Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Season Sparkling with Love

I spent the morning taking pictures of liquid amber leaves and all sorts of other colorful tree leaves or petals that shone in the sun. I love the sparkling beauty of sunlight. The pictures are not ready yet, but I found a poem about fall colors, so here it is.

As everyone knows, November in California is the equivalent of September in Canada, and our fall display of color ends only at Christmas. The first daffodils are coming out already, confused.

The Way

Do you like the poplars?
They line up the streets
cutting across sugar beet fields
on the outskirts of Warsaw
The yellow heart-shaped leaves
tremble in the breeze, glisten
like molten metal after the rain

The California poplars stand straight
and tall, guarding the way
Two fence poles gossip
The fields sparkle with color –
Fuchsia, rusty orange,
Burnt mauve, and bronze

The summer grass is dead
The rocks bruised purple
By the dying sun
Only the sky, blessed by honey,
Shines with the mandarin certainty
Of coming home

Would you like to know everything about everything? How about narrowing the focus and knowing just one thing, right now? Is knowing it all better than loving it all? Or some of it? As far as we can see? Astronomers keep finding clouds of matter further and further away. Billions of years. The seventh-billion human was born recently, or so we heard. Could you love seven billion people, even in theory? Possibly not. The numbers are too overwhelming.

Holidays give us a perfect opportunity to leave billions of people to their own resources, abandon trillions of stars spread across billions of light years to their unimaginable cosmic scale, and to focus on the people we are closest to, those we are connected with either biologically, through genetic links of kinship, or by choice, through that strange thing called "love."

It is probably because I got so completely disconnected from my "kinship network" and the safety of my genetically-predetermined, linguistically-defined environment, that I like writing about love so much. Writing is a substitute for doing, Freud knew that. At one point, I tried to define the various types of love, from desire to acceptance. The word itself is completely overused and extremely hard to put in a poem.

There is no greater love than... Love your neighbor... Do you love me? ... Mommy loves you...I love this necklace... I love turkey?

What does a single person without a single family member nearby do on Thanksgiving or Christmas? Mope around? Try to score an invitation to someone's party? Write? I wake up early and look at the sky above the hills outside my window. I make up memories of non-existent past. They are nicer than the real ones, I'm sure of that.

A Jewel Box Sunrise

Silver cirrus clouds float west
Like shoals of fish in an amethyst sky.
Sun rises over a wintry orchard.
The smooth zeppelin of poetry
Carries me above the tangle of dreams.
I rest, bruised after stumbling
Through twisted roots, broken tree limbs.

Frost grows flowers on window panes.
See how they dance? You nod
Over your morning tea. “You are welcome”
I smile at your questioning gaze.
My grandma’s gold-rimmed china cup
Warms your hands. Steam rises
From the bright topaz liquid.

“Tea flows in your veins, sweets,”
You say, laughing. The helium of words
Fills the skin of the moment.
“Come here” – you wrap
Your arms around my waist.
A kiss of herbal fragrance.
Dawn blossoms into lucid light.

We go outside, stand under
Snow-covered cherry trees.
They sigh and crackle. Their sap
Rises deep beneath the bark.
The white balloons of our breaths
Dissipate through cold air crystals.

I’m glad I waited so long
For my jewel box sunrise.


The "Jewel Box" poem came from the coldness of an air-conditioned room and being really, and I mean, really bored with an endless meeting. This is why I'm never bored. In transit, on a plane, waiting for a red light - if I find a bit of paper of any kind, I just write, write, write. Is it a better way of spending time than doing anything else, like fretting and complaining? Possibly. The results are here to stay.

Pity the modern chefs of astounding inventiveness; we can never eat twice what they cook. Pity the musicians before the advent of recordings; we could never listen twice to their voices. The notation was, and is, just a skeleton of a music that came to life under their fingers, with the air they breathed.

But pity the poets? We still know the names of Sappho, Dante, Keats. The words change meaning as the river of language flows, like lava, through centuries. The liquid, effervescent stream shifts, evolves, and transforms itself in response to the new landscape it encounters. We translate and re-translate ancient poetic gems into new linguistic guises. Poetry lives, sparkling with love. It is the mirror of the spirit, life itself.


Photos of public art at Washington Dulles International Airport, and of a palm frond in Sunland, California (C) 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

Poetry (c) 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk. "The Way" was inspired by a painting "Road Home Olancha" by Trish Shaheen, a part of the Poets on Site project associated with the "Painting My Way" exhibition at APC Gallery in Torrance, September 2011. Published in the Poets on Site anthology, edited by Kathabela Wilson.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On Szymanowska's Satin Slippers

I went to Paris in September, came back changed in October. An astounding city, full of history and charm. My purpose was to talk about Maria Szymanowska and visit and photograph places associated with Chopin. I found his grave and put a poem from "Chopin with Cherries" there. I went to the church where his Funeral Mass was held, with Mozart's Requiem (St. Madeleine) and I wondered about his empty chair and white evening gloves at the Bibliotheque Polonaise near the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The purpose of my trip was to give a paper about Maria Szymanowska, a Polish virtuoso composer-pianist, who preceded and inspired Chopin with her brilliant style, etudes, mazurkas and songs... Szymanowska (1789-1831) died young, too; Chopin was 39 when tuberculosis finally defeated him. Szymanowska - at 42 - went quickly, of cholera in St. Petersburg. But first she managed to enchant Goethe, who wrote for her a poem entitled "An Madame Marie Szymanowska (Aussohnung)." Known as "Aussohnung" (Reconciliation) it was included in the Trilogie der Leidenshaft, inspired by the sixty-year-old poet's tragic infatuation with a young girl, Ulrike. Szymanowska's music, her empathy and beauty helped the aging poet return to his senses. (I write about recent research into her life and work discussed at the Maria Szymanowska Colloque in Paris in my "Chopin with Cherries" blog).

At the conference, I presented the first version of my poem about Szymanowska. After making some changes, I read it for the workshop of Westside Women Writers group and I received comments from Millicent Borges Accardi, Kathi Stafford, Georgia Jones-Davis and Sonya Sabanac. Here's the third version of this work in progress. I want to capture her life as I see it - she was dazzling, inspiring, enchanting, and disappeared all too quickly.

The Shooting Star

Reflections on Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831)

“He brought a horse to her bed, that’s why” – they said.
“No, he did not let her play. She left…”
“Not the only one, mind you.”
Rossini wrote: “Madam,
I equally adore your modesty and talent.”
“At least she was a mother – that redeemed her.
Three children, two daughters, that sort of thing.”
“Did she love them? Was she doting?”
“Didn't she leave them for three years
To play her music?”

“Did she travel alone?” Always with her sister –
Paris, London, Dresden, Marienbad.
Devastated by Ulrike’s youthful charms,
Goethe found comfort in Maria’s nocturnes,
Reconciliation in the kindness of her voice.
He saw Das Ewig Weiblich.
He wrote Die Aussöhnung.

A Roman Goddess?
Wearing the latest London fashions?
She was the Queen of Tones for Mickiewicz,
the Polish bard. A friend of Prince Vyazemsky.
The Court Pianist of the Tsarinas.
A Warsaw brewer’s daughter,
She rose to royal heights,
Shining with the brilliance of her art.

She was elegant, refined
In her pristine muslin gowns,
With sleek belts and jewels.
Her satin slippers dared to
Outlive her by two hundred years.
They sit on a shelf, laughing.
She’s gone. Her daughters,
orphaned in a fortnight of cholera,
Are gone, too. So are
Their daughters’ daughters.

What remains of this dazzling life?
A gold bracelet with a cut sapphire?
A handful of songs, etudes and dances
Scattered along the way? Sweet melodies
Frozen in the air above vast plains
Of snow drifts and tundra?
The sparks of a shooting star
Falling across our dark winter sky?


Lithograph based on a portrait by Maria Szymanowska by Jozef Oleszkiewicz, 1825. Framed print from the collection of Bibliotheque Polonaise in Paris.

Maria Szymanowska's satin evening slippers and an image of Warsaw's Grand Theater of Opera and Ballet. Paris, Bibliotheque Polonaise.

Portrait of Maria Szymanowska by Aleksander Kokular, Rome, 1825. Copy, original in the collection of the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, in Warsaw, Poland.