Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Women's Equality Day

Me, as Dick Cheney

Activism is in my blood. Really. And along the female line on my mother's side – the Campbell/Schindlers. It began for me with feminism, but I was steeped in that so early that I didn't even know to call it “activism.” It was simply what I learned at my mother's knee. 

My mother, Claire Schindler Collier, a born feminist

When the Feminist Movement came along in the early 70's, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Didn't everyone know that stuff? Of course, I had more to learn, but youth often thinks it knows everything.

Julia and Ellen, more activists in the family

Last weekend The Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women held a public event for Women's Equality Day. It was all about getting women to not only vote, but to run for office. It was not very well-attended (what's new?) and there were few men. Susan Chunco and I were tabling for the Green Party and our female presidential candidate, Jill Stein. The Green Party has run a woman for president in the last three elections!

Jill Stein for President, Green Party

The gathering gave me an opportunity to share the activist/feminist history of my family. At some point during the 1870's, my great-great-grandmother, Rachel Hutchinson Campbell (born in Scotland) took two of her daughters to hear Henry Ward Beecher. He was an abolitionist, who also supported women's suffrage and temperance, as well as being the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Rachel was there because she was a supporter of the temperance movement. It was primarily a women-led movement because drunk men make very poor husbands!

Rachel Hutchinson Campbell

Her daughter, my great-grandmother Isabelle, was so taken with Beecher's talk that she, along with her sister, followed him back to his hotel and engaged him in conversation for a couple of hours in the lobby. And thus, a suffragist was born!

Saturday's event was the perfect opportunity to pull out my blow-up of Isabelle Campbell Schindler marching with other suffragists in Connecticut (photo undated). She was the hit of the day. Many women had their pictures taken posing with the suffragists – after all, Women's Equality Day was made possible by their struggle. The Press Democrat sent a reporter and he took our picture and that's what made it into the Sunday paper to illustrate the event.

Here's the link to the article and photo:

You can tell from my blog and from my Facebook page that I love to take photographs and have an immense collection of my work. I come by it honestly because my family has a huge collection of family photographs – more on my mother's side, but plenty on both. The earliest portrait of my great-grandmother Isabelle was taken during the Civil War. Her older (immigrant!) brothers fought in the war. One of them earned the Medal of Honor for action at the Battle of Vicksburg. (I have ancestors on both sides in this war.)

Isabelle during the Civil War

Before marrying, Isabelle was a teacher. She went on to become a speaker for the Suffrage Movement – in addition to raising seven children (two others died in infancy) all across the country because her Unitarian minister husband, John, moved them a lot. She was a much loved mother judging by the writings by her children that I have. They called her “Mumpsie.”

Isabelle and John with all of their children
My grandfather, John, is the young boy in the middle

The only picture I have of her in her role as suffragist is the one I blew up and take with me to events. I also have the frayed remnants of a “Votes for Women” sash! Written on the back of the photo is:

Miss Fanny Lawson – a little NYC girl, who is dubbed “The Little Mouse” but who does good canvassing
Miss Hare – leader of the county and principal of one of the Troy (NY) schools
Mrs. Elsie Benedict of Colorado, leader of the squad she brought here
Mrs. Hovine, whose place I am to take in this county
(Isabelle Schindler) It is “I”. Be not afraid.
Miss Freeman, local worker
Mrs. May Belle Morgan, southern beauty
Miss Freeman, local worker

Two of her daughters, my great-aunts Jessie and Helen never married and lived their lives outside the norm. Both worked – Jessie taught English and I have her editions of Shakespeare's plays (with margin notes) and Helen did a number of things, including working as a “spy” for her father and brothers' detective agency.

After my great-grandmother died in 1929, my great-grandfather, John Franklin Schindler, went on to fight to abolish the death penalty; just one of the causes he worked on. He traveled extensively speaking and writing.

In the early 1930's, a letter of his was published in The New York Times predicting that, if allowed to carry guns, sheriff's deputies would end up killing innocent people. Little did he know! As part of that work, he and his sons developed a lie detector. 

John F. Schindler on the right, sons Raymond in middle and Walter on left

One of his sons, my great-uncle Raymond Schindler, was one of the founders and a member of the Court of Last Resort, which helped in the administration of justice in cases of persons who have exhausted the ordinary legal remedies in efforts to prove themselves innocent of crimes. He also appeared in a 1950's television show of the same name. It had a short run, but we always watched it.

Great-uncle Raymond C. Schindler, standing, white hair

Okay, I guess I'm going to have to acknowledge that there's some activism on the male side, as well!

In a future post I'll elaborate on my mother. For now, no poem, no recipe, instead excerpts from Isabelle Campbell Schindler's obituary and eulogy. You'll see why I'm proud to claim her as family.


Isabelle Campbell Schindler was born in New Philadelphia, Ohio, on January 31st, 1858; she was 71 years of age. Her parents, James Campbell and Rachel Hutchinson, came to the United States from Ayr, Scotland about 1850 [1848], and located in Ohio.

Belle Campbell, as she was affectionately known to her schoolmates and friends, graduated from the New Philadelphia High School, then took a two year's course in Worthington College, Worthington, Ohio, preparing herself to teach school. She taught school for nearly four years.

On February 21st, 1880, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler were married in New Comerstown [I have the wedding announcement that appeared in the local paper], Ohio, where Mrs. Schindler was then a teacher in the village schools. Mr. Schindler was at the time a freshman in St.Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Mrs. Schindler joined her husband when he began his junior year, and took post-graduate work in the second oldest co-educational college in the United States, admitting women to all the privileges accorded to men.

Mr. and Mrs. Schindler have reared a family of seven children, six of whom survive the mother. She was from the days of their birth to the day of her passing, their most beloved and precious possession. Her understanding mind and devoted companionship won their continuing affection. Mother was always first in the Schindler household, and in the mind of every member of the family.

From early girlhood to the day she was last taken ill, Mrs. Schindler was always interested in some dort of work for the relief, or assistance, of others outside of her own family. Her mother was a leader in the Militant temperance crusade in Ohio over fifty years ago; and the daughter became a worthy successor as a leader in the work of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

In 1884, at a meeting in Marshalltown, Iowa, called to consider the claims of Cremation as a method of disposing of the dead, Mrs. Schindler and two liberal ministers spoke in favor of the startling and altogether unpopular proposal. She was advanced in her thinking, conservative in statement, considerate of differing opinion, and had the full courage of her convictions [she was cremated].

Early in her life Mrs. Schindler became a believer in and advocate of Woman's Suffrage. Before she was 20 years of age she, with one of her sisters, heard Henry Ward Beecher advocate of what was then called Women's Rights. The two girls called on Mr. Beecher at his hotel and asked him questions regarding the then new and strange doctrine.

Later on, when a resident of New York City, Mrs. Schindler became a leader and public speaker, under the direction of Carrie Chapman Catt, in the strenuous and finally successful Woman's Suffrage Campaign. One of her notable achievements was a tour she made as speaker to open air meetings in the final suffrage campaign in Ohio. In that campaign she spoke from the same platform with Richmond Pearson Hobson, and acquitted herself with credit to her cause and to herself.

(This eulogy from Dr. Frederick W. Roman, lecturer and writer.)

My friends, we are met to do homage and pay our last respects to our departed friend. Her life as a record of exalted devotion and consecration to the great duties of home and citizenship. Her example will be to all of us a lasting memory, a challenge and call t the highest potentialities of our lives. We will miss her in our intimate circles. She leaves vacant a position in our minds and hearts that cannot be filled. There will be left, however, the rich and cherished memory of one who knew the art of being loyal; who took joy in the service of things worthwhile; who was solicitous for the welfare of all who had the privilege of crossing her life's pathway.

It was my good fortune to pass many delightful hours with Mrs. Schindler. For the last several years we have been in the closest cooperation in talking of the needs of our immediate society and the world at large. During these contacts I was made to realize what a busy life she had always led. She was deeply interested in the homes of our country. She was a sympathetic and understanding friend to ambitious boys and girls. She was ever solicitous of discovering new modes of thought and action that would lead to enriched forms of behavior and more responsible attitudes.

She had an alert mind. Its capacities and potentialities passed the circle of her immediate environment. It led to her entrance into various reform movements, and finally it accounts for the progressive role she was already playing here in the city of Los Angeles; and we who are members of the “Parliament of Man” will always be cognizant of the loss of one who was to us an ever ready challenge to the highest that in nature we could be.

Mrs. Schindler was a woman who read widely. She had clear conceptions of the capacity of men who hold responsible positions. She had a comprehensive grasp of the great political and economic questions of our time. She was always actuated by wise and firm decisions, moderated by tolerance, and ever ready to change a point of view in the light of new findings. She was a woman who never grew old.......

The sum total of her sympathies makes us feel our loss at this hour all the more. She has left us a life that will be regarded as a rich heritage. In this age of social disorder her life will be looked upon as one of those rare human values that become the stabilizer of the best forms of human conduct. She was a model to all mothers. Her resplendent attitudes toward life, and her continues striving toward the larger responsibility of both the home and the State make her forever an outstanding example to all women.

Our friend shared the common thought of the large majority of thoughtful men and women in the belief of some sort of immortality. She was not disposed to talk much on these matters because her life was spent at all times in a rich measure of service to others. She was winning immortality, not by remembering herself, but by a constant forgetting in a devotion to something that was larger than mere existence. She was engaged in evolving conceptions of truth that can never die. She was absorbed in the formulation of newer and richer life processes that would be calculated to reduce social waste, and that in the end would result in newer and better conceptions of living. This is itself would accelerate the growth and extension of a permanent civilization.....

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Gravenstein Apples

I just plucked the last apple off the Gravenstein apple tree I planted about a dozen years ago. I have been inundated! And this was the first year I got big apples – bigger than I expect Gravensteins to be.

Gravenstein apple on my tree

I'm not sure my freezer can hold any more apple products. I've got 7 apple pie fillings, a couple of apple crisps, the lemon/apple combination for a couple of Lemon-Pecan-Apple cakes, and 5 pints of applesauce.

Just a few of the many

I've shared quite a few pies at potlucks, a couple of the apple cakes and given pints of applesauce to several friends. And I still have a couple of refrigerator drawers filled with apples. My nephew, Simon, said that if you have that apple cake, there's no need to make any other kind of cake. I think I got the recipe from my Aunt Mary and don't remember her being much of a cook, but this is a winner.

Lemon-Pecan-Apple Cake

Lemon-Pecan-Apple Cake

3 medium apples
1 large lemon
1 cup butter, melted
½ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans

Peel, core and chop the apples and toss in a bowl with grated rind and juice from the lemon. Pour the melted butter into a large bowl and add the oil. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and add the vanilla. Beat in the sugar. Stir in the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder. Stir in the chopped apples and pecans. Pour into a greased and floured 10” tube pan. Bake at 350° for about one hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove the outside part of the pan. When the cake has cooled, remove it from the rest of the pan. Make the glaze and spread on the cake.

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 Tbs. butter, softened
1 large lemon
1 Tbs. honey

Grate and squeeze the lemon. Combine all the ingredients, using 3 Tbs. lemon juice. Spread on the cake.

I planted the tree because my parents had one when they lived out in Bennett Valley. It produced the same bounty and my mother made and froze pie fillings and applesauce. But there were so many apples that for a few years I made cider – without a cider press. I'd quarter the apples – just to make sure there would be no worms in the cider – and then throw them in my food processor (I had the heavy duty one) and chop them up, skins and all. Then I'd squeeze them in cheesecloth – with my own two hands! - and it took forever. But the cider was worth it. I can't make it anymore. My arthritic hands aren't strong enough.

Julia helping in my mother's kitchen

It took me right back to my childhood in the Northeast – to the thick, rich cider we'd get in the Fall. My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Buckley, lived on a farm that was a couple hundred years old and in the barn there was an old-fashioned cider press. We took a field trip to her farm and made cider. I remember singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” on the bus to the farm – I'm sure the driver was happy it was a short trip.

But the memory of cider, sugared cake doughnuts and the smell of burning leaves is an indelible part of childhood and is one of the reasons I still feel I'm more a part of the Northeast than California, though I've lived here more than two-thirds of my life. And it's ironic that an apple tree, of a variety that grows in California, never fails to take me back.

Apple Pie

Apple Pie

2-1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
½ cup cold butter
½ cup organic shortening
½ cup orange juice

Combine the flour and salt. Cut in the butter and shortening (I use a pastry cutter with flat blades – the wire ones aren't very strong.) Add the orange juice (I start with 6 T. and add more if the dough doesn't come together) and mix with a fork until it starts to come together. Divide the dough in two balls, working it until the dough comes together enough to roll.

8 apples, preferably Gravensteins (6, if they're really big)
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
½ tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. allspice (more if you like allspice)

Mix all the ingredients except the apples in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples and thinly slice them. Mix them with the dry ingredients.

Roll out half the dough and line a pie plate (the little foil ones are not big enough!). Fill with the apple filling. Roll out the other ball of dough and place on top of the filling. Crimp. Cut several slits in the top pie crust.

Bake at 400° for 20 minutes, reduce to 375° for about 40 more minutes.

Note: I actually don't measure any of the filling, so it's an approximation. Also, sometimes I add the grated peel of a lemon, or ½ a pint of blackberries, or some chopped dried apricots and chopped candied ginger. It's fun to play around with additions.

Friday, August 19, 2016

From Sacred Landscapes to Warrior Society

From Sacred Landscapes to Warrior Society - 081916

The room where a had my dream

I had a dream while staying in Paris during the summer of 2013. There were no visuals, purely physical and emotional sensations. I was facing a great danger. Though I couldn't see it, I knew it was in front of me and manifest by a massive and strong enemy. It was a powerful and oppressive presence. I also knew that there were people behind me – people who were with me in the struggle – whatever it might be. I had no sense of whether we would win or lose. What I did know is that we had to have courage in the face of the enemy, no matter how afraid we might be. The unknown “battle” was not engaged in the dream. It was a premonition.

Yarrow in the glen

After I left Paris, I went to Scotland. Some of my ancestors are from Scotland – Campbells and Hutchinsons who came to the United States not long before the U.S. Civil War. I had planned the trip carefully because I wanted to see as much as I could in a short time without a car. I researched where I might find standing stones and cairns to which I could walk. I found Kilmartin in Kilmartin Glen.

An explanation of the sites in Kilmartin Glen - with my reflection

The glen – valley – carved by a glacier and its runoff contains relics of human use going back almost 5,000 years. It began as a ritual burying ground before being used later for human habitation and agriculture.

An old spelling of Campbell in the cemetery by the church in Kilmartin

Kilmartin Glen's designation is “very remote rural” with a population under 900. But it is on a local bus line! I did a lot of my traveling on bus lines which are not used by tourists, sometimes on one lane roads. Because they don't run often, linking my modes of travel was limiting, but well worth it.

My window at the Kilmartin Inn

I stayed at the Kilmartin Inn – an inn upstairs and a pub downstairs – with a commanding view of the glen. I could only stay two nights – not nearly enough to see 350 monuments in a 6-mile radius. One of my goals is to get back there for at least four more nights!

The view of the glen from my room

On my one full day there, I walked on the path that runs through the valley along a linear cemetery of cairns (burial sites under piles of stone) and standing stones. It was a beautiful, warm day. I was lucky to have only a couple of days of misty weather during my time in Scotland. I had the path to myself the entire day.

The path by the thistles

As I approached one of the cairns, I stopped by a stand of thistles. I don't know what attracted me, since they were small, pale and dusty – not the impressive ones, large and bright - I'd seen elsewhere. I realized that I hadn't yet taken a photo of thistles, so I took one of this scraggly bunch. 

The pale dusty thistles

As I turned to head back to the cairn, I had such a strong sense of deja vu, that I was completely disoriented and almost fell over. I was thinking, “But I've never been here, I've never been here!” As I reoriented myself, it dawned on me that my dream in Paris had taken place in this spot in the glen. The feeling was so strong that I have never doubted it. It had been a precognitive dream, but I would eventually find it to be so much more.

The cairn

The rest of the day was uneventful, though deeply satisfying, spent among the cairns and standing stones and small “castles.” The standing stones I saw were in a sheep field. In Scotland, you can walk into such privately-owned fields, as long as you close the gate behind you. It was the only place where I encountered people.

One of the standing stones

Much of the area is privately owned by corporations. Because of deposits from glaciers and their runoff, the area exists on gravel terraces – the town itself sits on a terrace above the floor of the glen – and there is a large gravel quarry nearby. The hills are owned by timber companies and much of Scotland (whose hills have been denuded many times) is covered with non-native trees (mostly Sitka Spruce) planted in neat rows next to clear cut areas. That is all clearly visible in Kilmartin Glen. Many of the historic sites in the area are on corporate property, though still accessible to the public.

Cup and ring markings - I bought a locally made necklace with these markings and wear it often

That night at the pub, the owner gave me tastes of different single-malt whiskies – so I could compare one without peat and ones with different levels of peat (some of Kilmartin Glen is a peat bog). People told stories around the fire. A young couple was hiking the length of Scotland. They had pitched their tent across the street on a patch of lawn next to the church cemetery. No one ever told them they couldn't. Imagine! We all sat around with our whisky and listened to their adventures.

View of the cairn from a hillside

I had to leave early the next day on the local bus to catch a ferry for the next leg of my trip and I thought, only occasionally, of my deja vu/dream experience in the glen. It wasn't until I got home a few weeks later and began researching the area further that I began to understand its significance. I ordered a couple of Scottish books not available here – one from the museum in Kilmartin. A quote on the flyleaf says, “Visiting the Kilmartin valley without this book in your rucksack would be very silly indeed.” Well, my visit hadn't been “silly,” but it would have been greatly enhanced by the information in the book. There were few signs in the area and I had, apparently, walked right past some fabulous sites. Possibly setting me up for having to go back? The glen was described as having begun as sacred space and having evolved as a symbol of power.

The second book is a collection of essays on Argyll – seat of Clan Campbell – of which Kilmartin is a part. One of the essays by Trevor Cowie is titled “The Bronze Age: from Sacred Landscapes to Warrior Society.” Now I felt that I was on to something linking my dream to the glen. Kilmartin Glen is one of those places where we can trace the change from matriarchal societies rooted in reverence of the natural world to patriarchal societies rooted in exploitation of the gifts of nature. It was an easy leap for me to imagine myself in that dream as being among the women who must have fought (in many ways on many fronts) bravely to inhibit that march to patriarchy. I do not make an easy leap to past lives (and haven't), but I did and do feel a special thrill to imagine the possibility that my female ancestors (predecessors of the Campbells) were active in that struggle and that the struggle is somewhere in my genes.

Description of a cairn with the woman in the center

I had been satisfied with those imaginings until recently (and here I go political on you). Now we may be at the culmination of that struggle our foremothers began so many thousands of years ago. Now is the time (or, possibly, past the time) for everyone to understand that the culture of war an exploitation could have brought humankind to an evolutionary dead end. Thus, the current presidential election has brought my dream and the struggle it represents directly back to me. I find myself constantly in conversations about Hillary Clinton's candidacy – both as the first woman candidate from one of two “major” parties and as the “only choice” to defeat Donald Trump. It is not my intent to have that full conversation here, but her candidacy is very relevant to the dream. I now find myself standing up for the values for which I imagine my very ancient “mothers” fought. And that struggle is being waged against a woman who represents the strongest and most inhumane patriarchy that has ever existed. My “mothers” did not win and, interestingly, the evidence of their lives was obliterated for millennia by climate change that brought the bogs which covered the cairns and stones. And that loss is still seen in their glen in the form of gravel quarries and clear cuts.

I do not think we will win this time either. And, sadly, it is a woman, finding her power in modeling her actions on those of men, who will continue to lead us pell mell to what could be the end of humankind, who will rape the earth, will build more and better nuclear weapons, and who will wage war on people the world over. I am grateful to those who struggle against this with me. I feel them around me as I did in the dream. And, as in the dream, the enemy is huge, powerful and oppressive. And we may not win, but we must try.

I have begun a series of poems (primarily unfinished, so far) about my time in the glen. Here is one of them.

Scottish Glen, Kilmartin
by Susan Lamont

Like mummers moving through our dreams,
souls incant ancient songs, long stolen
from the mouths of silenced bards. Where poems

of praise once wove through hazel, oak and elm, now
sentineled shadows of foreign spruce stand guard.
No bones remain, but memory of footsteps, flesh to earth,

haunts the spirit path, links cairns and
standing stones, dark permanence the peat held fast
through time 'til man reclaimed this earth for fire.

A constellation of stones announces
the rising moon. Archaic script of ciphers,
the alchemy of stone and simple tools,

speak ceremony. Bearing the gift of ritual,
shades of women move unshod
between heather and stream, delicate

and deliberate as water birds, frail
against the tide of newly-minted bronze,
wielded by men wedded to conquest and keen blade.

Today, under warming sky, a stream meanders
where once a torrent roared, a glen
swept wide and bare by rage of ice melt.

Dull blue thistles sway from press
of bees, slow and full in their work.
Dusty umbels of yarrow lace the path

through this trace of glacial scour.
Earth holds her secrets, faint as shadows
of ancient ferns pressed in stone, elusive

as the sheen of raven's blue-black wing.
Cleared by weapon and axe, the hills look down,
denuded. Along their scars, the sea lochs furthest reach

begins to stretch, flexing muscles as strong
as glaciers. Midst this calamity of grief,
who will bury our parched bones against a rising tide?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Poetry Saves the Day

Though it was in mid-August 2013 that I came back from my months in Paris, London, Scotland, Wales and Dublin, I didn't finish posting photos until late September. And I never really summed up the experience and won't try to at this late date. But I had planned to get back to blogging long before this – a week shy of three years since returning. Better late than never – maybe.

I used to sit in my recliner next to the window in my bedroom. For most of the time in tis house, the window was high and I couldn't see out without standing. Three years ago I remedied that situation and had the window expanded. Then I bought a recliner from my friend, Bruce, when he moved to Nepal. Heaven, but only briefly. Bruno came into my life and he took over the recliner for a year-and-a-half. I'm a softy (really!), so I didn't kick him out. Then Bruno died in April at age 14. It took me a few weeks to reclaim the chair.

Bruno in the recliner

The first time I sat in the recliner again was an afternoon when I wasn't going to work. I work part-time, four afternoons a week, and this was an afternoon without work. This was one of those one-in-five free afternoons. So I sat in the recliner, put a glass of rosé on the windowsill (now at the perfect height), and opened a book of poetry. And I read for a couple of hours and pondered the poem I was writing for Terry Ehret's poetry workshop.

At the end of the day, I looked back on it and thought about what a relaxing day it had been. Then I realized that I had gone to a landscape client's and measured her yard, taken Maggie to the dog park, gone to the Board of Supervisors with Marni Wroth and Elaine Holtz to talk about Victim's Rights Week, gotten some exercise, made dinner and watched an episode of “Downton Abbey.” In addition to the couple of hours in the recliner!

But it felt relaxed – just right. I think it was Eavan Boland's poetry that did the trick! Boland's political poetry makes a large political point through the telling of intimate stories about individual lives. That's what I wanted to do with the poem I was working on. Those hours in the recliner helped me achieve the same thing, I think.

Whenever I get really busy, poetry gets cut from the schedule. Big mistake!

Here is Eavan Boland at a poetry festival I went to in Paris.

Here's a poem of Boland's followed by mine. I did not read hers until I was well into mine, so it was exciting to find this. You'll see why.

Sea Change
by Eavan Boland

What did he leave me, my grandfather,
Who lost his life in a spring tempest
At the Chaussée des Pierres Noires
At the edge of Biscay?

With is roof of half-seen stars
His salty walls rising high and higher
To the last inch of the horizon
He built nothing that I could live in.

His door of cresting water,
His low skies skidding on the waves
His seaman's windows giving on
Iridescent plankton never amounted to home,

And no one lay at night
Seeing these unfold in their minds with
That instinct of amendment history allows
Instead of memory.

I was born in a place, or so it seemed,
Where every inch of ground
Was a new fever or a field soaked
To its grassy roots with remembered hatreds.

Where even if I turned to legerdemain
To bring land and ocean together,
Saying water meadow to myself for instance,
The distances remained.

A spring night in Dublin.
Neap tide on the Irish Sea,
To the north of here in the Garden of Remembrance
The dead are defined by their relation to land.

When he looked over the ship's rail at midnight
Into his ocean garden
All he saw was oxygen unfrocking phosphorus
Lacing the sea with greens.

by Susan Lamont

for my 5th great-grandmother, buried at sea in 1751, wife of John, first name unknown

I imagine cormorants, black against rinsed sky, fog
a second skin, your hands on the ship's slick rail
steady against the tide that day you fled. I imagine

your leave-taking, rough unpainted door, hedgerow
of hawthorn in bud, blue song-thrush eggs safe in their nest,
left behind with your idle loom. Ulster's kings of commerce

no longer trade in linen, raised the rent, pressed your life to the margins.
Your and yours can only imagine freedom and plenty somewhere that is not home.
A rough migration along the curve of the earth leaves the Irish Sea behind,

your ears filled with wind, heaven past the horizon, just out of reach.
I imagine ingots of light igniting the waves as smallpox ignites
your cheeks, your fevered dreams of home, the hawthorn buds, open,

their honeyed scent, a thrush's fluting song, while on this ship,
three children, John, Jacob, Sarah, clutch their father's homespun shirt.
I imagine a life, a death, your memory a whisper,

nameless. No shroud save your linen apron. No Memento mori
on lichened stone. The salt of fever and tears joins all the unnamed
beneath the waves, your life just so much salt in the wound of the world.

Though my poem has a very serious subject, it was really enjoyable to write. I got to do a lot of research for it. I found out which birds and plants are native to Ireland. I looked up industries of the time. I researched the politics. I wanted to know why people left Ireland 100 years before the Great Famine. I even looked up the most common epitaphs. Momento mori was not my first choice, but the others were too long. Since writing it, I have found out more about my unnamed great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, but that's a story for a later date.