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.

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

Spring survives in racemes of yellow

There’s a holly like plant that has naturalized near my home. On my walk, I was delighted to see racemes [1] of yellow flowers that will thereafter turn into clusters of blue-black tart berries of the Oregon barberry. The Oregon Grape Holly or Mahonia aquifolium is from the family Berberidaceae, has leaves that look like Holly and is the state flower of Oregon. This shade garden ornamental that I could finally name, is so beautiful, used now as a substitute for Goldenseal as the leaves, bark, and root contain berberine, a yellow alkaloid that is the same antimicrobial compound found in there too. Its use in medicine by Native Americans in the treatment of arthritis, jaundice, fever and other ailments has been documented as well. Foragers use it to create excellent jellies. It’s literally in my backyard and I never knew … so here it is, set like pectin in a poem.

This poem is dedicated to the beautiful Oregon Grape Holly.

Mahonia aquifolium
Evergreen, the winter never laid a blemish on her waxy leaves. Is this the eternal of that which survives the rain, the sun, the waxwings, the raccoons, the storms, the kind mercenary from the landscapers in his brown overalls clicking his alligator shears, the petite woman who struck down a holly-alike limb for a sacrificial feast of gratitude ... If feelings ever gelled in pectin then it would be an antiquarian delight, for my Jam Bible has no such recipe. Perhaps I should write one, for they could find it stored in a canopic jar under the sands of time some day the sun rises in the future, like victuals of an earlier age, eternity assimilated in the glaze of green and a yellow of delicate racemes, onyx berries. In Oregon, the barberry is a survivor so they honoured her in their pantheon of Spring goddesses. The birds tell me it is Spring here too. Summer will soon cluster in survival, in patient berries, some tart, some sweet.

I find evergreen to be a poetic synonym for resilience. In the temporal, the evergreen will perish but live an eternity in its lifetime, or perhaps, the Oregon Grape Holly is simply poetic in her waxy leaves.

[1] Definitions:

Raceme ~ a flower cluster with the separate flowers attached by short equal stalks at equal distances along a central stem. The flowers at the base of the central stem develop first. (Oxford Dictionary)

Botanical definition ~ A raceme (/reɪˈsiːm/ or /rəˈsiːm/) or racemoid is an unbranched, indeterminate type of inflorescence bearing pedicellate flowers (flowers having short floral stalks called pedicels) along its axis. In botany, an axis means a shoot, in this case one bearing the flowers. (Wikipedia)