It’s been about 25 years since I did my last public poetry reading, but I’m gathering up my courage and doing one tomorrow at the Springfield Library. Believing that you “have to get them at ‘Hello!'” I’m going to start with this one. (I just hope that I can pull it off.)
I gave my writing circle the prompt “the coat was shabby.” And I gave them a challenge to use strong verbs and specific nouns. As I began to write my response to that prompt, I decided to put it someplace in history and do a little research for details. This is my result, my first ever try at historical fiction:
The Gypsy Coat Tale
The coat was shabby, but its aspect still spoke of nights thrown over a naked shoulder at a smokey Montparnasse cafe, or tossed onto the back of a scarlet sofa at a late night Paris salon. Its stained fabric revealed a careless pattern of absinthe, bathtub gin, and the mascaraed tears of its most passionate devotees.
They say it once belonged to Nina Hamnett, self-proclaimed and notorious “Queen of Bohemia,” who wore its gold satin lining next to her skin while she danced shimmering lights into the weave of the rich silk brocade. On those nights, the coat created its own melody, a mesmerizing harmony of color, texture, and pattern, the timeless echo of a Siren’s song.
Legend has it that the coat was created by the two Japanese weavers and the Gypsy woman whom Hamnett befriended during her brief stay in Paris before the war started, before everyone folded themselves into enclaves of creative ferment or else fled to the safer shores of England and America.
And that, they say is how the coat finally wound up in the window of the Fifth Avenue Parisian boutique on the afternoon that Zelda Fitzgerald walked out of New York City’s Palais Royale Hotel in search of the perfect evening dress.
She did find the perfect dress: a long black beaded silk with a sheer back that dipped down to her tailbone. But is was the coat that took her breath away – the coat and the legend and the fantasy.
The multicolored floral brocade boasted gleaming gold threads that reflected the bright city sunlight. Elaborate scrolls etched its lush black velvet cuffs and ankle-skimming border. A face-framing swath of black fox, added as an afterthought, brought the coat to the level of a work of art.
By the time I rescued the coat from the empty corner of my spinster aunt’s nursing home closet, its shabbiness was well-earned, having been Zelda’s constant companion through her bi-polar adventures played out over two continents and two decades, until both she and the coat began to unravel.
My aunt had been a nurse at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Zelda spent her final years capturing on canvas the remaining bright colors of her memories and telling my aunt the elaborate coat-tales that fed her lonely dreams of prodigal nights ablaze in the heart of a drowning Jazz Age.
Just days before the hospital fire that took her life, Zelda gave my aunt the coat to wear to a costume party.
And so the Gypsy Coat was retired to the back of my aunt’s closet, although she always took it with her whenever she moved, unable to dispose of its vibrant history. The Gypsy Coat is mine, now, to ponder on the relic that it is – a remnant of legendary lives lived with creative abandon, dazzling artistry, and deadly excess.
The day after I wrote this, as I was watching a “Friends” rerun with the family, Phoebe appeared wearing the coat I had described the day before.
I love it when stuff like that happens.
Well, I say I know her, but she’s really a friend of a Facebook friend. Well, I say that she’s young; she’s really my daughter’s age — just over 50. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.
Anyway, this young woman is very ill with a disease of the blood and will only get worse. She is very smart and creative and well-known and respected in the technical information/education publication world. That is not a world I know. I only know about her. And I only know about her because there is something in her brightness and bravery that moved me and made me want to learn more about her.
I needed/wanted to do something for her — because I can’t fix any of the things wrong with this world, with my country, with all of those folks hurting and trying and dying. Because I am a maker of things and because I wish — how much I wish — I could make magic.
And so I got on Google and downloaded images from her Facebook page and from her book covers on Amazon. I figured out how to do a simple world cloud using words from her various posts.
I printed out the images on washable fabric. I appliqued the images onto the front of a t-shirt.
Then, I appliqued a healing mandala on the back of the shirt.
And then I looked up her address on 411.com and put it in the mail.
And I included this note:
If Magic were something I could make,
I would spin you a spell of healing,
thread it with the strength and energy
of all of your best moments, color it
blue like water teeming with life,
the burgundy of blood, the red and white
of cells induced to dance again,
of a thousand loving thoughts
warming the fabric of hope.
Then you could wear it like armor
a curative cloak, medicinal mantle,
that primitive sympathetic magic
powerful in intent as any prayer.
I did it as much for me as for her. We are both powerless against the arbitrary surges of fate that drag us into those dark places where we would not choose to go and then leave us, spent, to find a way out. Only she has no way out of this one.
I don’t read many blogs any more. I did in the early days, when we were a seedling community, all just starting out and feeling connected by our shared fascination with exploring the reaches of this technology, with sharing love of writing and our willingness to be open about who we are. We wrote with fire and shared with ferocity.
So I’m delighted when I stumble across a personal blog that I wish I were able to write, myself. It’s good writing. It’s honest feeling.
What great name.
Can you feel it? That big downhill slide we’re on?
Pipe lines wrecking the rain forest, fracking wrecking the water, greenhouse gases wrecking the weather. The “big picture” is all wreck [sic] and ruin.
My way of coping with that awareness is usually by focusing on my own little picture. And blogging about it — grandsons and gardens, nostalgia and nuisances.
But when it comes to the way, across the globe, that women are treated, portrayed, denied, discouraged, wrecked and ruined, I take it personally, especially since I remember the early days of our feminist struggle, when so many of us joined with each other, and with wise and willing male supporters, to push back against a sexist system set to designate who we were and are and could or couldn’t be.
If you think it’s any better these days, all you have to do is look and listen to know that you are wrong. Cultural attitudes. in general, and the attitudes of many males, in particular, have become even more misogynistic.
NPR’s article about the Amanda Knox case points up one aspect of this rampant “cultural sexism.”
If Amanda Knox had been Andrew Knox, the breathless and prolonged excitement around his sex life would be greatly diminished, or absent altogether. If Amanda had been Andrew, he wouldn’t have been labeled “a sex-mad flatmate” in the media.
No, just in last Sunday’s New York Times, the “veritable drumbeat of sexual shaming” heaped on Amanda Knox amounts to sexism run rampant.
While we should have already evolved way beyond the gender roles that our early progenitors adopted as necessary for survival (see NPR article linked above), the attitudes and behaviors of too many young males indicate that the opposite is happening. As a culture, we are not only backsliding; we are slipping into a subversive hatred of women that is triggering both vocal and physical violence against females.
Voicing the young, strong, liberated, and angry perspective of women who refuse to let sexist male attitudes intimidate, suppress, and repress their sexuality is Lindy West’s article in Jezebel entitled Female “Purity” is Bullshit.
Girls and women, if no one has ever told you this before, or if you just have trouble believing it: you are good, you are whole, you are yours. You do not exist to please men, and your value as a human being is not contingent upon your sexual capital. “Purity” is a lie. Do not even worry about any of this garbage, because it’s about as real as a fucking unicorn. And like my Nana always used to say, “Never take life advice from a grown man who believes that unicorns are ‘extinct.'”
And this “good girl” shit isn’t just limited to odious ding-dongs like dude-who-doesn’t-know-the-difference-between-extinct-and-fucking-mythological. I know plenty of progressive, liberal, adult men who openly say they’re looking for a “good girl”—who prioritize some paternalistic illusion of “self-respect” over personality and chemistry. And to those dudes, I say, HOW DO YOU NOT SEE HOW CREEPY THIS IS. Can you imagine if women went around saying they were just looking for a “good boy” and sometimes they “jokingly” scout kindergartens for promising baby virgins?!?!?! Groooooooooss!!!!!
West’s article is a hoot and holler to read. It is raw. And truthful. And angering. It is the way it is but shouldn’t be.
I don’t know how the bad attitudes of misogynist males can be changed. I don’t know how to prevent their younger brothers from becoming just like them. Is there a warped Y chromosome or strain of testosterone that is being unknowingly spread to each generation of males? Is it something in the water? Is it something that we should put in the water?
I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that there needs to be more females refusing to put up with stupid men’s bullshit.
Like every human on this planet, my heritage traces back to the heart of Africa, from where the original homo sapiens emerged around 100,000 years ago.
Somewhere around 40,000 years ago, their descendants descended on what eventually would be the nation we now know as Poland. Since the time of these early forbears, the land that was considered “Poland” shrank and expanded depending on the whims of glaciers and governments. Pretty much land-locked except for its limited access to the Baltic Sea, Polish land has been traipsed over, lived on, and fought over by tribes and nations from the Turks to the Celts. The 19th and 20th centuries, alone, saw Poland’s boundaries recede and expand drastically as various histories and wars played themselves out.
While I know that America has claim to the title of “melting pot,” pre-historic Poland has to come close because of the hundreds of different peoples who settled there at one time or another, coming upon its central location accidentally or on purpose. So, even though I can trace my bloodline back through several generations of “pure” Poles, the truth is that I have in me genetic traces of countless races, leading back to that elusive “Mitochondrial Eve.”
Why I’m thinking about all of this is that I’m taking a class in Polish language and culture to help me remember how to converse in Polish. I have no immediate reason for doing that, except that it’s free at the Senior Center, and relearning the language is helping me to exercise my brain.
I have never been very good at just sitting in a class and listening. I like to participate. So, I offered to do a session next week on the traditions still alive in Polish culture today that have their roots in that land’s pre-history. (Of course, that means “pagan,” but I didn’t use that word in my offer to do the session. All of the other students seem to be Catholic, and I didn’t want to use language that would turn them off.)
For anyone who is interested, there are a very few websites that deal with Polish/Slavic pre-history. This is the best of them.
More than a dozen years ago, I stumbled upon a wonderful site explaining the pagan origins of various Polish folk customs and chronicling the Polish pagan pantheon and magical symbols. I printed out all 80-something pages of information from that now-defunct website, and I am so glad I did because I would have to track down a ton of books to compile it myself at this point. I’m thinking that I probably saved it on my old computer but somehow lost track of that document.
Growing up Polish in America (as did the other students in my class), what I was told about Polish history made it seem as though it all started with the the conversion of Poland to Christianity back somewhere around 990 A.D.
In the course of the Christianisation of Europe in the Early Middle Ages, the Christian churches adopted many elements of national cult and folk religion, resulting in national churches like Latin, Germanic, Russian, Armenian, Greek and so on. Some Pagan ceremonies became modern holidays as pagans joined the early church.
It just goes to show you — children are told the history that their “responsible adults” want them to believe. But there’s always more. Always more.
The following is my response to the visual prompt of Magpie Tales #58. Go to the site for links to the responses of other writers.
In my dreams I saw a warrior,
caped in scarlet velvet,
with eyes as green as spring mischief
and legs as strong as the golden mare they rode.
The warrior ranged the ragged cliffs
above a raging sea,
rescuing damsels in distress
and returning ancient thrones
to rightful heirs.
And when the moon was full,
the warrior would ride to the village
and make music, and laughter, and
And, one one of those moonfull nights
I asked the warrior:
‘What do you seek?”
And the warrior answered:
“I seek a knight in shining armor,
with eyes as daring as the autumn seas
and hands as gentle
as the brush of his stallion’s silver mane —
A knight who rides the wooded hillsides
and rain-washed valleys
rescuing damsels in distress
and returning ancient thrones
to rightful heirs.”
in the startling shadows,
I saw a dark longing
drown the mischief in her eyes,
as the warrior turned
to face the moon.
(copyright Elaine Frankonis)
where black bear sleeps
the earth breathes dreams
dank and wistful
a dark moon calls
one glaucous gull
to sing winter.
The violence of the Right-eous rhetoric has born fruit with the shooting of Representative GiffordS. WORDS MATTER AMERICA!!!
A young salesgirl called me “honey” today. No one should call an elder woman with gray hair “honey.” Next time I won’t let it go. (See this.)