Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Rabbit In the Moon

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Autumn has swept in with the rain, and we are now poised on the interval between the brash blaze of summer and the cooler nights that produce fall’s spectacular colors. It is around  this time that I begin to think about my writing and revisit ideas that have accumulated whilst I lay languidly reading in the shade of a beach umbrella. Really, autumn is a reminder that I need to get to work.

Instead, I think about the moon. This is not as far fetched a subject as it seems at first blush, since so much of what we write and read is concerned with the waxing and waning of earth’s patient satellite. Where would poets be without the moon? And, come to think of it, where would I be? Whenever I describe a night scene, I usually dedicate at least one sentence to the state of the moon, and my my art quilts would be lost without the queen of the night.

Fall is a time when the moon comes into its own. Consider the Harvest Moon, the bright copper orb that startles the earth with its brilliance, and the spookily wonderful Halloween moon. And if that isn’t enough, in Japan there is the Great Moon of Mid-Autumn.

Though it isn’t as famous as cherry-blossom viewing in the spring, the full autumn moon does have significance in Japan. This is the night when people who live in rural areas still set out tables with vegetables, fruits and little rice cakes—a sort of thanksgiving for the year’s harvest. In shrines, at temples and in their gardens at home, the people view and admire the silver presence, beautiful but solitary in the cooling sky.

Over red maples

Rises a silver presence…

Lonely autumn moon.

When I was little, I thought the moon was a fascinating mystery and had many questions about it. What was the moon made of? Where did it come from? Certainly there was the folk tale that explained how a rabbit pounded rice into cakes inside the moon (more fun than the Man In the Moon, I thought,), but— hold on— what about that other folk tale? The one which declared that the moon was home to a beautiful princess who was found in a bamboo thicket?

Folk tales could be confusing. I preferred the country dances that were moon-inspired, especially the boisterous ‘Tanko Bushi’ which told of a full moon rising over a coal town and all its smoke.

Even when I grew older, the moon held its magic. My parents’ house was only a short walk from Osaka Bay, and I loved to stroll of an evening on the embankment. Great clumps of susuki, a species of ornamental pampas grass, grew there in the fall. Their white plumes glowed silver in the moonlight and their thin, razor-sharp leaves rustled soft accompaniment to the swell and break of the tide. Sometimes I would carry a notebook with me to sketch or to write poetry, but I didn’t write very much. The full moon was poetry enough.

Much of Japanese literature involves the moon as does its music. Of the latter, no song before or since has affected me as much as Kojo No Tsuki, a song-poem about the moon as it is viewed from the walls of a ruined castle. The elegance of that music and the melancholy verses of a poet musing over the faded glories of yesteryear were truly haunting. Even now, that song makes me reflect on the mysteries of the natural world embodied in the beautiful but somehow lonely autumn moon.

How many autumns

Have passed you by, Lady Moon,

Silent and alone?

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Promises To Keep

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The day is cold and rainy—who can control the weather?—but no matter, we have gathered joyfully to celebrate the wedding of one of our own. Holding our breath, wiping our eyes, we watch this beautiful bride glide down the aisle on her father’s arm. She is the daughter of one of ‘our’ quilters, a beautiful child who grew up into a lovely young woman. We have watched her dance in the Nutcracker, we have followed her career through university and med school, and now here we are to celebrate her day. Customs vary, prayers are offered in different ways, but the universal wish of everyone here is that the couple at the altar live long and happy lives together.

A feeling of well being and nostalgia follows us as we drift from wedding to the reception area where everything has been planned with elegance and grace. Weddings take us to a place in life where everything is a celebration. And if there is a break in a father’s voice as he speaks of his daughter, or if  there is perhaps a tear in the bride’s mother’s eyes, we understand that they are thinking back to a time when they held a small girl child in their arms.

I felt as they are feeling now twenty one years ago, when both our sons were married. Going farther back in time, there was the day when Mike and I stood in my mother’s  rose garden at our own wedding reception. It has been nearly fifty years now, but I can still remember  how the roses filled the June air with fragrance and how the guests sipped champagne in tall, fluted gardens at tables set around the lawn. All was elegant—except for the muddy old  golf shoes that my dad tied to the back of the car in which we made our getaway!

Weddings do tend to bring memories to the surface. While music and dancing and the good companionship of our table swirls around me today, I remember the diverse ceremonies I have attended. There was the Japanese wedding—a very formal event during which the bride changed her kimono several times (to indicate her family’s standing) after which she and her new husband sat in total silence while speech followed speech. In total contrast, I remember the many gleeful horas I have danced with girl friends of our 40+ year old book club whenever a ‘book club child’ tied the knot.

But most of all, I remember the moment which always happens at a wedding: the exchange of vows.

Too much  has been written or said about marriage lately, and I won’t add any comment to that discussion. None of it really matters, anyway. What matters is that moment, the shining and glorious moment when time stands still and the universe holds its breath, the moment when two people look at each other and pledge their love.

Sometimes people write their own vows. Though I love the cadence of the old, traditional promise, I think that this is what one partner really says to the other: I trust myself to you for as long as we live. Youth and old age will find us together. Today we may have steak and tomorrow peanut butter… but who cares? We will hold hands across the table (and if there isn’t a table, there’s always the floor). We’ll hope for clear sailing, but if trouble comes, we can handle it together.  If one of us gets sick, the other will make chicken soup—or sit in the hospital waiting room for as long as it takes. For a day, a week, or eighty years, we will be a team. And at night, before we go to sleep, we will always say, “I love you.”

And it really doesn’t matter whether there are flowers and candles or whether the ceremony is conducted quietly by a Justice of the Peace, that magic moment is always there if the words are said with love. And there is so much love at this wedding today that the room fairly shimmers with magic.

Rain and chill today

Bride and groom are unconcerned…

They walk in sunlight.

"Moondance"

Wish Upon a Star

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Haven’t you ever wished on a star? When I was little, I would stand by the window and scan the darkening sky for that first faint point of light. Even now, at twilight I often glance upward and whisper the magic of that little rhyme…

Truly, there seems to be a magical quality about wishes. We raise our glasses and wish that our loved ones prosper in health and happiness. We wish for success or good weather or decent seats on an airplane,  or, for that matter, a flight that won’t be cancelled at the last minute. Like my grandchildren, I close my eyes and think hard before blowing out birthday candles. And in Rome didn’t I toss a coin into the Fountain of Trevi, over my shoulder, even?

Threw coin in fountain

Under bright blue Roman skies

While grown children smiled.

Where would we be without something to wish for? A wish actually means, ‘If only…” and isn’t ‘if’  bread and butter to an artist? Show creative types a blank canvas or a bland-looking  piece of fabric and watch eyes get that far-away look which might translate to:. “If I put a purple mountain there and a bright orange waterfall here…”  or, “This fabric would really come alive if I sew it to a slash of crimson velvet…”

Writers rely on the ‘if’ factor, too. Faced with a deadline and a lackluster plot, what wordsmith hasn’t eyed the offending script and muttered, “ If only this beastly thing would come together!” Then, later in the day…”Wait a minute! If I ditch the hero and move the whole thing to Istanbul, what would happen?” Aha!

In many parts of the world, wishing is a national past-time. Take Japan for instance, where, sometime between July and August (dates vary), a festival called Tanabata is celebrated. This is a romantic event dedicated to Vega and Altair, or Orihime and Hikoboshi as these celestial bodies are called in that part of the world. It’s believed that these two stars are lovers separated by the Milky Way, and that, once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, they are allowed to meet. Their dearest wish comes true only once a year, so down on earth people mark the occasion by making wishes of their own.

When I was young, Tanabata was great fun. A few days before the festival I would begin roaming around my Aunt Francine’s back garden, making a nuisance of myself until I found the perfect bamboo branch. After that I would cut colored paper into shapes and write a wish on each of them. When every possible wish was thought about, discussed and recorded, I would tie the slips of paper to the bamboo branch.

Adults decorated bamboo branches, too, often  writing wish-poems that were literary and serious. My own wishes were for toys or books or practical matters: I remember wishing—        without much success—for good marks on my math test. After it was fully decorated, my mother set my  bamboo branch in her tallest vase so that it could be admired by the whole family. Then, on the night of Tanabata, my parents, uncles and aunts would accompany me to the sea shore where we tossed the bamboo into the waves and  watched it sail away under a star-filled sky.

On a silver sea,

Carrying a child’s wishes

To the summer stars.

On That Day

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Just an ordinary morning, blue skied with bright sun,

conversation at the breakfast table

about the usual things.  “Homework done? Did you sleep well?

And on the way home, can you stop for milk?”

An easy kiss, cheerful goodbye, and the door closes.

 

Stop, dial back time, give back the day—

so much yet to do … so much left undone!

Years of living , years of growth

enriched by closeness, children, and at last

old age together. “Grow old along with me…”

but that door closes.

 

How will we go on, who saw blue sky turn black

with smoke and fire and unfathomable grief

who felt the ice-grip at the heart, felt breath tremble,

heard in deepest soul the cries that ears could not?

How will we forget, forgive, live on and not be scarred

by this door closing?

 

If hate could dial back time, then bring it on!

If anger doctored pain and stopped the ache…

but then more doors would close. Instead we stand

watching new glass and chrome rise skyward

praying that eyes now closed can see sheen

of our tears, as with great hope and newborn courage

we open yet another door to let in memories

that heal the heart—and  break it.

                                                                 9/11/01

 

 

Conflict In the Closet

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The day has come. Finally, I’ve been shamed into cleaning out my closet, a job so horrendous that I equate it  to Hercules’ cleansing of the Augean Stables. Hints and comments, ignored for years, have finally caught up with me, and here I am.

I have it on good authority that to properly organize a closet, one has to remove everything from said closet and pile it in a heap. Gritting my teeth, I carry large armfuls of clothing from the closet and toss it onto my bed. Soon the pile grows so high that articles begin to slither to the floor.

It has also been suggested by those fortunate ones for whom order comes easily that the resultant mess should be separated into three piles: (1) keep (because I love it), (2) undecided (because I like it, but….) and  (3) what possessed me to buy this in the first place?

Womanfully, I mark out uncluttered spots for these three piles, and at first, it isn’t so hard. A number of articles of clothing make it to the ‘undecided’ pile and a few malingerers land in #3. It’s also easy, at least at first, to pinpoint the clothes that I really use over and over, and which are earmarked to the ‘love’ pile. A piece of cake, I congratulate myself. Soon I will have the neatest closet on planet earth.

But then, things get dicey. Although I haven’t seen this dress in years, I remember that I wore it to my daughter in law’s bridal shower. What a lovely day that was, with May sunshine filtering through the windows, and friends and bridesmaids gathering around the bride-to-be. Twenty one years ago? Hardly possible, I think, as I gently fold the dress and place it on the ‘love’ pile. How could I not love that dress? How could I think of discarding it?

Next comes… ye gods, is it possible that I have kept this skirt for over fifty years? It was made for me while I was still single and still in school. Time and the vagaries of fashion have brought it—well, almost brought it—back into style, and the thing still fits. Who can get workmanship like this these days? French seams, I ask you! Where else could it go but on the ‘love’ pile?

All right—I confess it. I’m a memory junkie. Nor is my memory-hoarding confined to my closet. Fabric has the same effect, for each tiny piece reminds me of a project or suggests something that can be created in the future. Photograph doubles—taken long before ‘digital’ applied to taking photos—are stored in shoe boxes because to throw them away would never do. What, destroy this charming shot of then-small grandchildren doing gymnastics in the living room?  Supposing the originals got lost? And then there are books— but we really needn’t go there.

In my hoard are treasures. Here are the tiny hands of our boys, immortalized by a first grade teacher and caught forever in plaster, though what they are doing in my closet I will never know. Here is a scarf given to me by a forever friend.  And here is this silk blouse—my mother and I shopped for it together and later ate ice cream cones under lilac trees in full bloom.

Memories are stored

In this tiny scrap of silk…

Fragrance of lilacs.

Get real! I lecture myself. Other people should enjoy these things if I don’t use them. So, with a great effort of will, I force myself to sort and discard. I will never wear this again… I never could find anything to go with this… these pants don’t fit any more, so out they go.

But wait—I wore this shirt to go down to the hospital when our Alex was born. I was getting over a cold, then, and I couldn’t hold my littlest grand daughter, so I wrapped my arms around myself and pretended that I was hugging her. Surely, this shirt has dispensation to stay with me?

The pile of ‘loves’ has now grown so high that it has toppled over. It really is no use, and I admit defeat. Resignedly, I begin to move the largest heap back into the closet meanwhile telling myself that at least I’ve made a small dent. Perhaps another day I will once more tackle this closet full of memories!

Perhaps, in a year or so….