That first winter in Vermont,
how dark and quiet the streets were
in the small town. How unkind.
Winding off without sidewalks
into desolate fields of snow, coyotes wailing
just beyond the widow’s lonely backyard grave.
One night, cloaked in solitude like a traveler
from another land, I followed one small sidewalk
through the town center, past the general store,
the toy shop, the B and B,
sliding my boots into the crisp footprints of others,
past houses with sleeping children
tucked behind closed doors
like angels in an advent calendar
until I came to a church lit up in the night,
a creche of painted figures beckoning.
Mary’s face beneath the blue veil was so inviting.
I stood there along with the shepherds
for nearly a half hour, watching
the baby with arms outstretched
as if to receive my winter prayer.
After the chemo
all you want to do is watch cooking shows.
We bask before the television
as before an oven on a cold day
watching Lidia toss onions into a pan of glittering olive oil.
Our noses strain to smell her pot of marinara simmering
as we drift to another kitchen far away,
Grandma in tennis shoes and a ruffled apron
layering slices of fried zucchini with sauce and parmesan.
Your taste buds these days have turned.
Ziti tastes like wood chips;
pizza like a paper bag.
Still, like a child you savor the sight of food
watching pizza commercials
eyes wide as pepperoni as you lament,
“Just look at that dripping cheese!”
Kale smoothies be damned,
we chase away the pain of the present
by recalling meals of the past
chanting recipes like prayers:
Shrimp Scampi with shallots and butter,
Veal Parmesan with marinara,
Pasta Fagioli with garlic and cannelloni beans,
and suddenly, with a pinch of basil,
a table springs up before us,
Great grandmother’s silver set beside
the gold-rimmed china with pink flowers.
So absorbed are we in culinary magic
that when Lidia announces her meal is finished
and calls to TV viewers
“Tutti a tavola! Come to the table!”
we are not surprised to see
our own ghosts of the hearth
creeping in from the room’s dark corners:
Great Grandma Anna and her sisters,
Uncle Tony, Louie, Nicodemo,
Fred and Laurel.
Smiling, they take their seats
and pick up their forks,
ready to taste,
to embrace one more meal.
This poem appeared in the Paterson Literary Review June 2021
For Mom and Beth to move back home
For Dad to stop smoking
For him to be happy again
To be able to do a cartwheel like Tammy
To curl my bangs into a fan shape without burning my forehead
To know how to talk to boys
To get Mike Taylor to like me
To hold his hand during “Couples and Trios”
To skate backwards like that head-banger guy to Welcome to the Jungle
To know all the words to “Ice, Ice Baby”
A pair of Hammer pants
To start my own Babysitters Club.
C and C Music Factory’s single “Everybody Dance Now”
To dance like Sarah Jessica Parker in “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
Frosty pink lipstick
A ride to the mall.
A “Coed Naked” t-shirt
For my chest to grow so I can stop pinning shoulder pads inside my bra
To sing like Wilson Phillips.
To watch all the Halloween movies
To not have to babysit my sister after school
To perfect dance moves with Tammy to Van Halen’s “Jump”
To be Becca from Life Goes On.
To see my poem published in the National Library of Poetry’s book (I paid $30).
To sit with Kathleen Kennedy at lunch
For fat Sabrina Wimbsatt to stop following me around
For Nicole Ellis not to stare at me on the bus with her snake eyes and say she’s gonna beat me up
For everyone to believe the name with hearts I wrote all over my books was really my boyfriend’s.
To stop crying so much
To go back to my old school
To go back to church
For Mom to leave Jim
To be able to see her again without us fighting
For her to understand why I’m mad at her
For Dad not to be gone so much
For it always to be like on car-rides to New Jersey when I have him to myself
To have him to myself
To have him
At the hospital like Persepolis I stepped
out of time’s familiar landscape
and left the light behind,
creeping down death’s long hallways,
past room after room, each one
a box holding within it a life honeycombed,
memories stored like the scent of clover
within a bale of winter hay.
Finally, I found you, lying still,
unable to speak. Staring into your eyes,
I saw my face caught like a moth
inside a glass,
my life beating inside your life,
your heart inside mine,
as we sat eye to eye
within my heart’s deepest chamber.
At ten you gave me a small brown box
that belonged to you as a child.
Inside was a smooth round stone
surrendered by the sea,
and a time-worn coin found buried
in your grandmother’s garden:
One child’s treasures passed to another
across time. The brown box disappeared
into the shadowy depths of my childhood,
lost in a move or swept away during the divorce.
Father, now that you’re gone,I long to take it in my hands,
to touch the coin and discover its ancient secrets,
to turn the stone round and round
rubbing away at the jagged edges of time like the sea
until I see you, a boy once again,
opening a drawer,
pulling out the brown box,
taking the stone into your hand,
turning it round and round.
As we drew to a stop
in the white atrium’s light,
museum paintings swirled around us
like carousel horses,
and his words were like mirrors
hung to distract,
yet I did not grow dizzy swirling
among pearls of light,
nor on the mesmerizing grind of calliope.
I reached for what was beneath;
I wanted the brass ring.
Leaning toward him I saw it
in his eye:
a skull staring back,
For April Vermont Public Radio has been broadcasting local poets reading their poems. My Migration poem made it into the mix (scroll down to my name).
We sat together on the couch that day
and didn’t speak of all you’d lost,
of the car you crashed in the grocery store parking lot weeks before,
the job you could no longer work,
the cancer that moved like a thief through your body,
stealing your bones, your breath, your blood.
We didn’t speak of the shadow of death,
the Psalm you read me as a child,
“Yay though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…”
We did not speak of fear,
but of small things that flickered
like birds across the TV screen.
After weeks on the couch,
you’d assembled yourself a kingdom,
Sour Patch Kids stashed in the table drawer,
remote planted beside your knee,
issues of Coin World within arm’s reach.
You’d grabbed one and thumbed through,
stopping at an ad for a Buffalo nickel.
“I need this one!” you said,
the shadowy valleys of your eyes filling with light.
Disappearing into the next room
you wrote a check and called the seller,
chatting for a few moments
as though the world weren’t ending,
as though you weren’t leaving it.
Returning to the couch,
your face beamed.
“What luck!” you said.
“I’ve been searching for that coin for years
and there it was,
there it was.”
This poem first appeared on Poets Online, July 2020
A poem I wrote recently about my travels through Italy in spring 2019 after losing my grandmother unexpectedly just a week before her 95th birthday. She’s on my mind lately as the snow is melting and days are growing warmer. She died on Easter, which is fitting as she was the center of our family Easter traditions, baker of Easter casadella cakes and pizza gain. Rest in Peace Grandma Betty.
I fly away from you,
away from the wooden box
that holds your ashes.
Once I land,
swallows are everywhere
like the Scirocco
sweeping up from the south,
dancing like patterns on the robes
of the Senegalese women who sell wooden beads at the market,
black shapes cutting into blue sky.
They appear in Siracusa
where the old men sit lined up in the square,
brown hands folded in rest
and again in Sienna
spilling from the clouds like seed,
pouring over the city’s stone walls,
flowing out over rooftops.
In Venice they flutter above gargoyles like confetti
as if trying to escape tourists
who trail in pink plastic ponchos and rain boots
like a carnival parade
in and out of alleyways,
across ancient bridges.
They follow me to San Michelle,
the stone city of the dead,
mosaics and iron crosses,
mourning doves roosting like
stone angels above children’s graves.
There a chapel sits empty,
a row of wooden chairs waits
beside a candle lit by some unseen hand.
My own angels resting.
The end of a migration.