I know the route by its scents-
Rosehip patches littering the shoulders, a talisman of tea in the season to come;
Sweet cut fields of clover and crabgrass tickling a delicious memory of childhood
and a throbbing sinus vacuum.
Poor dead skunk, the halfway marker, encouraging the push for home,
Warning us to look both ways.
Before the stand of pine embrace us with their shade-
A living, cooling cape of colonial majesty-
Until the Sugar Shack’s fryalator congratulates us at the finish,
Teasing our spent muscles and breath with the promise of clam-laced heart attacks.
This poem was conceived on an arduous 12 mile tandem ride with my husband several years ago in Charlestown, RI where we vacation every summer. The sensations were overwhelming enough for the fragments to form in my mind. Tandem cycling has become a spiritual act for me- an exercise in trust and partnership. The joint physical strain to achieve a common goal or destination evolves into an emotionally-charged experience of encouragement and support. We like to joke that it is cheap marriage therapy!
It was one of those days. She felt like curling back up into her toasty flannel sheets. Cold seeped through the covers and she got up, raw and lonely, to make the boys’ lunches. The coffee smell wafted up the staircase, beckoning a nauseous stomach with promises of energy and focus.
Exhausted and empty, she obeyed her hopeful nose. The sandwiches were
assembled: string cheeses and puddings, apples and pretzels. Hats, mittens, and library books were packed.
And then there was the snippet of quiet between the boys’ breakfast and the bus arrival. She crouched above the foyer heating grate, soaking in all the heat her body would accept, when the boy shouted, “Mom, come here! Where are you?” She drew away from the warmth, the last vestiges of her cozy bed, to see what the child needed. “Mom, I have a surprise for you. Come here,” he begged as he lent her his hand and drew it to the porch railing. As she left the bottom step, he drew her to the front yard, leading her hand toward the ground. The cool, satin petals shocked her fingertips. Fat, rigid tendrils of silken fabric greeted her. Those familiar ridgs and fluting. The fibrous, waxy stem. Her favorites. “Smell it,” he commanded.
In the brisk, sterile morning air, she thought she smelled the faintest of daffodil scents, those that only the hopeful can perceive. She grabbed the boy by the shoulders and pulled him hard to her. “Thank you. You know they are my favorites.”And she began her day again, this time with courage and gratitude.
I recently found this one buried in an old hard drive and thought it worth sharing on Throw Back Thursday! It made me so grateful for teaching my kids the value of penpalling and building relationships. We used to sit at the desk in their room and they would dictate the letters to me. We would print them out, draw a few accompanying pictures, and seal it up. They loved addressing the envelopes and placing the stamps in the corner. We’d walk down to the nearest big blue USPS mailbox in the neighborhood and I’d lift them up so they could have the pleasure of opening the door and slipping the letter into the box’s mouth. And then, we’d wait for the response.
I’d love to tell you that Henry and Alice continue to write to each other. The truth is that they are still in touch, only it is through Instagram and Snapchat now! Times change but building friendships is timeless!
For Christmas I got a pirate kit that has everything a pirate would have like a hook that came with it and I like it a lot. I got a Geico lizard that talks and a Geico t-shirt. I asked Santa for a magic wand and I got it and I asked for a pack of Pokemon cards and I got that too. I got a magician kit that came with a little hat and you can put it on and the wand is very hard to get on the tips and do the magic. And I got a little cape that is purple.
I go to school 5 days a week. My teachers are Mrs. Kenyon and Mrs. Q. And my friends are Alex, Katie, Maddie, Emily, Jaden, Jack E. , Jack M. , Benjamin and Olivia. I play, eat, read, sing, and do everything that your school does. My favorite song is “Martin Luther King”. I play Legos and in the family center where we can dress up and cook things. I like to make letters in the writing center but we ran out of paper and envelopes. We just got some more though.
My favorite foods are watermelon and grapes. My favorite vegetable is broccoli and beans. My favorite meat is fish, especially if I catch it.
I know about ice skating. I have been to that little rink here in my city. I don’t fall down that much but my mom and dad help me a lot because I used to fall down a lot. My mom stands me up and holds my hand but I am getting better. I am proud of you for getting up gracefully. I would say that you need just a litttttttttttle bit more practice.
Happy birthday. I am jealous that you are five but I’ll be five pretty soon. My birthday is March 28. How was the ice skating show? Did you go to the ice rink? What did you get for your birthday?
I have read a lot of books lately. I read a lot of books every night in my bed and at school. I read Richard Scarry books a lot. Remember the drawings on the walls in my bedroom? I am learning to read with my dad. We are using a book from the library that is special to teach me to read little words and learn sounds. My mom gets out of the library the books with braille and print so she can help me sound out the words I can’t yet. I like the Magic Tree House books. My dad or Oliver reads them to me. They are chapter books but they have some pictures. “The Knight at Dawn” is my favorite one. There’s a castle with knights in it and Jack and Annie have to find a clue to help Merlin.
My library has computers. I can play a lot of games on them. We have Artichokey at my library. Artichokey is a big ceramic giraffe that you can do I Spy on. I have puppet theater that I like so much because I put on shows with puppets. My favorite one is a raccoon in a trash can. It is so fun and everybody does it.
Father, brother, hero man
With steady, strong, and studied hand
Make ember flare and fire burn
O prophet of some sight returned
Super scrubbed, anesthetize
The Hungry darkwithin these eyes
War-torn retinas’ wrinkles smooth;
These endless tears of grief remove.
Laser doubt, despair, and loss;
I’m no Jesus;please lift this cross.
Suture patience, strength, and hope-
You have to have the antidote.
Prescribe the light, inject Maybe
Restore Someday’s warm hope to me
Your patient patient
I wrote that poem on June 17, 2012 after yet another follow up visit to my beloved retinologist, Dr. Steven J. Rose, MD. Since arriving in Rochester 24 years ago, he has nurtured my spirit as he has treated me medically. His soft spoken brilliance, palpable compassion, and absolute professionalism have sustained me as my vision receded. As witchy as it sounds, the poem is an homage to the beauty and intensity of our relationship. Elements of mystery and magic continue to linger within the realm of medicine for even the most scientifically astute patient. We commonly and irrationally turn our caregivers into superheros and gods, projecting our fears and faith onto the tangible humans who treat us. Of course, armed with scalpels and RX pads, they are merely instruments of the invisible “Great Healer”, but it is comforting to hold them close and celebrate them.
It started with the soft behind my knees
Flush to the wooden pew-
And tickled up my hamstrings,
Travelling from my sits bones around my hips
to the pelvic handles you grip like an accordion.
Along my waist, your fingers travelled
Playing the keys of my ribs
To Blue Rondo a la Turk,
My heart oscillating from congo to snare,
Wishing you were here for this,
Remembering the rhythm of our music,
Imagining myself your instrument,
Breathing so hard,
So very fast,
Awash in the vibration of the Mambo Kings’ climax,
Your name on my lips
Like an alto Sax.
It’s been 25 years but I still thank and think of you! Before taking your class during my Masters program at Colgate, I dreaded poetry. Sure, I could pick out the alliteration and meter and rhyme scheme, detected the similes and onomatopoeia. But what my teachers told me particular poems meant simply eluded me. I didn’t get it and hated being made to feel like I was “wrong”.
During this National Poetry Month, I celebrate the gift you gave me and all of your students- the belief that poems are onions and that each layer of interpreted meaning is valuable and significant. Beginning with Whitman and travelling to the likes of Akhmatova and Ginsber,
, I learned that my understanding had merit and beauty. Each poem we explored was replete with texture and aromas. I took this knowledge to my own teaching experience, impressing on my students the validity of their interpretations and the importance of those responses to their own experiences and human nature itself. The mystery and fear of Shakespeare and William Carlos Williams evaporated as my students discovered universal truth and themselves through broken sentences, abbreviated text and nontraditional punctuation. I am blessed with the existence of social media and internet detectiving to continue to know my students, many of whom have expressed their own gratitude for developing an appreciation of poetry under my guidance on the sidelines.
I hope that today, wherever life has guided you, that you continue to create the Fire Music that feeds your soul and our ears and eyes and rest in the recognition that you have made the difference to me and to many of the young men and women I have had the privilege to teach.
In honor of you and this special month , I will be posting a few of my rough poems to celebrate the joy of freedom from prose and the acknowledgement that no poem is ever finished!