Fat snowflakes stream down—
White quilt covers dormant grass,
Iris stalks stand tall.
Fat snowflakes stream down—
White quilt covers dormant grass,
Iris stalks stand tall.
Last to class, I spread my mat
on a spot just inside the studio.
I roll off the mat, nudge it away
from the stream of cold air
coming in through the space
between floor and door.
I leave my sweatshirt and socks on
until we finish neck rolls
until we finish side stretches
until we’ve finished pelvic tilts
until we’re going up in bridge pose.
The draft from the hallway
no longer concerns me
the frigid air outside the building
no longer concerns me
the ache of grief, fresh or old
no longer concerns me.
I sit in sukhasana and bend forward
slowly, deliberately, till
I reach my edge
I pose and repose
I switch legs.
That my nose does not touch my ankles
no longer concerns me.
When I lie against the wall
in viparita karani
when I count the breaths in out
I forget that I was late.
Here is the place of ease
the place of comfort
the place of peace.
Sitting in my car, I know
I should hang on to that
state of not hanging onto
switch on the car radio
to grasp news. Not check
my phone. Fat snowflakes
fall onto my windshield.
My head tells me there’s
no reason to celebrate.
But this sunless day stirs up
joy in my old heart.
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:
Published this week in The Lost Sparrow anthology, Lost Sparrow Press.
I wrote this poem, a broken sonnet, as part of a poem-a-day series I did last fall, on the approach of the winter solstice. It appears online (and in print) in Bear Review, out of St. Louis, Issue 3, Spring 2017.
November Sunset: 4:14 PM
As I cut the skinny branches of the smokebush
I hear a loud rattle in the sky. A black helicopter
descends, disappears. The noise of the chopper
carries from the playground at the end of the block.
I snip branches into small pieces, toss them
into the leaf bag with the rosebush clippings.
A woman walking by with her young daughters
tells me the helicopter med-vac’d someone,
deposited the accident victim with the EMTS.
The afterschool director ran out to investigate.
I drag the last leaf bag to lean against the retaining wall.
All that’s left alive: the rosemary, hellebore, a lone red cabbage.
The solstice approaches, a fixed point in the middle distance.
Inside, the black night shows itself in tall kitchen windows.
I’m pleased that my poem appears in Silver Birch’s My First JOB series, and wonder if a few of my former Rye Middle School students might stumble across this reminiscence…
I finished my degree, found a teaching post
at a good university, my chairman, a tall, broad
Iowa-bred guy of sixty with big hands, big feet,
told big stories about flying in the bombing raids
on Dresden during the war. He seemed kind,
jovial, devoted to the work.
He made sure I met all the right people at conferences,
encouraged me to publish more, he raved
in his observation reports about my classes.
He shared details of his
grown children’s good news, he praised his wife.
But one late afternoon in his office, when everyone else
had gone home, when we were talking about plans
for summer school courses, when we had finished
talking, when I had glanced at the bits of peanut shells
and husks on his desk, he suddenly rose from his chair,
the heavy green metal desk no longer between us,
came at me fast, a strong arm swept around me, he
Bbegan to pull me close. He said he’d
“earned the right to do this.” Stunned,
I leaned away, he pulled me in tighter. I ducked out
of this bear’s embrace, grabbed
my coat and book bag, ran upstairs to the lobby,
my heart thumping. The night custodian
slowly pushed his wide dust mop across the floor.
Shy, a man of few words, he smiled weakly ,
told me it was time to go home, his usual farewell.
When I got to my car my hand shook
as I tried the key in the ignition switch.
I didn’t tell anyone for years.
Yes, my mother schooled me well,
said if this ever happens,
kick him in the privates, or use
your knee to the groin—as hard as you can.
I trusted this oaf, mistook him for a mentor.
Now I see it was all training me for that moment,
when students had disappeared to their dorms,
faculty had packed up their lecture notes, headed home.
He had handled me as he would a feral cat,
slowly brought from the wild into his sphere of influence
with bits of food, kind words, shelter from weather.
It’s been decades. He’s dead now, or
I’d have a few words with that
Reprinted from Bad Hombres and Nasty Women, The Raving Press, 2017
Two of my poems appear in the May/Spring 2017 issue of the online South Florida Poetry Journal. You can find them here–and use the audio link to hear me read them! Scroll a long way down on the page –or do a Find /search for Viti.
We’ve lived in these bodies so long.
Don’t think about their diminished condition,
the damage gravity has done,
don’t worry if our legs feel papery.
I like the way they intertwine
on the old blue sheets.
Forget that your beard’s now flecked with white,
that what once seemed merely sun lines
are crow’s feet etched in deep symmetry on my face.
Ignore the muscle cramps that interrupt our play.
Your eyes are the dark eyes
That saw me that first night.
Your right hand is the same one
that brushed against me. You leaned over to
open the car door for me,
spilling me out onto the sidewalk.
I slid out, muttered thanks, goodnight—
Turned at the front steps, perplexed,
went home when I should have turned back to you.
Originally published on March 10, 2017 in the online ‘zine, Work to A Calm
I thank those of you who have already purchased Baltimore Girls for your support–especially if you pre-ordered from Finishing Line Press.
If you pre-ordered but have not yet received your book, contact me immediately and I will see that another copy is mailed to you within one business day!
I’m collecting photos of my readers holding up the book, for a checkerboard poster I am assembling. If you’d like to be in the poster along with the 23 readers who’ve already sent me their photos, please send your photo along, as a posting to my Facebook page (Lynne Spigelmire Viti) or by email. It’s time for your 15 minutes of fame!
And-your turn to write something– a review of Baltimore Girls on amazon.com. Go to the amazon listing for the book, and scroll down to the bottom where you see Write a Review. Then write!
If you did not pre-order Baltimore Girls, I have 100 copies of BG in my home office that i would love to unload. Proceeds from sales of these copies, which I received from Finishing Line in lieu of royalties, will be divided equally between the scholarship fund at my alma mater, Mercy High of Baltimore, MD, and Epiphany School, Boston, a private, tuition-free middle school for Boston youth. Both are strongly faith-based schools that emphasize academics and character development. Both schools need financial support.
The cost of the book is $13.99. I will take care of postage costs if you live in the U.S. If you’d like to round up and give even more to Mercy High and Epiphany, I’ll be delighted.
You can email me at my school address, firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment here with your contact info (I won’t publish the comment ) or send me a tweet @Lynne Viti.
Nancy Ruth Levine, my former student from my days teaching in the English Department at Westhill High School in Stamford, Connecticut in the mid-Seventies, challenged me and others to a Tanka contest.
The Tanka is a Japanese closed form. The most typical meter is 5/7/5/7/7.
No one’s read the book
Except my three best students;
The slackers dream of spring break—
Add yours, in a comment!
Since today, March 18, is the 27th anniversary of the Gardner Museum heist, in which 13 works of art (including several by Degas, a Rembrandt, and a Vermeer) were stolen from the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum and never recovered–I thought it was fitting to republish my poem about the robbery. The thieves have never been found or brought to justice, and to date, the paintings have not been found.
Sunday Afternoon at the Isabella Stewart Gardner
Thieves in darkness smart enough to wear
cops’ uniforms, clever enough to talk
their way into the mansion
crammed with rich tapestries,
room after room of paintings, drawings
bowls, sculptures, carvings—
thieves experienced enough to tie up
museum guards, dazed and sleepy on the graveyard shift,
I suppose these interlopers came armed
with a shopping list and box cutters,
worked quickly, lifting the art
from the wall, and not gently,
slashed the canvass from each frame.
In the dim light they must have complained
about the working conditions as they moved
from the Rembrandt to the Vermeer, the Degas
— the unlucky thirteen stolen works, thirteen fruits
but for whom? A prince shut up in his rich apartment
somewhere between Boston and the South Seas,
or a Brandoesque recluse in London or Philadelphia
with only a handful of friends—no, acquaintances—
who’d see his art, and gasp or sigh, perhaps even
touch the oil paint, tracing the drapery of Christ’s garment,
so that nicotine-stained fingers rubbed against
the master’s brush strokes, the light that seemed
to gather in the painted figure’s eyes and shine out
from paint and canvas to catch the viewer’s gaze?
Or maybe the canvasses are shut-ins themselves,
rolled up and stashed in an attic or barn,
the thieves perhaps not so smart after all,
now long dead and their confidants
addled hoarders, barricaded behind newspapers, junk mail,
packing boxes that fill floor to ceiling, leaving
only a narrow path from front door to kitchen.
The museum’s glass addition sparkles
in the winter sun, people line up in the glittering
entryway, pay the price of admission and wander
from gallery to gallery, fixing on what’s here,
every wall covered, the art jammed so closely
it’s easy to forget what’s not there
till you enter, single file, the room
with the empty frames, the nothing of it all
startles you, and you think
who did this, and why?
Hard not to take it personally,
the absence of these canvasses,
as if you could walk right up to the woman
in long black evening dress, the pearls glistening
around her white neck, roping her waist,
and whisper sympathetic words– great loss,
dear Isabella, infuriating, irreplaceable, tragedy—
Walk through the crowd waiting to retrieve
coats and umbrellas, more people
than you’ve ever seen here, hear them
talking about the missing stuff, wondering
aloud, asking guards for details, hear
the same story over and over, it’s
a prayer that ends with
Give it back, give us back our art.
Claire was stuck in traffic, edging into the left turn lane just before Central Square, when she glanced over to the near left corner of a side street and saw the makeshift booth set up. Someone had used black magic marker to draw a Hitler mustache on Barack Obama’s face. She used to love that campaign poster from 2004, the one that proclaimed HOPE in large letters across the bottom.
Claire was on her way to visit her friend Rosie…read the rest at Quail Bell Magazine.
My friend –and guest lecturer visiting from U of Miami– Gina Maranto snapped these photos, as I was opening the shipment of my 100 copies of Baltimore girls, last Thursday when we returned from a long teaching day.
If you did not pre-order, I have 100 copies I’d like to part with, so if you’re in the greater Boston area, let me know. I deliver signed copies!! If you’re farther away, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Finishing Line Press carry the book. Or wait till I come to Baltimore or Stamford, CT, and come to my readings–I will be selling and signing books!
Next reading: Sunday, April 2, 2017, Westwood Public Library, 660 High St, Westwood, MA 02090, 2-4 PM
No more will I poke fun at people who wear surgical masks on public transportation, or those who eschew the hug or handshake of peace at church, preferring the elbow bump, so popular a couple of years ago when flu was rampant.
Remember? Hand sanitizers appeared everywhere–at the public library, at a front pew at my Episcopal church, and in the hallways at the college where I teach. I kept a pump dispenser of Purel on the desk in my faculty office. I washed my hands so any times a day that it called to mind Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, the one that my Hamilton Junior High eighth grade teacher, Miss Ruth Magill, made us memorize. Continue reading “Influenza”
Please post your questions and comments there about poetry, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson. Shel Silverstein, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Leonard Cohen, Alice Notley, Joyce Kilmer, John Greenleaf Whittier, and more!
My pal Hallie Ephron, one of the Jungle Red mystery authors, has invited me to guest blog on Jungle Red next Friday, February 25. their tagline: “8 smart and sassy crime fiction writers dish on writing and life. It’s the View–with bodies.”
The Jungle Red website features eight women mystery authors, many of them winners of prestigious awards: the Edgars, Agathas, Anthonys, Neros, and more.
Of course, I won’t be talking/writing about Private investigators, or who was responsible for that corpse in a mystery novel, but about my poetry–how I came to it, my writing process, where I come up with ideas for the poems.
My poetry collection, Baltimore Girls, is in the works at Finishing Line Press, although the February 24 delivery date has been pushed a few weeks later. Pre-orderers, please be patient–this small literary press in Kentucky is working as fast as it can to get the book to you.
Take a look at the Jungle Red blog now, and again on February 25 when I blog. Its interactive feature allows readers to comment or ask questions of the guest blogger, and I will be checking in all day (and early evening) long to see what you have to say.
Hallie will start us off with her interview with me, and you, readers, can take it from there!
Hope to see you–virtually–on February 25, from 9 AM EST to 9 PM EST! Please come!
The Color of Her Volkswagen
Atlas blue. First Bug I ever saw.
It showed up one day, a shiny little thing
in Miss Kay’s driveway two doors down.
Their old Dodge long gone.
People on our street drove Chevys or Fords,
nobody even knew how to say Volkswagen,
were skeptical about a foreign car, but
Miss Kay packed up picnic basket, playpen, her toddler son,
the baby, her Coppertone oil. There was room
for my sister and me. I rode in the front,
watched Miss Kay shift the gears, her pedicured feet
depressing the gas pedal, working the clutch
like an extension of her body. She tuned
the radio to WFBR, the Four Lads sang
Standin’ on the Corner Watchin’All the Girls.
She didn’t like rock n’ roll.
When we got to the swimming place, an old
quarry now flooded with water, now a club
where you bought a daily membership,
the loudspeaker blasted my kind of music—
repeated every hour. We ate peanut butter sandwiches,
Miss Kay plunged into the water from a dock.
She wore a green bikini, adjusted the top
over her small breasts when she emerged from the water.
I slathered on her suntan oil, bounced the baby.
Around us, teenaged girls mixed iodine and baby oil,
greased up their arms and legs and shoulders,
lit Newports and blew smoke rings.
I longed to be like them. Homeward, the blue VW
rolled up and down country roads back to the city,
steaming streets, dried little lawns.
[Reprinted from Maryland Writer’s Association magazine, Pen-in_Hand, January 2017]
Catherine Mumford Cave, Miss Kay in this poem, shuffled off this mortal coil on September 22, 2016. She was a kind and inspiring neighbor who shared her talents as a cook, gardener, seamstress, and all around cool adult with the neighborhood kids. She also gave me my first babysitting job. I wrote this poem last winter.
My poem, “The Color of Her Volkswagen,” about an afternoon at Oregon Ridge Swimming “Club,” circa 1960 , appears in the winter issue (page 17) of Pen-in-Hand, the official literary and art publication of the Maryland Writers’ Association. Mad props to Sr. Carol Wheeler, and Sr. August Reilly, RSMs who taught me in Creative English class at Mercy High, Baltimore, and my 21st century poetry mentor, Boston Poet Laureate Emeritus Sam Cornish…
This is the day we do that summing up.
Annoying, isn’t it, the way
we tally and sort the year’s days
into the things –or people—we like and those
that caused us pain? We inventory
and discard, if we’re smart, whatever
no longer works, or what
carries no joy. We have this need
to take stock, as though we
were running a giant store full of
stuff, boots and gloves, or jars
of face cream and scented soaps.
This year let it alone,
think instead of the faint yellow blush
on the forsythia. Soon we can snip
its branches, hammer the stems
against the stone walk, set it all
in warm water in an old jar.
The small blooms, and then
tender green leaves will unfold
in the corner window.
Reprinted from Hedgerow, # 19
Here’s a reprint of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago, about the day after Christmas, also known as St. Stephen’s Day. Fans of Downton Abbey will know that Boxing Day takes its name from a British tradition — families with servants gave them the day off, to allow them to go home and visit their families. Employers gave their staff gifts in “Christmas boxes.”
Pre-ordering window for my forthcoming poetry collection, Baltimore Girls, part of Finishing Line Press’ New Women’s Voices series, runs through January 6, 2017. You can pre-order online here.
as part of the poem-a-day “Transitions” Project–A poem-a-day by a different poet responding to the recent Presidential election, from Nov. 9 to Jan. 20
.. to those who pre-ordered “Baltimore Girls” last week! Thanks to my cousins in Ohio and Baltimore, old UNY of Maryland pals from high school days, former teaching colleagues at Boston U, Westwood women, my St. John’s family, my librarian network, Dwight Street alums, Stamford friends, and Barnard women. Continue reading ““Baltimore Girls” -Enormous Gratitude!”
I was a junior in high school when my my mother took me downtown to Ford’s Theatre to see “Black Nativity.” I had never heard of Langston Hughes before, Continue reading “Black Nativity”
Children weren’t invited. That
wasn’t fair. I was thirteen,
had never seen a wedding, except on television.
She opened a small flat box of nylon stockings,
pulled them on gently, fastened them to her girdle.
I watched her pull the beige lace dress over her head,
shake it down her slender frame, gently push
her arms through the sleeves.
I zipped the dress closed.
I climbed onto her bed, mesmerized by the lace sheath.
Paid full price too, she murmured. Coral high heeled pumps,
matching clutch purse, sparkling costume jewelry.
She leaned towards the mirror to put on her lipstick,
coral, like the shoes. From a department store box she
withdrew an ivory hat, broad brimmed in the front,
covered with tulle.
My father waited downstairs in his favorite chair
trying not to sweat in the August heat.
I followed them out the front door, sat
on the porch steps, the concrete hot on my thighs.
The green and white fins of our Chevy disappeared
down the street. She was forty-five. I knew
she’d be the prettiest, best-dressed lady there.
She wore the lace dress again, over and over,
and the coral shoes. But the hat
Stayed in back of the closet for years
till one day the square box went to Goodwill
because nobody wore hats any more.
Reprinted from Light:A Journal of Photography and Poetry, January 2017, inaugural issue
For more Baltimore poems, pre-order my forthcoming collection, Baltimore Girls, from Finishing Line Press. You can order from the publisher’s website. Pre-ordering runs now through January 6, 2017. Profits from pre-orders will be divided between the Mercy High School, Baltimore scholarship fund, and Epiphany School, Boston.
It’s oddly warm. We strip the garden,
pull down three-foot-high blackened marigolds,
cleome, borage, yank out bamboo stakes.
The young arugula we planted weeks ago is
ready for harvest, the lily leaves slimy, brown.
Mole tunnels run under the sandy soil
in the mulch-covered plot by the fenced-in garden.
By three the sun is low, a glare in our faces.
We work against the clock, against the moment
when the sun will drop behind the trees, the sky
will be streaked with a narrow line of pink-orange.
The cottage is cold, the water shut off.
The detritus of last summer’s glorious blooms
lies in a pile. We weight the mess with fallen branches.
There’s no time to rest, put our feet up, imagine
what this will all look like, come spring.
Now everything must sleep the sleep of winter,
must die, and must— we hope— come back to life.
But first, the death of the garden, dormant, cold
shadowed by our uncertainty, our fears
that this short day is all we have, and own.
Last day of raking, raking and bagging leaves. First, a visit to our friend D who’s been back in the hospital the past three weeks. Now, he’s waiting for blood count data pending a possible second stem cell transplant.
I come home to face one last hour of leaf bagging before the sun sets. I grab handfuls of damp, decaying leaves from the edges of the stone-bordered garden. I leave the rest in the center,stuck to the ground in flat sheets, a blanketlike mulch to keep the perennials safe till spring. Continue reading “Black Sunday, Sunset 4:14 PM”
East Coast of the U.S. of A. Overcast, chilly, at noon it seems as though it’s nearly day’s end. The rain turns to a drizzle, I find it’s easier to rake leaves and stow them in the brown paper leaf bags, I’m not concerned someone will see me in my black and white flannel p.j.bottoms, the ones that have a matching Ruth Bader Ginsburg top, though that’s well hidden under my fleece, a nine-year old Polartec made in U.S.A. that’s my bed jacket, my go-to-yoga-class wrap over my t-shirt, my crawl half under the bed and pull out the dust bunnies uniform. Continue reading “Sunset, 4:16 PM EST”
I began my day at an early yoga class, twenty of us on the mat at 8:30 A.M. Leaf raking and filling the lawn bags with garden detritus by 10. Now, the turkey’s in the oven, the vegetables are all trimmed and ready to cook, the pie is cooling on the counter, the table is set, and the men in my small family are downstairs talking about the electoral college and playing with our new kitten.
I’m thankful for many things, but for you reading this blog, I’m thankful for your continued attention your comments, and to many of you–65 so far–a sincere thank you for pre-ordering y poetry chapbook, Baltimore Girls, from Finishing Line Press, due out February 24, 2017. You can pre-order online here, and be certain of getting your hands on a copy of the collection.
Why pre-ordering is important: Finishing Line, a small poetry publisher, does not pay authors in cash, but in copies. The more pre-orders, the large the press run, and the more copies of the book Finishing Lien will give me in lieu of payment. I’ll be able to sell these at the same price, $13.99, and give the proceeds to Mercy High Baltimore‘s scholarship funds, and Epiphany School Boston, an independent, tuition-free middle school for children of economically-disadvantaged families from Boston neighborhoods.
Fans of the HBO series (2005-2009) The Wire, check out the blurb from Wire teleplay writer and stalwart Crabtown author, Rafael Alvarez.
Here’s the dedication for the book:
For the Baltimore girls: Chris, Debbie, Francine, and Gay
–and one of the poems to whet your literary appetite:
Along the Fuller Brook path wending
through backyards, there’s no one about
except a few women with
small dogs on leashes. The brook – Continue reading “from “Baltimore Girls””
Please support my writing and Mercy High School, Baltimore and Epiphany School, Boston, –by reserving your copy of my poetry chapbook between November 19, 2016 and January 6, 2017-at Finishing Line Press. The number of pre-orders will determine the number of the first press run!
Baltimore Girls … examines the poet’s early life in the 1960s and the culture in which she grew up. It is personal history — tales of a small group of young women who lived in the segregated city of my youth. The poems are mini-memoirs, snapshots of young women who had determined they were bound for greater things: “we were in a hurry to get out of town, out of state, through school, to a job…”
Although Viti tells us she “left as fast as she could,” her memories of people, places and her hometown culture remain vivid and sharp, filled with the manners and rituals of the era. She recounts a teen-age date as “a talisman of my life to come” because they spent the time talking “about the war, about Yeats…” This collection is significant for its realism, its honesty and its attention to detail. The poems are specific and descriptive, reminiscent of the lyric realism of James T. Farrell. This book establishes Viti as a poet of the memoir and local history. Her memories of time and place will resonate with many readers.
— Sam Cornish, Poet Laureate of Boston, Massachusetts, 2008-2014
[Read the full poem in issue 3 of the SoFloPoJo!]
The garden was there before we were.
It was so easy to tend. We had only to pluck
the ripe fruits, gather flowers–
I loved the red ones best–
to fashion garlands for our hair. Mine
was long, I combed it with my fingers,
pulled it hard to one side, always to the left–
braided it so that the rope of golden hair
grazed my shoulder, fell over my breast.
We sometimes pruned branches
after the deutzia dropped its last white blooms,
tossed the clippings in the corner of our vast
yard, returned to lie under the rose-covered pergola.
We spent our days singing, entwining our limbs…
for the rest, please go here, to the SOFLOPOJo site!
My poem, “God’s Thief,” appears in the August issue of South Florida Poetry Journal–