Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

All of us are a little untethered right now, which means a lot of projecting our own fears and anxieties onto other people. Sometimes, if we get really quiet—quiet enough to hear ourselves—we realize we know.

Emmanuel AchoIllogical: Saying Yes to a Life Without Limits (Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book, March 22, 2022)


Photo credit: Alessandro Gentile

You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello in a war zone

One night, I dreamed that I was meeting my friend, a poet named Mariana, in Sarajevo, the city of love. I woke up confused. Sarajevo, a symbol of love? Wasn’t Sarajevo the site of one of the bloodiest civil wars of the late twentieth century? Then I remembered. Vedran Smailović. The cellist of Sarajevo…

You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello in a war zone, he says. Why don’t you ask THEM if they’re crazy for shelling Sarajevo?

His gesture reverberates throughout the city, over the airwaves. Soon, it’ll find expression in a novel, a film. But before that, during the darkest days of the siege, Smailović will inspire other musicians to take to the streets with their own instruments. They don’t play martial music, to rouse the troops against the snipers, or pop tunes, to lift the people’s spirits. They play the Albinoni. The destroyers attack with guns and bombs, and the musicians respond with the most bittersweet music they know.

We’re not combatants, call the violinists; we’re not victims, either, add the violas. We’re just humans, sing the cellos, just humans: flawed and beautiful and aching for love.

Susan Cain, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole” (Crown, April 5, 2022)


Image: Manny Becerra via Unsplash

T.G.I.F.: Perhaps this is the time to take an extra slow sip from a piping mug of coffee

From where I write, the world is a storm of scars and grief, and somehow, of unexpected delight. This mélange isn’t logical. It’s a mystery. But perhaps now is the perfect time for such a thing.

Perhaps this is the time to take an extra slow sip from a piping mug of coffee, to let the steam melt into the waiting face and to savor the way that dark substance can invigorate the body. Perhaps this is the time to gaze at squirrels in the yard, those lucky rodents who don’t seem to realize—or care—that we’ve changed, those chipper squirrels whose routines continue with full gusto despite everything else. Perhaps this is the time to sit with someone you’ve grown accustomed to seeing each day, to stare at their familiar face under familiar light and look for the unfamiliar things that made you love them in the first place.

This is a time when one of the few things we’re certain about is how little certainty there is. We can scramble to find answers and do what we can to act in the midst of these swirling questions and trials, but this can also be a time to pause. Somehow, in the middle of all these current messes, there are still pleasant—even delightful—mysteries to be found. There are friends to check in on (from a distance), there’s astonishment to be shared. There are poems to be read. There is hope to be found, embraced, passed along.

The heavy blanket of fog in the yard has lightened so that it’s no more than a sheet. The baby maple, still alone, stretches up from its cast. Next year, it may be crowned with leaves, and someday, it will give us shade, like the ones who came before it. Somehow, in the midst of everything, it grows stronger each day.

—  Angela Hugunin, from “The Comfort Of A Poem: Reflections on Mary Oliver’s “Mysteries, Yes. ” (cvwritersguild.org, April 7, 2020)


Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Then the guns open up and flames light the sky


Note:

  • This morning’s post, in honor of our Veterans.
  • “You stand in a trench of vile stinking mud / And the bitter cold wind freezes your blood / Then the guns open up and flames light the sky / …Flashing red tabs, Brass and Ribbons galore / What the Hell do they know about fighting a war?” —  from a poem written by C.S.M Sidney Chaplin.
  • Photos: DK @ Daybreak. 5:45 to 6:15 am, November 11, 2021. 33° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT

Remember


On Memorial Day, we remember. (USA Today)

Stir the Soul


Notes:

  1. Attendees at Christmas Eve Mass in Surabaya, Indonesia. (Juni Kristwanto, wsj.com December 25, 2018)
  2. A man stands inside a damaged church in the village of Tel Nasri, Syria. (Rodi Said, Reuters, wsj.com December 25, 2018)
  3. An elephant wearing a Santa Claus costume performs for Thai students during Christmas celebrations at Jirasart school in Ayutthaya province north of Bangkok. (Chaiwat Subrasom, wsj.com December 24, 2018)

And they blow…

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row…

– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, from “In Flanders Fields“. It was written during the First World War by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer.


Notes: Source: duchessofostergotlands (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

Inspired by Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Wound in Time”:

It is the wound in Time. The century’s tides,
chanting their bitter psalms, cannot heal it.
Not the war to end all wars; death’s birthing place;
the earth nursing its ticking metal eggs, hatching
new carnage. But how could you know, brave
as belief as you boarded the boats, singing?
The end of God in the poisonous, shrapneled air.
Poetry gargling its own blood. We sense it was love
you gave your world for; the town squares silent,
awaiting their cenotaphs. What happened next?
War. And after that? War. And now? War. War.
History might as well be water, chastising this shore;
for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice.
Your faces drowning in the pages of the sea.

~ Carol Ann Duffy, “The Wound in Time.” Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, has released a sonnet commemorating the centenary of Armistice Day, 11th November 1918. (Arts In Industry, October 22, 2018).  Duffy reads her poem on BBC here.

Waiting for Eden

She’d heard the stories about when they’d brought him in. The rush to the roof, his helicopter landing, and how close to death he’d always been. Between shifts, the older docs and nurses spoke quietly about the guy up on the fourth floor burned so bad it was a miracle he’d survived. They always talked about him quickly, in murmurs over their coffee or standing close to each other in an elevator. What they’d say was always the same: worst wounded guy in both wars, don’t know if I’d want to live like that, and just a matter of time. They all said that one: a matter of time…

His skin, already see-through with burns, didn’t sweat, it couldn’t. Instead it shone, the fever trapped inside…His body seized and then did a sort of whip-crack, struggling for breath even as he gasped…She climbed up on his bed and leaned in, not touching his burns but so close that her smell would linger around him. Before, when they would be in bed together, she’d often wake when he’d bury his face deep into the nape of her neck, covering himself in her dark hair to what she worried was the point of suffocation. One of the first things he ever told her was that he liked her perfume, but she never wore any. Her smell was of soap and water.

~ Elliot Ackerman, excerpts from Waiting for Eden: A Novel (September, 2018)


Notes: A mere 192 pages, but a story that will be seared into memory.  A National Book Award Finalist. An Amazon Book of the Month in October, 2018.  A book that reminded me of The Sea Inside and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  A NY Book Review by Anthony Swofford captures it beautifully: “To identify this book as a novel seems inadequate: ‘Waiting for Eden’ is a sculpture chiseled from the rarest slab of life experience. The sculptor’s tools are extreme psychological interrogation and clear artistic vision.”

Veteran’s Day: asking ourselves what it must have been like to live through…

The same thing happens whenever we attempt, incredulously, to peer into the past, asking ourselves what it must have been like to live through World War Two, the Holocaust, or during Stalin’s purges, the years of the greatest terror, and it seems impossible, inconceivable, to survive even an hour in such a nightmare—but for those who weren’t that day’s direct victims of persecution, there was always more reality, always some kind of weather, they were either hungry or well fed, a dog was barking somewhere, a plane flew overhead, Mother was making pierogi in the kitchen, you had to think about buying winter boots, making the soup … They went for walks in the park, they forgot for a moment. They were in love, happily or otherwise, they read Madame Bovary or some other nineteenth-century novel, the radio played a Schubert sonata. Anyone who spent his or her childhood in Stalin’s Poland will remember the scent of the first spring pussy willows and the stammering priest who taught catechism in a cramped parish hall smelling of floor polish better than the gigantic portraits of leaders floating awkwardly, flapping over the May Day Parade. Even the fear that paralyzed so many in its time evaporates as the years pass, becomes difficult to imagine. Especially fear, fear, which is like a migraine—it disappears and leaves no trace. Although it may leave scars upon the soul.


Notes:

  • Post Inspiration: In honor of all who served.
  • Photo: Daily Mail – “My hero big brother: Heart-wrenching moment a soldier’s grieving sister collapses in front of his grave at Arlington Cemetery”
  • Related Posts: Adam Zagajewski

that warning from the past, that call to the future, what the gentle leaves of the ginkgo trees are still trying to tell us.

Excerpts from The Whispering Leaves of the Hiroshima Ginkgo Trees by Ariel Dorfman:

On Aug. 6, 1945, a 14-year-old schoolboy named Akihiro Takahashi was knocked unconscious by a deafening roar and a flash of blinding light. When he awoke, he found that he had been thrown many yards by the detonation of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He had survived because his school was about a mile from the epicenter of the blast.

Dazed and burned, Akihiro headed to the river to cool himself. Along the way, he witnessed a scene of apocalypse: corpses strewn like rocks, a baby crying in the arms of its charred mother, scalded men peppered with shards of glass, their clothes melted, wandering like ghosts through the wasteland, the unbreathable darkened air, the raging conflagrations. In an instant, some 80,000 men, women and children had perished. In the days and months that followed, tens of thousands more succumbed to their injuries and the effects of radiation.

I met Mr. Takahashi in 1984, when he was the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. By then middle-aged, his body was a testament to that war crime and its aftermath. One ear was flat and mangled, his hands were gnarled, and from a finger on each grew a black fingernail.  “You must see the hibakujumoku, the survivor trees,” he said to me, almost as an order, at the end of a long conversation in his office. “You must see the ginkgos.” […]

The ginkgo, I learned, was an expert in survival, a species found in fossils 270 million years old. These specific trees had endured because their roots underground had been spared the nuclear annihilation. Within days of the explosion they had sprouted new greenery — surrounded by Hiroshima’s horrors of carbonized bodies and black rain and wailing survivors. The ginkgos, Mr. Takahashi said, expressed better than anything he could say through an interpreter the endurance of hope, the need for peace and reconciliation. […] [Read more…]

Driving I-95 S. With a ‘vanity’ plate.

I’m trailing behind a late model Chevy SUV in the left lane.

It’s twenty minutes in front of the morning rush hour on I-95 S. Traffic is light, I’m cruising at 15 over the limit.

Morning news is spewing Hamburg, Trump, Putin, G-20, protesters, North Korea missile launch, sanctions, UN. Sickening. I turn the dial to 70’s on 7 and turn the volume down.

Chevy won’t give way to the center lane.

Mind shifts to yesterday. Shouldn’t have said that. Could have done that. Not moving fast enough on that. Annoyed with that. Behind on that. Need to press harder on that. Anxious about that.

Chevy is white, I mean like Snow White, not a spec of dirt. I catch the vanity plate. I stare at the plate. I’m overcome with gratitude.

Two men going to work.

Two men sitting in their car and replaying yesterday, today, 10 years ago, 20 years ago.  One swimming in nonsense, the other in horror.

I gently ease off the accelerator, he widens the gap until he disappears and I turn off onto the I-287 ramp.

I get to the office.  I can’t find a replica of the plate online but the image below is close enough.

Peace Friend. Peace.
[Read more…]

Remembering the lost platoon

Important to watch to the end…

Children


Photo: Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected gas attack in a rebel-held town. (Mohamed Al-Bakour / Agence France-Presse, April 4, 2017)

 

As we get up this morning, he…

A man smokes his pipe in the remains of his bedroom in Aleppo, Syria.


Source: Joseph Eid, Agence France-Presse, March, 10, 2017. wsj.com).  Inspired by:

“There is a certain tone in the things that matter, an architecture of delayed light or slow sounds from long ago. Fragments for the after-silence, the sorting of a garden. Things in their essence. Spiritual forms, an invisible geometry of objects that gives strength to us through music…Whispered petitions to show us the way or to destroy us completely. Every word a last word. Every sound a revenant.”

— Herbert Pföstl, On my Sanctuary Place (Maharam.com)

No bodies. No blood. No war.

edouard_boubat_057-boy-shell

There are certain pictures I can never take. We turn on the TV and are smothered with cruelty and suffering and I don’t need to add to it. So I just photograph peaceful things. A vase of flowers, a beautiful girl. Sometimes, through a peaceful face, I can bring something important into the world.

~ Edouard Boubat, (1923–1999), a French photo journalist and art photography said in an interview in Paris in 1991


Edouard Boubat, one of France’s most celebrated postwar photographers who was best known for his poetic images of children… Mr. Boubat traveled widely during a career that lasted almost 50 years, but unlike many photographers of his generation he showed no interest in political events. His rule, ”no bodies, no blood, no war,” even earned him the nickname of peace correspondent…Rather, what attracted him was the beauty of life, wherever he found it. He liked photographing women, animals, trees and nature as well as children, and his use of light gave his work a special quality. Invariably the emotion evoked by his images is tenderness, as in one of his most popular photographs, ”La Petite Fille aux Feuilles Mortes.” ‘There is something instinctive about the moment you choose to ‘take’ a photograph,” he once explained. ”It’s not the result of thought or reflection. The strength of the composition is always born of the instant of the decision. It reminds me of archery. There is the tension of the bow and the free flight of the arrow.”¹

Boubat is known to capture people in their own private worlds, whether that was lovers embracing, or children daydreaming.  He shows the empty moments of life and exalt the happiness in those moments.
Boubat is often described as a ‘humanist’ photographer because of his ability to capture the beauty and dignity of his subjects. This is one of his most famous pictures, “Remi Listening to the Sea”,  a portrait of a little boy holding a sea shell up to his ear and, with eyes closed, quietly listening to the sound of the ‘sea’.²


Notes:

Just, so much (too much) here…

2015-12-26_06-38-17


Photo: A U.S. service member salutes her fallen comrades during a memorial ceremony for six Airmen killed in a suicide attack, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. The deadliest attack in Afghanistan since 2013 killed six U.S. troops on Monday, including a family man from Long Island, New York; a South Texan; a New York City police detective; a Georgia high school and college athlete; an expectant father from Philadelphia; and a major from suburban Minneapolis with ties to the military’s LGBT community. They were killed when their patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle near Bagram Air Base, the Defense Department said. (wsj.com: Tech Sgt. Robert Cloys/U.S. Air Force / Associated Press)

 

San Bernardino

bird-in-hand

They know, I thought,
like the birds of Iraq before shock and awe
on the first day of spring.
It was said that the sparrows and songbirds stopped singing,
their silence heralding the dropping of bombs.

~ Patti Smith, Her Name Was Sandy. M Train


Image: imandrah-land. Story: Shooting in San Bernardino Kills at least 14

Guess.What.Day.It.Is?

camels,Kuwait,Ahmadi Oil Fields,war

Let’s hope not (War).

Camels at the Ahmadi Oil Fields in Kuwait in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.  Don’t miss Steve McCurry‘s photo series titled War.


Notes: Background on Caleb/Wednesday/Hump Day Posts and Geico’s original commercial: Let’s Hit it Again

Take a moment

eagle-veterans-day-honor


Source: Alan ShapiroPaying Respects to our fallen heroes on Veteran’s Day (via milsotherapy)

It was unbearably joyful.

hand-fingers-grab

It’s Friday night.

The windows are open.

The indefatigable crickets perform a single note concerto in a continuous loop. Gentle gusts of wind rattle the blinds and signal autumn, the chill taking a soft bite of the humidity. Zeke lies the path of the breeze of the oscillating fan, and snores.

I’m awake.
The Body spent.
The Mind and its chatter, ever-present – Working.

In a hunt for a sleeping aid, I flip on SiriusXM Radio and pan through selections.

BBC World Service kicks off a segment on World War Two titled The Leningrad Symphony.  I never cared much for History in school, and in life which accounts for a penchant for repeating mistakes. The moderator, with her soothing British accent, drew me in. [Read more…]

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