Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Poem a Day, #22 (looking back)

Looking Back

Looking back, she could only find the names of
Towns her grandparents left.
Khotin, Vitebsk, Lodz.
The Russian Empire held them all
A hundred years ago.
Looking ahead, those towns ended up
In new countries,
Ukraine, Belarus, Poland.
All those lands, then and now,
Saw her grandparents as interlopers,
Jews, Christ-killers, usurers.
Looking back, she knew she’d missed her chance
To learn their stories.
The little she thought she knew
Was sometimes wrong.
The cigarette smuggler fleeing the “old country”
To avoid police
Owned the cigarette factory
Fleeing the “old country”
To avoid paying a cigarette tax.
Why else did they come?
What was it like in the towns they left?
What did they think of their new country?
Looking back, there were too many questions,
Forever unanswered.

Poem-a-Day, #21 (words coined by Shakespeare)

Champion Critic Does Not Grovel

Champion Critic felt out of sorts.
Her latest review had garnered no comments
On her blog, while
Attracting hostile backlash from
Writers she had judged harshly in the past.

Champion Critic had written novels
Over the years , which, she thought,
Gave her the right to judge her peers,
Writers in her own genre of lit. fic.
As well as writers of romance and fantasy.

Champion Critic felt out of sorts, for
None of her writer or critic friends
Had come to her defense.
The critics of her criticism had her all wrong.
They misread her judgments as dis, not sis-

Terly wish that they do better, as
Champion Critic knew shey could
She never took on a work
She knew was bad.
She never made demands she knew
Could not be met.

Champion Critic reread her latest work,
Persuaded still that she was right.
Critics and friends alike could be assured
That history will judge her
Decisions to be correct.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Poem a Day, #20 (across the sea)

Across the Sea
Two ships sail west across the Atlantic.
The first carries what the shipowners call "cargo," men, women, children stolen from their homes and turned into property, a notion propped up by the shipowners' religion.
The second carries passengers, many escapees from empires Russian, Prussian, Austro-Hungarian, men, women, children fleeing pogroms, poverty, hatred for their religion, hatred embedded in a religion descended from theirs.
The first ship carries "slaves," a word for people forcibly bought and sold, who some history books tell us had a better life in the United States than in their "primitive," "warlike" villages back home, who other history books tell us came from civilizations older than Europe's.
The second ship carries "immigrants," a word for people voluntarily leaving their homes to, as history books tell us, "seek a better life."
The people on the first ship have skin colors from brown to black. Their "owners," with their paler skin, assign them a different "race" to justify their "ownership" of these human beings.
The people on the second ship have skin colors from pale to tan. They have different religions, come from different countries, but the pale "natives" assign them many "races" to justify keeping them outside the privileges of those who came here earlier.
The passengers on the second ship are greeted in New York Harbor by a statue whose inscription welcomes the "tired," the "poor," the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
The statue does not welcome the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free on the first ship. The statue did not exist when their ship sailed into New York Harbor. When the ships ceased to sail west with their human "cargo," the people consigned to slavery continued to bear children, still called property by their "owners."
A great war ends the institution of slavery, but many of the people freed are kept enslaved by terror and their former owners' power and "tradition."
The children and grandchildren of the people on the second ship melt into the privilege of whiteness even if they do not acquire the privilege of wealth. The melting pot absorbs their culture and heritage and turns it into novelty.
The children and grandchildren of the people on the first ship, as people of color, are not allowed to melt into whiteness, although some do acquire the privilege of wealth.
Some unknown number whose lightness of skin does allow them to melt in, melt at the cost of losing their families of color and their heritage and culture.
Two ships sail west across the Atlantic, the skin color of their human cargoes imposing vastly different futures by forces beyond their control.

This feels a bit labored to me, like maybe it should be an essay rather than a poem. I don't know.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Poem a Day, #19 (a moment)

The Moment My Mother Died
It was quiet in the hospital at 7 p.m.
She was hooked up only to the morphine drip
And pulse oximeter glowing green
As its number dropped, 53, 45, 40.
When we arrived in the morning,
her eyes were closed, her breathing rough.
She gasped for air like a guppy.
But she was aware. She turned her head
Toward her doctor’s voice.
“Do you want more oxygen?”
She shook her head.
“Do you want to be more comfortable?”
She nodded.
She pushed down the sheet, the hospital gown,
Till she was almost naked.
Did she want to leave this world the same way
She’d entered it?
She swallowed water from a sponge.
My sister talked her through a guided meditation,
Holding one hand while I held the other.
She turned her closed eyes toward my sister,
Then toward me.
Did she want an alternative from me?
I wished I had words to say,
“I know you don’t believe in this spiritual bullshit,
“I know you’re ready to go,
“But we’re not ready to let you go.
“There’s still so much you have to tell us,
“There’s still so much we haven’t asked you,
“There’s still so much we went to know.”
The skin of her neck fluttered with
Each slowing breath.
The oximeter read 25, 14, 9.
When it read X, I watched her neck,
A minute, two, three. No movement.
The room was quiet, empty, lonely,
The moment my mother died.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Poem a Day, #18 (history)

Personal History

Can you say, “Fifty years ago, I (did, was, etc.)...”?
Is fifty years ago ancient history to you?
Do you think someone who is fifty is old?
Fifty years ago, I had just gotten married.
Fifty years ago, I attended the first big anti-Vietnam War demonstration.
Fifty-two years ago, I was at the March on Washington.
I never asked my parents,
“How old were you when your life became history?”
When did they start to remember “Fifty years ago, I...”?
When does your life become history?
How old do you have to be to become historical?
Is history happening every day, but
You don’t know it until fifty years later? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Poem a Day, #17 (my something, the something)

The prompt is "My (blank), the (blank)" so here's my effort.

My Memory, the Traitor

I learned early my memory can lie.
The memory:
Riding in a car on a summer day,
Riding to the beach on the Housatonic River,
Listening to “Volare,” sung by Domenico Modugno.
The truth:
I was not living anywhere near the Housatonic River
When “Volare” was released,
In 1958.
In 1958 I lived in Levittown, Pennsylvania,
Nowhere near a beach I could be riding to.

In adulthood, my memory worked well,
Well enough to make a living as a copy editor,
Remembering the spelling of a name
Many pages ago,
Remembering the title of a character
Many pages ago,
Remembering whether the word “sychophant”
Had been used to describe the assistant director
Many pages ago.
Memory matched up with locations and years,
As I moved homes or jobs.

Past 70, memory doesn’t lie, it fades.
What is the name of that song on the radio?
The melody and rhythm as familiar as an old sweater,
But the singer, the lyrics are lost in a fog.
I wake in the morning and puzzle out
The name of the day, is it Sunday or Monday?
Or maybe Wednesday?
Why did I come into the kitchen?
Should I have gone to the bedroom instead?
What is the last name of my college roommate,
The author of that great book I read 10 years ago,
The actress who lived across the street,
The Mets pitcher of the playoff game we saw in 2006?
I still remember what my keys are for, but
Not where I left them.
What is to be done?
And where are my glasses?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Poem a Day, #16 (authority)

The prompt for this was some take on authority, so I thought about what I know and don't know.

I'm Not an Expert

I’m not an expert on
the internal workings of the human body.
I’m not an expert, but
I know the difference between “which” and “that.”
I’m not an expert on
getting blood out of a living human to test it.
I’m not an expert, but
I know where to put commas in and take them out.
I’m not an expert on
what makes blood clot at the right time and place.
I’m not an expert, but
I know what punctuation goes inside or outside of quotation marks.
I’m not an expert on
veins, arteries, the deep vein thrombosis, the pulmonary embolism.
I’m not an expert, but
I know that pronouns have to agree with their antecedents.
I’m not an expert on
kidney function, urethers, bladder infections.
I’m not an expert, but
I know editors and book sellers aren’t “curators.”
I’m not an expert on
keeping a human alive when the body goes berserk.
I’m not an expert, but
I know celebrities and buildings and attitudes are not “iconic.”

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Poem a Day, #15 (a two-vowel poem)

The A&E Channel

Father tells a tale tale
As we travel past the beach.

A man can’t make ends meet.
He trades an ass for a cat.
A week later he seeks far and near,
Darts between paper reams,
Past a lengthy lake.
He awakes near mangled fangs,
Fearing all tears.

Then we bake a cake to eat
At the lake.
The sky shades we three,
As we reel beneath the real. 

Poem a Day, #14 (swing)

Swing music might have been my parents’ soundtrack
If they danced.
Swing dancing always looks like so much fun,
But I’m bad at learning steps.
I would have swung high on a backyard swing
If my father had hung one.
I loved to swing a bat at a softball
But never played on a team.
I’ve never lived in a swing state or
Cast a swing vote.
I never have mood swings
(my moods hover around the midline,
boringly so).
Swinging is more fun than standing still.
Swinging left is more fun than swinging right.
Swinging opinions are called flip-flopping,
But why is changing your mind a bad thing?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Poem a day, #13 (science)

Biology is the birds and the bees,
how life works, from the flea to the elephant.
Chemistry makes us high,
explains the carbon cycle, spins the periodic table.
Alchemy turns lead into gold,
distills the fountain of youth.
Physics searches for the origin of the universe,
from quarks to quasars.
Astronomy names the stars
and moves faster than the speed of light.
Astronomy reads the stars
and names their links to us.
Paleontology delves into the history of biology,
finding life in bones and fossils.
Geology rakes the earth, dirt to rock,
volcanoes to earthquakes.
Mathematics, the language of science,
ties them all together,
excluding the pseudo from the real.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Poem a Day, #12 (confession)

(I have no idea what any of this means, but "confession" is the prompt, so here goes.)

Lulu confessed to channeling the lunar module.
Danny confessed to  sweeping daisies.
Janine confessed to telling everyone.
Michael confessed to quiet madness.
Karen confessed to white elephants.
Ralph confessed to blue tears and sychophants.
Ariadne confessed to weaving riches.
Hector confessed to emptying the Trojan horse.
Mimi confessed to swinging way too late.
Carlos confessed to writing obituaries.
Confessions wrap around denunciations,
Assertions confess to eulogies.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Poem a Day, #11 (damage)

My husband says he's damaged goods,
But 50 years too late to return him.

The damage is all physical.
Alcohol failed to do its job before
He quit. The liver still good.
He worried about his heart,
His father dead at 54 from
A heart attack.
But it was a different vein that
First spoke up, in his calf
A blood clot, there long enough
To send emissaries to his lungs.
The normal treatment almost
Killed him, blood massing in
Protest in his leg, his hip.
A drug shot into his belly,
twice a day, brings stability for years,
Halting clots before they can

Now and then the blood runs amok,
Can't stay within its boundaries,
Flooding bruises with too many
A bruise graduates to hematoma,
Bringing pain and fear.

So here we are, one more time,
Spending the first spring day
Visiting the ER,
Exiling vials of blood,
Huddling under the CT scan.
Damage to the body continues
Its slow advance. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Poem a Day, #9 (how to...)

How to Drive Yourself Insane

Offer to write a short interview piece.
Acquire a free recording app for your iPad.
Test the app. Yes, it works.
Record the interview.
(Take notes just to be on the safe side.)
Try to play back the interview.
Wonder why nothing happens.
Try to play it back again.
Still wonder why nothing happens.
Look up .m4a files online.
Find out that iTunes or QuickTime Player will open .m4a files.
Transfer the file to your laptop.
Open iTunes.
Try to open interview file. Nothing happens.
Open QuickTime.
Try to open interview file. Nothing happens.
Stare at computer screen.
Go to Web page of recording app’s creator.
Write impassioned plea for help.
Web page refuses to post your plea until you fill in a nonexistent field.
Resist impulse to scream.
Look at notes.
Curse your aging memory.
Have a stiff drink.
Wish for angels to whisper interview into your ears.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Poem a Day, #8 (work)

What is work?
Is it work if you don’t get paid?
Is it work if it’s fun?
Is it work only if you’re obliged to do it,
As Mark Twain wrote?
When is work a joy and
When is it torture?
Is mindless, back-breaking work
a crime in the class war?
Will your back pain from waitressing
earn you a Purple Heart?
When is caregiving an act of love
for a family member, and
when is it work?
When is it both an act of love and work?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Poem a Day, #7 (dare)

Dare you
Do you dare to eat a peach?
Do you dare to swim upstream?
Do you dare to wear chartreuse?
Do you dare to leave the team?
Do you dare to run amok?
Do you dare to run aground?
Do you dare to mingle starlight?
Do you dare to drink soft sounds?
Do you dare to write for no one?
Do you dare to sing pure fashion?
Do you dare to paint Orion?
Do you dare to knit a passion?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Poem a Day, #6 (love or anti-love)

Love is a four-letter word,
Hardly spoken in impolite society
Where lust, eros, itch are preferred.
Love evokes romance, purity, idealism.
Romance, where the lover
Loses herself in the loved one,
Purity of purpose, innocence in knowledge,
In search of an Ideal never attained.
Lust evokes passion, hedonism, desire.
Passion’s craving for more more more,
Hedonistic pleasure in the body,
Desire to indulge all cravings.
Love is the metaphor, never realized
but assumed,
While lust creates its own
Facts-on-the-ground, a reality
That cannot be resisted,
That sweeps away pretence.
Love is lust’s imagination,
The clothes it wears in polite society.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Poem a Day, #5

Who Are They? Who Were They?

Who is the winner of Top Chef on the Food Network?
He spent two years in prison for armed robbery.
Who is the first violinist in the symphony orchestra?
She spent her first two school years living in a homeless shelter.
Who is the founder of that famous computer company?
He was a college dropout.
Who is the prize-winning reporter for a major newspaper?
She was dyslexic through high school.
Who is that old man shuffling along the sidewalk?
He used to be an All-Star pitcher for the Yankees.
Who is that woman scrabbling through the trash?
She used to sing backup for Whitney Houston.
Who is the middle-aged man sitting on the street,
with a paper coffee cup holding a few coins?
He used to be Phi Beta Kappa at Brooklyn College.
Who is the woman humming tunelessly
as she trudges through the park?
She used to teach English at Princeton, wrote
bestselling novels in the summer.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Poem a Day, #4 (vegetable)

The Garden
The garden starts as a rocky plot.
I sit on my haunches and toss rocks to the side,
filter dirt through my fingers and toss pebbles to the side.
The earth smells clammy, hiding something unwanted.
The seeds drop into tiny hillocks, searching for something reclusive.
Weeding requires attention.
What is a pea sprout? What is fiddleneck?
What is chickweed? What is dandelion?
If its roots are strong, it’s a weed, pull it out and toss to the side.
Beans climb the trellis, tomatoes hug the stakes.
Pea pods crawl along the ground, corn shoots to the sky.
A watermelon the size of a cucumber, a cucumber the size of a watermelon,
wins a 4-H prize for my brother at the fair.
Picking peas for lunch, I slit the pod, scrape the peas into a saucepan,
Eat one from each pod immediately.
Green taste crunches in my mouth,
Revealing the secret hidden underground,
Fresh flavors of sunlight and heat and riddles never heard.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Poem a Day, #3: Departures


I have departed many places.
The first seven were involuntary.
My parents decided we would leave
Havre de Grace and Silver Spring, Md.;
Washington, D.C.;
Avenue P and 20th Avenue in Brooklyn;
West Haven, Conn.;
Levittown, Pa.
Each new place a new possibility,
but each new place had new rules and customs,
new ways to pronounce common words,
new ways for me to be a newcomer, alone.
Does anyone remember my name?
I departed Gladwyne, Pa., voluntarily and with glee,
to leave home and be on my own was my goal.
I departed college twice, voluntarily.
Settled in New York City, again my goal.
I departed many jobs, voluntarily.
Here I've lived, in the same apartment,
for 45 years. I will live here, I hope, until,
involuntarily, I depart this world.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Poem a Day, #2 (machine)

And here is another poem, amazingly enough.

The Body

The  machine of the body wears out.
Olive oil can only lubricate so much.
A shot of bourbon will jolt the brain
for a moment,
but it shrivels quickly.
An ice cream pack will ease the back,
chocolate preferably.
Lentil soup will warm the joints.
Chicken soup is the young machine’s elixir.
It smooths over, but cannot repair.
The young machine soaks up
experience, love, sensuality, curiosity.
The middle-aged machine coordinates,
recreates, blossoms, ripens.
The aging machine rests between exertion,
patches broken skin with almond butter,
restores torn ligaments with carrot sticks,
soothes sore nerves with peppermint.
The aging machine wraps itself in cocoons
of mocha meringue
to protect against the dark.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Poem a Day, #1 (secrets)

All right, I'm a day off. The prompt for today’s Poem a Day Challenge on Robert Lee Brewer’s “The Writer’s Digest” blog is “secrets.” Here’s my entry, among more than 700 (as of 6:30 p.m.; Day 1 had 1,118 entries!).

I have no secrets.
I have stolen my brother’s bravado, my sister’s curls.
I have lied to my mother and forsaken her thin precepts.
I have killed my father’s faith in revolution.
I have worshipped the images of words on a page, on a screen.
I have many gods; they reside in books, movies, music, in the trees, the sky, the ocean and rivers.
I make idols every day that I write.
I take the names of my gods and scatter them afar, to seed wonder and beauty.
I have coveted, oh, how I have coveted. My desire runneth over.
I wear my secrets like armor.
My desire is manna.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

An April First (not Fool's) Poem

It's April, National Poetry Month. I want to keep writing here, and maybe  I'll write a poem occasionally, but I don't think I'm a poet. I did sign up for a poetry class through the University of Iowa's International Writing Program's MOOC that was supposed to start a week ago, so I thought I would have some lessons that I could be practicing this month. Then the class was delayed. So today I will cheat a bit and post someone else's poem: Ogden Nash on baseball, which starts up for real next week.

You Can't Kill an Oriole 
Wee Willie Keeler
Runs through the town,
All along Charles Street,
In his nightgown.
Belling like a hound dog,
Gathering the pack:
Hey, Wilbert Robinson,
The Orioles are back!
Hey, Hughie Jennings!
Hey, John McGraw!
I got fire in my eye
And tobacco in my jaw!
Hughie, hold my halo.
I'm sick of being a saint:
Got to teach youngsters
To hit 'em where they ain't.

--Ogden Nash