…you can hear me read my recent work and chat with host Dr .Michael Anthony Ingram about the poems and my writing, here. Among the poems I read are some from Baltimore Girls (“Engineer,” “Salad Days” ) and several newer ones, some in progress and unpublished.
Friends and poetry aficianados all over the globe, please tune in to Blogtalk Radio: Quintessential Poetry, this Monday, September 10, 7 PM EDT, to hear Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram interview me. I’ll be reading some of my recent poetry, and taking questions from callers–hopefully some of you! Call in! Around 6:55 PM EDT this Monday (adjust for your part of the world: 10:55 PM Friday, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) go to: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/…/quintessential-listening-poe…
or call 646-787-1631 to hear –and if you are so inclined, to participate in–the show.
The mission of Quintessential Listening: Poetry is to provide a forum to examine current events and contemporary issues through the power of poetry.
Four years ago, Tree Guy came out to give us an estimate for gypsy moth spraying. As long as you’re here, I said, take a look at these apple trees and tell me what you think.
The two small trees were decades old. The summer cottage’s previous owners who planted them had passed on years ago, and a series of residents and renters neglected the property. …
Read the rest here, in today’s Baltimore Sun online.
I encourage you to take a look at Jackie’s poem, published on her website, Baltimore Black Woman.
Anyone who has cared for an aging parent until death will recognize the combination of grief and relief as the adult child reclaims her own life after the parent’s passing.
I commend to all of you reading my blog today, the Boston Globe editorial, “Journalists are Not the Enemy.”
I write today in solidarity with American journalists who’ve been under a mounting attack by President Donald Trump, in his campaign against all those media outlets–and their writers–who criticize any aspect of his speechifying, social media claims and comments, programs, positions, behavior, or philosophy.
I support the Boston Globe and 300 other newspapers and media outlets of every political stripe, that today, August 16, have joined together to push back against the President’s claim that journalism is nothing more than “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.”
Freedom of the press is enshrined in our foundational document, the U.S. Constitution.
That is a fact.
Freedom of the press extends to all media outlets, no matter the editorial affiliation with political party.
That is a fact.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Explain to me how the sea
puts parentheses around the years
since my father held my waist.
We jumped the waves,
and he sang off key to me.
So much time has stacked up
but I walk along at low tide,
the water here dotted with bits of red seaweed,
feel only the water and the sand,
walk over shells of small crabs, or parts of their legs,
till the water laps up again and I see only
foam at the water’s edges.
Show me why the sea is so like
old words on the page,
why I can read and reread a poem
its meaning constant
text embedded deep in my neurons
though life whirls me
from single to married
childless to primagravida
to mother of two
to mother of two grown, off in the world.
Originally published in Poetry Pacific literary magazine
God sees me carry the stones from the seashore, smooth
gray rocks I cradle two at a time, pulling them close
to my belly, carrying them like the physical therapist said to.
If it’s against the law to carry these rocks home
to my garden, well then, I’m God’s thief.
God sees me snap off the forsythia branches, try
to speed up spring, make sunlight and water
push out small green leaves, butter-yellow blooms.
They brighten my Spartan workroom.
God sees me out among the weeds and the damp spring soil
when I should be writing.
God knows the faces of our friends are drawn tight
in those last days before their bodies give out, their souls
still burning hard and bright in our memories.
If only God weren’t so silent, so distant with us,
if only God would pull up a chair, act like
a parent imparting advice, say, When I was your age,
Rome wasn’t built in a day, keep your friends close—
I’ve gathered so many rocks now, each time wondering
when God will show God’s self, or give me a sign—
not a miracle exactly, but a perfect rose, then another,
a summer of roses, safe behind a wall of sea-smoothed rocks.
To purchase a copy of this, my most recent poetry collection, at a cost of $12.99 , postage included, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Mercy High School, Baltimore scholarship funds.
See the full article here.
This small village at the foot of the Connemara National Park was established by Quakers in 1949, the last year of the Great Hunger. James and Mary Ellis came here from England, as part of post-famine relief programs in Connemara. They Ellises set up workshops for the denizens of this area, hoping to give people skills by which to earn a decent living. At the main crossroads of the town sits the site of the benighted St. Joseph’s Industrial School, where the ghosts of children seem to hover around the cemetery. The young boys of Letterfrack are commemorated by the poems of the Poetry Trail, carved into wooden plaques affixed to the town’s buildings, to stands along the walk, and to trees. St. Joseph’s Industrial School, in operation from 1887-1974, was a site where hundreds if not thousands of Irish boys suffered harsh conditions, beaten and in some cases, sexually abused by the their teachers and wardens, the Irish Christian Brothers.
The building that warehoused these boys has been repurposed as a school for teenagers who have little interest in an academic secondary education, desiring instead to become skilled woodworkers. We wander through the National Centre of Excellence for Furniture Design and Wood Technology, on a quiet morning after the end of term. Finely hewn chairs, bookshelves, intricate coffee tables, side tables, chess boards and storage boxes sit ready for an exhibition and auction next week.
Nearby, atop a woods of trees with moss covered trunks, winding vines, and wild garlic, sits the small graveyard. Whether from disease–pneumonia, tuberculosis, whopping cough, diphtheria, rheumatic fever–or from malnourishment, or from severe beatings and exposure–the deaths of these young boys marked this ground. Exhaustive reports by the Irish national government relying on interviews, document analysis and forensic evidence, legal proceedings, the dismantling and closure of the old school, formal apologies issued by the Catholic Church and the Irish government under whose watch these things occurred–all these have been intended to achieve truth and reconciliation.
But it is the poets and artists who come closest to the truth about the suffering and loss of these children. Walking the Letterfrack Poetry Trail is more than a literary exercise–and reading the poems aloud in turn, as we did today, makes the past immediate. The heart-shaped grave markers atop old gravestones recite boys’ names, their birth and death date, their age on the day they passed from this life. Age 9, age 11, age 13. Born 1912, 1915, died 1922, 1925.
The poets record the tiniest, most poignant details: the boy who when they knew “there were in for it,” cried Mammy, Mammy, Mammy” in a low murmur like a prayer. The boy who carried a cardboard suitcase when he came up from Dublin after getting in trouble with the law, perhaps for stealing a bicycle. The dead child whose comrades mourned his broken back and his empty hands.
We walked the poetry trail, swatting away persistent Connemara midges and taking turns reading the poems aloud. The cloud cover gave way in the late afternoon to sun. We wandered into the tables outside the Park’s tearoom, where we sipped tea and talked about Irish poets who lately had died in old age. We talked about our host’s son, a mortgage broker Chicago, and about mackerel fishing in Clifden, nearby. We did not speak about the graves, or even of the poems on wooden plaques that dot the poetry trail. This was the fourth day in a row that the sun was shining brightly in Connemara, and we liked to think we’d brought the fine weather with us from Northern America.
As we neared St Joseph’s Church on our way back down the road, Joe pointed out one last poem—not part of the poetry trail collection per se, but nonetheless an important testimony: “Graveyard,” by the late Irish poet Richard Murphy, who died last January after a long and illustrious career. Murphy’s words, inscribed in white painted script on a black background, call to mind chalk on a school blackboard, what in other contexts would be a benign symbol of the classrooms in past days.
Murphy’s words are chilling, and they’ve stuck with me long after we have moved on from Letterfrack up the coast to Achill Island, then double back to Louisburgh, where the good sunny weather of the past ten days turns, and we hear the high wind and steady rain rattling the cottage windows. Safe and dry in our cottage, we watch the last of the peat fire burn into embers, and call it a night.
Letterfrack Industrial School
Bog-brown glens, mica schist rocks, waterfalls
Gulching down screes, a rain-logged mountain slope
With scrawny pine trees twisted by mad gales,
They see from my ball-yard, and abandon hope.
Wild boys my workshops chasten and subdue
Learn here the force of craft. Few can escape
My rack of metal, wood, thread, hide: my screw
Of brotherhood: the penny stitched in a strap.
Podded in varnished pews, stunted in beds
Of cruciform iron, they bruise with sad, hurt shame
Orphans with felons, bastards at loggerheads
With waifs, branded for life by a bad name.
One, almost hanged in my boot-room, has run free
Dressed as a girl, saved by a thieving gipsy.
As I write this I’m en route to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station by a train moving south along the Eastern coast. Many years ago, while still in high school, I traveled north to Philly, and in this poem from my 2017 collection, Baltimore Girls (Finishing Line Press) , I recall my solo first train journey to visit my friend Marcus W. “Mike” Moore, at Haverford College on the Main Line.
Along the Fuller Brook path wending
through backyards, there’s no one about
except a few women with
small dogs on leashes. The brook –
not as high as I expected.
The blackened piles of snow
all melted away, roof rakes,
ergonomic shovels, the chemicals
we strewed on sidewalk and porches.
Mere memories of winter.
The sun strains to appear.
It warms the day but I can hardly
see my shadow, perhaps only faint
suggestions of a shadow, a darkening,
On a day like this, full of spring’s promise,
I cut an armful of jonquils from my mother’s garden
wrapped them in newspaper, a cone
around the butter yellow blooms
so fragile, their stems easily snapped or bent.
Go to 30th Street Station, Mike said, for the transfer
But watch out if you’re there right at six, when
the dogs are let off their leashes,
dogs in gray flannel suits, carrying
smart leather briefcases. I understood.
He loved to quote Dylan: I don’t want to be
A singer in the rat race choir.
As I rose near my stop on the Paoli local
an old man glanced at my flowers.
I withdrew one and handed it to him,
without a word, hopped off at Haverford.
Mike stood on the platform, his long scarf
artfully draped around his neck,
tweed sport coat festooned
with buttons of Lenin, Freedom Now, Stokely
Carmichael. We walked through the campus,
his arm around my shoulder.
This will be my life, I thought.
His roommates were out. We
skipped dinner, built a fire. We
Talked about the war, about Yeats.
When it was late and
we were so hungry we couldn’t stand it
we strolled to the Blue Comet
for the cheeseburgers—I can remember
even now how good they tasted.
We took the back way to the women’s college
—I‘d set up camp in the guest lounge.
Mike kissed my cheek, handed me a nickel
the Paoli local had flattened into an oval,
Washington’s head all distorted.
I carried it around for years,
that talisman of my life to come.
Originally published in Grey Borders Magazine (Canada), April 2018 issue
Originally published in Grey Borders Magazine, April 2018 issue
Published in Grey Borders Magazine, April 2018 issue
The famous doctor said you haven’t really lived
till you get a death threat from a guy with a cell phone
just over the state line, someone who maybe read about my work,
found it sinful, against his principles,shaking the foundations of
whatever it is he called his religion or ideology. But I felt
much better when the cops paid him a visit, and he faded away.
With you, it was the phone calls from a harpist, slight and pale,
ebony-haired, tearful.She looked at you across the wide desk
covered with case files, foolscap pads, ball point pens.
She told you her father had died and her husband had left, wanted
nothing more to do with her. You counseled her to mediate.
When she got home, she phoned the office for hours, starting at midnight,
careening along into dawn. Twenty-five messages on the tape
each more high-pitched and insistent, her voice growing hoarser each time
letting you know just what miseries she’d visit on you. And yes, she knew
you had children, and she had them, too, in her sights.
A couple drinks later, you stood behind home plate at your son’s little league game,
trying to forget about it, wondering what she thought when the police
hauled her away to the cold hospital room.
You told someone the story, then told someone else, hoping it would amuse.
The police said not to worry. Her psychiatrist said it’s just disordered thinking,
But she wouldn’t give blood samples, take meds, insisted
the judge come to the hospital, where she sat, docile, polite,
hands folded, refusing treatment.
Wait another ten years, your friend said, pointing to the ball her son knocked
out of the park into the woods. You’ll laugh about it, you’ll see.
Months, perhaps years later you chanced to see her on stage with her instrument,stroking the harp so gently, pulling sweet tones from the strings,
steel core with wire wrap.
You glanced down at the program, ran your thumbnail under her name,
Wondered that she found her way back from four point restraints,
soft, padded, leaving no marks.
She’s better now, you thought, settling back in your seat,
Closing your eyes, fighting hard to let the music engulf you.
Originally published in The Song Is…
I’ll be reading at these venues, from my new poetry collection, The Glamorganshire Bible, as well as some brand new poems–hope to see some of you there!
Wednesday, April 4, 7 PM, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Massachusetts
Sunday, April 8, 2 PM, Ferguson Public Library, Stamford, Connecticut -central
Monday, April 9, 7 PM, Westwood Public Library, Westwood, Massachusetts -main library
Books will ship on May 18! If you live near me or will be on Cape Cod between June 20 and August 31, be in touch–I’d love to sign your book! Reading at Wellfleet Public Library on Wednesday, July 18, 8 PM.
This poem was published in my 1st collection, Baltimore Girls.
Ok, so it’s a love/sex poem.
But the real drama, sex , drama and scandal, comes in my forthcoming book, The Glamorganshire Bible. It’s not so much about the bible from Wales and more about the scandals a young woman of twenty endured, living in Cumberland Maryland in the early 20th century, and finding herself pregnant (in 1911) and unmarried.
To pre-order–by March 23– go to Finishing Line Press, here.
Making Love to You Was Like Peeling
Making love to you was like peeling
An onion. I teared up, holding the knife’s edge
Against paper-thin layers, pulled them
Away, one by one by one. I knew I must
Get to the tender parts of you, underneath.
Making love to you was like scraping
The hairy root vegetables, bright carrots,
The pale parsnips, the knife blade flat
Against the tubers- I needed strong hands
To hold you, to interlace my fingers with yours
To show you how desperate I was.
At night, after sex, I should have been exhausted
But I heard you turn on the shower, call
To me to join you. Afterward, I enfolded you in
A rose-colored towel big enough for two.
It was like rinsing tender lettuces in the sink,
Wrapping them in cloth to dry.
If you like this, you’ll LOVE the poem in The Glamorganshire Bible. Please pre-order! Thanks,
I was twenty-seven, divorced, and with no boyfriend in sight. After a painful breakup, I started jogging and swore off sweets and alcohol. I lost so much weight that I needed size 4 clothes. And I wanted new shoes, like ones I’d seen in a French film, with four –inch stiletto heels and thin, elegant ankle straps. I found them, in the least likely place: Paul’s Cancellation, a hole-in-the-wall in a rundown mall. I was home visiting my parents that Thanksgiving, and avoiding the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. The shoes were on sale, though still well beyond my budget.
I spied them from a distance, on the sale rack next to cordovan loafers and lime-green flats. They beckoned to me from across the long, narrow shop. Between me and the black suede stilettos a knot of women tried on shoes, bending over to pull on knee-high boots, or turning this way and that before banged-up mirrors to critique their ankles and calves. Open boxes of shoes lay on the floor surrounding customers, and Paul rushed around with towers of shoes balanced in each hand. He craned their necks this way and that, sweeping the small room with a look of consternation as he tried to remember who had requested which shoe in which size nine.
I made my way to the black suede stilettos, carefully stepping over shoeboxes and handbags littering the carpet. “Sorry. Excuse me,” I said repeatedly, until I reached the clearance rack. I scanned the shoes up and down for the sizes, but saw no labels or signs. Just my luck, I thought. The toes of the black suede stilettos were pointing right at me now, as if to say, “Too bad your feet aren’t smaller, girlfriend.”
I reached out and petted the shoe from vamp to toe. My fingers made a small depression in the suede. I fingered the small brass buckle on the narrow strap. “Nice shoes,” a woman standing next to me said. “What size are they?” I turned the shoe on its side and looked for numbers, but found nothing, then I turned the shoe over, and saw the number 39—European size for eight. My heart leaped. “My size,” I said. When I looked up, the woman had disappeared.
I didn’t wait to find a vacant chair to sink into, but slipped off my clogs. I pulled off my socks and leaned up against a nearby pillar. I slipped on one shoe, then the other, then bent down to buckle the ankle straps. Walking gingerly in the four-inch heels, I maneuvered over to one of the small mirrors. I pulled up the legs of my corduroy pants and glanced at my feet. I remembered how once after college, a boyfriend had said, “Nice gams,” when I showed up at his apartment wearing green ribbed tights and a short plaid skirt. I bought the shoes.
They were fabulous. They were also trouble. They attracted men, but the wrong men: A married man who wouldn’t leave me alone at a dinner party. A handsome Italian poet at a cocktail party of literary scholars. He talked with me about Austen and Eliot and invited me to spend the night with him. A wild-eyed actor with disheveled hair. A talented amateur photographer who invited me to his studio, where we drank champagne and he took rolls and rolls of film of me in the black stilettos.
I wore the shoes through my thirties. They stayed pristine, because I only took them out of their box on special occasions. I aged, they stayed young, as though they had just flown back from a weekend in Paris. After I was married and had children, the stilettos languished in their original box in my closet. One rainy Saturday, I deposited them at the Goodwill van at the Home Depot parking lot. I bought pumps with patent leather toes and gold bands on the chunky one-inch heels– classy shoes for a woman of a certain age. Which is to say, boring, almost sensible shoes.
The stilettos were hard to walk in, up stairs, on city streets, over grates on New York sidewalks. They were impossible to dance in. After I bade them goodbye, I never missed the balancing act or the aching back and feet the morning after.. What I missed—and still do—was that delicious moment of anticipation each time I slipped them on, when I bent to caress and fasten the straps, wondering what excitement lay ahead in the glistening, magical night.
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To order my new poetry collection, The Glamorganshire Bible, from Finishing Line, go to https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-glamorganshire-bible-by-lynne-viti/
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We were good Catholic girls, never in trouble for anything more than doing a halfhearted job of washing the dinner dishes or taking out the trash cans for the Monday morning pickup. It was late August, and Suzanne, Maria and I were about to start our junior year at St. Mary’s. I had passed my driver’s test in June. Suze could drive too, but on this particular night, her parents had revoked her driving privileges for two more weeks for some minor infraction. Her father had been a military man, and he liked to run his family like it was the Army . School was starting in eleven days. I was determined to make the most of the summer’s end. I left my family’s station wagon parked in front of Suze’s house on Northwood Drive, wedging it between a couple of her neighbor’s cars. Suze grabbed her house key, called loudly to her mother who was ironing in the basement.
“Be back later, Ma,”
We walked out her kitchen door really fast, past the trash cans at the end of the cement walk, out the gate and down the alley route to Maria’s.
Mrs. Selig opened the door. Grey haired, stern, and a little hard of hearing, she never wore makeup. I guess she always made me feel a little on edge. My manners weren’t good enough for her. Today, she wore an apron spattered with shards of red and yellow fruit. The smell was sweet and fragrant, almost overpowering, though. But for a change, Mrs. Selig seemed happy to see us.
She even smiled a little as she poked her head into the dining room and said brightly, “I hope you like peaches, girls. Come on in—Maria and I are just getting them ready for freezing.”
In the small kitchen ripe, fragrant red-flecked golden peaches were piled up on the counter, the table, in plastic containers and china bowls, and on the floor in a half bushel basket. Maria was in shorts and a sleeveless blouse, her dirty blond hair pulled back into a ponytail that she’d pinned under so it looked like some kind of French hairdo but only half done up. For a few minutes we just stood there and watched her slice peaches for the freezer and put them into a square plastic container. A long, flat peach cake still in the pan cooled on a rack on the Formica table next to four or five large crockery bowls of the fruit. Mrs. Selig peeled fruit after fruit. After she skinned each one, she wiped her hands on her apron.
“I’ll finish up,” Maria said to her mother. She flashed and me a look, as if to say, I wish she would just leave. “Meg and Suze can help.”
Mrs. Selig managed to sound pleased and annoyed at the same time. She took off her apron and folded it carefully over the back of a chair. She rinsed her hands under the faucet and told Maria, “Just be sure you wipe off all those counters, hon, so I don’t feel anything sticky when I come in later on to make your father’s lunch for tomorrow.” She strode off towards the living room and we heard her switch on the tv.
“Did you bring the money?” Maria asked me.
“Right here,” I said. I patted the front pocket of my shorts.
“Fifty,” I said, reaching into my pocket and pulling out two twenties and a ten, and laying them on the table next to the peach cake. “Enough for all of us and more.”
“More is good,” said Suze. “We can always sell what we don’t want.”
“You want to walk down there or what?” Maria asked Suze and me.
“Let’s drive,” Suze said.
“No way.” I was always so paranoid about the car. “If anything ever happened to my dad’s car—that neighborhood –“
“So what are we gonna do, take the bus?” Suze asked. It was pretty obvious how stupid that idea was.
“Very funny, Miss Schmitter,” I said.
“Let’s call Bill Nash and make him take us,” said Maria.
“Right, sure, Mr. College Boy is gonna drive us down to Thirty-Third Street,” I said. “Like in what, his mother’s Dodge Dart with the push buttons?”
“Who cares? He’s cute,” Maria said. “Let’s call him.”
“Let’s walk,” said Suze, “Bill’s so boring.”
“You just hate him because he never asked you out,” I said. “Not that your mom would let you go out with a guy in a car.” He’d never asked me out either, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from giving Suze a hard time. She shot me a pissed off kind of look, but she didn’t say anything, probably because she knew I was right.
“How about we get your car, you drive us, you drop Maria and me off at Thirty-Third Street and you wait in the car for us?” Suze looked straight at me. “No big deal, Meggy. It would take about ten minutes.”
I hesitated. It was only seven, and it would be light for a while yet. Where we were headed wasn’t such a great neighborhood, especially after dark, but we had plenty of time to get down and back. And the last thing in the world I wanted to do was call Bill Nash for a ride anywhere. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him. I’d had a thing for him since the beginning of tenth grade, when I saw him play a small part in a Calvert Hall play. He was the guy constantly stumbling in drunk and falling down in “You Can’t Take It With You.” The play was stupid and I didn’t remember a thing except this tall boy with rosy cheeks and a shock of dark brown hair, crashing to the floor and causing waves of laughter from the audience, especially the girls. Since then I’d heard that he and his friends at St. Matthews had won a couple CYO drama contests, only for serious stuff. Now he was in college, and I wondered if he had a girlfriend. Probably some older girl—no way he’d be interested in a high school junior.
“Are we going or not?” Suze asked. “I need a smoke. Now.” Maria’s parents didn’t allow smoking in the house—at least not for kids. It was fine for them to smoke, of course.” Let’s get out of here,” Suze whined.
“Fine. I’ll drive,” I said. The fan in Maria’s kitchen was making a loud hum. It would be good to have some fun for a change. The whole summer had been nothing but boring—working at my father’s store, mowing the lawn, driving around at night with my girlfriends wishing we had someplace to go—a party, maybe to D.C. where it was legal to drink if you were eighteen, maybe hang out with some older guys. But all we had so far was the movies and if we were lucky, someone with a house on the shore invited us down overnight. Once Wanda Barber had us down to a cookout at her family’s summer place on the Severn, but we only put up with her because at school she kept trying to sit at our lunch table. Eventually, we just caved in and Wanda started thinking she was one of us. Needless to say, she wasn’t.
“I have to ask if I can go out tonight,” Maria said. She crossed her fingers and held them up. Suze tapped her foot loudly and sighed as Maria wiped her hands, threw the towel down onto the kitchen table, and walked into the living room.
“Let’s wait on the back steps,” Suze said. “I bet her mom says no way.” She pulled her cigarette pack out of her shorts pocket and tapped one out. “You want one?” She opened the door for me very quietly and we sat down on the concrete stoop.
I wasn’t a regular smoker but sometimes it just felt right to have one. Suze pulled out a silver lighter, lit my cigarette and then hers. She inhaled and started blowing smoke rings. Fully aware that I’d not yet mastered that skill, I took a long menthol-soaked drag and just blew it out slowly.
“Nice lighter,” I said. “Where’s it from?”
“I copped it from my sister,” Suze said. Her sister Catherine was in college. She had a summer job waitressing in Rehoboth and had left most of her good stuff at home in the room they shared. “I have to put it back before she gets home next week.”
“Don’t lose it or she’ll kill you,” I said. Catherine was a notorious bitch, and very particular about her possessions, especially the expensive gifts she got from boyfriends, of which she had many.
“Fat chance,” Suze answered. “I have the goods on her. She and her friends had a party when my parents went away that weekend and I helped her clean up—so now I can use all her stuff and she can’t stop me.”
Just then, Maria practically ran out her back door. She grabbed us by our wrists and pulled us down the narrow concrete walk through the back gate. Letting go of us for a moment, she swung the metal gate back hard behind her to close it tight. “She is so damned annoying,” she said, looking back over her shoulder. She’d unpinned her hair and it was loose now, falling down past her shoulders. Her tanned face was still wet from when she’d just washed it.
“Get a move on, you two!” she laughed, and she bumped her hip lightly, first against me, then against Suze. “I made parole, but the Queen says I have to be home by ten-thirty.”
“Poor kid,” I said. “My curfew’s midnight.”
We started singing together as we walked three abreast down the alley: “Nowhere to run, baby, nowhere to hide. Got nowhere to run, baby…I know you’re no good for me…” The singing ended abruptly as we dissolved into laughter, about, it seemed, nothing. Perspiration ran down my face and I could feel it drip right down into the front of my sleeveless top. My hair, which I had worked so hard at straightening that afternoon, was frizzing up. I pulled it back as flat as I could under my headband, trying to look as cool as I thought Maria did.
We cut through the end of the alleyway and onto Northwood Drive. As we walked, we saw kids everywhere, it seemed—little kids out with empty screw-top jars, holes carefully poked into the metal tops. They were running over front lawns, squealing and catching lightning bugs. Some girls were lining up at the curb by the white Good Humor truck, and the Good Humor man, a short, dark guy dressed all in whites with his change-maker at his belt, was pulling popsicles and rockets from the freezer of the truck, the dry ice making smoky looking stuff curl up, right out of the little open door at the back.
“Want a popsicle?” Suze said. “I might.”
“Get out, we have to go,” I said. “The guy told me he’d only be there till eight, and he might not stay that late.”
The guy was called Steve. A girl who lived down my block, Doris,, had told me about him. I used to ride bikes and play hopscotch with Doris when we were back in grade school, but now she went to the Vo-Tech and ran with a tougher crowd. At the bus stop, though, we would talk about boys, and makeup. She was going to be a beautician, and she always carried this weird shiny plastic case with all her supplies like curlers, end papers for perms, special equipment that hairdressers used. For several weeks while we waited for the bus, we talked about where it was easy to buy beer, how to get fake i.d.s, and where to find some diet pills and grass. She knew a lot about all this, and I knew practically nothing, but I figured I could get some good leads from her. One day she wrote down Steve’s phone number down for me on a scrap of paper torn from the top of a magazine–just his first name and a number. Then she gave me some advice.
“This is where you want to go if you want grass,” she whispered to me one afternoon as we both sat waiting for the bus to take us to work. “Down near the Waverly Theatre is where he hangs out. He’s not a sleaze, he won’t rat you out, and he’s nice. And sort of cute, for an older guy.”
Her express bus pulled up just then as she handed me the piece of paper, filled with her fat round handwriting, all its i’s dotted with circles. She stepped up to the token box, dropped in her fifteen cents, and looked back at me over her shoulder for a split second. Scaggy-looking, I had thought—she had white-blond teased hair, white lipstick, and too much black eyeliner. But on her, it looked cool. She was tall and thin and knew how to carry it off. She knew that everyone else knew it, too.
“Hey, daydreamer, I have dibs on the death seat,” Suze was saying. She opened the passenger door of my car and climbed in.
“Fine with me, age before beauty,” Maria said as she slid into the back seat. “Thirty-third and Greenmount, driver,” she said, giggling.
“Are we sure we want to do this?” I asked.
“Are you turning chicken on us?” Suze said.
“No way,” I said, as I turned the key and pulled out onto the street. Suze switched on the radio and started fooling with the dial.
The street was quiet when we arrived on the block where Steve had said to meet him. I had called him from a payphone earlier that day. “Bring cash, fifty bucks minimum,” he said when I phoned him. “You take my word on it. You don’t get to try the stuff first,” he told me. “And anyone asks, you don’t know me.”
“See if you can find number 505,” I asked Suze. She rolled down her window and peered out.
“This is the six hundred block. One more block west. You’re not getting weirded out, are you?”
I maneuvered the station wagon into a parking place, not a legal one, near a fire hydrant. “Should we get out and wait for this guy, or stay in the car?” Maria asked.
“Don’t be stupid. We stay here. This isn’t the best place to be, even in daylight,” Suze said.
“Looks fine to me,” Maria said.
“You are so damned naïve,” I said. “You two stay here. Let me check to see if this guy’s around.”
The front door of one of the houses flipped open fast, and out walked a guy, a lot older than us but not as old as our parents. I’d say he was maybe thirty. He had on jeans and a pocket t- shirt, really dark blue, with a pack of cigarettes in the pocket. Winstons, I think, or Marlboros, a red-and-white package.
“You Meg?” he called down to me from the doorway. He had short dirty blond hair and blue eyes, and very strange little teeth, pointy at the ends.
“You girls want to come in for a sec?” he asked.
I turned to Suze and Maria. Maria had a weird expression on her face, giving me a look as if to say, No way.
“Well,” I hesitated.
“Come on up. I need a few minutes to get it together for you is all.”
He seemed sincere enough, but I didn’t know if we should go in. I ticked off the pluses and minuses: bad neighborhood; a guy we didn’t really know; no information about who was in the apartment already. Plus, we were obviously about to engage in a criminal activity – buying drugs. “No, thanks,” I said, smiling weakly. “We’ll just wait here.”
“Have it your way, babe,” he said, and disappeared into the apartment.
“Hey, Meg, maybe we should go and buy some beer,” Suze said. She sounded nervous.
“Yeah, right,” I said. “At your age, sure. Good luck.”
“No, really, “ Suze was annoyed. She waved a card she had pulled out of her back pocket. It was a Delaware driver’s license. “I have I.D.”
This was something new. “From where?”
“Get out,” said Maria. “ What does it say?”
“Mary Ellen Steele, 4015 Walnut Avenue, Wilmington, Delaware,” Suze read. “One of my sister’s many fakes.”
“Suze, we don’t need beer,” Maria said. “What we came for is better. Anyway, we don’t need them both, that’s for sure.”
“Stay put, Suze,” I said. “ It’s my car. Wait right here.” I fixed my eyes on Steve’s front door.
“Hey! Get up here, Meg!” Steve was back at the screen door of his place, calling down to me. I could barely hear what he was saying.
“You coming up to do this or not? Who else is coming with you?” He smiled. I noticed for the first time that he had a dark green tattoo, maybe a gargoyle, on his forearm. His jeans were really tight, and kind of dirty, with thin lines of grime running horizontally across his thighs.
I glanced over at Suze and Maria. “Who’s going?” Neither of them said a thing. Suze jerked her chin up and over towards the porch where Steve was standing.
“OK,” I said, loud enough for him to hear me. “Lock all the doors,” I said. “No. You sit in the driver’s seat, Suze. Keep the keys in the ignition.” Suze got out of the car on the curb side, locked the door, then walked around to the driver’s side and slid in behind the wheel. She leaned over and rolled down the front passenger window, and I tossed in the keys. “Be right back,” I said.
I walked fast up the steps to the porch and stopped a couple of feet away from the front door. Steve had just lit a cigarette, and taking a long drag on it, he said quietly, ”How much money you girls bring?”
“Fifty,” I said.
“Lemme see it,” he said in a low voice.
“Where’s the stuff?” I asked.
“Don’t you worry about that, lemme see the money,” he replied. He started to move towards me a bit, letting the screen door smack shut behind him. From the inside of the house I could hear a radio playing music, country music.
“Okay.” I started to reach into my pocket. “Wait a second, Steve—-” I started to say.
“I ain’t Steve,” the man said quietly. “Come here now and give me that money.”
My heart began to beat faster now.” You’re not Steve?” I said. I felt my face flush. “Who are you, then?”
“Just give me the money, darlin’,” he said. “And get the hell out of here. Fast.”
My hand stayed jammed in my pocket, and I froze. He reached over and grabbed my elbow with one hand, squeezing it hard, while the other hand seemed to go into his back pocket. My heart started thumping faster, the noise rising in my throat first, and then in my head.
I jerked my elbow away, and surprisingly, he was so unsteady on his feet that I easily stepped backwards a few steps and started for the steps, while he stood there seeming a bit dazed. “Get up here!” he said in a flat voice, as I felt my foot touch the top step and I tried to propel myself down. “I got what you came for.” He started down the steps after me. I nearly tripped across the sidewalk, pounded on the passenger door window, until Suze leaned over and pulled up the door lock.
“Drive!” I screamed, as I got into the car. “Drive! He’s coming! Drive, you idiot!”
Suze started the engine and pulled out onto the street, tires squealing. We rode in silence—no radio, no talking, my heart still pounding. I wound down the window halfway and heard that strange whooshing sound as we quickly rode past parked cars, one after another.
“You okay, Meg?” said Maria quietly, from the back seat.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. And then I thought of something. “No, actually, I’m not.”
“What happened, he try something?” Suze asked.
“I don’t know what was going on. He didn’t have the stuff, I don’t think. God, he was disgusting—“
Maria lit a Newport, took a drag and handed it to me. “Here, you need this,” she said.
“Thanks,” I sucked in the mentholated smoke and exhaled slowly. “Maybe Doris Kozak set the whole thing up, that scag.”
“You should be more—we should be more careful,” Maria said. “If my mother knew I was down here—“
“Let’s leave your mother out of this,” I said.
“You really think she might have?” Suze said. “You’re okay, aren’t you? That guy was a jerk. How old you think he was, Meggy?”
“Ancient. Maybe thirty?”
We began to giggle and then we couldn’t stop. “Put on the radio,” I said, when we finally got quiet. Let’s go back to someone’s house and just watch tv.” Neither of them said a word. We drove on, past the stadium and onto the boulevard heading north.
A few blocks away from her house, Suze said, “I’d better pull over and let you take the wheel. My father will ground me for another month if he catches me driving.”
“We could drive by Bill Nash’s house,” Maria said. “His mother works nights.”
“What was that guy trying to do, anyway? Suze asked.
“I don’t know, take our money, I guess,” I said morosely. “Maybe something worse. Forget it, Suze. I don’t want to talk about it. Maria’s right, let’s go by Bill’s house.”
Suze parked the car as near to Bill’s house as she could, considering the cars were bumper to bumper all along his block. We rang the doorbell. Bill appeared, tall and smiling, wearing cut-off jeans and a t-shirt from his old high school. “Ladies,” he said, as though he’d been expecting us. “Come in. Nothing like company on a hot, humid night in the city. Mi casa es su casa, as they say. Please join me.”
He led us through the house, empty of adults and siblings, and out to his back stoop. We sat there for a couple hours drinking beer, smoking Marlboros, and listening to the Top Forty hits on the kitchen radio, which sat in the window facing out towards the fenced-in back yards. Suze and Maria sat on the lowest step, tilting back the cans of Bud into their mouths and looking up at the darkening sky. Clutching their jars of lightning bugs, the last of the children were called in when the streetlights switched on. Bill and I started to sing along to the radio, and he slipped his arm around my shoulder. The stars came out, and the cicadas began their rising song.
Note from Lynne:
I hope you enjoyed this short story.
Now, please please pre-order my poetry collection–support poetry and support Mercy High, Baltimore scholarship and development funds. I’ll donate proceeds from my author’s copies to Mercy The link to order is here–go through the Paypal link to get to portal for major credit cards, or call the press and leave a message–they’ll call you back and you can use a credit card directly. Pre-orders end on March 23. Thanks!
Here’s the link to order The Glamorganshire Bible!
Two poets imagine their mothers meeting in the “Fifties and ‘Sixties, even though they never did!
The gray cat keeps watch by the window, staring at a sunless day.
Her head turns, ears on alert, when two juncos alight on the deck.
The Christmas tree’s colored lights garish in the morning.
Half-drunk bottles of cabernet litter the kitchen counter,
red carnations in the table settings have gone limp.
Please don’t ask about the children, no longer children, now men,
back at their own digs. We’ve haven’t heard from them
since they packed up their gifts and the leftovers in plastic tubs.
They could be sleeping all, day, or filling out job applications,
or heaving weights at the gym. Might be watching You Tube,
how to cook favorite foods of The Wire. Any hope
of grandchildren on the horizon is misguided, don’t ask about that, either.
Extreme climate: eight degrees at eight a.m. The President
won’t stop tweeting. I watch the juncos, brave against the cold.
Originally published in the South Florida Poetry Journal, January 2018 issue
You can pre-order my new poetry collection , The Glamorganshire Bible, from Finishing Line Press by March 23! $13.99. Proceeds from author’s copies in lieu of royalties go to Mercy High School, Baltimore, MD, for scholarship and development funds.
Wax like burnt sugar
It’s a round pregnant belly with
white mold-like coating,
a scoop dug out of
the heavy bottom,
a thread of black umbilical cord
it sits on a
saucer of Portuguese crockery.
Reprinted from Punting, Origami Poems Project, January 2018. Download the chapbook and assemble it!
I wrote this last winter, when our dear friend was undergoing yet another cancer treatment. He had done well after a stem cell transplant procedure, but a year later the cancer returned. The poem was my way of expressing my helplessness, and the waiting to hear news of how he was faring with this treatment, which I knew very little about until I did some research into it.
There’s a dispute in your blood,
Red cells against the white.
You’re in no shape to talk.
We’re playing your music,
it fills the living room.
You’re having another procedure—
it spills out unpronounceable names.
They’re taking the white from your blood.
Leucocytes, they’re taking you into custody,
so the capillaries can do their job, submit
to collection, centrifugation, spinning.
The basophils (Greek, basis, philein, to love),
the polymorphonuclear leukocytes,
those feisty granular immune cells,
the eosinophils, who so love eosins, the acid dyes,
that they embrace their stain, must be silent.
The rest of us, here at home this February day
do what we can. We wait,
wait, from Old French, guaiter,
wait and watch over.
Originally published in Punting, Origami Poems Project, Copyright 2018
And a pair of old shorts I found
in your closet, threads dangling from
the disintegrating khaki fabric.
I sleep on my back at night, careful not
to disturb the pillow on your side of the bed.
In the morning I’m unpracticed at making coffee,
Stumbling through the task, forgetting the filter,
or remembering the filter, forgetting the filter basket.
Your hat, the one you bought for hiking hills in Sicily,
fits me perfectly. I look like
an Australian crocodile wrassler,
or maybe the Marlboro man, though
your hat has a chin strap and a toggle.
Vents above the brim let in the sweet morning air.
Your hat smells like you, the sweatband
Exudes the scent of your soap and your shaving cream.
When you come back I’ll happily surrender the hat,
Strands of my hair stuck fast to its woven fibers.
originally published in January 2017, in Punting, Origami Poems Project
Near Uncle Tim’s bridge stands
a dwarf tree with twisted branches, tiny
White blossoms just about to fall—
White sand, shells of horseshoe crabs, not as many
As in years past. Matted salt hay, soft underfoot.
Across the marsh, the old fish cannery-turned-
Yoga studio next to the fish shack, the parking lot empty,
Freshly paved with crushed oyster shells,
White, pristine, waiting for the summer people.
In winter they stay in their houses, reading the paper.
Some sit at the piano, pluck out a few tunes.
Others write letters to the editor, refusing to use
email, preferring paper, envelope, self-adhesive stamps.
They walk their letters to the mailbox,
Wait for the metal clank as their missives disappear
Into the blue container. Pickup, 4 PM.
The summer people in winter wear
Their good coats to the opera. They don
Their special sports gear for the hockey arena.
They go to work early, they’re the last to leave the office.
They stand for O Say Can You See and O Canada.
They lug their groceries in reusable bags. They
Watch the calendar, dreaming of the marsh,
The kettle ponds’ clear water, the warm waves
Late August afternoons, on the bay beach,
White sand near the rock jetty, a fat orange sun
Slow dancing towards the horizon.
Originally published as a Poem of the Moment, on the Mass. Poetry website, December 2017, http://www.masspoetry.org/poemofthemoment7/
Fat snowflakes stream down—
White quilt covers dormant grass,
Iris stalks stand tall.
Exactly one week ago, our town on the south shore of Boston saw over a foot of snow. Up and down our suburban road, snowblowers hummed and neighbors commiserated with each other, bundled up in parkas and wearing their perennial L.L. Bean boots. Flights all over the east coast were canceled, and Logan Airport was no exception. Schools were closed. The temperatures stayed low, and by last Sunday, the high at 6 am was 9F, the low in some areas, -2.
But only a few days later, the temperatures began to climb, and yesterday, when the temperature rose to 48F, the great melting was in full force. Uggs boots were impractical—warm but impractical in the puddles that flooded the streets and sidewalks. Drive time after work was a mess, with many back roads blocked off by police vehicles, blue lights flashing. Detours wended miles out of our usual routes.
Dinner was delayed, too, even though we were only reheating leftover chili and throwing together an express salad. That, in turn, delayed our January semester-break Netflix viewing schedule—The Crown, Season 2—and left less time for evening reading: The Year of the Runaways (my spouse) and Manhattan Beach (me).
This morning, the melting continues. The thermometer registers 55F. Global warming in all its messy, wet, inconvenient glory.
The forecast calls for a high of 25F tomorrow. The melting snow will soon freeze into ice—a firm crust on the snowdrifts. black ice on asphalt driveways and streets. Dogwalkers will attach crampons to their boots, and homeowners will scatter ice melt on their steps and walks.
In October of last year, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced his proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plant policy. Such a reversal of environmental policy would mean more coal burning, and more manmade climate change. The EPA will accept public comment on the EPA’s proposal, through April of this year, so if you’re as mad as hell, you might want to weigh in.
As for me, I’m off to check for leaks in the garage and basement.
“I’m as mad as hell…” Peter Finch, in Network ( 1976)
Just received one last shipment of my 2017 poetry collection, Baltimore Girls, from my publisher–last of the press run. Sales have been good, but I’d love to sell as many of these as possible before my next chapbook is released in the spring. If you ‘re interested in purchasing a copy, please email me at email@example.com, and I will send you the relevant information. Proceeds from purchases that come directly from me (as opposed to online booksellers) go to scholarship funds at Mercy High Baltimore, and I was pleased to donate those from 2017 to Mercy last month. Thanks for all your support, dear friends and readers.
We hear the roll call of those “who left us this year.” I’m covering my ears and humming a Leonard Cohen song. I eschew those lists of the recently departed.
Yoga and gym classes are suddenly crowded. That probably will last a few more weeks, and then, only the regulars will show up faithfully each week to heave hand weights, dance to salsa or hip hop tunes, or work on their downward-facing dog poses.
I ready myself to write 2018, and not 2017 on checks—am I the only one in the world who still writes checks? Occasionally I catch myself absentmindedly writing 1982. Or 1978. Or at least thinking of it for a nanosecond.
The Christmas flower arrangements, greens and white mums and red carnations—are holding up pretty well, but it’s time to pull out the shiny red balls and bows and convert the flower dishes to winter white and evergreen.
We’re weeding the ornament collection this year—anything we have not used in four or five years goes off to the Vietnam Vets collection on January 10.
This brings up the subject of my mother’s 1962 Singer sewing machine. An odd shade of gray-blue plastic, it weighs about 40 pounds. I had it tuned up five or six years ago, tried using it once, and have despaired of ever getting it to work properly again. The old guy who works out of the vacuum cleaner store, repairing sewing machines, is very likely no longer with us. I’d like to start sewing again after a twenty-year hiatus, but perhaps on a spiffy new machine that will not require two sixty-year-olds to lift it onto the work table. And one that someone knows how to maintain. Then again, I think a shiny black classic Singer in good shape might be nice—if I could learn how to keep it oiled and working. So what’s the plan—take an adult ed class in maintaining small machinery, and peruse Craigslist for a 1950’s Singer, like the ones we used in Mrs. McMillan’s Home Ec class at Hamilton Junior High?
This flotsam and jetsam of the rolling old year crowds my brain. No wonder I can’t find my keys.
Happy New Year, Feliz ano nuevo, Felice anno nuovo, Gelukkig nieuwjaar, Bonne année, Frohes neues Jahr to all my readers!
Until my sister and I were out of high school and my parents invested in a silvery artificial Christmas tree, my mother put up what we called the “real” Christmas tree as close to Christmas Eve as possible. To hold us off, from early December till a few days before Christmas, she gave us little projects: an Advent calendar coated with silver glitter, with tiny windows, behind which lay old-fashioned toys—tops, trains, kewpie dolls, bears wearing red ribbon bows, jacks, toy workbenches, roller skates. Or a twelve-inch 1940’s –era plastic Christmas tree that came with tiny glass Christmas ornaments which we painstakingly hung on the tree.
Or the humblest pre-Christmas ritual of all—the brown paper tree, fashioned from several large Food Fair grocery bags that she cut apart and glued, drawing on it a seven-foot tall tree shape. With safety scissors, my sister and I carefully cut along the outline of the tree our mother had outlined in dark green crayon. On the scraps of brown paper, we drew and colored in ornaments: round globes in red and green using the fat primary grade crayons. When we were a little older, we graduated to the standard 24- crayon Crayola box, and feeling adventurous, we colored paper ornaments in other Crayola shades—burnt Sienna, Azure blue, red-orange, to design fancier balls. For gold, we deployed yellow. For silver, we used gray. After dinner on weeknights, or in the afternoon on Advent Saturdays, we lay on our stomachs in the small kitchen, bearing down hard on our thick Crayolas.
“Sit up when you use the scissors,” our mother said. “No cutting while you’re lying down.” As soon as she left the room, we were back on our bellies, carefully cutting out the paper ornaments. I was in charge of drawing the star, and we both filled it in with hard strokes, so no brown Food Fair bag paper would show through. We made a stack of the cut-out shapes. Mom taped the giant paper tree to the wall I the kitchen, and each day, she helped us glue a few or the paper ornaments onto the tree. By the time we got to the bottom of the ornament pile, there was a real Christmas tree in the corner of our small dining room, perfuming the small apartment with its fresh balsam scent.
The Christmas cards began to arrive in early December, from aunts and uncles, from Mom’s friends from her teaching days before I was born, from neighbors, from Mom and Dad’s friends from Sparrows Point. Mom opened and read each one aloud to us. We rubbed our fingers over the ones with flocked designs, or real cotton for Santa’s beard. On a metal apparatus in the shape of a pine tree, Mom displayed the cards, and when the clips of the metal tree were all used up, she taped holiday cards to the woodwork arch leading from the dining room into the kitchen. Out came the Christmas stockings, which hung on a red ribbon attached to the wall with thumbtacks, because we had no fireplace. Mom said not to worry, Santa would enter and exit from the stairs that led from our grandma’s home downstairs up to our place. The real tree stayed bare in its stand, a red vessel that held the trunk tight by long screws boring into the wood. The lights and the real glass ornaments never appeared, back then, until after my sister and I were fast asleep.
A few days after Christmas, my mother began to notice the dropped needles that appeared everywhere in the apartment. She let us keep our favorite gifts, the dolls and toys, under the tree until New Year’s Day. But the pajamas, the scarf and glove sets from our aunts, the bath towels with the circus motif, personalized with our names, and the games had to be stowed in our bureaus or the big closet. Soon, the real tree would be gone, lying on the curb for the garbage men to claim. The paper tree my sister and I worked so hard on was rolled up and discarded. All the sugar cookies and the chocolate chips had been eaten up, and what remained were a few hard, spicy gingersnaps that only my parents liked. I wondered aloud her what she would do with the Christmas cards, and she said I could collect them, use them for whatever projects I could think up. She handed me a small box, I watched her pull the cards from the woodwork, one by one. This time, she didn’t even look inside at the signatures.
She removed the fragile ornaments from the tree and lined them up on the dining room table. As she inspected each ornament, and placed it into its niche in the storage box, the television droned on in the adjacent living room. “Nineteen fifty-two is just around the corner,” the tv announcer said, as he began touting a new car. I contemplated his words. What does that mean, I asked my mother? “It means the new year’s almost here, “ she said.
Memories of that time, perhaps even of that particular day, are vivid. My father was at work; sister was napping. I was too old for that, so I sat with her as she packed up Christmas. Her whole life, she fought hard to keep the blues at bay at Christmastime, for the holiday brought on sad memories of her straitened childhood. I didn’t understand why she was in such a hurry to get back to normal, as she put it. She was always glad to see New Year’s day come and go, and to put Christmas on the shelf, or up in the attic, for another year.
Two days after Christmas, I feel my mother’s spirit in the room, rising up. Time to close up Christmas for this year—is it too soon to start?
Among the many sweet Christmas gifts that came to me this morning, this–a notification that the Origami Poems Project will be publishing my six-poem collection, “Punting,” in a microchapbook!
Once Punting is published, copies will be available to blog readers, gratis, until my supply runs out. If you’d like a copy, please comment on this post.
Elvis had just died in Memphis—he was just forty-two.
You and I’d just moved in together,
to a third floor walkup in Brookline.
We were just in Cambridge for a couple days,
long enough to rent a punt,
travel up the River Cam for just a few lazy hours.
I lay back in the boat while you pushed the pole,
I read aloud the King’s obit from the Herald-Trib.
Just the two of us on a calm Tuesday,
drifting, then and later, back home,
for a short while, not quite in love,
just close, a stepping stone
was what we had, just enough for then,
a short prelude to our separate lives.
Now, a fragment of that day
comes back: your boyish laugh,
your golden curls glinting in the English sun.
Just out!– online and available in print, at https://issuu.com/.
Both of these poems appear here, on pages 11-13. These are part of my Cumberland series to be published this spring in my second book, The Glamorganshire Bible.
She stares into the camera, no trace of a smile.
Her dark eyes look straight at you.
Not more than ten, thin, with a mass of dark ringlets.
Her white blouse hangs loose on her,
a hand-me-down from the half-sisters.
You can’t tell that she’s motherless,
lives with her father and the grandma,
lives in a crowded old house,
the three girls sleeping together,
this one stuck in the middle, not much room
but at least she keeps warm.
The classroom is empty, though it’s likely
the photographer lined up the children,
told each one to sit quiet while he looked
through the viewfinder, made them keep still,
clicked away until he’d captured them all—
boys who would go on to work in the tin mills,
or the Cumberland coal mines, where the pay
was good but the air would soon corrode the lungs,
early death was unavoidable.
Girls who would marry, have too many children,
who’d endure the hard times to come—
but that was a long way off, a decade ahead.
On that spring day of school pictures,
the teachers, all single women, lined up in rows
in front of the brick school for their picture,
standing at the exact midpoint of the two entrances
one proclaiming GIRLS, the other BOYS.
The photographer arranged the teachers by height,
the children stood on the narrow sidewalk,
giggling as the photographer said, “Say cheese, ladies!”
The teachers couldn’t stop laughing. That was the day
the girl at the desk made a vow to be like them,
be one of them. She wrote the word in her copybook,
Teacher. Then, I will be a teacher. There might be
a husband, maybe children, maybe not.
She walked home in the bright afternoon light,
her plan, her wish pressed against her chest.
Originally published in October, 2017, in This I Know, Warren Artists’ Market anthology
I left the child with the mother-in-law,
just for a week. My bed was my sister’s sofa,
The coffee on the stove woke me up.
I never slept so well in all my life.
Before I knew it, I was served with papers, called
to court to answer the complaint—grounds of desertion.
They brought in a fellow who said he saw the kid
walking by herself down Baltimore Street on circus day,
with me nowhere in sight.
He said I’d been at breakfast at the Queen City Hotel
with a police sergeant. Another one swore I went camping
in mixed company down at Paw Paw.
Not long after, the judge handed down his order:
Divorce granted to Mister, grounds of desertion.
I didn’t care who knew, talk never bothered me much
but it seemed best to go down to Baltimore. There’d
be plenty of work for me there.
My sister saw me to the train, handed me the lunch
she’d packed, promised she’d watch out for my girl
till the day I got custody back.
From the train window I looked
at the tangle of tracks along Front Street.
The train pushed up the mountain, leaving
Cumberland trapped in the mist.
Dark puffs curled from the factory smokestacks.
I reached into my carpetbag for a magazine,
lost myself in the lives of Chaplin, Pickford,
dozed, their silver images flickering in my dreams.
By nighttime we reached the Mount Clare Station.
You could almost see the heat rise
from the cobblestone streets, the automobiles,
the horse-and-buggies jockeying for the right-of-way.
at my feet, a new city, all mine for the taking.
(c) 2017 Lynne Viti
Originally published in Warren Artists’ Market anthology, This I Know, October 2017
Until we didn’t—on parents’ day at school
our teacher asked, Does anyone know
the new name of this day?
I turned around, looked at
my father on a folding chair
leaning against his cane—
Cracked speckled terrazzo floors
in the halls, dark wood in the classrooms.
Windows climbed up to the ceiling.
Playground half-cement, the rest blacktop–
the farther from the school the rougher the boys played–
the girls sat on the brick wall by Christopher Avenue,
in sixth grade some got bras, the rest of us were
flat-chested under our white safety patrol belts—
My father always asked, was her father in the service?
Army? Navy, maybe? Only my uncle
stayed out of the war—he was too old
had kids had asthma–
My father got a scar on his forehead
got a smoking habit, lost thirty-five pounds in Manchuria,
he told us he forecast the weather in China
so we could beat the Japs,
he ate rice and– he averred–dogs and cats
he flew over the hump–
then sailed to Oran, took a troop ship home,
was skinny when he came off the gangplank
my mother said he didn’t sleep well,
her Dalmatian growled at him.
My father didn’t like the house
she bought when he was away—
He bought the Legion’s paper poppies after church
or in the Food Fair parking lot.
I kept them on my dresser
clear up till Christmas.
Copyright 2015 Lynne Viti
He appeared out of nowhere, much younger than he is,
slender, prematurely balding, full sideburns and beard,
with that urgency in his voice I remembered so well.
He was breathless, agitated.
A twin baby, he said, I want a twin baby.
Not both, just the one.
Did he want me to produce the child, push it out,
find one somewhere for him? And why,
I wondered, with two grown sons,
two daughters, raised up and on their way
would he want a baby, and why a twin, and what
of the other, the second twin?
Did his wife want the twin baby too, or was this
some harebrained idea leaping out
of his seventy year old head
like Athena shot out of the head of Zeus?
I sank back into sleep.
The snowplows sent their electronic beeps
up and down the street outside,
backing up, punctuating each task
with staccato signals. Flannel sheets,
feather comforter weighed on me.
I was in a sweat, the bedroom window
open only a quarter inch, the humidifier
humming be quiet, be quiet.
Still he insisted, a baby, a twin.
I propped myself up on an elbow, saw
last night’s book splayed on the night table.
The plows spoke to each other. I
fell back asleep, this time in a dreamless state.
When day came, I looked out to see
the trucks had done their work, dismantled
the snow hills and carried them off.
The sidewalks were cleared.
You can read it here–
I wrote this poem after I walked home from dropping my car off at the garage for body work. I’d driven along Washington Street in Dedham, Massachusetts, countless times, but had never seen it on foot, had never noticed so many things.
The poem was published today in Califragile.
MD State Flower
by Jeff Blum
Driving, we see nothing, eyes always on the road,
We’re on the lookout for red lights, cars that veer into our lane.
We miss: Cigarette butts mounded near a sewer cover,
houses needing paint or new shingles, fronted by
drought-proof gardens of cosmos and black-eyed Susan,
coneflowers, sedum, wood asters a yard tall.
A turquoise flip-flop upside down in the gutter,
lambs’ quarters that spring from cracks on the overpass.
A wooden table and chairs in a sunken sideyard,
a snow thrower against the chain link fence,
brown crabgrass plumes packed with seeds.
Cars on the highway flying by under a new bridge of
bright white concrete, high chainlink fence to warn off suicides.
Abandoned gas station masked by ailanthus, blackthorn, scrub oak.
Behind them, a twenty-foot boat looms, shrink-wrapped in white plastic.
Old auto repair shop, windows broken, black paint faded to grey,
grass pushing up through concrete. Uninvited plants—
nothing stops them. Behind the wheel, we miss all this.
This poem started out as an account of animal sounds we heard late at night, coming from somewhere outside our bedroom window this past spring. It turned into something else, along the way…and the final version appears in the Spring 2017 Central Michigan University’s lit mag, Temenos. This issue is entitled Coyote Dreams: A Prayer Manual.
I’m thrilled to be part of this new venture–and to have my poem alongside that of fellow Baltimorean and distinguished poet Baron Wormser!
Read two of my poems , “The Glamorganshire Bible” and “The Kid: Cumberland 1923”–here:
The collection is available from me–at a slightly reduced cost of $11.99 plus first class postage. Profits from books purchased from me directly will go to scholarship funds at Mercy High School, Baltimore, my beloved alma mater.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Or, order from amazon.com barnesandnoble.com, or from the publisher, Finishing Line Press.
I’ll be reading from this collection and new poems as well, at the Wellfleet Public Library, June 18, 7 PM. The event is free and open to the public.