Winners' Circle

Holiday ornament, by Judith Fox-Goldstein


Today I take out a stethoscope and have a clumsy listen.

In the dark of morning, I count the hours I have rested, feeling the fuzzy confusion of fitful dream-laced sleep, long gowns, burning bombs, false beards, impecunious artists, posing lovers, tiny disappearing dogs. Unwilling to be drawn back into such carryings on, I fold back the mound of covers, pull on a heavy sweater, place my feet on freezing floorboards.

I put a sweet potato in the oven to warm the kitchen, snip figs into bubbling balsamic, simmer thick oats and prunes in coconut milk. I arrange raw pumpkin seeds, pistachios, flax meal, dark chocolate, foggy blueberries, counting the motions, portioning individually, measuring as a meditation.  

At my desk up on the third floor looking across at Brooklyn brownstones, sun rising in un-curtained windows, I pay two bills, paste two stamps, order the new Forever sixty-cent series of modernist paintings by George Morrison, suitable for the day reserved to honor indigenous peoples.  

I tie grosgrain around rolls of linen to hold back the door drafts, do the wash, read about the friendship gone sour between Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon.  I seed a pomegranate.

I take my daily run near the water, underneath the bridge, past sailboats and picnic tables. I spot a small child with a stick chasing a taffy-colored dog. It occurs to me that humans must be nuisances as pets. Seeing many men with strollers, I think how the sexes seem to be realigning. The sun is pouring down.

I return home and sit down with a cup of green tea, but the light draws me into the backyard. I fill six paper compost bags with colorful leaves. I trim the roses, chop at tangled boughs, my attack untrained. I ransack the hostas, giant leaves wilting, yellowed. I unwind wisteria from around the cables, thinking these drooping lines threaded with ivy and smoke bush and honeysuckle cannot really be how the internet system enters our house.

I come inside and go downstairs, looking for my husband’s mother’s Christmas tree stand. Someone turns the basement light off from upstairs, leaving me in total darkness amid storage shelves and trunks and boxes on the dirt floor of an 1843 brick house. I cannot find my way out, and screaming does not seem to help.  I use the tree stand as a shield.

Light is restored and I do not inquire who turned it off, but back upstairs, I coerce my mother-in-law into letting me put a few of her unused kitchen items out on the step, a bread maker, an electric ice cream freezer, two chopping devices. She is reluctant to part with any of it, but the basement incident gives me some sway. I tell her that objects should be reallocated if they are no longer of use and crowding the shelves. She retaliates that she feels as if her life is being given away, and does not add, by me.

My husband, a public defense attorney, leaves for a late arraignment shift, telling me that hearing “please help me” in his wife’s distressed voice coming from three floors below had interrupted his nap, him thinking it a dream. I start to tell him his trousers are wrinkled in the back, and he gives me that warning look, says where he is going this does not matter.  

I settle to work on handbag designs in the upstairs study, my son’s abandoned bedroom. I sit at my father’s George Nelson desk surrounded by the nostalgia of a drum kit, two globes, a rock collection, a clay polar bear painted white with shading of ice blue sculpted long ago for a fifth-grade class project, a pair of Godzilla figures, the classic Led Zeppelin poster. I become immediately absorbed. As the light fades, a loud buzzing honeybee flies through the closed but warped window and vanishes into a silver light canister, reappearing minutes later, unharmed by the sizzling hot bulb. He curls slowly out of the chrome lip, taunting.

I vacate the study as there is no one home to save me, noting that I use male pronouns too freely. I cook pasta with sweet peas and leeks and purple carrots, a pesto from dill and the carrots’ rooty tops. I add the tiniest Brussel sprouts, size of small marbles. I take a plate dotted with radish sprouts to my husband’s mother.  

I try to remove a stain from the coral branch rug in the front living room, scour large white scars into the carpet, search the storage closet and find a ‘60s tablecloth from which I long ago removed a center square for a pillow. I scissor the remains into a new mod geometric eyelet, a third eye, which might later be assembled into a large floor cushion. I am pleased at the imperfect match of the rug to the off-whites and orange-pinks of the fabric. I wonder how many days I will leave this puzzle laid out on the carpet before I complete this task.

Darkness covers the day, and the streetlight comes on. The night quiets and there is little traffic. In the few hours left before sleep, I decide the Christmas dinner theme, New World, at which we will play the music of Nick Cave, Robert Fripp, Philip Glass. I imagine a red split lentil soup with saffron threads and black mustard seeds and cumin and lemon. I sew on two buttons, mend a green sweater. I think about becoming a Luddite. 

I call my sisters and we chuckle. I send comments on a friend’s essay. I look up planting a weed garden for butterflies and bees in a small front yard. I pause at the New York Times ninety-three most stylish and text my friend that it must be a cartoon. I do not let myself wonder that I spent my life in fashion.  

I find and read aloud the passage in which Nabokov’s Russian professor falls back, his chair upturned, while lecturing. I shut my laptop, unable to watch the videos of Uber drivers offering free rides in the Ukraine.

I put dishes away, set black beans to soak, climb into a steaming bath to read about the bad timing between Pollock and de Kooning. My tub looks out a window onto aging backyards. I do not intrude on the young girl across the way in her kitchen but know voyeuristically that she is there.  


I practice a rudimentary yoga position, trying to center, to not tumble, so far impossible. I rationalize that my lack of balance might have to do with vocabulary, askew being one of my overused words. For me it describes that feeling of being akilter, off to the side, seeing the world from unusual angles. I could not bear to retire it.  

Sometimes running I feel weightless. Sometimes, sleeping, I feel connected, grown into my husband. Sometimes I talk to my shockingly adult children at dinner across the conversation, using only minimal eyebrow movements, and they understand.

When I was young, I used to practice flying, dropping my lunch box and books, lifting off into high winds, letting them carry me, or so it felt, over the map of a playground, seeing the grass growing smaller, the ants waving me off.

I have always sealed myself into a world of my own devising. As a child, my perimeters were the bookmobile, blanket camps and snow forts, a white shag rug upon which it was impossible not to spill. I had three goldfish—Sebastian, Myra, and Rachel—and three store-bought dresses. We sold Kool-Aid mixed with lemonade, hid flashlights under our covers. I made pamphlets for a model cardboard home built out behind the garage, served our daily allocation of chocolate chips to neighbors lining up for the tour. We collected dolls from many lands at the Texaco station, tried to jump western style from one bike to another. It was flabbergasting, and I was riveted, putting it all carefully away even as it was happening.  

I bathe the dog left by my vacationing son. I am entranced and lug her and her bed up two flights into mine.

The sky is velvet blue. The birds are sleeping. The earth is myriad, my adventures small and disparate.  

I try to bend this wondrousness into words. 



Tripping the Light Ekphrastic
by Ronnie Hess
  Devotees of the well-made ekphrastic poem— a poem deeply immersed in the visual arts— are about to discover another expert practitioner... It’s the addition of Hess’s own layer of descriptive imagery that lifts these works of art to a new level, even beyond the boundaries of the canvas.
— Marilyn L. Taylor, Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2009/10, author of Outside the Frame: New and Selected Poems
  These poems embrace, with grace, tenderness, and love, “this fractured terrified world.” Often inspired by paintings, the poems are themselves painterly, a poetry of exquisite sensory keenness, which fills the stories Hess tells simultaneously with zest and sorrow, and makes us aware, at even the simplest moments, of the eternal tug of war between life and death. If you want to be “dazzled, showered in rapture,” you need go no further than this dazzling, rapturous book.
—Ronald Wallace, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of numerous books of poetry, including, most recently, For a Limited Time Only.
  Available from Kelsay Books Photo: Edie Swift


Judy Collinson came to New York from the Midwest with a journalism degree to work for Glamour magazine. She fell accidentally into fashion, a profession in which she worked for over forty years. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, who is a public defense attorney in Harlem.

Judith Fox-Goldstein moved to St. Augustine, Florida, from the Big Island of Hawai’i with a background in higher education. Judith discovered her art awakening in 2019 and has not put the paint brush or other creative materials down since. 

4 Comments on “Gratitude

  1. What a gorgeous description of a moment ( a day) in time. I love reading about people, and your inner commentary as you move through your day made me feel like I was there with you- not THERE enough to interrupt you, but simply to experience and enjoy.

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