Sunday, January 30, 2022

Here I Am (revisited)


{A story that I wrote years ago, after hearing the poem “Here,” by Grace Paley}
 

I was just pulling myself out of bed when Garrison Keillor’s voice floated by. “And now a poem by Grace Paley,” he crooned, in that overly familiar tone of his. But still, I sank back into the mattress, my ears stretching closer to the radio, and the man I sometimes call “Mr. Smarmy” (though, to be fair, who else reads us poetry in the  morning) began to recite the poem “Here.”         

Of course I’d rather have heard it in Grace’s voice, the opening words, “Here I am,” spoken around a white sugared square of Chicklet, or a smooth mentholated cough drop. She doesn’t stand on ceremony, I’ve been told.
    
“Here I am in the garden laughing . . .” the poem begins, and then goes on, how she sits there with her “heavy breasts” and her “nicely mapped face,” with her “stout thighs,” and her little grandson sliding on/off her lap. Not “on and off” but “on/off” — and I see that squirming boy in my sleep-fogged brain, wriggling all over his grandmother.
    
She tells us more, this aging woman, this poet gardener, about her husband, over there, on the other side of the yard, talking with the meter reader, explaining how it’s not a good thing, our dependency on oil, talking and teaching, while the poet watches, listens, patient and bemused.
    
She says to her grandson, “Run over to the fence and get Grandpa, tell him I’m too tired to come myself, tell him I’m tired but still I long to kiss his sweet explaining lips.” Not in those exact words, but something very similar.
    
And then it’s over, there is no more poem, and while the words are still lingering in my ears I begin to cry. I lie against my warm pillow and let the tears come, not so much for the last words as for the first: “Here I am.” It is a perfect opening, isn’t it? Three words that are themselves a prayer, an invocation. “Here I am” she says, “Here I am — in the garden — laughing.”
    
She is so clear in my mind, in her loose, generous skirt. I imagine her not-quite-clean feet pushed into worn-down sandals. A white cotton peasant blouse, or some other nice blouse, definitely not a T-shirt. This is before her grandson comes to join her, before her husband sees the meter reader and calls out “Wait, I have something to tell you.” This is earlier in the morning, while there is still some trace of a breeze, while the dew dampens the tomato vine, and she is up to her wrists in dirt, the dirt working its way under her fingernails.
    
A smudge settles on the bridge of her nose where she rubs her finger against her slipping-down glasses, the same finger that has pressed down on so many pens and pencils over the years, the finger that hits the “H” key on the keyboard. (Years ago, she might have used a Smith Corona Selectric. Today, the “H” of her iMac, the “H” of “Here I am.”)
    
She is in the garden, making things right, and later, when her son calls on the phone to ask after the boy, perhaps she’ll tell him “I was out puttering today, I was laughing, it was good.”
    
And I’m crying because I know that even if some day I grow up to be a woman who can say “I’m happy with my heavy breasts and my stout thighs and my nicely mapped face,” I will never be able to begin a poem “Here I am, in the garden, laughing.” I see no gardens in my future. I can picture Grace, patting a seed into place, pulling up handfuls of weeds. But not me.
    
My poem would start like this: “Here I am, at the window, watching.” That is where I place myself, an old woman framed by a rectangle of dark wood.
    
Like my great-grandmother, Ethel. Every day, all day, she sat at her window, pillows propped behind and under her. Her thin, tired old face breaking into a smile as my mother and grandmother approach, waving, calling out “hello, hello” while lifting me from my carriage.
    
“Make a kiss for Great-Grandma,” they coo at me. And I make a kiss, the first actual bit of body coordination I learn. A slight puckering of my lips, fingers lifted to mouth, then pulled away in a reckless arc. And that sound, like the ocean separating from sand, “mmmmmwhaaaaaa,” so that everyone laughs, even the shrunken old woman in the window. A silent laugh, her yawning, toothless mouth cavernous as any baby’s.
    
That’s what I picture for myself: “Here I am, at the window, watching.” Watching it all pass by — cars, bicycles, skateboards, young mothers pushing baby carriages, young fathers hoisting their infants onto their hips, carrying them around like big fat footballs. Teenagers, in packs, laughing and cursing, exhaling smoke. The boys trying to keep their pants from slipping down their narrow hips, acting like they don’t care, either way. The girls, skinny or plump, a bit on edge, nervous, just that much louder than they really want to be, putting on a brave front. And all the while there I am, invisible, at my window.
    
My great-grandmother was not invisible. The whole neighborhood saw her — strangers and friends alike — they’d wave and call “good morning,”  “good evening.” An Italian neighbor had a special greeting; one day she told my mother it meant “old grandmother, who sits all day in the window.” There isn’t a pretty phrase for that these days. More likely I’d be called “snoop,” “busy body,” “bitch.” So I’ll hang back, won’t lean over the ledge, won’t catch the sun’s rays on my upturned wrinkled face.

But still, I can see myself there, in the shadows, giving a silent “right on” to the loud-mouthed girls, blowing kisses to the big-eyed babies from behind the half-opened shades, sinking back into the embracing darkness.
    
I’m waiting for that day. I’ll be older, grayer, sagging in even more places. And if I’m lucky I’ll be able to begin my poem: “Here I am, at the window . . .  laughing.”

====

Grace's poem:

Here, by Grace Paley

Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.


















Saturday, December 25, 2021

Such a Happy Day (revisited)



“Once there was a girl and her name was I Can’t Hear You, and whenever someone asked her her name she said I Can’t Hear You, so then they’d ask her again and she’d say I Can’t Hear You, and then ....”

“Honey,” I say, “I get it.”
    
“You do?”
    
“Uh huh.”
    
“Do you think it’s funny?”
    
“Yes, it’s hilarious.”
    
“I made it up.”
    
“You’re a very clever girl.”
    
We walk on, she and I, west to east across the city, which isn’t as far as it sounds because we aren’t all the way west and we aren’t going all the way east.

I push some stray hairs behind her ears. It’s very windy out today but she wouldn’t wear a hat because the sun is shining and she wants to feel it on her head.

“Once I owned the sun,” she says, “no, not owned, I mean once we were friends and we played together all the time. Even when nobody else could see the sun I could because she was my best, best friend. ”
    
“What happened?” I ask.
    
“Hunh?” she asks.
    
“What happened with the sun? Are you still friends?”
    
“Of course we are. Can’t you tell?” She throws her head way back so that her face is exposed to even more of the sun's rays.
    
There’s an ice cream truck up ahead so I reach into my purse for my wallet, but she grabs my hand. “We can do better,” she says. It’s the first time she’s used this expression. I hear my mother’s voice in her; it makes me feel mushy inside, right next to my heart.
    
“Once,” she says, “there was a man and he wasn’t very nice and he carved an ugly face on a pumpkin, but then a fairy came and she made the pumpkin beautiful and she put the ugly face on the man.”
    
“That’s only fair,” I say. We stop for the light.
    
“I like red,” she says. “Red Bed Dead Said Red Led Wed Fed Red.”
    
The light changes and we hurry across. We’re holding hands. I give her fingers a little squeeze. I could say something about that one word, dead, but I keep my mouth shut.
    
“I like green, too,” she says, and she starts to skip in that hop-jump way she has. “Green Bean Seen Mean Teen.” She gives a little laugh. “Teen Teen Teen Teen Teen Teen.” She looks up into my face and says it again. “Teen.” This is her favorite word.
    
“One day when I grow up I will be a teenager,” she says, for the umpteenth time, and I say, “You surely will, Honey.”
    
I don’t think she knows any teenagers. Her cousins are eight and three, her babysitter is 54. Still, she knows being a teenager is the best thing in the whole wide world. She tells me this all the time.
    
“Once,” she whispers, so I have to bend over to hear her, which is very awkward, but I do it, “there was an old lady who lived in a shoe and when she went to sleep at night she had to lace herself in so no one could hurt her, but what do you think happened?”
    
“I don’t know,” I say. 
    
“But what do you think?”
    
“Did someone come along and steal the shoe with her in it?”
    
“No, they did not.”
    
“Then I’m afraid I don’t know.”
    
“Don’t be afraid, I’ll tell you. A magic person found the shoe and sprinkled magic dust inside, in the holes, you know, for the laces, and in the morning when the old lady woke up she was an orange.”
    
“An orange?” I ask.
    
“Uh huh. The kind you eat.”
    
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
    
“Yep. But not for an orange.”
    
“We’re almost home,” I say.
    
A woman on the other side of the street is walking under a huge striped umbrella.
    
“It isn’t raining,” she says.
    
“I know.”
    
“She is wasting her umbrella.”
    
“Yes,” I say, “she is.”
    
“Once,” she says, “a very silly lady who was also foolish, and had once been an orange, decided she wanted to learn how to fly so she jumped up onto a little bird’s back, but the bird was in a tree and it wasn’t flying that day so the silly lady never learned how to fly.

“Once,” she says, barely taking a breath, “there was a boy and he was very bad and his mommy made him eat nails, and they tasted like,” she pauses for a second to think, “they tasted like dirty nails.”
    
“Yuck,” I say, “that doesn’t sound so nice.”
    
“It isn’t nice, because you know why?”
    
“Why?”
    
“Because he wasn’t nice. He was — he was throw up.” I know where this is heading. “He was a big fat disgusting stinky blechy ball of throw up.”
    
“Okay,” I say, “that’s enough.”
    
“Is it?” she asks.
    
“Yes, I think it is.”
    
“I don’t think it is. I think it’s not enough.”
    
I give her hand a little squeeze and she squeezes mine back and she says, “Okay, it is enough, I guess.”
    
By now we’re at our corner and she waves to a stranger in the dry cleaning store. Whenever we walk past the dry cleaning store she waves, and if there’s no one to see through the big window she just waves at the window. She loves the dry cleaning store. She tells me every day that her favorite smell in all the world is the smell that's inside the dry cleaning store. I could worry about this, but I decide not to.
    
There are so many things I could worry about but today I decide not to worry about any of them.
    
We take the elevator upstairs and leave our sneakers in the hallway by the front door. We slip our feet into slippers. We both love doing this. She loved it first and I learned it from her.
    
She runs to the bathroom to pee. I can hear her singing from her perch on the toilet: “Tinkerbell Stinkerbell Honeybell Moneybell Vunderbarbell.” She has a clear, strong voice. She sings very loudly.
    
I’m preparing two bowls of vanilla ice cream. Baby marshmallows and blue M & M’s go in hers.
    
When she comes out of the bathroom we take our bowls to the living room and sit on the couch. Her feet don’t touch the ground. Not even close. For a second the sight of her legs dangling over the edge, in those blue dungarees with the cuffs folded back and the red plaid flannel showing, almost makes me sob. But then I laugh, instead. She wiggles her feet up and down until her fuzzy purple slippers fall off and she laughs, too.
    
“This was such a happy day,” I say.
    
“What happened today?” she asks.
    
“Nothing,” I say.     


Friday, December 24, 2021

The Loneliest Night of the Year (family fiction)

(Sharing this story again, for Christmas Eve)



It was the summer when every pink transistor radio was playing beach party music, and every girl every place wanted to be Annette Funicello. It was the summer of skimpy two-piece bathing suits that were not quite bikinis, and teased hair; of smoking candy cigarettes like they were the real thing; of begging to be allowed to shave your legs.
    
We were in Far Rockaway — my parents, my grandparents, my sister and me — staying in a little yellow rented bungalow with a screen door. It was the screen door that impressed us the most, even more than the ocean a block away. We were from the Bronx. In the Bronx you don’t have screen doors.  
    
In Rockaway we lived like regular Americans, walking around in halter tops and short-shorts, with cheap rubber flip-flops on our feet. We ate on paper plates with plastic knives and forks. There was watermelon every night, and corn on the cob, not corn out of a can.
    
Late on Friday afternoons my father and grandfather would show up at the bungalow, pale from their weekday city lives, ready to transform themselves into beach bums. After my father changed into a sports shirt and a pair of plaid Bermuda shorts, and my grandfather substituted a short sleeved white shirt for his usual long sleeved white shirt, we’d walk half a dozen blocks to the China Palace. This was our ritual. I thought all Jewish families celebrated Shabbos with eggrolls and wonton soup. Sure, spareribs, why not?
    
But this one night I want to tell you about, this night that was different from all other nights, my father stopped, right there outside the restaurant, and inhaled.
    
“Eve,” he said to my mother, “I  smell something.”
    
“You’re standing next to the vent, Morty, of course you  smell something.”
    
“I’ve got a headache, Eve. Just from smelling, I’ve got a headache.”
    
“Stop it, Morty.” My mother wasn’t having it.  “If you’re so concerned, we can tell the waiter to leave it out.”
    
At that, my grandfather jumped in. “If you have to tell the waiter, already it’s not good. What guarantee do you have that he’ll remember?”
    
My father and grandfather were worried. They’d heard rumors. This is what men thought about, alone in the city, in the heat, with their families far away by the cool, wet, ocean. On the long Friday afternoon subway rides, the men worked themselves up with worry.
    
The women, made of tougher stuff, wanted egg foo young.
    
“Come in,” my grandmother said, ushering us toward the front door. “If we feel sleepy, we’ll take a nap later. A headache? A headache won’t kill us.”
    
Who knows if it would have killed us. We never found out because before we could even order, while we were still dipping our crispy noodles into the duck sauce — ”Duck sauce, Morty? You think they put it in the duck sauce? Eat it. You love your duck sauce" — the woman at the table next to ours keeled over. Keeled right over onto the floor. Her chair fell back and she was O - U - T, out. Out like a light. Fainted.
    
She’s fainted. Fainted. Fainted. Fainted.
    
It buzzed around the restaurant like a gust of stinky hot air.
    
Then:  MSG. It must have been the MSG. Sure, what else could it be? MSG. MSG. MSG.
    
The place emptied out in three minutes flat. My family made an instant conversion from China Palace Shabbos to White Castle Hamburgers Shabbos.
    
A couple days later, there was talk in the sandy alleyway where the women spent late afternoons hanging up wet bathing suits and towels.
    
Maybe that lady, you know the one, the one that fainted in the Chinese restaurant, maybe she was just a little bit pregnant.
    
Sure, have you seen her stomach lately? Did you see it in that orange bathing suit?
    
Could be she had a little indiscretion, a little accident, even.
    
I see the way she is with Feingold, the pharmacist. How many people get shmutz in their eye every day, she needs him to take it out with a Q-tip?
    
And always with the smile, always making with her tushy.
    
Fainting, that’s a sign, don’t you think?
    
Could be. Could be.
    
That woman at the table next to ours, maybe she was pregnant. Or maybe she wasn’t. But as far as my father was concerned, the vote was in. The verdict was guilty. And the blame was placed firmly on the MSG. He didn’t even know what the initials stood for. All he knew was: stay away from it.
    
Everything changed for the worse after that. My mother and grandmother, bored by the predictability of White Castle hamburgers, turned their attention to cleaning. God forbid a speck of sand should make its way into our little bungalow. My grandfather spent Friday nights with other weekend men, playing pinochle. He never won anything and it aggravated his ulcer.
    
My father started in with crossword puzzles, which in his case was not an individualized sport. “What’s a five-letter word for a wooden shoe, Eve?” Or:“T-blank-blank-K; what does that spell, kids?”
    
Somehow, in extreme misery, my family managed to drag itself through the rest of that Rockaway summer. Then we returned to the Bronx and staggered into the fall. Friday nights were long, sad expanses of unrelieved deprivation.
    
And then, before we knew it, it was late December. Christmas Eve. The loneliest night of the year for Jews. Let’s face it, what’s Christmas Eve without a pu-pu platter? Something inside my mother cracked.    
    
“Listen to me, Morty,” she said, through clenched teeth, “no one is trying to poison you. It’s Christmas Eve! For God’s sake, we’re going.”
    
We bundled into our hats and scarves and walked around the corner to meet up with my grandparents. They were standing outside of their apartment building, waiting for us with nervous smiles on their faces.
    
Together we made our way toward the Grand Concourse, and that night, in the dark recesses of the Pink Pagoda, we gorged ourselves on moo shu pork, shrimp in lobster sauce, and sweet and sour everything.
    
Life was back to normal. Somehow, we’d learned to live with the threat of MSG. We were survivors.
    



Saturday, July 31, 2021

Each One an Individual: a story about fish (with art by Matisse)

Let me tell you about my brother Seymour. He was a fish lover. I am not talking flounder. I’m talking gold.
    
It started early for him, this strange attraction. Five or six years old. Probably because he was an unhappy child. He had bad habits. People stayed away from him. So he gravitated towards fish.
    
Let me tell you about the fish. There were many fish. It would not be an exaggeration to say, even, thousands. We are talking a lot of years. A moderately long life. For Seymour. Not for the fish. Thousands of fish. One at a time. Get the picture?
    
In the fish bowl, by his bed, my brother Seymour had, at all times, one fish. When that fish died he replaced it. In this way, he went from one to many. This is how a life is lived.

I, myself, could not see much difference between them.
    
Seymour disagreed. “Each one an individual,” he was fond of saying.

Still, he gave them all the same name. Goldie. My brother was a modest man. He made no claims to an imagination. “Goldie” was good enough for his first fish, so why change mid-stream. That is a little joke he used to like to repeat. As I said, Seymour was a modest man. In terms of wit and talent. If it were not for the fact that I am his sister, I would say he was a moron. But as his sister I will not say that.
    
Let me tell you a story. One day Seymour got married. Her name was Ruby. She, too, was modest. In terms of intellect and also appearance. Don’t let her name fool you, she did not sparkle. Which is to say, she was exactly the right wife for my brother. Everyone had high hopes for the marriage. That was a mistake. Things went wrong from day one. There was an incident at the wedding itself. Blood was spilled. Not a lot, but some. From there, it went downhill. Until the separation. The entire marriage lasted twelve days. Most people did not take sides. They were equally unsympathetic to Ruby and Seymour. You would be too, if you knew the details. Which you don’t, nor will you, ever. This is just to say, during the duration of the marriage, there lived eight different Goldies.

The fish, it should be noted, had nothing to do with anything. Not the spilled blood, not even that little problem with Ruby’s brother, Bad Arnold. Which resulted in the brief arrest. All you need to know is, there were eight fish, in and out, while my brother was a married man. In case you find such details interesting.
    
Let me tell you another story. One day a man from a newspaper came to interview my brother. He had heard about the fish. It’s no mystery where he got his information; his uncle and aunt ran the pet store where Seymour bought the Goldies. They were trying to help their nephew out. Give him a leg up. A head start. A hot tip.

He came to the door with a sharp new pencil tucked behind his ear. He was eager. All he wanted to do was talk with my brother about the fish. Seymour didn’t let him in the house. There was a little accident on the front stoop. Involving the pencil. Again, some blood was spilled. And that was the end of the big scoop. There wasn’t any. I heard the young man quit the newspaper business soon afterwards and became a podiatrist. Apparently he’s done quite well for himself. Just goes to show, you can never tell how something will turn out.
    
Let me tell you another story. I knew a way to get under my brother’s skin. This is how I did it. I would call to my brother when he was up in his room. I called him like this: Seeeeee Moooorrrre. He hated it. I probably shouldn’t have done it. But I did. In fact, I took quite a bit of pleasure in it.
    
Now, as you already know, the Goldies were kept in a fish bowl on a table beside my brother’s bed. But here is something you don’t know, because I haven’t told you yet. The table was tippy. The fish bowl was not secure. In other words, the Goldies never had a chance.
    
I want you to picture something. Picture me calling, as loud as a person can possibly call: Seeeeee Moooorrrre. Now picture this. My brother, in his room, growing redder and redder. In his face. Also under his arms. And behind his knees. And between his toes. As I called, again and again. And again. Seeeeee Moooorrrre. Seeeeee Moooorrrre. Redder and redder. Until finally, my brother slammed his bedroom door. And the tippy table toppled. And the fish bowl crashed onto the hard wooden floor.
    
Aghhhhghhhh. That’s the sound of a goldfish, gasping for its last breath. Maybe I should have warned you at the beginning, that this tale is full of violence. Well, now you know.
    
This is the last story. In case you’re in a hurry to go someplace, you can put your coat on now. My brother Seymour, he died. It wasn’t tragic. And I’m not saying that just because he was my brother. Anyone would tell you the same thing. So, he died. Let’s move on.
    
After his death I discovered, much to my surprise, that I myself had developed something of an attachment to goldfish. Ironic, isn’t it? Without them, I sensed a certain void. So I filled it.
    
I bought a large tank from a pet store in the mall. And a fancy pump. And a special filter system. I placed that tank on a big, sturdy table and I filled it with water. Then I bought a goldfish. I named her Carlotta. I fed her. Exactly as much as the instructions on the fish food carton said to feed her. No more, no less. She looked healthy. But not happy. Obviously, Carlotta was lonely. I am not much of a conversationalist, despite appearances.
    
So I went back to the pet store. I bought another goldfish. I named her Seraphina. Everybody should have a companion. If they want one. Carlotta and Seraphina appeared quite content. Until one day. When they made it crystal clear to me, as only goldfish can do, that they would appreciate a few more friends. I was happy to oblige them. I went back to the pet store and returned with Maybelle, Zoey, Felicia and Snookums. This seemed to liven things up. Couldn’t be better, in fact.
    
One day, when I was passing the tank, I saw the fish were having a little birthday celebration. I’m not sure who the birthday fish was. It was probably Zoey, although it could just as easily have been Seraphina. It’s hard to say. Everyone seemed to be having a splendid time. In their own quiet way. Quiet, but festive. I think that’s a good way to describe goldfish.
    
This never would have happened when Seymour was alive. Joy and rapture in the fish bowl? I don't think so. My brother did not provide a conducive environment. It might not have been, entirely, his fault. There could have been extenuating circumstances. Who knows? I haven’t made a study of it. But this much seems an indisputable fact: no good has ever come from a man who loves fish.


(a collage, made on July 31, 2021, to accompany a story written many years ago)


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

small poems about winter (written over the course of many years)

 

old year
new year
the cat sleeps

New Year’s day
waking the frozen
wind chimes

before my eyes
amaryllis plant blooms
first dream in the new year

yew tree
holds its breath
first snow

snowflakes
sweeten
the ocean

halfway across
the frozen river
coming or going?

after the snow
100 paper cranes
cling to the evergreen

up to our knees in snow
taking the long way
home

snowflake
do you wish you were
in Paris this morning?

patiently waiting
tea cools
snow falls

climbing this mountain
counting footsteps
counting snowflakes

shoveling
around a chatty neighbor
snow piles up

spinning spinning
disguised as a crow
swallowing snow

far from the storm
watching the weather channel
my father shivers

lazy day
watching icicles melt
nothing more

midwinter present
flowers  
wrapped in snow

in the meantime
a year passes
her blue shawl unravels

spider
i’m happy to share the bathroom with you
this cold winter night

shoveling snow
under the full moon —
my neighbors seem friendlier

plastic plant
on the side of the road
do you feel the cold?

midnight loneliness
drip drip drip drip drip
icicles

heron
fishing for the moon
one long cold evening

sweeping snow
the broom loses strands of straw
what do I lose?

December morning
wearing 8 different shades
of black

winter fireflies
the flickering lights
in my neighbor’s window

this long red light
enough time
to inhale winter

waking from a deep sleep
nothing is the same
winter solstice

waiting for the snow to arrive
that’s how much i miss
having company








Wednesday, December 23, 2020

moonglow (revisited): a collection of small poems

lonely moon
i know a heron who would
welcome you into her nest

sleepy moon
i crocheted an afghan
for you to snuggle under

ballet moon
utterly adorable
in your tangerine tutu

shakespearean moon
surely it is better to be
than not to be

bear moon
i'm all out of honey
but please come for tea anyway

laughing moon
i love the way
your belly rises and falls

haiku moon
each syllable
brings me closer to you

walking moon
in your brand new sneakers
i can hardly keep up with you

patient moon
inching toward you
your friend the spider

upside-down moon
now the rivers don't know if
they're coming or going

nearsighted moon
how often have you mistaken
dustballs for dragons?

matchmaker moon
what a brilliant introduction
bee, meet flower

insomnia moon
when you can't sleep
do you count stars?

old woman moon
still looking through
young woman eyes

rebel moon
breaking all the rules
you make for yourself

forgetful moon
may I suggest
mnemonics

possessive moon
you'd have more friends
if you shared your pretty marbles

brave moon
you stood up for me
i'll do the same for you

fashionista moon
on you
the hot pink feather boa is divine

yoga moon
perhaps you've been standing on your head
long enough

mango moon
impossible
to get enough of you

disheveled moon
you look like you were tossed around
by your dreams last night

thrifty moon
shopping with you isn't as much fun
as i thought it would be

bronx moon
i'm sorry to have to say this
you can't go home again

march moon
your heart opens
the songbirds return

grieving moon
countless waves
carry your tears away

tango moon
claiming the horizon
as your own private ballroom

worn-out moon
now is the time
to sink into a lavender bubble bath

curious moon
go right ahead
ask me anything

hula hoop moon
spinning winter
into spring

new moon
take a flashlight
the next time you go to the outhouse

no-poem moon
all i can do is love you
there are no words

roller skating moon
who would have thought you could be
so graceful on wheels

turtle moon
leave your shell on the sandy shore
let's go skinny dipping

purple moon
i almost mistook you
for a field of irises

zen moon
i dropped by to help you
rake your rock garden

cautious moon
you must be weary
sleeping with one eye open

mother moon
i think of you each year
at lilac time

ice cream moon
not everyone can handle 3 scoops
but you can

garden moon
thank you for reminding me
nobody owns the flowers

full moon
when you feel shy
come hide behind my curtain

flirtatious moon
there you are
playing footsie with the stars

rejuvenating moon
when i feel old and tired
i look for you

bewitching moon
the window shades refused
to shut you out last night

snowy day moon
so lucky
nobody expects you to shovel

pen-pal moon
after all these years
i still can't read your handwriting

midnight moon
we're both still awake
come down and cuddle up

stay-at-home moon
put your feet up
have another cup of cocoa

solstice moon
longest night of the year
let's play hide and seek in the dark

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Aunt Willa Goes Green: A Hanukkah Tale

The family is becoming increasingly concerned about Aunt Willa, my mother's oldest sister, the one who has adopted an environmental stance more radical than you might expect from a woman who, until recently, proclaimed as her personal motto: “More More More!”
    
But now it's “less less less” and she is vigorously pruning — her closets, her cupboards — which is all well and good, but for some reason the concept of anonymous re-giving holds no appeal for Willa. She has turned her back on the Salvation Army Thrift Store, as well as numerous consignment shops in her neighborhood, and has chosen to recycle her old garbage in the direction of her relatives, whether we like it or not. And we don't like it.
    
It began last year when she sent everyone a tuna can for Hanukkah. The cans were empty — either a plus or a minus, depending on your opinion of tuna fish — and haphazardly adorned. Some were lined with cotton balls, some with felt; some with what appeared to be bits of old socks. You either got a tuna can with used gift-wrapping paper taped around the outside, or one that was entirely undisguised and let you know exactly what it used to contain: albacore or light, solid or chunky, packed in water or in oil. Nothing was left to the imagination.
    
Aunt Willa enclosed notes, written on the back of used envelopes, instructing us that the tuna cans could now be used to store our tchochkes and what-nots. But in typical Willa fashion she admonished us. “Why do you continue to accumulate tchotchkes?” she demanded, in her large loopy handwriting. “Down with tchotchkes! Go Green!” she added.
    
We all disposed of the tuna cans immediately. I know this because we have a cousins list-serve and some of us (naming no names) did not actually recycle the cans, but tossed them directly in the trash. (I know, I know: shame on me.) And since none of us are inclined to accumulate tchochkes and what-nots in the first place, Aunt Willa’s Hanukkah gift was appreciated by not a single soul.
    
For my birthday last spring, Willa sent me a paperback copy of Crime and Punishment. It was the very copy she'd read in college, copiously annotated, margin notes on nearly every page. It came as no surprise to discover that Aunt Willa had an opinion about everything. “Raskolnikov!” she scribbled on page two, “get a new hat already! Where are your brains?”
    
I consulted with my cousin Lilian. She received a book for her birthday as well, a tattered volume of Hamlet. “It was horrifying,” she told me. “The things our aunt wrote, nobody should have to read that. There were curses in 4 different languages, including Danish. She's totally ruined Shakespeare for me.”
    
Over the course of a year the entire family has been subjected to similar assaults, as Willa ruthlessly clears her bookshelves. Cousin Harry, who's always been a little twitchy, is worried that the Peter Pan she foisted off on him could land him on the “dangerous persons” list with homeland security. He buried the book in his backyard, which is something Harry could do because he lives in Tenafly; anyone else would have thrown it down the incinerator chute in their apartment building and been done with it. Now his wife Rosalie, who is even twitchier than Harry, is afraid some dog will dig up the book and Harry will be hauled off and never seen again. His fingerprints are all over that Peter Pan.
    
My own father became apoplectic when he saw Willa’s margin notes in her old copy of Portnoy's Complaint.

“Why did he keep on reading?” I asked my mother. “That,” she said “is the million dollar question. To which there is no answer.”

I'm worried about what this Hanukkah will bring. Mom's already warned me that Aunt Willa has been going through the letters she received, and saved, over the last seven decades, reading each one over and over again. We suspect she will now return them to those senders who are still alive.

Who wants to be reminded of what you wrote to your aunt from summer camp in 1961? “Made three laniards today. Went swimming. Stepped on a worm.”

And knowing Aunt Willa, she won't merely return our letters to us, she'll persecute us. “What do you mean, 'stepped on a worm?' What kind of maniac murderer are you? You're no relative of mine. You’re worse than Raskolnikov.”

I've never dreaded a holiday as much as I'm dreading this one.
    
Perhaps I should strike first. I could always give Aunt Willa an empty tube of toothpaste: “For storing your long skinny tchochkes and what-nots,” I'd tell her.

But I won't. Why start a war I know I can't win?