Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots

The Poetry Box, a small independent publisher in Portland, Oregon, has done a beautiful job with my debut chapbook of poetry, ready now for pre-order here from my page on

CoverFront-MouthQuill
Mouth Quill: Poems with Ancestral Roots book cover, published by The Poetry Box

their website. Please visit to see a description and early reviews.

. . . a haunting intertwining of world history and family history.    ~ April Ossmann

The cover is a stunning photo of Estonian forest and sea by Michael Huang. I am so grateful for his gift to me for this collection.

The print edition is slated for September 30, 2020. At that point, you can also order the book from Amazon or from your favorite bookstores.

The term “mouth quill” (suude sulg) comes from ancient Estonian runic song and is seen as a singer’s magical tool. In a lovely verse known as The Village Tells Me, the singer says she has left home enchanting charms—her mouth quill and her tongue click—(keeleklõks). She bids her brothers to ride home with silver beaded horses to bring them to her so she can sing like birds.

When I was a young student, just starting college, I traveled to Finland to study and listen to rich Estonian field recordings of such music. In these last years, I feel so lucky to have been able to access notated music and even listen to oral history recordings on amazing online runic songs databases in Estonia. As I explored an arc of identity, many of these old songs inspired imagery and language in my poems, as did nature and historic events, both distant and more recent.

 

Poetry book coming!

Baltic Ice Lake with caption

My chapbook of poetry is being published by The Poetry Box and is slated for release in September 2020! The lines below the photo are from the first poem, Ancestral Journey—Beneath Ice Sheets, which begins an imaginary exploration leading to the shores of Estonia. This poem is part of a trilogy, three poems that form the start, middle and end of the collection; the other two being Ancestral Journey—The Milky Way and Ancestral Journey—Helix.

I chose the satellite photo above to share this announcement as it so beautifully illustrates, by way of a (modern) snow line, the approximate glacier lines from 10,000 years ago! You can see Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and even the small island of Saaremaa in this aerial image. Long ago, glacial ice covered all. When the melting began, I imagine the long journey of our Finnic ancestors, leaving the Urals:

Some will be left in river-bends,
some follow the reindeer north.

Some will look heavenward at traces of bird-flight,
some walk a milky star-path westward.

The term Mouth Quill (collection title and title of an individual poem) is found in runo verse (regilaul)—the word translates to suudesulg and refers to “a singer’s magical tool.” Some of the 21 poems are inspired by themes found in ancient runo verses (with the original runo verses listed in Notes), others by Estonian music, language and historic events. My writing weaves those world views into a life born and lived in America, with deep ancestral roots.

Poet Deirdre Callanan describes Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots as “a dark crystal studded with light.”

My Childhood Fish—Political and Personal

Published as “My Childhood Fish” in
Under the Gum Tree . . . July 2019

Under the Gum Tree is a quarterly literary arts magazine that publishes creative nonfiction and visual art. I am so pleased that my writing found a home in their fine publication. You can order print or digital copies from their website.

You may also access a PDF of my essay My Childhood Fish_Political and Personal_Kaja Weeks

This is a personal essay with reminiscences from an Estonian-American childhood lived during the Cold War, and how anchovy (or, preferably, marinated sprat) open-faced sandwiches came to carry unique significance . . .

Symbols of ethnic pride and resolve, these little fish sandwiches were traditionally curated and ubiquitous especially after ceremonies remembering Estonian independence . . . in the rooms of the Estonian Civic Club on Manhattan’s East 34thStreet, elder-ladies unfailingly set tables with white tablecloths, flowers, percolated coffee—hot, dark and strong—and always platters of these little fish sandwiches.

And how a refugee-mother’s own longing for a childhood fish (the Räim, a kind of Baltic herring) eventually became a mirror for her daughter’s personal longing . . .

My mother’s perch was lovingly made, the just-warm, salted, golden fillets arranged on a plate with twisted slices of lemon and fresh parsley sprigs.

***

Special Thanks to the IOTA Conference Online Course (2017), taught by American essayist, Sarah Einstein, for inspiring and leavening my creativity, leading to publication of both “My Childhood Fish” as well as the essay, “First Home.”

First Home

First Home by Kaja Weeks is an essay published by The Sandy River Review (University of Maine, Farmington) on its website in October 2018.

The piece reflects not only aspects of my own first home, but also of my childhood friend’s home “around the corner,” and each of my parents’ first homes in Estonia (from which they fled during its occupation in World War II)—including my mother’s home located near the historic childhood home of renowned Estonian poet, Lydia Koidula. Koidula was the author of the poignant poem, Meil Aiaäärne Tänavas—The Road Bordering our Yard, which is referenced in the essay.

Click here to read a PDF of the essay First Home_Web

Voices (Song Festival, Tallinn, Estonia)

 

Estonian World Kaja Weeks Voices Poem

A version of the poem “Voices” was first published by the online journal Estonian World.
http://estonianworld.com/culture/kaja-weeks-estonian-singing-voices-in-a-poem/

Voices (Song Festival, Tallinn, Estonia)

Song-Mother’s voices,
sounds of ancestors once slipped from tongue to air—
ribbon-like, still unfurling.

On the edge of the sea
a silver shell holds thousands, singers who face
thousands more on a grassy gentle rise. All inhale.

Though the hour nears midnight
sun skims waters of the Baltic Sea,
flames in the tower-torch leap high.

The singing will not stop,
Lee—  lee— lo, the sounds form Leelo!
Each ancient syllable earned with sweat and love.

A conductor, peering from within a laurel wreath
clasps his chest, lowers his head,
bows to the choir who has honored song.

The watchers become the singers,
the standing levitate,
the air is alive.

Swirling round, melodies rustle, loosen hair,
saying: we are a living sound—sing us speak us hear us.
Song-Mother’s voices—Hääli imedänne!

 


* Hääli imedänne – Means “magical voices” in old Estonian
* Leelo – The old Estonian word meaning “song,” and the title of an actual song


Author’s Note: Voices is a poem from a chapbook manuscript (in progress) in which writings reflect both the trauma and beauty of Estonian culture and history as it rooted in my personal journey and identity.

 


Songs from my ancestral heritage have been a central part of my life. As a young child I was mesmerized by very old runic songs, called regilaulud—including shepherd’s calls (helletused). These came to me by way of the songstress Ellen Parve Valdsaar, an Estonian refugee whose magical interpretations left a lasting impression upon me. I also heard and sang much choral music, mostly in the a cappella tradition that allows voices to meld within wonderful, enlivening resonance. The poem, Voices, celebrates the height of such a continued tradition, the Estonian Song Festival, first begun in 1869. It is now held in Tallinn every five years and is designated a UNESCO “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Click here to hear a refrain from the song, “Leelo” (the old word for “song”) as sung at the 2014 Estonian Song Festival in Tallinn. (In “Leelo” composed by Mart Saar with text from traditional folkverse, the singers plead, “What are these reins, these ropes that bind us?” The antidote, they answer, is “Song! Song! Song!”)

Even as the child of Estonian refugees to America, I understood the transcendent qualities of this music rooted in antiquity. In the 1970’s, as a college music student, I created a small vocal ensemble named Kannel (Zither) which performed mostly traditional Estonian music. Today, I sing with the Baltimore-Washington Estonian Singers (BWES), including in our performance for the capital area’s 100th Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia.

Kaja ja Iira EV100

Ira Reiman and Kaja Weeks in traditional Estonian folk costumes, singing as members of BWES at Washington DC- Celebration of 100th Year of Republic of Estonia. February 2018
Kannel Kaja Parming Lektor 1977 NY
Kaja Parming delivering lecture about old Estonian folk music, New York, 1977.
Kannel 1977 NY
Ensemble Kannel performing in an evening of Lecture and Old Estonian Folk Songs. (Pictured in lower photo, left to right) Ursula Brady; Kaja Parming (Founder/Director); Talvi Laev; Tiia Papp; Angela Dupin; Kersti Tannberg. New York, 1977.
Kannel Toronto 1971

Kannel in Toronto, 1971 (Pictured from Left to Right) Tina Karm; Angela Dupin; Anneliis Elmend; Ursula Brady; Kaie Põhi; Kaja Parming (Founder/Director); Anne Pleer. 

The Sinkhole

An Essay by Kaja Weeks

Sinkhole_Solikamsk 2016

One afternoon when I was five a taxi stopped in front of our small northern New Jersey house. A plump woman in a purple-red flowery dress pushed herself out. Thick stocking seams on her calves ran above sturdy black shoes. With a bulging purse and small suitcase she crossed stepping stones through a grassy yard right to the brick steps upon which I was sitting, just taking in summer. “You must be the little songbird,” she said. Not withstanding that she spoke in Estonian, something no one in the neighborhood besides our family spoke, I bolted inside and alerted my mother that a võõras naine (a stranger woman) was at our house.

Tädi (Aunt) Meeta had come to visit and, as far as I knew, I was meeting our one living relative. Whether the others were dead or not spoken of was a condition I was too young to understand. Tädi Meeta was my father’s sister and, being fifteen years his senior, the only one who was able to risk no peril when she told him, a volatile man, to “pipe down.” I liked her and was surprised to learn that she had a family back in Lake-in-the Hills, Illinois – so we had a little clump of living relatives, after all.

As I grew out of early childhood another relative took on life. She had always been present in our living room – a woman with serious gaze held in a small, lone photo frame. At some point I understood that she was my mother’s mother. And that she was alive. Somewhere — we couldn’t get there, nor she to us.

Miili was my grandmother, but even in absentia I didn’t have that relationship with her. Whenever my sister and I spoke of her out loud we used the term “your mother”—foremost, she was our mother’s missing mother. A hole existed. Something awful had happened that had swallowed up her mother and anything beyond the portrait was simply conveyed by silent watery eyes. Asking more hovered on forbidden, dangerous. She was in a place called Eesti (Estonia), from where my brothers and parents had fled from during war, and I knew what that was from an amalgam of stories, screams and shouts, lectures, ceremonies, songs and photos. Mostly, mother’s-mother was described as “left behind”; but then sometimes she had “stayed behind” because “she was waiting for Sass to come back.” Who was Sass? Why was it a mystery? Another void with centripetal force into which significant people had vanished.

Though I continued using the appellation “your mother,” I had also privately begun to claim Miili as my grandmother as soon as I understood that, rightfully, she was. I recreated her from the flimsiest Known, retrieved her with magical thinking. Like my mother and me, my grandmother had green eyes, and at eight I secretly determined that fact alone made us a trio of soul mates. But actual communication was sparse and letters from behind the Iron Curtain never came directly to our home. They were sent surreptitiously — routed to a place in New York City under a code name. One day a thin, onion skin air-mail envelope properly addressed to my mother arrived from Estonia to our front mailbox. She sat with the letter in her lap for a long time and quietly wept. Her mother, who twenty years earlier had, for “just a little while,” sent off her daughter from Pärnu pier amidst bombs and a burning coastline, who had said, “You go — I’ll wait for Sass,” had died. She never saw her daughter again. Sass never came back.

Short for Aleksander, Sass was my mother’s brother. Gradually my mother opened up about him and others. Their youth in the beautiful seaside town, Pärnu, had been cherished and I hungered for stories; listened, asked questions, wrote into notebooks. It was as if I was plucking her family one by one from where they had been sucked, a dark vortex that had pulled everything under– mother, brother, aunts, cousins and schoolmates never to be touched again; cobblestone streets and tall converging Linden boughs in a town of allées, white beaches – land she loved — never to be seen. Instead, the terror from cattle-cars of people roaring toward deadly Gulags brandished the air.

Sass was snatched midsummer, 1941, when Soviet Russian soldiers took 10,000 people — in one night. Even into old age my mother was never able to shake a trance-like state over it. When, unable any longer to bear the image of my uncle’s remains for eternity under boundless, unidentified Siberian north, I finally asked straight-out, “Where was he taken?” she could only whisper, “I don’t know – somewhere far away in Russia.” “I’m going to find out,” I promised and, unbelievably, I did.

***

 It’s 2016. My mother, too, is gone. With an Estonian film crew I am being interviewed by Williams College students for their class, “Documenting Stories of Escape and Survival.” I am to tell of the effects of Totalitarian regimes, of being American-born to my war refugee parents. One hour has stretched to two. I’ve already sung ancient bird-like melodies and wept through the “Singing Revolution” that helped restore Estonia’s independence after fifty years, squirmed over questions on my odd “double life.” Now I’m sweating. My head feels crushed by chaotic, dissonant sounds – souls crying, shrieking. My finger rests on an aerial photo that, to my utter astonishment, I uncovered from Russian news days earlier. It is a massive sinkhole. Unearthly, its copper-colored sloping pit with a black center presently grows over a buried salt mine in Solikamsk — north of Perm (the famous archipelago of gulags that Solzhenitsyn endured), in Solikamsk — the very place where Sass perished. My voice hardens. Pressurized, it pitches higher, matching the resonance of shrieking souls.

“I don’t wish harm to the people there now,” I hear myself say, “but I wish for this sinkhole to keep growing and growing, swallow up all the earth in that region. Completely. Return it to its primordial state and wipe out all the evil man did here. Nature’s revenge. Karma.”

It’s my revenge. I have never heard myself speak like this. But I realize the picture of the sinkhole is a huge eye. The eye of God. Of the missing God, and this is the moment of telling.


Copyright ©  2017 by Kaja Weeks

The Sinkhole was first published in Transference: The New Directions Journal, Fall 2017. Illustrations added to Lyric Overtones site.

The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia)

The coastal meadows blaze golden,
break blue water, blue sky.
A wooden boat nudges
through green and purple marsh reeds.

I am home. I have never lived here.
How could this place settle on me
like linen upon an infant
sung and rocked to sleep.

Who slipped this place in me?
Was it my choosing, or has it crept unknown?
When did it come to quicken my breath
and then supply the resting sigh?

I am a refugee’s child — daughter of a true
native daughter of southwestern Estonia —
who grew with her mother’s
hollow in her heart.

I yearn for the resting sigh she was ripped from,
for the sway of reed plumes on her seaward creek,
remembered sounds and gilded sight —
such tricks of time and space.


Here is an audio clip of my reading The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) as it appeared within the Bluestem Literary Magazine site


The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) ©2016 by Kaja Weeks

The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) was first published by Bluestem Literary Magazine. In it I write about the mysterious effect of “knowing” a place in which one steps foot for the first time — in this instance, the reedy, flowering coastal meadows of Pärnu, my mother’s hometown by the sea. The place settles on me, “like linen upon an infant sung and rocked to sleep,” and I wonder, “Who slipped this place in me? Was it my choosing, or has it crept unknown?” These, I ponder, are markings of being “a refugee’s child — daughter of a true daughter of southwestern Estonia — who grew with her mother’s hollow in her heart.”


Below is my translation of Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) into Estonian. I am grateful to Estonian-born philologist, journalist and poet Sirje Kiin for her kind fine-tuning.

RANNANIIDUD (Pärnumaal)

Rannaniidud helgivad kuldselt,
lahutavad sinise vee sinisest taevast.
Paadi pea tungib
läbi rohekaslilla pilliroo.

Olen kodus. Ei iial siin elanud.
Kuidas on see paik saanud minu omaks,
nagu linane katte pandud mu peale,
kui imikul kellele hällis lauldakse?

Kes pani selle paiga salamahti minusse?
Kas valisin selle ise või hiilis ta mulle teadmatult?
Millal pani ta mu kiiresti hingama
ja kinkis siis rahustava ohke?

Olen pagulase tütar,
ustava Pärnumaa tütre-tütar,
laps kes kasvas
oma ema südamevaluga.

Igatsen seda rahustavat ohet,
mere äärse pilliroo sulgede sahinat,
meeles peetud helisid, kuldseid sahvatusi ,
neid aja ja ruumi vigureid.

A Girl’s Singing Nirvana, My Mother’s Voice

A Girl’s Singing Nirvana, My Mother’s Voice is a lyrical essay with themes of autism in the young and stroke in the elderly. It tells a story of how each was able to use singing when wordlessness compounded their lives and reveals my journey with them.

A Girl’s Singing Nirvana, My Mother’s Voice by Kaja Weeks was first published by The Potomac Review, A Literary Arts Quarterly in 2015. I am very pleased and proud that the journal nominated my essay for a Pushcart Prize.

A Girl’s Singing Nirvana, My Mother’s Voice_Excerpt

A Girl’s Singing Nirvana, My Mother’s Voice copyright © 2015 by Kaja Weeks

The Wedding of Salme

The Wedding of Salme*

By Kaja Weeks

* Adapted from Tähemõrsja (Starbride), an ancient Estonian runic song/verse
and composed in memory of my mother, Salme M.

On a field moist with morning fog,
by a craggy shepherd’s path it lay.
A little hen’s egg, left alone,
no nest, poor thing, just dew.

Walking there a widow spied it,
lifted it gently, clutched it closely
into her apron pocket she tucked
the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.

Then the egg she did warm,
three months, another and then a day.
The foundling was born, a child emerged,
a girl so sweet and full of grace.

Salme blossomed, into beauty
she grew. A maiden chaste who
many courted, wooed with gifts
and begged her to wed.

Not to the Sun with fifty horses,
Nor to the waxing-then-waning moon,
but to a celestial suitor, steady and bright,
son of the North Star, she did consent.

“Wed, Maid Salme, with Starry Youth,”
I did whisper, hidden in time.
“So airy and light and silver-voiced,
your daughter fine I can be.”

The tall wise oaks and dashing alders,
their trailing catkins, roots and branches,
all to your wedding who come, then
my uncles and aunties – my kin shall be.

So Salme, in silk, and Star, a-shimmering,
the Cross-Cane danced upon the green,
Thus betrothed, the chariot alit,
they ascended to dwell in the sky.

Now fearless and free, I may dance
across earth or foaming sea.
Mother, your shield casts from above,
so constant, so bright, ever on me.

Copyright © 2015 by Kaja Weeks

The Wedding of Salme was first published by Fickle Muses: Journal of Mythic Poetry and Fiction


About the Poem …

The Wedding of Salme is derived from one of the most ancient surviving Estonian myths, Starbride (Tähemõrsja) and recreated with my personal twist of longing by entering the imagined space –“I did whisper, hidden in time.” A characteristic of my writing often is that the past, even very distant past, fluidly interlaces the present or future.

There are many versions of this beautiful myth to be found in Estonian sources. While they all tell the same basic story, the verse expressions of the runic verses (regilaul) show rich regional variety and it was a thrill to research beyond my own basic knowledge when I began creating an interpretation in my own words. I loved knowing how ancient the origins were — over a thousand years or more — reciting the beautiful sounds aloud, and cherishing the early oral preservation that spoke of people’s hopes, wishes, and understanding of their world.

Estonian runic verses are highly stylized in meter and other literary qualities. Although it wasn’t possible to re-create all of that, I wanted to pay homage to some of the rhetorical characteristics, such as alliteration (the same sound at the beginning of words, e.g. “So Salme in silk and Star a-shimmering”); assonance (repeated vowel sounds, e.g. “moist with morning fog”); and parallelism (repeating ideas in a symmetrical way, e.g. “the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.”) all framed within a rhythmic, prosodic style.

The Silver Swan and Her Stroke: First Songs as Last Songs

My essay, The Silver Swan and Her Stroke: First Songs as Last Songs, is rooted in the profound effects of singing as entwined with mysteries of communication and love.

The poetic verse alluded to here, The Silver Swan, was first published in 1612 in the madrigal by Orlando Gibbons and illustrates the legend of “the swan song” – that silver swans sing only once, before their death. You can hear a beautiful performance of The Silver Swan round by British a cappella vocal ensemble, The King Singers.

The silver swan, who living had no note,
when death approached unlocked her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.
Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.

I am so pleased that this essay was published by Ars Medica: A Journal of Medicine, The Arts, and Humanities, Winter 2017. Ars Medica is the only medical literary journal in Canada, and one of a handful of such journals in the world. Click here to read the full piece at Ars Medica or The Silver Swan and Her Stroke_Kaja Weeks_Ars Medica_2017 to read in PDF format.


ABSTRACT

The Silver Swan and Her Stroke: First Songs as Last Songs

By Kaja Weeks

This is a view of a massive stroke followed by rare communications through singing and vocalization between an elegant lady born by the Baltic Sea almost 100 years ago and her daughter (the author). A reflective true account with story-like narration, it conveys the intersection of a musically rhythmic but “pitch deaf” mother and classically-trained singer daughter at their final crossroads. The stunning scene of hearing her mother, unable to speak, but singing “with full power and nuance, like a glorious Wagnerian soprano,” has the author first considering the extraordinary plasticity of the brain, and then, as a daughter, the poignant meaning of her mother’s sounds, who like the “Silver Swan,” sung her first and last, and sung no more.”


 The Silver Swan and Her Stroke: First Songs as Last Songs copyright © 2016 by Kaja Weeks

The Silver Brooch

SK Pärnu Sõlg
SK’s Silver Brooch, Pärnu Estonia – circa 1935

THE SILVER BROOCH
By Kaja Weeks

 When my mother was a young girl growing up during the late 1920s and early 1930s she lived in Eesti, a free land, dotted with islands, its northern coastline a curly ribbon on the Gulf of Finland. Western Estonia opens to the Baltic Sea. Her seaside hometown, Pärnu, on its own glittering inlet of the softest white sand beaches, murmurs with endless surf, coastal pinewoods-and- meadows. The harbor, a longtime merchant port, and famous restorative spas have always infused a cosmopolitan air, too. There is a saying, “If you let Pärnu, with its sun and sea breezes, into your system, your cloud of worries will waft away,” and certainly my mother’s forehead would always smooth out even as she sighed and spoke of her “good growing years” there.

There is a photo of my mother and her cousin, Helga, who visited from inland in the summers. They are both wearing stylish casual, fitted dresses, mother’s coiffure flapper-like wavy, a small white sailor hat perched on Helga’s head. They are sitting fountain-side at the famous Pärnu Mudbaths and Spa. It’s an elegant neo-classical building co-designed by the renowned architect Olav Siinmaa with whom Mother was soon to get her first job. She was sixteen, still innocent, unknowing of all the horrors that war, deadly occupations, fleeing and life’s turns would bring.

But this was around the time she acquired the silver brooch, which I now hold in my hand. The year is 2016, mother’s earthly life is past and I have so little, really, to connect to the person she once was. Though she raised me and lived well into her nineties, I felt as if I was continually seeking her core – so ephemeral. It’s as if her historic destiny endowed cloaks of spectacular resolve and stoic endurance (in a crisis she once declared, “I am the keeper of my own soul,” when I proposed help) and tactics worthy of an institution for preserving the dignity and culture of her lost world. But it snatched away the budding young girl who had once loved her life in a simple, seaside town in a free land; Even from inside, where we get to create and hold our woven selves, I sensed a lost space where it should be. I am haunted by and grieving of that loss for her, probably wishing to protect both of us from what followed, its inter-generational rubble. Sparsely told stories from her childhood and youth are well-guarded in my mind, enhanced over the years with scarce photos and then with world-wide-web image searches, scouring of maps, finally visiting myself and walking the ground she walked, breathing that highly oxygen-rich sea air – trying to re-create a world with a legacy that holds the pearls of mother.

Her brooch is not domed or smooth, but a special “Pärnu-style” flat cast with a jagged coastline shape and interior adorned by flower motifs – one for which the city was already a unique site of creation in the previous century. I only remember from her that it was a gift, possibly from her godmother for her “Kaubanduskooli” (Business Trade High School) graduation from which she landed the coveted city hall position with architect Siinmaa. It must have been a cherished item. Not that many years later, the autumn she fled, the second Soviet onslaught had breeched the border, while retreating Nazis blew up myriad buildings and bridges. Pärnu was burning, lit from above with pale columns of aerial bombings; flames raced along crowns of coastal trees. In the space where her high school had stood, ruins smoldered. Leaving her homeland forever, she carried that brooch with her few belongings. Decades later she quietly gave it to my then teenage daughter.

Now I hold this brooch that I’ve taken to the jeweler to be cleaned, polished, and the clasp repaired, secretly restoring it for my daughter’s approaching wedding. It was completely darkened when I brought it in, but when I retrieved it the jeweler was smiling with pride. He had worked hard to clean all the tiny crevices. “It’s silver,” he said with delight. Sitting on my bed, I turn the gleaming piece over in my hand. My mothers initials (as I have always known them) have always been visible in what I recognize as my father’s scratchy, invasive style, one that he enacted with all my things, as well – possessions possessed. But now I notice something that eluded my eye before, something revealed by removing the shades of time. Delicate lines form a year and shape letters. It takes me a moment to place them, and then I am flooded with sadness and joy: “SK” – my mother’s maiden monogram! Along this untarnished silver I rub my finger on such tiny lines, attach, and hold SK, born in a free land by the sea.

copyright © 2016 by Kaja Weeks

The Silver Brooch by Kaja Weeks was first published in The New Directions Journal, Fall 2016

A Stringed Wing

The celestial sounds of a zither make me think of a wing strung with vibrating strings. In myths of Estonia, Vanemuine — the God of Music and Poetry — played the kannel, a zither or lap-harp with magical effects that gave birds and tree-leaves their songs. I have sung these old tunes to the sound of the kannel, or sometimes, I’ve simply let the strings of my own vocal cords spill verse upon verse into air.

The naturalistic and historic motifs of Estonia have long inspired and chained me. Many of my poems and lyrical writings hold them.

As I write this now, I recall that my mother’s earliest memories hold the quiet sounds of her father, a furniture-maker, stroking the strings of his own-made kannel as she and her brother, Sass, drifted to sleep upstairs.