Tuesday, July 9, 2019

rowing our boats

sunday morning,
my sister and I
sit on the bedroom floor
and row

we miss summer camp
but it is
only October

our room is cold
but still
we put on our bathing suits

we use wooden rulers for oars
and sing “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore”

my sister asks me to braid her hair
and I do
even though it is pixie-short

she asks if we will have
roasted marshmallows
at the cookout that night

i assure her we will

everything is possible
before our parents wake up

two young girls
rowing our boats
on the lake of dreams


Note: This is a revised version of a piece written many years ago

Monday, July 8, 2019

blueberry picking at high noon

the radio said expect a breeze
but there isn't one
and only my baseball cap
for a slice of shade

i'm wearing a pale gray silk blouse
so silly
but at least it is lightweight

i pick from one bush and then another
not wanting any one spot
to grow too bare
always moving
but moving

bees buzz nearby
dragonflies mate
then whizz away

it's important to be careful
and not separate families

these 3 berries look like sisters
i pick them all
so no one feels rejected
or lonely

here: a mom, a pop, 6 little babies —
plop, plop, plop, plop, plop, plop, plop, plop
into the bucket they go

filling it up to the brim
taking time
there is lots of time to take

and on the table
next to the cash box
a pitcher of lemonade
cold and sweet
and only 50 cents

on the way home
eating berries
my fingers don’t turn blue 
my tongue doesn't turn blue
not even my teeth turn blue

a perfect afternoon

and there were no bears 

 Note: this is a revised version of a piece written many years ago

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Most Plucky

I've shared this before (and in more than one version) but for some reason I want to share it again, today. It is semi-true and semi-not-true. 

On the long bus ride taking a few dozen soon-to-be-campers from the Bronx to the Berkshires, I accidentally sit on my eyeglasses and they break in half. I don’t tell anyone. I just dig my sunglasses out of my backpack and put them on. I keep them on, day and night, all summer long. 

I have a wonderful time at camp. Everyone is so nice to me. The girls in my cabin take turns being my best best friend. They fight over who will get to sit next to me in the dining hall or around the camp fire. When I say I don’t want to play volleyball or softball or dodge ball nobody thinks anything of it; they ask “Would you like me to sit with you and we could just talk?” 

When I trip over small rocks or fall into gopher holes no one laughs. I have two boyfriends who swear their undying love to me. Everyone laughs at my jokes. No one tells me to shut up when I sing “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” out of tune. Every morning my counselor asks if she can braid my hair — she asks like it would be a favor to her, so I say yes. 

On the last night of camp there’s a big Awards Ceremony. Fancy-script certificates are given out for Most Athletic, Most Musical, Most Hot Dogs Eaten, Most Letters Written Home. I don’t expect to get anything. It’s enough to have had such a wonderful summer with so many good friends. But then I hear my name being called and I stand up, adjust my sunglasses so they won’t slip down my smiling cheeks, and walk to the front of the dining hall to receive my award. 

Everyone stands up and claps for me, all the campers and the counselors, too. The camp director hands me a certificate and makes a little speech. He says they’ve never had a camper like me before: so brave and inspiring, so lacking in self-pity. He says I’m the Most Plucky girl he’s ever met. 

And that’s when I realize that everybody thinks I’m blind.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

small poems, written since January 2019

new year
same obsessions
the amaryllis blooms

stone lion
broken paw . . . .
weeks since i passed this way

snow falls
i remind myself
nothing is expected of me

i had a thought
but then
i forgot it

sometimes i think
the mirror
laughs at me

what is the difference between
me and a cloud

under the snow
a flower is being born

long ago
i was here
this tree was also here

now we are older
we laugh more
we laugh everyday

in the dream
i cook with seeds
flowers bloom inside me

the windows are open
easy to touch the clouds

early morning walk
birds birds birds
that is all … that is everything

four months
since i walked this path
i hardly recognize myself

early morning walk
a herd of busses stand
tail to trunk


descendants of ancient rocks
we turn our weary faces
toward the sun

left at the curb
my neighbor’s red silk dancing shoes ….
bits and bits of snow

passing the old-old house
just a memory

tree stump — forgive me
i can’t remember
when you were a tree

dry fields
muddy fields
always the cows

lighting incense
an offering to the
midnight moon

who would i be
if my grandfather
had played the fiddle?

abandoned shed
splintering ….
daisies here and there

wooden bowl
stained purple
last summer’s berries

waiting in line so long
the bread gets moldy
(bakery dream)

going down Linn Street
remembering my sister long ago
in her pink suede hot-pants

walking under magnolias i am lighter

my neighbor’s yard
a Buddha statue ….
i stop grumbling

sharing the room
with a big black fly
this won’t end well

walking a path
around the rug
an inward journey

last night
the moon and me
later  …. just the moon

early morning walk
determined not to find haiku ….
i don’t

zooming around the room
a great big fly
i hesitate to yawn widely

early morning walk
irises irises irises
no heron

my room
designed to fit inside a 


the stillness of
5:30 a.m.
just me and my heartbeat

peonies pushing past the post

under my new wide-brimmed hat
walking farther

almost-summer walk
a pair of ice skates abandoned
by the creek

little detours around each puddle

my  tiny haiku notebook
still swollen with
tuesday's rain 

black bear in the road
turns out to be 
an overturned trash can 

a new car
in my neighbor's driveway . . . .
i'm just curious 


early morning walk
the air heavy with just-about-to-rain

a neighbor has planted a water fountain in her front yard
gurgle gurgle

another overturned plastic cup
the ants go in the ants go out


just before sleep ...
"my dear" she says
inside my head ...
and i sleep all night
wrapped in her laugh 

how cleverly
we avoid one another
the squirrels and i 

it was a ho-hum walk
until you arrived
! cardinal !

Monday, May 6, 2019

Everything is Opening

a hot Sunday
late May, 1972
my roommate has just gotten married
that very morning
in the woods
wearing cut-off jeans
and a tie-dyed tank top
strands of bells
tied around her ankles
her new husband
shaved his head
for the occasion
i wore my best flannel nightgown
and a pair of knee-high brown suede boots
i was the most dressed-up one there

no minister
no rabbi
a de-frocked priest said a few words
we don’t know if it was legal
we don’t care

later, back in ithaca
we gather in a neighbor’s garden
the dogs have just woken up
confused, curious
and the chickens seem anxious
but we are not the sort of people
who eat our friends’ pets

we are people
who play tambourines and banjos
and sing out of tune
and one of us
(i won’t name a name)
goes up onto the back porch
to scratch a small poem
into the wooden floor

then it is night
we sing louder
we make a fire
drink cheap wine
laugh and dance

the future waits for us
opening opening opening
everything is opening


I wrote this on Sunday, May 5, after reading THE DOGS WOKE ME UP, by Marty Cain (borrowing some words from sections 1, 2, and 3)

Friday, May 3, 2019

Thirty Wind Chimes

Utica Street in downtown Ithaca is one of my favorite places to walk. It's not terribly long (though it is longer than its near neighbor, Short Street) and it smells good, especially in spring and summer — the scent of flowers mingling with cooking smells. It's a quiet street, except for the sound of house construction and re-construction, which takes place in every season.

Yesterday I decided to put more focus into my walk, so I counted the number of wind chimes I saw on the porches.


That includes 4 bells that wouldn't chime on their own but might make a lovely sound if they were helped along by something stronger than a breeze.

For about half a block I was stuck at the number 13 and had to keep repeating "13, 13, 13, 13" inside my head so I wouldn't lose my place.

Then I came to a house with 3 wind chimes and after that I was on a roll.

Sometimes it was hard to distinguish a wind chime from a mobile, or a cleverly-disguised bird feeder. I was squinting up at a porch when a woman across the street said "Doesn't that remind you of the house on Irving Place?"

But it turned out she wasn't talking to me, she was talking to the man a few paces behind her. And she wasn't even referring to the house I was looking at.

Of course this made me wonder about Irving Place. Which I don't know at all. I do know a few men named Irving, though, so I thought about them for a while. There was my Uncle Irving, Mom’s older brother who died before I was born. And my parents' close friend, Irv Friedman. And a fella I knew in my early twenties, a truly wild man, he was also an Irving.

Perhaps I would have been named Irving, if I had been a boy.

By now the woman and man from across the street were far ahead of me, and the mystery of Irving Place remains, forever, unsolved.

I could have counted white butterflies instead of wind chimes. Or anything else: broken bicycles, hanging fuchsia plants, abandoned ladders, fire-hydrants covered over with weeds and wildflowers. 

But yesterday it was all about the wind chimes. It was such a still day. Not one of them made a sound.


lazy afternoon
even the wind chimes
are napping

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Small Brown Bag

he was the button man
Mr Horowitz
his store was on Tremont Avenue
he was a small man
his shop was small too
even the buttons were small

it didn’t smell good in there
but what made it so stinky?
not the buttons
buttons don’t smell
maybe it was the sardines

Mr Horowitz ate a sardine sandwich
on pumpernickel
in his store
every day for lunch

this is how I know:
Mr Horowitz was Shulamith’s grandpa
Shulamith Horowitz
call me Susan she begged
all her friends in Miss Malone’s class
so we did

but I thought Shulamith was a pretty name
and sometimes I’d say it inside my head
just so I could hear
if I was listening —
Shooooo laa mith

Shulamith Susan Horowitz was not small
she was tall
she was taller than her grandpa
she didn’t call him Mr Horowitz
she called him Grandpa Tiny

I didn’t call my grandpa Mr Kaplan
(of course not!)
I called him Grandpa Joe

Shulamith Susan Horowitz had red hair
it was curly and it was long
she said she hated her hair
she tried to straighten it by wrapping it
in big fat pink plastic curlers
she said it hurt her to sleep in the curlers
her head felt like it was on fire
but it was worth it, she said —
that’s how much she hated her hair

her grandfather
Mr Horowitz
didn’t have any hair
he had a mustache but he didn’t have
any hair on his head
Shulamith Susan Horowitz did not call him
Grandpa Baldy
and that’s a good thing

my mother was named Eva
she was never ever ever called Eva by anyone in the world
except by her father, my Grandpa Joe
everyone else called her Eve
I don’t know why my mother hated to be called Eva
but she did —
I called her mommy

my mother was a good knitter
she made little hats for my sister and me
she made us mittens and sweaters
she made us vests

once she made me a sweater out of mohair wool
it was light blue
fluffy and oh-so-soft to touch
but this is something that I don’t understand
the mohair sweater was soft to touch
but it was itchy to wear

I wore it anyway because it was so pretty
and my mother made it for me
and sometimes you have to suffer to be beautiful
my mother used to say that
a lot
I hated it when she said that

my mother had to go see Mr Horowitz in his button store
she needed to buy buttons 

to sew onto a new sweater she made
it was a Saturday morning and
she took me with her
she didn’t say it was stinky in the store
maybe she couldn’t smell the sardines

she was very smiley to Mr Horowitz
and he was very smiley to her
he let her look around at all the buttons on her own
he didn’t think he had to keep showing her stuff
my mother didn’t like it when men in stores
kept showing her stuff
like they knew what she wanted but she didn’t know
my mother would ignore the men
when they did that
she would act like she didn’t even hear them

sometimes my mother was a queen
and I was happy to be her little princess
but I didn’t want anyone to call me that
it is terrible to be called a little princess
Mr Horowitz did not call me that

but on that Saturday he handed over a small brown bag
filled with all the buttons my mother had just bought
he stood up on his toes and reached
all the way over the wooden counter
and he handed my mother the bag

I want to hold it I said
and my mother handed me the bag
and Mr Horowitz said to me
you are Little Miss Holdjit
why did he have to say that?
I didn’t like it

my mother laughed
but I did not laugh
I didn’t see what was so funny

we left the stinky button store
I held the bag of buttons
I felt bad

I told my mother
I am not Little Miss Holdjit
my mother said she knew that I wasn’t
but you laughed I said
I was just being polite
I am never going to laugh just to be polite I said
and I meant it

my mother said
let’s get a slice at Sal’s
so that is what we did
we walked to the end of the block and on the corner
there was Sal’s Pizza

we didn’t even have to go inside
we stood at the window and Sal was there
like he always was
so my mother held up two fingers
and in a minute we each had a slice

and then we walked home
I was still holding the small brown bag