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!

Lynne (Quint Sept 10

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