Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Wouldn't Do That

"I would not do that," Mary Jessie said.
She's said that many times over many years.
She said that as I tried to comfort her
About the friend who never calls -
The kids who rarely help -
About the friend who hurt the feelings
of another friend.
I would not do that, Mary Jessie said.

"Of course I forgave her, told her so," she said,
"but even then I knew I would not be like that,
I would not fail to see a friend who's sick
I would not fail to help my mom
Whenever I was asked. I never would do that.
I would not borrow money, and neglect to pay it back
There are some things that I would never do," she said.

Me, I always try to understand.
I know I do not know just how it feels
to have another life,
Another life experience.
Me, I'm never sure just what I'd do
If I were someone else.

Yet even as I try to understand
To have compassion, and some tolerance,
Not to judge what isn't mine to judge
I hear this voice deep inside me say,
Me, I wouldn't do that. No. Not me.
As another voice asks,
Oh, really? Are you sure?

Sunday, December 6, 2009


If I call to Heaven and an angel answers me,
Will I be scared? You bet!
If I create a work of art
A painting that was never there before -
A poem -
Is it not of necessity less -
Than that which it was meant to represent?

Because no one can create all the facets
Possibilities, extensions,
Of anything
And then add on – not just mine -
But your imaginings, and that man's over there,
Or see what that child sees,
It must be less – my poem, my painting
Still I do not make that object less
Just by my effort.

If the angel isn't there, I don't care
Just so long as I think it is
And see my answer, hear my answer, feel it -
That's enough.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thoughts on Rilke

If I call to Heaven and an angel answers me,
Will I be scared? You bet!

If I create a work of art
A painting that was never there before -
A poem -
Is it not of necessity less -
Than that which it was meant to represent?

No one can create all the facets
Possibilities, extensions, emotions,
Of anything -
And then add on – not just mine -
But your imaginings, and that man's over there,
Or see just what that child sees
When gazing at that reality
In dimensions, from angles
I cannot portray.
It must be less – my poem, my painting
Than the reality it draws upon
And at the same time more
Because it frees imagination,
Not just mine,
But yours.

If the angel isn't there, I don't care
Just so long as I think it is
And see my answer, hear my answer, feel it -
That's enough.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas 1940

What makes this season between Thanksgiving and Christmas distinctive one year as opposed to all the other years is when the unexpected happens, when plans and traditions have to be scrapped. In the end that Christmas is often special and, yes, memorable. With two broken legs, it is expected that this Christmas will be one of those unpredictable ones. And it brings to my memory another unpredictable Christmas.

In September of 1940 my father hemorrhaged from his lungs.. I was four and my sister was six. The country was still in a depression, and money was tight. Dad was an intense young man who had spent long hours making his way in the corporate world.

The hemorrhage changed everything in an instant. The diagnosis was tuberculosis which had attacked my father in a vulnerable spot, causing the hemorrhage. The doctor felt this was fortunate, inasmuch as it led to the discovery of the disease at a relatively early stage. However, tuberculosis was tuberculosis and at that time there were no cures. This was before there were drugs to treat the disease. The treatment then was food, bed-rest, sun, often relegation to a sanatorium. For many people TB was a death sentence.

Later in the day after the hemorrhage the family gathered its resources. George and Marjorie, Mother's brother and his wife, arrived, and my grandmother, whom we called Minna. Uncle Don and Aunt Jane, not relatives but friends, came. I have no idea who else came, but there was a lot of activity which I recall as being confusing.

There were decisions made in those first few days, and I have no idea how they were made or what went into them, but my parents established a pattern. They were not going to be defeated. They were going to make this altered situation work. The family would remain intact. And, where they could, they would enjoy the process.

First, Dad would get to stay home. He would be confined to his room. His dishes would be boiled. We were not allowed beyond the door to his room – but we could go that far. During the months of his recuperation, he was still very much an involved father.

The doctor came frequently and checked up on us. Ann and I were repeatedly tested (the scratch test). I would hide when Dr. Bartlett came, but he managed to find me in whatever closet I was secreted, and administer the test.

Minna came to stay. I think for a while there were nurses, and other help, but if there were, I don't think they were there long. Minna was Mother's support and confidante. She was convinced Dad would recover. Her optimism was catching. The trays that went up to my father were elegant – little touches, cloth napkins, covers over the plates.

The owner of my father's company offered to keep him on half salary during his recovery. What my parents didn't know at the time is my father would have to pay that half salary back by working at half salary another year when he returned to work. Money during the year of my father's TB was tight, and I'm sure it was a worry. My parents were survivors, and what fear they had that year they did not transmit to us. Cutting back became almost a game.

Mother and Dad played board games and cards, and listened to the radio together. Dad listened to football games, and charted them using a red and blue pencil. Their friends and neighbors gathered around. There were visits and gifts, often in forms of food. Someone brought Dad a “Dutch wife”, a pillow to place under his knees. I hid it. Dad did not need another wife, even a cloth one. Sometimes friends and neighbors took Ann or me for an outing. Uncle Don, who worked with Dad, came every day on his way from work.

Ann and I were part of the recovery plan. We were expected to behave, and I think Ann did. We both had birthdays that fall. I think we both had birthday parties. I don't remember mine, but I do remember Ann's. That was when I found that if you chew a sterling silver spoon, you can actually change its shape. When the crime was discovered, I blamed Nancy Renkinberger, because I knew my mother didn't like her much anyway. It took years before the Statute of Limitations would allow me to confess. Nancy wasn't invited back.

With the approach of Christmas, Dad was given permission to come downstairs for the first time. He had his choice of coming down for dinner or earlier, for the opening of gifts. He chose to be there for the gifts.

Friends who probably would not have given us Christmas presents in ordinary circumstances did that year. Ella Hume, across the street, gave us each hand painted soldiers that she had painted herself. She also gave us hand painted wooden ornaments, some of which I still have and treasure.

The picture I have carried of that Christmas is the family listening to a recording of Peter and the Wolf. I can see my father in his chair, listening with us. He is wearing his Christmas robe. Mother is beside him. Ann and I were acting out the parts. We circled the dining room table, being hunters, carrying the wolf, with the duck inside, to the zoo.

Then Dad went back upstairs, and his dinner, as usual, was served to him on a tray. We knew he would be down again. It would not be long.

Friday, November 20, 2009


In junior high in the late 40’s, there was in me a consistent conflict between who I thought I was and who I thought I should be.  So I went about the business of inventing myself. I dressed like Mary, laughed like Kathleen, tied my thick curly hair in a pony tail like Nancy’s, ignoring the fact that her hair was straight and much better suited to a pony tail.

Sometimes I would hear something, see something, and tell myself, “I can do that, if I only try hard enough.”  I watched Esther Williams swim. She was graceful, with a dazzling smile as she languorously stretched her arms in a backstroke.  If water got in her mouth, she gently blew it out. 

I grew up on Lake Michigan, with waves and undertow, not suited to languorously backstroking and blowing.  Nevertheless I tried.  Too often there was so much water in my mouth that I resembled a whale spouting rather than Esther blowing.  Diving like Esther was out of the question.  There aren’t diving boards on Lake Michigan, and if there were, my instinctive fear of jumping to my death kept me off them.

One day, before junior choir, I heard a friend of my mother’s, Peggy McKee, practicing.  She was on vacation from New York, where she sang professionally.  Her voice was rich, warm, expressive.  Listening to her, I was transported. Could I sing like that?  Could I make people feel the way I felt listening to her? 

Why not?  She had to start somewhere. I practiced.  I belted out Old Man River.  (I knew the words.)  I decided I was a contralto, like Peggy.  My sister, Ann, held her ears, and begged me to shut up.

We had one bathroom, shared by four people.  The bathtub had claw feet (when claw footed bathtubs were not stylish), and no shower.  Hair washing was done in the bathroom sink with countless cups of water poured over my head.  I would gaze in the mirror, arranging my soapy hair in the style of Marie Antoinette, and sing rising scales.  Well, almost scales.  They got a little flat in the upper reaches.  I would imagine myself living in Manhattan, catching a cab for rehearsals, dressing in elaborate costumes, being adored.

“Peggy doesn’t sing at the Met,” my mother told me.  “She sings professionally at big Manhattan churches.”

“She’s good enough to sing at the Met,” I said, starting another trill.

“Very few people are good enough to sing at the Met,” Mother said.  “Kay, it is possible to admire someone, without having to compete with them.  You can love good singing, and still not be able to hold a tune.”

Eventually, with a lot of family pressure, my singing career ended.  Sometime later I took up the cello. 

While at a music camp I heard Mary Ellen playing Malaguania on the piano.  Wow.  I had never heard the piano sound like that.  Could I do that?  If I memorized it? And practiced hours every day?  Could I play just one piece like that?  Well, that’s another story.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


My grandkids wonder what will happen
When we're gone -
Is there Heaven, is there Hell
Will we come back someday as someone else?
I wonder too, but not for long. I say
“If I'm so busy worrying and stewing
Over what it isn't ours to know
What is going on right now that I might miss?”

And God, the longer that I live
The more I see and learn, the less I know
Or care about who God is or not.
I know that when I pray I feel heard.
When I'm afraid I know I'm not alone
That courage comes to me from somewhere else
Sometimes I say what I hadn't thought before.

Today I watched fall fattened, well-furred squirrels
In our back yard.
They sprang and climbed and flew from tree to tree
First one in front and then they'd turn
And go the other way; they danced and spun
Their gray flag tails beckoning each other,
As they flew along from rock to tree to rock.

Do these gray squirrels cogitate on what's ahead for them?
No. They fly, then dive, are here, then over there
And up then down,
They are absolutely now just where they are,
One second more the squirrels are somewhere else.

I look around my world, at squirrels, and folks I love,
And people I don't know, who smile at me,
And I say, Thank you God. I have no need to know
Just who God is, or whats ahead for me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


As I’m getting more “mature”
 I can admit to certain things
I lied about before – Like this –
I never learned to ride a bike.
In my young life I hid that fact,
Would make excuses not to go
On bicycle excursions.

I have the penmanship, not of a doctor, no,
Far worse – My writing’s not too unlike
A boy in the second grade, or third.
It is absurd when my offspring say
It’s my fault that they’re handicapped
By the hand they got from me.
I tell them, “Well, then, type.”

The worst I guess, I must confess
Is sometimes when I read a book
I read the ending first.

Our three kids are grownups now
With children of their own.
That doesn’t mean we’re less concerned
Than when those three of ours were new!
If truth be told, I must admit
It worries me we cannot read
The unlived pages of their lives.

Nor can we wrap the grandkids up
In bubble wrap so they won’t break
Their bones or hearts along the way.

Life's a book that can't be read
From back to front.

Monday, November 9, 2009

13 Ways of Looking at a Broken Leg


Six strong and strapping EMT's
Carry me down the outside steps
Welcome heroes and I owe them
Cookies, Station One and Station Three
When I am whole again.

Two legs casted, sticking out
When they operated, couldn't they
Have done a pedicure?

I am useless, I can't walk
Can't run out and get something,
Can't lean down, pick up something
I have to ask for help.

I have a wheelchair, it's black
And scarey, too, says Blue the cat.
Five other folks came home with me.
That's scarey, too, says Blue.

Two legs casted, sticking out
I can't make corners in our house.
Parking's never been my strength
I've got a lot to learn.

My chief caregiver's the best
The guy I married can never rest
He picks up this and gets me that
And don't forget to feed the cat
My poor Fred will celebrate
When my two cast legs ain't cast no more!

Two legs casted, sticking out
One is gray and wears a boot
(Although I'm told it can bear no weight
for another two months from now).
The other's red with matching toes
They are getting in my way.

Two legs casted, sticking out
Now and then bump into things
They sometimes seem to me
To be no part of me.

Two legs casted, sticking out
But if you take me knees to head
The rest of me is just the way
It always was, says Fred

Inside my two well casted legs
If one could look inside,
Not flesh and bone, but screws and nails
And screens and plates in there.
My doctor is a carpenter.

Two cast legs upon the bed
And one is gray, the other red
And each one weights 200 pounds
At least.

I should enjoy my two cast legs
They get me out of lots of stuff
How can I entertain Book Club
Or donate blood, or clean the house
With both my legs encased in casts?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Coming Home Broken
or An Update on Cleaning for the Cleaner

The best laid plans go awry. After I got my book printed, the next great project was cleaning my house enough to have a cleaning person do it. Instead, I fell on my front porch and broke the foot on one leg and the ankle bones (that's right, two bones) on the other.

Usually when you know you are going to have lots of visitors, Thanksgiving,Christmas, a party, you have days and days to prepare. When you break your legs all at once the game is over. People are coming to your house, wanting to help in any way they can, and I had no time to pretend to be the organized woman I'm not. Worse than that, we lowered our bed to make it wheelchair height, and that wonderful storage spot for boxes of out of season clothes and also often the storage place for a frightened cat, was gone. Not only that, all those other neat little storage places for souvenirs and junk we don't know what to do with in the bedroom were gone as well. The room had to be made wheelchair accessible, and I wasn't around to make it happen.

The big day arrived Saturday. Elizabeth and her husband, Gregory, and my neighbor, Ro, were here as we proudly drove up. They stood by and cheered as I gracefully skidded across the transfer board from car seat to wheelchair. Graceful could be an exaggeration. It is kind of a skid, a swivel, a lift, and grunt, and a lot of talking to myself, “lean forward, lean forward.” Greg and Fred wheeled me up the drive, across the lawn, down the dirt track beside the house, across the ditch newly dug by Matt, up the two ramps constructed by Fred and my son-in-law, Joe, onto the back deck and into the house.

Judy arrived with dinner, and she and Ro arranged the kitchen, Elizabeth and Gregory settled me inside, the across the street neighbors came to welcome me home, and I had had absolutely no time to clean for all those guests who, in fact, cleaned for me.

So here I am, home, with a lot of help from very many friends. And, guess what, I think I am as ready as I'll ever be for that house cleaner to come in.

I do not recommend this particular method of cleaning for the cleaner.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

going home

Just to let everyone know I'm going home on Saturday.  For the next couple of months I will be sliding on a board and swivelling on my left heel, the only part of the lower me able to bear weight.  The plan is I shall become phenominally strongin my upper body, and my swivel movements will be of such grace that when I am repaired I will be a sensation on any dance floor.

But the house cleaning preparation that I talked about before got interrupted.  Alas poor Fred.  Lots of people I hope will be coming to see me, will notice - why  so many magazines?  I can't imagine why this is there - etc.    However, there is a good twist to everything.  My house when I get home will be filled with the wonderful cards and flowers I have received.  And there is hope - Claudia is coming Wednesday, ready  or not! 

And I have Blue to blame.  That cat!  When he isn't busy calling the SPCA because we've put him on an unwelcome diet, complaining about the neglect  since I broke my legs, he's been running around the house putting everything in the wrong place.  He has been opening drawers, spreading papers, hiding things.  We thought at least he could clean the kitchen, but no.  He didn't even do his own litter box!  Fred did that.  He offered to help with the laundry.  So Fred took it out of the dryer and Blue hopped right up and said he would do the folding later, but it was nap time.  Of course, because he'd been so busy messing things up.  That cat.  So how could Fred fold the warm laundry with a sleeping cat on top?  It is a good thing I'm coming home!

Monday, October 26, 2009


Walking down stones
Buried in cement
Wearing new rubber soled shoes
Walking down steps trod
Seven million
Six hundred sixty eight thousand
Nine hundred twenty four
Times before.
A slip, a slide, a twist
The rubber soled shoes held firm
On the hard concrete
When the feet
Inside the shoes
Did not.

Sirens alert the neighborhood
To tell the tale of feet that moved
When shoes did not
Two feet now encased in casts
No more shoes for the next two months
Shall I tell them when they ask -
I did it skateboarding?.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cleaning by Kay

I had two projects I meant to do this month. The first was to put the things I’ve written into a book and sell it as a fund raiser for the church. I had a deadline. October 17 there is an auction. Yesterday I picked up the book – 100 copies – illustrated! – from the printer. Tomorrow is the auction.

The other project I outlined is much more difficult than writing and putting together a book. I wanted to clean my house sufficient to hire a housecleaner. My progress here has not been so fast. My excuse, working on the book. So I’ve been putting together deadlines. I work much better with a deadline. And I’ve been moving that deadline up.

The first deadline I tied together with the auction (see above!) We’re auctioning a St. Pat’s dinner – March 17. Surely I can clean my house in time for that. The problem with that is it gives me much too much time in which to procrastinate.

February we are hosts to a dinner party for ten people, some of whom I don’t know well, again from the church. That set the cleaning deadline up, but still it leaves way too much time for us to mess things up before we clean them up.

Christmas – well that’s progress but my suspicion is that Christmas won’t be here.

So I invited the children and their families for Thanksgiving. Now I’m getting a little nervous because Thanksgiving is just a little over a month away, and when the family comes there’s not a room I can leave out.

I moved the deadline up again, and invited the children for our anniversary, November 8. I feel I’m getting realistic, now.

Today I invited the knitting group to meet here in two weeks. I have the deadline I have craved. Now that the book is done I can really get to work.

I walk around my house with an advertisement that tells me what a cleaning service would do in every room. I use it as a “to do” list. They talk of cleaning things like blinds, moving furniture, doing the whole job up right. This may get exciting. I wonder what I’ll find that I never knew I lost.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


A group of grown up, grey haired folk
Grizzled geezers, grandmoms and pops
Are gathered - grouped to cogitate –
They congregate to find a way
Of reaching modern youth.

These old folks sit in the youth group’s hall.
They read the writing on the walls.
Between the stenciled hands and feet
The kids have written names and dates:
“Karen, Class of Twenty Ten”
“Jethro, two thousand three.”

This room has odors all its own
Of sleeping bags, of old popped corn,
Honeysuckle by the door,
The summer scent of fresh cut grass.
The old folks, silent, contemplate
How their own youth had slipped away…

They seem to hear those drawn-on walls
Ghostlike, whisper whimsically –
“Your parents, too, despised your clothes,
Thought you outrageous, wild, and dumb –
Would not succeed in anything –
And look how far you’ve come!”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fallen Deer

A deer fell in our yard the other day,
A doe, she tripped upon a rock,
She staggered down into the street
And fell, and then rose on wobbly legs
And crossed the street. The doe lay down
Beside the road, her head and ears were up
She listened, and she watched.

Raoul was working in a yard nearby.
He saw the doe fall, also saw her fawn
Who ran away.
My husband Fred came home,
The deer was still reclined
Beside the road. He called the vet who said
Call animal control. They’ll help the deer.
Raoul had called as well.

Fred stood and watched beside the road,
He set a barrier so cars would not speed by
And spook the resting deer.
The two men waited for the doe to rise
And disappear into the trees and lawns.
They waited for her fawn to reappear.

Animal control, it seems, knows only to destroy living things
That lay perhaps in pain beside the road.
They did not question how the doe was hurt
Or whether, given time, she might get up
And find her fleeing fawn.
Get out, he said, and I will put her down.
No argument would stay his course.
A single shot. The doe was gone.

We set out manna for the fawn
Food recommended for an orphaned deer
Three days gone by, the fawn appeared
Alone, with faded spots, it looked across the road
To where its mother died, and then it left.
The deer food stayed untouched.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Concrete Waterfall

The drowsy worker
By the concrete waterfall
Dreaming of rainbows

The man lies in the shadow of his truck
A yellow hard hat on the ground beside him,
His shirt hangs listless on a branch above,
He looks inside himself and sees
The waterfall to come.

He nearly feels the spray of splashing water
Sees it leaping down his unbuilt path
Sees it jumping over boulders, laughing
Crystal droplets singing as they fall.

He sees the water split by beams of sun
He imagines arcs of color through the mist.
He glories in the rainbow yet to be
Created by the waterfall he’s building.

In his mind he leans to catch the drops
Bathe his skin in the magic of the spray
He’d seize the rainbow, but as his hand shoots out
The rainbow isn’t there.

He wonders if he is himself a rainbow
Is his life an optical illusion?
Is he a glorious splash of color
That in time will simply disappear?

He stands, puts on his hat, spits out the grass.
He rises to complete his waterfall.

Monday, October 5, 2009


A stray cat wandered into our yard and was made unwelcome by our cat, Blue. Tattered and pathetic, we took her to the vet, hoping that she had been implanted with a chip. She was far too friendly for a feral cat, we thought. We’d tried a game of ping pong at our table on the patio, and this cat loved the game, hopping with the ball from side to side.  She was a cat who liked people in her life.

She was infested by fleas, her ribs clearly seen beneath her fur. So we treated the fleas, and treated the hunger and the thirst, and since the day was very hot, we let her sleep in our guest bath, away from our cat, Blue, who liked her not at all. We posted signs around the neighborhood – had any person lost a friendly yellow cat? No one called.

I talked to my friend, Jean. I told her if she took the cat we’d more than gladly help to pay for any alterations. Jean said no, she had friend who was a vet. She’d take care of that herself. I brought the yellow cat to Jean at a meeting, which the cat enjoyed. Not happy in her carrier, she befriended each one there, but seemed to know instinctively that Jean was hers. This cat was smart.

Jean has studied Buddhism, and taught herself Tibetan. She recognized at once that this stray cat was of a royal ancient god-like lineage, and named the cat Samsara, the Tibetan word for “restless spirit”, a name well suited to the orange cat.
At her initial pre-op visit to the vet, it was discovered Samsara was a he, who had been fixed before.

Samsara, Sammy now, had found himself the home and friend that suited him. He considers he and Jean have equal rights around his house. His food is carefully prepared for him and set out on demand. When Sam is good and well behaved, the cat belongs to Jean. But when he bites, wakes up at three, or brings her gifts of snakes or mice, she refers to him as Kay’s.

I don’t know how many lives he’s used, but the one he’s living now is fine with him, he says.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

L'Chayim: To Life

The small stream dances, winding through
And in and out between the rocks,
Catching sparkles from the sun,
Playing harmony to songs
Of bugs and birds along its banks -

It carries cold of melted snow
To nurseries of fish and frog.
It moves leaves and reeds along its banks.
It waters bushes, quenches thirsts
Of land-born life.

It meaders for a bit, and curves,
And then lays quietly in ponds
Before it leaps and dances out,
Cavoting around rocks and stumps
Continuing its journey to the sea.

Above the stream disaster crawls
Metal yellow dinosaurs
Rip up the soil, tear down the hills -
Each day they roar across the fields
Destroying what was always there.

Rock strewn meadows, oaks and grass
Will be replaced by velvet lawns
Fed food that's made by Dow, not deer,
Which washed into the brook will choke and
Kill the life that flowed below -
The water slows
The laughter

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Seventh Grade Blues



In 7th grade I was all arms and legs-
Knocking into things, my socks slipped down
Into my shoes, my blouse untucked
My hair declaring independence from any sense of place –
I wore the clothes my mother liked.
I didn’t think I fit, so sure was I
That everybody noticed what I wore
And each dumb thing I said.

I went to church last Sunday, just a little late
The congregation watched as we walked down
To sit in front. The other seats were taken
By better folk whose lives are organized
And neat. I sang the hymns my best, a bit off key,
My husband said, but loud.

We stayed for coffee after church.
I stood alone with coffee in my hand
The black stockings I had worn looked very blue.
Should not have worn a skirt!
My hair is standing quite on end today
Great white wires going every way.
If someone comes to chat, what will I say?
The cookie that I’m holding’s shedding crumbs.

Helen came, removed a cat hair from my sleeve
And asked me how I was. I’m fine, I said,
And so is Fred. We talked of her and me and church
Til Judy joined us, and Sue, and Natalie
Who had surgery a week ago. It turned out well.

I’m all grown up from 7th grade, I think
Until the next time when I stand alone, with Styrofoam
Of coffee in my hand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


My walking buddy’s gone to Spain
So now I walk alone – Except
Except for geese, and dogs,
chipmunks and squirrels
And kids who rush to catch their bus –
And people driving by in cars.
I notice people wave at me
And I wave back – but I can’t see
Inside their car or who they are.

I’m forced to walk alone – because
My walking buddy’s gone to Spain – Except
I have my thoughts. I ask myself
Whatever happened to the pair
Who used to live in that house there –
She used to go to Curves, perhaps
Still does. I don’t.

Who does that lawn. What artistry.
Who would have thought to put that rock
Right there, and black tanbark beneath the tree
Spread out beneath its canopy
No sprinklers needed near that oak
I wonder could we do the same?
My walking buddy’s gone to Spain.

So maybe if we cleared the ground
And got black tanbark spread around
Beneath our oaks and planted rocks
Instead of flocks we wouldn’t need to spend so much
On fixing sprinklers here and there –
They never work or seem to spread
Their grains of water far enough
To keep our landscape green and fed.

My walking buddy’s gone to Spain
So now I walk alone except
For geese and dogs, chipmunks and squirrels,
Kids, cars, and wandering thoughts.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I have a black cat name of Blue
And what he likes to do the best
(Aside from rest) is creep along the window sill
And leap on unsuspecting bugs.
He looks at birds beyond his reach.
If he had speech – could say the words,
He'd say those birds are easy prey -
Were he without and not within..

Wednesday, September 16, 2009



Today I’m suffering from writer’s block
My head is empty, no thoughts to think –
I only sit and listen to the clock.

Could it be I’ve run amuck?
Sanity teetering on the brink?
Today I’m suffering from writer’s block.

My head is heavy, filled with rock –
My eyes are staring – Can’t even blink
I only sit and listen to the clock.

I am confused. I’m in a fog.
Cleverness gone – I’m on the blink!
Today I’m suffering from writer’s block.

One deep breath, then I’ll take stock -
I know I must have thoughts to think –
I only sit and listen to the clock.

Where’s the key for my brain’s lock?
Where’s the fuel to help me think?
Today I’m suffering from writer’s block.
I only sit and listen to the clock.

Villanelle is a poetic form which entered English-language poetry in the 1800s from the imitation of French models. The word derives from the Italian villanella from Latin villanus (rustic). A villanelle has only two rhyme sounds. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close. A villanelle is nineteen lines long, consisting of five tercets and one concluding quatrain.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Antelope Run

Silvery city, with the new city shine
Streets laced with aspen
New houses abound
No antelope here, downtown Antelope Run
Boutiques and cafes
All the newest of new
Once Antelope Run was only a plan
An idea for building on difficult land
Too rocky for growing much other than grass
A commutable distance, and easy to sell
Half acre ranchettes, with golfing nearby.

Now there’s Starbucks and Peets
Only two blocks apart
With tables outside, and bicycles parked.
Velcro clad riders drink extravagant drinks
Frappachino’s and lattes, Espresso drinks, too

They’ve escaped from the city,
They’ve followed a dream
Country living this is, with the chicest of chic
Mothers with children all carefully strapped
In strollers for jogging, now how cool is that!

Antelope Run isn’t sure what it is –
No one has grown up here, the schools are new,
No swings in the playgrounds – they simply aren’t safe
Antelope Run is a city untested
A sugar confection, as yet undigested.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


A tokonoma is an alcove meant to rest the eye.
It is the sole adornment of the room in which it stands.
The tokonoma is  looked upon,
But never entered.

The floor is raised,
carpeted with tatami mats.
To the left the eyes perceive a flawless beam, unvarnished,
cut and planted so the moisture of the house can be absorbed –
a beam that breathes.

A simple flower, an arrangement of a single branch,
is on the left as you look into the tokonoma -
a solitary greeting from your host.
Straight ahead there is a scroll hung high upon the wall,
with oriental lettering.

The scroll could be a poem or an ancient landscape,
it doesn’t matter what it says or shows.
To the right there is another,object,
perhaps an incense burner,
 but no matching beam or plant to cause distraction.

 tokonoma seems to flow from left to right
into a seamless space of solitude.
The tokonoma is designed to bring forgetfulness,
 to still the senses, to remove complexities.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Teaching Company: Senior Education

Some years ago a co-worker lent me tapes of lectures given by a history professor in Oregon. Her sister was taking the class and was fascinated by his take on American History. He was wonderful, informative, funny. When he talked about the exams coming up, I knew I wouldn’t be taking them.

That experience planted a seed with me. I don’t have a long commute, and now that I’m retired, I don’t commute at all. When I was working I loved the books on tape. When books on CD came out it was even better, because I didn’t have to worry about the tape breaking and tangling. One of the first books I took from the library was the first volume of the Balkan Trilogy, by Olivia Manning. The second and third volumes were harder to find, but by the time I did I was thoroughly hooked on the idea that even short commutes were opportunities to listen and learn.

By the time I retired from my city job and gone to work (you guessed it!) at the library, I had learned that books on tape or CD could be brought indoors – I did not have to drive around just to hear what was going to happen next.

Then a misaddressed catalogue arrived from “The Teaching Company” (www.Teach12.com). Remembering those history tapes, I spent an afternoon studying the catalogue before I put it in the right mailbox. The catalogue announced a special sale on certain courses, if I ordered right away. (There are always some courses on sale, but I didn’t know that then). I was hooked. The courses ranged from Biblical History to Physics for the Non-Physicist, to the Symphonies of Beethoven (and so much more!). Now I am addicted. I have studied the Divine Comedy by Dante and the History of the Supreme Court. I have watched videos on the History of the Universe and the History of Western Art. I have been, through these courses, in the lecture halls of colleges and universities all over the country.

At the moment I have two courses going – the History of American Literature, and a History of Great Western Literature. I am experiencing the American Civil War and the Trojan War all at the same time, driving back and forth from the grocery store, or from the Bay Area visiting the children and grandchildren.

The opportunities for learning are endless and exciting now that it isn’t just about required courses or earning a living. For me, the Teaching Company has been a fantastic resource.

Friday, September 4, 2009


It was spring. The war was over, rationing gone, people were once again buying new cars. The Muskegon (Michigan) Lassies (part of the All-American Girls Baseball League) were having a winning season. The “New Look” was in and hemlines were down.

Mrs. Sheridan arrived at our house to show off her brand new 1948 Oldsmobile with Hydromatic transmission. We were all going to a Lassie’s baseball game that night. She offered to drive me, with Mother and Dad coming later.

Mrs. Sheridan was a widow the same age as my mother, but much more glamorous. She wore spike heels, red lipstick, blue eyeshadow, and had a fox fur biting its tail draped around her shoulders. Her nails were painted and she smoked using a holder.

“See, look,” Mrs. Sheridan crowed. “It doesn’t even have a clutch! You don’t have to shift gears. Why, it’s so easy, even Kay could drive it.” I was 12. My parents peered into the windows, opened the doors, sat on the seats, and admired the gadgets.

Shifting gears, stepping on and releasing the clutch at just the right moment, had always seemed to me to be the most challenging part of driving a car. Of course, I’d never driven anything. I had only tried sitting in stationary vehicles, turning the wheel vigorously, pretending I was steering. Imagine a car where you didn’t have to engage a clutch.

I got in beside her. I heard the smooth purr as she turned on the ignition.
“Do you really think I could drive this?”

“Sure you could. All you have to do is steer.”

She drove around the corner onto Fifth Street and parked. Fifth Street was a straight shot down four or five blocks before it curved.

“All you have to do is keep the wheel steady, don’t turn it too much, and just press lightly on the gas.” She indicated the gas pedal, the brake right beside it. “If you need to stop, you press on the brake, here. Not with your left foot, with your right.” She demonstrated.

“Can I try?”

“You drive to the end of Fifth Street. Then I’ll take over.”

I sat in the drivers’ seat. Mrs. Sheridan showed me how to release the brake and put the car in drive. Off I went. The car jerked, moved, jerked, a few feet at a time.

“Press a little harder on the gas, just lightly, but evenly,” said Mrs. Sheridan. I did.

The car took off, careening down Fifth Street, moving back and forth from curb to curb, with Mrs. Sheridan screaming in my ear, “The brakes! The brakes!”

“Where are they?” I cried.

Fifth Street turned. Mrs. Sheridan’s brand new Oldsmobile did not. There was the scream of crunching metal as the car hit a tree. Shaken but intact, we crept out. People began to gather. Steam rose from the front of the painfully crumpled, wounded new car.

“It wasn’t your fault,” my mother said later. “Nell should never have allowed you to drive that car!”

“Her insurance will cover it,” my father said. My father and I both knew, though the words weren't spoken, that it wasn't only Mrs. Sheridan lacking in good sense that day, and we were lucky that only the car was wounded.
The insurance did cover the damage.  Mrs. Sheridan did not offer me a second chance at driving her car.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

49 Fire: Auburn, CA

A rapidly moving fire devastated a commercial and residential area in the town of Auburn, CA, just east of where we live. Jack, along with 60 other homeowners, lost his house and everything in it. The following morning, still probably in shock, he showed up at the meeting where he always shows up on Monday mornings. Other people there were wearing the clothes they had on when the evacuation order came to them the day before. Their houses were spared, but they weren’t allowed back into the neighborhood.

We always read about fires; right now we’re hearing about the fire storm raging almost unabated in Southern California. This fire felt very different. It was just up the road, affecting friends and for some people, relatives. Jack was able to save his dog, but not his cat. I found myself being particularly affectionate to our cat, Blue, and wondering if we could catch him in time to put him in a cat carrier, if there were a fire. He tends to hide when he’s frightened.

Although 60 houses were destroyed, as far as is known, there was no loss of life – or at least human life. How many memories, wedding pictures, souvenirs of good times, were lost? How can insurance policies cover the track trophies, golf trophies, favorite toys or stuffed animals of children? The quilt handed down? The quilt just made?

How long will it take people to recover from the fear of not knowing if their children, parents, friends had gotten out safely?

I came home from the meeting, and looked around my house. What would I save if an evacuation order came? Blue, the cat, of course. What about the pictures on the walls – painted by Lisa, or Linda, or Fred, or Ron who died in 2006? What about the computer which holds every bit of our life stories, as well as all the pictures we’ve taken in recent years with our digital cameras? What about my mother’s silver?

The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are accepting donations for victims of the fire. They are especially in need of money donations.

The Salvation Army is also asking for nonperishable food and hydration items, clothes and unopened toiletries. You can donate money to the Salvation Army at the community center at 286 Sutter Street in Auburn from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Mon-Fri, or mailed to P.O. Box 4088, Auburn, CA 95604.

The Red Cross is only accepting monetary donations. Their Auburn office is located at 457 Grass Valley Hwy. Suite 8, Auburn, CA 95603.

To designate cash donations to victims of the fire, write "49 Fire" on the memo line of checks.


Monday, August 31, 2009


My youth was a loud, rambunctious play
With a boisterous cast of parents, teachers, pals
Who stood across the footlights of my stage
Or sometimes simply waited in the wings
of my growing up –

Skip Halfpenny, the scamp whom teachers loved
To scold, And Martha Johnson, whose parents
Didn’t seem to like her very much.
My mother said it was because they were afraid -
They’d had four children, only two remained.

Mr, Stewart led the orchestra and band,
and we were good!
He called on us to do more than we could
He taught us the mathematical reality that
The whole, in orchestra, and perhaps in life,
Is often greater than its parts.
We learned it playing Rimsky-Korsakov.

I see my parents’ friends who smoked and drank
Played poker: nickel ante, dealers’ choice –
I see our houses, stages where we’ve acted
I wouldn’t know them now, they’ve been redone

The lights upon stage on which my childhood
         was played
Have flared, then flickered, finally gone out,
All the actors too are gone,
One at a time, they left.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Prayer Shawls

At our church we have a group of women who meet regularly to knit shawls, which we then give to people – church members, relatives of members, friends or neighbors who might be wanting or needing comfort and prayer. The knitting group varies from a few to many. The knitting is done at bi-weekly meetings and in between. The yarn is purchased or donated, and the knitting patterns are as varied as the members of the group.

In addition to the shawls, the knitting group makes “prayer pockets”, small squares made into pockets into which are placed a talisman of some sort representing to the recipient the presence of God or their guardian angel or their “higher power”. If you are going into a scary situations, whether it’s a dentist’s office, a principal’s office, or an oncologist’s office, it is like taking your guardian angel with you when you carry a prayer pocket in your pocket. It reminds us that we are never alone.

The knitting group consists of experienced knitters, (even one who has taught knitting and spins her own yarn) – and people just learning to knit. Some of the members don’t knit at all. They crochet.

While the shawl is being made, or the prayer pocket, we don’t know who will get them. That means that while we make them, we pray for everyone, whether they think they need those prayers or warm wishes or not. We pray for each other. We pray for people we’ve encountered that day, including the checker at the grocery store, or the waitress at Denny’s, the kid we passed lugging his backpack to school, or the person we’re having a hard time liking. We pray for the guy who cut us off on the road, and we pray for the doctors and dentists who will be treating the people we love.

On Sundays the completed shawls and prayer pockets are blessed during the service before they are given away to wrap someone in our love and our prayers. The good part is that the recipient does not know exactly who knit their shawl, so they can assume that we all did.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I love to do the laundry
Cause its satisfying, neat
When folded, put in drawers, on shelves -
Cause when its done, its done
I know that I’ve done one small thing
Domestic folks would deem

My washer does its noisy work -
It swishes, pops and spins
I disappear, don’t interfere, I let it toil in peace
Until it beeps to tell me “ Time
To move this soggy load.”

The dryer smells of freshener
I take the last load’s lint –
(It’s colored from the load of wash
I’d done some days before) -
I set the dials, wipe my brow, pretend I’m all worn out
Then once again I leave the scene,
My day’s work halfway done!

The folded loads of laundry tell
Of where we’ve worn the clothes
Of what we’ll wear next week
Of what we’ll keep or give away
Or save as rags, or toss.
And now its time to celebrate
That this week’s laundry’s

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sestina to Lake Michigan
I walked away from life to seek some peace
Beside the great lake’s constant, rhythmic motion.
I left behind the city with its sounds -
The cacophony of its urban dance.
My ears expected soothing, whispering waves.
My shoes removed, my toes curled in the sand

But as I walked I felt the life in sand
Felt tiny creatures searching out their peace
Felt living beings even in the waves
That beat the shore in slow and even motion
It seemed that all about me was a dance
With wind and lake and sand the only sound.

The grasses swayed and beckoned, quiet sounds
Those grasses, long, their feet held fast in sand
They seemed to call me, join our mystic dance -
Just feel, they said, and you will sense a peace
That doesn’t come in stillness but in motion
Listen to the woodwind songs of waves.

And then the wind came up and beat the waves
The woodwind tones took on a brassy sound
Instead of quiet there came more frantic motion
As frothy fountains beat upon the sand
I felt myself swept up – this was not peace
But vital music forcing me to dance.

It felt to be a wild exuberant dance
We swayed and bent and spread our arms and waved
I was, in that strange world, a little piece
A quiet voice in a sea of sound
I was a part of wind, and grass and sand
And joined with them in an eternal motion.

The beach transformed, for everything was motion
I felt that all of life was in our dance
The wind blew up the tiny grains of sand
Which fell again to rest upon the waves
No human noise disturbed the throbbing sound
Of life upon that beach where I sought peace.

I found my peace within unceasing motion -
I danced to sounds no orchestra could make
I was at one with waves and sand and grasses.

The painting for this poem is courtesy of Lisa Stark-Berryman, Santa Cruz, CA
A sestina is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet, for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza's lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza's lines appear in the order 615243

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I’d flown across the country to see my cousin Tom. Seated in the small one person bungalow he’d bought the year before, we knew this was the last we’d see each other. His hairless head and missing brows and lashes told of painful treatments, ended now.

The palm pilot in his hand contained the phone numbers, schedules for the folks who came to see him, connections with the life outside his room. “I’m not gone yet,” he said, “I still have things to do. My men’s group comes tonight. You can come, too.”

A clergyman, he saw himself a mentor now. He asked me, would I like to hear what happened to his marriage? How he left his parish priesthood, almost got defrocked? How he’d lived before the cancer claimed him barely sixty days before?

And then he told me what I had not known of him, and shared with me his life, his pain, his story. It is a tale I’ll recount someday, and put together with the boy he was, red haired and funny, chasing through the woods and dunes and beaches of Lake Michigan.

Monday, August 17, 2009


There is a digger pine down by the lake
It leans, the branches sag, its trunk is two feet thick
The tree is old, it has a tired stance –
Yet in the upper limbs the place is jumping
Blue herons, egrets and some cormorants
Have made the pine their home –
Despite its insubstantial look.
We call this tree the condominium.

The herons and the egrets when they come
Must circle, sometimes several times
Before they make their landing on the fragile
Twigs of branches. They clap their wings
To gain precarious balance and
To let the other tenants know they’re home.
Sometimes they misgauge their space.
Great cries erupt when this occurs.
The branches shake as these long legged birds
Assert their ownership
Of each exclusive limb.

We worry when rain heavy storms with screaming winds
Descend upon the neighborhood -
The lake becomes a tiny sea with waves.
At times it overflows its banks.

We think the digger pine just isn’t safe,
Its branches loaded with the nests of birds.
We wonder – is its lean a little more acute?
Has seepage undermined the roots?
Should not the birds find better, stronger trees
In which to raise their young?
Or will their instincts tell them
When the tree begins to
Tip too much
And fall uprooted.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Yesterday was my day to donate to the Blood Source. http://www.bloodsource.org/ This might be considered a generous act, and perhaps it is, but I have to admit to ulterior motives!

First, when you are my age, there isn’t much of you that people want any more – I’m too old to be even tested for bone marrow, my eyes are dim, my donatable organs have been pretty much used, although I proudly carry my donor card. The blood bank loves my blood – and they love my platelets even more. They call me up when its time for me to donate, they thank me profusely even before I have made the appointment.

Yesterday, as I walked in to be interviewed, I was handed a certificate for a “pint for a pint” of Baskin Robbins ice cream. (http://www.baskinrobbins.com/) I now have almost enough to have my own ice cream social. All I need are the strawberries, bananas, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, pineapple, nuts and cherries. I have a stunning variety of tee shirts from the blood bank! Then, since I am a platelet donor, I get weighed. That is, perhaps, for me, the hardest part of donating platelets. They never weighed me when I gave whole blood. They took my word for my weight, which remained unchanged year after year, despite all visible evidence to the contrary. So I take off my shoes, glasses, watch, etc. and close my eyes while they do this.

Giving platelets takes longer, from one to two hours depending on how many they are taking. They settled me in and gave me a choice of movies – a huge choice of movies. Yesterday they were doing one unit of platelets and one of packed red blood cells, so I didn’t think 67 minutes was time enough for a movie. Retired people are particularly valuable platelet donors – because we have the time. With platelets we can give more often. There it is – another senior advantage. It is not every day I get the chance to lie back and read a good book for 67 minutes.

Blood bank people are amazing. The phlebotomists (great word!) have never missed with me. The 67 minutes pass quickly.

Then comes the really good part – the donuts. Only when I give blood can I justify eating a wonderful, sinful, donut! As I sit savoring each bite, I pick up a heart shaped sticker that says “Be nice to me today, I gave blood”. I attach it to my forehead for the ride home.

I have now given 79 units of blood. (You get extra credit – two for one – for donating platelets or packed red cells.)(Women are no longer allowed to give plasma at our blood bank). One more pint of blood and I will have given ten gallons – and will be eligible for the Blood Source’s annual dinner. Fred has offered to take me out to dinner for no blood, and I must say I’ve taken him up on that lots of times – but this dinner will be special. I will wear a blood source tee shirt!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A typical garden on our walk
Every morning, as part of my senior fitness program, I get up at six in order to walk at seven with my friend and neighbor, Rosemary. Although we are both retired, we walk early to beat the heat. Before I leave the house I turn on the whole house fan, and by the time I get home an hour later, it is time to close up the house and turn off the fan, as the temperature outside is already rising to a less than comfortable level.

Rosemary is walking as part of her training for a pilgrimage across Spain. I am walking to stave off old age. This week Rosemary is off learning Spanish. I am forced to exert enormous amounts of self discipline, and walk on my own. So far, two days out of two, I have done that.

Later in the day, when I treat myself to something delicious and sinful, I justify my excesses by the fact that I have walked. When my children succumb to the temptation to raise their parents, I can tell them that I have walked. We’re proud of you, they say.

We pass some spectacular yards and gardens on our walk. I am impressed by the creativity and talent of my neighbors. My plants struggle to survive. If there were a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants, I think my plants would turn me in.

Inspired by my neighbors, Fred and I bought some plants in pots. We think our soil is unhealthy,

home to lots of moles and gophers and other root eating creatures. Pots supply the instant gratification we crave – none of this waiting for seeds to germinate. We have lined our walk with gopher-proof wine barrels and deer resistant flowering plants in pots.

Our friendly gophers

Each day we are barked at or sniffed by dogs, glared at by families of wild turkeys, honked at by families of geese. We watch some neighbors retrieve their morning papers, and others leave for work. We gloat a bit that we don’t have to do that any more, although both of us secretly miss the work we did. As we discuss our plans for the day, we marvel at how very full our days are, and wonder how we ever had time for work in the first place.

Soon Rosemary will be walking with her backpack. Not me. I shall admire her stamina in much the same way as I admire my neighbors’ gardens.

Rosemary, next week

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Three doe are standing in our yard

They’ve eaten up the roses – that was last spring

One is just now stretching up To eat some privet leaves.

She balances for just a bit on her hind legs,

To reach the berries well above her head.

Another licks and grooms the smaller doe

Perhaps her daughter – spotted fawn of just a year ago.

She licks her face, cleans out her ears -

Suddenly she turns,

Ears shaped like stalks extend

And point at me.

I think the deer hear sounds we’ve never heard -

Miles away or just beneath the ground -

I wonder what our yard sounds like to them.

The doe who ate the leaves is tired now,

She folds herself down upon the grass.

Head high, ears up, she chews and sniffs

and turns her head and sniffs again

Discerning odors I have never smelt

Do deer dislike aromas we abhor?

Do they judge the world they see and hear and smell

As good or bad - or only, is it safe?

I watch the mother deer lift up her right rear leg

And scratch her chin.

The mourful cries of coyotes pierce the night -

I saw one once, walking down our road

At dusk,

He turned and looked at me with yellow eyes.

I wished him well.

Mountain lions, too, live not too far from us

Sleek, gold majestic creatures, like the deer, astute

In all their senses, searching prey to keep their

Cubs alive.

Sometimes our deer are gone a day or two

Sometimes a week – I watch for them -

And when the deer return, I thank my God

For keeping them unharmed for one more day.

And then I wonder what kind of God it is

That fills the world with predators and prey?