My mother always had such blond
hair that my father used to say he could see it through a telephone.
Calling from Union
Station, he would swear he could see it all the way from Chicago.
I have tried to imagine her in our old
apartment, putting down the receiver and looking westward through smog
across the Hudson River into a ball of sun less gold
than her hair.
For years I have tried to remember the way my father
dropped his r's and said very frankly
or heddo, instead of hello, when he answered the phone.
Yet even while they were alive and I brought them flowers,
when he would wag his red
face in my face and talk about the Second World
War—even then I always made sure I carried
their wallet-sized photos.
Even as I write this there is a photo on my desk
of them mugging like kids
next to some playground swings in the snow.
My father seems about to hurl a gigantic snowball,
and my mother's mouth is shaped like an O.
No! she is protesting, her hair hidden in a fur cap.
But see, it is already snowing so hard
the flakes are falling like asterisks.
can change our lives
make the difference
between acceptance and
turn down for the next request
rejection is more than just "no"
it alters everything that follows
and who knows if she was to be the one
for Eudora Welty who, at age six, felt the moon
become round in her mouth
She watched the flat moon
in the darkening sky
shine into a sphere. Moon
smooth as white marble,
sweet as a grape on her tongue.
Moon, it gleamed into shape
and soon left her mouth for the sky.
The clock in the hall
clicked glass and gold on her tongue.
Star and cup, cotton and coffin...
she hoarded words like jars of summer
fruit. Not to ward off hunger
(hunger itself so lean, so good a word)
but for this:
To hold fast the night and the light.
To hold fast the shape and the weight
and the sound of a mouthful of moon.
Writer's Digest Writing Competition
Nonrhyming Poetry Winner (1999)
under the name Jan Weldin
She left the world
To meet the Keeper of the Word,
To me unseen, like a transparent bird,
As I was far- long hours of the snow-
I prayed the carols in a voice so low.
I do remember her plain face, so kind,
How much she walked, how much she toiled
In the vicinity of lives un-foiled,
Being a common sanitary maid,
Much working and so little paid,
Walking four miles back to her small farmstead-
So little rest – much work instead.
I will remember the rare days,
When she came hurriedly to my own mother's place,
I will remember her strong hands and manners, calm…
I hope my prayers will apply some balm
Onto the so-much-suffered heart
That had, by God's Will, to depart.
Being on fast and praying every day,
I hope my prayers ease her way
Etheree for Prompted to Write
ISPS Fall Newsletter—2014
and art hold one
thing in common: Wind.
Days dismal or dazzling
find joy in a green hedge or
the in-between mauve colorings
of heaven's breath moving flute-like clouds
as Margaret sips coffee at sunrise.
In the land of water & wooden shoes,
bicycles, windmills & tulip mania—
I think about van Gogh's bandaged
self-portrait & impasto brush strokes,
Anne Frank journaling in garret hideaway
as I pedal past her landmark Westerkerk
along tree-lined canal, cobblestone straat
filled with other fietsers cycling swiftly
to work or school, bike-bells ringing
out in crisp morning air, late April
under cloudless Amsterdam sky.
Our docent, silver-haired & stoic,
conjures St. Monica in soft-eyed
devotion to haar studenten as we
stutter & strain to replicate strange
sounds, tongues tangle as brains fail
to make mouths comply, guttural 'g'
gargles & lodges in throats. Still our
teacher listens to these gnarly attempts
without grimace or twitch. She smiles
& speaks niet snel, s-l-o-w-l-y
repeating de worden until it clicks
in my foggy English recesses
& I am 4 years old learning to read,
struggling mightily with th words
that came out wrongly dis & dat but
now are just right for Nederlandse.
Excited, I read a passage aloud
to the class. When docent nods her
approval, I skyrocket like shooting stars
in Vincent's Starry Night—
until I hit another 'g' & crash.
(first published in chapbook
In Search of Lode)
The mountain must have come first,
the lake once a glacier slicing stone
with an irrevocable blade of ice.
Then the melt lay siege,
witness to this gentle panorama
born of a thousand small wounds.
Now the lake crouches
in the shelter of granite and grove,
having surrendered her ancient sword
into the hands of the hill.
Lake without mountain, uncontained,
would rush over the harbor
and vanish into crystal.
Mountain without lake would regress
to naked beast, with nothing to hold
in its rocky grasp, full of the emptiness
of its own grandeur. Together, transfixed,
they need no purpose under the moon.
(First published in Quantum Leap)
Sitting here in this chair
Listening to Alicia Key's
You don't Know My Name
Loving the lyrics and delivery
As a lone tear drop starts to frame
But the twist is you've known
Me for years but things stay the same
But it's not entirely your fault
Because unlike Rakim and Beyoncé
I didn't teach you to say my name
Because I didn't think you were capable
Of anything long term but I liked you
So I thought that we were able
To connect at certain times
Getting older and thankful the
Libido is slowing down
Thought there would be no need for
Speedo's hitting the ground
But they do and as a woman
I end up Catching feelings
When you don't call or text
My emotions hit the ceiling!
But the last encounter through
My tears enabled me to see my worth
I walked away knowing our relationship
Was a death and not a birth.
at an RV park in Florida
with mandolin in hand I take my place
in the half circle of aspiring musicians
next to a woman playing ukulele
and on my other side another guitar
one of those that outnumber the rest of us
by a factor of at least six to one
an eclectic crew by generous standards
a motley one by those not so generous
skills ranging from barely adequate
to long time semi-professional
all retired now we congregate to experience
the only chance we have to apply skills
worked on day by day sometimes for years
a chance to entertain those inclined to attend
knowing what they are getting is not world class
and yet here we all are player and audience
making the most of our golden years
in a snapshot on her nightstand
lace collar flatters
her face dappled with freckles
the lilac bush
in the photo blossoms the room
open to the fragrance of her youth
a sepia fossil
trapped behind glass
she stares out the window
(Published in Blue Hour Magazine 2013)
First: Must accept modified choice.
I look for a deep copper pan
but go away with a shallow one.
Second: Must be ready to modify.
If the scarf is missing fringes,
I may pick up the needle
and thread to add tassels.
Third: Must modify the purpose.
I may pick up a pretty vase
but may use it as a paintbrush cup.
Modifiers must be allowed –
that's my last rule.
i sat in an alleyway
of "till death do us part"
drinking moonshine substitute
because my own moon let me down
after it led me down the aisle of white
and words now beg for handouts
after ones said from the mass missal
became mass missiles of anger and
before we ran into the embankment
fenders dented by offending mishaps
in what was once a happy cruise
with nothing to lose...
promises feel very cold now
as the north winds chap my hands
and my chapped heart
longs for warmth
i grip the bottle tighter
take another swig of sauntering backwards in time
invite the clouds to share tears
for the seemingly lost years
as i meander down the block
"honor, love and cherish"
tucked safely under a
full metal jacket.
It was the early 1970s and you thought
it would be interesting to hypnotize
your children. So one by one you sat us
down, counting slowly to 100. I remember
looking at a blinking Christmas tree light.
You told me to close my eyes. Your voice
was smooth, intoxicating, like the vodka
tonic on the side table. We sat together
for 10, 15 minutes, you feeling more in
control despite each sip of your drink,
me drunk on the attention.
Now, I spend quiet afternoons with you
in your wheelchair. We gaze at the television—
the voices of Dan Rather or Wolf Blitzer
hypnotize our psyches. Now and then you
close your eyes and I speak to you in
hushed tones, coffee in hand. You worry
about your finances, as you grip the remote,
the panic of losing control aching into
each second, each minute, each hour.
(Previously published in Prairie Light Review)
Light leaped in her.
When nearby factories
into an ash-spackled sky
only the young girls
in a schoolyard
and rustle skirts
of pearl-pink crinoline
their palms clasped
one to the next.
All darkness acquiesced.
only the music
in patent leather.
their splash of pink.
She smelled incense
of flowering plum
long before the petals
drank in spring's
of white magnolia.
I can testify her light
Even on days
when my light runs cold—
still her light leaps.
Spring never fails
all white heat lusty
tiny shoots stud
the snow-blind earth.
in this postmodern time
of deconstructed sky and earth
he still employs the traditional technique
pouring reds and yellows
over mountains and plains
to become a modern painting of autumn
brilliant, harmonious and full of meaning
one more time
Come wander through me,
I smell so sweet,
And hear the rustle beneath your feet.
Come journey through me,
I'll envelope your soul,
And bring you peace while you stroll.
Come walk through me,
And see my splendor,
Some old and grand, some young and tender.
Come run through me,
And feel my breeze,
Beneath the shelter of my trees.
Come be with me,
And hear my chorus,
Up in my canopy,
Have you heard
the pretty bird
in the gilded cage
is like a rhapsody,
oh what joy
it can bring.
But if you knew
like I do
of a once broken
that its lyrics
say a quite
is full of rage and sorrow
about forgotten yesterdays,
and lost tomorrows.
About the freedom
it will never have again.
So take another listen
Give notice, take heed,
lend an ear.
Is it really just
a melody you hear?
Two, drawn by need, desire, fear
Collide and find we want to be near.
Time is relative, dreams come true,
Nights are filled with something new.
Morning brings a brand new day,
How we hate to break away.
Circumstances call for understanding.
Can we deal with what life's handing?
Life resumes to emptiness,
Though, we find we must confess,
The pain gets in the way
Of the new in our brand new day.
If love hurts more than it feels good,
If we don't give in love what we should,
It's time to talk, then, you and I
To tell the truth, to compromise.
If we can't seem to help it grow,
Let's be strong and let it go.
For what in life and love is real?
Our minds, our hearts and how we feel.
She shakes her arm and angles the cane forward,
presses down before moving her leg;
every feature of her stooped stature focuses
on that single step, frown lines deep, riven with anxiety.
She pauses, peers, squints, reaches for a humorous Valentine.
She studies the cover and opens it, looks up laughing
to share the humor with?no one. She sighs,
shakily replaces the card, moves slowly on, frown returning.
But, someone stealthily plucks the funny card from the rack,
sneaks it into her grocery bag. Later, alone, when she finds it,
the frown lines shatter, and she smiles through her tears.
She laughs again. Someone saw.
perishing on the fresh grave of his dreams.
I watch the rise and fall of his chest
counting each breath,
praying fiercely for the next.
Once muscled up in six feet of elegant confidence,
now, he's like a stalk of corn in November,
the life within him growing quiet.
For the first time I have no shields with him
and he no power for the arrows of his piercing criticism.
He wakes and turns his fragile head to see me.
Cold defeat dulls his eyes.
The glory of the day is gone from his face.
He pulls his scaly, bloodless lips into a smile.
Hey…Doc, he breathes.
His voice is small but bursts in my ears.
My tears burn but I keep them in my eyes.
Can I kiss you, Daddy is all I think to say.
The cancer dissolved the rusted chains
around his heart and I'm allowed in.
Sure…Doc, he rasps. It's been a while…since I've…shaved.
I do. And I'm surprised. His beard is strong as boar's hairs.
My heart breaks, dismantling into chilling fragments of dread.
Hey…Doc, he murmurs hoarsely.
I wanna…tell you…something.
Yes, Daddy? I lean in close. He has no smell.
Some of these nurses…got the fattest…asses.
I laugh. Loud. He laughs too, his body
lifting from the crumpled sheets.
In this bright moment
my hope becomes courageous, bold. But bright blood
leaks from his nose and he coughs. And coughs.
More blood. On his chest. The sheets.
I hold curses in my mouth.
My awareness of his end becomes dagger's blade keen.
Soon he will be carried off to an irredeemable
and untouchable place,
leaving me wondering if I was in his thoughts,
if he had any regrets,
if he knew that I loved him, longed to be close to him,
in spite of how he could tighten the air,
making it hard for me to breathe.
I clean him, cradling him against the cotton of my shirt,
my tears dropping down his bony back.
This is the longest we've ever touched.
He leaves two wide stains much larger than eyes.
You seem to be seen by me
Live in a world of full imagination
Stars, milky way, universe
A powerful consciousness I can feel and see
You're in everywhere
But when I seek carefully
You disappeared from my mind
Where I'm able to see you?
Only in my closing eye
Do not want to open eye again
You won't disappear in my mind......
Bless words that splatter the sky plum
and spin the moon into a soccer ball.
Let phonemes and morphemes bedazzle
then roll off my pen
to assemble as rainbows of the mind.
Bongo new rhythms and make them rough,
a clatter of satyrs and gnomes
that throb through the soles in disjointed delight
assaulting the jaded and worn.
Entangle distortions to cant and warp
turning cannons into diamonds
or blister like jalapenos that sizzle the tongue,
their odd connections to sear the complacent
and turn the world upside down.
Let the fanciful hear a honeybee roar
and the rosebud's murmured retort.
Let the ear bend to its hullabaloo
and lips shriek in joyous affirmation,
this life envisioned anew.
Into the night
I take this flight—
spirits of light
are angels in white.
They guard and stand,
at the foot of my bed—
watching over me,
during dreams ahead.
They are the ones that call,
in dreamland halls—
I hear their whisper in the walls
pulling me above it all.
They are the voices within
reassuring the need,
not to fear or doubt.
They are my guides
through life, until my death—
directing the path,
until the last breath.
The world sees you
wearing this dull gray pain
close to your skin—a thin,
tight layer of mail armor
that tortures every move,
repels all who come near.
But luckily, Love is blind
and adept at translating
She can wrap herself
around you like
a soft angora sweater,
a perfect fit
for the healing heart.
Shimmering but cold, late afternoon rides
across day. The gulf, pushed by wind, moves
fast but slow—no ripples. And though the wind
negates the sun's warmth, it cannot erase
the diamond-dazzle, or sheen of light that swallows
sailboats in its maw.
As I reflect, Gerard Manley Hopkins comes in
on a wave—his concept of inscape, living into
the thing, as I live into this blinding brightness,
as if entombed in its womb—salt water sea,
amniotic fluid, floating cloud of unknowing.
I cannot explain what's happening or the rise
of joy. But I say Yes. Yes to everything.
(First published in Windhover:
Journal of Sacred Literature)
Floppy ears flapping in the morning breeze
A wet nose rubs up against my face
When I have been working too much at my desk
A long brown nose nudges my elbow
Time to play, work put away for a while
In the middle of the room down on his haunches
Butt up the air a stub of a tail wagging his body
Brown eyes watching my every move
Down on my elbows on the floor we face off
Neither of us moving staring
He growls watching me… waiting
I growl daring him to make a move
Then with a flash he is running around and around
I bury my head in my arms
He sneaks up sniffing pawing at me
I grab a hold of him and we roll around the floor
Both of us breathing hard… retreat back to couch
He sits with his head in my lap and falls asleep
I tilt my head back against the couch
My eyes close … good times
When the midnight siren shrieks
the cake mill heaves its final sigh
of efflorescent powdered breath.
At first we heard voices discarnate
in darkness, cursing, laughing at
some bad joke about a lazy foreman
then the tips of sparked tobacco bloom
and a surge of white-garbed workers
mixers of frostings, packagers of puffed
rice, disciples of an ancient agrarian cult
swagger under tattered plastic pennants
past islands of sleeping Gasboy pumps
into the fluorescent harbor of this all-
night convenience store, its air heavy
with patchouli from seven smoldering
incense sticks the Pakistani counter clerk
burns, masking the bite of bleach from
a fresh-scrubbed floor. Soon the guards
will be released from their prison
miners will rise up from bonelands
of carbon seas into this gyre of nightly
ritual, one last lottery ticket or some
candy for a sleeping child. And
we will pay for our fuel, our cups
of coffee, yours with four crèmes
two sugars, knowing we have witnessed
an elusive moment, perhaps the one
true verse, the one I cannot write.
(Previously published in
Sou'Wester, Spring 2014)
What is the difference
between the frozen lake
and summer's first running
dive off the dock's end?
The next degree of orbit.
Turning and turning
days grow long and light—
all shadow finally filled
by the laws of geometry.
Though my mind abandons
you in every season
and the cold pretends to own me
you live in my forgetfulness
as the red heat of noon
burns inside white winter skin
as the blue of seven seas
lives inside each melting crystal
of iced-over desire.
(From Tongues of Trees)
followed by a patchouli incense burn
kindling the coming sweet
campfire of sun.
A water bombing of
rain showers only fuels
yellow, orange, blue
wildfire of wildflowers
burning across a manicured lawn
within fire line boundaries of garden rock
reaching out to the edge of vegetable rows.
Overflowing container plants
sit baking in the patio sun
like perfect apple cobbler
in a dutch oven camp stove
that hints in the next season
to burn biscuits with its heat.
The stifling of summer
when the dry air
churns up the smell of dirt-smoke
from the lawnmower
spring of moist cut grass.
Against all green thumb peril
of the coming Midwest bake off
this true Smokey the Bear
sheds an Easter Bunny apron
to a sundress and sandals
and fire jumps into the local greenhouse
to light the low flame of tulips
that will simmer in spring.
Snow, the great silencer,
back into their nests,
and lays three more inches
of crystalline camouflage
over an acorn cache.
Squirrels silently shelter
themselves under bushy tails.
Deer doze in the woods,
their breathing almost soundless.
No movement is visible
through the lake's frozen surface.
As I walk into winter
my troubled spirit quiets.
(Originally published in The Avocet)
Black and white,
In caged light,
Great is their appetite,
In caged light,
And at night,
They are pulled apart
To curl up
Like two cotton balls
Till each awakes up
In caged light.
Our love traps them
In caged light;
It's hard to tell
the difference between sparrows and the homeless.
Both live in the corners
of your eyes, invisible,
existing on seed and spare change.
One can fly away,
the other can't.
Uneasy, I walk past
fearing it could be me
sharing the bare
light-bulb sun of winter.
Promises vague but clear:
… make next year the happiest of marriage …
here's to a year of the most fun …
our cards went,
and paper's good as stone.
We might have meant let's act in faith with no fear
but please not alone.
One month in: smiles, smirks, quirks … quarks?
We ask him, "Could our strange flavors work?"
"I guess yes," replies Einstein,
"but that stuff's certain top to bottom,
and you're too damn random."
His charming accent distracts us from us, but,
still stuck in the dark, we keep lurking near his lab.
Love the sentiment, hate the math.
The sediment, though, crushes,
black layers our baggage
that some startling days we lose
and fly first cabin,
light and carryon.
Physicist says we're information only,
that we two particles could shoot apart forever,
still communicate, still mate,
The tangle is the clue to the beginning.
Listen, and don't dismiss this promise.
Trust, so you don't miss this. Promise?
Entanglement is unavoidable, sure as physics.
25 light-years on, our big-bang clue:
promise it again and new, again and new, again and
Because of you I've learned so much,
especially how to live.
To cherish all the little things,
to share, to love, to give.
Because of you I love music,
from classical to rock.
It fills my head and warms my soul,
the rhythm never stops.
Because of you I cherish nature,
the flowers, birds and trees.
The smell of fall, the winter wind,
they're all so beautiful to me.
Because of you I know God,
He's with me every day.
He gave me you and I'm so glad,
that you're my mom today.
(In memory of my Mom - 1937-2014)
(on reading a found letter from a father
missing in action in World War II)
you stepped out of the heaps of broken stones
that lined the streets of my childhood.
Forty-five years of my mother’s waiting,
and giving up,
and moving on,
and still remembering sometimes.
Forty-five years of stories from the ones who came back,
and from your brothers,
and from your sisters,
themselves now passing on.
Forty-five years of settled dust,
and settled war accounts,
and settled lives.
These years have held your formless face
amidst the ruins of a madman’s dream.
And now, a letter awakens you,
summons you from these deep labyrinths of time,
decrees your existence for me.
I hear the rifle crack at your elbow,
and the boom of the cannon from another hill,
and the clanking and grinding
of tanks over the Russian steppe;
I feel the pounding of the blood in your throat
as you write amidst the flares,
and on your lips I read the prayer:
Dear God, I have a daughter,
let me make it home.
Morning, and the birds are preening
On this wide, winter-worn lawn. Those
Old geese are forgotten beauties,
Or are they just beauties who have
Forgotten themselves? They have slung
Their grey heads and necks like they were
Garden hoses slung on spigots.
In a listless, open field like
This, nature tends to the ponding
Making grey, mirror-like lakes for
Every pearl grey body to see.
They glimpse their beauty if only
Temporarily. It quickly
Disappears, as is commonly
Known. Sparrows congregate nearby.
But what I hear is the echo
Of geese, their barking, it carries
Across the wide and hollow lot
That I must cross, a sound shaped by
The space, the cold, the delayed time
Like a song, heard from a distance
Once upon a time. The song I
Can't recall. Summer. Nothing was
Close then, either. So I stayed out
Late and listened to the music well
Into the Fall, which, everyone
Knows is certain to be cooler.
Not so long ago
.....in the time when guns were politically correct
every little boy loved his shooting toy
his cap pistol
to point and aim and fire
playing cops and robbers
playing cowboys and indians
his budding macho
nurtured by knowing nods of parental approval
.....it was a time when a little boy yanked
mischievously on a pigtail
then strutted manly
before the little girl he liked
while she flirtatiously frowned
twinkle in her eye
even as she complained
.....and it was a time when glossy ads adorned
the back pages of comic books
hawking sleek Daisy BB guns
to pubescent boys
ripe for new thrills.
While playing hunt he feels
the power of his gun
the power of his Daisy
enabling him to deliver
a caress from afar
to the tempting parts
of the female anatomy.
Like a sniper
he sights through his darkened front window
five floors high above the street
peering down from his hidden perch
tracking a target of opportunity
squeezing off a lone shot
watching the pellet arc down
to hit its mark with a soft thwack.
- Yes, Yes, Yes!"Oww" she exclaims
and he is sure she felt
his tingling touch on her ass
and has that twinkle in her eye.
The instinctive thrill of the hunt
entwines with new-found longings
as his flesh tingles
and his mind is burning hot
in the fertile fantasy land
Levees collapse, overflow; wind vents anger
on flimsy wood. The old and disenfranchised
cry for water, bread, milk for their babies.
Rivers leave their beds, surge into houses,
leer at family pictures, cover memory icons,
then toss all into trashy graves.
Subways erupt fire: people scream, claw
to escape. Soldiers drive through war streets,
murmur frantic prayers. The earth heaves.
Heartsick, the poet gives, prays, struggles for words
of courage or hope which won't be blown up,
broken, or smothered in moldy loss.
Where his pen marks the page; where his knees dent
the prayer carpet, where his thoughts rush to the world,
a tremulous light glows.
(Honorable Mention in Oklahoma contest, 11/14)
In dreams I stroll through Paris, the long green
boulevards of Champs Elysees, haunt of Proust,
the mysteries, rose glass, and vaulted ceilings
of Notre Dame, housing shadows and longings;
on bustling streets, men and women amble
with baguettes under sleek, chic arms,
book lovers bask by the stands along the Seine.
At night the elegant, brilliant sweep of Eiffel Tower,
mysterious glitter of lit windows at Maxims,
the iced-wine dark of foreign streets--
traps of danger due to daring European drivers--
star-lit evenings filled with so many wishes
of so many Americans, who hope
to find their dreams in spring in Paris.
(Published in Prairie Light Review,
Fall 2014, vol. XXXVII.)
I have a cherished 1949 photograph of my little brother
and myself staring in wonder at a department store Santa,
each of us wearing a well-remembered tailored woolen
coat and matching hat purchased from that same store.
My all-time favorite winter coat, a nubby navy chesterfield,
was irreparably damaged by smoke in a 1960 house fire
while the family visited our newlywed sister in Texas.
A later chesterfield, in logan green and cream tweed, was
stolen in 1986 out of our Corvette sports car, along with
its T-top skylight windows, in terrible January weather
during Chicago's super bowl festivities.
The mink jacket that replaced that missing coat has been
worn only half a dozen times in the twenty-five years
since its purchase, so passé is the wearing of real fur.
Now, a long wool scarf wound around one's neck makes
the skimpiest jacket suffice for cold weather.
Today's youth don't even wear coats. They slip from car
to house to school in skin-tight tops and leggings, only
their electronics snuggled.
(Published by The Rockford Review, Gala Edition)
Tell me a secret of living, dear Mother,
a new one I've never been told—
some hint about life to remember you by
that will stay with me when I've grown old.
"An overlooked secret of humans, my child,
is that each is a seed that will flower,
and that each has a future of limitless joy,
whatever the pains of the hour.
"And I tell you that no love has ever been lost
nor is anything out of place—
that your work is to strive, to give and to know
in this journey through time and space.
"Your grandmother told me the same when she died
and I willingly pass it along.
May your living go deeper than what you can see
and your heart hear the Infinite Song."
Now rest, dear Mother, and sleep your sleep
in a region where pain is unknown.
As long as I live I will treasure your words
and will pass them along to my own.
(From Just Below Now)
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