One of the poetry groups I love spending my time with, Westside Women Writers, had a scheduled meeting today, the last Saturday of September. We were to meet at Georgia's home, bring one poem each, do a workshop, you know, the usual. (We means: Georgia Jones-Davis, Kathi Stafford, Susan Rogers, and Millicent Borges Accardi, the founder and spiritus movens of the group). But then, Millicent, our fearless leader, said: "Wait, did you know this Saturday is the Hundred Thousand Poets for Change event? We have to do something." So that something we did was to read poems, of course, one extra poem each, on the topic of peace, or the transformation that is needed in the world to change its evolution from the current downward slide into chaos and violence.
So it would be peace poetry, anti-war poetry, environmentally-friendly poetry, activist poetry, involved in fixing the evils of this world. The trouble is I do not write this sort of stuff, at least, not obviously so. The closest I get to war themes are my poems for the paintings and art of Manzanar - inspired by art created at the annual Plein Art Workshops of painters conducted at the site of the former detention camp for Japanese Americans and in nearby mountains. The artists have a group show at the APC Gallery in Torrance, curated by artist and gallery owner Ron Liebbrecht. Poets on Site come to write poems and a wonderful book gets published.So every hear, I get closer to the heart of Manzanar, step by step. At the beginning, I studiously avoided the topics of barbed wire and watchtowers, focusing on sunsets instead. I thought that poetry should be more subtle, more ethereal, more of the sky than the earth, and then I found this digital collage by Beth Shibata, photographer and poet, connected to the topic of Manzanar through her Japanese-American husband.
Entitled "What we saw, what we dreamed," Beth's piece is a stark photograph of sharply outlined bare mountains and a pink sky above filled with paper cranes. I thought that they were dancing and called my poem "Skydance." I also dedicated it to Henry Fukuhara, the blind painter who was imprisoned at Manzanar as a child and established these workshops 14 years ago to help heal the wounds through art and keep the memory alive. Henry's friends, Ron and Beth, are doing exactly that, as the workshops and poetry writing goes on.
~ to Henry Fukuhara and the prisoners of Manzanar
the mountains rose and fell
with their glory useless –
trapped in time they did not
think they’d make it –
days so long, stretched
to the horizon, mindless
and the sky danced above them
avalanche of paper cranes
it was not a time for joy
the landscape said –
it was not that time yet –
in gaps between minutes
a shadow rose, a breath
and the sky danced above them
spring dreams of paper cranes
felt in the fingertips
filled the world with color
faded pastels, knowing,
pale rainbow, hues
of distance, peace, serenity
and the sky danced above them
paper cranes, oh, paper cranes
What is a paper crane for? In a Japanese tradition a thousand origami cranes, held together by strings is a wedding gift; apparently after making a thousand of cranes a real crane will come and grant you your wish. They mean that your wish will come true and that you will a very long and happy life. Beth Shibata's artwork places these strings of cranes in the sky, like semi-transparent shadows they are a wish that a wish would come true.
But is this my wish? I'm not Japanese, I'm barely American, having become a citizen only in 2009, after having lived here since 1996. What would my wish for change be? I am not one to speak up about politics, to go to demonstrations. I've learned my lessons from a childhood spent in communist Poland, where you had to hide what you thought, never admit to what you knew, and, in general, make yourself invisible, so you would not be noticed by police and get into trouble.
I know it is impossible to change the system when you need to change it. It will, eventually, evolve, like a dinosaur, moving slowly through time, too slowly for an individual life. The only change we can make, the only transformation we can control is the personal one: we are all challenged to evolve on a spiritual scale, to become more enlightened, better people. I have written a lot of poems about this and will keep writing, but is it something to share in public? I wanted to read a different poem for A Hundred Thousand Poets for Change, a poem about the only change I can make, I can control: my personal quest for light.
- to Theilhard de Chardin in gratitude for his visions of cosmic fire
Brown, muddy, dirty –
the river rushes down its course
to the ocean. The rains pass,
years go by, centuries, ages –
silt into stone into sand.
The circle turns – grinding, crushing.
A spark in the cosmic fire
I rise upward, striving
to shine above the murky waters
that have to flow down,
pulled by gravity.
I’m free to choose – right or wrong,
good or evil. My anger’s gone,
burned by the flame,
that left only ashes
falling into the darkness below.
I ascend through constellations.
Higher, lighter – regrets fall off.
The weight of nightmares lifts.
The crystalline sphere sparkles
as I waltz into the ever greater,
ever brighter blaze of holiness,
spreading above the void.
Tranquility expands, singing
The last words of my poem, "It is done," are the last words of Christ on the cross, in the old-fashioned Latin. I studied it for a year in high school and three years in college. I like quoting Latin, it is a part of my world, that unique sphere of ideas, memories, thoughts, dreams, and things I've done that marks my place in the world.
My wish for the new world is simple: if everyone did what I'm trying to do, ascend into the light of love, there would be no wars, no violence, no greed, no theft, no betrayal. Maybe then people who run countries now would apologize for what their countries did to other people at other times. Just look at Japanese-Americans, how they were suspected of being secret enemies of the state, how they got three weeks to pack up their lives and go to live in some desolate place, with one of everything, one doll for the child, one pair of shoes. . . But then my Polish family when they were kicked out of their property in the land that was Poland but became Soviet Union, were given 24 hours to decide what to take and what to leave.
They lost everything, except their lives and their heroic, noble spirit. Short on money, long on nobility - virtues grow in poverty, so maybe being poor is not so bad, after all? Why did my grandparents have to run, sell what they can, sew the gold coins into the lining of my mother's coat, see it ripped apart by the guide who was to take them to safety on the other side of the river Bug.... Why? Because Hitler signed a deal with Stalin in 1939 and Roosevelt and Churchill signed another one in Teheran in 1943 and again at Yalta in 1945. They sold Eastern Europe to the despot and murderer. They sold my grandparents lives, and those of millions of others.
And what about the British Queen? The Polish pilots from RAF Squadron 303, who defended her country in the Battle of Britain, wrote a desperate letter to her in 1944, begging for British intervention to save Warsaw at the time of the Uprising against the Nazis. After the initial victory and through the 63 days of fighting, the Russian troops stood idly by and the city burned. Over 200,000 people were killed there, including 170,000 civilians; when the underground Home Army capitulated, the city was emptied of all residents and dynamited, street by street... Where is the Queen's apology for not intervening?
Polish people are resilient, they know how to rebuild and rebuild again. They decided to remake the old Warsaw based on 18th century paintings by Bellotto Canaletto. The Old Town came to life, filled with cafes and jewelry shops selling Polish amber and silver. The Royal Castle remained in ruins for more than twenty years. I used to walk by on the way to my music school three times per week right by its last standing wall with one window opening into the night sky. The rest was a pile of grass-covered rubble. Now, the Royal Palace is again magnificent, even better for being made new.
What can the poets do to change the world? Remember, inspire, and love.
Poetry and Photos of California sky (c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk
Beth Shibata's "What We Saw, What We Dreamed" (c) 2010 by Beth Shibata