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!
On a street light at the highway 8 interchange an osprey perches
This was one of those transfer prints that didn’t go as planned – as goes so much of life these days – but I have committed to posting the highway haiku, no matter how the transfers turn out, so here it is! I’ve decided that the sparse transfer of the words reflects the oh-so-brief glimpses I’ve gotten of this osprey perched on a highway light. It’s actually the first osprey I’ve seen in the wild here and thankfully they are distinctive and easy to identify, otherwise there’d be no hope for me to say what species of bird it was as I speed around this interchange at 60 mph!
Another unexpected thing that happened this week was that a short creative non-fiction piece I submitted to the Ekphrastic Review was accepted! My thanks to Lorette Luzajic and the editors at the Ekphrastic Review. Head on overHEREto check out my “21 Thoughts on Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans” as well as all the other creative responses to Warhol’s iconic image of a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup.
Camille Pissarro Visits Charlotte Amalie for the Last Time
The hills have more houses and there are no more clipper ships the roads curl like smoke from the missing jungle But the sand in the synagogue is the same and my memory of the people the ebony lady with her water jug she still smiles at me descending the hill with her hand on her hip
The impressionist painter Camille Pissarro died this day in 1903 – he is not only famous as an artist in his own right, but he was also known as the “dean of Impressionist painters.” He mentored and inspired almost every Impressionist name you can think of – Cézanne, Gauguin, Renior, Seurat, and van Gogh. But one thing I learned about him for my history poem (I guess if I’m not writing haikus, I shouldn’t call them history haikus anymore!), was that he was born to a Jewish family in Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, in the Danish West Indies. This is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I had always associated Pissarro with France and the French countryside, so it was fascinating to read about his early life and works in the Caribbean. I visited the U.S. Virgin Islands about seven years ago and toured the synagogue in Charlotte Amalie – it is the oldest synagogue in the U.S. and the second oldest in the western hemisphere. One of the most unique features of the building is that the floor inside is overlaid with a thick layer of sand. The reason given on our tour was that the sand is in remembrance of the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal – the sand muffled the sound of worship in secret synagogues.
On a foggy evening, a black-bristle boar said to the old poet, “In some forests, a rooting pig will find metal shards, more skulls than soil, or – at the last – a thin rusted tube.” The grandfather boar huffed, “Poof! He is a crater in the woods.” He eyed the path over Mal Paso Mountain. “I told you this world is a terrible place.”
Today is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t roll off the tongue and neither does its U.N. abbreviation – IDPEEWAC – so some calendars call it World Day to Protect the Environment in War. Before looking at the historical events for November 6th, I’d never heard of this observance, but it is a topic that has long interested me. Quite by accident, about 20 years ago, I’d stumbled across and purchased Donovan Webster’s excellent book Aftermath: The Remnants of War at a remainder sale at a local bookstore. His book deals primarily with what war leaves behind: landmines, unexploded ordinance, and mass graves. These remnants leave vast swaths of land around the globe unusable and dangerous for generations – possibly forever, until they are cleared. This does not even touch on such things as intentional water contamination, arson, or deforestation that occur during wars.
My poem was inspired by Robinson Jeffers’ poem “The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean.” You can read his poem here at Poetry Magazine (scroll down halfway to find the start of the poem). Jeffers was deeply concerned about environmental destruction as well as a staunch opponent of the U.S. entering WWII. In the 1940’s these were extremely unpopular stances and Jeffers lost friends, public standing, and professional opportunities due to his opinions. Jeffers died in 1962, long before IDPEEWAC was declared in 2001, but I think he might have appreciated a day devoted to the considerable overlap between war and environmental destruction.
A black maw in a blacker sea “your life for my secrets” It said and three boys answered Two stayed with the secrets in the deep One swam and swam and swam a tattered book under his arm.
I’ve been yearning to do some more history inspired haiku, so I finally sat down with a calendar and got to it! The event for today that I chose didn’t wind up inspiring a haiku, but something a little longer.
On October 30, 1942, the German U-boat 559 was fatally damaged in a British naval attack and forced to surface. The surviving German crew abandoned ship – but left behind their naval cypher code books and naval 4-rotor Enigma encryption machine. In a decision that would prove invaluable to the Allies, they also neglected to open the sea vents to scuttle the ship. Three British sailor boarded the floundering U-boat and seized the cryptographic materials: only one, Tommy Brown, made it out alive with the German secrets. Due to lying about his age to enlist, Mr. Brown became one of the youngest men to be awarded the George Medal for bravery.
The materials Mr. Brown rescued from the sinking U-boat would help the cryptologists at Bletchley Park – including Alan Turing, the subject of my post on Wednesday – finally break the U-boat specific 4-rotor Enigma encryption and bolstered Allied defenses in the Atlantic against the devastating U-boat attacks.
It’s been one of those weeks – extra busy at work and extra things to do for my kid’s school and then extra life things (i.e. I finally sat down and worked through my ballot, with all the dozens of initiatives and local offices, and got that turned in today! Please everyone who is able, VOTE!). And then the little time I had leftover for art got eaten up by some mishaps (ever had a cat sit on your collage and some of the pieces stick to her butt?) and really bad blurry iPhone photography (maybe I do need a new phone?). But here we are! It’s Friday and we made it through another week. One good thing that happened this week is that I rediscovered a book on Surrealist techniques on my bookshelf and decided to let the spirit of the surrealists influence my haiku for today. I started by applying some cut out letters pulled at random from an envelope to this card before I pulled the transfer print. The word that stuck out to me was “buoy” and so I built a jumbled up poem around it. Reflects my jumbled up week pretty well, I think.
Everyone stay safe and healthy and sane and have a good weekend!
Edit (Saturday, Oct 10) – the livestream is over – thank you for all the support and love. The benefit raised $2200.00 to be split between the San Diego Blood Bank and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Amazing! The link to DJ Wyntre Mysteria’s twitch page is still active and there are videos of some of the livestream, if you missed the real time action.
First off – the livestream benefit in honor of my dear friend Tiran – who is battling AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) is happening RIGHT NOW (until 11 pm PST tonight)!! You can tune in at any time and donations are fabulous, but not required – your support and encouragement is fabulous too! As you can see in the screenshot, they’ve already raised over $1600.00!
Back in August, I participated in the POPO August POetry POstcard Festival and had a blast with it. I think I got the email from Kerfe encouraging me to sign up about an hour before the deadline and I signed up with mere minutes to spare in the middle of July. I committed to sending one postcard a day every day in August to 31 strangers from around the world (although 95% in my group were U.S. addresses). There is a lot of freedom on the type of card – I received both handmade and commercially produced – and also for the poetry on the back. The guidance for the poetry was for it to be inspired by the epistle form.
I decided to cut up old illustration board I had to make my cards – I went by measurement for the cards and let the image that resulted on the back be random. Not every card was a masterpiece, but I liked the effect.
The epistle I wrote on the back of the card above:
“’What you have given me is, of course, elegy: the red-shouldered hawk is among these scattering partridges, flustered at…’ Eavar Boland from On the Gift of the The Birds of America
The sharp shinned hawk is but a teenager, he hops clumsily from eucalyptus to eucalyptus; we see him learning to fly over the bulldozers and water trucks, bursts of wings to stay alight.”
This one read: “’A Rip in the Fabric of Interstellar Dreams’ – I’m still drinking my coffee so I don’t immediately understand the journalist is talking about a radio telescope in Puerto Rico; I imagine a great tear in space, the loss of so many to a tiny virus, compressing space-time”
“I saved my father’s butterfly collection and hung them in my own house not knowing a thing about them. This morning the light caught the Great Blue Hookwing, blue dappled wings like headlights in the rain”
I didn’t wind up getting 31 cards from other participants: sadly there seemed to be quite a few problems with the USPS and cards were returned or lost. But I did receive almost 20 cards and they were beautiful! I learned a lot too and definitely plan on participating next year.
I will be posting a few more cards/epistles I did on Instagram as well!