Shelter in Place

Am I the only one who finds this phrase liberating? A tyranny of choices reduced to the lowest common denominator, a frosted cake cut in half, then in half again, and again until all that’s left is one manageable slice.

My body, a restless cat always pacing, is forced to rest for the first time, an epitaph floating like a silent film caption over my head: She did not find, she created her own happy place.

For me it’s like someone just gave me one square of an endless rolling lawn and asked me to plant on it a vineyard, winding clusters of plum and gold that call me up, up like Jack’s beanstalk closer toward dreams, showing me my ideas don’t need acres to grow, only inches, not weeks of sunlight or exotic soil, just the dim glow of a 75 watt light bulb in a familiar room.

Shelter in place to me is a challenge: If I can’t leave my country, my state, my house, what world can I create for myself? Like Aslan breathing life into Narnia, I conjure up an oak tree for shade, a lemonade to cool, a book to comfort with words touching in paragraphs, that defy social distance, that step in line together without fear even as supermarket clerks count bodies like apples, placing them in cleanly spaced rows.

Shelter in place. To me it’s a call to root, and root I do, using my Covid check to buy a new couch, the first couch I’ve ever bought for the first place of my own in half a decade. It’s a teal couch, a vintage Chesterfield with silver pins along the arms that sparkle like marquesite, a couch that invites a body not just to shelter, but to lounge like Rita Hayworth in a red dress on her belly, high heels kicked up, the way starlets lounged on the screen before women traded in livelihoods for careers. Before Instagram and instant messages captured everyone’s deliciously idle moments and families started spreading out across the country, leaving each other in search of what? Adventure? Change? The American Dream?

Shelter in place. Another way to say build a nest. Gather up bits of colored string, all the precious things of past and present, weave them together, then crawl inside, button down the hatches and hunker down.

Shelter in Place. To me it’s a license to stretch out like a cat in a pool of sunlight, eyes closed. Not an order so much as a wish whispered between lovers in darkness God bless. Sleep tight. Sweet dreams.

Published online at https://www.journalofexpressivewriting.com/post/shelter-in-place

“Winter Prayer”, one of my poems published today in Your Daily Poem


Winter Prayer

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.

http://www.yourdailypoem.com/

Tutti a Tavola!

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 savor,

to embrace one more meal.

This poem appeared in the Paterson Literary Review June 2021

Things Lost, Things Found

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