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, 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 rides around the block
Walking slower, dancing 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.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Life (with pizza)

They gathered at the worn and scratched dining room table like moths to a flame. Throw a pizza at them and they would stay for hours -- laughing, singing show tunes (rising at appropriate moments to do the official tap dance from 42nd Street on the oak floor) and talking about school, friends, the latest Grey's Anatomy or what dress they were planning to wear to prom. Laptops and phones were passed around, skyping with friends, making the circle wider and louder.

Marjorie was happy to maneuver among and between, clearing plates and re-filling glasses of Arnold Palmer. Every once in a while, she would be called into a skype session to say hello to a college friend in another state. The onslaught was music to her, the music of life and hopefulness. Her own three daughters, two of whom were present in the room and one skyping from California, were delighted to play the hosts. Marjorie knew her own importance deep down even when her mere presence seemed to demand eye-rolling.

Nicki got up from the table to rummage in the cupboard, emerging triumphantly with a bag of tortilla chips for the guacamole Marjorie had made a half hour ago. Henry took selfies while Sandy and Rachel came laughing down the stairs in matching onesie pajamas.

Marjorie's older son Ethan, an intense young musician with a a wild ride of red hair, was playing behind closed doors in the downstairs bedroom. Marjorie could smell the unmistakeable skunky odor of pot. Trying to ignore it, she knocked softly. "Want some pizza, love?" she asked through the closed door. "In a minute mom," Ethan answered softly. She could hear the window being opened, as she returned to a dining room chorale from The Book of Mormon.

Ethan appeared in the kitchen doorway a few minutes later. "I'll have a slice if there's any left," he said to his mother, reaching for a plate. Marjorie smiled a real and true smile. She put two large slices on his plate and handed him a paper napkin. "Thanks, mom." He found a seat amid the throng as they -- thrilled by his older brother awesomeness -- gave him center stage. 

Marjorie thought of a line from Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. "People always think real happiness is a faraway thing . . . yet what little things can make it up: a place of shelter, a cup of strong hot coffee, a book to read, or just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Undivided Attention

(With acknowledgement to Heather McHugh)

We crave our own lost halves since
language and land were
sundered into kind.
Africa misses South America and the Andes
pine their lost rows.
Submerged volcanoes wreaked havoc with ebb and flow, causing
convergence, divergence,
subduction and schism.

I wave to my sisters an ocean away, those,
who by mere happenstance sit
confined in hijab and hovel while
I bask in skin and sunshine.

Who can claim to hold a soul, however
firmly gripped?

The West dances its celebratory shimmy while
sisters sit shiva in the sliced-up sand.
Can I grab the rope, pulley them
back to me?
Me to them?
Upper West Side meets West Bank,
Walmart and Wailing Wall.

I inhale and wade ashore, the
salty delta squishing between my toes,
desert sand reminding skyscraper
from whence it came.

You can look about, above, for
lords and kings.
But given what we know of topography and time,
perhaps it is the goddess
behind the veil
who un-divides the continent.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Among the Birches

Ted loved his hammock. Tied to two white-barked birch trees, its braided knots were strong enough to hold him and his chunky bulldog, Archie. The two friends slept here every night, enveloped in woven woolen warmth.

Ted untied his hammock every morning, folding it carefully, putting it up "out of harm's way," he thought as he walked to the well for washing and cooking water, carrying his pot on his head Johnny Appleseed style. Archie waited patiently by the blue wooden plank table and chair set up next to the stand of birches, wagging his stub of a tail expectantly as Ted came back into view with two painted wooden bowls filled with breakfast. The two were silent save for sipping and slurping noises.

Ted was not old, but looked worn out nonetheless. One of his eyes drooped from a childhood mishap, and, although he could still see out of it, he was secretly self-conscious of the mismatch. His hands -- perpetually dirt-encrusted from daily labor -- were calloused and hard. Ted's left leg was a fraction of an inch shorter than his right. It had always been that way, or so he thought, since, really, he could not remember a time he did not live among the birches.

Archie, Ted's constant companion, was as scrappy as his master. When one of his ears was torn in a fight, Ted attempted to sew it back on, all the while being pawed and gnawed. When the ear eventually healed, it stood straight up -- like the emerging periscope of a rising submarine. Archie's fur had rubbed off in spots behind his shoulder blades, leaving only a soft tan fuzz on both sides.

On this morning, after their campfire breakfast, Ted pulled his metal-rimmed cap (made from an old woman's purse) down low over his brow and stood up. "Come on Archie," he said, wincing at the too-high pitch of his young voice. "I sound like a girl," he thought, and grumbled roughly to make up for it.
The two friends spent the day in the woods, walking, climbing and gathering sticks for the evening fire.   They headed home as the sun set through the slats of the tree branches. Ted stopped short just before their own birch grove, noting in surprise that their hammock had already been set up for the night, knots tied neatly around the white trunks. "Who could have done this?" he wondered, more pleased than afraid, for this had happened before and although he never caught his mysterious helper, he had a sense that someone was looking out for him and Archie. After supper and fire, the two tired friends climbed in and fell quickly asleep.

Nancy's mother came into her room at 7:15 the next morning. "Time to get up sleepyhead," she sang as she did every school day morning. Nancy sat up blinking as her mother opened the slatted blinds. Then she leaned over to look under the white stool which doubled as a nightstand where, the night before, she had tied her woolen cap --the one her grandmother had crocheted for her -- to two of the stool's three legs. "Good morning Teddy," she smiled, giving the cap a little push with her index finger. Ted and Archie, rocked by the nudge, slept on.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Divided by three, it was still a chunk of change. But how could a house -- one that they all grew up in -- be cut up? A Solomonic dilemma. Lives reduced to dust and dollars.

39 Sherman Drive. They intoned it like a song. It was so scorched into their brains it often surfaced like smoke even years after, when each was asked their address.

Sherman Drive was a dead end street. When they were kids, their friend Billy Bensen painted the hilarious word REAR between the words DEAD and END on the yellow diamond-shaped sign. It was a baby boomer subdivision with four models of house from which to choose. Number 39 was mid-block, south-facing, a compact ranch with a brick facade and a cement stoop.

Lisa was two weeks old when they moved there. It was the house that held every Christmas, every birthday, every Monkey-in-the-Middle and Monopoly marathon. It was the house Christopher, the youngest, was born in, one snowy Christmas Eve, the house where the mom died in her sleep, the house where the blind and ailing dad was taken from in an ambulance without even a last chance for goodbye.

Lisa took it all in. She scanned the big living room, now devoid of all furniture, the slight echo of the emptiness playing back a generation of voices. Her oldest son, a wiry, ruddy young man, walked in the front door with the car keys in his hand. He saw his mother's face and listened for a moment. "Mom," he whispered finally. "Time to go."

Friday, February 6, 2015

Once Encounter

A pool table sat smack in the middle of the common room. The place was more rustic than I had hoped (read "shabby") but the grounds were green and fragrantly piney, a frat house for mosquitos and lightening bugs.

Lovett's Inn, nestled in the Franconia Notch looked less freshly whitewashed in person than in its brochure. The "natural swimming pool" was a swampy pond to one side and the "cozy cottage rooms" had walls so thin and crooked, you could see light coming through from the other side and hear every snore and mumble in the next room. The sheets on the squeaky iron beds were muslin, not percale -- like sleeping in a gunny sack. Everything smelled like musty basement.

I was in the pool room after supper. What we called "dinner" was "supper" here in New Hampshire. Ruth, our waitress for the week -- a chatty older woman with thick pin curls -- suggested my brothers and I might like to play in the common room after our meal.

My brother David was racking up the balls on the worn green felt as I practiced my expert cue-flicking. Closing one eye for better aim, I saw them enter the room. A girl about my own age and her younger brother walked down the steps. Unlike David and I, who were still in our grass-stained shorts, the two newcomers were in fresh party clothes. The boy seemed shy, and held back, but the girl smiled and came bouncing over to me.

"Hi!" she gushed. "I'm Kira and that's my brother Lenny. We got here this morning, how long have you been here? We're from Long Island, a town called Malverne, I'm in the fourth grade at Sacred Heart, are you Catholic? Where do you live? Do you like my dress, its new, my mom bought it right before our vacation, we went to Loehmann's. I like your hair, nice color. Is that your brother? What's his name? My brother's real name is Leonard, but only my mom calls him that. She's from Italy, my dad is Italian too, but he was born here. I speak Italian, are you Italian?"

I stook transfixed, not yet having said a word. As it turned out, Kira and I had a lot in common. We were also vacationing from Long Island. Yes, I was also a Catholic schoolgirl and, as we were later to find out our parents had already met in the dining room and were chatting away themselves. Our mothers, both Sicilian girls -- were becoming fast friends.

Kira and I spent the next four days together, on Lovett's grounds, riding the Cog Railway up Mount Washington, and meeting every night in the dining room for "supper." We got along well, even with her doing most of the talking.

On Kira's last day, we exchanged addresses and hugs. "I'll invite you to my birthday party, it's in October, you can meet all my friends," she called in one breath out the window of her family's Chrysler Imperial. I waved and wondered. Would I ever really see her again? Did I have the stamina to see her again? The buzzing of the mosquitos seemed extra loud in the void.