Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Small poems: end of the year

faux woodstove surprisingly I do feel warmer

your footsteps overhead my favorite sound

morning walk counting steps counting breaths losing count

found: 2 lost mittens one purple one black

just me and my yellow shovel then along comes a crow

relief      finding a tissue in my coat pocket when I need it

she and I and the last two bowls of holiday soup

football game muted she dozes

from across the room your gentle snores

reminding myself I am only me

not for another year pumpkin pie

tomorrow I will wear striped socks this is all I know

over the long weekend we have both gotten blinder, deafer

stretching my ears for birdsong

anticipating snow I gather a pile of un-read mystery novels

every day waking to irises painted on my bedside table

my sister alerts me to a PBS special our shared nostalgia

grandmother's spoons I could use them if I polished them

my old jewelry box filled with toothpicks moving on

crossing an old bridge I can't ignore the rusty patches

morning walk welcoming the solstice exhale

at the window all afternoon lazy and content

yesterday is (almost) forgotten now here comes the sun

grandmother's photograph sometimes I forget to look

dust! impossible to blame the sunlight but still . . .

you wrinkle your nose this new tea is not pleasing

Buddhist monastery plastic orchids in window boxes

my neighbor's leafless tree adorned with Mardi Gras beads

flickering lights in my neighbor's window — remember fireflies

December 25th hour after hour candlelight

silent street no bells no crows

for this one day disconnecting from the world re-uniting with myself

10 minutes from home surrounded by a different silence

all day alone with a book and a strand of new/old pearls

with no effort something tight becomes something loose

singing a sweet song about my amygdala-dala-dala

embarrassing to admit: stargazing makes me nervous

early winter recipe for a plum pudding I will never make

narrow path stepping aside to let the old runner pass

this long red light enough time to inhale winter

what will I learn next — basket weaving? archery? the art of letting go?

what if I had had a brother — what then?

late afternoon too lazy to move from chair to couch no need to move

nothing is meaningless not even this empty pen

jump-up-kale so much like baby palm trees my neighbor's winter garden

this life every moment every moment every moment

paper and ink hold the mysteries   writing in the dark

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


A few years ago I spent a feverish few days in the public library and at a couple different used book stores, pulling books from the shelves, opening to random pages, letting lines call out to me, and creating what I called "Assemblages" — joining the words of one author with another. Now I can't remember if I ever shared these ... and I want to .... so here they are.

this night
silent as a stone
   suddenly — a little rain —
   what now?

Robert Hass, Praise
Leah Goldberg, Selected Poems

under the big sky
stars, like astral flowers
rise out of time
one more, one more, one more, much more
how patient they are

Robert Hass, Praise
Leah Goldberg, Selected Poems
W. S. Merwin, Finding the Islands

the ancientness of forever—
only the echo remains
and the mirror, frozen in a dream
there is something
to be said for silence

Robert Hass, Praise
Leah Goldberg, Selected Poems
Nikki Giovanni, The Women and the Men

daybreak — so loud
calls at the window —
I know it’s you
you were always 
so shy

moon shadow
at an open window
just before you leave
sometimes I remember you
sometimes I can’t remember

W. S. Merwin, Finding the Islands
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Selected Sonnets
Grace Paley, Fidelity

open your hand —
what do you see?
an ocean thirsty for pearls
write your secret name on the rain
do it now

Audre Lorde, Undersong
Rumi, The Essential Rumi

between morning and night
never enough 
years together
darkness covers everything —
in the end, I want nothing

Audre Lorde, Undersong
Rumi, The Essential Rumi
W. S. Merwin, Finding the Islands

alone in the shadows
float orange, yellow, gold
this endless night
calls me out: lonely

Audre Lorde, Undersong
Rumi, The Essential Rumi
W. S. Merwin, Finding the Islands
Sylvia Plath, “The Disquieting Muses”

February morning —
an hour in warm rain —
find nothing, imagine nothing, fear nothing
a mountain —
ancient as time

Jane Austen, Persuasion
M. C. Richards, Centering
W. S. Merwin, Finding the Islands

listen —
this moment
turning to snow
who can remember yesterday?

Jane Austen, Persuasion
M. C. Richards, Centering
W. S. Merwin, Finding the Islands

remember one day —
the sun’s birth
the language of dance

name everything —
stars, plants, trees

forget everything —
all sound

stop going around and around

W. S. Merwin, “The Unwritten”
Joy Harjo, “Remember”
Gertrude Stein, “The teachers taught her that the world was round”

nothing is unlikely 
your perfect mouth folding down 
the crescent moon

turns out to be story 
one tear, alone, in this box

open the night window 
spill your secrets 
visit the snow one last time

Tom Wayman, Carol Ann Duffy, Shara McCallum, Christina Pugh, Charles Simic, Wesley McNair, Lisel Mueller, Kati Kapovich

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Drama in the Kitchen

My mother cuts a slice of French toast into little pieces and places them on a plate and puts the plate in front of me where I sit at the small red formica table in the middle of the kitchen.

To the left of the plate is a glass of orange juice, made from a can, you just add water and stir or shake. My mother likes to shake.

To the right of the plate is a glass of white milk. My mother knows I hate white milk. I only like chocolate milk made with Bosco. My mother doesn't care what I like. 

So I spill the glass of milk on the floor and while she mops up the mess I wrap each piece of French toast in a napkin, which I know is an excellent disguise.

Then I drink the orange juice. It makes me feel like summer inside.

I get up from my chair but my mother says SIT DOWN. She says I have to unwrap the French toast and eat it. I wonder how she could possibly know what I've done. Is it true that she has eyes in the back of her head, like she says?

Maaaa, I wail, it's time for Shari Lewis.

Shari Lewis. The beautiful red-haired woman on the TV. With her friends Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy. I don't want to miss a minute of the show. Who asked for French toast anyway?

I say it again, with more feeling, in what my mother calls my Sarah Heartburn voice. What is she talking about?

Maaaaaa, please, Shari Lewis is on.

The hell with Shari Lewis. That's what she says. Can you believe it? Me either. I cannot believe it. I just cannot believe it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

17 small poems and a Happiness Poem in 18 parts

lonely cricket deep into the night

heavy shopping bags
i cannot straighten myself
long walk home 

4 a.m. with sweet potatoes on my mind

this old house
sweet potatoes in the oven

red gloves give me strength     walking into the wind

halfway up the stairs
now is the time for
tangerine kisses

late october
the wildness of leaves
a shy black cat

we stop to admire the mums
years ago 
we knew each other well

up to his ankles in raked leaves
the young monk 
takes time to smile

your hands in mine
still warm
from when you cupped a cup

post-election day walk
campaign signs droop
with exhaustion

damp grey morning
the birds and i turn over
and go back to sleep

morning walk
wandering mind
a clump of snow lands on my head —
wake up!

the sun

the old brown jug
yellow and red blooms
no longer jaunty

flitting from book to book
unsettled mind
where are you Sister Crow?

street corner garden
tucked in with the frozen kale
5 bagels

Late November Happiness Poem

happiness is when you wake at 3 in the morning and can't fall back to sleep but it doesn't matter because you're okay just lying there counting from 1 to 100 and back down from 100 to 1 and most times before you even get up to 100 you are already sleeping again

happiness is when you wake from a nightmare and feel the great relief of realizing it was all a dream and none of those horrible things ever happened to you and you can tell yourself "don't think about that" and so you don't

happiness is sinking low into the lavender-scented water, knowing you can remain as long as you want — an hour or even more — and when the bath gets cold you can turn on the faucet and add hot water, you can even turn the faucet on with your foot and not have to sit up

happiness is when you're moping around your apartment on a cold wet Sunday afternoon bemoaning the fact that the only time the phone rings these days is when someone (usually just a recorded voice) is trying to get you to buy something you don't want and so you're startled when the phone actually rings in the middle of these morose thoughts and it turns out to be a dear friend who wants to have a real conversation and you both laugh and talk for almost an hour

happiness is when you re-arrange your closet and realize that for the first time in your adult life you have more clothes in colors (plum, lavender, teal, turquoise, emerald green) and less clothes in black and you are so inspired by this that you decide to get rid of some of your socks even though a week ago you felt you couldn't part with a single pair but now that you are no longer committed exclusively to black you sort through the sock drawer and toss out 5 pairs of black socks you've had for about 20 years

happiness is when you call Time Warner Cable customer service first thing in the morning and in less than 2 minutes you are connected with a real person named Eric (though it could be Erik or even Erich) and you explain your problem clearly and he understands immediately and tells you to press one button and then another button and you do these things and see that your problem is solved and you say Hurrah and Eric (a very young man) says "excuse me?" and you say it again — Hurrah — and then you thank him over and over because now you can watch DVDs later in the day

happiness is when you go outside to sweep away the first gentle snowfall of the season and when you say hello to a stranger walking by he tells you this is his first snow in 26 years because right after graduating from Ithaca High School in 1988 he moved to Atlanta and today is his first day back in Ithaca

happiness is when you are out for an early morning walk and the sun is so bright in your eyes that you can't see a thing and it's a surprise when a person passes you and all you know about that other human being is that he or she smells good

happiness is having friends who give you scarves for every occasion and for no occasion and when winter rolls around again you open your special wooden box and there are all your scarves neatly folded and ready for wear and you can choose a new one each day depending on your mood — is it a purple day? (it usually is and you have many purple choices) — but you can also go with wild patterns of orange and magenta

happiness is when you are walking around your beautiful neighborhood deeply engrossed in your thoughts and you end up walking right past your house and its not until you have gone on like this for a few minutes that you suddenly stop and ask yourself "where am I?" and you look around and laugh and turn and go back in the direction that will take you home

happiness is when you want to write a letter to a friend and you discover that you have exactly the right card to send and even a good picture to enclose (not a picture of yourself! a picture of a woman reading a book) and on top of all these wonderful things you also have an excellent pen to use and you can tell it is not going to run out of ink anytime soon 

happiness is when you remember something your father said more than 50 years ago in a Bronx deli as you were schmearing mustard on your hot dog and it had something to do with you being like Picasso with that mustard and you're not sure if it was meant as a compliment or not but you choose to remember it fondly 

happiness is when you open a book you abandoned long ago and discover a postcard you were using as a bookmark — 13 cakes painted by Wayne Thiebaud in 1963 (a good year for you in some ways) — and this is the message written on the back of the card:
My Dear,
I would be delighted to join you for lunch April 1st, New Delhi Diamond's Cheers, Nan."
Don't you agree that is a great big happiness? 
(Hello to you dear Nan Bell)

happiness is when you wonder if a small poem will find you on this day so you open a haiku journal for inspiration and your eyes come across the words "peace of mind" and right away you feel calmer and you take a deep breath and then another and realize you are no longer anxious about a poem — knowing it will come or it won't come — and you put on your good walking shoes and head out the front door
(Thank you dear Tom Clausen)

happiness is when you bring 8 books to Autumn Leaves Used Books to trade for store credit and after a quick look around you find a book you want — "The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds" by Diane Ackerman — and even though you think it is possible that you already read this book when it was first published almost 20 years ago you gladly take it home because you remember nothing about the short-tailed albatrosses or the golden lion tamarins — and you still have lots more store credit for a future visit

happiness is taking yourself out for lunch at New Delhi Diamond's Restaurant for their amazing Saturday buffet that includes Bhindi Masala (okra and peppers and onions) and you are very pleased with yourself: no rice or potato puffs or soft golden pillows of fried dough and you leave feeling both full and healthy

happiness is discovering a new shop called Bramble that recently opened in Press Bay Alley (around the corner from Diamond's) — a collective of local herbalists — the warm welcoming delightful atmosphere envelops you the second you walk in the door and you come home with a coconut/lavender cream called "Cloud Butter" and also with a small bottle of Dandelion Flower Essence to aid in your desire to Be More and Do Less — knowing that if you manage to do this you will make your sweetheart very happy
(Thank you dear Amanda David, herbalist and rootworker)

happiness is arriving back at your front door just as your sweetheart is pulling the car out of the driveway on her way to Wegmans to buy a few things that will go well with the veggie soup you made yesterday and she rolls down the window to tell you she loves you and you say the very same to her and then she drives off and you come inside to type up your happinesses for this day at 1:30 in the afternoon

Thursday, October 9, 2014

small poems: late summer / early autumn

great blue heron early this morning our shadows cross

striking the brass bell
so many yesterdays 
begin this way

my reflection
in your eyes
before you blink

heart inside heart inside heart inside heart chalked sidewalk

everyone is talking about the moon
but tonight the moon is
talking to me

walking to the waterfall
and back
an hour without worry

heavy rain  you disappear  behind weeping willows

you hold my hand more tightly
I like it

each time we pass them
we call out
sunflowers sunflowers sunflowers

a volume of Issa's poems
open before me 
still my mind wanders

my sweetheart is flying west
I walk north and stop
to smell the roses

hibiscus tea
a long slow rain 
you wake up far from home

yesterday I couldn't find the teapot
but now
here it is

my sweetheart
two time zones away
is it too early to miss her?

let us begin again
you and I — dear moon 
the start of a new year

going for a walk later today maybe we will cross paths

green green green everywhere green
except over there . . .
a patch of red leaves

my new red beret 
some days i just want
to be a cardinal

here you are    beloved moon     now all is well