Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Norooz, Passover, and Easter - New Life and Fire

Flames and Embers by Maja Trochimczyk
Fire and Fire

Whoever invented Easter Bunny that lays Chocolate Eggs on the lawn was not thinking through the rather dismal consequences of this wild leap of imagination... No matter, children are happily looking for chocolate confection scattered on the lawns of American suburbia... Would the popular-culture Easter be more memorable and dramatic, instead of just plain silly, if it included jumping over the bonfires, like the Persian purification rituals held at night on the Spring Equinox? 
Night Flames Burning by Maja Trochimczyk
On March 20, 2013, Persians around the world, as well as inhabitants of many countries in South-East Asia celebrated the holiday of Persian New Year dating back to the time of Zoroaster, three thousand years ago. This time of new beginnings, new hope and plans for new future, is marked by a 13-day holiday, with intense celebrations held on the 
night of the Equinox, when the day and night are equal and day starts to become longer than night. Families gather around bonfires and those brave enough to do it, jump over the fire with a prayer, to leave the old worries and troubles behind and leave them to burn in the fire, and to take into the new year the vitality and brightness of flames. In 2010, the UNESCO recognized the holiday of "Novruz" ("New Day"), added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Night Flames by Maja TrochimczykThe purification by flame is also a vital part of the Passover Celebrations, commemorating an ancient event of Exodus, the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. Before the solemnities can begin, each household is thoroughly cleansed and purified of all leaven bread and bread crumbs. On the last night before Passover, a search is conducted by candlelight, and the leaven bread remnants are burned before the celebrations can begin.  The fermentation of the leaven breads is a symbol of the festering of old memories, obsessive thoughts, regrets and guilt that need to disappear. A new beginning and true freedom of heart are not possible without leaving behind the burden of the past. What better way than burning the remnants of old, or jumping over the fire?

Christian Easter also focuses on fire at night. The Easter Vigil begins from starting a huge bonfire outside of the church and from blessing of the fire and of the Paschal Candle, marked with symbols of Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and with the symbols of the year that it will serve the faithful, its flame a symbol of the burning presence of Christ. The congregants gather in darkness, broken only with the single flame of the Paschal Candle. This light spreads as more candles are lit, from one person to the next, until the entire congregation is a sea of flickering candle-lights. This is one of the most effective symbolic rituals of the Church - the drawing of spiritual light from ancient Fire, the sharing of Light from one person to the next, in unbroken chain of the faithful, each protecting his or her little flame and sharing it with his/her neighbor. 

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

T. S. Eliot - Little Gidding, from Four Quartets

Listen to Eliot's own reading of Little Gidding (16 minutes)

My meditations on the Divine Fire led my thoughts along a less elevated path, starting from a parking lot at my son's school:

Incandescent (Via Positiva)

How gently and lovingly
You wake in my heart,
Where in secret you dwell alone ~
         ~ St. John of the Cross 
            The Living Flame of Love

The car was pulling out of the parking lot
When friends texted my son —
A sixteen-year-old, six-foot baby
"Is that your sister, or your mom?
She’s hot!" He looked at me
And waved at them, laughing.

Consumed by divine flames
I was not careful. I did not close
All doors, all windows.
Fire got in.

The Divine Pyromaniac
Set the world aflame
Filled me with fire

I’m a conflagration of grace.
The presence shines brightly,
Dissolves, liquefies, forges
A new being — one
With the One

Translucent blaze
Engulfs me, suffuses all
With one feeling
One thought —

Fire flows through my veins —
Brightness — Fire

(c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk
Reprinted from Meditations on Divine Names (Moonrise Press, 2012)

The Eggs of Easter

In Polish homes, the week before Easter is the week of Spring cleaning - washing windows, curtains, throwing out unnecessary things, sorting through the clutter. The cooking begins in earnest on Good Friday, that is the day of most solemn and dramatic celebrations in the Church and the most austere Lenten meals at home - pickled herring and potatoes... 

Easter Basket 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

For the Slavic peoples, Easter food is all about eggs: colored beautiful dark red by cooking them in onion-skins, and scraping patterns with needles.  Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenians, and Serbians all have their traditional patterns of decorating Easter eggs. Thus, the new beginnings of the spring have another, equally ancient symbol: the egg. The Romans started things "from the egg" - ab ovo...  

On Easter Saturday, before the solemnities of the Easter Vigil, Poles bring beautifully decorated baskets of food and eggs to be blessed and later shared at Easter brunch. My basket is decorated simply with fragrant orange blossoms from my garden. 

Orange Blossom Bee - by Maja Trochimczyk

Since I have not written yet any poems about Novruz (or Norooz), Passover, Easter, Easter eggs, or even Easter Bunnies, let me wish everyone a wonderful celebration of new hope, new beginnings and a personal renewal in serenity and joy this spring. I'll sweeten my wishes with a little confection of a poem about one of my most favorite desserts, zupa nic. My mother used to make this ice-cream substitute when there were no ice-cream stands anywhere and a line would form for the rare supply of real vanilla ice-cream at the grocery stores. We had to make do without, thus learning the virtue of ingenuity.

The Taste of the Sky

My mother's zupa nic - soup nothing
had puffy clouds of egg whites
floating in a yellow sea
of delight. I chased them
with my spoon that perfect summer.

I'm floating now
in thinning blue
of Technicolor sky
a meadow for
ten thousand cloud sheep
I cannot count while they
cast shadows
on tidy little gardens
of tidy little houses
of tidy little people

They go about their daily chores
folding sheets, baking bread,
I'm cooking up a storm
of dreams that will soon vanish
like clouds in my soup nothing

The Taste of the Sky- after Magritte, by Maja Trochimczyk
The Taste of the Sky - After Magritte, Digital collage by Maja Trochimczyk

What else? If you want to read more about Polish holiday food in poetry, my "mazurka" and "mushroom" poems are posted on the Village Poets Blog, in a report from the March 2012 "Bite Me" Art Exhibition at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. The Village Poets Poetry Reading held on March 16, 2013 also included poetry about food read by Dorothy Skiles, Marlene Hitt, Joe DeCenzo, Bryan Story, Alice Pero, and Rick Wilson (who read verse by Kathabela Wilson).




Photos of fire, Easter basket, orange blossoms, and yellow sky (C) by Maja Trochimczyk

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Poets on Site at the Colonnade Gallery in Pasadena

Tim Callahan reads, Mira Mataric, Maja Trochimczyk and Hans Zima listen, Colonnade Gallery, Pasadena, March 2, 2013.
On March 2, 2013, Poets on Site and artists gathered at the Colonnade Art Gallery in Pasadena (2421 E. Colorado Blvd.Pasadena, CA 91107), for the Opening Reception and Poetry Reading for this month's exhibition, featuring, among others, artists Kathabela Wilson, Debby Prohias, Galen Young, Robert Stewart, Ron Pettie (gallery owner), and Hans Zima.

Poets on Site included, in person, Tim Callahan, Taura Scott, Bryan Story, Mira Mataric, Pat McClelland, Debbie Kolodji, Robert Stewart and Kathabela Wilson, as well as off-site poets who sent their work from around the world: Billy Howell-Sinnard, Joan Stern, Sheila Windsor, Veronika Zora Novak, John Daleiden, Pauline Dutton, Vivian Lee, Gary Blankenship, Chris Dominiczak, Josie Hibbing, Willie Bongky, Erika Wilk, Brian Zimmer, Michele Harvey, Dalton Perry, Richard Dutton, Tomislav Maretic, Gerry Jacobson, Pat Geyer, and Jonathan Vos Post. The readings were accompanied by Rick Wilson on Native-American flutes from his astounding flute collection.

I selected three pieces to write about: a photo collage of Yosemite Falls and Cactus Flower by Debby Prohias, a Camellia by Galen Young, and a Death Valley photo by Hans Zima. Debby was so delighted with having a poem written about her piece, that she gave me a camellia! It decorated my lapel in some pictures taken right next to her artwork.

Debby Prohias listens to "Flower Falls" by Maja Trochimczyk

Flower Falls

by Maja Trochimczyk

If stars grew on rocks
And hills flowed with
Liquid light and honey

Would we still doubt
The life force asleep
Inside black basalt stone

Dancing in crisp verdant air
With a sycamore leaf, falling
To awaken in the roots

Of the roots beneath
The earth's surface, filling 
Our veins with sunlight

Yosemite Falls and Cactus Flower by Debby Prohias
Yosemite Falls and Cactus Flower by Debby Prohias

She then commented about my poem, Flower Falls, being “such a beautiful way of expressing the feeling of being present in Yosemite and the discovery of a flower that came to open in our backyard.” The flower was that of an elusive night-blooming cereus, a nocturnal miracle, rarely seen, and made even more magical by Debby’s photo collage. The camellia blossom proved to be quite useful in the second poem I read, since the Camellia by Galen Young was not on display. While the camelia I got was pink, my poem may be illustrated with a picture of a white camellia, that I took at Descanso Gardens this spring.

White Camellia by Maja Trochimczyk

by Maja Trochimczyk

in the corona
of white petals
gold treasure
waits for its fruit

dark green leaves
color the air, drop
onto the sidewalk
tired of sunlight

the smoothness
of petals shelters
a dream always
blooming within

I followed my reading of this slow, misty and sensuous poem with one filled with joyful exuberance. The contrast between Rick Dutton's work and mine, and the shifting mood of the readings perfectly illustrated the essence of Poets on Site work: creative encounters of different poets with the same artwork and the richness of inspiration that the arts may provide.

Nonetheless, I was not happy with the way my other poem for Hans Zima’s photograph did not quite fit the image I saw live. I had written it to a photograph posted online: the desert looked empty and sad, with muted colors waiting for rain and life to awaken. But the rocks of the original photo in the gallery were an explosion of energy and color, under an intense turquoise-sapphire sky. This is why it is so important to go to exhibitions and see the artwork “live” – in its original form. What’s online “blah” in real life is “aha!” (The same rule is applicable to live concerts, especially with acoustic instruments).

Dissatisfied, I wrote another poem for Mr. Zima right then and there, to another photo from Death Valley. It showed a broad panorama of red sands leading into distant, dark blue mountains, shrouded with mist. The intense hues of this unusual landscape resonated with a feeling of timelessness that, coupled with the Death Valley name, resulted in a spiritual inspiration. Hans was very happy with the poem and commented: “I was amazed how you could create such a beautiful work of art in just a few minutes.” I answered that it “wrote itself” and I just transcribed it. It is a good poem for the awakening of the spring and the Easter season.

Death Valley Sunset by Hans Zima

Death Valley Sunset
~ inspired by a landscape photo by Hans Zima

now it ends
we've come to the edge
the last bush, the last drop of water

it's over....

the red sands wait, immobile
sinking into crimson

whale bones of white rocks
poke through 

it's over...

it's time for the dark to claim us
on the arid, salty plain

we'll walk and walk
for forty days, to the other edge
of Death Valley

we will cross shadows, enter 
misty mountains, sparkling streams
and sunrise

hidden, alluring, they call to us:
"come, come along,
do not fear"

we will reach beyond  
rest in the lapis-lazuli expanse
of new-born sky

© 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

Debbie Kolodji, Rick Wilson, Kathabela Wilson and Maja Trochimczyk at
the Opening Night at the Colonnade Gallery in Pasadena.

The Colonnade Gallery Opening Night was one in a series of recent Poets on Site poetry events that included also a wonderful reading for Susan Dobay's Impressions of China at the Altadena Public Library on February 9, 2013 (where I read poems written to Dobay's images of a bride and three old women).

Another poem  of mine written to that series of Chinese travel impressions was published in the Quill and Parchment poetry journal (March issue). It welcomed spring in a light-hearted mood, with "A Skipping Lesson." The poem is accompanied by the image by Susan Dobay that inspired  my work and by four tanka by Poets on Site: Kathabela Wilson, Erika Wilk, Pauline Dutton and Huang Yiwei. 

Sharon Hawley, Joan Stern, Susan Dobay, Rick Dutton, Rick Wilson, Taura Scott,  Bryan Story, Kathabela Wilson, Just Kibbe, Pauli Dutton, Erika Wilk and Maja Trochimczyk at the opening of Impressions of China by Susan Dobay, Altadena Public Gallery, February 2013.
Finally, Poets on Site and friends met at a Poets' Cafe Listening Party at Kathabela and Rick's Salon in Pasadena on February 21, 2013. The reading there featured Kathabela Wilson, Susan Rogers, Neil McCarthy, myself and Mira Mataric - five poets featured by Lois P. Jones at Poets Cafe. Our interviews are now found on Tim Green's website.

Maja Trochimczyk with Kathabela Wilson, reading "The Music Box" at the Poets Cafe Listening Party, February 2013.
I read my "Music Box" (with a music box) that was specifically requested by the host of the Radio Program whom we could hear, during the KPFK fundraising drive, while collecting funds to help poetry on air "live long and prosper."

Mira Mataric, Kathabela Wilson, Susan Rogers and Maja Trochimczyk,
Poets Cafe Listening Party at the Wilson's Salon.
And if that was not enough, my article on Polish Folk Dance movement in America and its paradoxical inspiration by a Stalinist genre has appeared in the Cosmopolitan Review, a journal dedicated to Polish culture in English. This article resulted from a book I published in 2007 on Polish Dance in Southern California; another, fully annotated version of the article appeared in the Polish American Studies (available on JStor.

The camellia photo (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk, other photos courtesy of Kathabela Wilson.