From Travelers on My Route
While You're Away
For my husband on the eve of his surgery
While you're away I'll shun the rose,
the cool night-breeze that sweetly blows,
the trilling of the cardinal's song.
Somehow it suddenly seems wrong
to revel when the pleasure goes.
And yet my tree hydrangea grows
with daily confidence. Who knows?
Perhaps I also can be strong
while you're away.
Without your buoyant smile that shows
the spirit of the man I chose,
without your often off-key song
that strives for Wagner (not too long),
I'll mimic coping, I suppose,
while you're away.
Tour Guide’s Lament
Florence, Italy, 2015
I lead my flock, who ceaselessly complain
about the coffee, crowds, the bus, the heat.
With haloed smile I comfort, and explain
that pasta is al dente here, domain of Chianti, white bean soup, and wine-braised meat.
I school my flock, whose taste is so mundane.
Raising my crook—red banner on a cane—
I point out Brunelleschi's dome. They tweet.
With hollow smile I linger to explain
the scaffold-free support built to maintain
that massive weight. They only want to eat.
I tolerate my flock, their sour refrain
that Tuscan bread is tasteless, that the rain
is forming channels on the cobbled street.
With frozen smile, I struggle to explain
that since the ancient tax, bakers abstain
from salt, and that the dewy air is sweet.
I loathe my flock: they trigger a migraine.
With twisted smile, I lecture through the pain.
From Grandma Poems—Not Too Sweet
When I pick him up at nursery school,
near the geraniums,
he sees my face through the open door
When he attacks my apple cake,
then licks up all the crumbs
from the plate and then the tabletop,
When his jigsaw puzzle’s almost done,
and the final piece succumbs,
his eyes ignite, his smile spreads wide,
and he hums.
What is this sound that captivates,
this pleasure note that comes
from deep inside a happy heart
and hums, and hums, and hums?
Making Apple Sauce
Push up your sleeves—yes, both—this could be messy.
Let’s fill the sink with sudsy water to scrub
the wax away. My mother (your great-grandma)
swore that the only apples fit to use
were McIntosh, the crisp ones from the farm.
Each fall, she’d buy a bushel, cook and jar them.
She’d freeze more than a dozen quarts, enough
to last us till the spring when she’d return
from Florida. We smiled each time that we
defrosted one. (She left us all winter long—
I could have used her help, but she was young
and liked to play.)
I’ll cut them into quarters—
you drop them in the pot. We leave the skins on;
they give the sauce a rosy color. Add some
water—not much. A low flame…now we wait.
The apples are soft—let’s add the sugar and lemon.
Close your eyes whenever you squeeze a lemon—
my mother said that it prevented tears.
Five minutes more and then we’ll let it cool….
Let’s put this big bowl in the sink, and next
that metal sieve; it’s called a China Cap
because it’s shaped like a Chinese hat. I’ll find
a picture for you later on the Net.
It’s very old. How old? Oh, seventy years
at least. Can you count up to seventy
by tens? Good work. Let’s push these metal legs
into the collar holes. See how the sieve
sits in the collar above the bowl. We’re ready.
Use this big spoon and slide the apples into
the sieve. Now take that wooden cone and press.
Leave the pointy end in the sieve—make circles,
like this (I still can feel her hand on mine).
We’re almost finished; here’s the cinnamon.
We’ll leave half plain—then everyone can choose.
I’ll bet that we have almost seven quarts—
you take three home today; I’ll freeze the rest.
(I see her scraping apple sauce off her apron.)
What did I say? Oh, nothing. Excellent job.
After you wash your hands, we’ll call your mother.
From Dancing with Bare Feet
“to practise in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.”
-Baldesar Castiglione. The Book of the
Tr. George Bull, London 1967.
DiMaggio had it, so did Fred Astaire—
the dazzle of a sweet swing, the appealing
insouciance of a dancer on the ceiling—
the absent strain, the unassuming flair.
Since what we saw seemed natural as air,
the artistry that disallows revealing
bewitched us as we reveled in the feeling
that we could do it too, if we were there.
But elegance has shriveled into cool:
the fashion model pouting into space,
disdainful glances from the clique at school.
And accolades for apathy erase
the reverence for skill that was the rule,
while we sweep up the vestiges of grace.
Finalist, Howard Nemerov Sonnet Contest 2009.
Published in Measure, Vol. IV, Issue 1, Winter 2009
Dancing with Bare Feet, Kelsay Books, 2016
Sleeping with Darth Vader
A CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) mask blows air into the nose to open obstructed airways and regulate the breathing during sleep of those who have Apnea.
Those mute fermatas—I would hold my breath
until I heard you gasping back to life.
And now at night you’re tethered by a hose,
air hissing softly to a background hum.
More like an ICU than marriage bed.
A little white noise insulates my sleep,
but when I wake, the harbinger returns.
Sweet Anakin, the sun declares your freedom.
It’s time to breathe the balm of morning air,
to comfort me with your cheek touching mine.
From The Most Beautiful Room in the World
You were never better, says the agent
to the actress when the curtain falls.
That’s some baby, says the aunt,
although his ears stick out like sails.
Evasive terms conceal the sword,
like put to sleep or pass away,
or iron wrinkles of discomfort
with powder room and W.C.
Con artists airbrush to obscure
the truth, to mollify an outrage:
ethnic cleansing, friendly fire,
detainee, collateral damage.
Soft words may murder honesty,
but who can love the strident voice
that blasts the ear with accuracy,
leaving the listener no choice?
For several years, on December 21, the mother of one of the passengers read aloud
the names of the people who died in the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
To honor her daughter,
and the other sons
she reads their names
in front of the UN building.
The guards grant
Sometimes it rains,
which makes the task
bleaker, but she reads.
The passing winters cool
a nation’s rage
hold the headlines,
are turned toward unseen
But still she reads.
This stage holds
like those who spoke their lines
at the Twin Towers site
one year after.
This is a lean
A second mother,
who used to read with her,
now cradles her grief at home.
So she reads
alone, in a clear
and persistent voice,
the names floating upward,
to come down.