Best of the Net Nomination for “Higher Math”

Happy to learn today that my poem, “Higher Math,” inspired by my friend Roger, has been nominated for Best of the Net  Poetry 2016, by Work to a Calm editor Nastia Lenkova. The poem appeared in the February 2016 issue, and you can read it here. 

The Mountain, the Dottore and I

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Don’t be such a drama queen, I thought.

With me  in the dottore’s  narrow waiting room were  Massimo, manager of our hotel in Castelluccio Superiore, Martina, our young tour manager from Palermo, and Tom, my husband and primo hiking companion.

I sank back into the soft cushions and squinted at  the framed certificates and testimonials, but they were too far away, and it still hurt to stand. I had been applying ice to my leg for the past two days, but  a large hematoma wasn’t  shrinking.

It looked as though my hiking trip in southern Italy was over almost as soon as it had begun. As luck would have it, this  dottore, on staff at the hospital in Potenza,  also saw patients in his home office in Castelluccio Inferiore, about 2 miles from out modest hotel.

I stared at a photo of a middle-aged woman on the breakfront. By the looks of her hair style and dress, I guessed the picture dated from the 1940’s. His mother, or an aunt?  I heard the voices of two women in another room of the house, then a man’s voice, then laughter. Were they having afternoon tea?

Then the  door to the room across the hallway opened and two older ladies emerged, smiling and bidding arriverderci to the dottore. He popped his head into the waiting room, and said something I only caught the end of—lavarmi.

“He’s going to wash his hands, “ Martina said.   He soon reappeared, and ushered three of us—Martina, my husband and me—into the examining room. Massimo went to wait in his car.

I thought back to the previous day, when I fell while our escorted tour was walking at the bottom of a gorge between two 3,000 meter high  mountains. We crossed back and forth over a stream, walking on  wet stones. It had rained hard the day before, and a thick carpet of fallen beech leaves on the trail was spongy in some places, slick in others. Our hiking poles slid down through several inches of wet brown leaves. Suddenly I slipped, hitting my shin hard. I  rolled up my pants but saw only a faint scratch — it was nothing. Or it was nothing until three hours later, after we had ascended the steep path up the mountain, past a plain where wild horses grazed, then up and up, until we reached the perfect place for lunch at the top of the mountain. There was no road access. That morning as we set out, Martina handed each of us a panino and a chocolate bar. She couldn’t drive the van up to meet us for our usual picnic lunch. Now, atop the mountain, we looked out from the promontory to the Pollino valley,  south to the Ionian Sea, its cerulean blue waters laced with foam, lapping the sand.

Only then did I notice the throbbing  in my  leg. I rolled up my pant leg. My husband watched, and on his face  I read surprise, or maybe  alarm. Near my shin, slightly to the right and a few inches above the ankle was a protrusion the size of a tennis ball. There was no ice–no emergency ice packs like the ones soccer coaches carry with them for every practice, every game. No  way to get down the mountain except to walk down. I tied my bandana around the lump and knotted  it as tight as I could.

While our fellow hikers continued on their walk, a loop that would return them to our mountaintop lookout spot, I sat with my husband and Greta, who wanted a rest. While I propped up the injured leg on my backpack and tried not to think about the throbbing sensation, the three of us talked about books, King Leopold’s Ghost,  My Brilliant Friend,  The Hunger Games. When the group returned, my husband helped me to my feet and I hobbled down the mountain. Three fellow hikers waited for us, standing at their posts a half mile apart. As we met up with each one in turn, the comrade would chat as I limped along,  distracting me from my predicament.

Now, a day after my fall, the dottore tore off a sheet  of paper from the long roll  at  the head of the examining table, smoothed it, and gestured for me to climb up.  I slid onto the table and rolled up the keg of my hiking pants, revealing a bruise  from knee to instep.

Martina translated. I said I’d fallen, at the time, I didn’t think I’d hurt myself, only a scratch, then I discovered this big lump on my leg three hours later after we had scaled the mountain.

Dottore Sproviero put his hand on my ankle gently. He palpated the leg. He was a sturdy, athletic looking man, quite bald, with wire-rimmed spectacles and blue-gray eyes. His manner was very serious.  With his hand still on my ankle lightly, he looked directly into my eyes.

“Signora, you do not have to go to ospedal,” he said quietly. “It is only a hematoma. I will give you some medicine. You must stay off the leg, no more hiking this trip, and you must wrap the leg in an elastic band.”

The dottore went to his imposing wooden desk next to the examining table. With an elegant fountain pen, he wrote out the diagnosis on cream colored stationery imprinted with an image of Leonardo da Vinci’s L’Uomo Vitruviano.

Then, he used  a ballpoint pen to write out two prescriptions. I asked what these were for, as any good American consumer would do.

“Something to help the leg heal,” he said. The dottore had spoken. I did not press him for details.

He wrote out the bill, affixed an official looking holographic seal  on it, and handed the paper to my husband. Ninety-two Euros.

My husband  and Martina rushed off to an ATM down the street.

Massimo and I waited in his car while my husband paid  the dottore.  Tom emerged from the  dottore’s house with eight Euros,  the first time he’d ever gotten change from a doctor.

“How’s the leg?” asked the retired Royal Navy pilot, every single day and right up until we boarded the plane at Naples  bound for the UK, at the end of our hiking trip.

“I had to be helicoptered off a mountain in Switzerland once, skiing accident,” said the former Royal Marine, now landscape architect. “Broke four ribs. Awfully inconvenient.”

“Did you ask the doctor about clotting?” asked the retired nurse who had worked in New Guinea and Australia for many years. “Did he heparinize you?”

“Rather bad luck!” mused the tall, shy Brit who liked to photograph every flower on every trail.

I rested in our next very fancy  hotel, or rode with Martina when she expertly drove the van on switchback  roads. I hobbled through the small Naples airport for our flight to Gatwick.  At Heathrow and at Logan airport, I had Special Assistance–express trips by wheelchair, through security, immigration and customs.

My stateside internist examined the leg,  saw  no complications, and advised me to  wear a compression sock. He told me to discard the heparin gel that cost 28 Euros, and opined that the vitamin C-bromelain-MSM cocktail wouldn’t do a thing for me, but I could take it if I felt like it.  I kept  drinking the magic pineapple potion twice a day until I used up the last packet.

I saved the elegantly scribed, poetic  diagnosis on the ivory stationery:
Trauma to the lower third of the left leg. Abundant harvest of hematomatic blood. Discontinue cardio aspirin for three weeks. Apply elastic bandage, rest, and elevate.

Four weeks later,  I danced at my nephew Nico’s wedding. I resumed yoga and swimming. I missed out on the last four days of my  Basilicata hike, but  came home with a good story.

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Last Sunday in July

Sun, then not-sun, clouds

then not-clouds,

warm, then not-warm.

This slender land can’t

make up its mind.

Cool breezes,

fungi of every color erupt–

red, colonies of chocolate brown,

or white, something you might

find in your salad.

Not much to do save

listen to Bill Evans ply the piano,

wrestle with the crossword,

turn off the phone.

 

   –Reprinted from Old Frog Pond

I Learned That Marilyn Had Died

 

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Not Monroe but Marilyn the English teacher
Who befriended me the first day of my first job
Who invited me to her thirtieth birthday—
Marilyn the inveterate New Yorker
from West Virginia who lived
in a tiny studio on the
Upper East Side when
Nobody could afford to live there.
Marilyn who taught me how to sew pantsuits
When it was radical to wear them to school.

Marilyn who had pale skin and black hair
A long face, a cutting word,
Who wouldn’t let her students say, This is boring,
But made them say instead, This did not reach me.
Marilyn died who slept with my ex after our breakup—
He can’t remember this because
He never remembers anything he did before
The new millennium.

I lost touch with Marilyn after she met a man
on the train coming back from Lake George.
She called to tell me she was engaged,
warned me not to get involved with a younger man.
I ignored her, never saw her again.

She liked dogs, a special breed, I don’t recall which one.
She never married, became one of those beloved teachers
Everyone remembers forever—

She told me her father used to leave her and her kid brother
Locked in the car on his way home, he stopped at a bar,
He’d be in there for hours drinking—
I’d never heard of a Jewish alcoholic

Or even Jews in West Virginia
She said they weren’t observant,
never went to temple, there was no bat mitzvah.

She loved the theater, the students, the Upper East Side,
Expensive scotch, fine restaurants in midtown, and the beach.
She loved Gatsby, Hamlet, Sylvia Plath, Melville,
Anne Sexton, John Donne.
She had the saddest face, even when she smiled,
Black lashes against white skin.
Her dark wit made me laugh and wonder
Really, what was so funny about what
Was so sad. I wish I knew
What became of her, before
Her short ticket was punched.

 

 

~Lynne Viti

Reprinted from the Little Patuxent Review, Summer 2016

Campanology

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CAMPANOLOGY
—Lynne Viti

The bell had hung there forever, it seemed.
We came to the church with our children
after years of childlessness—sleeping in,
reading each section of the fat Sunday paper,
drinking café au lait from bowls made by potter-friends.
Sundays were for museum-going,
brunches out with mimosas, omelets filling
elegant white plates, walks around the reservoir.

The gray wood church was nothing like
the brick edifices of our childhoods,
pews stuffed with families,
lines of men standing along the aisles, holding their hats.
By the time we prodigals returned to church,
it was a half-forgotten ritual.
You could always get a seat.

White-robed acolytes, tasked with pulling
the fat white rope each Sunday,
were lifted up on tiptoe, pulled by the heavy bell.
Once, the smallest boy went aloft for a second.

Now the tower’s closed for business, the bell silent.
Rotted window frames, sagging beams
wait for the engineer’s report.
No peals disturb neighbors on the street
where the church stands, unremarkable, plain,
against a backdrop of pines and oaks.

This sixty-year old bell used to strike ten times,
a call to worship, a wedding. On the day
of the death ritual, the bell rang the ancient
three times three strokes for a man,
three times two for a woman.

Sliding into a pew this winter morning
I hear the near-absence of sound, or maybe only
the rustle of a choir robe, a cough, the accidental slam
of the front door as a latecomer slips in.
If it has a soul, the bell
must be bursting with the long wait,
its peals constrained. It’s an unnatural quiet—
its barrel still, ear asleep, its tongue tied.

Reprinted from Mountain Gazette, Summer 2016 issue

 

Common Onion

 

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Spring, I thought, pawing through the pantry
when the fat onion came into view,
its lemon-yellow sprouts a foot long.
The onion had shrunk back into itself,
responded to the slight pressure of my thumb
by caving in. A ruined bulb, it gave
all its life to those useless stems.

Outside it was nothing like spring, only
snowy, clouds obscuring the day.
Rigid piles of last week’s snow seven feet high
lined the roadway, soiled ramparts,
muddied, blackened, covering hydrants and saplings.

For weeks, the cat refused to go out,
preferring to lie on her favorite chair,
or leaping onto the bed at night
to steal some human warmth.

Boots lined the entryway, caked
with road salt, or chemicals strewn
along sidewalks and parking lots.
Our down coats shed tiny feathers,
gloves sprang holes,
shovels bent at their corners.

Everything in the house
was tired of winter, wanted to be finished
with clearing, chipping the detritus
of four storms, systems Siberia or Alaska
knew how to manage better, through
long years of bending under winter’s yoke.

This onion’s worth saving, was my first thought.
Then I tossed the pulpy thing
into the compost, consigned
to a pile of sweet-smelling rot.

~Lynne Viti

 

Reprinted from BlazeVOX Spring 2016

Planting Garlic

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Not Italian– I never saw garlic bulbs,
not even garlic powder in our kitchen.
Years later, when my Welsh mother
visited, sniffed the garlic cooking
in the skillet, before the bread cubes
joined it in the olive oil to brown
she said— Smells Italian. I watched her
pick the golden croutons out of her salad,
push them to the side of the plate.
It’s cold for October—yesterday
snow specks fell on our fleece jackets.
I yank up spent basil, arugula, cut rainbow chard,
consign tomato and pepper plants to the compost.
Along the inside periphery of the garden
I dig the holes, work in manure,
reach into my pocket and crack off a clove.
I lodge each one in its winter pocket,
make a row, turn the corner, make another,
cover the cloves and  tamp down the earth.
Then for good luck, stamp it all down with my heavy boots,
the ones that took me from Enna to Cefalu last May.
Not Italian, love garlic, wish it were April–
Better still, late June. When the school year ends,
we’ll dig up our succulent cloves,  slice
the translucent segments of the holy bulb.
I’ll think I hear my mother’s voice, long ago stilled
—Smells Italian.

–Lynne Viti

 

Reprinted from BlazeVOX Spring 2016

 

 

 

 

Blood Moon

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Tried to see it from the soccer field
At the school some want torn down—
no way to rehab it,
poor drainage, asbestos lurking in walls,
wrapped around pipes, Eisenhower-era
construction, additions tacked on when
children cropped up everywhere.

It’s chilly for September, the moon
a bright white orb. No competition from stars.
A sliver of shadow appears at the moon’s side,
creeps across.
It’s not happening fast enough for us.
We want to see the pink moon, the blood moon—

Huddled in this playground, we wonder
why no one else is here. Are they watching
the blood moon on their televisions,
getting a clearer, sharper, super-pink image?
I pull my sweater tighter around me.
The shadow across the moon moves—

Now the moon turns salmon pink
smaller than the white moon.
Out on the grass this night
we six— a tight knot— suck in cold air.
Not another blood moon for years.
Will we be alive then, will we care enough to step
outside wherever we live then,
tilt our heads back, marvel at the sky?

 

~Lynne Viti

Reprinted from Spring 2016 issue BlazeVOX

My Father’s War/ 我父亲的战争 Wǒ fùqīn de zhànzhēng

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He’d always loved boats, being on the water.
Enlisted in the Navy at thirty-three, took up smoking, too,
Signed up for top secret hazardous duty overseas—
But he didn’t go to sea—he went to
Fight Japan from the ground in Manchuria,
Aerographer’s mate first class. He told us he
learned to track clouds—
Cirrus, cumulus, nimbus. Shaved his
Head, all the white men did, Naval intelligence said
That would fool the Japs when they flew over. They lived
With Chinese soldiers and spies,  ate rice and whatever meat
Their hosts could scare up. It might have been dogs.

I forecasted the weather, he told us, but
the records say otherwise:
First, to Calcutta for indoctrination-
how to eat with chopsticks, never insult the Chinese hosts, get along.
Flew over the Hump, on to Happy Valley, east of Chunking.
Lived in camphor wood houses, drank boiled water
from teapot spouts.

The history books say they spied on Japanese troops and ships,
blew up enemy supply depots, laid mines in harbors,
trained Chinese soldiers in guerrilla warfare, rescued downed aviators.
What this had to do with clouds, I can’t say.

When he left for San Pedro, my mother watched him pack
A long knife and a gun in his suitcase.
Orders, he said. Top secret.

He never told the same story twice about
the gash on his forehead that
grew fainter over the years till it was a thin line
etched on his weather-beaten brow.

He returned from his war malnourished, his teeth
rotting, he drank straight shots of whiskey.
Chased it with beer. Had the last rites –twice.
Brought back silks embroidered by Maryknoll nuns.

He hated the Communists,
Chiang Kai-Shek was his man.
I  never knew  it till after he died—
he was no weatherman.

Ghazal

Ghazal

Could I go back there, could I return today?
By happy accident of physics, fly there today?

Transport myself back to those pale rooms,
Those hallways full of laughing girls, today?

We leaned in doorways, in late afternoons,
Confided secrets, triumphs, as we might today.

Our hair was gold, chestnut, or raven, catching light
From sunlight’s slant through windows, like today,

Though stronger rays, intense, in memory’s eye.
We sang in empty classrooms, looking towards today.

Who were we then? And are we still the same—
Though life has marred and marked us all deeply—today?

Thread the way back through long tunnel of years,
With young girls’ eyes see who we are today.

Make time collapse, forgive the petty sins and slurs,
The slights and cuts, back then and today?

Recall when all was bright before us, all was fresh,
Vows not yet made or kept or broken, as today.

Could memories of youth –not specters of old age,
New disappointments—infuse our hours here, today?

~Lynne Viti

Reprinted from Blaze Vox, Spring 2016

Pâtissière

for Christine V.

The December you made a poundcake
your mother’s fat cookbooks were stacked
all over the white kitchen.
The cupboards were so high you had
to stand on a wobbly stepladder.
I steadied it as you pulled down
the old china from Sauveterre.
It was painted with tiny roses and vines.
Plates just large enough for a fat slice
of buttery cake, dotted
with gold raisins and crushed pecans.

You couldn’t have been more than fifteen.
That winter you made your way through
Craig Claiborne, James Beard, Julia Child.
I’d see you
chin resting in  an open hand, one elbow
on the white table, the other
flipping through stained pages.

That egg yolk yellow cake was just
The  moister side of dry
but not dry, so solid
I made a meal of it. Have another,
you said, slicing through the thin brown top
into the golden mass of cake.
a pound of butter, you told me, a pound of flour,
a pound of extra fine sugar.
It’s  a recipe that’s
almost not a recipe at all.

You went off to college,  immersed
yourself in semiotics, found
a boyfriend, then later,
a husband, a divorce, then
a business partner, then two. You got
a love, a child, a flat that made its way
into the Times Home section.

There have been awards all these years
but not for cakes. There have been
honors, attestations, prizes. You’re famous,
on panels, on juries, you’re in Wikipedia!

Has there been no poundcake? No chipped china
from your grandmere? No recipe that’s
not a recipe at all?

You wore small tortoise shell glasses. Your hair
needed a good cut. You wiped
your buttery hands on your flannel shirt
and scraped the last bit of batter from the bowl.
You licked your fingers, wrapped
dish towels around your hands,
Slid the cast-iron pan into the oven.

Come back in two hours, you told me,
we’ll have cake for dinner tonight.

 

~Lynne Viti

 

This poem was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest, and appears in the 2015-2016 Paterson Review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Weeding the Bittersweet”

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Sneaked in from Australia or Asia, settling
wherever it could, not minding poor soil,
rocks, sand, clay. Conquered woodland and garden.
We used to love the bright orange berries
popping from their yellow shells.
We used
to cut it
at the roadside.

Across her dashboard,
one of my housemates
strewed the stuff, the berries
would dry out and roll around, fall into our laps….

[Read the rest here].


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“How I Learned To Drive a Standard Shift, Without Tears…”

— Let out the clutch! Let out the clutch!

We were sitting at the top of the hill on the street where I grew up, suitably named Hilltop Avenue. My grandmother sold me her old Opel Kadett station wagon for a hundred and fifty bucks, and Dad appointed himself my driving instructor.

Dad’s instructional method was to yell when my response had to be quick. Though I was twenty-three, with years of driving experience, I felt like a clueless adolescent…..

You can read the full memoir essay on Silver Birch Press, published today.

Still Voting, After All These Years

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“I was one of four kids in Mrs. Well’s class at Hamilton Elementary School No. 236 to cast my vote for Adlai Stevenson in our fourth grade straw poll. Everyone but my three fellow Democrats and I wore “I Like Ike” buttons. Nobody wore a button that said “I Like Adlai.” Although my grandmothers, both staunch Republicans, liked Ike, I did not. I especially did not like his running mate, Dick Nixon. But then, I got my politics at the dinner table, from my dad.

A union man back in the ’30s when he worked at Bethlehem Steel, Dad voted for Stevenson even though he said the Illinois Democrat was an egghead…”

Read the rest here: my OpEd appeared  in the Baltimore Sun online, and in the Sunday Baltimore Sun‘s paper version on March 20. I urge you to comment online at the Sun on this opinion essay.

 

Crystal Hill Homestand

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(published in debut issue, March 2016, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing)

                                                                For Don

 

Post chemo, i.v.s, dull food, and infection,
from Boston you have travelled home to stay
for R & R, a good steak, and affection
from family, family dog, just for a day
or two or three, in which to laze in bed, but not
that metal hospital cot with sterile linens.
You might walk out on late summer grasses
or shuffle through the leaves, sort of beginning
to bask in autumn sunlight, turn your face
up to the sky, squinting against the rays
that slant onto the earth in this, your own place
not thinking long on next week. No, today’s
the day you want to sit and read the sports page,
reflect on what the odds are for your team,
listen to music, drink tea, begin to gauge
how much you’re loved, how great the stream
of life around you, going on quite as usual,
elections, wars, casinos, Nobel Prize
littering the front page. Soon, you’ll
nap and dream, and waking, will arise—

It’s good to leave the battle for a while
gather strength, breathe deeply, smile.

 

Tuesday After Labor Day

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[reprinted from The Basil O’Flaherty March 2016  issue]

 

 

Joey’s tacos, the bright green truck parked near the bay beach
has vanished overnight, regardless of whether  or not I craved
a chicken quesadilla. The forty bottles of hot sauces, each
sporting its own label boasting of heat hotter than any known—
all gone. There’s not even a mark in the grass where
the truck sat, where Joey leaned out and took your order.

Hard to believe that yesterday the three of us sat under
the Bradford pear tree, drinking lemonade or ginger ale
downing pork burritos layered with slaw, beans and rice.
The juice ran down our chins. We wondered how one man
could feed so many, what makes him work so hard,
cook so well. That afternoon seems weeks ago.

Town Pizza’s closed, though not the expensive women’s shop
that shares the old railroad depot.
Brown cardboard pizza boxes are stacked high in the window
but the place is dead—no smell of baking pies wafts from the door.
The transfer station no longer resembles a Richard Scarry book,
with pickups, Priuses, old Corollas lined up next to
the paper, plastic, glass bins. It’s just me and a man
whose black t-shirt reads, Keep Calm and Paddle.
We sullenly toss our plastics and tins into the green bin.

I don’t suppose the ice cream shop is open today.
I stop by the water hut and slip my quarters into the slot,
fill my empty plastic jugs one at a time, head home.
I glance at the Summer Chapel sign and wonder if
That’s done for the season, too.

But I have tomatoes, basil galore, beans, the third crop
of peppery arugula in the garden. The Italian flag still flies
from the potted rosemary bush on my stoop.
Low tide tomorrow at noon—one last swim in the sea.

~Lynne Viti

New poems: Baltimore Girls, Tuesday After Labor Day, Not Irish Enough

Three of my poems, “Baltimore Girls,” “Tuesday After Labor Day” [shoutout to Joey’s Tacos of Wellfeet  in this one] and “Not Irish Enough,” out today in The Basil O’Flaherty online lit mag, hereScreen Shot 2016-03-02 at 5.19.17 PMe

Burn Your Darlings

Cardboard box of old journals, notebooks
full of the ephemeral and the wannabe
profound, words I wrote for an audience—
the high school journal, read weekly by
Sister Seraphia, and later, words for my eyes only—
about unrequited love, loneliness after a breakup—

Dominique has two words of advice—
Burn them. She did, and found the fire Continue reading “Burn Your Darlings”

Gun Stories

This poem is reprinted from Damfino Press Journal, January 2016.

 

Outside the house the suitors line up,
a long queue of them, starting at dawn.
Each one with a gun.
I can see them from my bedroom window
—their handguns in holsters,
Or rifles slung over their shoulders
Like lawmen in my father’s tv westerns.

In town, the fire chief shot
His brains out with his service weapon.
It happened in his official car behind
The fire station on the main street.

I lost a friend over the guns her son
Brought back from the army, along with a crumpled
Marital history, and a taste for thebaine.

Once a black Luger was interposed
Between me and the hand that held it.
It was  pointed  at my father’s head, and then at me. The
Hand swept the gaze of the gun across the room.

The women have armed themselves, too.
Paper targets, then miscreants, then
intruders at the city gates
Overflowing into exurbia, the neighbors’ dogs–
Those go first, felled by your bullets. When there’s
No one left to shoot, your gun
Might be turned on you.

I know if I got my hands on one I’d drop
This embroidery, sneak out the back door,
go looking for a blacksmith.
I’d apprentice myself, I’d want
Nothing more than to hold the black gun
over the fire, pummel it.

You’d thank me for this.

 

 

 

Huge thanks to Danielle Georges, poet laureate of Boston, and the August 2015 poetry workshop participants, especially Martin Rodriguez, Francine Montemurro, Ellen Zelner and Chad Parenteau for critiquing an earlier version of this poem.  ~LV

New Year’s Day: Toward the Unknown

 

The year’s doors open
like those of language,
toward the unknown.
                                        ~ January First, Octavio Paz, trans. Elizabeth Bishop

 

This part of Cape Cod, past the elbow–but before the wrist joint—has yet to see a hard frost this winter. The arugula in our garden is green and edible, though most of it has bolted and  white flowers dot the tops of each green plant. Two intrepid calendula (pot marigold) bloom in the center of the garden—I find a tiny slug chewing away at one slender petal, flick him off, and bring the blooms inside to grace the dinner table. Leathery oak leaves the size of dinner plates line the crushed stone driveway and cluster around the stems of dead perennials: coreopsis, gaillardia,echinacea, rudbeckia. The pink heather blooms profusely on the hill behind the cottage. The calendar insists it’s early winter, but it looks more like early autumn on this  oddly warm year in new England. Continue reading “New Year’s Day: Toward the Unknown”

 Inclined Plane, Pulley, Wheel & Axle

For Mary Jane                                         

I studied the euthanasia coaster,
the Lithuanian artist’s drawings, the steep
first stage of the steel thing, the sharp
drop meant to cause hypoxia to the brain,
seven inversion loops, clothoids
designed to drive passengers into brain death.

At the end of the ride, said the
artist, they would unload—Unload!—the bodies Continue reading ” Inclined Plane, Pulley, Wheel & Axle”

Climate Change

 

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One Christmas, you broke in new roller skates
Soared down our  street’s white pavement
Flew onto a small front lawn to stop, because you had no brakes.

We took to the tennis courts at the park
In t shirts and shorts we worked on our serves, worked
up a sweat. It didn’t feel like Christmas.

Today’s like that, temperatures edging up to balmy,
roses in planters still blooming in the city– Continue reading “Climate Change”

The Stone in Your Chest

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I never want to walk through the black door you’ve negotiated,
Into the place where mothers bury their sons.
–You didn’t want to, either. You deserved years
of bonding, smiling at the way things turned out well after
the hard years, the impossible maze your adolescent traipsed.

No matter the cause, it’s the backwardness of it that
Makes no sense. It’s the years that knit us to the children, Continue reading “The Stone in Your Chest”

Boxing Day

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The very idea of servants had
faded altogether.
We stomped the cardboard shipping boxes that
arrived almost daily.

Sometimes I raced out to yell thanks
But the delivery van tore off down the street
I was left barefoot on the cold front porch
Feeling a bit foolish.

We stuffed the wrapping paper
and the twisted ribbon
into the metal trashbin in the garage,
forgot about it.

We reheated the casserole, Continue reading “Boxing Day”

We Called It Armistice Day

Reprinted from The Journal of Applied Poetics, December 2015

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WE CALLED IT ARMISTICE DAY

Until we didn’t—on parents day at school
Our teacher asked Does anyone know
the new name of this day–
I turned around and looked at
My father, sitting on a folding chair
leaning against his cane, he nodded to me– Continue reading “We Called It Armistice Day”

Christmas 1956

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My father opened his wallet to show me
a hundred dollar bill.
I thought he was rich, and said so.
Naw, he answered and carefully
slid the crisp paper back into its leather sleeve.
Christmas morning
my sister and I opened box after box.
Angora sweater, knee socks
Ricky Nelson LP for me,
roller skates for her.
My mother gave Dad pajamas,
socks, a hand warmer gadget
for Colt games at Memorial Stadium.

When it was all over
paper detritus littering rose-colored carpet,
Dad pointed to the back of the Christmas tree Continue reading “Christmas 1956”

Early Morning in Kresson

 

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“While the neighborhood overall retains integrity of location and design, it generally lacks integrity of setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.–Maryland Historical  Trust Review

 

In my mind’s eye I see it—the stub of a macadam road
Dead-ending into Blue Diamond Coal, its trucks
Lined up each morning for the long hauls.
To the left, the junkyard, heaps of metal and rubber, hard by
An Italianate house, rust-brown, coated with years
Of dust and cinder ash, facing the junkyard cranes instead
Of a lawn. A porch swing, always vacant even on summer
Evenings. Only the metal cranes noticed.
The folks who lived in the house, white haired, plainly dressed
Bespectacled, came and went together, but mostly stayed home.
My father’s tavern sat amongst these places, the last
In a row of houses. In its former life, the bar
Housed a bakery, we heard—and the baker’s family
Lived upstairs in the cramped rooms, their  kitchen
The bakery itself. I used to pretend I could smell
Bread baking, the sweet fragrance of airy
White loaves turning golden in the long-gone ovens.
I went along with my father there before dawn,
the half-light bathing the block in sepia.
I sat at a small table in the back bar reading comics—
my father rolled kegs of beer up from the dank cellar.
Up on the ragged sidewalk I stood peering down
As he slid the keg into a handtruck, up a plywood Continue reading “Early Morning in Kresson”

Felus Catus

Athena /Tina 1994-2015
Athena /Tina
1994-2015


There were never such green and wide
Catseyes as our cat’s eyes.
The hearing went. Those eyes
stayed big and wide, attentive. The ears
were dappled pink and black inside.
She loved it when you grabbed them gently,
Squeezed, then released them.
She’d shake her head, then come back for more.
She climbed on your lap each night
rubbed against your book, your laptop.
We joked she thought you were her mother.
She cried all the way to the animal clinic.
She couldn’t hear herself.
Her weight had fallen by another half-pound.
We could see her skeleton under her three-colored coat.
We remembered when she was plump,
when she deposited voles and small rabbits
on the back stoop, little presents.
Lately she slept, made a running start for the bed, Continue reading “Felus Catus”

Salad Days

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We lived at home, were always home for dinner.
We thought we dressed like women
when we peeled off the school uniforms and slid into
plaid kilts, blouses with Peter Pan collars and circle pins,
loafers, on Friday night, for a church hall dance.
We thought we knew everything, though we only
knew everything about the things we read in books
or heard on the bus, or the street. We read Continue reading “Salad Days”

Hotel Majestic

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Her hair was dark, dark brown,
her eyes even darker.
She took the big bed, I had the small cot.
We ate our breakfast in the coffee shop,
the two of us chatting our way through eggs and bacon.
Sometimes she looked off into the distance
and when she seemed to get lost there,
I’d ask, “What you looking at?”
“Nothing, just staring,” she’d say.
I knew nothing of staring,
refused to believe there wasn’t something
beyond the coffee shop’s peach colored walls
demanding her attention.
I heard the low buzz, the clink
of coffee cups meeting saucers.
The beach was wide and white,
our umbrella green and yellow striped.
We unwrapped our box lunch, sandwiches
nestled in thin waxed paper,
Milk for me, Coke for her.
Boys talked to us when we waded into the ocean, Continue reading “Hotel Majestic”

Crabbing On Isle of Wight Bay

 At an old footbridge we set up  —
Tied the chunks of eel to twine, threw the lines
As far as we could, so the crabs
Might think they’d chanced on a choice breakfast.
Pull the lines gently, my father said, draw
The string in slow and steady. We stayed for hours,
Not much to do but test the lines, nibble sandwiches
A half at a time, drink grape soda from the can.
We gazed down at the current, saw
The lines drifting away from where we sat, Continue reading “Crabbing On Isle of Wight Bay”

The Place, Part 3

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There was a parade of  barmaids and bartenders over the years: Mr. Oscar, whom Dad inherited from the tavern’s previous owner; the aforementioned Miss Bea;  Miss Vi, a sweet, fortyish woman who moved to Florida after she got married;  Hilda, a short,wide-hipped  plain woman who wore glasses and had no sense of humor at all. I never saw her smile..She stuck around a long time, but when she quit, she just up and left—I never heard anyone speak of her after that. George Scout tended bar on some of his layovers from the railroad, and he bunked in one of the rooms upstairs, two beds on ancient iron frames with grey sheets, and night tables littered with cigarette ash and tattered paperbacks, mostly Mickey Spillane crime novels. Continue reading “The Place, Part 3”

The Place (part 2)

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The menu–never written, always spoken but only when anyone asked first– consisted of  breakfast, lunch or dinner at any time of day. Eggs, ham or bacon, toast and coffee. Often, a special of the day–baked ham, roast beef with  mashed potatoes and gravy, meatloaf, corned beef. Or  my father’s specialty—hearty soups—navy bean soup, split pea,  beef stew—and on occasion, Maryland crab soup.  When he had time and the price of backfin was good, he made up two or three dozen crabcakes, which disappeared fast from under the glass domed cakestand that sat on the bar near the Hotpoint grills. Continue reading “The Place (part 2)”

The Place

Part 1
In  1951, my father bought a tavern  in Highlandtown, at the corner of  the East Kresson and Fairmount, from a Mrs. Mary Menniger.  Before that, the building was,  a tavern, when first built in 1900,  a confectionery and a bakery during Prohibition, and by the late 1930’s, a tavern once again. Dad installed an orange and green neon sign outside, a very long arrow that surrounded the very long name, Spigelmire and the word BAR underneath.

imgres-2We lived a 20 minute drive west of Highlandtown, in the northmost part of  Hamilton. We called  the tavern  The Place. Continue reading “The Place”

“Pink Sky” in _The Lost Country: A Literary Journal of the Exiles_

This lovely print journal is available from Amazon.com and you can preview the biannual issue at inexsilio.com.Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 9.38.37 AM Continue reading ““Pink Sky” in _The Lost Country: A Literary Journal of the Exiles_”

Engineer: Poem for a Childhood Friend

This poem, which I wrote last year, is reprinted from Grey Sparrow Journal, Spring 2015, in memory of my childhood friend Dan Lawrence, whose memorial service takes place today in Baltimore, our hometown.

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Engineer

He was the boy who loved trains
of all kinds, and trolleys—back
when they still ran along the roads to
Carney and Towson, all the way
to the route’s end, Woodlawn or Windsor Hills Continue reading “Engineer: Poem for a Childhood Friend”

House Guests and the Writing Regime

We’ve had four in a row, first  a young couple from Baltimore who are planning their wedding for next fall, then an old friend from my teaching days in Connecticut—now she’s based in Portland, the  Oregon one—and my brother in-law, who drove down from the north, for a Joe Jackson concert in Boston, and stayed overnight.

Then last night, my husband’s Men’s Book Club convened to discuss The Lord of Misrule.

It’s been years since we had this many visitors in such a short time, and the washing machine has been busy every few days, with sheets, pillowcases, towels and blankets. The dishwasher, which we usually put into service every two days, has been going full speed, Continue reading “House Guests and the Writing Regime”

Crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay

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November 14, 2 PM, Southeast Anchor Library, Auditorium 3601 Eastern Avenue Baltimore, MD 21224

Baltimore friends and family–Please join me at this event featuring Baltimore author Rafael Alvarez, where I will be reading one of my poems that is part of the chapbook, Callinectes Sapidus (ed. Rafael Alvarez) and telling a story,  Moth-style, about my father’s bar in Highlandtown!

Southeast Anchor Library, Auditorium 3601 Eastern Avenue Baltimore, MD 21224

Baltimore screenwriter and author Rafael Alvarez reads an essay about the current state of crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay. His essay, as well as my poem and writings of others appear in a new  chapbook, whose publication is supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Pratt Library.

Free chapbooks — which include a discussion of the 1977 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Beautiful Swimmers — will be available to all who attend.

Committing to Memory

images-3By the time I was in elementary school in Baltimore, the old, early twentieth century method of instruction, memorization and recitation in class, had been replaced by a more kid-friendly approach that combined reading, class discussion, writing answers, and even doing projects connected with our studies, whether they were in science, geography, history, arithmetic, literature, or the arts. Continue reading “Committing to Memory”

Summer’s End 2015: Winding Down? Or Un-winding?

IMG_2101In this outer Cape Cod town the week before Labor Day, the locals like to say, “Things are winding down.” The city people arrive in high summer, tense and stressed, not loving the long line for croissants at the boulangerie, or the wait at the small seaside theatre, general admission in a house that seats no more than a hundred patrons. With so many visitors in such small spaces,  we’ve been all wound up since mid-July. Now is the time to unwind, not “wind down.” In yoga, unwinding usually comes after a strong twist, turning from the lower belly and the low spine repeatedly, till it’s possible to look out over the shoulder and turn the gaze almost past that shoulder. Breathing in, then slowly unwinding comes last, and then, the yoga teacher might advise students, “Close your eyes, and notice how you feel. “ Continue reading “Summer’s End 2015: Winding Down? Or Un-winding?”

Music and Poetry: a Complicated Combination …

 

Kathy KirbyThe Song Is, an   online music and poetry journal,  has just   published three of my poems that center on music and emotion–Diva (republished from Foliate Oak),  I Can’t Get No,  and Harp Music.  Click here to read them.

 

 

Ode to Our First Tomato of the Season

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Up here in New England, our weather’s not hot

So one ripe tomato is all that we’ve got.

We’ll slice it and give it an arugula bed,

A salad of deep green with one speck of red.

It’s mid-August now, and we promise, no  gripin’,

But let’s hope that the rest, all the  green ones will ripen.