Monday, March 26, 2012

I Was Weary, You Understand

I know you must be crumbling 
like a day-old pan dulce.
After all, this is your mother you’re looking at
Painted and powdered like an old diva 
In a jeweled music box.
You must be shocked looking down on
My hands, laced with black beads
Which you know I recited over and over
All through my last days.
Afraid, yes, I was, but you know, son,
There wasn't much else I could do.
I could not care for my orchids
Nor even my own hair. 
It’s impossible to look your best
When you can’t stand up
By yourself.
And honestly it shocked me
To see your hair so white. 

And you know I complained
The room always seemed too bright.
I was so weary, you understand.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On the Way to the Game

Dominic and his friend sit side by side
in the back of my van.

In a surge of elation he shrieks,
leans over the seat and 
nibbles on his friend's ear

as he's done often
since they were 3.
Now they're 11.  
Now his friend jerks free.
Why do you do that?

My son's smile does a flip.

Because I love you, ya big idiot!
They turn to their windows, one left, the other right.
Only I see their smiles in the glass.

The boys too busy reliving what they just nearly lost:
A little more time on this well-marked road to the game.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to become the person you want to be

When he was 12 and changed

schools, my son decided 

to change his image, too,

from class clown to

something more strapping.

Surprized he knew how

at such a tender age,

to make such a bold transition

I asked for his formula.

Here's what he said:

Mom, it's easy.

First decide who you want to be.

Then start acting like that person.

People will treat you like that person.

Then you will be that person.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Who's The Best?

Dominic now 20
When my son was 8 I asked:

Who's the best soccer player in

your school?

His answer: Steven Miller!

Who's the best baseball player?

Steven Miller!

Well, who's the best joke teller?

Steven Miller!

And the best singer?

Steven Miller!

Finally, I sighed.

Honey, surely you're the best

at something.

I am!

I'm Steven Miller's best friend!

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Time Flies

He tied big birds and bucks 
to the roof of our station wagon.
Left catfish gasping in the kitchen sink
And fired up the grill.

Jammed our garage with firearms, golf clubs
fishing poles, bowling balls.
Grew sunflowers taller than the house.
Bred a hunting dog in the back.
Built a brewery in the basement.
Soldiered in Europe and Korea
Kept his medals polished in a drawer
And nine to fived every day.
Don't waste time, daddy warned
as I swung in my swing, wasting time.
It's all gonna be over before you know it.
Before you know it doesn't begin to describe
The way time took flight 
like a falcon’s hunting dive,
As I swung in that swing, smiling
Daddy’s just trying to scare me.  
Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Morning After Sue Died

Judging from their calm repose
these roses on my deck 
have yet to learn the crushing news 
that Sue is gone.

And to my deepening dismay,
the sun shines just as bright today 
as yesterday,
not knowing, I suppose,
that Sue, our beloved Sue,
passed on last night.

And woe, these palm trees sway 
as gently as they did before,
as if nothing’s changed at all
though Sue, lovely Sue,
took her last breath that day. 

But to her friends--sisters--
(Sue made us all feel kindred), 
her sudden most hated death last night 
split our world in two: 

those kinder Yesterdays
when there was Sue 

and these harsh Todays
when there is not.

Sue died September 20, 2011

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 19, 2012

For a Young Woman Who Died of Addiction

View of Mount Diablo, San Leandro, CA
When your mother spoke of you, she said Lilly
A name that brings to mind timeless light and beauty
And don’t we often speak of love through flowers?
Most especially one so enduring?
She set aside the sunniest spot for you
Bathed and pruned your pedals
Tried to shade your roots from burn
So you’d be ready to flower 
In time for Easter
Who knew how hard it is for lilies to adjust
To a garden environment
Or how stubborn they could be
Not docile like the rose or daffodil
No, lily of the pond, of the valley
You wild, wild flower of Heaven,
Whose nature requires constant priming
Under the most optimum conditions,
Must be protected at all times
Therefore only God can grow a perfect lily
Only He tenders optimum conditions
Only He can force this bud to bloom
In time for Easter
And so one thinks God himself
Chose the lily
Over all others in creation
To serve as His flower of resurrection
Let’s think of Lilly now, abloom
In the everlasting garden
Among countless departed blossoms of every hue
All today in chorus, they are singing:
Oh Lilly, Tis heavenly to be here with you!
Tis Easter every day now with you!

 Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Ant and I

Above Half Moon Bay

On this rotting trail
I let an ant transverse.
And note she crosses 
Without a care
of the fast death 
she’s just been spared
beneath my boot.
I revel in my generosity
and feelings of supremacy
tho I know like me
this ant’s returning home
only if her luck holds out.
We are equals, this ant and I
in our respective fates.
Under some plain boot
We both will fall.
And neither knows the dates.
Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What A Heavy Suitcase, Childhood

What a heavy suitcase 
childhood is.

Packed for us by others 
Far too casually
For such a chancy expedition.
Crammed between the fantasies,
So many cumbersome conceits,
Obsessions, qualms that
Weigh down every choice,
Every wish, every day.
When can we unpack those
Early selves, fold
Them neatly in a drawer
And walk away? 

 Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Amazing Grace

I stop stirring the pot

or sweeping the floor

or watching TV
and hasten to the porch.

A brilliant copper torch
blazes in the window 

on the hill above.

As if the sun in its descent 
came crashing through the glass
and set that house on fire.

It happens most every night. 

And most every night

I hasten to the porch

or I think about it

and tonight

write a poem about it.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Forever Doesn't Scare Me Anymore

How do you like eternity, mother?
Is it like we talked about, hoped it’d be?
Or did you flee this forsaken rock
To vanish
With countless blazing galaxies
Into oblivion?
You who were so brave, so lavish
Are now, what?
A nameless bit of dust
Through the cosmic tomb?
A newborn sun
Scattering light
Across the dark, soundless chasm?
Do my prayers have any power?
If so, you’re heaven’s seraph,
Secure in everlasting fellowship.

I’m listening for an answer.
But only utter stillness
Stands between us, as if forever.

And yet, forever dosn’t 
Scare me anymore,
Now that you’re there.

 Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Want to Put Your Head in My Bucket?

Want to put your head in my bucket, Oma?


Because you're old?


Will you always be old?


Do you want to be old?


Then put your head in my bucket!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Not only Human, Not Only Earth (Published Spring 2013,

This giant redwood tree we stumbled on
is old, so old it was a sapling when
Rome fell and Aztec still was spoken
in these woods
where we stood, my friend
and I, staring skyward,
she in quiet prayer and I musing
whether life's sundry forms 
prove it must be sprouting out there 
in countless starry gulches 
of the Milky Way and far beyond
in ways an earthly brain can’t fathom.
We know Earth shimmers with a beauty 
that’s finely tuned to human sensibility, 
but not only human, and surely 
not only Earth

 Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

The Connor Boy

He wasn't four long

before this bench

overlooking the lake

was dedicated in

loving memory

with a copper plaque

that won't last either.

We have to let go of everything.

 Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Our Lucky Dogs

What she hears, she just hears.

What she smells, she just smells.

Knowing only this moment,

only simple things --

pain but not evil,

joy but not conceit.

Being without effort.

In one world at a time.

In this world, not a past,

not a future,

not another,

not the next.

 Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Funeral Hymn

Don’t sing to yourselves, my loves,
turn your eyes, your lips
to me, to my sleeping ears,
to my still growing hair.

Sing to me in my grave,
where I still dream, 
still work my needles,
knitting our shadows

So sing loud, 
sing often, my loves.

Wake me 
from this long sleep
if only in your hearts.

 Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Staying Together

Before Great-Grandma Ampie died, and lay in hospice care, my grandson and I had conversations about death, such as this one.

I want us to always stay together, Oma.

Me too, I say.

If I get eaten by a shark,
I want you
to be eaten by a shark.

Me too, I say.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


A breeze light as breath
warms my crouching child
shaping sand into symbols
of intelligence, unaware
an ocean’s frothy lips 
are parting at his heels
to lap up his careful
Earth, sun and moon
so flaunt their might 
and mock our dream
for permanence.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Star Dust

My mother-in-law passed away quietly today just short of her 93rd birthday. When she entered hospice care a few weeks ago, my 5-year-old grandson had conversations about life and death. Here is one.

Where was grandma before she grew 
in her mother's stomach?
In seeds in her parents' bodies,
waiting to be planted, I say.
Where was she before the seeds?

In star dust. 
Like you and me and everything.
And when she dies, 
where will she be?
Back to star dust again.
Oh! I love star dust!