February

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The thing about February is

lashing its white icy tail

asleep in a basket of sticks

unopened

yet potent

as a wind bearing the north.

The thing about February is

its longing for change

leaning toward anything different

anything beside the silvering cold

a short haircut

a new recipe

a death.

The thing about February is

the constricting band that binds

hands to hips

ankle to ankle

the urge to sleep

until spring.

The thing about February is

the garden nursery store

a rack of seed packets

but no potting soil

no flower pots

no saucers.

The thing about February is

the crust of soiled snow

hungry birds fighting for seeds

while overtaken by weariness

an old lady leaves lost for home.

The Karakesh Chronicles

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Mother’s Gold

Lately, my husband and I have been listening to Alexa’s soothing classical harp music.  In the collection is Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) by Maurice Ravel. It is a sweet, mournful piece of music that, for me, evokes memories of my mother.  When I was in tenth grade, she bought me a record album of Ravel’s music.  On one side was Bolero, and on the other side, the Pavane. Bolero was too intense for me, much like a musical headache, but I listened to the B side often enough to know the music well.

Bolero was one of the pieces of music I needed to recognize for my history class.  Tenth grade social studies at my high school included a two-week series of lessons called “Culture Vulture.”  In this short time period were crammed all the works of art and music deemed significant by our teacher, Mr. Occhipinti, in the era we were studying in Modern History.  At the end of the two weeks, we took a test with slides and recordings.

Those fourteen days of Culture Vulture created a thrilling panic among Mr. Occhipinti’s students.  We met in study groups, quizzing each other, and inventing mnemonic devices for remembering the titles of the works.

My mother may have enjoyed Culture Vulture as much as we did, possibly more.  At last, I was being exposed to the music she loved.  In addition to the Ravel recording, she gave me a compilation of Baroque music, and another from the Romantic era. 

That was my mother.  She constantly supplemented my learning.  If I was studying ancient Greece, she went to the library and brought back books of mythology and architecture (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian—burned in my memory).  She went into the local record store and asked the clerk what was new and popular with teens.  That’s how I got a recording of the musical Hair before my friends had ever heard of it.

I owe my mother infinite gratitude for the parenting model she provided, a model that I hope, to some extent, I carried on with my own children and grandchildren.  My mother encouraged and  enhanced anything academic or artistic in which I expressed interest.  I’d be willing to bet that it was my mother who introduced me to Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet.  It’s because of her that I know and love the opera La Boheme and that I can hum along to Ravel’s Pavane.  

The Karakesh Chronicles

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Next Time

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She walked out.

She walked to Peter’s Neverland.

Nirvana was too far,

so she stepped along the Milky Way,

second star on the right

and straight on ‘til morning.

If the directions to Nirvana

had been as easy,                                          

she would have gone there.

Neverland had its good points,

flying, for one,

and the mermaids did great things

with hair.

In the end, Neverland was not much better

than the place she’d left.

All that fighting,

ethnic cleansing,

and always having to watch out for pirates

with poison cakes.

Nirvana would have been a better choice.

Maybe next time.

The Karakesh Chronicles

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The Winter Bird Show

For the past two months, we’ve been enjoying the bird show on the deck outside the living room windows. The three feeders draw different customers.  The hopper feeder, filled with black oil sunflower seed, brings chickadees, titmice (titmouses?), goldfinches, nuthatches, and the occasional cardinal.

The chickadees are the boldest.  They zip in and out, grabbing one seed at a time.  Then they take it to a nearby branch to peck it open.  When I come out onto the deck, they scold me, “Chicka-dee-dee-dee!”  They are also the first to notice any changes in the feeding arrangements.

The downy woodpeckers and red-headed woodpeckers like the suet cakes.  The smaller woodpeckers climb in through the wire grid to eat.  The chickadees take the occasional nibble, too.

Recently, we put out a tray sprinkled with the fancy “fruit and nut” birdseed blend.  This mixture contains shelled peanuts, sunflower, and safflower seeds, plus bits of dried fruit.  Everybody likes this offering, but the competition is extreme. Highest in the bird hierarchy are the mourning doves.  We have two pairs who come to eat.  The king or queen mourning dove sits itself in the middle of the tray, and no one else dares come close, not even the jays.  The jays are next highest bosses.  They eat all the peanuts, wolfing them down until we wonder how they’ll be able to fly.  Juncos and wrens visit the food tray, too.

Interestingly, the little nuthatch is one of the more aggressive birds.  It spreads its wings or tail feathers to warn off other hungry birds.  Its acrobatics are charming, as it clings upside down under the hanging feeder.

Until the temperature fell into the single digits, we had a gang of squirrels dominating the food tray.  One was black, the others gray.  They haven’t been around for a week or so.  I thought they might be hibernating, but after a bit of research, I found the answer.  Squirrels don’t hibernate by the scientific definition, that is, their metabolism doesn’t slow down in order to conserve energy.  Squirrels prepare for winter by stashing food in their nests, as well as burying food in many other places.  So perhaps we haven’t seen them because their eating in while it’s so cold.

Two pairs of cardinal parents come to the deck tray.  They are midway in the bird order. They come mostly for the sunflower seeds, which they cleverly shell with their beaks.  That flashy red costume is such a welcome burst of color against the browns and whites of winter days.

We’re looking forward to the change of seasons, wondering who our springtime visitors will be.

The Karakesh Chronicles

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70

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Who will be there to celebrate

my three score and ten?

When the March winds spin

will I still be virus hidden,

family seeded across the continent,

sprouting outside my garden?

Who will be there

beside my jumbled praises

congratulations for living

so much longer than my mother,

blames for choosing poorly,

pouring a glass of regret

in the pressing dark?

The question appears:

What was I doing

all those years?

Effie Gray: Escape from an Unhappy Victorian Marriage

In these days of pandemic and political turmoil, I’m more particular about what films I watch.  If it’s too violent or too sad, or the characters are too crazy or miserable, count me out.  Historical films with period clothing are at the top of my list.

As I was cruising Netflix, I spotted Effie Gray.  The description named Emma Thompson as the screenwriter, so that looked interesting.  As the film progressed, I got more and more upset at poor Effie’s situation. 

Effie (Euphemia Gray) had married John Ruskin, a celebrated art critic, in 1848 when she was nineteen. Ruskin was nine years older.  The two had known each other since Effie was a young girl of twelve.  Her family, the Grays, lived in the home in Scotland where Ruskin’s grandfather had killed himself.  This may have been an ominous beginning to their relationship.

Ruskin was an artist, poet, writer, philosopher, and social critic. He was patron to the young painters of the age, and to JMW Turner and the pre-Raphaelites in particular.  His works influenced other significant figures of his era, including Gandhi and Tolstoy.

At the time of their marriage, Ruskin was already a well-known figure in England. In spite of his many abilities, he apparently had big sexual problems.  Six years after the wedding, Effie was still a virgin.

Ruskin’s explanation was as follows:

“It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it.”  (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/29/ruskin-effie-marriage-inconvenience-brownell)

            However, Effie reported that her husband

            “had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening”. (ibid)

            In the film, Effie’s life grows more and more miserable.  She meets and falls in love with the painter John Everett Millais, a protégé of Ruskin’s.  She enlists help from a friend, played by Emma Thompson, who finds Effie a lawyer.  Two doctors confirm Effie’s virginity, and Ruskin is served papers for an annulment on the grounds of impotence.

            After the film ended, I took to the Internet to find out more about these two interesting people.  The actual facts of the dissolution of the marriage and the reasons for it are still a matter of speculation.  One biographer claims that the marriage was pushed on Effie because her father was in financial straits.  It’s also implied that Effie may have been a bit wanton, but her family destroyed much of her correspondence to protect her reputation. 

            I was delighted to learn that Effie married Millais, and they had a happy union.  She managed his business affairs and together they had eight children.  It must have been a huge endeavor in the Victorian era for Effie to extricate herself from her miserable marriage, something that required courage and strength. 

If you go to this link, you’ll find more information and some sketches of her by Millais.  I like her face. 

Winter Walk

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Words align on the edges of our scarves

fragile crystals, sharp, faceted,

coated in ice, each corner distinct,

a march of glass fragments,

broken when spoken.

Night frosts the woolen threads.

Breath freezes into blame

that can’t swallow back.

Snow crust crunches.

Scarves bunch beneath pursed lips.

Words too cold to be lost

Preserved in unforgettable permafrost.

Hello, Followers!

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Here’s a quick expression of gratitude to all of you out there who follow my blog.

THANK YOU!

I’m curious about which posts caught your interest. If you have a moment, I’d like hearing from you in Comments. From your sites I see there are yoga aficionados, musicians, and writers. Any quilters out there?

Again, thank you for reading.

Kim

Hanuman the Monkey God and Caregiving

In the pantheon of Hindu gods, Hanuman is the deity with a monkey body.  He is the devoted servant of Ram (Rama), an incarnation of Vishnu.  Vishnu (if you’re following this) is one of the main deities of Hinduism. As part of the Hindu trinity (Trimurti), Vishnu is the Preserver, Brahma being the Creator, and Shiva, the Destroyer.  Rama, as Ramachandra, is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, the embodiment of chivalry and virtue.  And Hanuman is Rama’s servant.

Why am I writing about Hanuman?  In the legends that recount Rama’s heroic adventures, Hanuman plays a significant role.  His devotion and service to his lord is unwavering.  In a peculiar way, Hanuman serves as a model for me in my daily struggles to care for one man with dementia, my husband of almost eighteen years.

Perhaps Hanuman’s most famous heroics appear in the Ramayana, an epic tale of good versus evil.  The demon Ravana kidnaps Sita, Rama’s wife.  Hanuman discovers where Ravana has hidden Sita and tells Rama.  In the ensuing battle between Rama and Ravana, Hanuman destroys several demons and then brings Rama’s brother back to life. Hanuman is the ultimate devotee, willing to risk everything to serve Rama.

I am no Hanuman.  Surely the monkey god never gripes about his situation.  We never hear him say, “This is not the life I would have chosen,” or “When do I get some me time?” or “I need a break!” Unlike me, Hanuman never complains. He probably never has a bad day.

He is, however, someone to emulate.

In the morning, while I do yoga, I like to listen to Krishna Das’s album Flow of Grace.  This is a collection of six versions of the Hanuman Chalisa, a devotional chant to Hanuman.  Here’s one to listen to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJGV9h2AZ0s

Though I am far from embodying a model caregiver, I look to Hanuman as a reminder that service to others is a virtue.