“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.

 

Dry Days in the Garden

imgresWhile the Cape Cod garden has been benefitting from daily watering by means of the irrigation hoses in the vegetable patch and hand watering for the flowers and herbs in terra cotta pots, the home garden has been enduring days without a steady rain. The perennials are putting up a brave front, but the hostas look bedraggled, with yellow or brown leaves appearing around the edges. The day lilies’ leaves are yellowing or browning as well, and the monarda leaves droop– and their blooms don’t last very long. Continue reading “Dry Days in the Garden”

Day 6: Espresso and Street Life in the Comune di Isnello, Sicily

IMG_2565We rise early to start our last day of the walk from Enna to the sea, after a quick breakfast at our Madonie ski lodge. The silent man in the light grey suit–the lodge owner? manager? kitchen boss?–appears once again, pacing along the far wall of the dining room, hands clasped behind his back, overseeing every detail, as he has for both our dinners and breakfasts. We have our suitcases ready  at the top of the stairs by  7:45 a.m. for Martina to pack them in the van. Continue reading “Day 6: Espresso and Street Life in the Comune di Isnello, Sicily”

The Guitar of Solitude

 

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The guitar of solitude leans on the bookshelf,
its strings loose. It’s out of tune.
Blond wood, near-perfect fingerboard,
It calls to me, mostly in the evening
After a Lenten supper of soup and bread,
No wine, water with lemon, or weak tea—
The guitar says, turn these knobs, make
My strings taut again, press your
Fingers against my wire strings, start
With something simple, like Where
Have All the Flowers Gone, move on
To rock and roll, play a riff from
Smoke on the Water or Whole
Lotta Love, come on baby, rock me
All night long, won’t you?
But there’s laundry,
Bill-paying, taking out compost,
a race to the end of the day
Chores, flossing, baby aspirin, set
The alarm. The guitar leans back
Rakishly.   Maybe tomorrow.

 

Lynne Viti

 

Reprinted from 63 Channels, April 2016

 

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.

 

Lynne Viti

 

Reprinted from 63 Channels, April 2016 issue

Homage to Spring If It Ever Gets Here Really

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The tulips and daffodils—the brave ones not damaged by a sub-freezing snap they suffered a few weeks ago—are in full bloom, in a cold daylong rain. Even the second-year tulips, from bulbs I bought at a discount hardware store, are shouting with color.The columbine ‘s foliage is appearing, and the bee balm, until now just dead sticks in the ground leftover from the past summer, are producing small green leaves lined with burgundy veins.

Still, it feels more like February than late April, and we still sleep under the automatic blanket and a down comforter. We haven’t pulled the tempered glass table top out of storage, so the old wrought iron table on the deck sits there looking like a weather-beaten objet d’art.

Downed branches snapped off by  last month’s high winds, dandelions shooting up in the lawn along with lumps of crabgrass, tender shoots of clematis –these things are ample evidence that spring may be approaching, even if we still wear our down jackets, hats and gloves—and maybe even thermal underwear under our jeans— to Fenway for a night game.

I found a rabbit’s nest in the garden nearest our bedroom: at first I took it for a bird’s nest that might have plummeted from the tall arbor vitae nearby the row of nine-foot trees my neighbor calls “the bird hotel.”  But the layer of soft fuzzy hair, patched with dried grass and small twigs, were no bird’s nest, but a circular furry quilt over a hole dug between a speedwell and a blanket flower. Once I had touched the cover the doe had woven to protect her babies, I realized I had sullied it, and I might as well pitch it into the compost, because my human scent was all over the place. I left hoping it was too cold for bunnies.

The ice cream stand at the other end of town has been open for weeks now, but when I drove by two weeks ago, no lines formed at the outside window.

I’ve tried to store my winter coats twice, only to pull them out from the upstairs closet full of cedar blocks to keep the moths away. I look at the snow shovels and the ice melt in the garage with a jaundiced eye.

Even in the cold April morning, the birds start their song before dawn, and the chipmunks dash in and out of the garden’s stone wall. We’ll know spring is here for sure when the compost starts steaming and cooking in the covered bins at the very back of the yard, when we can sit outside and have our morning coffee before hustling off to start the work day.  Tonight, it’s 38, but we hope not for long.

I can’t wait to file down the nasturtium seeds with an emery board and plant them in the big terra cotta pots

 

Infectious: When I Had the Mumps

Mumps_virus

Woke up feeling like a monster had grabbed me
by the jaws, one large paw on each side of my
face, squeezing tight. I tried to swallow, my throat
burned. I heard myself call my mother. She sat
on the edge of my bed, cradled my face in her white
hands, sighed, pressed a cool hand to my forehead.
Mumps, she announced. It was cutting  a swath through
my second grade room. Mrs. Norman called the roll
each morning, ten or twelve kids’ desks sat empty.
There was nothing to be done save wait, wait and
take baby aspirin, its tart orangey taste a small pleasure.
My mother lodged a cool washcloth
on my forehead, the thumping in my brain went on,
it was hard to swallow the weak, sweet tea, push
Campbell’s tomato soup down my swollen throat. I
whimpered my way through the week. Somebody
in Room 203 must’ve sneezed on me, coughed
the virus my way, it sneaked into my eyes or nose.
We didn’t know then that the enveloped, single-stranded
rubulavirus sought out only humans for their work, we
didn’t know it replicated, replicated
like the parade of Mickey Mouses
with broomsticks in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice cartoon.
I cried when I saw my swollen face in the
bathroom mirror.  My ears ached.  I dozed, a voice
read fairy tales aloud. Try to sleep, my mother said.
When I returned to school, I joined the veterans
of the mumps wars, feeling tough, triumphant,
loving my old, familiar face when I pressed
my hands hard against my cheeks.

Girl, With Eyelash Curler

images                                                                                                          For Fran

The teacher left the room for five minutes
and with algebra book splayed open on the desk
You reached into your purse
and withdrew a Maybelline eyelash curler
A medieval cage contraption, only in miniature.
You artfully, dramatically
manipulated your already-curly lashes.
With each squeeze of that instrument of beauty torture
you opened your other eye wide, peering over
at those near you. Who could resist
that fake look of surprise you’d mastered?
Who didn’t envy those large anterior chambers,
blue eyes expressive, half-sad, half-joyful?
First, two or three of us near you noticed,
then in concentric circles
your fandom grew till we were all
barely able to hold in laughter—
Some of it slipped out in giggles, then
just when we were all about to erupt
into rows of laughter—
Sister walked back into the room.

All was silent.
Heads down, we pretended to solve the equation.
You quickly slipped the eyelash curler
Into your handbag.
You kept a look of absolute seriousness on your face–
Seriousness belied by the devilish gleam of your eye.

Girl, you were so damn funny.

Lynne Viti

 

Reprinted fron The LongLeaf Pine, April 2016

My poem, the Featured Spotlight in Amuse Bouche this week!

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 11.48.28 AMMy poem, “Photos of Your Daughter’s Wedding Under the Mandap, Not the Chuppa,” is the Featured Spotlight poem this week in Amuse-Bouche, a weekly online publication of Lunch Ticket lit mag, out of the Antioch L.A./MFA program. Shoutout to Barb Cohen Aronica Buck, whose daughter’s wedding photos inspired this poem that I wrote on the day of the San Bernadino shootings in December 2015.I’m honored to be published in this terrific journal.

 

On a night many nights after we spent
five days a week in a fluorescent-bulb-lit classroom,
you made grilled salmon with pesto,
sweet roots roasted in your white oven.

You poured me glass after glass of Beaujolais.
I had to hover my hand over the glass
to stop you. We killed two bottles.

Talk of decades ago: I was young,
you were younger, our words danced around the years,
wove stories of those you knew, and I didn’t
or ones I knew, and you didn’t
or boys and girls, now grandparents, we both knew.

In the morning I saw the photos
of your daughter’s Indian wedding.
Bridesmaids with hennaed hands and arms,
each arm extended as they danced.
The groom and bride weighed down
under their rich wedding garments, their crowns,
fair, dark-eyed bride with bindi.
You saw to it that a branchlet of cypress from your yard
was tucked with the flowers pinned on orange cloth.
You’d tended the plant for a chuppa someday—
Now it graced the mandap. Your husband
tried to look comfortable in turn-up khussas,
long white kurta.

We could’ve talked all day, but
I had a train to catch, you had work to do.
All the time I rode back to Boston
ignoring announcements, Next stop: New Haven, Mystic, Kingston,
things were happening—“unfolding,” the media said—
in California. Long guns, body armor, shooters,
“They came prepared,” the police chief told reporters.
He didn’t say to do what, but we knew now.

So many dead, so many trapped in offices, so many
watching, so many questions, so many theories,
so many posts online.

Rifles and handguns, holiday banquet,
police chase, shootout—we‘ve seen this movie
more than once.
Assault rifles, handguns, ammo rounds,
remote control toy car, explosive device.
Thumb drives, cell phones,
car rental agreement.

The AG said, “This is not what we stand for;
this is not what we live for.”

Prove to me she is right. Show me we live for
the wedding day, sunny November, the pale bride,
her dark groom under the mandap,
the Jewish grandmother in a bright blue shawl.
A day of peace, utter joy under bright Connecticut sky—
—what we live for, who we are.