onto one of the leaves. There was some trial and error (still ongoing) but it more or less worked! The scan of the piece doesn’t do the texture and light quality justice. It’s been almost a year since I’ve gone out stargazing in the desert and I miss it. This poem (a haiku in syllables if not form) was inspired by the times we’ve been racing to beat the moonrise and set up telescopes and cameras in order to see or photograph something astronomical.
snow covered the ground like milk the sun was a red crescent a chili pepper spicing the air with a baby’s cry
Wilbur Scoville was born on January 22, 1865 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A pharmacist by training, he wrote a celebrated pharmacy textbook and won many awards for his research – but he is best remembered for devising the Scoville Scale, which is still in use today for measuring the spiciness or heat of chili peppers. One could argue he made possible such things as chili pepper eating contests and our cultural awareness of different kinds of peppers and their spice levels. It is interesting to think of the effect that the attempt to quantify something has on our perception of it!
the ether swirled behind her eyes “It’s a girl,” the midwife said lamplight flickered in the window the new mother smiled, “My daughter will count the stars, call them each by name one by one.”
My history poem today is in honor of the birth of Annie Jump Cannon on December 11, 1863. Ms. Cannon became famous as an astronomer who pioneered the Harvard Classification System for stellar bodies – a system that is still in use today. She was also a pioneer for women at Harvard and in astronomy. She manually classified an astounding 350,000 stars in her lifetime – a number that is still a record. Her career in astronomy lasted more than 40 years and later included numerous honorary doctorate degrees from top universities – often from universities that didn’t admit women in the 1880’s when she was attending college. The Annie Jump Cannon Award is still presented by the American Astronomical Society each year to an outstanding early career female astronomer.
I wish everyone a good weekend – stay safe and healthy out there!
Even though I had to take a break from participating, I’ve been keeping an eye on the Kick-Abouts over at Phil’s Red Kingdom blog – the creativity is always phenomenal. Two weeks ago he announced that the prompt for Kick About #16 would be the last verse of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
This poem was my first poetry love: I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know this poem and didn’t find it magical. I distinctly remember being in my grandmother’s house when I was 8 years old, in my mother’s childhood bedroom, reading it in an old school book anthology I found on a shelf. If my childhood in Southern California was filled with parched chaparral, cars, and Santa Ana winds, Frost described a world that seemed to me in a snow globe or fantasy book – harness bells, snowy woods, deep silence, and solemn promises. I’ve always held this poem close – and I’ve found that has made it difficult for me to make art about it. But I still wanted to participate in the Kick About, so I decided to revisit a trip I took 6 years ago to the Robert Frost Family Homestead in Derry, New Hampshire. All photographs by me on my old iPhone then equipped with a now ancient photo filter app.
The farm is a day trip from Boston – where I was living at the time – and is absolutely worth the trip if you are ever in the area (their website is here). I went in August, so everything was as green and humid as it could be.
It’s hard to fathom writers as famous as Robert Frost being anything but famous and successful – how could anyone have ever doubted the man, after all, he’s Robert Frost? But the origin story of the farm speaks to the fact that there was a time before he was famous, before the Pulitzer and the Congressional Gold Medal. Despairing for the fate of his daughter-in-law and grandchildren, Frost’s grandfather bought the farm for Frost to ensure he had a means to feed and support his family. You can almost hear Frost’s grandfather now, more than a hundred years later: “You want to do what? Be a poet? What – how – how will you feed the children?” Frost enjoyed the farm for the solitude and privacy to write, but was, by all accounts, a half-hearted farmer. He did make a go of it, however, and it was a working poultry farm for a few years.
It is amazing to walk the nature trail around the farm and see the inspirations for his poems for yourself: the woods, dark and deep; the mending wall; the old barn and farm tools.
The Frost family sold the farm in 1911 and it changed owners many times until it became a car junk yard in the 1940s. There is a heartbreaking display on the nature trail with a black and white photograph showing the meadow gone and buried under a sea of wrecked and twisted cars, nothing but thick and clumpy mud. Fortunately, after Frost’s death, the state of New Hampshire recognized the historic value of the property and purchased it. Restoration was undertaken with the help of Frost’s daughter Lesley and the farm was opened to the public in 1975. It is a peaceful and beautiful place to visit. When I read the words of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, I see the woods around the Derry farm, the road curving past on its way from town. I think everyone reads their own life promises into that last stanza – but standing in the meadow behind the Frost farm, it made sense to me that at least some of Frost’s promises were made right here, on an old farm in the New Hampshire countryside.
Flashing red yellow orange the poppies chase me up the off-ramp
California poppies bloom here in the spring time – sprouting up in even the most marginal of habitats – freeway shoulders and empty lots. I wrote this haiku last spring, but took awhile to get around to working on a collage for it. I’m posting it now, in the “deep” winter here (I know it’s 73 degrees F here today, but we’ve had one brief rain storm and some Santa Ana winds! Weather!), as a reminder of what’s to come: a new year, a new season, of hope. The transfer on this one was done at the same time as my last Highway Haiku, but it turned out a little “better” than “Osprey” – for no discernible reason.
I broke out my acrylic paints for the first time in a long time – it felt good to just paint without any real goal in mind, just mixing color and having fun. I had some Fuyu persimmons in my fruit bowl and so they became an impromptu still life. I’ve always loved the color of persimmons – they always evoke autumn for me (they ripen here in October/November). I painted the top picture over strips of newspaper to give it more texture.
A few weeks ago I ran across a blog calling for artists and writers to submit recipes to share to help each other through the pandemic. I thought it sounded fun and community minded…but I did not get it together in time to participate in the call! But in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, I’m going to share my recipe for Persimmon cookies. My grandmother gave me the recipe, but I’m 98% sure she got it from a cookbook (so it’s not some ancestral family recipe or anything). I’ve baked them many times and they make the whole house smell amazing and it is a fun way to entice Persimmon-doubters to try the fruit.
Persimmon Spice Cookies
1/2 cup butter 1 cup sugar 1 egg 1 cup of persimmon pulp (I’ve used both common varieties of persimmon – fuyu and hachiya. Hachiya gives a stronger persimmon flavor, but you have to wait until the fruit is extremely ripe before using due to astringency) 2 cups sifted flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg juice and grated peel from half a large orange 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1 cup finely chopped pecans (optional – I don’t use but it’s in the original recipe) 1 cup golden raisins (I’ve also used dried cherries and that works too!)
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and add persimmon pulp. Sift all dry ingredients together and stir into egg mixture. Add pecans and raisins (if using). Drop by spoonful on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 375 degrees F for ~12 minutes. The cookies should be soft and cake-like. Enjoy!
For my friends and readers in the U.S., I hope you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday! I myself am staying home this year, so no travels for me this year – the first time in a very long time!