Defining a beach birthday

Here are some more attempts at imagery through Ekphrastic poetry triggered by a photograph of my birthday Crème brûlée from last year. There are many months to go before another one and hurrah, I will be two !

Birthday minimalism

Ekphrasis refers to “Description” in Greek and an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. (Poetry Foundation). I have veered away from the traditional in that I have chosen an object from the everyday for the subject of my poem, in this case a sweet dessert.

Hannah Huff has described it best [1] in that Ekphrastic poetry about art is the use of rhetorical device, where art amplifies art. In the original Greek Ekphrastic exercises, Huff maintains, there was a lot of ‘rhetorical sashaying’ unlike as in the more rigid definitions used in latter times, in the poetry oft used as examples in illustrating Ekphrasis. Ekphrastic poetry makes for vivid imagery and draws the reader into the artwork, it brings a fresh perspective on a painting or any form of visual imagery created by another artist. The most over used example I think is John Keats’, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, but in her essay, she has analysed Edward Hirsch’s “Edward Hopper and the House By the Railroad (1925)”, in a thorough Ekphrastic Poem Literary Analysis for it’s lucid detail, poetic response and focus on a painting. This is a great starting point to understand the nuance of image amplification.

Here below is less of an Ekphrastic poem, as in, it started off intending to be one and then simply became a poem wandering in wondering.

Aging in Sand A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing an aging carapace amidst / a sage gathering of beach sanded feet / in stringy thongs of varicose veins / confined to callus corruptions that splice / into years of cloudy hair // Candles are wished away in smoke / as a monsoon carafe pours over a thatched roof / and time slows until the sun returns / and dries the grains of sand to measure the minutes / to another cake finale // Do you not sometimes prefer knowing the days you didn't remain born ? But these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

The other attempt at making the object itself interpret or thread the theme of the poem has a bit more of Ekphrasis but I am unsatisfied that it isn’t wholly Ekphrastic as yet. This calls for further explorations in this genre.

Caramel Halo                    A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing a wise halo amidst / a sage gathering on sand / as pale as the sugar from Morogoro* / The years string in sweet zest / like streaks of happiness in the hair / every old day stamped in cloudy white reflections / but soft like cream / and every new day burnt like sugar, as promising as a new sunrise / Candles are lit in hopes of happy sunsets / as a monsoon carafe pours love / in rain that drops over sand // Do you not marvel that we are alive for a singular spark in the eternity of death ? And these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

*Morogoro is a region in Tanzania that has some of the major sugar plantations in the country.

In a very interesting essay [2] on the evolution of Ekphrasis, of the various writers that engaged in it, is one by Marjorie Munsterberg. The author has explained in great detail about John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) impassioned defense of the painter J.M.W. Turner in brilliant ekphrastic passages where he described Turner’s painting , ‘Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On”, also known as ‘The Slave Ship’. She has also included in the essay William M. Thackeray’s Ekphrasis of the same painting which serves as an art criticism of Ruskin’s work. These are tremendously informative exercises on Ekphrasis.

My Ekphrastic poetry exercise also triggered the gustatory, so I looked for a recipe that I should try sometime soon given that I bought six very fancy ramekins recently and I haven’t even ever used my older ones for a Crème brûlée!! The reason I chose this one from ‘Sally’s Baking Addiction’ [3] is because she wrote something towards the end, that struck me as quite poetic. Her recipe is well illustrated and the dessert looks supremely delicious.

"Burnt sugar on creamy custard = simple beauty and decadence. Doesn’t this make you feel fancy? We should be wearing pearls and eating our crème brûlées with crystal spoons while sitting on our gold thrones calling each other on our diamond encrusted phones talking about how fancy we are."

~ Sally

Speaking of birthdays and aging, I would add that as a woman grows older, she must hopefully do it like Sophia Loren in Mambo Italiano. Here is a woman who knows how to have fun [4] like she is the last one standing. Thank you for reading !!

References:

[1]Ekphrastic poetry: When Art Kindles Literature; Hannah Huff ~https://notesofoak.com/discover-literature/ekphrastic-poetry/ (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)

[2]Ekphrasis; Marjorie Munsterberg ~https://writingaboutart.org/pages/ekphrasis.html (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)

[3]~https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/creme-brulee/

[4]Sophia Loren Mambo Italiano ~https://youtu.be/XL8_WRJmFJU

A trail of moments

A trail of blossoms
I spilled blossoms on my walk today / a trail of moments so I could find my way to morning // Morning makes way for day as it rises over the mulberry trees / tart, like  blackberries, sweet  those  jellies I made last summer // Summer will last in sweet confections after the squirrels and the catbirds have had their fill / My neighbour's dog grabbed a strolling skunk that pissed on him // A pissed skunk can get very smelly and the poor pooch mistook him for a friend / after a scrubbing five times over, he smelled of miraculous detergents that pray for such an event, while laying in quiet at the box store // The store boxed many a celestial blossom that I bought for the garden but the phlox I had, overwintered in a pot, a real survivor/ Rosemary yearns for summer and the lavender will flavour mulberry jelly in a hint of Provence // Provence hinted at a lemon tart last week, we devoured it in its crumbly base of Pâté sucrée,  shared some with our neighbour / and the border collie, I heard him howl like a coyote, for lemons smell wilder than skunk //

Further reading:

Morus alba tatarica or the Russian Mulberry ~https://lebeaubamboo.com/Morus-alba-tatarica-Russian-Mulberry.php

A deciduous and large shade tree, with fruit that look like blackberries, this mulberry is fast growing and a great addition to any garden. The fruits make for wonderful jellies and preserves. They cover the pathways mid summer, squish under the feet in crimson stains. The squirrels, skunks and raccoons, all like the berries too !

Some rough estimates on stray and abandoned pets at shelters in the US ~https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics~Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats. Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).

The border collie came fully formed and grown, from a shelter. The adorable dog will probably get skunked again if given the opportunity. He actually got scrubbed down in Nature’s Miracle, a brand for especially such eventualities. Hydrogen peroxide is apparently the easier and least fancy solution to getting skunked.

About the poem: I took it up to myself as an Ekphrastic challenge from a flower portrait I created last week.

Prayer circles

An excerpt from the overstory, I name this, Patricia’s Prayer
Prodigious dying pulls her along, past an immense western red cedar. Her hand strokes the fibrous strips that peel from a colossal, fluted trunk reeking of incense. The top has sheared off, replaced by a candelabra of stand-in trunks. A grotto opens at ground level in the rotted heartwood, big enough for whole families of mammals. But the scaly sprays of branches, a thousand years on, still teem with cones. She addresses the cedar, in words of the forest’s first humans. “Long Life Maker. I’m here. Down here.” She feels foolish, at first. But each word is a little easier than the next.
“Thank you for the baskets and the boxes. Thank you for the capes and hats and skirts. Thank you for the cradles. The beds. The diapers. Canoes. Paddles, harpoons, and nets. Poles, logs, posts. The rot-proof shakes and shingles. The kindling that will always light.”
Finding no good reason to quit now, she lets the gratitude spill out, following the ancient formula. “Thank you for the tools. The chests. The decking. The closets. The paneling. I forget … Thank you for all these gifts that you have given.” Not knowing how to stop, she adds, “We’re sorry. We didn’t know how hard it is for you to grow back.” ~ excerpt ~http://m.nautil.us/issue/59/connections/the-woman-redeemed-by-trees

The morning brought news of the death of people we know, the pandemic, politics and dysfunctional society. The poetry got densely pathogenic, political and sadly, societal. All these are strange bedfellows, so I did a volte face, inspired by those that seem to ‘do’ life much better, the Woodlands. I have chosen an except from the book, The Overstory, a novel by Richard Powers, published in 2018, his twelfth. The novel is about five trees whose unique life experiences with nine Americans bring them together to address the destruction of forests. Patricia Westerford, one of the novel’s central characters, was heavily inspired by the life and work of forest ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard (Wikipedia). The poem today, is about the prayer in breath.

Economy of breath is a strange absence of gratitude / the world, an endless reflection of a mirage / a soul mirroring of fearful deceptions, tethering in ripples / The  iron abs, a hard surface for the navel, a sad reminder / of an earlier, umbilical existence / So breathe //
Prayer circles in the loam / the mycelia of fairy tales / commiserating in prayers / ripples on land /  So breathe //
Ruins, in a forest in Pennsylvania
To what purpose a fireplace in the woods / Of what meaning, your singularity adrift, in the universe / tethered only to Earth / You are alone somewhere roped to pain / If it were love, it would be a tree / undulating canopies whispering in ripples across a forest / so breathe //
A drowning is the rising of breath / spiriting to the surface / Death and life in a single moment as you swallow the sea / but it isn't life without death / and to die, one must live / so breathe //
Is the heart but a knot in an artery / so life can pulse, not flow / It throbs at every moment to startle into wakefulness / wondering if heartbeats spanned in meaning across the horizon / to spirit away in silence / like unseen ripples / so breathe //

Perhaps, I will add to this poem eventually, like a limitless ripple. Thank you for reading.

The gift

I got sidetracked from my poetry today by an article in the newsletter from Brain pickings this morning, that brought a smile to my face in assimilating a memory long past, yet touched a chord, a nerve. It reminded me of some pre pandemic times, as the author of the blog wrote of Marcus Aurelius and his contributions to Stoic philosophy. It progressed to an avalanche of thought perhaps as I wondered about the poetry I should write today in relation to this.

The author of Brain pickings elucidated in her article his Stoic remedy [1] for when people let you down. On what Marcus Aurelius suggested we do in such times, inorder to keep mental composure and emotional equanimity, he says … You should keep the same thought readily available for when you’re faced with devious and untrustworthy people, and people who are flawed in any way. As soon as you remind yourself that it’s impossible for such people not to exist, you’ll be kinder to each and every one of them. It’s also helpful immediately to consider what virtue nature has granted us human beings to deal with any given offense — gentleness, for instance, to counter discourteous people … (source: brain pickings, 18th April, 2021)

Stoicism is a difficult philosophy [2] to subscribe to but I adhere to its immediate definition really well only in times of physical distress, as in if I have chopped off a fingertip, fallen down the stairs or there is an earthquake, like the time I was the only person in our family to remember the keys to our apartment before running down several flights of stairs, during some terrifying tremors … I mean, the door used to auto lock and just in case we survived you know …

Humour aside, the philosophy raises some pertinent questions. If genuinely intuitive and evocative poetry is a manifestation of the landscape of an artist’s interiority and inner resonance, then can a stoic ever be a poet? I am not referring to forms of confessional poetry here but the work of an inspired artist. I wonder about this as I try to submit my thoughts to writing and feel writer’s block on occasion. Here I find inspiring such like, August Kekulé, [3] who dreamed up so poetically (intuitively maybe), the benzene ring, much to the contemptuous amusement of his logical colleagues who didn’t . In fact, substitute the word poetry with life and one is led to imagine, how swallowing discontent in a stoic response could be a way to personal authenticity (which is distinctive from performative authenticity). Such a conundrum if one were to consider the implications of not owning to ones own consciousness, of anything that’s amiss, a denial that could manifest in a passive aggression towards others or a lack of empathy.

This is something to think about, (for another day, another poem perhaps), even as technology aims to be more intelligent and/or sentient in the AI of the future and humans struggle to become more mechanical and standardized. If, as Aurelius suggests, it’s the way we frame the narrative of situations or behaviours that aggrieve and diminish us, then will we not be smug in our own moral superiority? Will we not be distancing ourselves from that which we refuse to acknowledge? Is there really a locus of evil within people ? Not according to Hannah Arendt, who maintains there are no evil people, only unthinking ones. I am taken in at times by Stoicism but like in life, there are many ways up that mountain.

I believe we meet people at different stages of evolution, ours and theirs. To call a person devious or evil is a judgement and stamps permanence in character. In the same vein, no one can always be a kind hearted saint.

What we encounter in others is sometimes an imbalance, in a wounded masculine that can manifest as dishonesty, contempt, dismissiveness, disrespect, aggression, deflection, denial or in a victimized feminine [4] it can allow for disrespect, it attacks, suffers in maintaining a status quo, is vindictive, adapts to it or manipulates. This imbalance engenders a dysfunctional personal, social, political dynamic that we notice in our environment.  We all have elements within us that illustrate both principles in their positive and negative expressions, if you ignore the gendered definitions of masculine or feminine. It isn’t easy to honour them at all times but to honour them requires introspection and a personal magnanimity of thought and spirit.

Though useful in times while facing overt or covert personal attacks from those you trust, I find the Stoic sayings a bit dispassionate, similar but not the same as the Buddha’s approach, which I find more compassionate, in that it allows you to centre yourself in no judgement of another. It does not render you a saint but it gives you the space to honour yourself as you individuate to a balanced wholeness. At least in this context, (I am not in any way attempting to encapsulate the philosophy or the religion in their entirety in a few quotes here), I remember two stories, attributed to the Boddhisatva. I have written them in poems, I think they are self explanatory.

The gift                        The Buddha walks cloaked in silence and he follows Him, a man accosted by demons hooked onto his linens that were brocaded in anger, creweled in contempt and he held a staff of vitriol. Such acerbic syllables  he uttered at the one with a gracious mien, insults that would have melted any lesser being. So the one haloed radiantly in the sun asked the one suffering in the hideousness of the demoniacal,"If you were to buy a gift and offer it to someone who wished not to accept it, who would the gift belong to?" "Of course, it would still belong to me", hissed the rage slithering within the man. Then, said He, with utmost grace, "How then do you force upon me a gift I wish not to accept. It remains yours still."

It’s common today to speak of boundaries, I simply think of the Buddha’s idea of an unacceptable gift. Boundaries are hard to define or maintain in situations that demand vulnerability but learning to rise above what you do not wish to accept helps safeguard precious vulnerability and yet provides  distance from a diminishing and irredeemable circumstance. This I believe, a lot of us struggle with and this story has served as a mantra of sorts, at least for me.

Another lovely story that was attributed to either the Buddha or Mahavira Jain, but thought provoking nevertheless, is as below ~

The appeal                    The gracious one stopped by a lake / where a lotus bloomed like morning itself / fragrant, bejeweled in dew / Those days, fresh water wasn't a pun / and flowers weren't metaphors / Water Gods existed and the world revolved around parables / He stopped to moisten his parched lips / and his heart raced at the beauty of the flower / that he wished to possess it / Reaching out, he was assailed by the rebuke of the Water God, who admonished him for laying claim to His flower/ The gracious one  recoiled at the error of his way and withdrew from the waters edge / In time a brute stopped by for a drink / hastened from his horse and glanced at the beauty of the naked lotus / that quivered at dawn / He pulled it off it's long stalk and deflowered it / That's where the term came from / this rough shod trudge on vulnerability / He went about his merry way with nary a thought / while the God remained silent / The gracious one asked the water deity forthwith, "why did you not rebuke the man so?" / The God simply offered, "It is an appeal I could make only to those that would understand".

Today I simply felt like creating poetry out of these two stories that have stayed with me for ages, a reminder of how to be, a personal philosophy. We always need reminding and Stoic thought this morning was a great way to trigger a poetic construction in memory of something that lay dormant for a while.

It’s been a busy Sunday, a delayed blog post, more philosophy than poetry … tomorrow, other stories, other poems … Thank you for reading.

Background Authorities: (I try avoiding too many hyperlinks and external links to my posts in case it renders them spammy. I have to check though, if it actually makes a difference )

[1]The Stoic Antidote to Frustration: Marcus Aurelius on How to Keep Your Mental Composure and Emotional Equanimity When People Let You Down~https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/04/13/marcus-aurelius-meditations-robin-waterfield/(retrieved 18/apr/21)

[2]Stoicism~https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/(retrieved 18/apr/21

[3]The Net Advance of Physics RETRO: Weblog KEKULÉ’S DREAMS ~http://web.mit.edu/redingtn/www/netadv/SP20151130.html (retrieved 18/apr/21)

[4]https://ommanicenter.com/feminine-principle-a-wake-up-call/(retrieved 18/apr/21)

Avian Ambition ~ Cross into the Blue

On a recent trip to Raritan Bay, we had the Feathered Air Force welcome us to a light ocean spray and a limitless horizon.

Cross into the blue as you aim high~ Air Force in remiges
Reaching for the stratosphere in feathered flight / the plumes of ambition / the stuff of downy dreams in my pillow  / A breezy morning drive by a bay / and  townsfolk haven't remembered  to store the skeletons of halloween / Our notes tether to the railing in claws of a circumspect laugh / bracing the wind like it could fall off / knowing little it can soar / lilting awkwardly, then lifting the spirits to levitate like birds / spanning across the universe of quill dipped in ink / leaving words in wingtips / The force are lined up in defence of land they think they possess / until they fly into a limitless sky //
Powered Wingtips ~ Avian Airforce

These birds were hanging on for dear life in a significant breeze. It looked so odd yet amusing, considering they couldn’t really fall, given they could fly.

Mornings are tea with the yellow crowned night heron

Last year, we had a chance to take in the whole of Spring, the birds and it is delightfully the same, now as well. Featured today is the yellow crowned night heron that took a liking to the cherry tree outside and perched there throughout the season of blossoms the past couple of years. A great insect forager, this one, I think that’s what it does as it silently meditates on the branches.

Mornings are a tea ritual in our home. I’m served the perfect cup of tea at sunrise and I’m very happy and grateful to have my day begin this way. My husband prefers coffee but he takes tea even more seriously in the way he sources it or how he blends, brews it or even the flavours he uses. He’s got it down to a science of sorts. It’s a constant source of amusement that we seem to have an assortment of mortar and pestle sets, for every place we lived in, each for crushing a different spice or herb for tea (but for seasoning other foods too) The accretion over the years, of tangible memories like along a coral reef and each comes with some lovely sentiment attached to it, mostly of people and places and tea is very serious business in this house :)

Yellow crowned night heron outside the living room window last Spring
Mornings are a ginger ritual. The tea from Assam is a fragrant dawn. Sunlight filtered in to your ratio of single estate Darjeeling measured to a perfect blend. The mortar and pestle of which there's one in brass, another in steel, marble, granite, wood, and ginger is martyred to flavour tea, simply in 'today'. The rhizome of integrity despite the admonishment of marble or wood or metal generously lifts the fog in a pungent presence. It's always the present tense with this red brew of first flush that have been battered in a cut or tear or curl or sometimes simply left to dessicate in leaf. No stale yesterdays linger here for they were oxidized away and you promised to make me tea until the end of the future, stamped in tea gardens in Kaziranga, wrought in mortar and pestle carved in ebony by that wizened artisan in Mwenge. Each day blends differently, as the buds of spring burst outside the window like in a slide viewer, an Oud softly laces the ceiling in notes of the wordless and whole milk clouds the swirl of coconut sugar in a porcelain cup. There's tea in a conversation as it streams its way to a sip on a musical morning. This Spring too I know that the yellow crowned night heron will come visit, watch us from the corner of a kohled eye from among the blossoms, for mornings filled with laughter and the stories we brew.

Tea making is an art and every one has their perfect blend and brew in various parts of India. Even the chaiwalla who serves tea in little clay pots, at kiosks along the major and minor roadways has his specialty. I managed to find this photo I took, of an array of tea pots. I had this tea in the state of Uttarakhand a couple of years or so ago, which was unique in that the clay pots were heated in a tandoor before the spiced tea was poured into them.

Kullar or a clay tea pot for a single serving of tea. It is not an environmentally friendly option as the pots are discarded after each use and they do not disintegrate. Millennia down the line I see the future excavating these tea pots to showcase within museums as ‘brown plain pottery’ and they will wonder what went into them, since our digital records will have been lost to the Ether 😃 or maybe not.

Further reading:

Yellow crowned night heron~https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/yellow-crowned-night-heron

The tea growing regions of India~https://www.indiatea.org/tea_growing_regions

Oud~https://www.arabinstruments.com/the-oud-instrument