Category Archives: Poetry

GUILTY PLEASURE

A time-out from the cares of the world?

Monday morning I headed out to Frankfurt for an appointment made a couple of months previously. Thank God for my sat-nav which would guide me to the location in a city where I rarely drive. But even with that support, I felt up-tight about the trip which was actually to take me to a place to relax.

The moment the car was parked I sighed with relief. And the closer I got to the 18th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel, I began to feel more at ease. Entering the Heaven Spa, I found the place empty but awash in the kind of all-world piano / flute music that sounds vaguely oriental and is meant to relax you immediately. It was working.

I don’t often allow myself this kind of decadent pleasure, but I’d received a gift certificate from my son D for my birthday. Or was it Christmas? Hard to say since they happen on the same day. At any rate, I had to take advantage of it before it expired and there I was, in a deserted spa, as if I were their only customer and they were only there to meet my needs.

I can’t deny finding that idea attractive. And yet, out in the world around me, hell had broken loose. Weeks before, Britain had decided to leave the EU for all the wrong reasons and was struggling to find a path forwards. The USA was in the grip of a divisive presidential election campaign that was pitting one megalomaniac against the first woman candidate who, unfortunately, has more than her fair share of detractors.

Not to mention that all over the place people were being murdered in the name of Allah, or by individuals feeling at odds with their world. Bullets were flying, bombs were going off, throats being slit, and trucks driven into crowds celebrating liberté, egalité and fraternité. How could I just let myself be pampered while across Europe people mourned their loved ones and faced shattered lives?

Good question. Nevertheless,  on that Monday morning I found myself in that enviable situation. The music started having its way with me and lured me into a separate place where a talented masseuse massaged away the cares of the world. Or tried to. And to an extent she succeeded. My eyelids closed, my limbs relaxed, my thoughts were set free for a blissful one and a half hours to think more pleasant thoughts than those I’d brought with me.

I started mentally composing a blog post – for me, that passes as relaxation. I pondered how I could write about the massage, of the physical release I feel when warm hands stretch and knead muscles. About what an ephemeral experience it was. The relaxation, I knew, would be fleeting. If I were lucky, I would benefit from it the rest of the day, until gradually all the nasty news bytes would catch up with me again. And heaven forbid, another tragedy could flash up as breaking news. After all, what right do I have to let the sorrows of the world go by without taking at least some notice?

Not that my thoughts will bring anyone back to life or ease the pain of those left behind. Nor will my single vote ensure that the American people do not destroy themselves in this election. However, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite poems and feel that in these perilous times, I mustn’t forget this message. Amazing, how timely it is.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624

An excerpt from Meditation 17

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under BREXIT, Disasters, Europe, Great Britain, Poetry, Terror

MORTALITY

Call me morbid….

…if you like, but when November arrives, I, like many people, start thinking about the year’s demise. All around us, nature is delivering the same message, telling us it’s time to go inside, build a fire, eat nourishing hot food and uncork a bottle of red. Around us the politicians are still wrestling with their coalitions, with budgets and policies, with fiscal and Euro crises. As for me, I’m ready to hibernate like the forest and its inhabitants, ready to hunker down with thoughts, good books and good stories to tell. So indulge me this poetic post. I’ve been fiddling with this poem for years, this being its latest incarnation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

TRANSIENCE

Like lovers bedded ‘neath night’s cloak,

Mist caresses Earth,

Till crows heralding dawn

Cry with startling  mirth.

They screech, they circle,

Black dots in the haze,

They light on the oak,

Bare and wizened with age.

Their conclave is brief,

Suddenly they scatter.

A lone duck quakes,

Settling the matter.

Fog fragments rise from folded hills,

Like remnants of a dream.

They disappear when daylight breaks.

They’re seldom what they seem.

Wind whispers through nearby woods.

A scarlet leaf breaks free.

It mounts and hovers, it pirouettes.

A gust carries it off to sea.

My lungs are filled with limpid air.

What scents do I perceive?

Dank leaves embracing forest floor?

Roses hoar-frost filigreed?

Orchard strewn with o’er ripe apples,

Their gifts to Mother Earth?

Crushed chestnuts tread along the path,

Not knowing their own worth?

What weighs upon my heart so heavy?

One more breath, I’m not deceived,

The heady scent of mortality

Is the shroud enveloping me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

7 Comments

Filed under Endings, Fiction and Other Truths, November, Poetry, Seasonal Reflections, Writing

THE WALL – ROGER WATERS IN FRANKFURT

ImageImage

All week the radio stations hyped the event. Last night it happened: Roger Waters and his crew staged a magnificent performance of THE WALL.

The music was as powerful as when first released in 1979. Live performances of the full-blown rock opera have been infrequent, thus making the Frankfurt gig a rare gem in the year’s schedule of big name appearances.

The special effects – light, sound and visuals – were stunning. The droning airplanes and thwacking helicopters, the crashing bombs and the flak artillery, were not only loud. You felt them shake the arena; your internal organs vibrated along.  They even flew a real airplane through the air to explode into the stage.

With all this sound and fury, it must be noted that this is an anti-war message par excellance.  Waters protests against the wanton destruction of individual human beings and their worlds with anger and irony. One bit of graffiti on the wall: “If at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike.”  Waters takes to task every element of our society responsible for causing war: the three big religions, political ideologies and big business. Symbols of these forces fall as payloads from bombers, causing death and destruction as they hit the ground.

Behind the anti-war message lies Waters’ own private demons: the death of his father who he never knew in WWII, abuse by bullying teachers at school, an over-protective mother and his divorce.

This statement on the wall, however, conveyed Roger Waters’ entire message to me in three words: FEAR BUILDS WALLS. I couldn’t help but think of my own small-scale, non-explosive creative efforts. In THE PEACE BRIDGE Hannah Zimmer fights to bring down the wall of silence that her family has built around the past. Fear built that wall, too. Like Hannah and Waters’ protagonist, Pink, we each have demons that haunt us and make us fear what we are walling in. Or walling out.

Were you there last night? If so, what did you think?

BTW: The performance deserves better photos! Sorry I couldn’t deliver.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, Great Britain, Poetry, Politics, Remembering, Rock Music

In Loving Memory

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When my mother-in-law May passed away at the end of December, our family lost our matriarch, the last surviving parent between my husband and me.  At the age of 87 May’s infirmities finally caught up with her and after six months of terrible suffering she succumbed. I’m sure I’m not the first to think about the incongruity of the mercy we show our dogs and cats when they are suffering and how the same act of release is, in most countries at least, not legally granted to Homo sapiens. But when death came to her, he came not as the Grim Reaper, but as a friend who carried her away to a place from where pain is banished.

Another incongruity about death is the family reunion that often follows in its wake. In the normal course of things, it’s hard to find time to overcome the appreciable distance that separate us both physically and mentally. But for May’s send-off we gathered in a small town in Essex, England,  from points as far away as Germany and Connecticut. Even the Australian branch of the family was represented by a cousin who lives and works in London.

We celebrated May by sharing our memories about her lust for life, her love for her sons and grandchildren, and the many friends and canine companions who filled her life once her sons left to create their own. We talked a lot about Dad who’d gone before eleven years ago. We didn’t cry all that much, mainly laughed and joked about this or that incident. It was good to reunite with relatives we see so seldom, to see old friends from former incarnations of ourselves, even though we know we cannot, and probably wouldn’t want to bring back the old days.

Every day my daughter and my son unearthed more and more piles of photos and old letters that helped us reconstruct a life lived for family. So many times we wished May were still there – well, we always wished she was still there – to tell us who that person was or where or when the picture had been taken. Unfortunately, she never dated any of them.

I couldn’t get the poem out of my head that I’d written a few years back, also after a funeral, when I was helping my sister re-hang family photos after the house had been painted. Here it is:

THE PORTRAIT GALLERY

Grandma’s clock ticks.

Its pendulum measures past and future.

A hallway becomes a museum,

A passage through time.

Ancestral portraits,

Faces ancient and unknown,

Arrayed on a snow-white field

In a photographic graveyard.

Eerily familiar, those eyes, noses, chins,

Yesterday’s dour expressions,

Foretelling future faces,

Countenances sweet of sons and daughters.

Did our forebears ponder

What wall their images

Would one day grace?

Or who would inherit them?

Not-yet-wed brides?

Yet-unborn heirs?

Grandma’s clock ticks,

The pendulum apportions lifetimes.

When only fading photos remain,

Who will hang our portraits

On walls of what hue?

So why am I publishing this very personal but really quite ordinary experience to my blogosphere? Because you are friends, and as human beings, you will have had similar experiences in your own lives. You can identify with this. And as John Donne concluded so many centuries ago in his (obviously far superior) poem “No Man Is an Island”:

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

2 Comments

Filed under Endings, Fiction and Other Truths, Poetry

Rabbie Burns – another thought

Image

With the success of Burns’ Suppers across Germany – and I believe in lots of other places, too – it makes me wonder exactly why this event has become so popular.

Surely the significance of Burns’ poetry from over two centuries ago, mostly written in a dialect that needs translating for even us native English speakers to understand it, can’t be the true reason. With growing globalization, where more and more countries and peoples are becoming “homogenized”, Anglo-Saxon-ized, and losing touch with the culture that is their natural habitat, does it indicate a need to return to traditions almost lost? Or is it in itself a part of the globalization process? Are we successfully being sold a product, a lifestyle?

Or is it just a great evening out, a chance to dress up and drink whisky? What do the Scots out there have to say? Or anybody else, for that matter.

2 Comments

Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, Poetry, Seasonal Reflections, Traditions

Rabbie Burns Rules Okay – a Foray into a Familiar Foreign Culture

Some men in bow ties and dinner jackets, others wearing skirts shorter than most of the women have on. That was the scene Saturday night at the Masonic Lodge in Frankfurt (Main) that has served for 5 years running as the place to be come late January around the date of Rabbie Burns’ birthday.  On this evening real-live-Scots and some wannabes, plus fans of Scottish country dancing and, above all, lovers of whiskey, donned their glad rags for a humble supper of haggis, neeps ‘n’ tatties.  For the last four years, we have attended the Burns’ Supper, organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany, and think it a grand event for kicking off the year. Of course, a true Scot would have already done that on New Year’s Eve by celebrating Hogmanay, but this serves us foreigners magnificently.

As guests approach the Masonic Lodge on the Kaiserstrasse, they are greeted by the sound of bagpipes and drum. The next greeting comes in the form of a golden nectar served in the foyer. I’m not a whiskey drinker – although I love sniffing it – but this time they are offering a Glenlivet, a  smooth and mild tipple that even I savor.

images

Besides being a sociable evening with friends, the event revolves around Celtic traditions and the veneration of Scotland’s best-loved poet. Robert Burns (1759-1796) is a cult figure among his compatriots. Despite his short life and his modest roots, he wrote poetry and lyrics in the Scottish tongue but also sometimes wrote in a more accessible dialect or standard English.  Rabbie was especially known as a lover of lassies and good whiskey. Which may partly explain his early demise.

Back to the haggis: For the uninitiated a haggis is a sheep’s stomach stuffed with ground innards, oatmeal and onions that is boiled in water and served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Considering I don’t generally eat innards, I find it tastes surprisingly good. Which must mean it tastes nothing like liver, heart and whatever.

537247_10151251296543391_356825099_n

After the soup it’s time for said haggis. The piper pipes, the drummer drums and a procession enters the hall with the cook carrying the haggis aloft on a silver tray decorated with super-sized sparklers to electrify the darkened room. Then Clark McGinn, a genuine Scot flown in for the job, takes center stage and addresses the haggis by enacting Rabbie’s poem (“reciting” would be too understated a term). For us mere mortals, the only hope of understanding the words lies in reading the text in the program as Clark holds worth. (Sometimes the German translation is the only clue to the meaning.) Yet that would be a shame. Far better it is to  listen to the sound of the archaic words and their musicality and watch the performance by a master of the art. At that moment the actual meaning is secondary.

After hunger has been satisfied and while thirst is still being addressed, the speeches begin. Andrew McNeill is the man of the evening. Andy is the incarnation of everything Scottish: full dress kilt, jacket and sporn. A beret is perched atop his white mane that flows unstoppably into his long fluffy beard. I spoke to him in the foyer at the outset and he told me he’d be speaking but it would just be ad lib. Well, he may be a Scot, not an Irishman, but he sure possesses the gift of the gab. He entertains us regally. His tales of Rabbie, spoken in a Scottish that even I can comprehend, are interspersed with the poet’s songs sung by Craig Herbertson, a man with a perfect voice for Burns’ music.

The next tradition follows: The address to the lassies by Clark McGinn,  followed by the address to the laddies by Sarah Kelso. Both speakers understand their subjects and gladly tease and cajole with faint praise and well-aimed barbs. There’s nothing more to be done but reconcile the opposite sexes on the dance floor. The Frankfurt Scottish Country Dancing Club takes over and instructs the many willing participants in various choreographed dances. What feels like chaos at the start becomes a lilting dance experience. And the American in me clearly identifies the heritage from whence our square dancing developed.

But end the evening must, and how else but with a circle of guests singing Auld Lang Syne.

For some inexplicable yet understandable reason, Burns’ Suppers are proliferating all over Germany. Let’s charge our glasses and raise them for a final toast to Rabbie who made the world a more entertaining place and to the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany – especially to Susan Tackenberg and Neville Anderson – who sponsor and organize the event each year. Thanks so much for a glorious evening.

8 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Seasonal Reflections, Traditions

WINTER DESCENDS UPON US

And we thought we’d get away with it, not having a freezing White Christmas, not needing extra layers of protection. No, Siberia has moved in from the east to send shivers up and down our spines. So while you await pronouncements on more significant matters such as gun control in the US and Britain’s love/hate affair with the EU, I suggest you ponder this baffling question: when will DC Hubbard finally settle down to work on her next novel? If that doesn’t do it for you, consider this ditty from last February’s arctic spell.

FEBRUARY 2012

 An ill-tempered diva

Comes late to the ball

Making bloody-well-sure

She’s seen by all.

She arrives from Siberia

On Putin’s east wind.

She’s set me ashiver

Right down to my skin.

The Land’s now as frozen

As my ancient computer,

The ground dry and shriveled

Like a seventy-year-old suitor.

The woods are snowless

Their breadth and their length,

Paths lit by sunrays,

Devoid of all strength.

Mummified me,

Sheathed in layer upon layer.

Thank God for Thinsulate.

It’s a real lifesaver.

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Seasonal Reflections