Do you ever think about the words you say or write and how they affect others? On the fateful day of October 29, 2012, as my beautiful niece, Kim, was making final plans for her December 2 wedding, I sat down at my keyboard to celebrate the person I’ve known since infancy.
How do I express how exceptional this person is? How do I express how extremely caring, capable and intelligent she is? How do I put that in words, making it palpable to all who read my tribute to her? My intention was to give her a unique gift, a gift that might even be an additional favor resting on the tables at her reception.
I ruminated until, poised over the keyboard, the words poured out of me. But instead of writing paragraphs, a poetic form emerged. Then the lights started flickering, I could hear the rain and wind outside growing stronger. Do I close down my computer or keep going? I thought, maybe we won’t lose electricity, right before the lights dimmed and then went black. Did I lose everything I had written? I was angry with myself for not taking the hint from the dimming lights and turning off my computer before it turned itself off.
Hurricane Sandy hit with a vengeance. I felt closed off from the world, save for a battery-operated radio. The next two days were a struggle just to deal with the loss of electricity. We have an electric stove, so I couldn’t even heat water or cook. We barbecued some dinners until we grew weary of that. I dashed in and out of the shower trying to preserve warm water. For someone who takes two showers a day, it became increasingly difficult for me to separate my body from my brain so that I could deal with the no shower situation when we finally lost the remaining warm water.
In the midst of all the chaos Sandy had wrought, I was haunted by the urge to return to my poem. Finally, on day three of the blackout I decided to start over. I could remember some of what I had written and tried to jot that down the old-fashioned way—pen to paper. It was dark and the only light came from the reflection of candles and a camping flashlight, but I figured if the greatest poetic minds in history could write by candlelight, so could I.
I envisioned Shakespeare sitting at a little wooden table, feather pen in hand, a candle flickering, as he spilled out all 154 sonnets. He created magical lasting verse in this manner. I would take on the challenge and not allow the ravages of Sandy to deter me any longer.
There I sat at dusk trying to catch the last bit of natural light before it was extinguished by black night. In total darkness, I forged ahead until the last word slipped into place. I finished my creation—now titled “Autumn’s Princess,” since my niece was born in autumn, October 30, to be exact—on the sixth day of the blackout.
By day eight, electricity snapped back on and life as we knew it returned. When I sat at my computer, I was thrilled to find the part of my poem I’d written before the mayhem of Sandy had not been destroyed. I compared the original to the writing I did by candlelight and picked out the best of each. Some careful edits was all the piece needed before I was ready to surprise my beautiful niece with it.
She loved the poem. It was written as sort of a declaration, so we decided to scroll up copies, tie them with ribbon and, as I had envisioned, place them at each table setting as an additional favor for her wedding guests.
Last week, on October 30, my niece celebrated her 30th birthday. Her new husband threw the best Halloween Party I have ever attended. He thought of everything. It felt like my favorite holiday, Christmas. Their house was decorated inside and out. He rented a giant tent, had the event catered and went all out for his new bride.
For me, the best part came as a complete surprise. Since this was a Halloween birthday party, the guests got creative with their costumes. But none was more touching than the costume my niece chose for her very special birthday—she became the “Autumn’s Princess” from the title of my poem.
With the help of my sister—her mother—she created the character from my poem, or her alter ego, since it was a tribute to her.
Words and how they reach people are powerful. My niece was so taken by my poetic tribute to her that she created her character. I am deeply touched that she did this.
I’m sure Shakespeare was spurred on by the power of words as he composed all 154 sonnets. After all, his intention in writing most of those sonnets was to preserve the memory of someone who touched his life. He gave a gift to that person as he wrote:
“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme”
Like Shakespeare’s sonnets, my poem about a lovely, intelligent, caring young woman shall live on in the minds and hearts of all who read it. What’s even more important to me, is that my niece treasures these words meant just for her.
by Barbara Anne Kirshner
Born on the eve when ghosts and goblins seek to deceive.
Pumpkins wink from window panes and costumed children play wicked games.
The joy of this birth so overwhelmed her Mother;
she knew none could compare, there would never be another.
Autumn’s sleight of hand like a halo swirled,
early signs of wisdom clearly unfurled.
Once strolling with Aunt and older brother
a giant slide they would discover.
Her brother scooted up the slide
intent on a thrill, on a joy ride.
The worried Aunt tried to deflect,
but her fearful caution he did reject.
Seeing woe in Auntie’s eyes
Autumn’s Princess calmed with words so wise.
“Don’t worry Auntie, I’m watching him.
No need to fear or be so grim.”
So down the giant slide he flew,
landing safely as the Princess said he’d do.
Autumn’s Princess was raised with gentle care.
Strong love surrounded her, this child so fair.
She had a special bond with her Grandfather,
who would do anything for the Princess, it never
seemed a bother.
To music lessons and volley ball games he’d drive,
then top each off with an ice cream stop before home they’d arrive.
She’d share her secrets with this wise old sage
who kept her trust till the end of his days.
The Princess had a dear Grandma too.
Home from school she’d rush, wouldn’t you?
Gran set the teapot and cups for two,
designed with flowers of every hue.
Out came cakes or Italian biscotti
and if Grandma cooked, maybe even manicotti.
As our Princess grew she’d clasp
algebra, geometry and calculus, all fell within her grasp.
Her Mother and her Aunt were awed
for the works of math they had ignored.
Concluding the skill passed from Grandfather to Granddaughter,
Missing one complete generation, this gift fell out of order.
Our Princess was inspired by her Mother’s expertise.
Bonding hair where none was there, caused anxieties to ease.
Following in Mom’s footsteps, this was her dearest aim.
Her Mother helped lots of people and she wanted to do the same.
One passion that consumed her life,
love of creatures even those in strife.
Felines sensed her deep devotion,
came from near and far as if she had a special potion.
She would regale even the most troubled feline friend
with songs to help any heart mend.
Our Autumn Princess knew something was amiss.
She couldn’t give it voice, yet she felt emptiness.
One day, a slender, young man stopped by
while our Princess carved a pumpkin, first the mouth then triangular eye.
Said she, “My very best day is round the bend.”
It was then he knew he’d just made a friend.
For Halloween was his favorite too.
They had this in common, that much he knew.
A jack-o-lantern, he cut just right.
The Princess was amused, she applauded with delight.
He confessed that carpentry was his trade.
From wood and stone, houses he had made.
He went on to confide of greater loves he held,
for the creatures of the earth, he felt strongly compelled.
His kin known for kindness, that was their notion.
Working at animal shelters, they did with true devotion.
Our Princess knew she found her mate.
This handsome young man, he was her fate.
They became a couple and took a space.
The young man transformed it into something called “Our Place”.
With a flourish he painted and pounded wood and stone.
He surprised her with a palace all their very own.
One day a gray cat appeared in the snow.
They adopted him and named the cat Cilo.
The young man knelt before Autumn’s Princess and took her hand.
He asked if she’d spend her life with him.
That would make him feel so grand.
She whispered, “Yes”, for he was the best, then they made their wedding plan.
An announcement was decreed throughout the land.
December the first would be their day and he gave her a promise band.
So on life’s highway these two did go
and by their side was the padding stride
of the gray cat called Cilo.