IMG_7361The novel Clio’s Mobile Home is a facet of my creative work. Several characters in my novel write poems; I am serious about writing poetry. I also work on short shorts, and short stories. They are all modes of thinking about identity, transcendence and beauty in contemporary life. Art keeps us aloft, but it is more than decoration. Its force can be astounding. The artist becomes an instrument, and art lives to tell the tale.

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Old Soul/Young Soul

Back in the day when I was a kid, it seemed cool to be an old soul.  Whoever first enlightened me, when I first heard the phrase (to be or to have?), I don’t recall.  Being an old soul seemed like a good defense for a solitary or brooding adolescent— especially when you have big black eyes too serious for your face!

Now that I’m not a kid, I’m thinking it might be cool to be a young soul.  It’s not up to us, of course, not on the smorgasboard of options. Yet after yet another birthday, I’m thinking why not.  It always takes a while to come to oneself.  This old soul has learned a few things; it understands that play makes everything tick, beauty is real, everything keeps turning and flowing, go!

Now during the Jewish High Holidays, we are told that our souls are washed, we get refreshed, the clock is set back to how God made us, we get spanking fresh souls. Birthday of the world — aha!  Old soul, meet young soul.  May you be renewed, and be yourself.

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Dvorak’s Cricket Folk Dance

Classical music concert by the sea.  Sun hot on our arms, yet the air makes us shiver.  Little cabin, doors thrown open.  Unaccustomed voices — women and black composers.  Accustomed voices: Dvorak. Simultaneity: Crickets.

These are not usual times.  It wasn’t the crickets who were letting the air out of the helium balloon.  They weren’t stoking anxiety and desire — rather they were the adults in the room.

They left it to Dvorak to indulge in a sustained shriek!  Those violin players stroking the same strident bow on the same strings, higher and higher -a scream that would be unacceptable at the dinner table!  Crickets took the middle zone and cellos planted their feet on the ground.

The evening wind blew cool and clean.  Renewed, after the storm of strings broke.  The crickets play on.

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Saving Joy

Summer can be poetry without the words.  A sweet peach cuts through time and puts you right in the everlasting camp of the gods.  A tomato is a love apple, pomme d’amour.  The spume of the sea drenches with spent force and effervescence.  This is real, just as drought is real and dog days are real that swelter through any and all summer months.   

 I always want to keep my finger on the pulse of this life force in reality, this apprehension of elemental life.  Along comes so-called “real life” with its go-go energy, rage of politics and urgency of injustice.  Poetic receptivity feels quavery in the shadow of this, so I reframe the question: What should poetic attention be attentive to?

I ask a poet what to do. “so little joy — sister of the gods— in our poems Ryszard,” Zbigniew Herbert writes in “To Ryszard Krynicki — A Letter.”  “too few glimmering twilights mirrors wreaths ecstasies.”  Both poets lived through World War II and Communist takeover of Poland. 

A line earlier in the poem says: “we came too easily to believe beauty does not save.”  The poet later asks: “what forces of the spirit do we need/ blindly beating despair against despair/to ignite a spark a word of atonement/that the dancing circle might last on the soft grass…”

He calls it a riddle and so do I.  Though beauty is wide and inclusive.  Reality is inclusive.  Imagination is not the fairy tale version, but an existential feature of survival. 

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A Drop of Radiance has Touched the Everyday

As a traveler, I understand;
you, a traveler, too, 
must travel, we must
say good-bye,
but a drop 
of radiance,
a grape
of imaginary sun,
has touched the blind blood 
of everyday…

——  Pablo Neruda, excerpt from “Ode to the Third Day”

Neruda, were you writing about a day of the week?  Or were you lamenting the end of summer, as I hear through the howl of my re-entry struggles?  You who understood all things, of course felt the keen sorrow of leaving behind life’s elements — gracious friends, groundedness, sea, sardines, openness.  To your odes, we sing along with sweet regret, knowing how lucky we are to touch those values.  Loss is the nature of the game!

Back at home, I am resolved to bring expansive “summer” — i.e. human values —  into what seems like our never-ending strife, conflict, struggle.  I’m modeling my plans after more balanced friends to 1) create the better world of our little garden rather than rail against the one that seems to loom, and 2) to bring lightness to the truth that we’re all flawed, to laugh rather than judge.  

Seems rather North American.  I prefer Neruda’s continuing language: “we will cherish/ this insurgent day,/ blazing,/ unforgettable,/ a bright flame/in the midst of dust and time.”

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Here, the Heavy Glitter of Now

“There is another world but it is in this one,” said Paul Eluard. 

This one, here, celui-ci in the heavy glittering mid-August summer.  Sometimes the tree has one cicada that shatters the insistent sun.  Sometimes the chêne has one cicada that cries its passion, shrieks its desire over the noonday field, the shadowless yellow grass.  Sometimes a tree full of cicadas will work a trance like gentle dancers. 

We are not on our way to over there.  We share a house with others in our origin story.  We shift around, one thing displacing the next in the everchanging present.  The cat takes shallow breaths as it sleeps by the red bicycle in the shade.  

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Driven — Life of the Plane Trees

In March 2020, obsessed with the platanes, or plane trees that lend magic to the roads in southern France, I organized a series of poems and pictures about their disappeance.  Covid derailed the presentation of the piece— the series languished.

Two and a half years later, I have returned to the same place in Camélas, southwest France, return to the trees, to the scene of poetic, arbored and aesthetic drama — how are things now?  There are still graceful roads with remaining trees, sometimes 200 years old, but they stand like the Citroën or Deux Chevaux, a Charles Trenet song alongside gleaming strips of bold blacktop drawn straight on the land. “Old” roads are now designated for bikes or tractors.  The modern highway obsession exposes all kinds of things — for moderns, it’s not the journey, it’s the destination. With speed and air conditioning, who gives a damn about quaint shade. Just when Americans are desperate to relearn the language of ecological coexistence, those who speak it are abandoning it.  

But the trees?  I’m here on a day when the air is already hot; in the care of the platanes, I am cool, in their corridor of peace.  As much as I came to check on them, they check on me.  The massacre that I witnessed and photographed is over; trunks and limbs that resembled bones and body parts of animals have long ago been carted away.  The trees that remain are tagged with little metal plates, 612, number of the highway — G16+ 550.  Individual and prisoner, naming’s double entendre.  

Their trunks split into a trio of uplifted arms.  Their leaves are still bright green oxygenated veins that hold life, hold secrets not tightly, given to those who ask.  They are full of knowledge about the long game, la durée — about light moves, about the shared dance.  In metamorphoses we survive, we move on.  They offer a vision of ourselves walking eight steps ahead, our next move, next creative breath.  There for the taking.

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Noon Justice

Sunday on the cusp of August in the countryside should be long, should feel endless.  At midi, noon in France, a stillness sets in that is both awesome, in the classical sense of the sun’s strict justice, and dauntingly hot.  You will be trying to name that song the cicadas keep spinning — drone, chant — and might fall into an inspired trance.  There are flies on your ankles and the slow swirling scent of the time or its demise, of memories you’ve had or never had, of something tantalizing—

Just over there, beyond the dry field or on Monday, is spanking new blacktop that replaces graceful tree-lined roads once for horses, tractors and speeding Sunday-lunch drunkards.  There is an epidemic of pregnant roundabouts that keeps giving birth to more and more roundabouts.  The voices of trees that we come to hear every year are frailer and frailer.  They check on us too – as nature looks in on us wayward, unplanted humans. 

Eyeballing shrubs in a new peach orchards I count neary 500, maybe 1000, planted with geometric precision, rays of sun splaying from all perspectives, an earthy Versailles.  Everywhere, but especially in France, in a sleight of hand, nature always a part of culture. We salute the wary rapport with a nod towards timelessness, with or without us. 

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La Rafle in Paris, 1942: Say their names

Cabu

Say her name. Dites son nom. Say the names of Jewish children — more than 4,000— who were taken 80 years ago this weekend from Paris apartments in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 20th arrondissements. They were separated from their mothers, their fathers who were also corralled in the Velodrome d’Hiver near the Eiffel Tower, en route to concentration camps.  There are placards on the streets of neighborhoods — trendy rue de la Roquette, for example — with pictures of the kids in their bows and best dresses, their faces of trust.  In a recent documentary, one of the few women who survived said, we had faith; this was the land of Voltaire and Diderot. 

With foreboding in the air, breakdown of norms and language, with the rattle of war, it’s essential that the French et al pay attention to this anniversary of so-called “La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv.”  Podcasts, documentaries, museum exhibitions are revisiting the targeted and choreographed swooping of French gendarmes to arrest, in two days in 1942, 13,152 Jews.  The roundup started with immigrants from Eastern Europe, but grew to include French Jews. Collaborist Vichy government was making “good” on promises to Gestapo, which had occupied the zone since 1940.   

An exhibition of Cabu, the beloved cartoonist who was killed in terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, is especially powerful.  A student of both Rembrandt and Goya, he imagined scenes that had been meticulously researched and documented for the groundbreaking 1967 book “La Grand rafle du Vel d’Hiv” by Claude Levy and Paul Tillard.  Cabu’s original ink drawings are forcefully imagined, a child being a child against a well-uniformed mob, not a single German ever involved.  

The shock and denial of French involvement has worn off; the difficulty is in keeping shock alive.  Paris is beautiful now, but beauty isn’t a place of escapism from reality.  It’s a real garden if and because it voices the reality of suffering. 

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Paris’ Staff of Life

If this is Western civilization in decline, I’ll take it. On the one hand, France is in free fall; on the other, the effort of every moment to hold it together, to prop it up with baguettes as support!

Thus the proliferation of the baguette better and better, crustier, denser, with more breath holes like clarinets. The French are leaning on their strength, doing what they have always done in spades, only better.

Boulangeries make me dream; as with with poetry, I’ve never been a fan of rewards and prizes. I see awards and diplomas for third best baguette in Paris and wonder. Poetry and bread are the soul of culture, point zero, infinite nourishment. Breath holes. The two pillars of life, they outshine and outlast any medal.

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A Trump Zealot Finds Phenomenology

Those endless questions pull the bobby pin out of reality; 
the willies,  blues, bad infinity

even the “shining truth” of politics —
nothing but a question

all stars in our flag become fifty questions
all past and futures held down by a moment.

Even Burnitdown— a dyed-in-the-wool Trumpie — 
has learned to reorient by following sensation.  
Her moment of doubt as recounted to WaPo:

I know I have this screw in my hand —
it’s poking my finger and hurts.
I am really here –
I’m pinching the skin on my forearm.
I know that’s a tree — 
it’s shading my yard.
Or at least it’s called a tree 
because that’s what I was told…

If vertigo is the only shared notion
this mourning/morning in America —
I’ll take it. 

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