Friday, September 2, 2016

Hair of the Dog

In all the corners
she remains
tumbleweeds of tangled fur
black, mingled with grey and dust

I find her dancing across the tile floor
even as I jump to scoop her up
spending a moment before
placing her in the bin.

Sixteen years of such furballs
of tail chasing and doing
the "crazy dog"
sixteen winter snowy romps
summer sprinkler leaps and flips
autumn walks on wooded trails

I see her next to each growing child
our sentry at the window
our pillow, our timekeeper
our puppy.

Sammy just now left us.
Yet, in all my

she remains.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


When I can’t sleep, I remember it.

Nights long past remain in mind refreshed

So that I can feel the setting summer sun slanted on my

pajamaed shoulders,

Permission granted after bath and brush to return to play


In the cool of the day.

It was a delicious feeling, to be out

After the sky’s plum had tempered to silvery grey,

The only witnesses to our clandestine romp were

the Big Dipper, “Look there!”

the North Star, yellow Venus, and Orion’s tri-notched belt

Monkey-in-the-Middle, Hide-and-Seek

Finally answering the whistle meant for me and my brother

To come inside.

Such a small remembering, really.

But one of those granted me to keep for

perhaps all my nights awake, whether inside

or out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Life's Kiss

The first kiss. That pulsing puckering push out of a warm womb, followed by the cold kiss of light and air and sound, once soft and muted, now so sharp and loud.

Yet familiar is one voice, teased out of many, one smell, one touch and, rooting around, this tiny babe offers her first kiss upon her mother’s breast.

Kisses abound in this round world, up and down, in, out, around. The kiss of first winter’s ice, warm bath, old dog’s tongue, soft words, and then hard ones as time and life tick on. Kisses come with friends, cousins, Nana’s slobbery ones and Aunt Ruth’s puckery red lipstick, Papa’s prickly moustache and brother’s feigned affection.

Kisses continue -- hot ones of fright and shame, but also passion, pleasure and accompanying pain. These kisses are her wild ride and she relishes each, tucking them away for whenever they are wanted and needed.

Passion tempers to peace, clash to comfort. Kisses renew in turn as tumbling wombs kiss out new bundles who learn the tactile ropes of life.

* * *

I have a friend who is in her final days. Surrounded by her three daughters, the circle of kisses returns ‘round, her pale, hairless head covered, no, smothered in kisses as she is pulsed and pushed out of this worldly womb, into a bright warm place -- where Nanas, Papas, Aunt Ruths, and old dogs come kissing . . . once again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

El Aumento y Disminución de la Vida

I watched my breath heave and billow. Hot stinging tears welled, making it hard to drive. Cold air whooshed in as I opened the car door on First Avenue, a frigid two blocks from the Ortega Funeral Home. As I rounded the corner, I saw people spilling out, some smoking, others just breathing and, in the cold, it was hard to tell the difference.

I went inside. The black sign with removable white letters spelling out her name pointed me left into a room thick with Spanish and cologne. I wrote my name in the book, ending with, “your favorite student,” as if she was ever to read who came and who didn’t. She was lying up front, her normally unruly curls tamed and her burgeoning belly gone. Dionisio, her husband sat to the right, alternately crying and laughing into his hands as the minister spoke, and spoke. “Thank you Professor,” I thought as my semester’s Spanish was put to work listening to the eulogy. Her name, “Ruth,” was spoken over and over. I also heard her husband’s name and “Octavio” more than a few times.

Octavio. Her baby was born only five days ago. She sent us an e-mail canceling class and we all looked forward to hearing the happy news, news which came and left so fast, it whipped us with disbelief. She had even sent us review notes for the final, which we sat for eight days after she died. “Easy as a pie,” she joked in her Dominican accented English, when we fretted about the test. “Piece of a cake.”

Why is it that when one who is loved, is lost, we turn inward to examine ourselves so rigorously? Who am I, really? Who will come to my funeral? What will they say? How many names will be written in my book?

I made my way to the front of the room and knelt beside her still form. I touched her forehead - cold like a refrigerator. Just a moment ago, you were alive, talking, teaching, laboring, giving birth and celebrating your son. Like Mary and Joseph, you and your husband welcomed your Christmas child. But you could not keep a fingerhold on this earth and left them - and us. For them, for us, it was too soon. For you? No sé.

Ciao, mi profesora. Sueños con los ángelitos. Hasta mañana.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Still Time (working title -- “Not Dead Yet”)

Run through youth and colored rings
On the wild ride
Check the clock for the next best thing
Impatient for the tide

Still time
Still time.

Tread the ivy halls a little slower than the crowd
Sweat bullets, study more that I should
Speak up and out and loud
Trade hoodie for cap and gown and hood

Untangled heart’s elusive way 
Her hair golden in the setting of the sun
I waited life’s whole day
to find this hoped-for, unexpected one

Still time
Still time.

Walking down the aisle
Mother of the bride
Bequeathing all to this bright child
My love, my joy, my pride

Sweet scent of newborn baby
Circle swings around
My daughter’s child, not mine, but maybe
What was lost can now be found

Days and months and years spin madly
A few more turns around the block
Walking slower, running badly
Oh, that I could reset this clock

Wish that I could
Still time,

Still time

Sunday, June 28, 2015


I have a slot
A daily slot
Labeled "Agida."

The slot contains
Whatever angst 
I have that day

This kid or that
Tuition, alimony, rent
health, home repair
The "Service Engine" light
That lump on the dog's back leg
That seems to grow bigger


I am up early
With the summer sun
Coffee and blanket
And dogs on a cool and lovely deck

Sparrows, finches flit
about the feeder
Fussing merrily.
While mourning doves coo
in the calm below, happy to glean
From the sparrow's boisterous breakfast

They live life on the edge
Yet they celebrate the moment

I am reminded of the passage from Matthew -- 
Consider the lilies . . . the birds of the air . . .
Not even Solomon in all his glory . . .

I cast you off as I would any annoying cloak
Like I cast off this blanket as the sun warms my shoulders

Yet you cling like a wet garment, fighting me as I peel you away.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

There Yet

Maureen sat behind her mother in the back of the boat-like Plymouth Fury with her brothers. David, two-and-a-half years her senior sat at the window behind their father, who was driving. Three-year-old Chris, the youngest and smallest was consigned to the middle where the uncomfortable bump gave his car seat a bit of a boost.

There was a radio in the car, but whenever the dad was driving (like now) it was turned off. He did not like distractions when he drove. The Plymouth, a 1957 white whale of a car, had push buttons instead of a shifting stick, all very modern and sleek. The dashboard was metal, painted a matte black, which made the silver knobs of the radio all the more shiny and enticing.

They were driving upstate to the Palenville mountain house the mother's family owned. She had spend all her youthful summers there, in the big clapboard house with no telephone, no heat and no indoor bathroom. It had been bought by Maureen's grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant who married his first cousin and had three daughters, two years apart from each other. Emilio Spaletta was proud that he could afford to send his family to the country, beating Brooklyn's repressive summer heat.

The three daughters continued to come up to the Palenville house with their own offspring in tow, sometimes overlapping their stay with each other so the cousins could play together. The car ride was not particularly long, although to three hot kids sitting on sticky plastic car seats, the three hours seemed much longer. There was no air-conditioning and even with windows cranked all the way down, Maureen felt like she was inside a furnace. 

She knew she would see her cousins when they got there and reviewed her feelings about this in her mind to make the time pass more quickly. She would be happy to see Debbie and Andrea, Kenny and even Kathleen, but frowned as she thought about Kathleen's brother Stephen, a carrot-topped terror. Last time he had thrown her new Barbie into the outhouse toilet hole. His angelic cheeks splattered with freckles made his evilness even worse, because his mom, her mom and their Aunt Grazia were suckers for Stephen's charms.

David's head was down, engrossed in his favorite book, The World's Great Stories, by Louis Untermeyer. Chris' car seat was more like a basket. The flimsy straps held him to the seat, but since this was pre-seat belt times, the seat itself was attached to nothing. He was running his toy cars along the edge of his seat frame, making brumming noises and narrating his fantasy, oblivious to either flanking sibling.

The mom was napping in the front, Despite the heat, her window was only cracked open, so as not to disturb her hair. She was the middle sister in her family, considered the goodie goodie. While Grazia and Isabella were smoking cigarettes out their bedroom window and cutting classes as teenagers, Lidia was studying and volunteering at Brooklyn Women's Hospital. Her biggest rebellion was to marry an Irish boy instead of an Italian. 

The only sounds were Chris' enthusiastic play narration and the whoosh of cars going the other way on Route 87. Maureen wished she was sitting behind her dad, whose window was all the way down.

She loved going to the summer house. It was big and rambling and smelled of musty cellar. Drinking water came from a pipe in the back where cold delicious mountain spring water flowed constantly. There were deer in the surrounding woods and snakes in the tall grass that was so tough, the kids were sent out with long sickles. Her heart beat faster as they turned onto the dirt driveway and the house came into view. Day lilies and Queen Anne's Lace swayed everywhere, waving "hello and welcome back."

Note: More story to come.