I wrote this poem, published in the latest issue of The Long Leaf Pine, about a day long ago in math class. This one’s for you, Fran Brolle!
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.
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….
— 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.
“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.
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.
[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.
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, heree
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”
I’m entering this contest, announced by Chuck Sambuchino on the Writer’s Digest website, in my quest to find an agent/publisher for my novel. The details, for you writers, are here: http://tinyurl.com/z5njvsp
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
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”
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”
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”
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”
The very idea of servants had
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”
Reprinted from The Journal of Applied Poetics, December 2015
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”
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.
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”
“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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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 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)”
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.
We lived a 20 minute drive west of Highlandtown, in the northmost part of Hamilton. We called the tavern The Place. Continue reading “The Place”
This lovely print journal is available from Amazon.com and you can preview the biannual issue at inexsilio.com. Continue reading ““Pink Sky” in _The Lost Country: A Literary Journal of the Exiles_”
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.
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”
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”
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.
By 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”
In 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?”
While 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”
Look for my poem, “The Dying,” in The Irish Review, forthcoming.
Sun hot on our backs, we strolled up from Isnello— Continue reading “Cefalu, Prosecco and the Tyrrhenian Blue Sea”
We 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”
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,
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?
Reprinted from Spring 2016 issue BlazeVOX
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.
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?
Reprinted from Blaze Vox, Spring 2016
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.
This poem was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest, and appears in the 2015-2016 Paterson Review.
My Mother on My Cousin’s Wedding Day
Children weren’t invited. I said that
Wasn’t fair, I wasn’t a child. I was thirteen,
had never seen a wedding, except on television.
She opened a flat box of 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. Coral high heeled pumps,
Matching clutch bag, sparkling costume jewelry.
She leaned towards the mirror to put on her lipstick,
coral, like the shoes. From a box she
Withdrew a hat, broad brimmed in the front
Ivory chiffon 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
With the coral shoes. But the hat
Stayed in back of the closet for years
Till one day the square box went to Goodwill.
Nobody wears hats any more, she said.
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.
Reprinted from 63 Channels, April 2016
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.
Reprinted from 63 Channels, April 2016 issue
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
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.
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.
Reprinted fron The LongLeaf Pine, April 2016