Girl at a Desk, Maryland Avenue School

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.

~Lynne Viti

Originally published  in October, 2017, in  This I Know, Warren Artists’ Market anthology

The Baltimore Day Express

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Called It Armistice Day

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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

 

“Twin Dream,” published today in The Maynard

Twin Dream

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.

                                                   Lynne Viti

http://themaynard.org/Vol10No2/TwinDream.php

“Walking Home”

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.

9417 Maryland State Flower framed

MD State Flower
by Jeff Blum

Walking Home

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.

Two of my new poems published today in “Califragile” online literary magazine

Skin and Bones

Signs of age mount in a crescendo—
colonies of skin tags behind the knees,
rough to the touch, subdued by Vaseline,
Centime-sized liver spots, identical to my mother’s
when she reached this age, forty years ago, Watergate days.
The nasolabial folds are more pronounced, engraved.
Small puffs have risen up under the eyes.
The fingers stiffened, two swollen at the midjoint
No point in dwelling on it—better to swallow naproxyn
two at a time, smear on arnica or diclofenac,
keep spinal fluid moving with cat and cow pose,
never stop—except to sleep, dream of youth’s body,
strong hands on the piano, on bicycle gears, or
fingers meeting palm in a tight, clenched fist.

 

Near Christmas at Newbury Court

From the fourth floor, through French doors’ dusty blinds
you can see black trees etched against fading blue-gray sky,
sky punctuated by a strip of pink near the horizon.
Then night sweeps in, not like summer
when the sun takes its time, hugging the world’s edge,
leaking its last light onto the bay.
On the sofa the old woman snores, jolts awake
says it must be time for supper. I help her to her walker,
I’m her balance because hers is gone.
I shuffle with her to the elevator,
shuffle with her down the windowless hall.
The smell of bland food hangs in the air.

 

 

Lynne Viti teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. Her first chapbook, Baltimore Girls, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2017. Her second chapbook, The Glamorganshire Bible, will be released in early 2018. Her writing has appeared most recently in I Come From the World, The Thing Itself, Stillwater Review, Bear Review, In-Flight Magazine, Tin Lunchbox, Lost Sparrow, and South Florida Poetry Journal. She was awarded Honorable Mentions in the 2015 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Competition and the 2017 Concrete Wolf Louis Chapbook competition, and was named a finalist in the 2016 Grey Borders Wanted Works Poetry Chapbook Contest. She blogs at stillinschool.wordpress.com.

Originally published online on September 16, 2017, in the September 2017 issue of Califragile.

“More Dangerous for All of Us”

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.

 

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Two new poems of mine, in a new anthology, “I Come From the World”

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:

https://icomefromtheworld.org/the-glamorganshire-bible-the-kid-cumberland-1923/