Monday, December 30, 2013

small poems: from the last few months of 2013

buried beneath all the hats
my favorite mittens
(I thought I lost them)

solstice morning
forcing my steps to slow down —
the sun so late to rise

my proud father
doesn't know how to drive —
posing his daughters
beside a neighbor's car
(I was looking at an old photo of my sister Laura and me, late 1950s, taken near our apartment building in the Bronx. I don't know whose car we were standing in front of but it certainly was not ours; Dad didn't learn how to drive until a few years later.)

hibiscus tea
a deeper red 
steeping into this winter day

oranges for you and me
today, tomorrow —
grandmother's bowl

can it be?
my great-grandmother —
a shadow moving behind
my neighbor's window

a week in West Virginia
weeds as high as my waist
and every night
green beans & ham for dinner —
we never saw each other again

that summer afternoon in Central Park
a thousand strangers chanting om —
the boy next to me
leans his head on my shoulder
and takes a nap

thank you 
for the amaryllis —
yes, it is still blooming —
and you already live
on another continent

a child
both dreamy and wise
polishing a single square
of kitchen linoleum
(Praise song #1031, for Marty Blue Waters. This childhood memory was shared with me the other night as we were drying dishes in our kitchen. Apparently Blue spent about an hour on that square and couldn't understand why her mother wasn't more pleased by her effort!)

6 a.m. or p.m. —
hard to know the difference

icy sidewalks
pine cones and one squashed worm —
I step carefully

birds call to one another
admiring my
purple scarf — I'm sure!

under the weight
of 8 rotting pumpkins
my neighbor's sagging porch

my neighbor's front step
plastic pumpkin 
head over heels

Halloween morning
my own shadow
creeps up on me

a shallow hole in Kansas dirt
rainwater reflects 
the moon on my face

walking along
counting my steps
counting my breaths —
a Blue Jay crosses my path
as if to say
lighten up —
a few blocks over
here he is again
checking in —
I bow to the Jay
as he flies away
(encounters with the Buddha early on a Saturday morning)

grey upon grey —
this wet September morning —
until my neighbor turns the corner
under her emerald green umbrella

after the rain
my neighbor's neat rock garden

rain on a tin roof
watermusic —
nothing to do but listen

morning walk
on the same vine
emerging rose, fading rose

between each breath

open windows —
my neighbors' well-stocked bookshelves
curious cats

all along the beach
tiny shells
sharing big secrets

listening in —
ocean to moon
and back again —
good night
good night

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Dozen Zebras

NOTE: I recently found this piece in my computer files. I remember that it was written in response to a painting that showed zebras running past a group of seated Zen monks, but I'm not sure when I wrote it (at least ten years ago, I'm guessing) or why I chose to enter into this particular fictional persona of a woman considerably older than I am.

There is a place I know, somewhere on the vast expanse of sandy beach we call our coastline, where I once sat cross-legged at dawn as a dozen zebras galloped past. 
Or perhaps not. It might have been a dream. Difficult to say. These days, with my mind creasing in upon itself, how do I know what is real and what only appears to be so?
There is an ocean nearby, of that I am almost certain, I can hear waves caressing the shore like an insatiable lover. It used to make me restless, the endlessness of it, and when I was particularly cranky — and I will admit to that now, why not?, although there was a time I would not acknowledge the slightest deviation from perfection — I dismissed the ocean as so much static, a radio left on after-hours when the station had already signed off. 
Yes, I was arrogant. I admit to that as well, and any other accusation you choose to hurl at me, I was that, too, I’m sure.
Thank you. I did need to be reminded. I am not on trial.

Shall I call it a habit? Self-defining, self-excusing. Self-annihilating.
The mind, this treasured, precious mind, relentless as the ocean’s waves. For how many years now? 
It’s a relief, in its own peculiar way, to hear the hinges creak — slowing down, a trap with no teeth. The mind loose in its moorings, nobody standing guard. Perhaps no one is there to care anymore?
I cared about everything, once. Every silver spoon and cut flower. Every single one of the body’s movements — an approving nod, a dismissive shrug. 

Now I care about my bones. Will they be there, all in place, whole, when I wake up? It makes sleeping difficult, worrying about one’s bones, not wanting to turn too quickly, not wanting to wake to the sound of anything snapping.
When I was a little girl I didn’t ever want to go to sleep. I begged my mother: one more star to wish on, one more wave to count, one more goodnight kiss, only one more. 

She was kind, my mother, she indulged me. Too much, they said, but what do they know? She’d lie down beside me, so many nights, stroking the inside of my wrist, soothing me to sleep as the candle on the windowsill flicked shadows on the wall.
They say we return to childhood in the end. It used to amuse me, all of the things “they say.” The hind-legged pronouncements of men with their proud theories, so pleased with their own brains, so taken with their hollow utterings.
Their bones are nothing but crushed meal now. 

And here I am, lying still in my childhood bed, on the same carefully mended linens, the candle no longer flickering because They Say it is not safe for me to burn a candle. Safe? Can I be saved?
My mother is here with me, in this bed, in my head, and the ocean is also with me, and somehow — I think this might really be true — I hear the approach of a dozen galloping zebras. 

Does that make you want to laugh? Go ahead and laugh, it’s a beautiful sound, your laughter, and then I will know that I can laugh, too. And I will be fairly certain I am still alive.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

small poems, Thursday morning, December 5, 2013

This morning in the Writing Circle our inspiration came from a calendar that showcases some of the art and artifacts from the vast collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These small poems popped up in response to 10 images.

my old friend
looks more and more
like her old dog

inspiration: Egyptian Papyrus, c.1050 B.C.

after dinner
my mother twists chopsticks
into her long grey hair

inspiration: "The Oiran Yoso-oi Seated at Her Toilet," by Kitagawa Utamaro

filthy creekside
how delicately he steps —
the heron we call Rupert

inspiration: "Black Stork in a Landscape," 1780, Indian watercolor

four of us at the lake —
nude, aging
blessedly nearsighted

inspiration: "Bathers," by Paul Cezanne

when we sketched each other
I was less talented
but kinder

inspiration: "Young Woman Drawing," by Marie-Denise Villers

crow on the roof
his caw interrupted —
Friday drumming circle

inspiration: a Chinese watercolor of a musician playing a drum, late 18th century

young frog
on a lily pad —
until a hard rain knocks him off

inspiration: "Water Lilies," by Claude Monet

this orange
you just peeled for me

inspiration: "Lizzie at the Table," by Fairfield Porter

shoved behind the dullest knives
a doily 
you no longer treasure

inspiration: "Victorian Interior II," by Horace Pippin

your diary
left in the dorm bathroom so long ago
I'm sorry —
I read it

inspiration: "Portrait of a Woman," by Egon Schiele

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

small poems, wednesday morning

this day          moving into          deeper gray

your gentle heart
a rose
leaning toward home

dream dancing: in my purple robe
the moon drips silver
on my upturned face

wandering the icy driveway —
lost gull
I would help you if I could

my darling
if only you weren't
allergic to flowers!

years ago
we lit a dozen candles —
now one flame is enough

when you are not here
I know you are everywhere —
but still . . . .

stretching my ears
your footsteps descend
the stairs

the drummers have all gone home —
welcome back

this melancholy morning
Rumi and Sappho
whisper to me

Saturday, August 10, 2013

My TO List

This list was inspired by the Verb List created by the artist Richard Serra in the late 1960s. Serra's list relates to his creative process. My list (not all verbs) relates to my life as I experienced it over a few days in early August, 2013.

To wait
To question
To postpone
To wonder
To feel full up 
To undo
To stumble
To snooze and drool
To slide
To be part of
To disengage
To surrender
To regret 
To collect bits and pieces
To rename
To challenge
To lose track of time
To tell
To undress
To redress
To sit and stare 
To get ready to rumble
To pause
To plunge in
To scrub clean
To erase
To turn away from
To shut down 
To embrace 
To suspect 
To grow impatient 
To feel curious
To run out of ink and steam at the same moment
To create space for something new to come in
To cross my arms 
To stretch my legs
To exasperate myself
To read the same line over and over
To force a smile
To fight it all out inside my head
To walk with purpose
To re-cap
To chant 
To stay hydrated
To unravel
To resist
To give in
To connect
To munch
To dither
To shrink and expand; expand and shrink
To be forgetful
To luxuriate in silence
To cuddle
To memorize
To talk about difficult things
To edit and revise
To laugh
To write imaginary letters
To fuss and fidget
To be surprised
To move on
To savor
To lose myself
To resolve
To forgive
To rearrange, replace, recycle
To be creased and wrinkled
To waste time
To go back and forth
To worry and then let go of worry
To list

Friday, July 26, 2013

I'm Being a Visionary Here

Some people have no business being parents and I'm not speaking in generalities, I’m speaking specifically about the woman in apartment 1-C. 
She goes by the name Maddie Pinkwhistle but take it from me, Maddie does not stand for Madeline. It stands for Madagascar. On my ex-mother-in-law’s grave that’s the God’s honest truth. I got it out of Bruno. Supers know these things, he crossed his heart when he told me. 

So, a person with the name of Madagascar — oh, and need I tell you, that is not where she was born — already you know it’s not good news, she’s going to grow up to have problems, yes? Of course yes, it’s fated, it’s in her cards. 
So her first baby comes along, what does she name him? Tortellini. Tort-a-lini, you ever hear anything like this? And I put 100 and 50% of the blame on her head, it’s not like there was a husband. Somewhere on this earth there has to be a father, that I am perfectly aware of, but husband there is none.  
Don’t get me wrong, she’s not a bad mother, I’m not saying that. If anything, she’s too easy on the little momzer — he wants, he gets. He cries, he gets more. So she’s got a big heart, but she’s got no brain. 

Let us jump ahead a few years. Again, a big stomach she’s got. Again, no man. I watch her coming and going — what else am I going to do, I’ve got my windows at the front of the house, I should look away when I see her on the steps? No, God gave me eyes, so I look. She’s getting bigger, she’s getting bigger, already it’s not a joke, I’m scared. It’s maybe not so healthy, how much can you ask of skin it should stretch like that? But finally it happens, a baby. Another boy. 
I want you should come here a little closer and look me in my eyes. Closer even. Closer, what’s wrong with you, you can’t get any closer than that? Look me right here in my two eyes so you can see what I’m telling you is the truth. That lady what calls herself Maddie went ahead and named her second son Fettuccine. You heard me right. Tortellini and Fettuccine. Meanwhile, they’ve got her last name on top of that. Tortellini Pinkwhistle. Fettuccine Pinkwhistle. 
Sometimes at night I can’t sleep, I’m so upset from this. To bring children into the world and then give them such names to wear the rest of their lives, there’s something wrong there. Also, let me add, Fettuccine is no more good-natured than his brother. What a mouth that kid has on him. Where does a child learn to talk like that, and don’t tell me in school, I went to school and you don’t hear such words coming from my lips. 
Okay, another year or two pass, again with the stomach. Do you think by this time maybe the woman got herself a husband? I’m asking you, in your opinion, yes or no? Go ahead and guess, you’ve got a 50/50 chance, they call that the law of averages. No, you say? You win the prize. 

Another baby, still no man in sight. This time, kanahora, she winds up with a girl. I am talking beautiful here, nobody would say any different. From the second she was born you knew she was something from out of this world. The doctor himself said to the mother “This baby is a Botticelli angel.” So alright, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the woman named her daughter Angela, only she didn’t do that. She named her Botticelli. 
Tortellini, Fettuccine, Botticelli. You hear what I’m saying? And they’re not even Italian. If they were Italian maybe it wouldn’t be so bad but that Madagascar woman, she’s from Hackensack. From the Jewish section, in case you were confused.
Okay, time marches on. Feigenbaum in 6-B keels over in his Campbell's tomato soup and it’s curtains for him. They say it was his heart but who really knows for sure? I'm not eating anything out of a can just to be safe.

So, 1,2,3, the apartment gets advertised. Dr. Jeremy Schwartz moves in. A dental surgeon. Very nice hands. That’s the first thing I notice about him. A learned man, too, he subscribes to a lot of magazines, and not all of them are about teeth, either. The mailman told me. No, not Donald, the substitute man, Paulie, he’s easier to talk to. Donald, I don’t have much use for Donald. Don’t get me started on Donald, that’s a whole other story.
Dr. Schwartz is a nice looking young man, has a good head of hair on him, right away I ask him if he wants to meet my niece Jessica. Not the social worker, the school teacher.  What a brain she has, plus, an excellent complexion. I don’t push, I just ask the once, but the man’s not interested. That’s very nice of you, he tells me, but don’t bother. Not in so many words, but I got the message: thanks but no thanks. 

Yes, okay, he was polite, why wouldn’t he be, he’s a dentist, but still, it was a  brush-off. But no is no, so I don’t mention it again, I figure maybe he’s that way, it wouldn’t be the first time a good-looker with a healthy stock portfolio didn’t care for women. 
But what do I know? When I'm wrong I admit it, and I was wrong. That woman is big with the belly again and this time Jeremy Schwartz, DDS, is the father. And proud of it. He even wrote a little notice on the back of his business card and taped it to the mailboxes. “Dear tenants of 229 Honeywell Avenue,” (so formal he is!):  “Ms. M. Pinkwhistle from Apartment 1-C and Dr. J. Schwartz from Apartment 6-B are pleased to announce the imminent birth of a child.” 
Imminent, that’s what I said. Not even the birth yet. Also, it turns out, a marriage is in the works. 

The Doctor’s apartment, it happens to be the larger one, so the Pinkwhistles are moving up. I don’t envy old Mrs. Dominy in 6-A. She’s not used to children. With Feigenbaum she got maybe the occasional snoring through the walls, maybe a belch or two, nothing more. He was a quiet man, I’ll say that much for him. Didn’t take out his garbage as often as he should have, but he was quiet. Now Bertha Dominy has to adjust to four children. I only hope it doesn’t kill her, she’s already got arthritis. 
So let me tell you this and then you can go — I know, you’ve got your shopping to do yet, you told me already.

This morning I’m at the mailboxes, the Doctor is also at the mailboxes. One thing leads to another, I’m trying to make a little conversation, I say, “Dr. Schwartz, tell me, do you know yet what you’re going to name the baby?” 

And he says to me — Spumoni. Just like that, like it’s something normal. Spumoni Schwartz he tells me, and he’s smiling. (Nice teeth he has, but I suppose he’d have to, him being a dentist). Spumoni is good for a boy or a girl, he says, like that was maybe the issue. 

All of this goes to prove my point, beyond a doubt, beyond even a shadow of a shadow of a doubt: some people have no business being parents. Some people, before babies are even a glimmer in their eyes, they should be shot. Put me out of my misery already and just shoot them. 

That’s only one person’s opinion, of course, if you have another way to handle it, please, go ahead, I’m open to suggestions. But if it was left up to me — Boom! 

You think that's extreme? No, I assure you, it's not extreme enough. I'm being a visionary here. And I promise you this, the children would be the first to agree with me. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

small poems and a few dreams

May Moon
the way you kiss
each bud awake

my friend's garden
I sit and catch my breath
then let it go again

thank you
for filling my empty spaces

hurry —
it's tea time in the fairy garden —
all your friends are waiting

another orchid blossom falls —
my grey hairs
are also shedding

blue morning
a hole in the basket
where a cloud slipped through

first slow rain of summer
dear iris
there you are —
reveling in your 
luscious self —
making the most of all
your moments

a lifetime ago
fitting ourselves
around each other —
   lavender-scented bath
   oh how we laughed

along the back fence
mushrooms —
they weren't there this morning

"lost bird"
a sad sign firmly taped to the lamppost —
   around the corner
   in my friend's garden
   an empty bird house

a stranger's garden
three kinds of mint neatly labeled

the roses don't know
this house was abandoned
years ago

walking creekside —
a clutch of peonies 
gossip about their neighbors

stars rustling
in the still-grey silence —
the Post Office is closed —
I walk on

"Tell Me" "I'm Pretty" —
2 signs dress up
the sagging grey house

2 a.m.
my dream eyes
snap me awake

2 travelers find refuge
in a tea room —
soft bells and thunder claps —
the afternoon unfolds
slowly, sweetly

2 clouds
one looks like a cup
the other, a saucer —
   we stop the car at the side of the road
   and munch on dry crackers

brushing my fingers
over your laugh lines —
look at the moon!
it's laughing too

9 cups of tea
before the leaves reveal
the answer I am seeking

at the bottom of this small blue bowl:
a single grain of sand —
so many years
since I've been
to the sea


the way you stand
beside the tall marsh grasses
waiting to catch sight of the
great blue heron

(the one we call Rupert
because he reminds us of an English gent)

from a distance
I keep my eyes on

you are my
precious bird


sometimes you ask
did we do that last summer?

and I say
no, I think it was
eight years ago

you think about it

you're right, you say
eight, maybe even ten

all our long loose years
blowing in the wind


In the dream: a miniature horse, the size of a small dog, has come to live with me. She sleeps in a corner of the living room near the radiator but I sense she isn't warm enough and I go searching all over the house to find the perfect blanket for her.

In the dream: I am standing on a subway platform. A change in trains has been announced but I don't know what it means. Trains come and go but I don't get on; apparently none of them are the one I'm waiting for. My confusion and anxiety mount. As a new train pulls into the station I ask someone if this one is mine (though I don't know how to ask in a way that is understandable). A man says "You have to know if you're on the Inside Line or the Outside Line."

In the dream: I am driving up the hill toward Cornell — someone I don't know is actually doing the driving — a young man with a European accent. He's telling me about an essay he wrote for a class but I don't understand him very well. It starts to snow heavily. I realize I am wearing high heeled shoes with slippy soles. I am on my way to the first day of work at a new job at the university. Then I'm no longer in the car, but in a bus going along College Avenue. It's still snowing. I see that my stop is approaching but I'm not sure how to signal the driver so he'll know I want to get off. When I wake up I'm relieved to realize that: a) it's not snowing, b) I haven't worn high heeled shoes ever, c) I don't have to start a new job today, though I wonder if it would it be fun and exciting if I did), d) I don't ride the bus to work anymore, I just walk down the stairs from the second to the first floor of my house . . . and here I am.