Spirited stories for your spirits, with pieces by Margarita Meyendorff, Leslie Gabel-Brett and Russell Rowland.
In mid-January, 1909, the British explorer Ernest Shackleton and three companions made it to about 100 miles from the South Pole, the closest anyone but penguins had gotten. Two years later, in December 1911, Roald Amundsen’s team actually got there. And five weeks later, the team led by Robert Falcon Scott also reached the pole.
Seems like as good a reason as any to read some pieces about exploration and hope.
Imagine Shackleton or Amundsen or Scott saying to their parents, “Hey, Mom, hey, Dad, I’m going to go to Antarctica and hike to the South Pole.” Here, from Passager’s brand new not even in the mail yet Issue 76, an excerpt from Margarita Meyendorff’s memoir “Script in Hand.”
When I told my mother that I was leaving home to become an actress in NYC, she threw a pot of hot potato soup at me. She couldn’t understand my need to escape the tiny dark apartment in Nyack, NY with the camphor-scented claustrophobia, the sickness and sadness that permeated the walls. I had to leave, and I did — with potato soup on my shoes.
I was only nineteen and determined to “make it” in New York. I moved in with my cousin, began attending dance, acting and singing classes. I answered the cattle call auditions where, usually, after hours of waiting, the director with one swift gesture of his hand, would dismiss an entire group of five-foot-three-inch blondes, of which I was one . . .
For nourishment, I ate 25 cent hot dogs with sauerkraut and made free hot water and ketchup “soup” at the Automat.
There was an almost instant descent down to the dregs of show business. I began go-go dancing in bars to make ends meet — men leered as I danced in cages with my fringe, fishnet stockings and red high heels.
Then, a break . . .
an excerpt from Margarita Meyendorff’s memoir “Script in Hand.”
Margarita said she’s the daughter of a Russian Baron and an Estonian mother forced to flee persecution by the Communists. The family immigrated to the U.S. in 1950. She said, “At age six I acted in Russian children’s plays and later performed as an actress, dancer, musician, and storyteller throughout the U.S. and Europe.”
Leslie Gabel-Brett said, “During these difficult times in our world, I am turning more than ever to theatre and poetry as meaningful ways to build community and inspire compassion and action. This poem is an expression of my reckoning with both limits and opportunities.”
“What Is Possible”
What, after all, is possible?
We have no gills,
our narrow arms are not wings,
our necks do not reach the tops of trees.
Later I may dream but now
I am thinking about gravity,
aging, ice freezing on the lock,
pockets to hold things.
Make note of the facts about work,
babies, cruelty, all the neighbors in a town
who have not met until the night
they stand together in the rain,
sacks of sand passed hand to hand
to hold the river back.
I am contented by this question
that I chant like a prayer, seeing words
before me wash out like the ocean
and return again with the tide.
I am finished with yearning.
From Passager’s 2022 Poetry Contest Issue, Leslie Gabel-Brett’s poem “What Is Possible.”
Russell Rowland said, “From an early age, a fascination with astronomy has given me a perspective on life. That a star’s light takes so long to reach us that the star we see may no longer actually exist is worth a few long thoughts and at least one poem.” Here’s his poem “Perspective.”
I’ve worked with folks who wished
I was someone else, and am proud to say
I didn’t accommodate them, content
if each night, stars impossibly far off
entrusted themselves to me.
There were bullies too, who got out
of bed angry and came looking —
but aware how long starlight takes
to reach here, I understood how a star
swallowed long ago by some black hole
still shone out clear to me, a while yet.
You could step out yourself at night
among the mosquitoes. There will be
nothing between you and The Dippers,
The Hunter, The Milky Way, but space,
and quiet. No crying or pain. Do not
take my word for it, go out and look.
I was once a little boy walking home
in tears over a skinned knee, too young
to know the galaxy was all there, within
the blue, beyond the sun: a great clock
that might strike twelve in my lifetime.
“Perspective,” Russell Rowland, from Passager Issue 72.
When I was looking for anniversaries to build this episode around, I also noticed that January 16 is Robert Service’s birthday — the Bard of the Yukon. If you’re a man of a certain age — that would be me — he might’ve been your introduction to poetry. Frost, Dickinson, Eliot, Tennyson, Keats, Shakespeare. They got nothing on this guy:
There are strange things done
in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge
of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
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For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.