Thursday, March 31, 2011

From the Canyons to the Stars - No, not about Messiaen

If you never go to any classical music concerts but love art and painting, find some time to listen to Oliver Messiaen's monumental suite From the Canyons to the Stars (Des canyons aux etoiles...). This is cosmic mysticism set in sound, maybe the most powerful and inspiring work of music composed in the second half of the 20th century. Not "easy listening" music... one should say "awesome" - if that word did not shift its sphere of significance to somewhere quite distant from "awe." But you have to find a concert hall where they play this surreal assemblage of wind machines, birdsong, horns and instrumental chorales. This song of praise arises from the orange slopes canyons in the American west (the Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon were two inspirations) to the starry skies and beyond.

Here's a visual interpretation of the first movement, Le desert, posted on You Tube by JeeRant two years ago. I found only the recording of the third movement, What is written in the stars (Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles ), possibly uploaded without copyright clearance. Listen at your own peril! There are many versions of the sixth movement for the solo horn called Appel interstellaire (Interstellar call) posted by ambitious horn players the world over. You can listen to it on your tiny loudspeakers, but to have a full experience of the otherworldly music, you need to go to a real concert with live musicians, such as the one by Ensemble Intercontemporain in Athens, Greece.

My canyons and stars are found in poetry, not sounds. I document things that catch my attention in short occasional poems that have no pretense to "Great Art" - these poems are pages from a personal, intimate journal. They capture impressions and reflections from my peregrinations through a southern California landscape, a place of beauty unparalleled in this world or any other.

Only in California

The desert is rich with the noise
of our ghost river, suddenly filled
with mocha cappuccino, a swirl
of white frothy foam on the surface.

Chuparosa and sunrose blossom.
The moving white spot of a rabbit’s tail
disappears between sticky snapdragons
goldenrod and pearly everlasting.

The last red leaves tremble on the tips
of tree branches. The liquid amber
is bare; the gingko, no longer golden,
a skeleton waiting for summer.

One by one, scarlet star-shapes fall
onto the bright green carpet of new grass.
The shoots of narcissus and hyacinth
peek through the weight of dead foliage.

Puffy pink clouds surround the disc
of the moon, shining on the smooth
turquoise. Seasons melt in a day.
The sun smiles at the audacity

of this preposterous, beyond belief,
one and only, California spring.

My dear friend artist and poet and a person extraordinaire, Kathabela Wilson, has lots of great ideas, one of them asking poets to write about gardens and parks. The following two short poems were inspired, respectively, by the Pasadena garden of Jean Sudbury and Vance Fox, and by the Arlington Garden in South Pasadena, planted in the vacant lots that await the construction of the extended 710 freeway. I saw both gardens in the middle of the summer last year, and what a summer it was!

Time Lapse Garden

Arms of the agave
Stretch out to the sky
Waving in slow motion
Trying to stop the train of time
From moving on and on and on
Past fluffy two-color roses
The madness of cactus spikes
And the hammock swinging
Seductively in the shade
When Jean goes by

The Golden Hour

The mockingbird leads a chorus
of orioles, black phoebes, bluebirds,
finches, juncos, and ruby crowned kinglets.
The buzzing you hear is not dangerous,
these are Anna’s hummingbird’s wings.
Birds crowd around the fountain,
water droplets scatter on sandy path.
The afternoon sighs with relief.
All is well and all shall be well
in our garden at four o’clock.

From the desert, to the gardens, to the skies... An image quite different from these photos of leaves captured my attention when I was working on the materials for the most recent meeting of the Polish-American society that I lead, the Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club. The meeting took place at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and the Polish-American engineers showed us the sublime beauty of cosmos and the allure of space exploration. Entitled "Cosmos - The Real Poetry," the evening was as educational as it was entertaining. I got some photos for the program and the blog with its description; the beauty of cosmos, indeed.


green rings around a red heart
sing in the darkness, sing
and blossom

light waves dance across
millions of years swirling
within black matter

the stars are born
the stars are dying

green clouds around red suns
bloom in the vastness, bloom
filling the void

clusters of galaxies
expand, crush and collide
the ages turn

before me — beyond me — through me

a spark of cosmic fire
I float upward to the unknown
glow of the timeless “yes”

the stars are born
the stars are born


I find one constellation especially fascinating. Orion, the Hunter. It is not as clearly visible in Poland as here, in California. It dominates the winter's sky above my home and inspired the following love poem of starry skies.


I saw you
in his contours, when I looked up,
coming home from a late Christmas party –

My Orion, my bright
hunter crossing the night skies
with a bow strung for action.

Smooth skin shines over broad shoulders,
the three-diamond belt
adorns the narrow waist.
You are a constellation of beauty.

But a seraph? A fallen one?
They say he is “Shemhazai” – the angel
who fathered giants,
lured by the silky faithlessness
of golden hair,
the tresses of seduction.

He crucified himself,
hanging upside down in the winter sky,
remorseful, still guilty of desire.

It fills you to your fingertips
when your hands join together
at the small of my back
and you pull me closer.
I taste the salty drops
of your sweat on my lips.

Swathed in the midnight blaze
I’m waiting for the double helix
of our embrace to twirl
higher and higher,
into a brilliant, fluted column
of light

rising to pierce the indigo cupola
where the stars of Orion now sleep
immutable and content
in their silence.

© 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk


Photo of Thor's Hammer formation in Bryce Canyon National Park, Southwestern Utah, USA. Photo by Luca Galuzzi (2007), uploaded from Wikimedia Commons.

Photos of California (C) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk. Poems "The Golden Hour" and "Time-lapse Garden" were published in chapbooks by Poets on Site, edited by Kathabela Wilson.

Photo of nebulae and stars by NASA/JPL, courtesy of Andrew Z. Dowen.

Photo of Orion over Utah's Arches National Park by Daniel Schwen (2004) from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Poetry Readings in the Foothills

March is the month for poetry readings in the Foothills. On March 4, 2011, I introduced elementary school students at the Pacoima Charter School to the "Chopin with Cherries" anthology (I discuss these two classes, the fifth grade and the second grade, in my Chopin with Cherries Blog).

On March 9, 2011, just before the Ash Wednesday services, I spent 15 minutes reading my poetry inspired by art, and accompanied by the wonderful Dr. Blues, who created different music for each poem. The program, entitled "Imagine Poetry," was presented by the Art, Culture, and Recreation Committee of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council as entertainment for the monthly STNC meeting, at North Valley Neighborhood City Hall, in Tujunga. It was a great experience to rehearse the poems with Dr. Blues and see him creating these accompaniments to fit the different mood and imagery of each poem. We went in a circle from art to poetry to music.

I read poems inspired by the art of Phyllis Doyon, Henry Fukuhara, Minoru Ikeda, Saralyn Lowenstein, Stephen West, and the music of Patsy Cline ("Always). I also made photographs and photo collages for some of these poems. Since it was an Ash Wednesday evening, I picked several melancholy and spiritual poems, with only a hint of my trademark "love stories." Here's one example:


you too will find the way into the orchard
where green fruit ripens among late blossoms
I found the path, I'm waiting there already

the birds chirp and frolic among the branches
they fly - cheerful in the orange sun

you too -
the path is not too narrow
the gate too distant

will find -
the most amazing jewel
of deep peace

the way -
will open soon
you will see

into the orchard
of love's riches
you will come

(c) 2008 by Maja Trochimczyk

At the STNC Meeting, I ended my reading with "Always" - a poem inspired to the same degree by the painting of Minoru Ikeda ("With You Always") and by Patsy Cline's unforgettable interpretation of Irving Berlin's love-song of the same title. I actually cite two lines from the refrain at the end of the poem; that part has to be sung. The audience typically joins in humming "I'll be loving you always" and everyone lives happily ever after. At the STNC Meeting the audience was silent, though. Having an excellent guitar player at my side, I was transformed into a singer for that occasion. I was later complemented for my lovely voice. Perhaps, I'll start yet another career...

"Consolation", published in my book Miriam's Iris, or Angels in the Garden (2008), though ready for presentation on March 9, was actually not included in the reading at the STNC Meeting. Instead, I will include it among the poems presented during the next Village Poets Reading at Bolton Hall, featuring the Spiritual Quartet of four poets.

The Spiritual Quartet consists of four female poets - Lois P. Jones, Susan Rogers, Taoli-Ambika Talwar, and Maja Trochimczyk. We will appear in a structured program at the Village Poets Reading, on March 27, 2011, at 4:30 p.m., at the Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga.

Each poet comes from a different spiritual background, while sharing the focus on compassion, beauty, enlightenment, and a creative expression of positive energy. We weave poems around the themes of light, love, forgiveness, hope, and friendship. We contemplate nature, mountains, birds and gardens, and draw inspiration from the poetry of Rumi, Rilke, and from our own spiritual traditions. More information about the Spiritual Quartet and samples of our work may be found on the Village Poets Blog.

The Rilke inspiration for my "Consolation" came from his astoundingly rich, intense, and comforting Sonnet XVII from Book 2 of The Sonnets to Orpheus (cited in a translation by Robert Hunter, 1993):


Where, in what blessed garden of eternally flowing waters,
on what trees, in the cups of which tenderly leafless flowers,
ripen those exotic fruits of consolation ?
Those delicious rarities, of which you may discover one,

in your meadow's trampled poverty. Often, in wonder,
you stand marveling at the size of the fruit,
over its soundness and unblemished exterior,
perfectly amazed that some careless bird or jealous worm
away beneath the root

has not deprived you of it. Are there indeed such trees,
where angels slide, tended mysteriously in slow degrees
by obscure hands, able, though not ours, to sate our hungers?

Could we ever, the lot of us but shadows and shades,
through any act of ours (too soon ripe- too soon decayed,)
disturb the calm composure of those blissful summers?

Since I first knew this masterly work in Polish, it still sounds strange to my ears in English. Knowing the words in two languages, it is possible to detect the undercurrent of the original German. This is one of those poems that touch you deeply, the lines flowing with an overabundance of grace. Everything else I can say about this poem will sound quite silly...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Seeing and Hearing in the Spring

The gift of poetry is a gift of seeing and hearing the world as if it were discovered for the first time, seeing differently. A lot of my poems are written in “my” persona, an immigrant from Poland, a woman in love… One short example is below – I am a pious Catholic and I love late Gothic art, gold halos on paintings and sculptures of Madonnas.

Seeing Madonnas
at the National Museum, Warsaw

Gothic Madonnas with down-cast eyes
look within:

The infinity of love
spreads out the galaxies of laughter
amidst nebulae of bliss.

Happy overabundance
marks their cheeks
with a half-smile
of knowing.

Since I can see mountains from my bedroom window, and they look so beautiful all day long with changing colors, shadows, clouds, (not that I spend my days lounging in bed... though with a laptop you can have a "bed-office" as a part of your "home-office"), I find myself writing about the mountains a lot. When I used to fly around the country to conferences and lectures, leaving home at least once per month, my poems were about seeing the world from above the airplane wings, looking down on the Liliputian people below. Here's a poem about the rain season and what happens then:

Canyon Growing Pains

The little baby Canyon said to his Mama
“I want to grow up big, like you!”
She responded: “You have to lose yourself,
Forget your shape, your well-made borders,
Stretch beyond the boundaries
Of decency and rocks.
You have to flow with the flow
Of winter’s blizzards, summer rains.
You have to …” That’s where she was stopped
By violent tremors.

Her child, the Canyon, was no longer little.
A wall of vicious passion roaring down,
He playfully swept old pine-trees off their roots,
Broke windows, covered houses
with thick mud layers, piles on the grass.
He carved a new path from the mountains,
Down to the ancient riverbed, his Grandpa.

What would a teenage Canyon do?
We have no knowledge. Before he grows,
Let’s save our lives and move.

In this poem, I use the "device" of personalization - depicting the canyon stream as a child growing up during the rainy season.

A similar device worked quite well when I envisioned the mountains as ladies getting ready for their earthquake dance by having mud-baths and showers (see my poem, "Mountain Watch" published here earlier). Not that either one is a masterpiece; just an occasional celebration of the spring.

Another place that I cherish in the spring, and actually year-round, is my garden of roses, fruit-trees and a jungle of bushes where many songbirds find shelter.

I spent my childhood in a suburban garden like that in Poland, and liked watching the plants grow, finding the first shoots of green among the dead foliage in March. Birds would come back to sing in late March or April. The winters were too cold for them, filled only with crows and ravens, that flew to Poland from much colder Scandinavia.

The pattern of birdsong in California is different, as many northern songbirds come here for winter or, at least, a portion of it. We have a burst of birdsong in October. Have yo noticed? March is filled with a symphony of voices.

Bird’s News

The bird in my yard
eloquently said

“The Spring has come!
The Spring has come!
Completely, secretly
Oooh, yes, yes, yes, yes,
Come and hear,
come and hear,
come and seeeee!”

when I went out,
the Spring was there,


In February I went to hear the poetry of my friend, actress, poet and photographer, Elena Secota, who was a featured poet at Beyond Baroque,

Recited with a lovely voice and in a slight Romanian accent, accompanied by a guitar of her friend, Chad, her poetry took us to her favorite place in the world, the beach, where she escaped to watch the waves of the ocean in solitude. She wrote a whole book of poems about the ocean and illustrated it with her photographs, some taken repeatedly from the same place at 6:30 a.m. That’s dedication!

The book is written in one poetic persona, “her” persona – imagined to an extent, since she is the most social of my friends, always forging and strengthening friendships, bringing people together. Yet, she praises solitude…


Photographs of leaves (c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk.

Portrait of Elena Secota, courtesy of Elena Secota.

Gothic Madonna: Tilman Riemenschneider (German, c. 1460-1531), Madonna and Child, carved linden wood. Wikipedia.