Beethoven in Virus Time

Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, by Beyond My Ken – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

The Philadelphia Orchestra,
Broadcasting on television,
Is playing Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6
In an otherwise empty Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall—
Empty, without an audience,
Because of the virus that has changed the world
In weeks, days.
Right behind the orchestra are the empty seats
Mother, Daddy, and I held as our season tickets.

Beethoven, Daddy’s favorite.
As I listen, my emotions rise, fortissimo,
Chords of pain,
Waves of feeling riding waves of magnificent sound
Carrying a magnificent, hard-to-believe-it-ever-was past.

When I was a little girl,
Daddy played a recording of Beethoven’s 6th for me,
Narrating the story told
As the symphony’s movements unfold.

I feel and see moving toward me in silent procession,
Now crowding together in their joyous,
Suffocatingly sad throng,
My life’s vast gifts of miraculous memories.

Coronavirus

The virus is devouring the planet
For us who took meandering,
Nearly at will,
As the way our world spun;
We who are blessed
With generous measures
Of strength and possibilities
Wandered our neighborhoods
And far beyond
As means allowed
And inclination prompted.

But now a trip to choir practice
Is an act of courage, daring,
Perhaps irresponsibility,
Endangering others,
Harming those I love.

How could a time,
Decades, have been
When for us—
The blessed ones
Not living, or enduring,
In famine, poverty, infirmity,
Subjugation, or war—
Only time and budget impeded
Our exploring the globe?

And now we avoid trains and planes,
Restaurants and theaters,
Gatherings at church and school,
And touching one another.

Throughout the eons,
Lives have been transformed,
Darkened or destroyed;
We feared Earth’s annihilation
By inundation or asteroid,
But our present world and ways
Are trampled by a microbe
Unheard of when the old year
Stepped away a season ago,
Ceding time and space
To a new decade holding hope
Now dying,
But seeking resurrection.

Magic Carpet

The shades-of-blue oriental rug
Now in a church classroom,
The classroom where our choir practices,
Is, I feel, I sense with my spirit’s eye
As well as my eyes for physical sight,
The rug that for all the decades
After the braided rug of my childhood
Covered our den floor at home,
The room in our little white house
Where my mother and father and I
Shared dinners on our card table,
Night after night,
When I visited from other states,
When I lived back home again,
Home where I still remain
In my heart.

Just before the house was sold,
The rug was sold
And seems to have found its way
To the room where the choir I love
Sings melodies and harmonies
For the church that is now
My spiritual home.

Living on our rug at Christmas,
We three hung stockings on our fireplace,
No matter our ages,
The fireplace
With blue-and-white tiles in the red-brick hearth,
With Daddy’s mother’s painting above the mantel—
The painting hangs in my bedroom now.

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We rested our feet
On the pretty rug
As Mother sat facing the fireplace,
With Daddy across from her,
And I in between,
And after our Quaker-silence grace,
We shared our days,
Analyzed our dreams,
And one Friday night
Ate our last meal together.

On the rug’s patterned loveliness,
We read,
Wrote letters and journals,
Sang songs at the piano:
“Let the Sunshine In”
And “The Church in the Wildwood.”

On the blue-hued rug,
I was not always happy,
Often not the way I wish to have been,
Kind and serene,
But inviolate love
Lived always in that room.

At choir practice
I stare at the rug,
Searching for evidence
Of the years
It decorated and cushioned our lives,
Giving us its beauty;
Though tangible signs elude me,
I know
Because I feel our love
Still held in the fibers of the carpet.

Perhaps I am mistaken:
Maybe our family rug
And the rug in our church classroom
Are not the same;
Even if such is truth,
The carpet
I visit weekly in choir practice,
The rug offering ringing memories,
Speaks to me saying
My journey on into the years
Continues warmed and made beautiful
Through love unchanged by loss and time.

A Homily

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Bald eagle, by Vtornet – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons.

As my friend and I drove to church,
Meandering on a road offering trees and loveliness,
We saw ahead an imposing being
Resting on an overhanging bare branch.

A raccoon first came to mind—
Such was the creature’s size—
But then we saw and understood
The white beaked head,
Eyes searching sustenance:
The only bald eagle I have seen
Out of the sky
In all my decades of living and wandering nearby.

The eagle gave the best of the day’s sermons:
Our world, God’s world,
Embraces eagles and humans,
Oceans and cities,
Elk and agriculture,
Hunted elephants and hungry children;
The choice is not between such as you and such as we;
The choice is between
Reverence for God’s creation—
Care for the Earth and air—
Between that and nothingness.

Prayer and Writing, for Writing

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We hear from a wise Franciscan,
“Pray as you can,
Not as you cannot.”[1]
And I translate,
“Write as you can,
No longer as you cannot,”
Or barely manage
And with suffering.
Writing, like singing,
Is my prayer.
I sing with joy,
Insouciant in spite of my small,
Unremarkable voice.
But in writing
I seek my voice’s power.
So I am to “write as I can write,”
But how is that?
It is not as I have written,
And not as I have so far
Prayed for my writing,
Begging to be of service,
Begging to count,
Craving to take my place,
To find my place.
It is not as I have sought the means
To earn my keep,
To stop staggering
A few paces from the edge.
And so how can I finally write?
What that I have considered,
Pondered, and explored
Is of my soul,
And what is of yours, and yours,
And only mine as I think
It ought to seem?
How can I write
In order, finally,
To share the prayer of words
From my own spirit and being,
My own days and meaning?

[1] Our Franciscan teacher was quoting the Benedictine priest John Chapman (1865-1933).

Along the Way

I can set out again,
Even at seventy—
Just now I resisted
Writing “seventy,”
Fearing others will see
Me as less
Than I think I am
Or try to be.

I walk fast,
Dance,
Make a point
Of lifting,
Bending,
Being the go-to kid—
Happy I can,
Glad to help,
And with something to prove
To me,
Working to be needed,
Wanted,
Included,
Useful,
Not left out.

So much is behind:
Though I do not know
The time ahead,
I understand the difference
Between potential
And impossible.

But yes,
I can set out each new day
Better ready for the journey
Than I have been before;
The decades
Nourish seventy:
Years of stumbling
And years of blessings
Give a measure of guidance—
Where to explore
And where not to step again—
Offer endurance,
Acceptance,
Optimism,
Courage,
Joy
Discovering,
Embracing
New and familiar vistas
Gracing
Whatever is still to come.

Garnet Light

I am twelve,
Loving summer camp
With its quests
Unexpected and new,
Its routines and scenes,
Moose Pond in the morning mist—
A wide lake in spite of its name—
The cloud wisps decorating Pleasant Mountain,
Honeymoon and Japanese Islands
Present unseen,
Loving summer camp especially this summer
Because I have a best friend,
Louise;
We explore, discuss, absorb
The Maine woods and our unfolding lives.

Excursions and camping trips
Are my pinnacle delight;
For some, we paddle across or down our lake;
For others, we ride, singing,
In the open wooden-gated back of a truck,
Sometimes to a distant lake or river
That will carry our canoes to our sleeping cove,
Other times to a single day’s new source of happiness.

As on the day we campers climb
Over the face of a garnet hillside
Collecting beauty from the center of the Earth.

I love rocks—geology has risen high
Among the fascinations
That will rise and fall and rise in new forms
Across the eras of my life.

I am jubilant
Tapping on the cliff
In the warm Maine sun,
Loosening treasures,
Small rocks sparkling with deep-red gems
To carry home with me at the end of summer
In a footlocker weighing three times
Its going-to-Maine weight.

Our home, drawing by Mason Hayek

Back home
I am snared in the unhappiness of junior high;
My Maine rocks join the granite boulders in our backyard.

As my years continue,
Rocks give way to new passions—
Folk music, the great apes, ice skating, literature—
I live a floating life,
Grasping the possibilities in view,
Leaving left-behind possibilities on the shores of memory.

I meet rapids
And create whirlpools where none are intended;
I flail against benevolent waters
Because they are not the waters I seek
Or believe I need to find.

After journeying to distant shores
Seeking elusive settling,
I return eventually to Delaware,
To our little white house.

Daddy shows me he has kept my loveliest garnet rock,
Stored safely against our sheltering home.

Now the garnet-filled rock carries in its crystals
Twelve-year-old me
Held among the eons its gems have shone
Within and on the surface
Of our miraculous Earth.

My rock carries within itself
Its ancient molten infancy
And refracts the Light
To bathe my ephemeral now
With insight outside of passing time.

The girl I was is not lost
But held inside of me;
The future I wanted but did not find
Forms strata in my knowing,
In the strength I have to share.

God’s garnets in my hand
Shine their peace-giving glow
On who I was,
Who I am,
And who I still can be.

Eve’s Footsteps

Were you walking by the water to watch the waves and the shore birds?
Were you worried, angry, lonely,
Peaceful, reflective, in love?
Where was Adam?
Did he help you with the cooking?
What did you long for in your life—
A pretty face?
Appreciation?
A kinder man?
Bright children?
A room of your own, or the 115,000 BC equivalent?
Likely the possibility of warmth, ample food, and shelter was sufficient dream.
I want to know
If you worried about dying,
If growing older was a curse or a relief,
If your children minded you,
If you asked yourself the point of living.
I wonder how you passed the time,
How you spoke and dressed,
What you thought about when you woke in the morning,
What kept you awake at night.
Were the myths already in place—
That you were created from Adam to be his,
That too much willfulness in a woman is dangerous to a man,
That women are weak and easily swayed by a glib tongue?
Did you bother to rebel?
Something of your physical self is in every woman, and every man, too,
But we women of 1,170 centuries later
Also share your eternity.
When we wander along the beach
Thronged with people, sullied by debris—
The ocean still grand and powerful—
You walk with us,
The solitary mother of all women,
The young girl at the beginning of time,
The woman who has seen all ages and carries us each inside of her.

Time

“I am illusory,
But yet you worship me;
I am real as a dream is real:
With meaning
But without substance.

“Why do you bow down to me
With fear and anxious hurrying?

“The Universe asks me to serve,
Not to rule,
To give moments, memories,
The years of your life.

“Walk with me
As I walk with you:
Gently,
Although unceasingly.

“If you slow your pace,
I will not drag or push you;
I will beckon, but patiently,
Cushioning the future with beauty
From the past you have known.”

Notre Dame de Paris Burned Today

Drawing by Mason Hayek

Notre Dame de Paris burned today,
France’s cathedral, the world’s cathedral,
And mine,
A place of the soul, the heart, my heart
Burning with the toppling spire,
Collapsing roof,
Melting glass,
And now-charred altar.

Parisians sang hymns
As ferocious flames
Flew embers of what had been
Across the City of Light,
Nearly extinguished tonight.

I was in Notre Dame de Paris
On a January Sunday—
The 2nd, according to my journal—
Forty-seven years ago;
The organ’s melodies and harmonies
Billowed into the vaulted roof,
Through the rose windows,
Along the flying buttresses,
Into the Paris evening,
And then a priest chanted Mass.

I was twenty-two that evening
And had craved French and France
At least since I’d been nine,
And there I was:
Paris and her cathedral
Welcomed me to a world
Where desires turned into possibilities,
And then became true.

I wrote in my journal that 2 janvier 1972,
“C’est les fois comme ceci quand je voudrais être catholique.”
And this week I will turn Catholic,
Five days after Notre Dame has burned.

Perhaps from a city, a world, of prayers,
The walls and towers of our cathedral
Still stand;
I hear the organ has been saved,
And some of the art,
Perhaps a rose window;
Already hope has returned:
Notre Dame de Paris
Will one day again be whole,
Not as it was,
But remembered, honored,
Resurrected.

I, too, am not as I was,
But I carry my weeks in Paris,
My visit in Notre Dame,
Within me as I make my way,
Burned and illuminated,
Through time.

Just as the first flames ate into the spire,
I finished my turn as the day’s leader
For our French literature class
Of lifelong learners whose love
For the language and culture
Still burns,
Lighting our aging lives.

And above my bureau
Hangs my father’s drawing
Of Notre Dame de Paris
Beyond the Pont Neuf.