Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cicadas and Stars

August nights are made of nostalgia. The crickets and cicadas sing the same songs I remember from my childhood and the lightening bugs (that's what we called them) dance and flicker to the music.
I am lying on my back in the backyard. Dusk has made way for dark and the heat of the day bows to breezes coming from the Sound, a few miles away.

The grass is wet from the sprinkler, but I don't mind. My hair is wet anyway from the shower and my pajamas will dry before bedtime. Stars are beginning to appear, and I can name a whole bunch of them. Like the cicada song, the stars have also been my companions through all my years.

Who made the summer night? Why does it seem so full of magic? I stay still while the world slowly transforms from one thing to another. Is God part of this? "There was evening and there was morning . . ." -- that's what the Bible says over and over, seven times. Did Abel and Cain play outside after dinner?

I relive in my mind those nights of stars, of the ice cream man ringing up the street, the whistle for dogs to come home and children to be in bed.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Graduate

Most people graduate from college in their early twenties. This was my original trajectory too. But circumstances and life choices sent me in other directions, and that elusive degree faded into the background while family and children took center stage.

I had always wanted to return to school. As my kids grew, I found many practical excuses to put it off. Finally, as my marriage ended and my life took new and unexpected turns, I found the fortitude to go back.

I started my new college career at Nassau Community College (NCC) in 2012. Hurricane Sandy disrupted my first semester, and despite its ensuing turmoil, I persevered that fall semester. Since my basic required classes needed fulfilling, I found myself in two math classes and two science labs. Ugh!

As I continued, I realized English was my real love, and I took as many writing and literature classes as I could. In the spring of 2015, I graduated Summa cum Laude from NCC. My Associate’s Degree, coupled with good grades and my being awarded the State University of New York's Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence offered me several continuing ed options. I was accepted into Queens College’s prestigious Transfer Honors Program and gratefully accepted.

In the fall of 2015 I started classes at QC, working toward my English major. While I took all requisite English classes, I also found room for other forays. Painting. Drama. Anthropology. Urban Studies. Creative Writing. Spanish. This colorful array of subjects added depth and breadth to my educational experience, and while I was mainly focused on my declared major, I discovered many, many pertinent tributaries within these other classes.

I did well at QC. My lowest grade was a B+ in Spanish -- a class in which I worked hard, whose professor was a motivated young woman named Ruth Rodriguez. Profesora Rodriguez was well into her first pregnancy when she taught my class, and, understanding my aging brain’s weakness for short-term memory, offered a number of extra credit options to bring up my grade. A week and a half before our final exam, Profesora Rodriguez went into labor and gave birth to a fine baby boy named Octavio. Several days later, we were shocked and saddened to hear that Profesora Rodriguez passed away, after suffering a post-partum stroke. A number of us went to her funeral services and did our best to comfort her husband, another QC professor. Sitting for her final, reading her questions, hearing her voice over and over -- surreal and heartbreaking.

The seasons turned and the campus took on the hues of autumn, winter, spring. The campus hawks flew around the quad, perching within close proximity, reminding me that flight and freedom were within my grasp.

My final semester was stressful. I was in the second half of my Honors English seminar. Theses were due and the final exam loomed as a daunting shadow over everything. I concluded with an A+ on my thesis and High Honors on my final -- better than I had expected. Our Honors Conference was great -- each of us presented excerpts from our theses and sat in panels to answer all manner of intellectual questions. Two weeks before graduation, I was informed by the Advising Department that, because I had 56 credits at QC instead of 60, I was not eligible for any honors designations. Together with my advisors and the college’s Vice president, we fought the ruling and, on the very morning of the honors Baccalaureate ceremony, I received my formal invitation to participate. Such drama, I could do without!

So, I graduated Summa cum Laude, a designation that stands as testimony to years of hard work, and many late night papers.

In years past, whenever I would visit my kids at their respective college campuses, I always envied the atmosphere there. I longed to walk the quad, study in the library, get coffee from the dining hall Starbucks. Now I have done these things. And while that magic dust may have eluded me when papers were due and exams loomed, I must say that I loved every minute of my college career.

My white head was singular at graduation. Still, I felt an integral part of my cohort. My school friends -- brilliant all -- worked and walked with me throughout this journey, never thinking less or more of me than any other classmate. How wonderful. That black cap and gown, those honors stoles and ropes were worn with a grateful pride I had not yet felt in my lifetime. I am a college graduate. And I have to pinch myself each time I think of it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Graduation Day

I am graduating from Queens College next month. My bachelor's degree is 44 years in the making. I finished high school in June of 1973, and since then, my life has taken me on a roller coaster ride of twists, turns and unexpected bumps.

Yet, here I stand. Next month, I will don that black robe and mortarboard, a red stole and various honors ropes and tassels as I march with hundreds of my (way younger) peers onto Queens College's grassy quad. This journey, from 1973 until now has taken me on a safari. I started and stopped college. I joined a religious cult and spent the better part of 30 years adhering to its strictures, including a marriage to a fine man who became father to our five amazing children. My sexual identity, always in the back of my mind, came to the fore, and I finally came out. While this was surely a rough part of the safari, I emerged with no regrets and a renewed sense of self, of motherhood and of professional potential.

So, here now, I stand. This particular achievement (my graduation) will be attended and celebrated by those who matter, and I am totally stoked! On that day I will don black robe, mortarboard, red stole and various honor ropes and tassels. I will not only reflect on my own journey, but the varied path of my young cohorts who have striven to stand with me on this day. We have striven, we have searched and we have emerged unto this day victorious.

I may possibly be the oldest graduate to stand on the quad on that day. But we all stand together. Amen.

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 (The Rise and Fall of Life)

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 luego.