Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter in the Rose Garden with Poets, Mazurkas, and Mimosas

Spring Garden Party with J. Michael Walker, Lois P. Jones, Rebecca Richardson, 
Christopher Vened and Maja Trochimczyk, Photo by Kathabela Wilson, March 27, 2016.

Easter has come and gone, and we can read poems and browse through photos. What fun! We celebrated the joys of spring in my garden, at a Sunday Luncheon Garden Party" filled "with wonderful flavors of Polish and international cuisine, in a company of artists, poets, and creative free spirits." We listened to a CD of the Prusinowski Trio's ancient and edgy mazurkas while eating the chocolate walnut mazurka, and the mazurka wannabe, my apple cake (szarlotka) decorated with willow branches for a change...

Easter table with lilies, mazurkas and pisanki, 2016.

Now, there are two traditional Polish Easter cakes. The first one is the babka - a yeast cake, baked with raisins and candied orange peel, so tall and delicate, you cannot make noise or run around in the house when they are cooling off, with babkas in danger of a collapse into a culinary disaster (this extra tall and fragile muslin babka was the specialty of my grandmother, "Babka" or rather "Babcia" Marianna - I never mastered it, so I do not even try making them). The second, the one I know how to make, in several variants, is the mazurka, the cake named like the folk dance. Is it the dance that mimic the cake? Is it the cake that mimic the dance? Is it the dancing cake? You decide. "Mazurka" comes from the root for "Mazur"- inhabitant of the central part of Poland, Mazowsze.

my orange sun mazurka  
and willow branch mazurka-wannabe
will dance in your mouth

Thanks to the culinary and artistic talents of painter Debby Beck, we also had a unique cake, which I will call the "Rainbow Mazurka" - "rainbow" because of its colors and "mazurka" because she designed and baked it specifically for my party....

Debby Beck and David Long with Debby's Rainbow Mazurka.

inside and outside
all colors of the rainbow 
and delicious, too!

I had asked my guests to bring their poetry, art, or something special to show-n-tell: "What Joy? what Beauty? What Meaning? Of your Life." To make sure there is not too much food left-over, I asked for something to plant and something to drink, instead. I got beautiful lilies, tulips, a fragrant pelargonia, basil, squash, and a friendship plant.  Here is a basket from Kathabela Wilson

a friendship basket -
planting flowers and poems
that's what spring's about

Kathabela and Rick Wilson, selfie.

We drank red wine sangria with frozen mango, berries, and pomegranate juice, and mimosas of freshly squeezed orange juice with proseco, courtesy of Rebecca Richardson and Christopher Vened. The mimosas reminded me of my children: only Ian was at home this Easter, but I had my first mimosas with Marcin and Ania at Easter five years ago... It is because they moved away, that my home is now filled with poets, artists, musicians and friends, my new artistic family!

mimosa delight -
joy bubbles up in sunlight,
on Easter with kids

With Ian, Easter 2016.

With friends and their mimosas at Easter 2016. Photo by Kathabela Wilson.

With renowned tapestry artist Monique Chmielewski Lehman and JPL Manager, David Lehman, selfie.

With Elizabeth Kanski, President of Polish American Film Society and Lucyna Przasnyski, 
artist and photographer.

It was Easter Sunday, but not everyone is Christian and my guests came from different traditions, to share the celebration of the arrival of Spring, the Equinox, the time of Rebirth, Love and Friendship. Several poets shared farewells to their mothers, a topic dear to me since my parents were shot by robbers in their summer home on April 4, 2000, very close to Easter, and I always think about their ordeal and bravery during this holiday, of Death and Resurrection (my father died on May 11, 2001, my mother lingered to 4 July 2013). 

I have not written much about it - it was too painful, but I remember their stories, how bright, cold and distant the moon was, when my father went to find help, after the robbers left, and he walked with a bullet wound across his stomach, to return back to the house in three hours, crawling after midnight, since nobody offered help, all doors were locked and all windows closed. And the phones were not working that early spring night in Poland. Yet, they lived, they refused to be victims, they reclaimed their dignity and love for each other amidst this horror. It would be wrong to define my parents' lives by this tragic turning point, and yet it has to be written. Evil has many faces, this one wore a black skiing mask, black overalls and gloves, and spoke with a lilting accent of a local peasant boy, not even twenty...

Mari Werner (L) listens to Toti O'Brien read, with me, Judy Barrat, 
Debby Beck, Kathabela Wilson and Rick Wilson. Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski.

While I did not read my Easter poem, Mari Werner was brave enough to start the poetic rounds. She brought her moon poem, the first one she ever read at the Village Poets gathering back in 2010. It was previously published on the Village Poets blog, announcing Mari's featured reading in 2011. 

The Moon

A crescent moon floats above the horizon.
“You can totally see the rest of it,”
she says, as though the moon is cheating.

And the moon is cheating.
A crescent moon should be 
what a crescent moon looks like
in a bedtime story illustration,
a crescent clear and simple,
no dark sphere to detract
from its perfection.

Under the smile of the crescent moon,
she sleeps in fluffy comforters,
winked upon by stars
cuddled by a curled up cat,
guarded by a sleeping dog.

That’s the bedtime story version,
but here on the surface of the planet…
you can totally see the rest of it.

(C) 2010 by Mari Werner

Mary Torregrossa reads her poem to be published elsewhere.

Among various gifts, Mary brought a basket of eggs she colored using multi-hued dyes and masking tape to create artistic patterns and stripes.

Eggs by Mary Torregrossa. Photo by Kathabela Wilson.

I colored the eggs by boiling them in onion skins, the rich dark reddish hue is an Easter tradition. We then used needles to scratch patterns on the eggs, but I did not have time this year to do it (my daughter continued the tradition in Berkeley, see below). Instead, I added to my bowl of red eggs  the colorful wooden ones, painted in Poland in a variety of patterns. The brightest newest ones (top left) came as a gift from Lucyna Przasnyski, made in her native beloved Krakow. The ones I already had were made in Krakow and Warsaw, but years earlier - even in folk art patterns and fashions change, while the tradition stays alive!

Polish-style Easter eggs - real (red) and decorative (painted). 

Judy Barrat reads

Judy Barrat recited her Winter Woods from memory; since I cannot remember my poems and have to read them each time, I am in awe of this accomplishment, and the lovely rhyming narrative poem, so different from what I write.

Winter Woods

I ran one day through winter woods.
   Dry leaves covered the ground,
crackling beneath my running shoes;
   I heard no other sound.

Shards of sunlight pierced the trees --
   golden arrows from Cupid’s bow,
And on a verdant hill ahead
   the trees appeared to glow.

On that far hill awash with light a            
   silhouette took shape
of a man in perfect archer’s stance;
   I watched, my mouth agape.

I reached the hill, climbed to the top, 
    so curious was I.
And there he stood, a half-clad man, 
    a banquet to my eye.
A light around his presence glowed,
   though mortal he appeared to be.
His movements caused the wind to sing;
   and I trembled when he looked at me.

Now I’d know Cupid anywhere
   but no winged cherub did I see; 
And this perfect sculpted god-like man
   most certainly wasn’t he.
So stunned was I, no words came forth
    my mouth felt filled with sand.
Struck dumb, I lowered my eyes to find 
    a sunbeam in my hand.

He plucked the sunbeam from my hand,
    and with no malice I could see,
He threaded it in a twisted  bow, then         
   aimed it straight at me.

With eyes tight closed I stood tall and      
   proud like St. Joan at the stake.
I told myself “If this is a dream, now is      
   the time to wake”.

And wake I did to chilling wind, leaves      
   swirling all around;
No man, no cupid, no golden glow
   only me upon the ground.

Darkness had begun to fall;
   where the time went I don’t know.
I looked around, and against a tree
   I saw – the twisted bow.

Cautiously I picked it up and held it          
   close to me;
The chill wind stopped, the air grew still     
   and warmth washed over me    
Some months have passed since that 
    day and I notice more and more
Real beauty in the simplest things I           
   hadn’t seen before.

I believe in this frenetic world there'S 
   still more love than hate
And hope it’s true that good things come   
   to those of us who wait.

This tale won’t be believed by some          
   though every word is so, 
For  in my dreams there is no end to the   
   places I can go.

So I run each day in the winter woods
    looking for that man,
And chasing sunbeams with a child’s        
   hope to hold one in my hand.

(c) by Judy Barrat

Ed Rosenthal reads, framed by his sister Ann Podracky and David Long.

Ed Rosenthal, of the "Poet-Broker" fame, brought a new poem about a boulder and his fascination with rocks during his six and a half day ordeal of being lost in the desert. His poetry book about his experiences, The Desert Hat was published by Moonrise Press; his memoirs are still pending.  The book's title comes from the canvas hat that Ed had with him; he wrote messages to his wife and daughter on all sides of the hat, thinking he would never see them again...

Love on the Rocks 

by Ed Rosenthal

I knew a boulder like you when I was lost and tired
as pitiless Sun and stars changed places in the sky
Like you he had a scratched face and beige crown
And wore a large patch of amber near the ground

I’m not ashamed to pet you in tribute to my pal 
Who like you endured a billion years below ground
Cataclysmic magma emotions and tectonic grinds
before hitching to the surface in a  boiling lava ride.

It wasn’t his past pain that made us rock solid buds
It was his clock on eternal time- he’d seen oceans fall
One week without water watching the racing skies
Like a galaxy rotation meant nothing to rock at all.

Now I see you resting on the roadside of this park
The safe marked trails where families take a lark
Let them stare as I pet you for bringing me back
To Mr. Boulder who  ticked the cosmos in my heart.

(c) by Ed Rosenthal, 2016

The selection of a "boulder" poem was quite appropriate for the conversation, including the story about the Oldest Rock of Sunland-Tujunga told by its "discoverer" David Long. (Incidentally, the Oldest Rock rides in our Fourth of July Parades and has its own page on Facebook, with over 440 likes).

Jean Sudbury recites her poem

J. Michael Walker reads

Kathabela Wilson reads, Rick accompanies her on a Slavic flute.

Kathabela Wilson read another poem from her series about her mother who died last year. The poems will eventually form a poetic biography of an exceptional woman with an exeptionally rich and long life, written in haiku and tanka. Rick Wilson accompanied Kathabela on one of the new flutes from his ethnic flute collection, a Slavic instrument, curved like a bough of a tree from which it was made.

Ends and Beginnings

I made her the old
dishes she used to make
for Thanksgiving
she brought nothing to her lips
but my hand she kissed it

she curls on the bed
like a restless fetus
my mother
from a bedside chair
I cradle her with my legs

after her long life
such a quick demise
was it a hoax
in the warm room
I see her breathing

my mother
goes her own way
in the eye
of the fox

(C) 2016 by Kathabela Wilson
Published in Ribbons, Spring, 2016

Lois P. Jones, of an individual, erudite and intensely sensual/spiritual voice, read a poem about her peach tree.

I Want to Know When

my peach tree will bloom so I can lose
my mind in its fragrance.  Will they be white

or pink, Redhaven or Harmony?  And if it’s true
all babies learn their mother’s scent, will its flowers

hold the perfume of its fruit?  I want to know how
the yield will come, what I’ll feel as the globes grow

and ripen beyond my door. How the fruit
will enter my dreams and I’ll awaken,

shaken with longing. I want to bite
into its golden flesh to the red tinge that nests

the stone and see it burst like an ode –
to name its glistening taste, hook my hands

on my hips and drawl hey mister, we’ve got the best peaches
west of Georgia.  I want to feel the weight, its navel soft

as a baby’s belly. To know how something so small
could yield so much and with all

my flowering, I did not bear fruit. And I will lie
down near its roots, stretched out among tansy

and marigolds, dusk-winged as a night pollinator  
and dizzy above this rolling earth.

(C) by Lois P. Jones

Previously published in Tiferet.

Performance by Rick Wilson and Jean Sudbury, "Szla dzieweczka..." Photo by Kathabela Wilson

There was music, lots of it. In addition to listening to the Mazurkas CD by the Prusinowski Trio, a fantastic admixture of the antique and unadorned folk melodies (as gathered and recorded by scholars since the 1920) with modern traditions, from the Balkans to jazz... Here you can listen to some of my Prusinowski favorites: Serce (The Heart), Mazurek od Ciarkowskiego,  and the Meadow Mazurka. In 2013, I wrote about them on my Chopin with Cherries Blog. 

Jean Sudbury and Rick Wilson serenaded the guests with several selections, including a rendition of that old Polish chesnut, "Szla dzieweczka do laseczka..." (A girl was walking to the forest...), taught to all schoolchildren and sung by all amply partaking of libations at parties. Here it is in a version by the State Polish Folk Song and Dance Ensemble, Slask.

Then, let by J. Michael Walker, my guests spontaneously burst in song, upon my arrival in my white hat, eerily reminiscent of Judy Garland's in the Easter Parade: In your Easter Bonnet. It was so amusing to hear so many people knowing all the words to this delightfully sweet ditty, sung by Garland with Fred Astaire in the film, and Frank Sinatra and many others, later.

Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

I read the last poem of the cycle.  Instead of a tribute to my parents (that would have been quite fitting as they were shot by robbers on April 4, 2000, and taught me more about love, sacrifice and bravery that I could learn), I shared a new version of the staple of this spring, that I read everywhere I go. "Repeat After Me" is inspired by a prayer to Fukushima Waters by Dr. Masaru Emoto, apologizing to the great ocean and all the living creatures for the damage we have done... His prayer is simple, in four parts:

Water, we are sorry
Water, please forgive us
Water, we thank you
Water, we love you

I was amazed to realize that this four-part spiritual journey - from remorse and apology through forgiveness to love - is based on the same framework that underpins the structure of the Mass, the most Catholic of all rituals, moving from apology (Act of Contrition, "Mea culpa"), through asking for forgiveness (Kyrie Eleison - Christe Eleison - Kyrie Eleison), to gratitude, the essence of the Eucharist, and to love embodied in Communion... The latter one might be a stretch for non-Christians, since Communion seems to be a very strange cannibalistic ritual a symbol of eating the body and blood of another human person. I always wondered about that, finding blood-drinking very unappealing and cannibalism itself, well, unpalatable. So I decided that the Body and Blood are of the Divine Essence of the Creator of the Universe - and as we lovingly eat a piece of bread and sip the wine the Divine Power enters us filling us with starlight, the bright energy of billions of suns and galaxies in-between...

With Toti O'Brien and Debby Beck. Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

But, I my poem, I used the framework of "sorry - forgive - thank - love," and was very pleased with the amusingly uplifting results. What troubled me in the previous readings, was the poem's ending: 
I give you all the love 
of my tired, aching heart

I give you all the love
of my tranquil, grateful heart.

Not that this ending was false or inappropriate. It is through giving love away that we heal our aching hearts, so that's easy to say, for me, at least. In previous readings, however, some jaded, cynical, extra intelligent and erudite poets cringed when hearing this most insipid word, "love" repeated so many times in the row. I changed it, then, to give it some wings, and also make people laugh. Laughter is good, uplifting. The "repeat after me" pattern of the responsorial poem works because the lines are separated in short segments, easy to say. The new ending, though, is different, and catches everyone unawares. May we all repeat it daily!

With Toti O'Brien and Debby Beck. Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

Repeat After Me

                     After Prayer for Fukushima Waters  by  Dr. Masaru Emoto.
                    Water, we are sorry / Water, please forgive us
                    Water, we thank you / Water, we love you

Yes, you can find it. /your way out./
It is so simple. /
First you say:/

We are the guilty ones,we are all at fault!
What happens next? /The door opens./
We stop at the threshold and say:/

Forgiveness erases all your guilt,/
all my fears, all our sorrows /– the burden
of dead thoughts is lifted./ 
We float up into brightness.We are 
sparks of starligh
t, /a constellation
dancing in the sky
as we say:/

Filled with gratitude /
for every cloud, leaf and petal, /
every breath we take,/ every heartbeat, /
/we are ready, at last,/
to say what’s the most important:/


I give you all the love /
of my tired, grateful heart!

Good, let's say it again./


Let's do it step by step, one word at a time!

                                                                          © 2016 by Maja Trochimczyk, rev. March 2016

As powerful and uplifting as it was, my poem was not the end of the festivities. Toti O'Brian read a short story about nesting habits of the mourning doves. As she showed us, these birds are not sad at all, but happy and worry-free, inspirational in their endless optimism... The story fit in the garden very well, as it is filled with mourning doves, as well as mockingbirds and humming birds, all trying to establish precise borders for their territories...

Finally, Christopher Vened treated us to an excerpt from his solo show, entitled Human Condition, performed among the roses, and sometimes even, as a rose, when seen through the lens of Kathabela's camera.

"The world is my oyster" 
he says, with out-stretched arms -
Through her camera lens 
she sees the soft rose petals
welcoming the sun 

Photos of Christopher Vened by Kathabela Wilson

Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

The late-comers included Susan Rogers and Ambika Talwar. So with Ambika, Lois, Susan,  and me, we had the Spiritual Quartet, or the Four Birds present for an annual photo-op: 
Peacock, Phoenix, Humming Bird, and the humble Dove of Love.

The reading was over, but I asked invited poets to send something for the blog. Susan's poem is about flowers:

Saving Flowers
         by   Susan Rogers

Once a month I arrange flowers at the regional headquarters of Sukyo Mahikari. Last Sunday, I did my best to use flowers that were asking to be displayed: three wide-faced sunflowers, elegant birds of paradise, orange petals fanned—and several stalks of irises, purple-tipped with color so deep I wanted to drink their ink like wine. No room for the beautiful lily so I cut its stem and placed it where it could be used another day. Then I took care to gather all the fallen blooms, the “filler” stems and shortest flowers that could not be placed in a giant vase and took them home with me  On my way out I chanced to look at the shelf for shoes. There lying across a shelf so low I needed to kneel to reach them were forgotten flowers—violet gladiolas and long stemmed daisies, almost gone. Perhaps someone left them there thinking to take them home. I felt their waste in my heart. Not wanting to accept their loss, I lifted each gently as I would a hurt bird and brought them to the entryway. Using a scissor I cut them, surgically, trying to give each a chance to survive. Then I placed them one by one, in a vase to greet visitors by the door.

            tree planting
            the troubled teen volunteers
           I talk to her about college

And then, there those who did not make it through the Southern California freeways. Margaret Ute Saine's habit of writing haiku as a daily journal, has flowered into this series:

Spring Haiku [2016]

erratic flow of 
wind sweeps in to offer 
us a roaring spring
from the safety of
spring’s raft we look back with a
slight frown on winter
we walk with the wind
or against, our rustling clothes
produce their own song
a rain falls bathing 
every word here to make
it grow and shimmer
your writing a sea
of words cradled by fountains
rising to heaven
setting my notebook
on edge I have two walls of 
a room: my shelter
burgeoning, budding
spring, my body surmises
a do-gooder you                    you, benefactor

(c) 2016 by Margaret Saine

"Electric" rose. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk