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.
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.
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!
I hope that everyone had a safe and happy holiday season and that 2021 will turn a corner and get better! The start of the year was a bit sluggish for me in returning to making art and posting here – I had some potential COVID exposures at work and daycare. It turned out okay and neither myself nor anyone else in either place tested positive or got sick thanks to protocols in place and strategic closures. But it does devour all of one’s mental energy.
I have a new post going up on Friday and the theme of the upcoming post reminded me of this one, a fun haiku by Tricia Knoll. She is a very active Vermont-based poet and you can see all her upcoming events and poems at her website: triciaknoll.com
Original text of the post: “This haiku puts a grin on my face every time I read it. And it never fails to launch me on an extended trip down memory lane as well – from the greenhouse in my grandparents’ backyard to one I visited once in Iceland. I consider this one of the superpowers of the haiku: they are a reservoir of memories stored in present tense words. Ms. Tricia Knoll is an award-winning poet working and living in Portland, Oregon. Her website, triciaknoll.com, has more of her wonderful haiku as well as links to many of her published poems and books – I definitely recommend a visit! Painting (acrylic on cardboard), digital collage, and composition by me. Have a wonderful weekend!”
Looking back through the archives, I found that I posted this acrylic painting/haiku pairing almost exactly 5 years ago (Dec. 19th, 2015). At the time I was working through some exercises in a color mixing book, so much of the painting I was doing was abstract and focused on the colors. This translated haiku also reflects my house cleaning aesthetic – and I’ve read we are all falling behind on chores and cleaning even as we spend much more time at home (and therefore have a dirtier house) due to the pandemic.
Original post is below the read more tag. I wish everyone happy and safe holidays!
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.
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.