I read my poem “Leftovers” on WCAI-FM Cape & the Islands Radio today–I invite you to listen here:

WCAI Cape and the Islands

https://www.capeandislands.org/post/poetry-sunday-lynne-viti-0?fbclid=IwAR2ByoSBWlEt37ASFxVECyudQndC0DL8NRhtvziAWZg1OrMf6iUFNefnS8E#stream/0

It’s Reunion Season….

Reunion season…I’m looking forward to reading on May 31 with poet/ Barnard classmate Suzanne Noguere and others, at our Barnard reunion, and on June 8, at Wellesley College. Hope to see old friends at Barnard and friends and former students –especially from Wellesley Reunion Classes of 1994,1999, 2004, 2009 & 2014–my Wellesley Reunion reading is on Saturday, June 8th 3:30-4 PM in Pendleton West 001. Q& A and book signing to follow!

Shades at the Reunion

When we gather like this around the table,

every five or ten years, drinks in hand, raising toasts,

in the back of our minds, always, are the ghosts:

The cousin who died at forty, when the cancer flared.

The school friend, gone at barely fifty—she loved her smokes.

Toxins and her genes did her in.

The rest of us—we’ve survived,

though we’re not sure why or how.

My friend the hard-edged newsman

laughed when he told me his on-air transition phrase

“elsewhere in the news”—as if we could

move from tsunami to oil spill to death of an ex-president

with any kind of grace. When he lay dying

in his hospital bed in Croton-on-Hudson

this old journalist stared at tv images of Baltimore burning.

It’s all like it was before, he murmured.

Knowing all this, we sit in the cool air,

September sun on our faces,

hearing the songbirds carry on

like Yeats’ miracles in Byzantium.

“Sugar Pumpkins”

Happy that my poem, “Sugar Pumpkins,” is included in the South Florida Poetry Journal’s new anthology, ” Voices From the Fierce Intangible. In great company–including Denise Duhamel, Lyn Lifshin, Julie Marie Wade,Andrew Glaze, Blaise Allen and so many more!

You can order a copy from SoFloPoJo here: https://www.southfloridapoetryjournal.com/—

Sugar Pumpkins

We grew them in raised beds, their vines profuse,

the orange fruit scant. Hard to grow Cucurbita pepo

In a drought season. Still, the six we found shading themselves

under their companion leaves made us think we might grow

enough to feed ourselves all autumn long. The orange globes

sat on the mantel for months, past Thanksgiving,

when we exiled them to the foyer to make room

for Christmas rosemary and holly branches.

Tonight, we choose the largest sugar pumpkin,

Carve a hole in the top, scrape out the seeds and strings.

In goes the mixture—rice, grapes, walnuts, onion, celery,

enough cumin to give it some heat.

When it’s baked to a turn, we slice it from the center,

So slender arcs of pumpkin fall into a circle, looking

more like a flower than a squash.  It tastes of pie

and of curry, redolent of the summer earth.

Models

Coreopsis

rudbekia

tradescantia

monarda
— unstoppable, reliable, upstanding citizens of the garden.
No rain? no problem.
They husband their power,
call a halt to blooming,
get into the business of making seeds.

They remind me of our late neighbor

a tall thin fellow in his ninth decade

who rummaged through trash cans

to pluck out a wearable shirt.

He wasted nothing.

~My poem, originally published in *82 Review, now part of the *82 Review Special Pocket Poems issue. Download it for free at http://star82review.com/2019-pocket/contents.html?fbclid=IwAR38aZTAtqHTCiG8ymrgdUbbMR-SGGL7NrGkraYFrsYjKPP8djTPLfaM77Q

“The end of an era – and a baseball card collection”

… My father-in-law left us two years ago, at age 97. My husband led his siblings in the division of the parental furniture and the disposition of his father’s ashes. He also began weeding our bookshelves and donating many long-unread volumes to the local library book sale.

And then he turned to his baseball card collection….

Read my full essay in today’s online Baltimore Sun.

Putnam Avenue in Spring

Happy to be in good poetic company in the Spring 2019 issue of Nixes Mates Review. My poem, “Putnam Avenue in Spring” appears here.

Excerpt:

Overnight, melting snow gave way to waves of daffodils
smothering the hill near the Protestant church.
But churches hung in our peripheral vision,
an annoyance, a reminder of what we rejected.
The public library was our church, the holy source where…

“Charlie on the MTA”…updated?

You may remember this old ditty, popularized by the Kingston Trio back in  1959 and based on a Boston mayoral  campaign song from even earlier, 1949.

The trolleys and buses of Boston are now called the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority), and I’m delighted that next month, which is National Poetry Month, my poem will be among other works by Massachusetts poets displayed on placards on MBTA cars.  Here’s a sneak preview:

 

actor_poem2

If you happen to be riding the MBTA next month, remember your Charlie card, and snap a photo of my poem and I’ll post it here.

Did he ever return?
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

 

 

 

The Good Father

This poem was the first one I wrote for Sam Cornish’s poetry workshop at the Boston Public Library several years ago. The following fall, Sam called me up to the front of the room after class had ended  and told me he had submitted “The Good Father” to a juried contest and that it had been chosen for a month-long exhibit at Boston City Hall.

This is the kind of teacher Sam was–generous, encouraging, and always pushing his students to publish and share their work. The poem was later accepted for publication in Grey Sparrow Journal in 2015.

The Good Father

The good father fell asleep on Saturdays
stretched out long on the couch.
Or he hoisted me onto his shoulders
or carried me into the ocean,
keeping a firm grip on me

The good father took me to church
let me play with my white prayer book
with the gold cross hidden in a place inside the cover.

He pointed to the altar in front
when the three bells rang
and the priest held the white circle bread high.

The good father slept in the big bed
on the white sheets with dark blue lines at the edges.
He lay next to my mother, slender, dark-eyed, pale.
Laughter came from their room at night,
and whispers that lulled me to sleep.

He drove us to Florida in the car with three pedals on the floor.
I tried to stand up in the back all the way to Virginia.
Dirty water came out of the hotel’s faucet in Charleston.
We heard the train whistle all night.

He brought me a Charlie McCarthy doll
so I could talk to everyone and not be so shy.
He smelled of aftershave and orange bath soap.
I traced the scar on his forehead with my small hand.

And later, the sad father came to be in our house.
He wore a heavy brace on his leg.
A black steel bar ran up the side of the boot.
He walked with a wooden cane.
Bottles of pills filled the medicine chest.

He was early to bed.
We had to be quiet then.

 

A Tribute to Baltimore-born poet, the late Sam Cornish

Sam Cornish (1935-2018), Poet Laureate of Boston from 2008-2015, was born and raised in Baltimore, but spent most of his later life in Boston.   Through his teaching at Emerson College, his poetry workshops at the Boston Public Library and other venues, and his ability to be seemingly everywhere where poetry of the people was shared and heard and spoken, Sam was a force of poetry. He encouraged novice writers and journeymenandwomen alike to write and to speak their truth through poetry.

Last Sunday, many of his former colleagues, students and poetry mentees gathered  at New England Mobile Book Fair.  Sam had spent much of his time at the bookstore’s old location helping generations of patrons locate just the books they were on a quest for–often in the vast remainder book section of that book  warehouse of yore.  Six months after his death, we  celebrated his life and work, and the profound influence he had on all of us.

Enormous gratitude to Somerville poet and editor Doug Holder for publishing my poem on  his blog and next week, in the print edition of The Somerville News, whose tagline is “Somerville’s Most Widely read Newspaper!”

You can read my Sam Cornish tribute poem here.

Sam C

For Valentine’s Day: “Jamaica Plain”

At a grouphouse down the block from the old stables,
a shambles, deserted, derelict, gentrification a long way off—
When the flu had you down for weeks, I figured you lost my number,
You recovered, you relapsed. My friends said he’s not healthy
enough for you. You sent me a ticket for Fenway Park.

I made coffee in my galley kitchen on Sunday morning.
We went to the movies, to a bar, drank a couple of pints,
went to my place, made a frittata with artichokes.
I watched you wash the dishes.

When the door closed behind you I couldn’t believe my luck.
For days I called up that feeling, your hands firm around my lower ribs,
like you were pressing my heart upwards so you might take it.
But it was already stashed in your pocket.

~Lynne Viti

bab-heart-2
Images by Barbara Aronica Buck, copyright 2019

This poem originally appeared in The Thing Itself.

On City Snow Days Gone By

This essay originally appeared in The Baltimore Sun in 2015. As the snow falls on my street today, I think back to the old neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore, and our intrepid sledding down our city street.

The 6600 Block of Hilltop Avenue, Baltimore

I grew up in the 1960s, in a housing development that backed onto a small woods. Until our woods was razed and supplanted by apartment buildings, we used the “forest” to build forts and act out scenes from televisions shows about Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. We wore coonskin caps, carried toy rifles and used paper percussion caps to simulate gunfire. In summer, we played baseball in our backyards. Sometimes a fly ball would vault into the woods and get lost. Or a loose foul tip broke a basement window behind the makeshift home plate. There were rivalries: the boys against the girls, the bigger kids against the younger ones. But snow was the great equalizer.

More than two inches meant an official Snow Emergency in Baltimore. All cars were ordered off the major thoroughfares, and sometimes even the smaller residential streets like ours in Northeast Baltimore near the county line. Snow tires weren’t unheard of, but more often, people drove to the local gas station and had chains installed on their tires. Riding in a car with chains was a noisy enterprise at best, and sometimes one of the links would come loose and rap at the wheel cover — we called them hubcaps. Soon the ride sounded like a morning in a noisy Lowell textile mill — crash, clatter, crash, clink, bang.

I don’t remember ever seeing a snowplow come down Hilltop Avenue. Once all the cars were reparked in driveways, some barely clearing the sidewalk. The fins of Chevys, Plymouths and Fords overhung pedestrian territory, and ambitious snow shovels had to navigate around the Detroit behemoths.

No plowing meant that our street, which sloped down from Northern Parkway with a nice angle for sledding, became the children’s territory. We grabbed our Flexible Flyers — no plastic sledding discs or toboggans for us in those days — rubbed the runners with Brillo pads to remove old rust, buffed the metal with waxed paper. We might squirt the steering mechanism with a little oil, check to be sure the old clothes line rope used to pull the sled up the hill was in serviceable condition. We didn’t have ski gear or waterproof pants or parkas. We wore jeans, maybe the kind that were lined with flannel, and our everyday jackets. A lot of us sported blue and white Baltimore Colts bobble hats. Mittens worked better than gloves.

The street was not blocked off for our play. A few parents congregated at the top of the hill near the big parkway, warning intrepid drivers to slow down or wait for a dozen kids to make a sled run down the road of identical semi-detached brick homes. Once the last sledder had careened over the packed snow, hoping to make it almost all the way to the end where our street met Burdick Park, the car’s driver inched down the street. Not one kid wore protective headgear. No one ever suffered more than a bump or bruise. Collisions between sleds were common, but except for a whine or a tear here and there, even the bigger boys and the tougher girls were considerate road-mates, timing their belly flops to avoid the younger kids.

My friend Linda often recalls the common practices of our youth: We rode standing up in the back of the family car so we could see through the windshield and out into the world; our fathers held us on their laps while they clumsily juggled a cigarette and a can of beer; we were left home alone at night from the age of nine or 10, to babysit younger siblings; we had no smoke alarms, and our parents smoked in their bedroom or the bathroom; we went door to door selling Girl Scout cookies, ringing the bells of people outside our neighborhoods, strangers. Our parents taught us how to use our gut senses to back off or flee if things didn’t seem quite right.

On the city street that for a few days became our sledding run, we screamed with joy as we raced, belly down, chin slightly up for visual navigation, hands gripping the Flexible Flyer steering bar. It was pure, intense, unforgettable delight.

Lynne Viti is a lecturer emerita in the writing program at Wellesley College. Her email is lviti@wellesley.edu.

New Year Greetings! Old Frog Pond Farm Poem of the Month for January 2019

My poem “Deep Midwinter After-Party,” is featured on the Old Frog Pond Farm website as one of two Poems of the Month, along with my poetry colleague Heather Corbally Bryant‘s “Holly Bushes.” We’ll be reading at Old Frog Pond Farm, 38 Eldridge Road, Harvard, MA at 3 PM on Sunday, January 20!

You can read “Deep Midwinter After-Party” and “Holly Bushes” here, on Old Frog Pond’s poetry page:  http://oldfrogpondfarm.com/poem-of-the-month/       

Floor

Floor

Every day for decades she has swallowed
the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
They don’t make me feel happy, she said—
but at least I can get up and put
one foot in front of the other.

The Zoloft creates a floor,
beneath which I know I won’t fall.
That’s the best it does.
Walking, I thought of this floor.

I made my way along the bay beach.
Ice chunks collected next to rushes whipped,
beaten by early winter winds.
A thick layer of pinestraw padded the walking trails.
The wind numbed my cheeks. I stepped

lightly around a wire rectangle covering
beach hay, marked with a small blue flag—
endangered turtle’s nest.

On the main street, shops closed up
for the season, remnants of Christmas wreaths
stuck to the doors. No one inside.
Library, toy store, restaurants all shuttered.

Only the market and the library interested
in commerce of one sort or another,
winter vegetables, or books and DVDs.
Solar panels of a house across the way
caught sunlight, the grids glinted.

It made me happy to see this. I thought
of the floor beneath which I do not fall, the wood floor
of my study, the mat rolled out so I can sit and notice
my breath, notice how I feel. I thought

of the ground I knelt on yesterday, when
I cut down the dried miscanthus grasses
tied them with twine, stacked them in the shed. Solid
ground that lets me kneel, sit, tread on it. The ground
is the floor below which I do not fall.

All this allows me to awaken,
put one foot in front of the other,
into the work ahead. All this
binds winter body to winter soul.

Cape Cod grasses in winter.

My poem, “Floor,” was first published in Incandescent Minds, 2016

in today’s Baltimore Sun–OPINION: Closing Up Christmas for Another Year

When my kid sister and I were young, our “real” tree wasn’t up until Christmas Eve. To hold us off, when we clamored starting on December 1 for a tree decorated with lights,  our mother gave us projects: an Advent calendar coated with silver glitter, its tiny windows opening to old-fashioned toys—tops, trains, kewpie dolls, bears wearing red ribbon bows, jacks, toy workbenches, roller skates…

Read my Opinion piece in the December 26, 2018 online Baltimore Sun. You can find the full essayhere. The print edition will carry the piece on December 27.

Midnight Mass

We arrived at ten minutes of twelve, my father and I,
at St. Dominic’s, my grandmother’s church, though by then
she was tucked away in a nursing home south of the city
where nuns in nurses’ uniforms cared for her, prayed

the rosary with her until her mind went, until
the nursing home doctor prescribed restraints
so Grandmother wouldn’t assault the kind nuns, or
scratch herself till her thin arms bled.

St. Dominic’s was a grand church, studded with statues
of the Blessed Virgin, vaulted ceilings,
Stations of the Cross, painted wood, punctuated by gilt
as fancy as you’d see in a cathedral.

Two heavy glass doors at the front entrance, too modern
and the parish school, sturdy structure of gray gneiss stone,
Things that were always there. I must have absorbed all this,
Though what was important was being with my father,

on Christmas, in the days of the Latin Mass,
genuflecting at the pew he chose, watching him flip up the kneeler
to accommodate his bad leg, it wouldn’t bend.

 I opened my Sunday Missal to Mass of the Catechumens.
The priest faced the altar, not us, he mumbled his church Latin.
I loved the sameness of it all, the waiting till the usher
approached, waved us into the communion line.

I loved standing behind my father, shuffling
to the altar rail, waiting for him to kneel,
laboriously. I loved sticking out my tongue
to receive the tasteless paper disc that was Our Lord,

walking back to our pew, covering my face with my hands
as my father did, praying for whatever it was I prayed for
in those days, usually for God to repair my father’s leg,
Let him walk again without the brace.

My thoughts wandered to Christmas morning,
Whether I’d find what I ‘d asked for under the tree.
Everyone stood up. The priest, his back to us,
Was saying Ite, missa est. I know this because

The Mass is ended, it said.
But we weren’t done yet. We said   
prayers for the Conversion of Russia.
I loved these, especially asking for protection

against the wickedness and snares of the devil, who wandered the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Now, the Mass ended.

My father grasped the back of the pew in front,
pulled himself up to stand.
We exited with the slow-moving crowd,
were disgorged onto the front steps of the church.

In the black night, everything seemed possible.
Merry Christmas, pal, my father said.
Want to get breakfast?

Poetry for a Gray November Day: “At Dusk”

In the middle-aged heart
joy can bounce around  flow out
as blood moves through the arteries,
but despair can get stuck.

The two engage in battle:
joy enlisting hope, bliss, contentment–
despair conscripting doubt and anger.
A vessel of the  heart might rupture.

If I could grow the joy, I’d share it.
If I could exterminate the despair
I  would patent my invention.
Tomorrow, let’s watch the last bits of sun,
orange light fading behind the trees.

I’ll take your hand, we’ll laugh together.
This is what we’ll do before night falls.                                       ~Lynne Viti

First Snow of the Season

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After weeks of rain that left us seven inches above the average, when the raking of leaves in the yard and driveway wasn’t even halfway done, the first snow took us by surprise. Wet, fat flakes drifted onto the deck, making for an enchanting view when I switched on the floodlight that illuminated the back deck. Our cat was mesmerized by the steady stream of snowflakes. But all I could think was about my boots, not the fancy quilted heavy tread ones that I ordered last week, but my old leather boots–the ones sitting in the entryway next to the as-yet unused canister of waterproofing stuff.

I can’t find my everyday gloves, the red leather ones I wore to Fenway Park on September 25, when the fall night was raw and cold.  I can’t find my favorite scarf, the one from twenty Christmases ago. I’ve misplaced the fur-trimmed hood that zips onto my storm coat.  The ice scrapers are in the garage somewhere, lodged behind summer gardening tools and garden statuary, and lawn sprinklers. 

I’m not ready for winter.

Lucky for me the rain began in the early morning, and by the time I left for work the roads were clear.  The temperature had edged just above freezing. I grabbed an umbrella and headed to campus. On the drive in, I mentally repeated my mantra for the day: It’s not winter yet. It’s not winter yet, not till December 21, over five weeks away The forecast for tomorrow in New England is 48 F and party cloudy–or as I prefer to call it, partly sunny.

Winter’s in abeyance. And all’s right with the world, until we’re walloped with a real snowstorm.

This was’t even a dress rehearsal.

 

 

 

Veterans Day at the Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick, Maine

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It’s 32 degrees on a sunny Sunday morning at the Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick, an iconic New  England college town, population 20,000. The Little Dog, situated on the broad main street (named Maine Street), is abuzz with families and small children, oldsters sipping courtados or lattes  at tables for two,  and millenials eating egg and cheese sandwiches as they work at their laptops. We arrive at 9:30  when the place is almost empty. By the time we’ve had our coffee and read the news on our tablets,  there’s a long line at the counter, and not an empty chair to be found.

It’s cold enough for hats and gloves and the down coat I pulled from the back of the closet before we left for the weekend in Maine. Outside, we see  flags  at half staff, in honor of the soldiers and sailors who served in  past  wars, those of recent memory,  those going on for the last 18 years since 9/11, and those long past. Maybe I should be thinking about the wars, and the men and women who fought in them, but I’m so taken by the cold morning weather and the brilliant sunshine that I push that thought aside, happy that yesterday’s rainy weather hasn’t stuck around.

We’re only two hours north of Boston, but fall is about to wrap up here, and winter is standing by, just waiting to release the first snow onto this town.

Sunshine warms us as we walk up Maine Street, past the used records and books store,  back to our car. We head out of town and up to Harpswell, where fingers of water separate the land.

The sun dances on the water and on the bridges, and we drive on to our next Maine destination, up the road a piece.

 

My Father’s War

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 men did, Naval intelligence said
that would fool the Japanese 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.
Flew over the Hump, on to Happy Valley, east of Chunking.

Lived in camphor wood houses, drank 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.

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 told the same story twice about the gash on his forehead that
grew fainter over the years, till it was a thin line across his eyebrow.

He returned from his war malnourished, his teeth
rotting, he drank straight shots of whiskey,
chased it with beer. He brought silks embroidered by the Maryknolls,
He had the last rites twice.

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

~Lynne Viti

Originally published in Light : A Journal of Poetry and Photography, December , 2016

 

Photos of Your Daughter’s Wedding Under the Mandap, Not the Chuppa

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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 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, that 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.

 

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—

 

 

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, cellphones, 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, pale bride,

dark groom under the mandap,

the grandmother in a bright blue shawl.

A day of peace, utter joy under bright Connecticut sky—

–what we live for, who we are.

 

~Lynne Viti, 2015

Originally published in 2016, in the literary journal, Amuse Bouche

 

Sugar Pumpkins

We’ve taken the automatic blanket down from the high shelf, have broken our old rule to refrain from turning on the heat in the  house before November 1, and all but the nasturtiums have surrendered to the first frost of the season.

It’s time for a poem about pumpkins.

This one was first published in the South Florida Poetry Journal, SoFloPoJo.

 

Sugar Pumpkins

We grew them in raised beds, their vines profuse,
the orange fruit scant. Hard to grow Cucurbita pepo

in a drought season. Still, the six we found shading themselves
under their companion leaves made us think we might grow

enough to feed ourselves all autumn long. The orange globes
sat on the mantel for months, past Thanksgiving,

when we exiled them to the foyer to make room
for Christmas rosemary and holly branches.

Tonight, we choose the largest sugar pumpkin,
carve a hole in the top, scrape out the seeds and strings.

In goes the mixture—rice, grapes, walnuts, onion, celery,
enough cumin to give it some heat.

When it’s baked to a turn, we slice it from the center,
so slender arcs of pumpkin fall into a circle, looking

more like a flower than a squash.  It tastes of pie
and of curry, redolent of the summer earth.

In Louisburgh, County Mayo, Thinking About Dublin

I’m  delighted that this poem, published a few weeks ago on the Muses Gallery of Highland Park Poetry, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Huge thanks to Highland Park Poetry for this honor!

 

In Louisburgh, County Mayo, Thinking About Dublin
The smell of burning peat in this steady morning rain
suggests a memory out of reach, something from years ago
when I got the notion to drain my small savings account,
head for Ireland, once final exams were read, grades in,
textbooks collected, counted, accounted for, our bosses
satisfied that the City of Stamford had gotten its due.
I was twenty-six, marriage in shreds, divorce papers drawn up—
I was seeking a different self, a poetic self.
I stayed a week in Dublin, wandering the paths Joyce describes.
Each day I distracted myself from the hole in my life,
went to the Abbey, met an American actor, a minor
figure on the Broadway stage who took me to an after-hours place
frequented by the Dublin theatre crowd— I could’ve sworn
when we knocked and the actor whispered the password,
the man who peeked out and opened the door was Milo O’Shea—
The actor and I drank Jameson’s neat, sipped it slowly.
In Boyle, County Roscommon, town of my great grandmother,
I wandered the cemetery, searching for the Sheekey graves.
The headstones from the days of the Great Hunger hid in the high grass.
I rented a small red Ford, drove across Ireland,
slowing down, stopping often for the sheep, accepting waves
from old farmers as I shifted into first gear, on to the next village
stopping each night to find a room and perhaps supper—
Supper identical to breakfast, eggs and rashers,
Brown bread and white, tomato, tea, lashings of butter—
I ate too much and drank the Guinness, which fattened me up–
I outsized my waistbands. I was growing in my grief:
Instead of wasting away. I came home a stone heavier,
a bottle of Jameson’s in my duty-free bag.

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A Voyage of the Imagination — “Water Path from Frog Pond to the Assabet”

When times are challenging-– and they certainly have been lately– I take inspiration from William Wordsworth and find solace in  nature. I began writing this poem in situ at an organic farm and sculpture studio in Harvard, Massachusetts, once a rural area of apple orchards. Old Frog Pond Farm is one of the surviving working farms west of Boston.

This poem was recently published in  the Old Frog Pond Farm anthology of plein air poetry, edited by Susan Richmond.   The theme for this year’s anthology and September 16, 2018 plein air  reading was  Paths, Tracks, and Trails.  

In a voyage of the imagination, my poem traces the water path from Old Frog Pond (on an organic farm dotted with sculptures by amazing artists) to the grasslands of the Assabet River.

Water Path, from Frog Pond to the Assabet

Ignore the overturned canoe on the lawn.
Don’t linger studying the lily pads on the green pond today.
Focus instead on the water, on where it’s headed.

The  highway thrums in the distance. Here, Queen Anne’s lace
sprouts from  cracks in the cement embankment.
Walk around two metal chairs placed at a ten-foot distance from a third
as though a couple came for psychotherapy, then left
by a path through the woods. Do not take that path.

There’s another way from here, by water from the pond
into a lower level, a rill that leads somewhere you haven’t been,
through tall grasses, under a stone footbridge.

Let those souls driving on the Interstate keep driving towards something
they believe will make them whole again, revive them
bring them hope like the hope sung by the grasshopper sparrow
whose staccato notes follow you from pond to stream.

A lone cicada tunes up early for August’s insect orchestra.
Keep following the water path from farm to stream,
from stream to  brook, on at last
to the grasslands where the sparrows breed,
where the dragon and damselflies dance above the river.

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“Deep Midwinter After-Party”–demonstrations then and now….and more…

I’m thrilled to announce that I have been  nominated for a Mass Book Award for my debut poetry collection, Baltimore Girls (2017).

Thank you to Finishing Line Press for this honor!

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If you’d like to purchase a signed –and if you like, inscribed –copy of my book, please email me at lviti@wellesley.edu. $13.99 includes the cost of mailing.

Here’s a poem I wrote in late 2016–which seems particularly appropriate at this time in history…

Deep Midwinter After-Party

Empty kitchen. Morning of snow. Small birds
make quick round trips from bush to feeder.
Hardly a sign of the knot of guests who last night
stood by the French doors, beers in hand
or gathered at the table of empty plates,
glasses half full of wine.

Traces of crackers and salsa marinate
with vegetable peels in the compost tub.
We used to be busy with kids and pets,
used to be the ones driving south for Christmas
getting home to pay the babysitter,
wondering if we’ve ever make up lost sleep.

I saw you lean back in the yellow armchair
listening to the thirty year olds
talk about work, their children, the news.
It made me wonder at how time
had moved up so fast on us, how
we ignored it as long as we could.

We’re old, admit it, I tell myself, don’t have time
for twenty to forty years of reforming  the country,
the world—we barely have time
to read the books we want to,  plant the gardens,
see the fifty states,  see refugees welcomed,
resettled,  find a glimmer of a hint of a possibility
of peace on the planet, this  home to our
benighted race, drowning in stuff or in our confusion.

Years ago, thinking about this didn’t faze me.
We would make it better, we would stop a war,
we would bring down a sneak, lying President.
We would do so much better when it was our turn.
Soon, we’ll march,  show what we stand for, bear witness.
I’m not yet ready to call it quits, but getting close.

Let the younger people take the reins. I’m
straggling at the back of the crowd as it pulses down
Independence  Avenue. You might glimpse me there,
like the gray panthers I used saw on the picket lines
–when I was young and fecund—
time biting at their aching heels.

Originally published in Porcupine, Fall 2017, print

If you missed hearing me on “Quintessential Poetry” on Blogtalk Radio, 9/14…

…you can hear me read my recent work and chat with host Dr .Michael Anthony Ingram about the poems and my writing, here.  Among the poems I read are some from Baltimore Girls (“Engineer,” “Salad Days” ) and several newer ones, some  in progress and unpublished.

Quintessential Listening: Poetry –Monday, September 10, 7 PM EDT–please tune in and call in!

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Friends and poetry aficianados all over the globe, please tune in to Blogtalk Radio: Quintessential Poetry, this Monday, September 10, 7 PM EDT, to hear Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram interview me. I’ll be reading some of my recent poetry, and  taking questions from callers–hopefully some of you! Call in! Around 6:55 PM  EDT this Monday (adjust for your part of the world: 10:55 PM Friday, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)  go to: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/…/quintessential-listening-poe…

or call 646-787-1631 to hear –and if you are so inclined, to participate in–the show.

The mission of Quintessential Listening: Poetry is to provide a forum to examine current events and contemporary issues through the power of poetry.download

 

 

“Two Mangy Apple Trees and a Lot of Love” – my opinion essay in the August 26, 2018 Baltimore Sun–

Four years ago, Tree Guy came out to give us an estimate for gypsy moth spraying. As long as you’re here, I said, take a look at these apple trees and tell me what you think.

The two small trees were decades old. The summer cottage’s previous owners who planted them had passed on years ago, and a series of residents and renters neglected the property. …

Read the rest here, in today’s Baltimore Sun online.apples 2018

“Home, at Last,” the poetry of Jackie Oldham

I encourage you to take a look at Jackie’s poem, published on her website, Baltimore Black Woman.

Anyone who has cared for  an aging parent until death will recognize the combination of grief and relief as the adult child reclaims her own life after the parent’s passing.

 

 

 

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Walking at Day’s End

 

34e0f0dad2aa4cfb595664163e11d044-1Explain to me how the sea

puts parentheses around the years

since my father held my waist.

We jumped the waves,

and he sang off key to me.

So much time has stacked up

but I walk along at low tide,

the water here dotted with bits of red seaweed,

feel only the water and the sand,

walk over shells of small crabs, or parts of their legs,

till the water laps up again and I see only

foam at the water’s edges.

Show me why the sea is so like

old words on the page,

why I can read and reread a poem

its meaning constant

text embedded deep in my neurons

though life whirls me

from single to married

childless to primagravida

to mother of two

to mother of two grown, off in the world.

 

~Lynne Viti

 

Originally published in Poetry Pacific literary magazine

 

 

 

God’s Thief

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Art by Jeff Blum Copyright 2018

 

God sees me carry the stones from the seashore, smooth
gray rocks I cradle two at a time, pulling them close
to my belly, carrying them like the physical therapist said to.
If it’s against the law to carry these rocks home
to my garden, well then, I’m God’s thief.
God sees me snap off the forsythia branches, try
to speed up spring, make sunlight and  water
push out small green leaves, butter-yellow blooms.
They brighten my Spartan workroom.
God sees me out among the weeds and the damp spring soil
when I should be writing.
God knows the faces of our friends are drawn tight
in those last days before their bodies give out, their souls
still burning hard and bright in our memories.

If only God weren’t so silent, so distant with us,
if only God would pull up a chair, act like
a parent imparting advice, say, When I was your age,
Rome wasn’t built in a day, keep your friends close

I’ve gathered so many rocks now, each time wondering
when God will show God’s self, or give me a sign—
not a miracle exactly, but a perfect rose, then another,
a summer of roses, safe behind a wall of sea-smoothed rocks.

 

From The Glamorganshire Bible. 

To purchase a copy of this, my most recent poetry collection,  at a cost of  $12.99 , postage included, email me at lviti@wellesley.edu

Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Mercy High School, Baltimore scholarship funds.

 

Abuse, Neglect, and the Catholic Church in Ireland: Letterfrack and its Lost Boys

This small village at the foot of the Connemara National Park was established by Quakers in 1949, the last year of the Great Hunger. James and Mary Ellis came here from England, as part of post-famine relief programs in Connemara.  They Ellises set up workshops for the denizens of this area, hoping to give people skills by which to earn a decent living. At the main crossroads of the town sits the site of the benighted St. Joseph’s Industrial School, where the ghosts of children seem to hover around the cemetery. The young boys of Letterfrack are commemorated by the poems of the Poetry Trail, carved into wooden plaques affixed to the town’s buildings, to stands along the walk, and to trees.  St. Joseph’s Industrial School, in operation from 1887-1974, was a site where hundreds if not thousands of Irish boys suffered harsh conditions, beaten and in some cases, sexually abused by the their teachers and wardens, the Irish Christian Brothers.

The building that warehoused these boys has been repurposed as a school for teenagers who have little interest in an academic secondary education, desiring instead to become skilled woodworkers. We wander through the National Centre of Excellence for Furniture Design and Wood Technology, on a quiet morning after the end of term. Finely hewn chairs, bookshelves, intricate coffee tables, side tables, chess boards and storage boxes sit ready for an exhibition and auction next week.

Nearby, atop a woods of trees with moss covered trunks, winding vines, and wild garlic, sits the small graveyard. Whether from disease–pneumonia, tuberculosis, whopping cough, diphtheria, rheumatic fever–or from malnourishment, or from severe beatings and exposure–the deaths of these young boys marked this ground. Exhaustive reports by the Irish national government relying on interviews, document analysis and forensic evidence, legal proceedings, the dismantling and closure of the old school, formal apologies issued by the Catholic Church and the Irish government under whose watch these things occurred–all these have been intended to achieve truth and reconciliation.

But it is the poets and artists who come closest to the truth about the suffering and loss of these children. Walking the Letterfrack Poetry Trail is more than a literary exercise–and reading the poems aloud in turn, as we did today, makes the past immediate. The heart-shaped grave markers atop old gravestones recite boys’ names, their birth and death date, their age on the day they passed from this life. Age 9, age 11, age 13. Born 1912, 1915, died 1922, 1925.

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The poets record the tiniest, most poignant details: the boy who when they knew “there were in for it,” cried Mammy, Mammy, Mammy” in a low murmur like a prayer. The boy who carried a cardboard suitcase when he came up from Dublin after getting in trouble with the law, perhaps for stealing a bicycle. The dead child whose comrades mourned his broken back and his empty hands.

We walked the poetry trail, swatting away persistent Connemara midges and taking turns reading the poems aloud. The cloud cover gave way in the late afternoon to sun. We wandered into the tables outside the Park’s tearoom, where we sipped tea and talked about Irish poets who lately had died in old age. We talked about our host’s son, a mortgage broker Chicago, and about mackerel fishing in Clifden, nearby. We did not speak about the graves, or even of the poems on wooden plaques that dot the poetry trail. This was the fourth day in a row that the sun was shining brightly in Connemara, and we liked to think we’d brought the fine weather with us from Northern America.

As we neared St Joseph’s Church on our way back down the road, Joe pointed out one last poem—not part of the poetry trail collection per se, but nonetheless an important testimony: “Graveyard,” by the late Irish poet Richard Murphy, who died last January after a long and illustrious career. Murphy’s words, inscribed in white painted script on a black background, call to mind chalk on a school blackboard, what in other contexts would be a benign symbol of the classrooms in past days.

Graveyard- Richard Murphy Poetry trail

Murphy’s words are chilling, and they’ve stuck with me long after we have moved on from Letterfrack up the coast to Achill Island, then double back to Louisburgh, where the good sunny weather of the past ten days turns, and we hear the high wind and steady rain rattling the cottage windows.  Safe and dry in our cottage, we watch the last of the peat fire burn into embers, and call it a night.

Letterfrack Industrial School

Bog-brown glens, mica schist rocks, waterfalls
Gulching down screes, a rain-logged mountain slope
With scrawny pine trees twisted by mad gales,
They see from my ball-yard, and abandon hope.

Wild boys my workshops chasten and subdue
Learn here the force of craft. Few can escape
My rack of metal, wood, thread, hide: my screw
Of brotherhood: the penny stitched in a strap.

Podded in varnished pews, stunted in beds
Of cruciform iron, they bruise with sad, hurt shame
Orphans with felons, bastards at loggerheads
With waifs, branded for life by a bad name.

One, almost hanged in my boot-room, has run free
Dressed as a girl, saved by a thieving gipsy.

 ~Richard Murphy

 

 

The Glamorganshire Bible–My new poetry collection– is released!

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The collection is available from me–at a slightly reduced cost of $11.99 plus first class postage. Profits from books purchased from me directly will go to scholarship funds at Mercy High School, Baltimore, my beloved alma mater.

Email me at lviti@wellesley.edu for details. Or, order from amazon.com barnesandnoble.com, or from the publisher, Finishing Line Press.

I’ll be reading from this collection and new poems as well, at the Wellfleet Public Library, June 18, 7 PM. The event is free and open to the public.

 

 

1964: “Nickel Dreams”

As I write this I’m en route to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station by a train moving south along the Eastern coast. Many years ago, while still in high school, I traveled north to Philly, and in this poem from my 2017 collection, Baltimore Girls (Finishing Line Press) , I recall my solo first train journey  to visit my friend Marcus W. “Mike” Moore, at Haverford College on the Main Line.

Nickel Dreams

Along the Fuller Brook path wending
through backyards, there’s no one about
except a few women with
small dogs on leashes. The brook –
not as high as I expected.

The blackened piles of snow
all melted away, roof rakes,
ergonomic shovels, the chemicals
we strewed on sidewalk and porches.
Mere memories of winter.

The sun strains to appear.
It warms the day but I can hardly
see my shadow, perhaps only  faint
suggestions of a shadow, a darkening,
barely perceptible.

On a day like this, full of spring’s promise,
I cut an armful of jonquils from my mother’s garden
wrapped them in newspaper, a cone
around the butter yellow blooms
so fragile, their stems easily snapped or bent.

Go to 30th Street Station, Mike said, for the transfer
But watch out if you’re there right at six, when
the dogs are let off their leashes,
dogs in gray flannel suits, carrying
smart leather briefcases. I understood.
He loved to quote Dylan: I don’t want to be
A singer in the rat race choir.

As I rose near my stop on the Paoli local
an old man glanced at my flowers.
I withdrew one and handed it to him,
without a word, hopped off at Haverford.
Mike stood on the platform, his long scarf
artfully draped around his neck,
tweed sport coat festooned
with buttons of Lenin, Freedom Now, Stokely
Carmichael. We walked through the campus,
his arm around my shoulder.

This will be my life, I thought.
His roommates were out. We
skipped dinner, built a fire. We
Talked about the war, about Yeats.
When it was late and
we were so hungry we couldn’t stand it
we strolled to the Blue Comet
for the cheeseburgers—I can remember
even now how good they tasted.

We took the back way to the women’s college
—I‘d set up camp in the guest lounge.
Mike kissed my cheek, handed me a nickel
the Paoli local had flattened into an oval,
Washington’s head all distorted.
I carried it  around for years,
that talisman of my life to come.

 

 

 

My Brilliant Hiking Accident

Injured at the top of a mountain in the Basilicata

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

I was sitting a narrow waiting room. With me were Massimo, manager of our hotel in Castelluccio Superiore, Martina, our young tour manager from Palermo, and Tom, my husband and primo hiking companion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saved the elegantly scribed, poetic  diagnosis on the ivory stationery:

Trauma to the lower third of the left leg. with abundant collection of venatic blood. Temporarily stop the use of cardio aspirin of 100 milligrams . Make lightweight compression with an elastic bandage. Antigravity elevation of the limb.

Sounds much more elegant in Italian: Trauma del 1/3 medio di gamba con abbondate raccolta da venamente ematico…

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