You can make out the words of her poem in this photo of the 'antique' compass.
I have never owned a compass, and I definitely don’t have a GPS, as I can usually rely on my innate sense of direction. Until recently when I came into possession of an antique compass unlike any other: it has a poem written by my late mother, a little known poet, engraved on the back of it. Only it was not a family heirloom passed down to me and no one in my family has any idea how the poem got there. And I bought it on Ebay. The story goes like this:
My oldest brother, Jon, is a sculptor, a builder of large-scale stainless steel, geometric shapes that stand stalwart and otherworldly in parks and public spaces around the globe. One in particular is more earthbound and is called, funnily enough, “Compass.” It is made of mirror polished stainless steel tubes with four different blocks of Wisconsin granite at each node. He tells me it was inspired in part by an ancient Chinese jade disc called “bi,” symbolizing unity, peace, and wholeness of heaven and earth. It was also inspired by the Lakota Sioux story of the discovery of the four directions of the compass, each direction designated by a large stone. The sculpture sits on a ridge in Milwaukee overlooking Brady Street Bridge and Lake Michigan.
On the piece Jon engraved a poem by our mother, Jean Barlow Hudson:
Inner and Outer Time
Inner time is limitless – from past lives
I can no longer remember, only feel.
And around me a continuum
Moves and swirls, engulfing me,
And moves majestically beyond
My inner sight or imagination.
This time is immense, a celestial sphere.
Yet it does not forget me, does not neglect me,
It embraces me. I am part of its verity.
It is part of mine.
My life flows, it flows.
Recently, Jon received an email from a stranger in Cambridge, England who introduced herself saying that she had been researching the author of an unknown poem she had found on the back of an antique compass in a market stall in Zanzibar, off the coast of East Africa. Her Google search led to the discovery that the poem was written by my mother and engraved on Jon’s sculpture in Milwaukee. It seems a guy in Milwaukee with a blog happened on the sculpture, liked her poem, and posted it on his site, crediting her as the author, which led to the woman in Cambridge finding my brother.
The mystery deepens. How did our late mother’s poem, appearing only so far as we know in our self-published family volume of a lifetime of her poetry years ago, end up on a seemingly antique compass in a marketplace in Zanzibar? It occurred to us that maybe she didn’t write the poem. It was easy to imagine a few favorite lines transcribed from some unknown poet getting shuffled in with her own papers. But my second brother, Tom, the editor, dug through original manuscripts to find an old type written copy from the 1940’s with her name on it. Tom was able to search digital catalogs to see if the poem turned up being credited to another author and it did not. Reassured at least that the poem had indeed been written by Jean, we set about to unravel the next unknown: how did it end up on a compass watch in Zanzibar?
We didn’t have to dig too far to discover that the exact same compass, as described by our lady in Cambridge, was for sale on Ebay. It was being sold from Ireland, Great Britain and Australia, all with my mother’s poem inscribed on the back of it. She would have felt more well read than in all her years of trying to get her work published. The ‘antique’ was actually a replica, now manufactured en masse by a company in India, of a Dolland watch, the esteemed London watchmaker founded in the 18th century. The Google search turned up further references to her poem, mostly from owners of the same watch who were curious to know the identity of the poem’s author. One poetry site suggested to an inquirer that that it might have been written by T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost. I can hear my mother chortling from the grave at the assigning of her work to these male luminaries of the page.
Fame and renown eluded my mother in her lifetime as a poet and novelist. She spent many years raising four children but started focusing more seriously on writing later in life. At the age of 63, she finally published her first novel, “Rivers of Time”, which was inspired by her years of living in Africa in the 1960’s and was an epic, exotic tale of international romance and self-discovery. The publisher sniffed romance, saw an older female author, and slapped a Harlequin-like cover on the book, thereby nearly ensuring a brief and only printing. It did however make the rounds of Hollywood at the time where the likes of Billy Dee Williams and Richard Gere considered buying the film rights. But the hubbub faded as fast as it crested and she went back to her typewriter, plotting out her next novel. She wrote two more that never found publication. The seemingly endless rejections wore her down and by the time I reached college she had given up and found a new vocation: Mayor of the village. In her reign as the first woman Mayor of our town she presided over traffic court, navigated small town inter-departmental politicking, purchased a Charter Arms .38 for protection and, her favorite part of the job, married couples.
Part II coming soon...
writer-director-actress, author, improviser, mother, traveler, digital nomad