Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Verse: The Queen in Exile

The Queen in Exile

She waits on her throne
For an audience with cardinals.
She will not speak human
Nor will they bow to her.

Instead, she will watch
From behind a window,
And wait.

With flicking tongue she
Will anoint her subjects’ hands.
With a swish of her tail, she
Treads the floors of her palace.

She is Gloriana, in a way.
No less a queen than Victoria, or
Elizabeth I and II.
She is the purring version of
Catherine Parr,
And just as faithful as Queen Mary.

She is both lioness—her
Own royal standard—
And pet.

She is the Queen,
Clad in the finest fur.
She issues proclamations
As meows, which
The peasants cannot understand.
It is her own Queen’s English;
Like Latin to a layperson.

She sleeps in sunshine.
She wakes at dusk.
Her kingdom is of the night.

While she battles invading
Wind-up mice, she is protector,
And sovereign.

When She partakes of catnip
It is her teatime.

She is the regnant with a reign
Longer than Queen Jane, yet
Shorter than Elizabeth R.

Now in exile, she waits.
She waits for the day when her
Reign will end.

Onto the shores of Avalon, she’ll
Land, not with a whimper,
But with a purr.
Other queens may come
And go.
Yet none shall equal her age.
There she sits, and waits
On her throne.

28th of November 2016

Text and Photo Copyright Riley Joyce 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Prayer for a Rose

It's been ages since I've written poetry. I've always preferred to write prose, though I feel that as a writer one should be able to write almost anything. I take great inspiration from poetry, and see it as an influence on my writing style. In these days of analytical writing (of which I am a part of) I feel that we analytical writers can learn a lot from poetry. 

As John Lennon once sang, "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream." 

That's a lesson we can all learn. 

Allow your mind to drift, and read some verse. 

Over the next few entries I'll post some verses I've composed. He's one that I did recently as practice. 

A Prayer for A Rose
A prayer for a rose,
A rose of white.
A prayer to guide us
Through the night.

A rose of virtue,
A rose so fair.
A rose beyond compare.

A prayer for a rose,
A rose of red.
A prayer to guide us
To thy bed.

A rose of peace.
A rose of love.
A rose that runs
Through my blood.

A rose in winter
To bring us warmth.
A rose on a distant shore
To call us home.

Text and photo are Copyright Riley Joyce 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

Meditations on a Timeless Muse

Meditations on a Timeless Muse

My friend Megan had made me a promise a few years back.
She's said, “If Loreena McKennitt comes back to Pittsburgh, we'll go see her.”

That promise was fulfilled on November fifth, Guy Fawkes Day! We didn't blow anything up, but we did have a wonderful time. Incidentally, our American election was on that Tuesday...less said about that, the better.

I've been a fan of Ms. McKennitt since I was a teenager. My first exposure to her music was from the documentary No Journey's End—in which she was depicted on tour, while writing her then current album The Mask and Mirror (1994, pictured above). That same album was to become my first Loreena McKennitt album. I played it so many times, almost in marathons back in the 90's. I memorized the entire thing. I'd play it back-to-back with The Visit and The Book of Secrets. I even read along with the lyric books.

This concert, as part of the Troubadour Performance, was held at the gorgeous Byham Theater. I'd been there once before to see Neko Case. This was concert in which the audience sat, and listened. Yet, I was glad to hear cheers and shouts, for even the most somber of tunes. I'd rather not spoil the setlist for other fans, but I will say the show opening surprised me. The familiar harp strings of Samian Night pulled us into the mist-shrouded world of McKennitt's music. It was as if we were being taken back in time, to a world of stone circles, and bardic traditions.

Indeed, she performed the role of wise woman that night. Not only did McKennitt sing to us, she also told us stories. There were stories of her travels, and the inspirations behind her music. One such story that comes to mind is the one about buying the skull of Brian Boru. Another is a tale about being busted for busking in London. I'd rather not spoil either of these stories, as they are both hilarious. You just have to be there to experience them.

There was also a bit of commentary as well.

One of the points that Ms. McKennitt brought up was that of children and digital media. It seems that these days children are being weaned on the “glass teat” so to speak. They are exposed to electronic media at a much younger age, and are more dependent on such media. The internet is a good thing, believe me. But it's that children and teens spend so much time texting to friends, instead of spending time with friends, that something is lost in the process.

This was evidenced when someone, against the performer's wishes, took a photo of Loreena McKennitt as she was speaking.
Her response was polite, as she said, “Have you not heard? If you could please put your cellphones away, and other things, that would be great.”

She smiled, and was applauded. That's the way to handle that sort of situation. The person who took the photo also had the audacity to use a flash!

Loreena McKennitt has a very warm personality. She's gentle, well-spoken, and conversational. It felt as if she were guiding us, and imparting lessons upon us, in a very loving way. I was very impressed with her as a person, just as much as I've always been impressed with her as a musician. Her performance surpassed my expectations. So much so, that I count her as being on even keel with Lindsey Stirling for best concert ever!

On a personal note...

In my teenage summers I'd have some alone time in the evenings, as my father was at work. I would make dinner, and then put on McKennitt's music as I ate. I would then drink mint tea, open the windows, and let in the warm summer breezes. It was like a form of de-stressing.

I'd also sometimes write with her music playing softly in the background. Or, I'd lie in bed, and listen to her—completely surrounded by the sonic landscapes from my boombox (which my mother had bought for me as my first stereo). It'd enter into a sort of serene imagining. I would visualize every word she sang. I could see the people and places that McKennitt mentioned in her music, even though I'd not been to any of those places yet. I had that same waking fantasy while listening to her that very night. She's one of the few musicians who had that effect on me.

While I'll not spoil the setlist, I will mention two songs in 

First, as her second some that night, Ms. McKennitt played Annachie Gordon.

I turned to Megan, who smiled at me. It's my favorite Loreena McKennitt song. It's also one of the most tragic. It tells of a young woman who is arranged to marry a wealthy Scottish nobleman. It's against her wishes, as she'd rather marry the poor sailor, mentioned in the title. I pictured every word, as if these people were real. I cried as I did so.

I cried during almost everything song. I'll get personal, and use her first name here. Loreena's voice is even more powerful in real life! I remember the first time I saw her on television, and thought, “Who is this woman? She has the most beautiful voice I've ever heard.” She still does have the most beautiful voice I've ever heard. I cried at such beauty. Megan told me that she did likewise. So many emotions came to the surface during that concert. So many memories as well.

I remembered the first time I heard The Visit was on Christmas Day. It was given to me as a gift, as was Parallel Dreams. I remembered hearing Elemental for the first time. William Blake's words, and Loreena's music...I was never the same after that.

I also remember playing her music for my mother on several 
occasions. To which my mother replied, “She has a haunting voice.”

I thought of my mother, as Loreena sang Dante's Prayer—a song she'd written to memorialize her father. Yes, I cried again, but was thankful for it.

Seeing her in concert was therapeutic for me. It was as if I'd recovered another lost part of myself—one that I didn't realize I'd lost, until now. I am thankful for that.

I'm also thankful for Megan accompanying me. I didn't want to go alone, and not have someone to share the experience with. She had admitted that had she not met me three years ago, she would have gone by herself as well. I'm one of the few people she knows that is into this sort of music.

It was bittersweet for her as well. She'd lost a much loved uncle a few years ago. He was also a fan of Loreena's music, and so the concert was a chance to pay tribute to him. I don't think she'd mind me mentioning that.

As we head into the end of the year, it's a time for reflection. It's a time also to look to the future, while we respect the past, and the lessons we learn from it.

Let us hope that 2017 is year in which we never forget. Let us also hope that it's a year that brings new and great things—such as a new album by Loreena McKennitt!

Text copyright Riley Joyce 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Post 11/9 World

A Post 11/9 World
(Yes, you read that right)

A few months ago I gave up my seat on the bus, so that a young Muslim couple could sit next to each other. The man thanked me profusely. He smiled, and was incredibly grateful. I didn't think much of it at first, seeing as how this was just courtesy on my part. I'd given up my seat to elderly people, women, men, and couples before. It just seemed like the right thing to do. It wasn't until this morning that the gravity of that gesture came to me.

His wife wore a hijab, and he also wore traditional clothing. Both of them were African-American as well. I might be reading too deeply into this, but it's possible that few people had been that courteous to them.

I see that same man almost every day downtown—where he sells handmade soaps and essential oils from a street vendor's cart. I don't know how well he does, but I hope it's enough for both he and his wife to survive. Believe me, I know what it's like to be below poverty level. It feels like the cards are stacked against you in life, unless you have money. I think about that man from time to time, postulate that he much to contend with.

Race shouldn't be an obstacle, nor should one's faith. Unfortunately, the prejudice against these things are obstacles. Racism and intolerance are massive obstacles. In that case the fault doesn't lie with on for their skin color or religious beliefs. The fault lies with the ones who attack them for these things. It's that fear of the unknown again, and again, that comes back to haunt us. We fear what, and who, we do not understand. Yet, we are not born with these fears—they are learned from our environments. Just when I thought those environments were changing, they ceased development.

If this recent election has taught us anything, it's that we have a lot of fearful people out there. We also have a lot more progress to make.

Around the turn of the 20th century there was a massive influx of immigration. We've all seen the photos of Ellis Island, and people who fled poverty to start new lives, etc. Well, there's a dark side to that. Sometimes those immigrants were brought over as cheap labor. They were paid less than their American-born counterparts. They were also blamed for unemployment, as it was feared they take all their jobs away. Keep in mind that many of these immigrants came from Europe themselves. However, most of them didn't speak English, and had different customs to their American counterparts.

Boston, which we now associate as an Irish American stronghold wasn't always so accepting. Storefronts used to have signs in the windows that said, “No Irish or dogs allowed.” Things were no better on the west coast, where now-liberal California once had severe laws that limited how Chinese immigrants could conduct business. The reason so many of them opened laundries and restaurants was because those were among the few businesses they could legally operate. They didn't have identification cards, but they were subject to unfair laws all the same. Immigrants of all ethnicity could scarcely get an education as well. That's why many of them became laborers. The country will live in now with it's steel monuments like the Empire State Building, were built by these people. Think of that the next time you see pictures of massive steel skyscrapers and bridges.

The Irish fared a little better, as they'd set up a society in certain American cities. If you were Irish, and you knew someone in America, you could probably get a job. It would either be as a cop, a laborer, or priest (if you were already ordained). Or, if you weren't so lucky, you may have to bend the law, and go the gangster route. Keep in mind that there were few opportunities back then, especially for immigrants. Sometimes, you had to break the law to rise above the law. It was about survival, nothing more.

I speak of the Irish experience, because well, you know my name. I'm most familiar with this aspect of the immigrant experience, because my own great-grandparents experienced it. I wouldn't exist if they'd not come here. That being said, I might have Irish NHS insurance, a better public school education, and I may have graduated from university already. I might also be doing shots with Bono, so there's a bit of gave and take there. Though much like himself, I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

All joking aside, I'm reminded of “Dagger” John Hughes, the Archbishop of New York. In 1844 he and his parishioners armed themselves, and fought off a contingent of Nativists, who sought to kick the Irish (who were mostly Catholic) out of New York. When he threatened the then pro-Nativist mayor by saying, “If one single Catholic church were burned in New York, the city would become a second Moscow,” the mayor relented. In other words, he would have mobilized his flock, and rioted--just as Russians scorched Moscow before Napoleon's arrival.

Why am I using an example of white, Irish Catholics?
The point here is that racism isn't bound by ethnicity. It can be directed at anyone for any bullshit reason. Yes, I finally swore in my blog. Deal with it. Much like actual bullshit, the bogus reasons for racism and other forms of prejudice are fertilized with the excrement of faulty logic.

Example: Someone told me recently that they feared Syrian refugees would bring about sharia law in America. We already have separation of church and state. If having a Catholic as president in the 60's didn't turn the entire country Catholic, then how would a few more Syrians (who are being killed in their own homes by the way) make the country go Muslim? It wouldn't—anymore than a bunch of Protestant Swedes would make us all blonde. That wouldn't happen either, so stop dreaming. For that matter, we wouldn't all become Protestant either.

Ah, there's the rub! If it were an influx of white refugees, would that be better? Well the Irish came to this country en masse to avoid a famine in the late 19th century. So, perhaps not. Remember those signs in Boston? It seems as if history is repeating itself now. 

We live in a time now where the fear of the unknown is perhaps greater than before. Sadly, we also live in a time of great ignorance. People fear not only what they do not understand, they also fear what they do not know. In other words, they don't even know what they are afraid of! Except now it's not Protestants fearing Catholics, or vice versa. Instead, it's whites fearing non-whites. Aren't we over that by now? That goes back to Robert E. Lee, and those guys on the Smith Brother's Cough Drop box. That bullshit is also out of date. Not the cough drops though. They still make them!

Sadly, the struggle is not only real, it's still with us. It seems like when America takes a giant leap forward it takes a massive step back. It's as if America is testing the waters, and is afraid of getting in too deep. Once it does get in deep it'll have to face itself—that, my readers, is the ultimate terror—seeing ourselves in the mirror, and realizing we need a good grooming as a nation. The blemishes of America are not from without, but from within. We need a good scrub, and soon, or we may be sicker than we think.

Copyright Riley Joyce 2016

Author's Note: The sign above is real, and really disturbing, as is the want ad.