Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wedding Photograph

I'm sure the glamorous portrait was her idea.
The lady relished costume, the spotlight--
my mother was a monarch at heart.
She’s wearing the fur coat that saved her life:
that coat with layers of chic dresses beneath 
took up two seats and got her thrown off 
the evacuation train spitfirers blew up 
soon after it left her at the Paris station.
She melts Lana Turner-like into the camera, 
beautifully, irrationally serene, 
floating in myths, as she was prone to do, 
the myth that she will make sense of this man
so inclined to withdrawal, 
that she will uncork him, dramatize him.
And look how much she achieved their first day! 
Look at his lordly bearing! Handsome and uniformed. 
What aplomb in a man whose eyes and lips often clenched 
but here my father looks coolly past her 
across the room with only the faintest gleam of recalcitrance
in his blue eyes. 
Does he sense already the distance between them? 
The daily parade of grievances he will endure
about his bluffing, lying, drinking, 
all the other disquieting acts of  this injured soul?
And I’m in the picture too, hidden under the coat, impelled
to share their  unease, their wandering lives, 
which will prove interesting at times but never
as grand as she’s imagining here.
He died 14 years and two days before her  
and when she wailed with grief, her torrential tears
were not for him but for what might have been.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just Another Thursday

I remember, if only barely, 
what feelings soaked the eyes
of the child I used to be when 
on that first Thanksgiving in America
I skittered to the kitchen and saw mother
stuffing cabbages with sticky clumps
 of ham and bread like Germans do.

In my mind's dimlit pantry, 
where memories cure
there stands a puzzled 5 year old 
blinking dully
at those leafy skulls.

So odd it seemed 
after weeks and weeks
of painting plump and fleecy 
fowl in school
that there in my Ohio home
Thanksgiving was just another Thursday.
Father fighting in Korea and mother
just shut the oven door 
on those lime-green cabbage heads
she fixed once a week.

Now be glad, she scolded--
nonplussed, noncomprehending--
today's the day one stuffs a thing
and that I did.


It’s a joyful convocation, the one I dream of—
a glimmering jubilee where jolly friends and family 
clasp hands around an altar all aglow with light and silver.

All are clapping, praising, toasting
laughing and embracing, spinning 
delicious tales that kindle cheering up and down the rows.

Steaming dishes spiced and tinted as prescribed by generations
hurry down the table rousing awe and clamor as the children 
suck on fruity brews and their elders swig the beer and wine—
spiking fancies all the more.

Not a soul declines to linger after every belly has been stuffed
to remember one more wise or zesty story, swallow one more spoon
of Harvest Torte—so delighted and so thankful seems each and every one
for this communion.

And when ochre shadows finally flush the hearth,
when burning timber snaps and glistening candles drip,
my old yearnings all have faded. I am happy here just being 
knowing time is melting, melting with the whipped cream on the torte.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


How old am I now?

My mother asks, her eyes do not open 

but she is awake under the lids.

Almost 79, I say. 

Soon you’ll be 79.

That’s enough. I’ve lived long enough.

Her voice bears the tone  

of one who’s just been told 

the fine coat on her arm

is not on sale, 

she must pay full price.

The tone of All right. I’ll take it.

She will not shame herself 

by asking for more or

making a scene 

when the policy 

seems so firm, 

so carved in stone.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My mother does all the talking

As I am growing up, my mother does all the talking.

She talks and talks and talks about the war. 

About the sirens and the bombs and mothers fleeing.

About children crawling out of hell and screaming. 

About the sick and old gone lost with hair on fire.

About the smell of skin and how it smolders.

About feeling crushed too tight to kneel to pray.

Nothing takes her mind off what she’s seen.

And so she must do all the talking 

and all I do is listen.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Poetry Workshop

The lead poet says, write about autumn rain now.

I can’t think about autumn rain 
in this bone-dry room,
without air or breeze, 
roasting with poet bodies.

Ok. Wait.
I’m thinking of autumn rain. 

It’s the swelling scents and tastes 
of a rainy autumn day at
Lake Chabot that I so love. 

It's inhaling the wetness,
the taste on the tongue 
of soaked eucalyptus and pine, 
of drenched concrete
and soggy scat
and drowned leaves. 

And funny how noisy splashing geese 
make rain feel wetter, kinder 
and in this showery mist life itself
feels more real, more personal.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Living Room, Castro Valley

It is my favorite room, 
the biggest living room
I've ever had.
I walk it end to end, 
let my hand slide down the stone hearth, finger
the artful molding, 
pose before the grand windows. 
My father pushes a chair to the windows. 
For a whole day he eyes the hills 
yellow as lions
and the Bay polished as steel, 
and the etched skyline
of San Francisco, 
and left and right the bridges--
silver threads curling across the water--
and through the cloak of fog
a sword of light 
pierces the heart of Treasure Island.
He is dying and he knows it.
But he wants to buy my house.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Their Last Dinner

She wears a necklace of pearl onions
to the Bon Home Cafe
where he waits over steamed mussels, 
intensely green spinach,
and roasted pork belly.

She kisses his cheek, 
notes a scent of beef heart tartar, 
kisses him again--on his mouth, 
burning with jalapeno from,
she wonders, a duck carnitas taco?
Or crispy lamb’s tongue?

A pinot noir sits on the table,
two crystal glasses meet in the air,
the wine slides down their throats
like a cooled down rump pudding.

For you, darling, the pomegranet glazed quail? 
No, no, she asserts tartly.
The Brazilian lobster tail. 
It costs more.

Why not? He smiles wrly. 
It’s our last date.
I’ll toast to that, the tart dissolving
from her key lime voice.

Waiter! He calls.
A melon liquor as cold as this woman’s heart!

Better cold than pickled and twice-cooked! 
she retorts with a mix of raw honey 
And Korean mustard.

Ah, here they are, he smiles.
Espresso-soaked lady fingers dipped in rum.
Give me some, she demands.

He reaches between the butter
and the orange sugar biscuits, 
takes her lance-shaped fingers 
in his hands and licks them, 
One ladyfinger at a time.

Her blood thickens like creme fraiche,
her body glistens like half pears 
sunk in pools of warm bourbon.

Can we dine from time to time? he asks
with a breath of garlic 
on their walk to her car. 

No, she hisses. I’ve had enough 
of your bevy of warm beef and creamy coleslaw, 
your wild mushrooms and Ports, 
your tastings, your chilled bottles.

So be it, darling, 
his voice dripping, like butter
From skewered shrimp in lemon pepper.

She drives away vexed their hunger 
could so quickly be sated and vows
from now on to avoid cattle of any kind.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


There comes a time in the ring when the bull can’t flee

Where the bull feels safe and the matador doesn’t

Where the bull is sure and the matador isn’t

Where silence is the bull’s last refuge

And the matador’s too

When it’s time to charge if you’re the bull

And time to wave the red if you’re the man

Both lives proceed from here


Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Soldier

My father wasn’t anyone’s father 
or husband or friend.
He was a soldier.

My father waited rifle cocked
for enemies to storm the hill
or step out of  our bedrooms.
Once when I came to visit,
he cooked me dinner.
Eggplant parmesan 
with tomatoes
from his garden.

Food must be fresh.
He said this from a mist

of beer and smoke.

And then he winked 

as if we shared 
a secret knowledge.

But of course 
I barely knew him.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ghosts of Fairmont Ridge Trail

Just beyond the Eucalyptus trees lined up
Like chorus girls with skinny arms
Holding out their skirts

The bench beckons.
A name’s carved in the wood and a title--
“lover of dogs, dancing and sunsets.”

I enjoy the company of ghosts
And talk to this one lightly: 

Did you look at the hills to the south
And think of pyramids?

Did the sky seem painted with a sponge?

The fog veils the trees, a shroud deep
with ghosts on an evening stroll.

The lover of dogs, dancing and sunsets
drifts in that mist beside me--I feel
A change in gravity.

To every question, she answers, yes---
Yes everything stays a mystery
even after death, 
yes, I'd rather feel the breeze
than be it---and always her voice
sounds much like my own.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Better End

Pity her
whose mind
can’t flee 
the hospital
bed and 
ends there
like a bug 
a bulb.

Envy her 
who sees
of geese
above a lake
her eyes
roll back.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Good Mood!

If the sky were any bluer,
If my love for self much truer
If my needs were any fewer
If this moment would divide
I couldn't keep my heart inside.

Here’s a cliff above the sea
And I am on it! 

With adequate health
and adequate wealth 
and time on my hands to enjoy it.

The surf’s all sound and I’m all ear,
my life’s not perfect but this will do!
A beautiful dream that will not last
But that doesn’t spoil my view.

So this for sure I must remember 
On the day timed as my last:
Many days were lost to memory
but some like this surpass! 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Another Day

Another day slips away
into the stream 
from now to then.
On and on
the seconds flow
with little notice 
and much that’s noticed
only barely so
and even less 
and what’s
hardly fills 
a spoon and 
much of that 
regretted or
and some
second by second. 
And so 
another day 
just slips 

The Sink

Their eyes look blank
as buttons.
They've given up.
Except one
whose eye seems
hooked on me.

Dad carves a knife,
pours oil in the pan.

Poor little beings
pumping hard 
to catch a breath.

I'm pushed aside.
I hear a whack.

Flesh deep frying
but poor little Button
is pounding harder
against the sink.

Eat! dad orders.
But I just can't,
not with Buttons
pounding ever harder
against the sink.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


My hair in the bathroom mirror 
looks longer, much
darker, sun-touched. 
Can it do that overnight? 

It sways when I cock my head
to observe my nose
--a little slope to ski on--
Some man some day will moan.

I’ve seen this face before
in magazines, on film.
The beacon eyes and blooming lips 
and cheeks as red as beets. 

But that face is mine--
unwashed, unpainted--
no subterfuge at all. 

And I’m a child, 
she’s woman!
How can this be?
I can't take my eyes off me.  
If it is me.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jesus and I

My First Holy Communion

At St. Joseph's,
I fell in love with Jesus. 

Never heard His voice
but some of my thoughts 
were His thoughts.
I hid nothing--
could hide nothing--
from Him. 

I explained myself
why I did this or that,
felt this or that,
wanted this or that.

Jesus always told me
what would please Him.

Sister Millicent called this
my state of grace.

Even now we talk sometimes.
You’re only an illusion, I scold.
Why can’t you be more?

I forgive you, He always says.

But I can’t forgive You, I answer
wide-eyed and fidgity, 
tho I know He understands.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Mother's Advice

Freidel Hoermann
See the world.
See it while you’re young.
It’s most exciting then.

Meet many people. 
Visit many places.
Marry late. 

Those unencumbered years
expand your life the most.

And if you end like me--
A housewife with regrets
her world has shrunk--

Be one who has a past--
Your reverie
will get you through.

Do you know 
I loved Romania?
And Paris! Those hats!
My narrow escapes!
Trains I jumped at dawn!

That handsome pilot--
he poured champagne 
into my shoe and drank!

Let that happen to you.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Home Alone

I wake up 
to a quiet, 
unpeopled house

float down our long hall
toward the kitchen

my pajamas flutter
like an angel’s robe.

I reach out into the emptiness
sense something there
as if walking in the isle 
of a cathedral dense
with apparitions.
The boys went camping.
I don't miss them.
Instead I long for coffee.

I pour the dark powder
into the white filter 
as reverantly as
a priest preparing
Then I lean against 
my white tile altar,
sipping, beholding,
following my bare feet 
into the garden. 

I hear myself humming. 
I hear myself praising the Lord.

I hear myself praying
there is a Lord 
to receive my praise, 
with so much yearning.

After This

Mount Tam
I want to live again--but not forever!
Time without end would be a bore.

Just give me ten millennia--
that will suffice I think--
to sate my curiosity,
to grow more restless,
to ready me for whatever
happens in that tick
of time before
the next conception.

Or if the worst be true,
to pare my fear
that after all this
there's only an abyss.

My Soul

Lake Chabot
beside the lake
I sense
something near
fusing me
with not me,
listening kindly,
my empty self
with what is
In silent--
I am at last

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Peace of Mind

Lake Chabot

Here along Lake Chabot, 
My mind kicks off its boots, 
My soul drops its heavy pack.
Among ferns and horsetails, 
Where water gently ripples, 
my heart says ahhhh. 
Every bird song awakens me.
Every stray cloud a breath of mine.
Every cricket my own pulse.
Every leaf my own skin. 
Here the Star Thistles prompt
Knowing I will soon forget--
I am the universe and 
The universe is me. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Center Line

Road to Yosemite 
At dusk on a two-lane road 
that curves like a Z, the
strip of paint that marks
a border between life and death
suddenly seems to glow
for me. 
How easily one can veer, 
I think. Take care.

A trespass by a hair
can spell the end 
of the road,
so to speak. 
Today's paper 
tells of a head-on 
in Wyoming
that killed three Boy Scouts, 
a toddler,  and a man 
whose car crossed 
the center line 
last night.
It’s only chance 
they strayed across 
the line just as I 
was measuring
its power
with a new
and urgent need
to keep my eyes
on it.

Friday, June 29, 2012


What I came for is here:
Grasses bending to the breeze
Sun blinking when titan clouds pass by
Warm wind pounding on my back
A dear friend who loves it too nearby
Perfect sand dollars at my feet
I'm not hot or cold, no thirst, no hunger
A mind as fine, inert as sand
No woes will find me here
Just those my heart let in.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Good Old Days

A garage door rumbles up slowly. 
He must have seen me coming 
in my navy blue pleated skirt 
and white cotton blouse
walking home from school.
BAM!  his pants drop to the floor,
he waves congenially at me,
my eyes follow his 
down to a dangling 
turtle neck.
I won’t tell my parents about this old man 
on our street--They’d not let me walk
that way again. 
But I know what lurks 
on all streets leading home 
in South Bend, Indiana.
A stranger in the park tried
to coax me to his car,  my
father's friend, a captain,
trapped me in his bathroom 
with frantic french kisses.

That  Peeping Tom (one of many)!
My neighbor caught him
pulling on my bedroom window
while I lay dreaming
just blocks from Notre Dame.
And little Ronnie Gloster hung himself
when he was 10.
His dad knows why.
Tonight an author on the radio
speaks sadly about the good old days
when a child could walk to school
and home again without a care. 
I want to call him on the air.
There were no good old days
in South Bend, Indiana.