If you meant to pre-order and have not yet done so, please go to the Finishing Line Press webpage for my book, here.
Thank you for your support!
If you meant to pre-order and have not yet done so, please go to the Finishing Line Press webpage for my book, here.
Thank you for your support!
Lynne Viti somehow manages to pull off being elegant and funky at the same time (how does she do that?!). She’s married to the erudite and witty Tom Viti, retired library director and amateur candlepin “bowler.”
And she’s the only person I know who saw the Beatles live. We should hate her, but she only inspires admiration, damn her.
So buy her book, “The Glamorganshire Bible.” Lynne doesn’t even keep the money (see what I man about admirable?) She donates the proceeds to development and scholarship programs at Mercy High School in Baltimore (her alma mater).
You get a great book. Kids get a scholarship.
FIVE Little Peppers and How They Grew
Slaughterhouse FIVE ( Kurt Vonnegut)
Nine to FIVE
FIVE Easy Pieces
FIVE Finger Exercise
The FIVE People You Meet in Heaven ( Mitch Albom)
FIVE Red Herrings (Dorothy Sayers)
FIVE Little Pigs (Poirot series, Agatha Christie)
FIVE Children and IT (Nesbit)
High FIVE (Beck)
Take FIVE (Brubeck)
Nineteen hundred and Eight FIVE (McCartney & Wings)
And FIVE MORE days in which to pre-order THE GLAMORGANSHIRE BIBLE–
Please support poetry and Mercy High School Baltimore by helping me increase the pressrun for this poetry collection! For advance reviews, go to the website listed above.
I know you’re weary of my harangue–but bear with me. If only twenty-five people who read this post take the plunge and pre-order my book, I’ll be able to make enough to have a respectable press run, and to receive a goodly number of author copies–since I am not paid in royalties.
I will then sell those copies at readings and book club talks, and will donate proceeds to Mercy High Baltimore, for scholarships.
You’ll be able to order the book at any time from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the publisher, but these sales won’t count towards my pressrun and the author’s copies.
This is how small literary pressed like Finishing Line manage to publish a number of quality books each year–and to stay in business, since 1998–20 years!.
To pre-order, go to Finishing Line Press/Glamorganshire Bible . The advance reviews on the order page will give you an idea of what the book’s themes are–Cumberland, Maryland and Baltimore figure in all of these poems, one way or another.
If you’d like to order a copy of my first book, Baltimore Girls, I’ll happily sign and dedicate it–to order, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I accept checks, Venmo and PayPal.
And when pre-order sales end on March 23rd, I’ll return to posting stories, meditations and poems. I promise.
Not Irish Enough
St Patrick’s Day was never much around our way
Even though Dad was half-Irish,
saddled with a Prussian surname
though he had the blue Irish eyes,
had the thirst for drink,
said his initials—BWL– stood for
Beer Wine and Liquor.
We never wore the green.
There was no singing of Danny Boy
in our house, no soda bread studded
with currants and caraway.
At school the children wore the green.
I did too, though my grandmother said
The green made me look bilious.
“Not your color, dear,” she told me
I wore a pin that said
Kiss me, I’m Irish
and another with a leprechaun
the words Erin Go Bragh arching
over his balding head.
We watched the tv variety shows.
The tenor sang Mother Machree,
the Lennon sisters trilled Danny Boy.
I wished I were more Irish.
At sixteen, I discovered Behan, O’Casey
Joyce and Beckett—
Irish citizens of the world. I wanted
To be Irish like that.
Originally published in The Basil O’Flaherty literary magazine
Please preorder my new poetry collection, at Finishing Line Press.
PRE-ORDER PERIOD ENDS ON MARCH 23!
These are my companions as the pre-order period for my second chapbook edges to a close, on March 23.
I worry that my press run will be miniscule. The book will be published, but the # of copies not enough for two baseball teams (excluding those in the clubhouse for the duration of the game).
I worry that I gave it the least sexy title in the world and people will mistakenly think it’s a collection of religious poems, rather than poems of:
sex, family drama, Maryland history, stories of railroad workers, shotgun marriages,
divorces, adultery, child abandonment–life in the lively Queen City,
Cumberland, Maryland in the early 20th century–when it was a thriving gateway
to the midwest,
Too depressing? That’s just the first third of the collection. Things brighten
up a bit, and the poems move into the 1950’s and ’60’s. Ocean City, Maryland and the Hotel Majestic. the first Volkswagen bug on our street, Oregon Ridge “Club” to swim.listening to the Drifters and WCAO-AM Plough Incorporated rock-and-roll radio over the PA system there, smoking Newports and tanning with iodine and baby oil,
Midnight Mass at St Dominic’s, and a cousin’s wedding I was too young to attend, but imagined.
Right, No Bible, really, except the one carried from Wales that listed births, marriages, & deaths.
Proceeds from my part of books sales will go to my alma mater, Mercy High School, Baltimore, for scholarship funds.
Please pre-order! To do that, go here.
This poem was published in my 1st collection, Baltimore Girls.
Ok, so it’s a love/sex poem.
But the real drama, sex , drama and scandal, comes in my forthcoming book, The Glamorganshire Bible. It’s not so much about the bible from Wales and more about the scandals a young woman of twenty endured, living in Cumberland Maryland in the early 20th century, and finding herself pregnant (in 1911) and unmarried.
To pre-order–by March 23– go to Finishing Line Press, here.
Making Love to You Was Like Peeling
Making love to you was like peeling
An onion. I teared up, holding the knife’s edge
Against paper-thin layers, pulled them
Away, one by one by one. I knew I must
Get to the tender parts of you, underneath.
Making love to you was like scraping
The hairy root vegetables, bright carrots,
The pale parsnips, the knife blade flat
Against the tubers- I needed strong hands
To hold you, to interlace my fingers with yours
To show you how desperate I was.
At night, after sex, I should have been exhausted
But I heard you turn on the shower, call
To me to join you. Afterward, I enfolded you in
A rose-colored towel big enough for two.
It was like rinsing tender lettuces in the sink,
Wrapping them in cloth to dry.
If you like this, you’ll LOVE the poem in The Glamorganshire Bible. Please pre-order! Thanks,
Pre-order my new poetry collection, please, please,–go to Finishing Line Press:
I came 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 Spigelmire Viti teaches in the writing program at Wellesley College. Her email is email@example.com.
I was twenty-seven, divorced, and with no boyfriend in sight. After a painful breakup, I started jogging and swore off sweets and alcohol. I lost so much weight that I needed size 4 clothes. And I wanted new shoes, like ones I’d seen in a French film, with four –inch stiletto heels and thin, elegant ankle straps. I found them, in the least likely place: Paul’s Cancellation, a hole-in-the-wall in a rundown mall. I was home visiting my parents that Thanksgiving, and avoiding the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. The shoes were on sale, though still well beyond my budget.
I spied them from a distance, on the sale rack next to cordovan loafers and lime-green flats. They beckoned to me from across the long, narrow shop. Between me and the black suede stilettos a knot of women tried on shoes, bending over to pull on knee-high boots, or turning this way and that before banged-up mirrors to critique their ankles and calves. Open boxes of shoes lay on the floor surrounding customers, and Paul rushed around with towers of shoes balanced in each hand. He craned their necks this way and that, sweeping the small room with a look of consternation as he tried to remember who had requested which shoe in which size nine.
I made my way to the black suede stilettos, carefully stepping over shoeboxes and handbags littering the carpet. “Sorry. Excuse me,” I said repeatedly, until I reached the clearance rack. I scanned the shoes up and down for the sizes, but saw no labels or signs. Just my luck, I thought. The toes of the black suede stilettos were pointing right at me now, as if to say, “Too bad your feet aren’t smaller, girlfriend.”
I reached out and petted the shoe from vamp to toe. My fingers made a small depression in the suede. I fingered the small brass buckle on the narrow strap. “Nice shoes,” a woman standing next to me said. “What size are they?” I turned the shoe on its side and looked for numbers, but found nothing, then I turned the shoe over, and saw the number 39—European size for eight. My heart leaped. “My size,” I said. When I looked up, the woman had disappeared.
I didn’t wait to find a vacant chair to sink into, but slipped off my clogs. I pulled off my socks and leaned up against a nearby pillar. I slipped on one shoe, then the other, then bent down to buckle the ankle straps. Walking gingerly in the four-inch heels, I maneuvered over to one of the small mirrors. I pulled up the legs of my corduroy pants and glanced at my feet. I remembered how once after college, a boyfriend had said, “Nice gams,” when I showed up at his apartment wearing green ribbed tights and a short plaid skirt. I bought the shoes.
They were fabulous. They were also trouble. They attracted men, but the wrong men: A married man who wouldn’t leave me alone at a dinner party. A handsome Italian poet at a cocktail party of literary scholars. He talked with me about Austen and Eliot and invited me to spend the night with him. A wild-eyed actor with disheveled hair. A talented amateur photographer who invited me to his studio, where we drank champagne and he took rolls and rolls of film of me in the black stilettos.
I wore the shoes through my thirties. They stayed pristine, because I only took them out of their box on special occasions. I aged, they stayed young, as though they had just flown back from a weekend in Paris. After I was married and had children, the stilettos languished in their original box in my closet. One rainy Saturday, I deposited them at the Goodwill van at the Home Depot parking lot. I bought pumps with patent leather toes and gold bands on the chunky one-inch heels– classy shoes for a woman of a certain age. Which is to say, boring, almost sensible shoes.
The stilettos were hard to walk in, up stairs, on city streets, over grates on New York sidewalks. They were impossible to dance in. After I bade them goodbye, I never missed the balancing act or the aching back and feet the morning after.. What I missed—and still do—was that delicious moment of anticipation each time I slipped them on, when I bent to caress and fasten the straps, wondering what excitement lay ahead in the glistening, magical night.
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We were good Catholic girls, never in trouble for anything more than doing a halfhearted job of washing the dinner dishes or taking out the trash cans for the Monday morning pickup. It was late August, and Suzanne, Maria and I were about to start our junior year at St. Mary’s. I had passed my driver’s test in June. Suze could drive too, but on this particular night, her parents had revoked her driving privileges for two more weeks for some minor infraction. Her father had been a military man, and he liked to run his family like it was the Army . School was starting in eleven days. I was determined to make the most of the summer’s end. I left my family’s station wagon parked in front of Suze’s house on Northwood Drive, wedging it between a couple of her neighbor’s cars. Suze grabbed her house key, called loudly to her mother who was ironing in the basement.
“Be back later, Ma,”
We walked out her kitchen door really fast, past the trash cans at the end of the cement walk, out the gate and down the alley route to Maria’s.
Mrs. Selig opened the door. Grey haired, stern, and a little hard of hearing, she never wore makeup. I guess she always made me feel a little on edge. My manners weren’t good enough for her. Today, she wore an apron spattered with shards of red and yellow fruit. The smell was sweet and fragrant, almost overpowering, though. But for a change, Mrs. Selig seemed happy to see us.
She even smiled a little as she poked her head into the dining room and said brightly, “I hope you like peaches, girls. Come on in—Maria and I are just getting them ready for freezing.”
In the small kitchen ripe, fragrant red-flecked golden peaches were piled up on the counter, the table, in plastic containers and china bowls, and on the floor in a half bushel basket. Maria was in shorts and a sleeveless blouse, her dirty blond hair pulled back into a ponytail that she’d pinned under so it looked like some kind of French hairdo but only half done up. For a few minutes we just stood there and watched her slice peaches for the freezer and put them into a square plastic container. A long, flat peach cake still in the pan cooled on a rack on the Formica table next to four or five large crockery bowls of the fruit. Mrs. Selig peeled fruit after fruit. After she skinned each one, she wiped her hands on her apron.
“I’ll finish up,” Maria said to her mother. She flashed and me a look, as if to say, I wish she would just leave. “Meg and Suze can help.”
Mrs. Selig managed to sound pleased and annoyed at the same time. She took off her apron and folded it carefully over the back of a chair. She rinsed her hands under the faucet and told Maria, “Just be sure you wipe off all those counters, hon, so I don’t feel anything sticky when I come in later on to make your father’s lunch for tomorrow.” She strode off towards the living room and we heard her switch on the tv.
“Did you bring the money?” Maria asked me.
“Right here,” I said. I patted the front pocket of my shorts.
“Fifty,” I said, reaching into my pocket and pulling out two twenties and a ten, and laying them on the table next to the peach cake. “Enough for all of us and more.”
“More is good,” said Suze. “We can always sell what we don’t want.”
“You want to walk down there or what?” Maria asked Suze and me.
“Let’s drive,” Suze said.
“No way.” I was always so paranoid about the car. “If anything ever happened to my dad’s car—that neighborhood –“
“So what are we gonna do, take the bus?” Suze asked. It was pretty obvious how stupid that idea was.
“Very funny, Miss Schmitter,” I said.
“Let’s call Bill Nash and make him take us,” said Maria.
“Right, sure, Mr. College Boy is gonna drive us down to Thirty-Third Street,” I said. “Like in what, his mother’s Dodge Dart with the push buttons?”
“Who cares? He’s cute,” Maria said. “Let’s call him.”
“Let’s walk,” said Suze, “Bill’s so boring.”
“You just hate him because he never asked you out,” I said. “Not that your mom would let you go out with a guy in a car.” He’d never asked me out either, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from giving Suze a hard time. She shot me a pissed off kind of look, but she didn’t say anything, probably because she knew I was right.
“How about we get your car, you drive us, you drop Maria and me off at Thirty-Third Street and you wait in the car for us?” Suze looked straight at me. “No big deal, Meggy. It would take about ten minutes.”
I hesitated. It was only seven, and it would be light for a while yet. Where we were headed wasn’t such a great neighborhood, especially after dark, but we had plenty of time to get down and back. And the last thing in the world I wanted to do was call Bill Nash for a ride anywhere. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him. I’d had a thing for him since the beginning of tenth grade, when I saw him play a small part in a Calvert Hall play. He was the guy constantly stumbling in drunk and falling down in “You Can’t Take It With You.” The play was stupid and I didn’t remember a thing except this tall boy with rosy cheeks and a shock of dark brown hair, crashing to the floor and causing waves of laughter from the audience, especially the girls. Since then I’d heard that he and his friends at St. Matthews had won a couple CYO drama contests, only for serious stuff. Now he was in college, and I wondered if he had a girlfriend. Probably some older girl—no way he’d be interested in a high school junior.
“Are we going or not?” Suze asked. “I need a smoke. Now.” Maria’s parents didn’t allow smoking in the house—at least not for kids. It was fine for them to smoke, of course.” Let’s get out of here,” Suze whined.
“Fine. I’ll drive,” I said. The fan in Maria’s kitchen was making a loud hum. It would be good to have some fun for a change. The whole summer had been nothing but boring—working at my father’s store, mowing the lawn, driving around at night with my girlfriends wishing we had someplace to go—a party, maybe to D.C. where it was legal to drink if you were eighteen, maybe hang out with some older guys. But all we had so far was the movies and if we were lucky, someone with a house on the shore invited us down overnight. Once Wanda Barber had us down to a cookout at her family’s summer place on the Severn, but we only put up with her because at school she kept trying to sit at our lunch table. Eventually, we just caved in and Wanda started thinking she was one of us. Needless to say, she wasn’t.
“I have to ask if I can go out tonight,” Maria said. She crossed her fingers and held them up. Suze tapped her foot loudly and sighed as Maria wiped her hands, threw the towel down onto the kitchen table, and walked into the living room.
“Let’s wait on the back steps,” Suze said. “I bet her mom says no way.” She pulled her cigarette pack out of her shorts pocket and tapped one out. “You want one?” She opened the door for me very quietly and we sat down on the concrete stoop.
I wasn’t a regular smoker but sometimes it just felt right to have one. Suze pulled out a silver lighter, lit my cigarette and then hers. She inhaled and started blowing smoke rings. Fully aware that I’d not yet mastered that skill, I took a long menthol-soaked drag and just blew it out slowly.
“Nice lighter,” I said. “Where’s it from?”
“I copped it from my sister,” Suze said. Her sister Catherine was in college. She had a summer job waitressing in Rehoboth and had left most of her good stuff at home in the room they shared. “I have to put it back before she gets home next week.”
“Don’t lose it or she’ll kill you,” I said. Catherine was a notorious bitch, and very particular about her possessions, especially the expensive gifts she got from boyfriends, of which she had many.
“Fat chance,” Suze answered. “I have the goods on her. She and her friends had a party when my parents went away that weekend and I helped her clean up—so now I can use all her stuff and she can’t stop me.”
Just then, Maria practically ran out her back door. She grabbed us by our wrists and pulled us down the narrow concrete walk through the back gate. Letting go of us for a moment, she swung the metal gate back hard behind her to close it tight. “She is so damned annoying,” she said, looking back over her shoulder. She’d unpinned her hair and it was loose now, falling down past her shoulders. Her tanned face was still wet from when she’d just washed it.
“Get a move on, you two!” she laughed, and she bumped her hip lightly, first against me, then against Suze. “I made parole, but the Queen says I have to be home by ten-thirty.”
“Poor kid,” I said. “My curfew’s midnight.”
We started singing together as we walked three abreast down the alley: “Nowhere to run, baby, nowhere to hide. Got nowhere to run, baby…I know you’re no good for me…” The singing ended abruptly as we dissolved into laughter, about, it seemed, nothing. Perspiration ran down my face and I could feel it drip right down into the front of my sleeveless top. My hair, which I had worked so hard at straightening that afternoon, was frizzing up. I pulled it back as flat as I could under my headband, trying to look as cool as I thought Maria did.
We cut through the end of the alleyway and onto Northwood Drive. As we walked, we saw kids everywhere, it seemed—little kids out with empty screw-top jars, holes carefully poked into the metal tops. They were running over front lawns, squealing and catching lightning bugs. Some girls were lining up at the curb by the white Good Humor truck, and the Good Humor man, a short, dark guy dressed all in whites with his change-maker at his belt, was pulling popsicles and rockets from the freezer of the truck, the dry ice making smoky looking stuff curl up, right out of the little open door at the back.
“Want a popsicle?” Suze said. “I might.”
“Get out, we have to go,” I said. “The guy told me he’d only be there till eight, and he might not stay that late.”
The guy was called Steve. A girl who lived down my block, Doris,, had told me about him. I used to ride bikes and play hopscotch with Doris when we were back in grade school, but now she went to the Vo-Tech and ran with a tougher crowd. At the bus stop, though, we would talk about boys, and makeup. She was going to be a beautician, and she always carried this weird shiny plastic case with all her supplies like curlers, end papers for perms, special equipment that hairdressers used. For several weeks while we waited for the bus, we talked about where it was easy to buy beer, how to get fake i.d.s, and where to find some diet pills and grass. She knew a lot about all this, and I knew practically nothing, but I figured I could get some good leads from her. One day she wrote down Steve’s phone number down for me on a scrap of paper torn from the top of a magazine–just his first name and a number. Then she gave me some advice.
“This is where you want to go if you want grass,” she whispered to me one afternoon as we both sat waiting for the bus to take us to work. “Down near the Waverly Theatre is where he hangs out. He’s not a sleaze, he won’t rat you out, and he’s nice. And sort of cute, for an older guy.”
Her express bus pulled up just then as she handed me the piece of paper, filled with her fat round handwriting, all its i’s dotted with circles. She stepped up to the token box, dropped in her fifteen cents, and looked back at me over her shoulder for a split second. Scaggy-looking, I had thought—she had white-blond teased hair, white lipstick, and too much black eyeliner. But on her, it looked cool. She was tall and thin and knew how to carry it off. She knew that everyone else knew it, too.
“Hey, daydreamer, I have dibs on the death seat,” Suze was saying. She opened the passenger door of my car and climbed in.
“Fine with me, age before beauty,” Maria said as she slid into the back seat. “Thirty-third and Greenmount, driver,” she said, giggling.
“Are we sure we want to do this?” I asked.
“Are you turning chicken on us?” Suze said.
“No way,” I said, as I turned the key and pulled out onto the street. Suze switched on the radio and started fooling with the dial.
The street was quiet when we arrived on the block where Steve had said to meet him. I had called him from a payphone earlier that day. “Bring cash, fifty bucks minimum,” he said when I phoned him. “You take my word on it. You don’t get to try the stuff first,” he told me. “And anyone asks, you don’t know me.”
“See if you can find number 505,” I asked Suze. She rolled down her window and peered out.
“This is the six hundred block. One more block west. You’re not getting weirded out, are you?”
I maneuvered the station wagon into a parking place, not a legal one, near a fire hydrant. “Should we get out and wait for this guy, or stay in the car?” Maria asked.
“Don’t be stupid. We stay here. This isn’t the best place to be, even in daylight,” Suze said.
“Looks fine to me,” Maria said.
“You are so damned naïve,” I said. “You two stay here. Let me check to see if this guy’s around.”
The front door of one of the houses flipped open fast, and out walked a guy, a lot older than us but not as old as our parents. I’d say he was maybe thirty. He had on jeans and a pocket t- shirt, really dark blue, with a pack of cigarettes in the pocket. Winstons, I think, or Marlboros, a red-and-white package.
“You Meg?” he called down to me from the doorway. He had short dirty blond hair and blue eyes, and very strange little teeth, pointy at the ends.
“You girls want to come in for a sec?” he asked.
I turned to Suze and Maria. Maria had a weird expression on her face, giving me a look as if to say, No way.
“Well,” I hesitated.
“Come on up. I need a few minutes to get it together for you is all.”
He seemed sincere enough, but I didn’t know if we should go in. I ticked off the pluses and minuses: bad neighborhood; a guy we didn’t really know; no information about who was in the apartment already. Plus, we were obviously about to engage in a criminal activity – buying drugs. “No, thanks,” I said, smiling weakly. “We’ll just wait here.”
“Have it your way, babe,” he said, and disappeared into the apartment.
“Hey, Meg, maybe we should go and buy some beer,” Suze said. She sounded nervous.
“Yeah, right,” I said. “At your age, sure. Good luck.”
“No, really, “ Suze was annoyed. She waved a card she had pulled out of her back pocket. It was a Delaware driver’s license. “I have I.D.”
This was something new. “From where?”
“Get out,” said Maria. “ What does it say?”
“Mary Ellen Steele, 4015 Walnut Avenue, Wilmington, Delaware,” Suze read. “One of my sister’s many fakes.”
“Suze, we don’t need beer,” Maria said. “What we came for is better. Anyway, we don’t need them both, that’s for sure.”
“Stay put, Suze,” I said. “ It’s my car. Wait right here.” I fixed my eyes on Steve’s front door.
“Hey! Get up here, Meg!” Steve was back at the screen door of his place, calling down to me. I could barely hear what he was saying.
“You coming up to do this or not? Who else is coming with you?” He smiled. I noticed for the first time that he had a dark green tattoo, maybe a gargoyle, on his forearm. His jeans were really tight, and kind of dirty, with thin lines of grime running horizontally across his thighs.
I glanced over at Suze and Maria. “Who’s going?” Neither of them said a thing. Suze jerked her chin up and over towards the porch where Steve was standing.
“OK,” I said, loud enough for him to hear me. “Lock all the doors,” I said. “No. You sit in the driver’s seat, Suze. Keep the keys in the ignition.” Suze got out of the car on the curb side, locked the door, then walked around to the driver’s side and slid in behind the wheel. She leaned over and rolled down the front passenger window, and I tossed in the keys. “Be right back,” I said.
I walked fast up the steps to the porch and stopped a couple of feet away from the front door. Steve had just lit a cigarette, and taking a long drag on it, he said quietly, ”How much money you girls bring?”
“Fifty,” I said.
“Lemme see it,” he said in a low voice.
“Where’s the stuff?” I asked.
“Don’t you worry about that, lemme see the money,” he replied. He started to move towards me a bit, letting the screen door smack shut behind him. From the inside of the house I could hear a radio playing music, country music.
“Okay.” I started to reach into my pocket. “Wait a second, Steve—-” I started to say.
“I ain’t Steve,” the man said quietly. “Come here now and give me that money.”
My heart began to beat faster now.” You’re not Steve?” I said. I felt my face flush. “Who are you, then?”
“Just give me the money, darlin’,” he said. “And get the hell out of here. Fast.”
My hand stayed jammed in my pocket, and I froze. He reached over and grabbed my elbow with one hand, squeezing it hard, while the other hand seemed to go into his back pocket. My heart started thumping faster, the noise rising in my throat first, and then in my head.
I jerked my elbow away, and surprisingly, he was so unsteady on his feet that I easily stepped backwards a few steps and started for the steps, while he stood there seeming a bit dazed. “Get up here!” he said in a flat voice, as I felt my foot touch the top step and I tried to propel myself down. “I got what you came for.” He started down the steps after me. I nearly tripped across the sidewalk, pounded on the passenger door window, until Suze leaned over and pulled up the door lock.
“Drive!” I screamed, as I got into the car. “Drive! He’s coming! Drive, you idiot!”
Suze started the engine and pulled out onto the street, tires squealing. We rode in silence—no radio, no talking, my heart still pounding. I wound down the window halfway and heard that strange whooshing sound as we quickly rode past parked cars, one after another.
“You okay, Meg?” said Maria quietly, from the back seat.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. And then I thought of something. “No, actually, I’m not.”
“What happened, he try something?” Suze asked.
“I don’t know what was going on. He didn’t have the stuff, I don’t think. God, he was disgusting—“
Maria lit a Newport, took a drag and handed it to me. “Here, you need this,” she said.
“Thanks,” I sucked in the mentholated smoke and exhaled slowly. “Maybe Doris Kozak set the whole thing up, that scag.”
“You should be more—we should be more careful,” Maria said. “If my mother knew I was down here—“
“Let’s leave your mother out of this,” I said.
“You really think she might have?” Suze said. “You’re okay, aren’t you? That guy was a jerk. How old you think he was, Meggy?”
“Ancient. Maybe thirty?”
We began to giggle and then we couldn’t stop. “Put on the radio,” I said, when we finally got quiet. Let’s go back to someone’s house and just watch tv.” Neither of them said a word. We drove on, past the stadium and onto the boulevard heading north.
A few blocks away from her house, Suze said, “I’d better pull over and let you take the wheel. My father will ground me for another month if he catches me driving.”
“We could drive by Bill Nash’s house,” Maria said. “His mother works nights.”
“What was that guy trying to do, anyway? Suze asked.
“I don’t know, take our money, I guess,” I said morosely. “Maybe something worse. Forget it, Suze. I don’t want to talk about it. Maria’s right, let’s go by Bill’s house.”
Suze parked the car as near to Bill’s house as she could, considering the cars were bumper to bumper all along his block. We rang the doorbell. Bill appeared, tall and smiling, wearing cut-off jeans and a t-shirt from his old high school. “Ladies,” he said, as though he’d been expecting us. “Come in. Nothing like company on a hot, humid night in the city. Mi casa es su casa, as they say. Please join me.”
He led us through the house, empty of adults and siblings, and out to his back stoop. We sat there for a couple hours drinking beer, smoking Marlboros, and listening to the Top Forty hits on the kitchen radio, which sat in the window facing out towards the fenced-in back yards. Suze and Maria sat on the lowest step, tilting back the cans of Bud into their mouths and looking up at the darkening sky. Clutching their jars of lightning bugs, the last of the children were called in when the streetlights switched on. Bill and I started to sing along to the radio, and he slipped his arm around my shoulder. The stars came out, and the cicadas began their rising song.
Note from Lynne:
I hope you enjoyed this short story.
Now, please please pre-order my poetry collection–support poetry and support Mercy High, Baltimore scholarship and development funds. I’ll donate proceeds from my author’s copies to Mercy The link to order is here–go through the Paypal link to get to portal for major credit cards, or call the press and leave a message–they’ll call you back and you can use a credit card directly. Pre-orders end on March 23. Thanks!
Here’s the link to order The Glamorganshire Bible!
Ted Kooser was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 to 2006.
“I knew that I was the first poet laureate ever to be picked from our part of the country, and I figured that I had better do it, and do a better job of it than anybody has ever done, because the eastern literary establishment had held a lock on it for a long time (with the exception of Bob Haas who is from California). Generally, it was all people from the Northeast corner who had been the poet laureates. I knew that people would be coming after me, because I wasn’t one of them. But I just decided that for the next year or two (if they give me a second term) that I was going to do nothing but try to be good at this. And so I took it on with that spirit, and I probably made more appearances and did more interviews than anyone had ever done as poet laureate. I did things that were unexpected. I had the folk singer and songwriter, John Prine, come to The Library of Congress; the very first folk singer who had been on that stage since Woody Guthrie in 1936. I started a newspaper column that is still running and is free to any newspaper. In it, I present a short poem every week that I hope newspaper readers can understand with a little help, which includes a couple of introductory sentences by me. The column is running in almost 200 papers right now, and we have an estimated readership of 11 million, and I intend to keep it going even though I am no longer poet laureate.
The basic requirements for being poet laureate are pretty minimal. You have to give a reading of your work in October to open the library’s season, and you give a closing lecture at the end of the year, and in between you have the privilege of giving away a couple $10,000 fellowships to poets you really admire. I gave one to Claudia Emerson who is at Mary Washington University, close by here. And then you can invite people in to do readings and this Prine invitation I did was one of those, I brought George Garrett from Charlottesville in to do a reading at my request.
But it’s funded all by private donations, so there’s no government money that goes into it, no appropriation. There is no connection, whatsoever, with the Executive branch. It’s all Library of Congress; it’s one of their programs. So it worked out, and for me, it was an opportunity to get the attention of a lot of people. It provided an opportunity for me to talk with people about what I thought about poetry. It allowed me to sort of push my agenda in a way.
From “A Conversation with Ted Kooser,” Shenandoah Literary Magazine
REMINDER: PLEASE PRE-ORDER MY NEW POETRY COLLECTION, THE GLAMORGANSHIRE BIBLE, FROM FINISHING LINE PRESS!
Thank you if you’ve already pre-ordered–I promise to sign your book!
Countdown: 15 days left to pre-order!
[Reminder: Please pre-order my latest poetry collection, The Glamorganshire Bible, by going to their website here, or you can send a check for $16.98 to FINISHING LINE PRESS, P.O. BOX 1626, GEORGETOWN, KY 40324
Natasha Trethewey was Poet Laureate in 2012 and 2014. This excerpt is from an extended interview by Jennifer Change, in the JUNE 11, 2013 LA Review of Books.
“I think that a lot of poets have this experience, too: you’re invited somewhere to give a reading and when it’s all over someone might come up to you and say, “I’ve never been to a poetry reading before. My mother, cousin, best friend, girlfriend, whoever, dragged me here, but I was so moved, particularly by your poem X, and I think I’ll read some more of your poems.” Now that’s certainly a very personal interaction, a person moved by a particular poet’s poem. But if their being moved by my work helps them seek out other work, then that’s part of what’s great about readings all over the country.
Maybe someone at a bookstore getting a latte happens to hear a poem that stops him in his tracks, or a student’s forced to go to a reading for credit in a class she’s taking, or someone ends up going to a spoken word and poetry slam in my little downtown Decatur, wandering in because it looked like a scene, and then he hears something that makes him want to go back, and maybe sign up next time to read a poem of his own. To want to write that first poem is to commune with an audience that’s open to whatever it is you feel you must say, to whatever necessary utterance that first drew you there.”
[to pre order my new poetry collection, use this link
Edward Estlin “E. E.” Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962)
e.e. cummings on being a poet…
As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.
If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.
And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.
Does that sound dismal? It isn’t.
It’s the most wonderful life on earth.
Or so I feel.
In case you’ve been napping, the link to pre-order is:
From an interview by Harriet Staff, at poetryfoundation,org
“ALICE NOTLEY: I always think of poems as something to be performed. And I always think of how they’re going to sound. There wouldn’t be poetry without that. It’s utterly important. And people should read poetry aloud. Reading aloud is key. I read each poem aloud in my room after I’ve written it, and I often picture myself in a room performing it.
Who is your intended audience?
It changes. When I lived in New York, it was the audience that met at The Poetry Project every Wednesday. It was a really wonderful audience, very intelligent, receptive to poetry. I pictured that room, the Parish Hall of St. Mark’s Church, and I had a sense of all the bodies in the room. But I don’t picture that audience anymore. I don’t quite know what I picture. Sometimes it’s like a room full of souls, sometimes it’s the whole universe, and I’m just sort of talking to everything there is.”
Countdown to end of pre-orders for my new poetry collection: T – 18 . Please consider pre-ordering!
“I often think that, particularly in this country and in the West in general, we often look at empty space, we look at silence, as a sort of death, a sort of weakness,” he said. “But I think the practice of poetry teaches us that silence and emptiness and space in general is actually quite potent.”
Ocean Vuong is the author of “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” (Copper Canyon Press, 2016). A 2016 Whiting Award winner and Ruth Lilly fellow, he has received honors from The Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, Narrative magazine, and a Pushcart Prize. His writings have been featured in the Kenyon Review, GRANTA, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Poetry and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in New York City.
Countdown to end of pre-orders for my new book – 1p days to go-pre-order today! I’ll post a comment by a living American poet ec day until the end of the pre-order window.
Billy Collins on poetry:
“”When I was a younger poet I would do what Frost said you can’t do, which is fret a poem into being … and I gave up on that a long time ago. If a poem isn’t working, if it doesn’t feel right, I just let it go and get on with the next thing, which could be writing another poem or making more toast.”
“If I’m writing for a while and I’m writing maybe a failure and another failure … a poem will come, often a little poem,” he said. “It has nothing to do with what I’ve written but it would not have occurred had I not been failing.”
Two poets imagine their mothers meeting in the “Fifties and ‘Sixties, even though they never did!
What’s the book about?
This book, also published by Finishing Line Press, draws on family lore, photographs, court records, and historical stuff. But at its heart, it’s the story of three women who came of age at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. One married at thirteen; the other two flaunted convention, marrying young and divorcing young, leaving her toddler child in the care of her ex and his mother. The basic facts are true, but I’ve exercised poetic license!
The poems move from Cumberland, Maryland in its heyday as a vital railroad town, through the Roaring Twenties and into the Fifties, following that toddler who left Cumberland and joined her unconventional mother in Dundalk, and went on to become a teacher and an educational leader back when Baltimore County was rural, a place of working farms and sparsely populated villages. The poems should appeal to a wide range of readers, especially those familiar with Western Maryland, Dundalk, and Baltimore ,
When the Poet isn’t Rupi or Billy Collins…
For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of small literary presses–writers don’t receive royalties, but instead are “paid” in copies of the books. The number of author copies is directly tied to pre-orders. Thus, if a book generates 100 preorders, the author will receive 25 copies she can sell at readings or when buyers contact her directly. If there are 150 pre-orders the author receives 50 free copies, and so on. I’m hoping for 150 pre-orders–or more!
Support Poetry and Support Mercy High, Baltimore!
As with my first poetry collection, I will be donating proceeds from the sales of those 50 –or 75!- author’s copies to scholarship and development funds at Mercy High School Baltimore, my alma mater, a school with grades 9-12 that educates girls of diverse backgrounds. As the Mercy website says, “Our students come from across central Maryland and our work reflects a commitment to hospitality, service, justice and compassion.” So by supporting my poetry and pre-ordering, you support this worthy educational institution.
Thanks, friends, family, and readers!
The gray cat keeps watch by the window, staring at a sunless day.
Her head turns, ears on alert, when two juncos alight on the deck.
The Christmas tree’s colored lights garish in the morning.
Half-drunk bottles of cabernet litter the kitchen counter,
red carnations in the table settings have gone limp.
Please don’t ask about the children, no longer children, now men,
back at their own digs. We’ve haven’t heard from them
since they packed up their gifts and the leftovers in plastic tubs.
They could be sleeping all, day, or filling out job applications,
or heaving weights at the gym. Might be watching You Tube,
how to cook favorite foods of The Wire. Any hope
of grandchildren on the horizon is misguided, don’t ask about that, either.
Extreme climate: eight degrees at eight a.m. The President
won’t stop tweeting. I watch the juncos, brave against the cold.
Originally published in the South Florida Poetry Journal, January 2018 issue
You can pre-order my new poetry collection , The Glamorganshire Bible, from Finishing Line Press by March 23! $13.99. Proceeds from author’s copies in lieu of royalties go to Mercy High School, Baltimore, MD, for scholarship and development funds.
You can order the book from Finishing Line press.
Wax like burnt sugar
It’s a round pregnant belly with
white mold-like coating,
a scoop dug out of
the heavy bottom,
a thread of black umbilical cord
it sits on a
saucer of Portuguese crockery.
Reprinted from Punting, Origami Poems Project, January 2018. Download the chapbook and assemble it!
I wrote this last winter, when our dear friend was undergoing yet another cancer treatment. He had done well after a stem cell transplant procedure, but a year later the cancer returned. The poem was my way of expressing my helplessness, and the waiting to hear news of how he was faring with this treatment, which I knew very little about until I did some research into it.
There’s a dispute in your blood,
Red cells against the white.
You’re in no shape to talk.
We’re playing your music,
it fills the living room.
You’re having another procedure—
it spills out unpronounceable names.
They’re taking the white from your blood.
Leucocytes, they’re taking you into custody,
so the capillaries can do their job, submit
to collection, centrifugation, spinning.
The basophils (Greek, basis, philein, to love),
the polymorphonuclear leukocytes,
those feisty granular immune cells,
the eosinophils, who so love eosins, the acid dyes,
that they embrace their stain, must be silent.
The rest of us, here at home this February day
do what we can. We wait,
wait, from Old French, guaiter,
wait and watch over.
Originally published in Punting, Origami Poems Project, Copyright 2018
And a pair of old shorts I found
in your closet, threads dangling from
the disintegrating khaki fabric.
I sleep on my back at night, careful not
to disturb the pillow on your side of the bed.
In the morning I’m unpracticed at making coffee,
Stumbling through the task, forgetting the filter,
or remembering the filter, forgetting the filter basket.
Your hat, the one you bought for hiking hills in Sicily,
fits me perfectly. I look like
an Australian crocodile wrassler,
or maybe the Marlboro man, though
your hat has a chin strap and a toggle.
Vents above the brim let in the sweet morning air.
Your hat smells like you, the sweatband
Exudes the scent of your soap and your shaving cream.
When you come back I’ll happily surrender the hat,
Strands of my hair stuck fast to its woven fibers.
originally published in January 2017, in Punting, Origami Poems Project
Advance reviews :
The Glamorganshire Bible is written in lines of free but measured verse, plain as daylight, plain as truth. It invents Viti’s ancestors and their places and situations, what they did and didn’t do. The writing verifies what it invents. I can hear the sound a coffee cup makes as it descends upon its saucer. I know that Chevy was green and white. I know how that mother leaned to look into the mirror. That’s how she looked. It’s true.
–David Ferry, Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College
In this compelling and cinematic suite of poems, Lynne Viti shows us women who attempt to untie the strictures and circumstances that would confine and define them. Here are finely wrought details in vivid interlocking narratives. Here is a genealogy of initial pregnant silences, insistent voices of the past, and astute perceptions of the present.
—Danielle Legros Georges, Poet Laureate, City of Boston
The wages of time–remembrance and oblivion, place names and lost motives–come to graceful life in these poems. The impulse is commemorative; the tone, at once lingering and alert, speaks for days that must add up to something–and sometimes do.
–Baron Wormser, Maine Poet Laureate emeritus, 2000 – 2006
Lynne Viti’s poems transport us to another place and time, into the beauty and desperation of a western Maryland railroad town a century ago. She mends the “broken kaleidoscope” of memory through the power of her own imagination, channeling the voice of “our grandma, young and wild” who became a wife and mother far too soon. The story grips us, and words rend our hearts as Viti chronicles three generations of women seeking love, escape, freedom, and connections with one another.
—Erin Royston Battat, Visiting Professor, The Writing Program,Wellesley College
The Glamorganshire Bible is a journey back to a childhood where coal mines, railroad depots, adultery, drinking binges, supper of “bread soaked in milk,” churches, two-dollar dresses and desertion are only some of the hard-core, radioactive elements in these remarkable, gritty poems. Viti’s skill at crafting poetry out of wreckage and pain without sentiment is superb.
–Lenny Della Rocca, Co-founder, South Florida Poetry Journal
Near Uncle Tim’s bridge stands
a dwarf tree with twisted branches, tiny
White blossoms just about to fall—
White sand, shells of horseshoe crabs, not as many
As in years past. Matted salt hay, soft underfoot.
Across the marsh, the old fish cannery-turned-
Yoga studio next to the fish shack, the parking lot empty,
Freshly paved with crushed oyster shells,
White, pristine, waiting for the summer people.
In winter they stay in their houses, reading the paper.
Some sit at the piano, pluck out a few tunes.
Others write letters to the editor, refusing to use
email, preferring paper, envelope, self-adhesive stamps.
They walk their letters to the mailbox,
Wait for the metal clank as their missives disappear
Into the blue container. Pickup, 4 PM.
The summer people in winter wear
Their good coats to the opera. They don
Their special sports gear for the hockey arena.
They go to work early, they’re the last to leave the office.
They stand for O Say Can You See and O Canada.
They lug their groceries in reusable bags. They
Watch the calendar, dreaming of the marsh,
The kettle ponds’ clear water, the warm waves
Late August afternoons, on the bay beach,
White sand near the rock jetty, a fat orange sun
Slow dancing towards the horizon.
Originally published as a Poem of the Moment, on the Mass. Poetry website, December 2017, http://www.masspoetry.org/poemofthemoment7/
Fat snowflakes stream down—
White quilt covers dormant grass,
Iris stalks stand tall.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 one summer evening on Cape Cod, after I’d spent a few hours using one of the public computers at the local public library. The librarians had named each of the dozen computers : Harmony, Desire, Joy, …and the names were prominently displayed on cards affixed to each work area. These abstract words stuck with me all day…until I came up with this poem. And , of course, the 9th-to-last reminder to pre-order my forthcoming poetry collection, The Glamorganshire Bible, from Finishing Line Press. The link to order is here.
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.