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?