memoir

NIGHT SKY MEMOIR

Living in Philly
My night sky
Was the ceiling of
The Fels Planetarium
In the Benjamin Franklin Institute
Slouched in the gray theater seats
Neck comfortably straight
While head tipped upward
I’d get chills when the room darkened
And we school kids would stop talking
And the stars would begin to greet us
Like actors slowly wondering
If the audience would adore them
And when we’d applaud
Because the show was FINALLY beginning
The stars, planets, meteors, comets, moons
And all those performers
Playing their celestial roles
Hidden to city children
Living in cement jungles
With streetlights every 500 feet
All those performers
Would put their hearts into
Brightening the night sky
(although still sunny outside)
And my heart would race
As I drifted in space
Not listening to the lecturer
Because no one could top the stories
I told myself
About the constellations
Talking to me via vibrations
For all those years
I never saw the sky
Time tempestuously passed
And I found myself sitting
With my very young sons
Also stretched and bruised
On the concrete of childhood
Their excitement matched mine
As the room darkened
And then I knew
There must be very few
In this world
Who didn’t long to stride across
The canvas of our universe…

soprano w the stars 1 life wip

 

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: Fels Planetarium, Ben Franklin Institute (Rittenhouse Astronomical Society) and My Ukulele and Stars

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COFFEEHOUSE ON NEW YORK AV

(ANOTHER PRE-CASINO, ATLANTIC CITY MEMOIR)

Troubadour in dark room
Singing and strumming
“Go away from my window…”
Thinks he can tell me
What I need
Coffee grinding ten steps away
Strings strangling a heart
Fibrillating to future rejections
“It ain’t me, babe” soaring through
The smoky room
Zinging in, trying to make me cry
With his lying eyes
So why’d he pursue me
Take me to his room and
Almost ruin me
Thinks he can croon
By the light of the
Not-yet-landed-upon-Moon
Me nervously twirling my spoon
Roiling the brew
To read a few escaped coffee grounds
What is my future
Another tall, dark stranger
I’ll love and lose?
Caffeine finally affects
The saddened brain
Venomously I think
He’s not even a quarter good as Dylan
Can’t help wondering, though
When I’ll be an adult
So to all you young girls,
Yeah, not really women
We’re fragile little girls
When it comes to secret chambers
Of the heart
Here to tell you
Lived despite the pain
But can’t say
I ever used the label
“Adult”
Because
For the very sensitive
Adulthood is merely in the
Eyes of children
And the memory comes through
When I’ve sipped a few
Double-shot espressos…

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: kava3

THANK YOU MAGGIE KUHN

“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes” –Maggie Kuhn, Founder of The Gray Panthers

At age 34
I sat in the Women’s Congress audience
Enthralled by this old lady
And everything she said
Seemed meant for me
An older student
At the university
I couldn’t even speak from my desk
Without shaking
So although her words performed no magic
At the time
I conjured them up
When I really needed them
Stars and sparkles wreathing my face
Sneezing a bit from the moon dust
And for the next few years
Speaking in auditoriums for my career
No trembling, shaking, or fear
Just Maggie Kuhn’s words
Transforming me two decades later
Now I am old enough
To be a Gray Panther
(Although I was completely gray
By age thirty-seven)
And when once I wanted to be
Abby Hoffman, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez
I now want to age gracefully
Be grateful for aging
Be like Maggie Kuhn
It is not her birthday
Or death day
I just want to say
Thank you, Ms. Kuhn
I hope I can live up to your words
Now that I am on the path you blazed…

“Old age is not a disease – it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.” Maggie Kuhn, Founder of the Gray Panthers

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

LATIN LESSON (MEMOIR)

*scroll down for a YouTube video*

“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes quattuor”
Only Latin offered at the junior high school
I’d wanted to learn French or even Russian
But here we were, with a dead language
Can’t remember what the book looked like
Hardback, small, all in Latin
But the first lesson was
“All of Gaul is divided into four parts”
And the words seized me
Black letters on white background seduced me
I needed to know
What was its meaning
As I marched with the Centurions
Proudly carrying a flag
Emblazoned with huge letters
SPQR
“Senate and People of Rome”
Words opening a new world
Togas and bloody gladiators
Pounding their chests
“We Who Are About to Die Salute You”
Pre-AC/DC days who sang
To my delight
“For those about to rock we salute you”
And now, so many decades later
When I can’t remember
Where I put something
Or what I was saying
Five minutes ago
I still see Mrs. Layton
Who brought life to the dead words
I still feel that book in my hands
I still remember sitting in my bedroom
Memorizing Latin vocabulary
I still remember the magical days
Of learning and
Being part of the Legion
That would conquer the world
A mere year or two
Before I’d be carrying signs
With a new–English language–flag
Reminding us all that
War is not healthy for children or
Other living things…

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGE: Wikipedia Commons

https://youtu.be/8fPf6L0XNvM AC/DC YouTube video

 

O HOLY MEMOIR

Why cry
When playing and singing
O Holy Night
I miss my high soprano
Soaring above the All City Choir
I cry for my youth
But hey
Think of that time
Tenth grade
I was being bullied in the girl’s bathroom
Bus tokens stolen
No boyfriend
Unknown autism making me
The school alien
Social Misfit of teenage hell
But that was then
And today, my voice
O Holy Voice
Gone
So I’m strumming the song
Didn’t know how to play
Ukulele in Tenth grade

But

And this is a positive
can play it now

Cracked singing
Like some boy entering puberty
High
Low
High-and-Low
Yet O Holy Night
Makes me cry
And I can’t see the chords
On the songbook by the time
I finish it
But WHY cry
Lost youth
Actually
My life is better than it was
In tenth grade
Yeah, I’m old
Yeah, really don’t do
Social niceties now or then
But a mere thousand miles away
Live my sons and granddaughter
Got enough money
To eat and dress and buy songbooks
So why
Why cry
For times past
When the truth is
Tenth grade sucked
Except for the voice
Soaring into the aethers
O Holy Memory…
(c) 2017 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: Baritone, songbook, sunflower (planted by birds)

KEEP ON DANCING MEMOIR

 

*scroll down for a YouTube video*

 

Little sun-struck cloud

Floating on a tutu

Ballet shoes held on

By an elastic strap

She pirouettes

Dreaming of dancing as

The Nutcracker princess

Some day

Suddenly, “No money”

She is told

For lessons

 

Here are little girls

Strolling through school halls

Twisting, Cha-Cha-ing

Across a new decade’s

Boundary line

Ponying, monkeying, limbo-ing

Waiting for the boys to join in

Suddenly almost-teenagers

Arms wrapped around each other

Softly believing

“We could get married

Then we’d be happy”

Oh those boys of the beach

They knew the secret of life

 

Suddenly the dancing stops

As a new genre

From an older time

Takes hold acoustically

Words of protest

Arising from the smoke of weed

Shuttered eyelids

Heads nodding as

Young men and women agreed

 

And then incredible colors

Splash over us, waking us up

As Sgt. Pepper changes rock and roll

Changes us all

And suddenly the world alters

Letting in the Blues

Jazzing us up

Alcohol takes hold

And once again we dance

So close, not even a straw can pass between

And we move across another borderline

Pea coats, bell bottoms, boots

Replaced by Sci Fi platform shoes

Polyester clothes that

Researchers insist cause cancer

And we smoke

And we dance

And we drink

And we do whatever feels good

In this new decade of peace

 

And our faces become pierced

Bodies become a canvas for art

Good and bad

Clothing deliberately torn

Dancing is the banging of heads

Lots of lyrics involve the word “dead”

But we dance

 

Until suddenly, the dancing stops

The music stops

The rhythm stops

The melody stops

There is absolutely nothing

But a horrible chanting

An ending to the sounds we once knew

And loved

Little girl’s hair

Turns to gray

Wondering if

There is a way

To keep on dancing…

 

© 2017 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGE: Degas, Dancer With a Bouquet of Flowers

 

The Gentrys, Keep On Dancing  https://youtu.be/HhqX_VdQT10 YouTube video

 

 

MEMOIR: WORKING CLASS HERO (IS NOTHING TO BE)

*scroll down for YouTube video*

 

How in the world

Would parents force a

Fifteen-year-old

On the subway

From Snyder Avenue

To York-Dauphin

To work at an optician’s

Known by her aunt

Five in the evening

(Already dark in winter)

To nine p.m.

Alone

Some days so herded in

Couldn’t sit

Always seemed to be

A man in the crowd

Dry-humping

Virginal me

Winter coats smelling

Of camphor and sweat

Late at night less bodies

Perfected a scowl

Making no eye contact

Best to look crazy

As if I gripped a knife

Under my smelly, heavy coat

But finally able to afford

Denim and faux leather

Mini dresses, jeans

End justifying the means

On the rodent wheel

Of consumerism

To working class status

But no hero, oh no…

 

© 2017 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGE: Subway entrance, Philly

 

https://youtu.be/njG7p6CSbCU  John Lennon, Working Class Hero  (YouTube)

ANETHUM GRAVEOLENS

 

Ooooh that smell

Not really quoting Skynyrd

Smell of life

Merari, my Gran called it

Dill

Chicken vegetable soup

Fresh merari

Tossed on top of the pot

For the last five minutes of bubbling

Hot kitchen, cold winter

But now

Evening in Florida swamp

Smell it growing wild

Well, seed pods begging to be harvested

Must have blown out of my neglected pots

When I took time off from growing herbs

Planted themselves

And now

An aromatic memoir greets me

In the soft gray

End of day

Bringing the ghosts of Gran and Mom

Aunt Cee and Aunt Are

Bumping hips

While dancing around each other

In a small kitchen

With a huge pot

 

Forgetting I have no pockets

Because women’s clothing

Usually doesn’t include that all-important

Piece of fabric

(Can’t have it interfering with the hip line

Of a voluptuous woman)

But I reach for my pouch

So inconvenient to draw attention

While fumbling with the drawstring

Just to feel the reassurance of

My pocket deities:

Acorn, feather, sea shell and fiery bloodstone

Imbued with my essence

From touching them with

Invisible fingertip oil

Touching, touching

Wanting to keep the ghosts of family

Singing and laughing

Forever happy

Keep those ghosts forever

But soon they fade

And I vow

That tomorrow

I will search the sunlit swamp

For a sprig of dill

Add it to my female pocket

And one day call upon

The memory

Once again

From the scent of an earthen gift…

 

© 2017 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGE: Dill, Wikipedia

 

AGING WITH ORION

 

Missing Orion, but he will soon return to the Northern Hemisphere skies…

(I) ORION AT TWENTY
After meditating in Neolithic darkness
A tranquil universe is born
While camping at the folk festival
Guitars and violins
Chants and poems echo
With a new moon making visible
Stars and planets joining Orion
In his nightly romp up high
Through the speckled night sky
Venus, Mars, Pleiades
(Those seven sisters smiling upon us)

(II) ORION AT FORTY:
When Orion peels himself off
The black backdrop of the celestial ceiling
And his dog Sirius herds him to my door
I will shake the star-dusted golden glitter
From the halo of hair that I wear free and curly
And as the earthy music soars and sinks
While minor chords weave a robe so warm
I will sharpen the dagger hanging from his waist
And welcome the result of being chased
By the winter Star Man who has come at last…

(III) ORION AT SIXTY
Navy blue Southern sky so reachable
Here he is, once again, tonight
Stretched out, over my head
My legs apart, as wide as his
Dog at my heels
Lift my arms and double high five him
Balance deserts as I stumble into a terracotta pot of ginger
No dignity in old age
But my hands, for a brief blink of time, touched the stars

© 2015 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja), Parallel Universe Café and Other Poems, Wildsound Video read by performer

 

NA, NA, NA, NA-NA-NA-NA NA-NA-NA-NA

 

 

*scroll down for YouTube video*

 

An extra

Four and a half minutes

Revolutionizing music

Before that

Typical two minute songs

Good ones, so good

Motown, Beach Boys

Can’t Help Falling in Love

Even the most commercial protest songs

From a some-day peace prize winner

Are winding down

And the times they are a changing

Because the generation is demanding

And history is made

In a car tuned to AM radio

And here’s a song

On and on

Over six minutes

NA, NA, NA, NA-NA-NA-NA

NA-NA-NA-NA

Hey Jude…

Teen in Nehru mini

He driving in Nehru shirt

Just out of the Army

Germany, not Nam

How’d he get so lucky

And the na-na’s go on

The guitars and drums

Voices and song

In the latest evolution

Of cruising music

And decades later

As that teen-turned-old-lady

Pedals on her elliptical

Singing to sunny skies

Ignoring the feeling

That youth was full of lies

About the future

Because the music remained true

A wormhole to wander through

Hey, Jude…

 

© 2017 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

The Beatles, Hey Jude

https://youtu.be/cII1jJWDf04