Wednesday, December 19, 2018

These last months

I watch you bailing out the boat
as if there's any chance you'll sail again --
your back, so stooped with age and pain,
and still you dip, and pour
and dip, and pour,
the water in the boat is slowly ebbing,
like the life that leaves your veins.
My shoulders ache in sympathy,
but I'm silent: I cannot condemn
your efforts to convince me -- or yourself --
that all is normal.
I'll watch, and smile, and throw bread to the ducks,
and I'll pretend to lean on you as we walk to the car,
though we'll both know the truth: you'll lean on me
as long as I can stand.
You'll drive, but I'll be at the wheel,
following wherever you need to go
to make these last months easier.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The cafe of my thoughts

I've grown superstitious, now that bad news
seems to have taken a permanent place at the corner table.
The cafe of my thoughts seems interminably busy:
a never-ending rush of unexpected patrons,
desperately seeking sustenance, or prayer, or simply time --
some drug to slow the passage to oblivion,
to keep the restaurant open, keep
the dark waitress from removing
the plate of life.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Hymn of Tonglen

I'm sorry you feel broken:
There've been times when I felt broken, too.
There's a way I've found to deal with it
that might also work for you.

Whatever fills your heart with sorrow,
whatever causes pain,
try to spare a thought for all the others
who struggle with the same.

Think of me,
and I'll think of you,
and if we all think of each other,
then somehow we'll get through.

Pray for me
and I'll pray for you
and if we all pray for each other,
then somehow we'll get through.

Whatever makes your heart break,
there's a way to help it heal.
Extend your prayerful thoughts to those
who know just how you feel.

One way to bear our brokenness,
one way we can get through,
is to breathe a prayer on behalf of those
who are broken just like you.

Think of me,
and I'll think of you,
and if we all think of each other,
then somehow we'll get through.

Pray for me
and I'll pray for you
and if we all pray for each other,
then somehow we'll get through.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Don't let your mind
go down that dark road to loss.
Be here with me, and hold my hand:
we'll cherish what we've been
and who we are.
Don't go.
don't leave me here alone,
the empty space beside me
like a pillow puffed with pain.
this moment, and hold me;
together we can face what lies ahead.
Breathe, my love,
Breathe, and then keep breathing.
Don't stop.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What lingers

Old breasts can still remember from a distance of 30 years
that sensation in the nipples that you feel when your child cries.

Old hearts can still remember the way they used to skip
when a certain someone walked into the room.

Old eyes can still envision the colors of the countryside;
the autumn we've not seen for many years.

Old melodies still linger, and old fingers still remember
how to play her favorite hymns, though her feet no longer walk.

But old brains begin to stutter: Is it now, or was it then?
Is this my husband or my son? This cat, so like the one I lost at 12...

Old muscles, filled with memories of wounds and great adventures,
will still flinch or warm at a touch, and twitch until we take that final breath.

Old friends will still remember us, our families may mourn,
but the love we brought into the world lives on.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The truth is an elephant

The truth is an elephant, and all of us are blind,
declaring what we feel to be what we know.
But what will we do with the contradictions
that inevitably arise?
How can we safely stand beside
the huge paradox in the room
and trust that the magnitude
that encompasses all our beliefs
empowers and appreciates us all?

Friday, April 6, 2018

What is it?

What is it that you've heard along the years
that's opened you to thoughts you'll never think,
lives you'll never lead;
all the ways of being that aren't you?
When you empty your heart,
what is it that spills in?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

On the 76th anniversary

Where I live, most folks come from somewhere else,
and having come here, we now claim it as our own,
each of us bringing something of before --
-- of culture, or of art, of prejudice or belief --
that becomes another brick in this home we build together,
while the history that shaped this land
before our late arrivals still exists as our foundation;
decisions made that drew us in
and determine how we all hope to continue;
a gross injustice rectified,
a loss recovered, the falsely accused
returned to open arms and reunited,
a reconciliation shared that echoes in our bones
and fuels our hearts with hope.

Having chosen our new forebears,
we are the undescended children
of a new vision of community,
our former diversity a model which exists in awkward yoke
with our current lack of same,
a shared past shaping us which has no mirror in the present.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thoughts for an unproductive artist

Think about the cherry tree--
bare for so much of the year,
and yet we plant them everywhere
and wait each spring, anticipate
the fullness of their blossoms,
admire their pinks, their rosy fullness,
inspired to plant more just to experience
those few days of delight.

From bare to full and quickly bare again,
the cherry trees remind us:
perfection's never permanent.
Rejoice when it takes place,
and trust, when it must leave,
that its brilliance must return,
and that all the days when we feel barren,
empty and bereft,
we are just storing up the light we'll need
so we can bloom again.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Time for change

Together we are marching.
We are breathing the one breath,
traversing the distance from strangers into intimacy,
gathering and sharing in the losses of the world,
lifting up our voices in the One Song of creation
like the birds outside my window
or the planets in their orbits
we're declaring our intentions that the time has come,
is now, is meant to be
a time for change.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

That bright flame

At the deep root of yourself there lies
an unquenchable spark
that glows -- however faintly --
in everything you feel and do,
a response uniquely yours, and yet
connected to the larger fire
that animates us all.

Whatever has befallen you
cannot extinguish that bright flame
however it may flicker
it may never be snuffed out:
there will always be, beneath it all,
that essence, that flash of light
that makes you you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Open your ears.

Open your ears
and listen for what invites you to say yes.

Is it the wind,
that carries the scent
of earth, longing to be turned?

Is it the sun,
that illuminates the dust
piled in the corners?

Is it the rain, reminding you
you need to clear the gutters
before they fill?

Is it your stomach groaning,
hungry to be fed?

Or is it your heart,
calling you into silence
so you can hear the cries of the world?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What to do, what to do...

I hear you say we can use grief --
convert it into energy --
and yes, I've seen it done and know it's true,
and yet the prospect chills me, stills me,
drops me into stasis as I stare into the emptiness
and can't imagine it will ever fill.
That is the challenge, isn't it --
it's not that now is suddenly empty,
it's the prospect of all the empty nows to come
that overwhelms us:
this person, this activity, this place, is gone, and nevermore.
The raven sings his mournful song,
depositing its worm into your ear, relentless dirge of loss,
and still we wake again to face another day
and still the pain we'd hoped might vanish in the night
lingers on, its angry elves
pounding their tiny hammers in our brains and in our veins
in a relentless harsh cacophony there's no way to ignore.

And truth be told--
no day will ever go by now
without that sense of loss,
though it may dim,
and we are carved, formed, modified,
by the shapes our lives will take as they adjust
and then reform around the hole that's left behind.
So shall we bend and slump,
contort ourselves, or lift our grief above our heads
and carry it as a prize or gift
that raises all our efforts to new heights?

The choice is ours, and every day's
a chance to make it yet again,
to lower or to lift; to bend or even break,
or rise again to carry what we've learned
into the light.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Something motherly in me

First light,
and spring is on the rise --
I know it must be,
because I'm hearing birds again,
their chirping so aggressive,
so insistent I can't miss it.
Must be their mating calls,
which means the wreath on our front door
will soon begin to rattle --
like the van's-a-rockin' don't-come'knockin,'
busy with the building of the nest inside its arc,
above the bow, and though I know
we could take the damn thing down
and so avoid the mess they make,
there's something motherly in me
that rejoices in the return of last year's babies.
Now they're grown and making babies of their own,
and that ongoing tradition reassures me.

Tiny gray birds mean so little in the face of all that's crumbling --
the government, the bridges, so symbolic
of the losses of connection we're all facing --
and still the gray birds come
and build their nest inside my wreath again, and chirp --
telling me the world will still continue when I'm gone.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A bridge to compassion

What do we do with the dark we feel?
What do we do with the cold
that scutters through old bones
and keeps us shivering?
Where do we put the guilt that comes
with knowing how small our own trials are,
and yet we still complain?

Put pen to paper, brush to canvas:
scrawl the anger, splash frustration,
hurl the ink and paint out into the world,
away from the soul they score with their sharp edges,
digging troughs that funnel into depression;
pour them out, the self pity and the fury;
let the words and pictures aspirate
the poison of our disappointment,
leach the venom from our veins
so we can greet the other with grace and courtesy,
not carrying the disfiguring load of resentment,
that keeps us from forgiving, from seeing
that those who wage their ceaseless wars,
who block our efforts to serve, save, and relieve,
are people, too, beset by their own
fears and wounds and frustrations.

Perhaps if we can find new ways
to creatively express concerns
without attacking others,
our art might form a bridge to more compassion. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


What is it that explodes us,
makes us bigger, richer, kinder persons,
capable of giving more than just a cursory attention?
What takes us from immersion in our thoughts and pleasures
out into the heart of someone else's need or cry;
that moment when compassion rules,
and now becomes a stirring in the veins,
an echo of another's pain or blessing,
a moment when connection is a truth we cannot help but feel,
known beyond all knowing,
true beyond whatever we might see or touch;
the wing of the green moth
that flutters out of reach but draws us closer to the flame.

Scorched, we burn in sympathetic waves,
approach and then pull back,
aware and then shut down again
and buried in our own erected walls until
another unexpected tender moment pierces,
struggles through the gap already carved,
an invitation to step through again
and feel the power of shared breath with all humanity,
shared roots with all that grows and dies and then is born again,
with all who struggle and are lost, then found again,
with all the stars that fell to make us up
or twinkle nightly invitations in the sky
to be more than we had thought of being;
to be, O great, O powerful,

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When worries rise

When things go dark -- just one or two:
the shipment that arrives too late or damaged,
the mouse that fails to track on your computer,
the favorite food altered, or no longer stocked
at your local grocery store,
the friend who takes offense where none was meant...
I start to wonder: will this be one of those years?
Remembering the Bad Year in my childhood,
when the furnace blew, the dryer died,
and Dad was in an accident,
and then he lost his job,
the bad news tumbling in like jenga blocks
when the kingpin is removed --
And so I grow more vigilant,
and notice things that wouldn't normally worry me --
the paintings that never seem to gel,
the days when no poem comes onto the page,
the requests for aid that always seem
to fall outside my comfort zone,
the criticisms, and the difficult conversations
that we can no longer avoid,
and then anxiety kicks in, quivering in the veins --
really, is this gonna be that year?
These tasks are easy, so far,
but are they harbingers of harder trials to come?
And so we realize again how vulnerable we are..

Open the windows,
listen for the birds of spring;
let their song reassure you.
All is well, all is still well,
you are still living on the path,
and summer waits around the bend
with its bright promise;
hope is on the mend.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Awaiting spring

Having only seen her naked
and dripping with red berries,
I am waiting for my dogwood
to burst into song-- or maybe flames?
I'm not quite sure what to expect,
and not completely positive
that she survived her winter in my yard,
and so I wander out,
tiptoeing through the tall wet grass
to where she stands, majestic
in the center of my lawn,
and examine the tips of her lithe brown fingers --
are those buds? I ask the ferns
who gather at her roots in green obeisance,
but they are silent.

I will simply have to wait,
and hope she will surprise me
with great blossoms of delight.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Differing perspectives

We who have lived and moved and had our being
in several different states
(I don't just mean, like, Illinois, Texas, or Minnesota,
but also sickness and in health, in joy and degradation)
are blessed to understand change can be good:
a chance to reinvent yourself,
to find new opportunities,
and so we cavalierly (or so it seems
to those who haven't known this freedom)
offer change -- a gift -- to those who might not
have discovered yet that safety's an illusion;
that it doesn't always mean sticking with what you know
and watching it degrade (because it always does;
that seems to be the way life works);
that safety is discovering
the resources within yourself to tackle something new,
to dream, or to imagine some new life;
to find new talents or take on unexpected burdens,
and in doing so discover some new strength
you hadn't realized you had.

But if you never leave, or risk,
of course our willingness to share,
to shift, to trust, to try new things,
to experiment, will only seem
another threat -- just one of many attempts
to take away the life you know,
and so, inevitably we find ourselves at odds,
and drifting more and more apart until
some tragedy helps us again to see our common ground.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I'm not stalking

In the Sanborn Room
the ancient leather chairs
gather in the after hours, sharing
stories of the students who have dozed in them,
heads turned into their tall wings, sheltered,
dreaming of algorithms, battles and fraternities
while snow piles up against the tall paned windows
that stretch their checkered paws from floor to ceiling
while dust mounts on the shelves that circle the room,
the books that no one reads, their dark green spines
growing brittle with age and disuse.

I once sat in your lap
in one of those dark chairs,
my legs draped over its cushioned arm,
my cheek against your chest.
Wrapped in your warm embrace, I felt I'd reached
a peak experience, and sighed -- as I sigh now,
thinking of you, a simple ferry ride away,
yet unresponsive to my pleas for your attention.
I'm not stalking you,
just wondering how your life turned out,
and if, like me, you found the love you craved.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


What is it that I miss?
Not God, whatever that word means to you,
because that word is always with me,
even more now, since I walked away,
so could it be the vestments, colors,
fabric of my dreams, the stoles, the banners,
or the stained glass windows?
Not the crosses -- wood, or gold,
empty or inhabited,
though Ethiopian silver with
those streamers is a look that I adore --
and clearly not the clergy
(though some I have befriended)
many more have I offended in my heart,
so wholly human and pretentious --
I stopped putting them on pedestals long ago.
The places -- dark and hallowed
by the years of worship, voices echoing
through the beams and cushions --
and the scents, for sure,
candles and incense, censers swaying as they pass,
but not the sermons, often flawed
and singling out the points that Jesus
never intended us to make,
and long, and filled with platitudes.
And sadly, not the people,
not the coffee hours and meetings,
the sniping and the jockeying for position,
and the rules, and the holier-than-thous...

No, it's communion that I miss.
Not the squares of wonder bread, or wafers,
not the tiny glasses, grape juice rattling in their heavy trays,
but I have memories of stoneware chalices of port
passed round a circle,
and homemade bread, so sweet and warm
and torn for one another from the loaf we shared
and placed in waiting hands, from God through me to you,
this is my body, in remembrance,
and the sip, and wiping cup before we passed it on;
that sense that we were truly one,
raising our voices in rough harmonies,
the old psalms chanted, verses rising at the end,
the voices of the monks, rough unison
that finds such beauty in our different
timbres and perspectives,
and the kneeling, always kneeling,
in the worn stone floor below the pews,
and knowing, once again,
that we are small, and linked, and loved,  and part
of something so much larger than ourselves.

Monday, March 5, 2018


Fear is such a visceral emotion:
one tiny indicator of possible danger,
and all my body's cells go on alert,
stand up, and look around, and shout,
What? What? to one another,
ready to do battle,
or to flee if that's required,
but somehow never ready to just listen to my voice,
the voice of calm, the voice of reason,
the voice that says, "I've got this:
you can settle down;"
instead they all get agitated,
scattering their tiny wits
and losing focus on whatever goal I'd set for them
until enough time has passed without an incident,
and they finally sense it's safe
to return to their usual stasis..

Words cannot express

I can fill the world with words and phrases
And still fail to communicate
What it means to have been blessed
By knowing you.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

So many people

So many people talking,
Longing to be heard and seen,;
So many people,
Hungering for their moment
Of praise and accolades,
Driven by conviction or desire to excel
To stretch themselves, 
to grab for the gold.
Not enough people listening,
Hungering for peace.
Not enough people
Driven by compassion,
Imagining themselves in others' lives,
Placing the good of the whole
Above the one.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Each scent

Each scent that I encounter
Finds its origin in you.
Each face, however dark or light,
Young or old, pockmarked or smooth,
Was first seen in your eyes.
Whatever weather --hot or cold,
Floods or freezing rain
First leaves your hands
Before it warms or chills me,
And each event --
The blessing, curse, or ordinary --
Finds its way into my life 
Having passed through your
Creative processes.
You paint the canvas on which I dance;
I am but one of many brushes
Carrying shape and color into your world.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Rough weather

An inauspicious start to the day:
A canceled flight, a child in tears,
A marital fight, and years of fears
Come rolling in, a rising tide of worries,
Old regrets, remorse and new frustrations.
How can we start again, you ask,
Or do we just press on and muddle through
The feelings gathering at the gate to peace,
Clawing at our coats as we attempt to pass?
"Think me, think me, think me!" They cry,
And each one's true, but only to a point,
But still they tug and pull,
Dragging us off the path and in 
To self-recrimination.
Simple misunderstandings blossom into war in this harsh climate,
And fear becomes a target and a weapon, guilt the arrow, trust, what shatters.
The family butterfly flaps her wings
And storms break out on every front,
Rain pounding down the lines, and wind,
Battering at the windows as souls struggle to remain erect and rooted,
Grounded, steady and serene 
until the weather rights itself.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


The messages the colors send --
The tired harvest gold and brick,
The avocado trim, the drawers that stick,
The refrigerator hum, the raucous blare
Of heat, the faintest hint of disinfectant
And of smoke, all these and more
That speak of age and overuse
And yet I cannot help but think
How this would seem luxurious
To all those refugees camped out in tents
Or hiding behind trees, afraid and thirsty,
Dying of the cold, the war, starvation...
This scarred table, 
the lamp that doesn't work,
The dirty carpet, scuffed and stained,
The shower that runs cold instead of hot,
All this I see, and yet I'm haunted still
By all the faces that may not see tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The influence of landscape

What phrases sing to me today?
What calls to me when I hear "Trust the Dark"
or contemplate the loneliness of the moon?
What is it that I covet,
or wish that I could love?
What stirs the heart and haunts the dreams
and calls me to reach out beyond myself,
out to the woods and stars,
the quiet places noone goes,
instead of city streets and urban halls?
Is this a relic of the only child,
who spent her youth in books and trees,
in haylofts and in streams?
Who would I be if I had grown
in marble gilded castles,
in penthouses, or slums?
who would I be if I'd been raised
in desert heat, or tropical paradise?
How are we formed by what we know,
the landscapes that surround us --
and how can we assume,
having been so influenced,
that those surroundings are inanimate,
untouched by expectations, hungers of their own,
which echo down our years like the siren call
of a pale and solitary moon?

Monday, February 26, 2018


I can feel it in my shoulders
and my throat, as a reluctance to accept
the change you're so determined
to implement with no input from me.
Did you ask any of the folks
whose livelihood is impacted
by every choice you make
what they think of these decisions,
or did you -- as you often do --
assume that you've more wisdom
re such things?
And is it wrong for me to think
that inviting folks to make their own
copies of our work is an insult to our craft?
I'm totally in favor
of helping them discover their creative juices' flow,
but having already been pushed out
of one mode of expression by a changing technology,
I'm reluctant to become a commodity in another.
And that name -- does it convey
a collection of mature and valuable acquisitions,
or a room full of children wielding crayons and tempera;
amateurs struggling to release their creative inhibitions?

And that color.
I am sorry, but how could you?
And yet, through all of this, I question --
is this just me, feeling grumpy, hating change?
Just so you know, that's not usually my style...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Aging parent's lament

I wake this morning, aching
for a mistake my child might make,
and then relieved to see a text
that lets me know it can't have happened,
that she's older now, and wiser, too,
and better at protecting what she values.
I'm so thankful,
and wishing I could learn to trust
both girls to make good choices,
instead of being haunted by awareness of the dangers they once chose --
But isn't that the legacy
of my own guilt for all the ways
I failed them growing up?
No parent's perfect, though we try,
and love takes many forms,
not all of them wise,
or even selfless,
and the echoes of the parents we once had,
and any damage that was done in raising us,
inevitably resonate in unexpected ways down generations --
and what we teach our children
isn't always what they learn.

And still we watch them grow,
and hope they somehow figure out
how valuable they are, and flawed;
how gifted, yet imperfect,
finding themselves both blessed and humbled
by all the possibilities.

They're thirty now, and still we wake,
aching, some gray mornings, hoping
choices that they're making
won't break the graceful arc that is their lives.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The reporter's political malaise

Who drinks the tide and gives it back?
What voice is this that calls us in the wind?
Whose tears are these that drive the river's rush down to the sea?
How can it be that life moves on
When I am trapped in this dark cave, unable to see or move to
Where the light illuminates a path that might release me from the shadows?
Why can I not imagine myself seeing through your eyes,
     speaking from your heart
     feeling what you feel?
How can I understand what makes you do the things
Which make this universe howl?

Friday, February 23, 2018

An Artist's Exhortation

Collect them all:
take all the personalities
you've gathered through the years --
the timid and the bold, the youthful and the old,
the artist and the writer, the fearful and the fighter,
the flake, the organizer, the foolish and the wiser,
and give them each a brush, a palette knife or sponge,
and let each choose a color of her own.
Invite them to your studio
to speak their truth in color, line, and shape across the canvas.
Stand back, controlling mind,
and give voice to all the passions that you carry in your soul!

Remembering Eston

Cleaning out the garage,
we found an ancient typewriter,
the one my father found at a garage sale
and then gave our girls for Christmas.
Prying apart its frayed and fabric-covered case, we found,
still wrapped around its roller,
the one letter my 9 year old had typed,
its faded words a slash across the page:
"Dear Eston, I am sorry that your sick"
and then it all comes back,
the sly and secret glances as we sat
and listened to the futile machinations of our boss;
the eyerolls and the gestures,
and that moment, when I helped create your catalog,
and you looked up and said,
"You know I'm gay, right?"
I replied, "You know I'm married,"
and we grinned; that sense of connection
you can feel with another was so strong,
despite the fact that you were black and I was white,
that you smoked and drank while I abstained,
that you were gay and I was straight,
that you were male, a priest, and single,
while I was just a woman with a job,
a husband, and 2 kids.

We decided we were sisters,
so when you dropped the phone
and it clattered to the floor
in the middle of our conversation
as you collapsed and the medics
had to break down the door
and the blood, oh the blood,
and we discovered that your brain had been invaded
I could only hurt,
and sit there in that awkward chair
(there's always one or two in hospital rooms)
typing on my laptop as your light dimmed, and
exchanging anxious glances with your ex,
who came to care for you in your last days.

As your words grew rare, and rarer still,
fading into the sheets,
I learned you'd been abusive,
and that he'd loved you anyway
(perhaps because? who knows)
and that confession that you made
holding our white hands in your brown,
honored the priestly in us both.
We watched your skin grow dry and gray,
stretched tight across your broken skull,
and finally, bereft of language,
still you gripped our fingers:
and just before I had to leave
a tear, a single tear, slid down your cheek
to let us know you were still there,
behind the skin, below the thin white sheets,
below the collar that you could no longer wear,
we still were sisters,
and when you died I cried.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Floundering in multiplicity

Driving in the city,
after so many months in rural isolation,
I am floundering in multiplicity:
so many stories, so many lives,
so many little shops to be managed,
each with its bickering employees,
and merchandise that needs to be ordered and displayed;
each with its owner, paying taxes, rent, and salaries,
and worrying that customers won't come...

So many buses, filled with faces, all unique,
all on their way from lives I cannot know
to somewhere else they want or need to be --
and what is that? Imagination churns
and still my car is inching its way
down the dark gray ribbon, threaded yellow;
pausing at each stoplight to make way for other people
in other cars, or walking, who are also on their journeys
to whatever they will see and do today;
stars in their trajectories,
spinning, drifting, in and out of vision,
cluster briefly and and then hurtle through
each other's orbits, seeking other spaces, other places,
leaving traces, bright
or fading into night...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Missing herons

I saw a heron yesterday --
painted on a canvas, hanging on a wall,
glimpsed through a store window --
and keep thinking of the herons
on the beach I used to walk,
and the reams and reams of photos that I took.
Their tiny feathers, fluttering in the wind,
their ungainly legs,
straight, or bent at the knees,
their distinctive stiletto beaks,
stabbing into the water, lifting
wriggling fish to swallow in a gulp,
their massive wings and graceful flight,
the harshness of their cry,
and something in me,
terrified of trying to paint the real,
is aching to recreate those memories on canvas;
bold strokes and thin, all clustered
on the right side of the page
to declare the presence -- no, return --
of the heron, absent now from my daily view
(having moved into the forest);
to fill the void on the canvas
and my empty field of vision
with their raucous, guttural cries.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Two paths

Once again I'm caught between
what was and what will be,
two different paths, one winding down
and one that's gearing up
to cut the other off before
it dies its natural death --
like putting a pet to sleep before
its time because we cannot bear to watch
it stagger blindly to its grave.

When to stay, and when to go --
the perennial choice we all must make
in every challenging situation, fight or flight --
which do we choose, and how can we anticipate
the fallout of decisions made: the roads
diverging in the wood, the ones we travel by
will always split: no path is ever smooth, or true,
and still we walk, and watch, but where our focus lies --
our feet, the trees we pass, the path ahead, the sky above --
might easily determine our decisions. Where to look?
What to see, or to avoid, or to embrace --
it's all a mystery to add zest to the journey.

Friday, February 16, 2018

I cannot watch

I cannot watch the news.
Not that I have wanted to,
since the moment I gave birth --
when suddenly I became aware
each person in each story is now, or was, a child,
whose parents cringe, or wail,
at the tragedy befalling them --

But these days it grows harder still,
with children killing children
using weapons they'd have never touched
but for the millions those who build them
give the makers of our laws.

My horror, that more than half the people
in this place I call my country
believe this is the way that things should be
knows no depths,
and will carry me into the dark
unless I close my eyes and do not watch the news.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

An artist reflects

I'm wondering how many times I drew
that house, that tree, that bird
before my mother told me to stop.
I know the moment seems to haunt me still,
but I'm trying to see it now from her perspective,
knowing what she probably didn't know
about the therapeutic aspects of repetition.

I wonder if she just lost patience;
if my endless iterations failed
to show any sign of progress,
and this embarrassed her.
And then I wonder about my childhood self,
whose pleasure in this simple drawing
seemed to her obsessive.
Did I paint it because it felt good,
or I was trying to process some aspect of home?
Was I hoping that my drawing might improve,
or did I paint it because she praised it once,
and because praise came so rarely
I was desperately trying to earn her praise again?

After so many years, I have no access
to the answers for these questions.
Did my desperate bids for praise
trigger her guilt? I cannot know.
And what I can't know -- ever--
is which came first--
my need to please, or her disapproval.
I only see how this simple incident
reverberates through the years, and wonder --
what if I were to draw that red house now?
That black roof, and that flat blue sky,
that tree, that pond, that grass?
And if I draw it many times,
would the process then reveal
the answers I was seeking?
Or would I finally discover
the truth behind my absolute
conviction that I really cannot draw?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Shared Delight

Old for his sport, and desperate to reclaim
the medal he lost four years ago,
he pushes off and soars across the ice,
watched by the crowd as his board
plunges, then lifts;
he flies above us all -- Icarus, in his waxed wings
was never closer to the sun --
and then swoops down,
gathering velocity as the spiral
swirls, descends to rise again, and turn --
two quick rotations in the air,
then one more spin to land and drop again
into the depths and out and up and higher still,
the twist and thrust into the chill of air and sky and blue and glide
and landing as we hold our breath,
the scrape of blade, the flame of snow,
fists raised in proud salute,
and skidding to a blazing crystal stop to wait,
anticipation, exultation, knowing he did well,
all magnified a hundred fold
by the winning of the gold;
and sinking to his knees he gasps, inhales,
and rises howling to the stars.

Seeing his tears, the watching hearts expand,
the wonder of the moment shrills across our eyes,
responsive fires glitter, mirror neurons tearing up in shared delight.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Stumbling in the dark

So many years,
and still I'm stumbling in the dark,
charcoal grating on a classroom blackboard,

You ask me what I know,
what expertise is mine alone,
what light I bring into the world,
and hopeful stars blink briefly,
flutter into consciousness,
then spread their silent wings and drift away.
The promise that I might have been unique,
the flicker of possibility stutters,
dies unborn in the arms of memory.

O fecund night, whose blossoms dream and die,
what is there left to say that's not been said,
how can these fingers dance across the page,
these lips breathe words that fall, fail,
ashes to a carpet,
burning another hole in the threadbare fabric.

I squat and stir the flames of others' brilliance,
craving illumination.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Van Gogh's ear

Upon return from your day away,
sparkling with the aftershocks of adventure,
you're eager to share, and so I sit beside you,
smiling at the photos and the look upon your face,
the tales of who you saw and what you learned.

I really care, and am delighted
by the starriness of your energy,
yet through it all some part of me
is bubbling merrily just below
the surface of my smiles,
an effervescent energy that wants to shout,
"But look at me, what happened to me,
in the time while you were gone!"
despite the fact that I've already shared,
already said it all in just two sentences,
yet still it simmers there, whispering,
"Yes, but ME, yes but ME!
Is not what happened to me equally amazing?"

I pat the buoyant energy down,
and smile, a smile for you that's fueled
by the smile for me that floats just underneath,
and wonder -- have I always been so self-absorbed?
Please tell me there've been times
when all of my attention
has been focused on someone other than myself,
or do we always, all of us,
listen with only one ear
while the other waits to cue the mouth
with what's itching to be said?
No wonder Van Gogh had to cut off his ear --
but which one did he remove?
The one that listens,
or the one that only hears? 

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Nigredo -- I learned this morning --
is the dark and necessary melancholic phase
of the alchemical transformation,
whose release of its dark powers
awakens beneficent forces
which inevitably give rise to a new dawn.

There are, of course, reminders everywhere
of this dark process --
in the words of the sages,
"We must die to be born again,"
but also in our cities --
the tenements that degrade into slums,
and are later resurrected
to become trendy town homes --
in our forests, in our vineyards, and our gardens:

the trees and vines that lose their leaves,
rebirthing in the spring to later
shower us with fruit;
the rose bush that I prune myself
rewards me with a multitude
of blossoms in the spring...

yet still -- it's hard to trust
when it's happening to you,
and to those you love,
and to your country;
when the machinations of the powerful
set us back a hundred years
and the laws of the righteous
are overturned to harm the very souls
they were designed to protect.

Here, in my studio,
a nigredo of my own:
I stand and hurl black slashes onto canvases,
attempting to express
the dark forces in my soul;
my grief at what our country has become.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The eternal conundrum

There it is again, the eternal conundrum:
when to stay, and when to go;
when to stick with the plan,
and when to abandon ship;
when to put up with all the pieces
that aren't falling into place,
and when to walk away and trust
some other puzzle waits around the corner.

When do we keep putting pencil to paper,
brush to canvas,
feet into toe shoes,
and when do we take a break,
a vacation from the endless cavalcade of failure?
When do we keep railing at
and fighting injustice,
and when do we stop and trust
that all of this is a necessary correction;
that things have to get this bad before
folks are motivated to change?

How long do we keep holding our breath,
anticipating change,
and when do we let it go and sink;
let the waves of doubt wash over us
and drive us to the depths of disillusion?
At what point do we finally
give up and cut our losses?

Thursday, February 8, 2018


I jump when the door opens,
run down the stairs as you stride in,
to throw your blue fleece coat across the chair.
You sit and loosen laces in your shoes as I watch,
eyes filling with the grateful plaid
of your shirt, flannel, threadbare...
You speak, and I become a violin
my heart strings tremble: wooden chambers quiver,
in response to the echoes of your day;
the sirens and the children's screams,
bright treble, tremolo, and counterpoint,
the deep basso profundo of your moves to keep them safe.

Blood halts, my veins constrict and shiver
as you recount the moment when staccato shots rang out,
I kneel beside you, craving your embrace,
You take me in, your arms a feathered bow stroking my back,
the quiet, voiceless harmony of love.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The artist's enigma

Looking at another artist's work,
I realize how constrained I've been
by my desperate need to please.
In the time-worn way of difficulties,
painting is teaching me all I need to know
about what holds me back;
about the emptiness inside
where confidence should reside;
about the desperate need to look outside
myself for guidance and approval,
when all this time I thought I was
(as Mama always said)
stubborn, and independent.

So what is it that happens
as the canvas slowly fills
and I grow less and less assured
of what to add or change?
It's fear, I know, that had me
crying when I took a class,
but fear of what? My mother's disapproval
seems too distant.
I'm told there's no wrong marks, and yet
I'm terrified that my wrong mark
will ruin a good painting --
just as fear of falling ruined
my collegiate attempt to learn to ski.
What stops me? What abyss is this
that keeps me so on edge?
How can I transform myself
from timid into bold?

Perhaps it's tied to the time I claimed with confidence,
"I'm a National Merit Scholar,"
and then promptly screwed something up?
Could something that occurred when in my teens
carry echoes that would last this long?

I could ask myself so many questions
when standing before a canvas
and wondering what comes next.
Is the problem that I need to study more,
so I know how to achieve what I'm visualizing?
I'm worried that I haven't grown,
despite all the avenues that I've explored.
But mostly it's the marks
that have me stumped.
I can build a structure underneath,
but then I find myself wanting more,
and that's when I get terrified,
and balk, assuming anything I do
will be ridiculed, and mocked as amateurish,
and so instead I always push for balance
though I long for something random.
Perhaps I need to spend some time
addressing a larger canvas, and powering through?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


I think of all the moves we've made
while you've stayed in one place:
the ones where all we moved were clothes
(and a desk for me to write on)
and the ones where we went shopping
to buy all those exciting things we'd need
to furnish a second home;
the couches that we left behind
or carted off for someone else to use,
and the cats -- always the cats --
who never quite adjusted to the changes,
but howled, or sulked,
or hid beneath the beds;
who crouched cross-eyed beside computer monitors,
or sprawled on keyboards, knowing
they could count on our returning
to that illuminated altar.

Ah, the sacrifices made for change:
for kids not doing well in school,
for jobs that ate our time
or cut us off and let us go...
We drank the intoxication of new beginnings,
tasted or left behind the bread of friendship,
all in the sacred pursuit of a home
that could gracefully house the gifts and opportunities
that we kept hoping might arise.
And I remember how strange
the first night in each new place,
the terror and anxiety that followed each new change,
and lying in a sleeping bag
on a bare floor in an empty room
and wondering as the cat curled by my feet
if the choices we had made were wise
or foolish...

Monday, February 5, 2018

Orange memories

First came the fruit: from China,
through the Persians and the Spanish,
to the French and then to us.
Its dimpled skin clings softly
to the tasty fruit below with strings of white,
but when it proved too challenging to separate,
my mom would cut the orange into quarters for my dad,
who'd stuff it in his mouth, skin out,
and come to find me, beaming his orange smile.

Which might explain my preference
for the taste, and for the color,
which speaks to me of intimacy, and innocence;
shared laughter at small things,
the silliness we find in families:
that loss I so regretted
when he married someone else
and left us all behind -- the teasing,
the memories, his granddaughters,
and me.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Invisible, umbilical

Another day, a kind face,
another woman's tears,
and I am softened, and restored to heartfulness,
a painting without definition,
warm with color,
streaked with possibilities
attempted and rejected:
too little contrast, and yet,
still more than I can bear
in this fragile state,
recovering from moods I find
may not have been my own, influenced
(as I still am)
by invisible threads that tie me still
to daughters far away,
some heart-ordained connection
that thrives untroubled by distance
or awareness:
they hurt, or snap, and something in me
echoes their disheartenment,
and seeks to find
an explanation in my own experience
that may or may not exist because
the impulse to ache or wound may stem
from some source far away,
carried along the cord invisible, umbilical
that stretches across the Sound
and still holds remnants of an unforgotten memory;
my mother's dying thoughts, voiced by my daughter,
awakened in the night;
confusion followed by a phone call
announcing the unexpected ending to her tale.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


I almost ended up last night in tears,
and I'm still trying to parse out
exactly what was in me that got triggered
when you suggested I might have handled that better.

Suddenly there were all these voices
shouting in my head,
explaining and proclaiming their defenses.
but somewhere, underneath them,
a little child was cringing.
You saw her, and tried to reassure her,
but she couldn't hear your voice
above the throng of other voices
clamoring in my head.

I'm pondering now that over-reaction,
attempting to assess its source
and trying to figure out just what went wrong.
Could it be our diet is putting both of us on edge?
Is it that some part of me assumes
if I'm not perfect then I also can't be loved?
Is there another way
you could have said it that would not have set me off?
Was I simply hearing echoes of the
voices in the past that disapproved?

And who is this, that's saying she's upset because
this thing she does imperfectly
is something sh resents having to do;
that this task has cut her off
from the ways she had been hoping to spend her time?
Speak, little one, and tell us how you feel:

I've lost my edge.
I cannot paint.
Because I've all this work
that I'd never planned to do,
I've not been in my studio,
and now when I go back I'm getting nothing,
nothing but ugliness and the pain of seeing
all that beauty come to a halt.
The only thing that made it okay to lose that talent
was the sense that what I was doing instead
might be a gift as well,
so if I'm doing that wrong, too,
then why am I wasting my time,
and what do I have to show
for this loss that I never meant to choose?

It could be that.
Or just too many things going wrong in one day --
the confusion over picking up the car,
the implication that I watch too much TV
(and your distaste for my choices)
when I thought the choice was yours.
Perhaps those last two bits
were simply the last straw,
and put my fragile soul over the edge--
but never mind. Today is a new day,
and we'll both try to learn from our mistakes.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The empty room

Awakening to find you gone,
I'm wandering from room to empty room,
seeking signs of your recent occupation,
wondering, not where you've gone,
but how you left, and if you'd gotten breakfast...

Heart skips ahead into a deeper wonder --
what if you hadn't been here at all --
and all the boxes, all the books
come tumbling into my imagination,
piling accusations, responsibilities, and questions:
how would I live if you weren't here?
We always have assumed that I'd go first, and so
the question rarely surfaces,
but staring at the empty bed and chair,
I wonder: would I live this way,
if not for you --
and listen as the wind howls its dark answer
through the trees...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I spent that whole night dreaming of a painting --
so certain I could capture that particular shade of blue,
the dust of white revealing
the sharp dark curls beneath,
the bar of red, the thin black lines,
the wash of lime to brighten up that corner --
but woke to find the paint was uncooperative:
too thick, too thin, too blue, too green,
too fraught with brushmarks --
I could not smooth them out.

And so, again, I turned away.
Three more unfinished canvases,
their silent accusations leaning
against my heartless easel.
You've been away so long, they chide --
what made you think you could achieve
a union without foreplay?

Art can never be a one-night stand, I'm learning:
it requires concentration, and commitment;
a willingness to make time when there's none,
to cultivate relationship, not just with canvas and with paint,
but with the spirit that guides the brush
and colors all your thoughts until
you glide as one with confidence and grace
onto the canvas or the page
to dance in that sweet rhythmic blend
that only lovers know.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


I haven't been out walking,
though I've meant to;
haven't lugged the wheelbarrow down the street
and filled it from the gravel pile we share,
then dragged it back and shoveled the stones
into the potholes in our drive;
still haven't ventured out and around the corner,
down the road I've never walked
in the three years we've lived here,
the road that borders our yard,
to see if maybe we could create another entrance.

And I feel it in my bones --
this not-walking --
as a stiffness, as a twinge, both a harbinger of age
and an uncomfortable reminder
that poems don't come from sitting in a chair,
but from exploring;
that walking isn't just for exercise,
but for seeing,
for taking in the contradictions
of a world outside myself;
letting them churn through the blender of my mind
til they pour out onto the page,
the hard stones and the nettles,
the rhodies and the rusted trike,
the frog and the crushed cigarette
jumping from the page in a swirl of smoke
into your eyes;
amethysts, adding color to your day.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Prussian Blue

I am pondering my attraction to Prussian Blue:
the way it blends with other colors
to add depth;
how strong, yet understated,
it is on its own;
how, no matter how many other blues
I find myself applying,
this one is the blue to which
I always return...
 I think it may be the color
of my soul.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

On a day without heat

One day without heat,
only mildly cold,
and a convenient place to go to get warm
without ever going outside --
not exactly Armageddon.
And yet -- the discomfort still reminds us
of how weak we are,
of how much worse it could be.

But oddly enough, what made it hardest
was our expectation of its imminent end,
the broken promise of a restoration time;
the assumption that we could wait it out
without taking the precautions we'd take
if we knew the deprivation was going to last...

and what does that tell us about the long term effect
of a systematic lowering of expectations?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

I am the clay

I am the clay in the potter's hands
spinning on the wheel in search of center;
pressed in and lifted up,
pressed out, or slumping down to rise again,
now thick, now thin and being shaped
into a vessel, hoping to be strong
enough that I'll contain whatever it is
that I was born to carry;
that I won't break in the firing,
or be dropped once hardened,
my destiny unfulfilled.

Perhaps at least the glazing
on my fragments will be bright enough
that I'll be set into a path
to guide the way for others...

Breathe in, breathe out, create, consume, destroy

I am the shore
who breathes beneath the waves:
breathe in, the water back into itself,
inhale the morning air, its temperature,
its harbingers of storm, or calm, to come;
breathe out, the water tumbles to the shore,
exhale to lift the seagull's wings
and set the dune grass waving.

I am the couple watching
on a blanket by the shore;
she inhales, breathing in his scent,
his moods, the story of the week that's passed;
he exhales, breathing out decisions,
actions; driving ideas home.

I am the book,
face up, and open on the blanket.
Read me: inhale,  breathe in the words
that elevate the seagull's wings
and flutter in the salt sea spray,
and write: breathe out what you have learned;
set the words, the echoes of events, upon the page.
Bind them into truth, and set them on
the altar of understanding,
a sacrifice of love to be shared
with all who yearn to
and be the sea,
now still,
no breath to mar its surface,
calmly mirroring the gulls, the grass,
the blanket, and the one who sleeps,
his arm above his eyes to shield the light;
the one who weeps on a nearby log,
adding her own salt spray to the shore below,
the book, now closed, its cover damp
and blistering in the sun.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Who is this child?

Asked to share "just one fun fact" about myself, I balk:
so many facts, so different from each other,
and each seems to put me in a box.
Why does that matter so much?
What is it about assumptions
that I don't want folks to make,
and what is it that I fear?
Am I afraid they'll write me off,
or that they won't take me seriously?
And why would I want to find something in common
with every person in the room?
Who is this child, so desperate to please?
And who is this child so desperate to please?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Log cabin quilt, unraveled

I passed those evenings, while you were off with her,
making a log cabin quilt,
the most complicated I had ever attempted;
cutting hundreds of inch-wide strips of brown and cream fabric
with my brand-new orange rotary blade
on the rickety trestle table I inherited from Nanny K.

The central square of each block -- one inch by one inch --
was cut from a shirt I'd found at a rummage sale,
and contained the image of a duck, intended to be a symbol
of a friendship and a collection that we shared
(of wooden duck heads, given us each time I came to listen
to your band; a collection we divided up at the time of our divorce --
the ones I got still grace my fireplace mantle).

It took an hour, as I recall, to build each intricate block,
and since I needed 36, I count a minimum of 12 evenings,
seated at the sewing machine, guiding the thin strips through,
occasionally dampening them with tears,
and wondering how much longer it would take
to finish the quilt; for you to tire of her and return to me --
or if you ever would...

I remember, when they were completed,
laying the quilt blocks out on the dark brown rug
and trying all the possible combinations
of those dark and light diagonals,
hoping to find a pattern that might bind us back together,
until one night I fell asleep and dreamed up the arrangement
I'd finally use.

But it was the curtains I made to match
once the quilt had been completed --
cream flowered, with a thin brown stripe
of leftover cloth that I sewed on, three inches from the bottom --
that proved the unraveling of the fabric of our marriage.
As I sat at my sewing machine one Saturday afternoon,
stitching on that stripe,
the phone rang, and you answered it downstairs.
I heard your voice take on that tone,
that loving tone you only used with her,
and my foot slipped off the pedal as I listened, thinking,
"How long, O Lord, how long must I go on?"
when I heard another voice, not yours, or hers, or mine,
fill the room -- or was it just filling my head?
I'm not quite certain, but it was real, and very clear, and said,
"You can go now."
It was all I needed to hear.

I switched off my ancient Singer, slid the material to one side,
and walked downstairs to confront you in the kitchen.
You took one look, and said, "I have to go," into the phone,
hung up, and snarled, "I suppose you want a divorce."
It's odd -- we'd never spoken that word; had never even
discussed a separation. I'm assuming
that the power of those words I'd heard was shining in my eyes,
but what I know for sure is that I finally said yes --
not just to your question, but to myself, to my right
to joy, to respect, and to love.

Last year I gave the orange rotary blade
to the daughter who was conceived under that quilt,
with the man who is my husband now, some thirty years ago.
She who, without my teaching her, became a quilter, too.
The quilt itself, now badly frayed,
lies in a box in the closet of the room where she grew up,
in the log cabin where her father and I now live.
The ducks at the centers of all those squares
have faded, almost beyond recognition,
just as the features in your face now seem to have grown dim
( I noticed that the other night, when we went to hear you play --
first time I've heard your sax in 35 years --)
a gradual erosion, a loss of plasticity
driven by age, and by the disease
that I suspect I'm not supposed to know you have.

But that voice I heard still resonates,
like the overtones in your saxophone,
an ever present memory of the first time I was given the courage
to say the yes to myself that would subsequently mean
I'd always have the courage to say no.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

When my work is not my own

It's not a thinking up, she wrote --
It's more a getting down,
a taking of dictation.

Ah, yes, that's it, I think,
and wonder if you'll ever understand;
if instead of seeing the holiness
of this approach,
you will assume that I'm some idiot savant,
a Mozart to your Salieri:
awkward, too loud, never quite the thing --
and yet the music somehow tumbles through me,
an insult to the wise and stylish world in which we live.

And yet -- I, too, within myself,
must daily reconcile the intellectual and the child,
as every artist asks herself -- how much of this is me, and mine,
and how much is simply grace,
flowing through onto the canvas or the page?
I have to assume the parts that work
could never be my own, but just
some happy accident, in which I briefly served as vehicle
for someone else's vision.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


In assuming I may never be a grandmother,
I cannot help but think of my own --
the Swedish one, with her black flowered dresses,
hats pinned on, and her sturdy black shoes,
the long gray hair with its silky braids,
atop her head, until she took them down to sleep,
the pale pink of her woolen underwear,
so essential in her chill Hoboken apartment,
four floors up, the smell of the stairs,
and the fractal curve of the banisters
as I looked down from the top.

The bright blue of her Maalox bottle,
and the distant sounds from the harbor we could see
when we stepped through her kitchen window
onto the roof where she hung their washed clothes out to dry.
The hourglass pot in which she brewed her coffee,
the roar of the stove when she opened the door
to throw in more slabs of wood,
the gleam in my grandfather's turquoise eyes
as he lifted a knife full of peas to his mouth,
knowing she would object.
The shelves of books by the window,
in the living room of the apartment,
and the daybed where I slept until
the rumble of the garbage trucks would wake me...

And the Southern one, with her short squat body,
her short squat face and heart, and her bitter drawl;
her eerie fascination with sex, and with cancer,
stark contrast to her garden with its pansies,
blue hydrangeas, magnolias and gardenias.
Her custard, and her ham, and the peas, always cooked til they were gray.
The hard raspberry candies with their soft centers,
kept in a glass dish on her glass topped coffee table
with its treasures on display beneath the glass.
The green swing on the porch,
my mother's doll with her fabric body,
china head and arms, and her wicker carriage...

My children have no memories like these --
I married late (the second time, when I had them)
and both their grandmothers soon had passed away.
And I'll probably be gone before their own children --
if they have them --are ever born.
I wonder if they'll miss me...

Monday, January 22, 2018

The scent of not-belonging

The scent of not-belonging fills my nostrils yet again
as I contemplate a visit to that place I don't fit in.
It's been a while; I've grown and changed,
developed competencies that fuel
a sense of completion,
and still this invitation comes
and the child within me quails at the thought.

One thing for sure: I will not dress
as other than myself this time;
and comfort won't be sacrificed for style.
I am the one whose gifts shine through,
and will honor that uniqueness with a smile.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Holy communion

I remember a time,
riding a subway in New York
after visiting a home for unwed mothers
when all the narrow ads they post in that space above the windows of the train
seemed to be selling sex,
or at least using it to sell --
cars, jewelry, clothes, insurance,
everything stank of sex, and I thought --
what choice did those young women have?

And as I stared, there came into my brain
the ancient words of my old red prayerbook --
not Rite II, but Rite I --
"We are not worthy so much
as to gather up the crumbs under thy table,"
and then,
"Christ have mercy upon us,"
and somehow all of it -- the memory,
the ads, the old black woman
with her heavy sack and swollen ankles,
the angry thin young men in their hoodies,
pacing up and down,
the salesman in his shiny suit
with the pants a bit too short,
the young girls cracking gum and giggling --
everything, and everyone I saw
glowed with a kind of connecting light,
as if they all wore evanescent robes,
and sang in some celestial choir,
but then, of course, the iron wheels squealed,
the lights inside the car blinked on and off,
and we shuddered to a stop inside
some grimy white-tiled cave,
and half my choristers left the train,
still shimmering in the aftermath
of that brief Holy Communion.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A gradual subsiding

I am watching now, my brain, as it ages,
and noticing how some days
it seems to want to kick back
and take in the wholeness of things; to revel in the play of light,
the scent of green,
the texture of the paint;
while on other days it seems to grow crisp,
arranging, organizing, rejoicing
in the thrill of accomplishment,
attuned to every detail as a function of the task.

But always, in a corner,
hangs a blanket with a mind of its own.
And certain topics -- computational,
political, mathematical --
always seem to want to hide behind it.
And I'm seeing now,
as I examine the blanket more closely --
its dull pink woolen scrape against my skin --
that I've always assumed (or excused) it
as an aspect of my gender.

So now that we seem to have
so much more flexibility in that area,
I wonder if the blanket was imposed or innate.
I've just assumed it was intelligence
that carried me away from the patterns
of behavior assigned to my gender,
past the proscribed femininity of my sex;
that the part of me that questions
and is curious was male,
and the placid imprecise was the female.
But now, as I stare at the face in the mirror,
that grows more placid and imprecise --
and yet less feminine -- with age,
I have to ask: must losing our edge always imply
some descent into dullness? Is it really a loss?
Or might it be considered
a gradual and grace-filled subsiding
of the boundaries, impediments to wholeness and connection?

Friday, January 19, 2018

What losses we endure and anticipate...

Looking at your poem,
enumerating lives you'd known and lost,
I thought I'd write one, too.
I didn't think I had quite so many goodbyes to recount,
til I began to write them down.

Early on, there was Barbara,
and my grandparents, whom I barely remember,
and much later, Jeannie, from The Witness --
the first of the brains to be consumed from within --
and then that awful year,
with Martha on her birthday,
then Eston, and your mom -- two more brains, consumed --
and then my mom, and so my dad remarried,
and then died... that was hard.
There was Lou, of course, and Jon -- two more brains,
also consumed...

And then there were the children,
so very many children:
the dentist's son, who skied into a tree,
and his best friend, who later shot himself beside that grave.
Dean's son, and Garth, of course,
with all the losses that entailed;
Anne's daughter, from an overdose of drugs,
and Katie, beautiful Katie, her whole body
under attack, then lost at 12,
which set me on this path that I still follow...

And then, of course, your Dad,
who seemed to leave behind
much more than he took with him.

And there are the local ones --
Chloe's father, and then Mac,
Denise's husband, and then Frank --
but somehow those don't have quite the same impact.
Does that mean I'm growing jaded?

I don't think so, because I can feel myself
waiting for another shoe to drop.
Will it be yours? That tumor they removed
from your brain was so enormous,
that I'm awash in the memory
of all those other brains consumed,
but I'm trying to stay optimistic for your sake:
I so want all those new therapies to work.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Back to the roots

We who teach still have so much to learn.
The more confident I grow,
the likelier I am to make mistakes,
because I begin to think that I can just skip over,
overlook the simple things,
the little things that even after all the time I've spent
still function as the root that grounds our being.

It humbles me, this never-ending return to the comma,
and the verb. My gratitude to my persistent 5th grade teacher
for all that time spent writing at the blackboard,
diagramming sentences; for learning yet again
that every action needs its clarity:
its subject, and its object (if it's transitive,
and so many actions are)
and that all antecedents must be clear and not confusing;
that facts have a power all their own...

And all of this translates into clear responsibilities in life
which, when lost or abandoned, could lead, in fact,
to chaos -- even death.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


You, who call yourselves the faithful,
finding a home in the uninhabitable sky,
talk of unity, of wholeness, and relatedness,
seeking an end to dichotomies and disasporas,
keeping your sights turned up and out
so as to miss the brokenness and failure
that surrounds us closer in.

You know the air you breathe
has been inside my lungs, do you not?
You are not immune to me.
You'd see that in my eyes if you didn't look away;
you'd have tripped over my cane if you hadn't looked down
as you passed by.

Listen. My pain is a script
that's been written on your bones as well as mine.
How can you not limp with me,
echoing my scented approach
to this ragged tent that I've strung up
below the overpass?
Can you not see how my blue tarp ripples
in the wind as you drive by?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Physics or psychology?

The physicist is telling me that it's a law:
a substance can only be affected
by what it can produce.
And so of course I'm wondering
if that might somehow be tied
to that psychological phenomenon I see so often,
in myself, and in others -- you know the one --
where the behaviors you find troublesome in others
are so often behaviors that you don't see in yourself
(though others see them, and are equally troubled);
the shadow that is cast beyond the curtain of unknowing.
the things that we assume motivate others
are so often the very things that motivate ourselves...

So then I have to ask:
would we even be affected by choices others make,
or things others say,
if we'd never thought of doing or saying them ourselves?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Not mine

Those moments when you know you've caught the wave;
when the poem, or the painting, or the play
surges through you with a pounding force
to thunder onto the page, or onto the canvas
with a power and a grace that you'd never have
the hubris to call your own.

And always after, you look on it
and stare in stupefaction:
That was mine? How did that happen?
And the rest of life's spent seeking
for the chance to have that happen yet again.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Two Woman Play

I am trying to write a play
in which two women talk;
some conversation which does not involve a man.
It turns out to be harder than it sounds. I mean --
you don't want them just talking about their kids --
that's just a box --
and the mother/daughter theme's been overdone.

I talk to women friends all the time,
and we almost never mention men.
So why is this so challenging, you ask --
and I've no answer yet. I'm pondering
(as women do) the possibilities.

Is it because a play needs some tension?
Some crisis to resolve, a learning to unfold,
an insight to reveal, and the things I contemplate
are just too personal?

Or maybe it's because I ask too much of myself:
to create a situation that has not been explored before,
and yet could be totally relatable?
Something I know and have experienced,
so I don't need to research it
and my characters can truly speak as they feel...

And why is that so hard to find, you ask?
Are women's lives predictable?
And if that's true, then must that mean
there's nothing to be learned in these familiar situations?
Or is it just that men will always intrude?
Or might it be that women (at least in my experience)
get caught up in their roles, and the words that they then utter
are so circumscribed by societal expectations
that they rarely speak their truth?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

This voluntary exile

This voluntary exile from my own soft bed,
your loving arms, my studio, my favorite chair --
I know you wonder why each year I choose it.
I say, of course, that it's a chance to be fed
without having to plan, to shop, or cook.

But really it's a date, a conscious engagement
with that part of me that still longs to believe --
as I once did --
that everything has purpose;
that if I listen I will learn;
that incantations of familiar words --
Pity the afflicted, shield the joyous --
will somehow ease the burdens
of the friends whose hearts I carry with me
in these bags, and in my heart.

It's a gentle admonition to return to the earth,
to wander among the trees
and stare out at the mountains;
to be refreshed by the rain or snow,
and fueled to return to you
reinvigorated; fed; enriched by the quiet, and the dark.

Friday, January 12, 2018

I'm not sad

It's almost back to normal now, this house--
the table and its driftwood lamp
back in the corner where the Christmas tree once stood,
The wooden heron backon the wall,
the creche on the dining room table,
waiting to return to its box,
the thick orange cord which fed the lights on the tree
sits waiting by the door to the garage.

The living room is dark now,
when I wake up in the morning;
no colored lights invite me to the chair where I now sit.
The couches echo with the laughter of invading millennials --
the fan blades overhead still spin a bit
with their giddy anticipation,
powered by the hopes and dreams of the young.

Bing Crosby's been returned to his square plastic shell
and the Cambridge Singers classical falsetto --
music and musicians destined never to grow old --
are tucked back on the shelf
below the aging CD player.

In the silence, the fish tank gurgles
and the nameless fish our kids brought home
so many years ago still swims in his small tank
as I sit in my rocker
and remember.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Let it be

Let the rain sound its delicate timpani
on the skylights in my living room.
Let the rattle of the register remind me
that the heat is on, and I'll be warm
despite the cold outside.
Let the schoolbus drivers, stopping in the dark
for every child who stands dripping by a mailbox,
find their way,
and let the mothers return to quiet houses
and warm a cup of coffee before tackling
the chores of the day.
Let the commuters board the ferry
with their papers and their cups
and their intentions for a more productive day.
In the quiet, and the dark,
let the days begin to lengthen.
Let the rhododendrons waken,
and their buds begin to fatten.
And let the dogwood in my garden
rejoice in her new surroundings;
let her roots spread and deepen
and her branches stretch and yawn
with delight at the ferns
who worship at her feet,
unfurling tiny fingers
in hopes that they might catch her silver petals when they fall.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

All those black dresses

I didn't watch the Golden Globes this year --
I'd already promised I'd go somewhere else
before I realized what it meant I would be missing,
and, much as I'd have preferred
to spend the evening in my comfy chair
watching all those big black dresses
and hearing all their speeches
(and isn't that the best of both our worlds --
Barbie Doll dresses and radical feminism?)
I'd promised,
so I didn't.

But now, in the aftermath,
I'm remembering my own years in the theater:
the acting teacher at the high school
(now deceased but still revered)
who always slept with his prettiest students;
the men who grabbed my ass or copped a feel;
the face of the woman, relentlessly pursued
by the fat rich actor who (unbeknownst to us)
had filed for divorce;
the tumbling man with his bold tattoos
who refused to wear any pants beneath his kilt;
the young girls, staring intently into the mirror,
applying lipstick and rouge to lips and cheeks
that needed neither;
the old woman who refused to let me ever take her picture,
because "no-one can take a good picture
of THIS ugly face."

And the lights are everywhere -- the footlights, and the spots,
the ones around our mirrors,
and the blue light that keeps us from tripping
over furniture backstage --
and each one throws a shadow; that's where the dark things happen.

Everywhere we looked
there were couples being formed
and dissolving; eyes assessing the potential
for a play-long assignation;
the eyebrow raised,
the sly looks, and the tears,
the hope and disappointment and despair
all thrown into relief.

Standing on the sidewalk beneath the solitary bulb
that casts its circular illumination
below the stage door,
the tailor slouches, smoking,
while in the nearby shadows
the ass removes his mask to steal a kiss
from a reluctant fairy queen.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The end, that nourishes the beginning

You brought me flowers just before Christmas:
so thoughtful -- all green and red and white,
though mostly green,
which is why they're still glaring at me
from my kitchen island -- the greens -- salal,
and some other bits I can't identify --
are still so healthy
we barely notice the reds (now black)
or the whites (which droop)
and their desperate cries --
Throw me in the trash!
I can't be seen like this!
No makeup in the world can repair
the ravages to this face!

Looking at them's a bit
like looking in the mirror --
the foliage is still there --
the hair, the brows, the lashes pale as always --
but the bloom of youth is gone,
replaced (I like to think)
by something that speaks less about appearance
and more about endurance, and about resourcefulness:
what's fragile has been peeled away,
sloughed off, and what remains
is some unwitherable essence,
aware of its inevitable end and yet
determined to continue, to nourish what comes next.

It watches as the ornaments and lights
are slowly stripped from the brittle Christmas tree;
as the stockings with their family names
are tucked into their box,
knowing all the while that the wreath will be left hanging
on the front door for the tiny birds
that come back every year to build their nest
in that soft curve above the bow.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A voice of my own

Her voice was lovely --
(of course; I knew it would be,
you would settle for nothing less)
and her energy warmed the stage,
lifting all of us up,
even as the corners of your mouth kept turning down.
So serious you are now,
and so sober, after all the laughs we shared.
I felt guilty for the joy my life is now,
and spoke the truth when I told her
I had always longed to sing but had no voice --
just not for that,
and not for you, it seems --
I do sing, but not for my supper.

Just last month I sang for a dogwood tree.
She came to me all bright with berries and scarlet leaves
and spread her coat upon my lawn,
and now stands naked, arms outstretched,
an invitation to sing again,
to walk her plush red carpet and stand beside her;
to launch a chorus of hallelujahs,
gratitude to all who brought us here, and with a flourish
she'll clap her thin brown hands like some amateur magician,
showering us both with her pale white blossoms.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


We'll be riding the ferry again tonight,
going to hear my ex-husband's third wife sing.
and so, of course, my dreams last night
were haunted by the past.
This aging thing's so curious --
the memories we keep,
and the ones that we let go --
they pass each other on the street,
and raise an eyebrow in acknowledgement:
what's remembered has so little, they know,
to do with what's important, or life-changing --
the really big ones lurk behind the trees
as the lesser ones drive by, holding out their hands in hope
that snow, or fog, or falling leaves, or happiness will bury them forever.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Gypsy Moths

I'm remembering the year
when all our community
was reading Cannery Row,
and our library held a short story contest --
to write a tale in Steinbeck's style --
and my story -- about my aging neighbor, Eleanor --
won the award for  "Most Steinbeckian."

I remember also how disappointed I felt
when the library failed to announce the winners,
on their website, or in the local paper --
I so needed this new community of ours
to know I could be gifted...

So it's good, now,
in this year of ordinariness,
to remember, instead of the award and the disappointment,
the subject of my story: Eleanor,
and how she taught me about the moonsnail eggs;
that the annual infusion of sugar ants
could be halted with Lemon Pledge;
that the gypsy moths devouring our beach roses
would never get their wings
if I blasted them with Formula 409;
and finally,
that even if you were determined
to age gracefully alone,
the time would come when a fall in the night
might leave you shivering on a cold tile floor for hours
until a well-meaning neighbor arrived
with your daily gift of oreos,
and hearing no answer, opened your door
to find you naked, lying in your own puddle of pee,
and called the EMT's, whose clumsy attempts
to re-hydrate you caused a heart attack.

Less than a week later she was gone, my intrepid neighbor,
dying in her hospital bed while her children stood there arguing --
two of them trying to save her soul
by forcing her to accept Jesus;
the other two demanding that they let her rest in peace.

All my life a caterpillar,
struggling to grow her wings.
What Formula is this, its mortal chemistry
crafted in my own imaginings,
could leave me struggling for breath among the roses,
my protective chrysalis dissolving, unfulfilled?

Friday, January 5, 2018

To-Do List

A host of minor duties crowd around,
pulling at my skirts like restless children
crying out for attention.
Sadly, the quiet ones, the simple ones,
often go unnoticed --
even though each has its own importance --
until, days later, I remember --
Oh, yes, that one -- and feel guilty,
as if I'd driven off from school
and left a child behind.

All these shoulds we carry on our shoulders,
giving them bouncy rides
to make up for forgetfulness,
grow heavy. I am sinking under their weight,
like the old woman with her groceries
who struggles up the hill to her apartment
looking ahead without the thrill of anticipation
to another night where her tired knobby fingers
open yet another can of soup
to pour its contents into a rumpled saucepan
which she places on a hotplate,
hoping she'll remember to turn it off
before the contents burn, and ruin another pan,
meanwhile wishing, secretly,
that she could just fall asleep
and let the whole place burn down to the ground,
taking her with it:
taking her sore hands, her tired back,
her unpredictable bladder,
her loneliness,
her memories,
the pictures of the children
she never sees.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Car Blues

I bought a new car yesterday –
First time in 14 years –
(my old car leaks and smells of mold, and dead mice)
and in spite of all that,
the buyer’s remorse is crippling.

Awake and trembling at 3 am,
I reassure myself by saying,
“Look at how much juice there is in this.”

Because, hey – if I listen hard,
I hear my mother’s voice
When I objected to the clothes she chose for me,
Proclaiming, “you always had to have things your way.”

My husband took me out for dinner after,
To celebrate this latest acquisition –
The result of almost a year of shopping,
Countless test drives, and 3 hours of waiting
For the dealer to gather up all the paperwork –
But I am so distraught I can barely eat,
And I can’t drink cuz I have to drive,
So we box up my Chinese chicken salad
(the only meal I could even contemplate)
and head for home.

The heater, which I need
Because it’s 33 degrees outside,
Gives off relentless burning fumes
(I gather this is normal, but it’s choking me,
and I can’t detect, beneath the smoke,
that delicious new car smell)
and all the way home I play with the seat adjustments,
trying to achieve the comfort I thought I felt
when I first tried this model,
trying to ignore the voice that’s trying to be heard –
“I don’t think this seat’s going to work for you.
You knew it was a problem right away,
From the moment you first drove what’s supposed to be
Your exciting brand new car.
I’ve been poking you for hours –
Why didn’t you speak up?”

… But what about the shoulds? I ask –
It took so long to get here,
we've already made two trips,
the seat worked great in the other one,
And I did a year of research – I KNOW this is the right car.
And there’s my mother’s voice again:
“You should have bought the one you sat in that worked.
But NO, you HAD to have this color, didn’t you.
Well, you deserve to be uncomfortable
For the NEXT 14 years.”

I dish out a bowl of chocolate ice cream
to soothe the voices down
And now I’m waiting for the sun to rise
So I can take a picture
And send it to my girls.
It’s such a pretty shade of blue…

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beginnings: An Ordinary Year

Knowing I was hoping to get a better creative balance in my life, a dear friend gave me a journal and a book of poetry for Christmas -- A Field Guide to the Heavens, by Frank Gaspar. The poems have an ordinariness to them that I find particularly appealing, and since I've begun reading one a day as part of my morning meditation practice, I'm finding I'm writing poems of my own in response.

So I thought I'd publish them here, and attempt to keep going throughout the year.

Herewith, the first poem of an ordinary year:

Hard to sit

I find it hard to sit these days:
My thoughts tumble in like puppies,
lively, curious, plump with desire
and hungry for recognition,
flattening the thin green blades of wisdom
as they clamber over one another,
reveling in their familiar closeness,
their fuzzy warmth,
the proximity of nourishment to feed their wiggly souls...

My breasts ache with the longing to feed them.
Some other darker vision wishes
the flattened blades would rise again and score them,
so they'd run away,
and quiet might return.