Friday, December 18, 2015

YOU: 5-liners, based on memories and paintings

you brought the picnic basket
peach schnapps and chocolate biscuits
the ocean was thundery
soon after
i flew home to america

you wear your long hair draped
across your shoulders
like a bolt of crimson silk
strangers want to touch it
you brush their hands away

you bragged that your grandfather
invented the egg carton
i said
my grandpa sharpens pencils
with his teeth

you transform sonnets 
into lullabies
singing me to sleep
with shakespeare and
edna st. vincent millay

you never leave home without your 
red pocketbook
a clean hankie
and two stamped unaddressed postcards
prepared for any emergency

you are a dog person
i prefer goldfish
we spend a lifetime
noting our differences
and incompatibilities

Sunday, November 15, 2015

3 short pieces in response to paintings

Three short pieces inspired by images found in the book Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890 - 1945, edited by Patricia Trenton

1. The Johnson Girl, 1930, by Belle Baranceano

My father and five brothers run Johnson's Dry Goods, which supplies all of Starr County with everything it needs. I am known as The Johnson Girl, people can't be bothered to remember my name. Which is Clarissa. A fancy name, my mother's idea. 

Mama was a dreamer. My father says that, when he talks about her, which is rarely. I don't remember much except one thing. Mama had big brown eyes, just like I do. I know that because she spent so many hours looking at me. Maybe sometimes she hummed a little song but that could just be my imagination. She died before my first birthday. 

We had a photograph of Mama in a tin frame. It sat on top of the mantle in the dining room. But now it is gone. This is the biggest mystery in my life, the whereabouts of that photograph. I have promised myself that I will figure out what happened to Mama's photograph. And I will.

2. Self Portrait, 1942, by Dorr Bothwell

Today is my cat's birthday. Mrs. Lilian Farmer Canterbury. She's named after my favorite librarian. "Mrs." is the most important part of her name, as it is for her namesake, who, as it turn out, is not a married woman at all. But she is concerned with appearances, propriety, and dignity. As is my cat. 

I met Mrs., the librarian, a week after my family moved to Willette and it is no exaggeration to say that she saved my life. I met Mrs., the cat, on a Wednesday afternoon in November. I remember because it was the day Mr. Houlihan's barn burned down and it's no exaggeration to say that I saved her life, because I did, poor wee whiskered ball of bones. If the fire wouldn't have killed her then starvation might have. There weren't enough mice in that old barn to feed all the strays that ended up there, and Houlihan isn't one to put out a saucer of milk, let alone a bucket. 

As to the fire, now this is something between you and me, all this time later I still wouldn't want it to get around, but my own brother, Liam, was not entirely innocent. Though that crowd he ran with, they were no angels, and I wouldn't be surprised if Tommy Lindstrom was involved as well. But anyway, Houlihan wasn't hurt none, and Liam and Tommy are both in the Navy now, and when they come back home they'll be men and no worse for wear, as my Pap says.

I don't think Mrs., the librarian, will be with us much longer. She's dying from bad lungs. And she knows it. Which is why she confided in me, about being unmarried, and other things as well, like what she used to do to earn her living when she lived back east. I'll just say this: she wasn't a school teacher and she wasn't a sales lady in a big department store. She was something else and you can imagine. But then she came to Willette and she started a new life and I say "Good for you, Mrs."

She taught me to love a good book. Which I do, and I swear I always will. Mrs., the cat, appreciates good books too. She likes to sit on them, and lick them, and paw the pages. But most of all she likes to nestle on my lap and let me read to her, which is a comfort on long nights. It's never so solitary when I'm reading out loud to Mrs., the cat.

I will never be a Mrs. myself, unless I do like my favorite librarian and claim the title as my own. But for that I would have to live someplace else, far away where I am not known by every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Myrtle. And I can't see that coming to pass. I will always be Miss Dorr Bothwell, 
D-o-r-r, if you please, not Door. What was wrong with my parents, naming me such a thing? I will ponder that question until my last hour on this earth.

But now I must go and bake a little cake for Mrs., the cat, in celebration of her birthday. And later on I'll bring a slice over to Mrs., the librarian, who likes sweet things even more than I do.

3. Self Portrait, 1928, by Margaret Lefranc

Well, he's gone. And I can't say I mind because I don't. No more bacon to fry up. No more socks to darn. No more stories to listen to while pretending to care. No more Joe. 

He just took off after a buck he was stalking and he never returned. The sheriff's men were here with a lot of questions. Then they spent a whole day combing every inch of the woods out back and down as far as Benner's homestead. They never found a thing. Not a hair out of place.

Joe's sister, Merlene, wanted Sheriff Wynn to dredge the creek where it's at its deepest but he said Nah, ain't got the money for that. Because Sheriff Wynn and Joe never saw eye to eye about a thing so, money or no money, he figured he'd done his duty. Chalk it up to one more man gone walk-away. And it's not like that doesn't happen. It happens more often than you might think.

This morning I climbed up into the attic and found my paint box in a corner under some mothy quilts. I dusted it off and — Hosanna — the little tubes of paint are as good as they were back before Joe and I were married. I looked, but there weren't any more canvases up there. I did find a smooth, wide plank of pine wood, though, that once belonged to something, but not anymore, so I dragged it downstairs with the paints and it will suit me fine.

I'm going to make a tomato sandwich for lunch and after I eat it I'll start in on a painting of myself. Because what else around here is worth spending time on? A wobbly old chair I never liked? The blue glass fruit bowl with the chip in the rim? No, I will paint myself, wearing my white muslin shirt that has grown softer over the years. And I'll be sure to look serious, sad even, since my husband is gone. It wouldn't be seemly to look happy. Not on the outside. But inside I will be smiling. Oh yes. I will be smiling the biggest smile.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Places in the World: a re-posting

Places in the World I Would Mark on a Map. If I Were Making Such a Map. Which I'm Not. I'm Making a List.

Places where I hesitated before entering. 
Places where I smelled smoke but there wasn't any.
Places where I bought a book just because I liked the cover.
Places where I've fallen down.
Places where I felt invisible.
Places where I forgot to breathe.
Places where I was almost run over.
Places where I wasn't honest with myself.
Places where I heard sounds I couldn't identify.
Places where I wanted to leave but had to stay.
Places where I learned something new and fabulous.
Places where I couldn't avoid speaking with someone I didn't want to speak with.
Places where I didn't know any language that was useful.
Places where I was afraid to be up so high.
Places where I collided with a bicycle.
Places where I didn't want to buy anything.
Places where I visited dead people.
Places where I had to endure too many rules made by too many other people.
Places where I didn't wear any items of black clothing.
Places where I felt comfortable in my own skin.
Places where I couldn't avoid big bugs.
Places where I embarrassed myself by laughing uncontrollably and inappropriately.
Places where I was still and quiet and alone and happy.
Places where I waited for someone who never showed up.
Places where I held her hand and she held mine.
Places where I couldn't stand the smells surrounding me.
Places where I danced with abandon, until my feet wouldn't move any longer.
Places where I could feel my heart beating faster.
Places where I was mistaken for somebody else.
Places where I was actually very brave.
Places where I operated large machinery and didn't lose any body parts in the process.
Places where I kept my mouth shut.
Places where I thought I was alone but it turned out that I wasn't.
Places where I pretended to be English.
Places where I lost control.
Places where I have gone in my dreams.
Places where I said the opposite of what I meant.
Places where I read the last chapter of a book before I read the first.
Places where I met someone I'd always wanted to meet and they turned out to be as wonderful as I thought they were. 
Places where I was talking out loud to myself and people noticed.
Places where I lost my temper (and/or was rude) and regretted it.
Places where I lost my temper (and/or was rude) and did not regret it.
Places where I stood still in the middle of the street and couldn't go on.
Places where I was happy and comfortable and safe in the middle of a huge noisy crowd of people.
Places where I swooned over dessert.
Places where I dropped a full bag of groceries and broken glass was involved.
Places where I was robbed.
Places where I had an epiphany.
Places where I succumbed to the irrational urge to buy at least one new pen that I didn't need.
Places where I wept in public.
Places where I expected to be welcomed with open arms and I wasn't.
Places where I stopped to re-tie my shoelaces.
Places where I didn't understand the instructions.
Places where I entered a room and walked right out again.
Places where I shook hands with someone whose grip was limp and damp.
Places where I waved to somebody, thinking they were somebody else.
Places where I waited for a bus that never arrived.
Places where I didn't stop to smell the roses.
Places where I bought a pair of beautiful shoes even though I knew they didn't fit. 
Places where I eavesdropped on strangers.
Places where I looked out a window but didn't see anything because my mind was elsewhere.
Places where I walked into a movie theatre after the movie had begun.
Places where I got a haircut that I hated.
Places where I stopped before I got to the top.
Places where I walked down the street playing an instrument.
Places where I refused to give up.
Places where I took something that didn't belong to me.
Places where I fell asleep in public, drooled a little, and maybe even snored.
Places where I squinted into the sun.
Places where I left a performance during the intermission.
Places where I didn't see her at first, and then I did see her, and I was so happy she was there.
Places where I stopped at the Scenic Overlook and thought "ho hum."
Places where I slept soundly but later she said there was a ghost in the room.
Places where I ate an excellent meal in a restaurant, on my own.
Places where I made a promise I knew I could not keep.
Places where I said "I'm sorry" and meant it.
Places where I had no business going in the first place and I shouldn't have  been surprised when things turned out badly.
Places where I picked wildflowers along the side of the road.
Places where I sat around a campfire singing those good old tunes with utmost sincerity.
Places where I didn't do a good job with a hammer and nail.
Places where I heard disturbing news.
Places where I ran out of time.
Places where I thought the line or queue I was on would never move.
Places where I saw something I wish I hadn't seen.
Places where I had to quickly take off my hat/scarf/gloves because suddenly it was much too hot.
Places where I got caught in the rain without an umbrella.
Places where I bumped into something or someone because I was walking and reading at the same time.
Places where I gave up too soon.
Places where I  spent a whole day in the public library.
Places where I ran out of coins in the phone booth before the conversation was over.
Places where I had to answer awkward, embarrassing questions.
Places where I refused to get on the elevator.
Places where I had to say "no" repeatedly before I was heard.
Places where I received good advice but ignored it.
Places where I thought "this must be a dream," but it wasn't.
Places where I didn't get the joke.
Places where I relished being in the limelight.
Places where I felt safe in my disguise.
Places where I wrote in the dark.
Places where I followed a stranger down the street because I was curious to see where we would both end up.
Places where I refused to consult a map or ask for directions.
Places where I regretted not being more competent in math.
Places where I thought I'd be bored and restless but instead I was peaceful and content.
Places where I had to pay money to use the toilet.
Places where I saw a friendly face in the crowd and it was the reassurance I most needed.
Places where I sneezed and couldn't find a tissue in any one of my many pockets.
Places where I accidentally stepped on a crack even though, under normal circumstances, I would not do that.
Places where I startled a wild animal as much as it startled me.
Places where I should have knocked before entering.
Places where I ate something that was too hot and it burned my tongue.
Places where I looked up just in time to see a bird begin its song.
Places where I read the "keep off the grass" sign but I didn't heed it.
Places where I was in water up over my head.
Places where I couldn't find an all-night pharmacy when I needed one.
Places where I resisted temptation.
Places where I was foolishly sentimental.
Places where I came eyeball to eyeball with someone else's insanity.
Places where I abruptly changed my seat.
Places where I was disappointed in myself.
Places where I was the least athletic person in the group.
Places where I cleaned someone else's house.
Places where I went for months at a time without cooking.
Places where I hitchhiked.
Places where I was intimately familiar with public transportation routes.
Places where I could have consulted a dictionary but I chose not to.
Places where I felt uncomfortably touristy.
Places where I walked into a museum just to use the bathroom.
Places where I didn't recognize myself.
Places where I knew all my neighbors.
Places where I should have trusted my intuition, but unfortunately I didn't.
Places where I stood up for myself.
Places where I asked for help and got it.
Places where I was thirsty.
Places where I was much too bossy.
Places where I couldn't remember the rules of the game.
Places where I ran out of ink.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Hat … and some small poems

The Hat

one day long ago
in a place that is no longer 
on any map
she went out for a stroll
along a wooded path

she wore a hat 

she did not intend to attract attention

when the rains came she was far from home
she couldn't see the path in front of her
not even her own hand
held up close to her eyes

and what's more 
her hat 
was lost

just when she most wanted her hat
at the very moment when she really needed that hat
the reason why she got that hat in the first place
the purpose of the hat
the essence of the hat
the hatness of the hat

it was

she was swallowed up by the rain


the tip of her nose turned red

her earlobes

she was overcome with sorrow

we are talking about her now

but also we are talking about the hat

have you ever known a hat to feel 
sorry for itself?


it happens that way sometimes

this is one of those times

small poems:

waiting waiting waiting being

in this moment only the lake no past no future

elephant clouds tail to trunk lazy afternoon

meditation teacher talks talks talks talks talks about silence

crossing the bridge stop breathe hello ducks

nose to nose with a bee i step back from the flower

lonely day spending hours among the heavy clouds

counting breaths starting over starting over yet again

morning walk two white butterflies look familiar

high summer letting go one word at a time

it cools me off reading winter poetry

a different hat each morning a new me

July pillow seeking a cool spot on either side

silly typo mother corrects me with an emoticon

tall grasses in old beer bottles 
(and one cigar butt) 
my neighbor's porch

Friday, June 19, 2015

small poems since March, 2015

4 a.m.    your footsteps overhead    reassure me

this old seashell
held to my ear —
only silence

aging —
my feet
show the first signs

you are a star
waiting for me —
a happy dream

sidewalk cafe 
imagining myself any place
and also right here

after walking a muddy mile — a cup of ginger tea

holding a summer star in its center — shallow puddle

strike the bell — end of a long dream

dark grey rain — sunrise — pale pink rain

leaky pen — I can't think — I can't write

a hard rain — peonies fall all over themselves

daddies and daughters
waiting for the school bus
whispers and giggles

almost morning
the moon still hazy with doubt —
stay or go?

tree rising up
to greet the mountain —
no gesture is too small

knee-deep in nameless purple petals

after winter, before spring
feet on a muddy road
this is everything

is that a sea shell or a skull
in my neighbor's yard

thinking about the loose tile
on my roof

across the ocean
my friend celebrates her birthday —
morning walk        the dogs wag their tails

morning walk
trying to keep up 
with my shadow

the sign says LOOK UP! —
a vase of sunflowers 
in my neighbor's window

friends again
how good it is
to live this long

rain falling on a tin roof
— ping! —
oh the loneliness

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Memory Piece and Some Small Poems

The Good Luck Chinese Restaurant was two blocks away from our elementary school. Every Tuesday at lunchtime my sister and I left our friends and their Dr. Kildare lunch boxes behind, as we ran down Tremont Avenue to meet Dad in the last red-leather booth on the left. He worked for the New York City Welfare Department, and although his bosses expected him to trek up and down the streets making sure no poor people had anything nice in their apartments, the way he saw it “A man’s gotta eat, no?”
The owner of the restaurant loved my father. Every owner of every restaurant we ever ate in loved my father. People in the restaurant business appreciate a fat man with a stuffed wallet.
My father did all the ordering. An extra bowl of crispy noodles and more duck sauce right away. 3 egg rolls. An order of spare ribs. Pork fried rice. Sweet and sour pork. Shrimp in lobster sauce. Beef with cashews. 3 pots of tea. Sure, a bowl of white rice, too. Make that fortune cookies and almond cookies. And keep filling the water glasses.

My sister and I liked the soup. We ate the spare ribs if Dad cut hunks of meat off the bones for us. We dug into our eggrolls, scooped out the vegetables — which we scrupulously avoided — and devoured the fried casings. Sweet and sour pork, yum. But we stayed away from the pineapple chunks and the occasional cherry.

Dad ate everything else. The shrimp, the beef, the white rice, the fried rice, the cashews, the ribs, more rice, tea, sweet and sour pork, more tea, the eggroll insides, more rice, more noodles, more ribs.  

And when there was nothing left on the silver dishes he’d look over at our plates and ask, “Are you finished with that kids?" And when we said yes, we were finished, he smooshed all the leftovers from our plates onto his plate. 
Sometimes, after the meal, Dad couldn’t move from the booth. He’d smile a greasy smile at us, whisk a glob of lobster sauce from his goatee, tell us to be good girls, and watch as we ran down the dimly lit aisle of the Good Luck Chinese, out into the healthy daylight, and back to P. S. 6.

Then he’d close his eyes and take a little nap. 

The people who lived under the elevated tracks in the poorer sections of the Bronx were safe from the watchful eyes of the State — my dad was happily sitting down on the job.

=== === ===

Some Small Poems:

dusk arrives
crows depart
the one remaining candle flickers —
on the other side of the window
a man scrapes snow and ice from his car —
other than that
the street is quiet

a vase of purple tulips
a room with a view —
sister crow flies by

a full cupboard
mugs & bowls & small china plates
i choose the chipped cup

now it is easier
to just accept

i envy other people's 

moving from chair to couch
and back again
turning one lamp off
another lamp on
a bulb goes out
and before I can replace it
another bulb
in another room
goes out —