Ann Folwell Stanford
Dear talking crow
Dear scent of gardenia,
Wreath of marigolds.
calls attention to itself—
little fires in elbows
hair in the comb
the gut delicate
and the feet
oh the feet.
The body is a want.
A constant thing.
Give us this day our daily dose,
give us this day to walk on air.
Let us remember, let us forget.
Knit us in light. Help us unfurl.
Things to Do in the Belly of the Poem
after “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti
Count the syllables. Test the meter. Decide
on line length and stanzas: couplets, triplets,
quatrains, free verse, blank verse, formal.
In the next draft, do it all over again.
Bake some bread. Make soup. Breathe.
Take a pair of scissors to the words, cut
them apart, stab them, throw them into the air
and watch them float down. See if any survive
the flight. Shuffle them, mix them, change
tenses, hang them inside out and upside down.
Take a yoga break and hang your body
upside down. Let the fresh blood
rush into your head and hope all the words
rearrange themselves. Try to forget
those words that won’t leave you alone.
Breathe. Listen to Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton.
Listen for the silence between words. Quell
the longing to watch “Breaking Bad” for the third time.
Breathe. Quash the impulse to call your best friend,
your old boyfriend, the contest judge
who gave your poem first place three years ago.
Take a walk in the park. Stare at the trees and try,
really try, not to describe them in your mind. Instead,
watch the children swinging and sliding, invisible
wings halo-ing their shoulders, laughter drowning
the air. Breathe. Remember what it was like
to drift in the clouds and sink to the bottom of time.
Janet Ruth Heller
Flamboyance (for Oma)
You took me to the fancy Schroeder Hotel
for lunch, though I was only five.
My hamburger and Coke probably cost a fortune.
But I was your oldest grandchild.
As your necklace and bracelet glittered
under the chandeliers,
you showed me your paintings of goldfinches and roses
from the morning’s art class.
You told me you had always wanted a daughter.
Then you slid my straw’s wrapper down
until it turned into a snake.
We put water drops on it
to make it slither.
Knowing my prim mother would not approve
the snake trick, I giggled with delight.
As we ate, we watched tall women
mount a platform in the center of the restaurant
to model the latest autumn fashions.
They glided through the crowd like queens.
When the last model left the platform,
I ran up the steps and twirled
in my red and gold pinafore,
dancing like the maple leaves outside,
on fire with turbulent desire.
Lou and Hy’s Deli, West Market Street, 1967
bagels and bialys piled on counters on your right,
inside the case fruit Danish, deli meats and cheesecake
ahead, stacks of blue boxes of matzo ball mix,
on each plain table a centerpiece—a chilled silver dish
with thick cut kosher pickle slices.
I played Margot in The Diary of Anne Frank
in a high school production across town.
I didn’t know of the Jewish community on West Hill,
but our director set this up. I sampled
lox and bagels for the first time.
One night in performance
the banging on the door, the sirens, the fear
became too real and I fell to the stage floor weeping
for my father (really for just the boy I loved,
exactly one week older, the first gay boy I knew,
not Jewish at all, who died of AIDS in his forties).
At Lou and Hy’s, it never crossed my mind
that the waiter with the number I could not see
tattooed beneath his left white shirt sleeve
might know things I needed to know,
might have told me if I’d asked.
With the Same Finesse and Precision
That He Devoted to Booze in His Drinking Days
It’s a different woman each night. I know because he
brings them into my front hall, up these stairs past my
bedroom door, and down the hall to his own set of stairs
going up to the third floor apartment he rents from me.
The woman in the long fur coat and high heels, trails
perfume up the stairs.
The one with the camper parked out front, the camper
with a racing stripe, she’s noisier. They moan and sigh a
lot when her night comes. And he whistles as he pulls the
prosciutto and wheat bread from the refrigerator along
with two bottles of Cold Spring. He’s been clean for
seventeen years. His cousin, in a suburban coat and jeans,
stops to pet the dog and comment on the weather. She’s
one of his women, too. I know because she’s displayed in
a large, colored blow-up nude on the wall with all the rest.
He sends the film off to New York quite regularly and the
poster-sized prints come back neatly wrapped in plain
brown paper. He’s not reliable my friend says after they
finally break up before Christmas. She says it has
something to do with his father, some unresolved issues
there. But he’s not in a rush to resolve them. He vacuums
regularly, hangs mirrors beside the bed and whistles
down the hall on his way to open the door for the woman
The Carwash Guy Saves Every Dollar
He wants a diamond ring that screams class,
money, a dab of glitter in the velvet night,
a gift, every cent he owns and all his love
like poetry books, but cool, easy to read.
His wisdom tooth hurts like a gem on fire,
but he’ll get it pulled if the hurt gets too bad.
He’s happy. A pretty girl loves him–lucky catch
like the giant eel he caught by the atomic plant.
Tonight his gums drum bedtime tambourines,
pain so bad he can’t remember his father’s name,
can’t smile or chew sweet corn. He’s afraid
to kiss his girl. If life is a river, what is infection?
What is childhood damage? He’s falling asleep
as light laps out on a river where fishline,
sinker and hook connect him to water-striders,
trailing weeds, minnows and catfish.
He remembers a picture book where a lost child
finds a magic lake, abundant, bottomless.
No more hungry nights. Like that child,
he’s the family dreamer, and he knows–
food may come from magic, but money,
money gives life splendor.
No chintzy kindness measured out, no budget,
but a cut-glass bottle pouring out fragrance.
In his dream the glass explodes
like double fireworks over Detroit,
a rain of hot ash, fried fish sizzling with mercury,
desire louder than his high school marching band.
Mary Jo Balistreri
They say—and I am very willing to believe it—that it is difficult to know yourself, but it isn’t easy to paint yourself either. Vincent Van Gogh
Your Self-Portrait with Straw Hat looks at me
from across the kitchen table. You look like I feel. It’s why your eyes
hold me I suppose—the questions, hurt and disappointment.
But I don’t have your animal eyes—alert, ready to attack.
It’s not so much your likeness that interests me but how
you painted your fire—all that intensity discharging at once,
the frenzy of chaos, how you gave voice to it, ordered it.
Art historians talk more about color theory and the impact of Seurat
in this painting which is all here. But I’m wondering if you and I
have the same pressure—something we love, so constant in our head
that we ache with its presence.
It is not color that torments and delights me, but sound.
Since I lost my hearing, a tune plays perpetually in my head.
Sometimes I just want the music to stop. It can’t or won’t.
I feel as if I too might go crazy,
as if this ceaseless spiral will consume me.
You handled it with a paintbrush. I try to write. We partner
in a risky dance with fragmentation—will we lose ourselves
in the attempt to honor excessive noise
attempting to calm and extract what we need?
With your strong ego, you quell fear and aggression
on the canvas with the yellows of your straw hat, your eyes.
I wrangle with music through words, but at a slower pace—
black on white like the keyboard I once played.
I feel your canvas throb with color’s dynamic, imagine
the implosion in your head unravel down your arm,
the often manic obsession to get it down,
executing the impossible through fervor and persistence.
A portrait that’s true can be wrung inside out.
You give me hope by showing your anguish behind
the surface, how even your demons were made
to serve art.
Weeping Wedding Cake
To honor her American relatives she orders
angel food cake from me to mingle with
German Schwarzwaldkirschtorte and
Norwegian Kransekake at her wedding buffet.
Into the neighbor’s kitchen armed with borrowed
apron, mixer, and American measuring cup, I check
the oven for leaks and wonder if the temperature
holds steady with centigrade accuracy.
She loves cake with lemon powdered sugar frosting,
the more lemon the better. It is raining outside
this Norwegian-paned window, pouring steadily,
humidity June high, barometer dropping.
Twelve separated egg whites later, the mixer
whirs weakly. It seems not used to beating fluff
made more out of air than earthly substance.
Norwegian cakes are solid, a meal in a mouthful.
Adding more cream of tartar to stiffen the whites,
peaks rise and the batter glistens.
Folding in the flour is tricky, but the mass
looks good in the ungreased cone pan.
Twenty minutes in baking I smell burning,
place the cake on a lower rack and start praying.
As the cake hangs upside down on a
full wine bottle to cool, I am still praying.
Morning of the wedding I mix up the frosting
with lots of lemon. An hour later a lake has formed
under the cake. I drain it, again the cake puddles.
A weeping wedding cake, great.
I approach my daughter and her Norwegian spouse after
the ceremony. They just laugh, have the kitchen add
more frosting. As they cut the angel food cake,
hands joined on one knife, I am the one weeping.
Judith Waller Carroll
In Another Dress
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Our dress these days shows our age,
you in your baggy shorts, elastic brace
on one knee, a stoop to your shoulders
as you water while I deadhead
the roses, my hair carelessly tucked
under a floppy hat I’ve had for years.
The old-fashioned grandparents,
our granddaughter calls us,
a title we’re proud to wear.
How many opportunities we squandered
in our youth, but now we savor
each one this ordinary day has to offer:
a breeze through the pines,
a snatch of song from a Carolina wren,
the crows’ strong opinions as they bully and wheel.
A few clouds roll by, high and fast.
Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld
A tiny cloud of droplets short of rain,
a ghostly vapor rising from the ground,
an evanescence quickly gone.
Here, by the beach, a fallen flower
lying by itself. I pick it up and cradle it.
Deep cup, this orphaned child of ocean
seems to drink the sea and smells
of water, wind.
Each year I took my children to a plane
that flew them to their father—then,
alone, I made the trip to home.
the scalloped flower edge, I hear the air
that carried them away. I hear water, which,
with cancer cells, has drowned a child.
Under the foggy winding sheet of sky,
the ocean’s pall is gray, darker
than mist. The ocean’s cold stones
stare at me from sand.
Mist: what’s left of tears
My daughter, dead
She is mist.
From our joined selves long rivers start
We cannot find alone. — May Sarton
The pyx was in one hand,
her name and room number in the other.
He was told she would not be “all there.”
But he was authorized, anointed maybe
to bring the sacrament.
The door was ajar. He waited.
He was witness to devotion:
her gnarled hands in his,
their heads bowed as if in prayer
their brows barely but surely touching.
He waited and left
not willing to break
their deep communion
with this small wafer.
The storm blew in from the west
as predicted, a little before midnight,
not long after a blue moon
lit the sky with its lollipop face.
Trees bowed to earth,
their leaves quivering on the breast
of night. Lilies sparked their fires
with humid gusts, and sacred basil
trembled in silent flashes, awaiting
the full force of the tempest.
Wandering the willow’s green swags,
my grandmother appears, having leapt
from Charon’s boat before he reached
her destination, her white cape flying
behind her old black dress, calico
apron, and sensible shoes. She refuses
to be ferried into the next world
by some stranger with oars.
She is her own mythology,
shrugging her shoulders in a gesture
of Neapolitan stubbornness, surprised
only by her angel-smoke soul
wafting up to heaven
in a storm of diaphanous wings.
Lucille Lang Day
Becoming an Ancestor
According to the dictionary, I’m not
an ancestor yet, only a grandparent
of a blond boy who clomps in his new sandals,
then throws me a ball strewn with black
stars and moons on a white background,
and a bow-legged baby girl with blue eyes,
all smiles today in her hooded carrier—
a child born the day my own grandfather
would have turned 130. He never knew
he had grandchildren, let alone great greats.
My own toddler days of warm cookies,
crayons and Betsy Wetsy dolls don’t seem
far away, but I am en route to becoming
an ancestor. Lucy and Ricky are dead.
Barbie is past fifty. Even the hippies
are history. When my grandchildren show
their grandchildren my photo in an old
album, I wonder what they’ll say.
That I swore like a trucker when I was hurt?
Blew like Vesuvius when I was mad?
They might recall I was always late, never
learned to knit or crochet, had brown hair,
couldn’t cook worth a damn but could carry
a tune, took poetry books everywhere,
liked to know birds and insects by name,
overreacted in both bad and good ways,
was unreasonably vain for someone my age,
had legs like a crane and liked to dance.
From Becoming an Ancestor (Červená Barva Press, 2015). First published in ForPoetry.com.
My Kindergarten Class
Egbert W. Beach School, Room 9
Piedmont, California, 1954
Mrs. Minor, smiling and standing to the left
of her sixteen charges, wears a striped dress,
bolero jacket and glasses in the class picture.
In the first row, Henry sits with hands
in his pockets and a gap-toothed grin.
He once said he liked me, but he was
too late: I liked Ronnie, an older guy
who was in first grade, until Ricky Schiller
arrived the following year and won my heart
when we danced in the Open House play.
Beside Henry, Peggy Tobey folds her hands
and looks down. She was my friend until
I kicked her just for fun. When I was eating
a cookie, her mother once said I dropped
“a tray” of crumbs. Douglas was a real
brain. I lost track of him after he skipped
fifth grade. I don’t know what became
of Judy and Jerry, the twins, except
that Jerry didn’t go to Piedmont High.
He went to Oakland Tech instead. Nor do
I know what happened to dark-haired Mary
or little blond Jayne. Ken sits between them.
Walking home from school one day,
we fought and I hit him with a stick.
He became an engineer and fiduciary.
At sixty-six, he died from too much drink.
Jo Ann is in the second row. I still have
the piggybank that says “Lucille”
she gave me when I turned six.
A retired teacher, she lives in Ohio.
Suzanne Crosby lived across the street
from me. I got mad in second grade
when she plagiarized my story about
a chipmunk and a Christmas tree.
I’ve no idea where she is today. Ditto
for plump Kathy, standing next to me,
Susan, whom I barely remember,
and Claudia White, who gave me a black-
and-white kitten in second grade. I named
him Spot, but my mother sent him to the SPCA.
The two tallest boys, Mike Burns and Mike
Foudy, stand side by side at the very back.
Mike Burns apologized decades later
to the kids he snubbed. He now subs
in middle schools and plays clarinet.
Mike Foudy left us for Catholic School
in first grade, but we saw him most days
at Foudy’s Fine Foods, his father’s store
where we’d go for a popsicle or candy bar.
He became a college dean, father of three,
grandfather of four. He died last week.