Home Making-Lesson 1

After the long winter

I was so anxious about my houseplants

That on the first warm day

I carried them out to the porch

I said to them

Now you will be happy

They looked at me quizzically

It still might freeze at night

The aloe plant said.

Don’t be such a nervous Nellie

I responded

Don’t be such a prickly pessimist.

The jade plant, the big one, laughed

And all the tiny succulents in designer pots

Sighed.

So I left them on the porch

Basking in the sun

That night

The temperature dropped precipitously

I could hear coughs and murmurs from the porch but

I ignored them

In the morning I took a big watering can out

Ready to greet my plants

But every one was black and drooped in death

I’m sorry, I cried

There was no response.

Oh well I thought

Perhaps I should have waited a few more weeks.

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Slicing the Lake

I went kayaking today

In the late afternoon

My kayak is red like a fire engine

And bobs and ducks on the lake

When I paddle fast it slices through the water

Dicing like a knife

The sun was hot on my right side going out and on my

Left side coming home but

I splashed enough cold lake water on my legs

To keep cool

Not on purpose.

Sometimes I laid my paddle down and

Dangled my hands in the water on either side.

After all there was no hurry

I had no destination.

For all I accomplished

I could have paddled in circles in front of the dock

For an hour.

I could have stood on the landing and made semaphores with my paddle.

But the trip up and down the lake

Was more interesting.

Slicing and dicing the water

I rolled doubles so I get another turn.

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How to Get Through to Dawn

I was tired

But not sleepy

I twirled around in bed aimlessly

Finally surrendered

And got up

Creaky like, not happy to be awake

All askew with time

I tried to doze in my chair

But I can’t sleep sitting up

Even on that red-eye flight I took to Corfu

With my daughter

While she dreamed against the window

I was wide awake all through the night.

But after a sleepless night I am convinced

That the kindest way to greet the morning

Is to cry out

How beautiful the light is, let’s go for a walk or

A drive

Let’s swim in the sea

Let’s have an aperitif and talk

Over breakfast.

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Woke Up

I have always prided myself

On my open-minded attitude

Because when I was young

I slept with black men

And liked it

At least as much as I liked sleeping with white men

Which admittedly wasn’t much. Plus

I was a member of CORE

And picketed the Bus Terminal in New York

Which still had segregated water fountains in the South.

We sang Woody Guthrie songs and carried signs.

I have believed that

In my own way I supported

A multiracial society.

Not that I have been challenged in the last half century

Living in a Caucasian world

As I do

Where black people are so uncommon that

I do not presently know a black person.

Of course I don’t know any white people either

So perhaps that’s not important.

At any rate being married I no longer sleep with a variety of people

And my ability to march is limited.

I have decided that it is time to find another way to advocate

For racial equality.

Am I woke yet?

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Sidewalk Songs 1955

My cousin Marty

Wanted to be a star.

All summer that year

He sweated on the corner of Valentine Avenue and 196th Street

In the Bronx

With three of his friends

And sang Dion and the Belmonts songs

Harmonizing

And the Everly brothers.

Marty had a pompadour and

Tight black pants

When I passed him

I always called out, hoping to be noticed

But he didn’t answer

Intent on melody, swaying with syncopations

They practiced every day

Out on the street

I suppose

The apartments were too crowded, too hot

Smelled of chicken soup and garlic.

I suppose on the corner they could imagine

An audience as big as

The world.

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Tabular Rasa

I will never be able to write avant-garde poetry

With unexpected but meaningful spaces between words and lines

Because I do not know how to make tabs work on my computer

If I had a typewriter

I could be a real contender

Making poems located in the middle of the page

Or triangle shaped

Or strung out on a clothesline

I learned how to type in the seventh grade

On a black standard Underwood

A very serious machine

The keys struck the paper hard

At my finest

I achieved a speed of 20 words per minute.

When I went to college down south

I had my own typewriter

Royal Portable with matching suitcase

On which I typed my essays

Using erasable paper and white-out and

Even though I screamed inflammatory curses at the status quo

Because I was a rebel

I knew how to use the tab key.

When I opened my law practice I bought an IBM word processor and

Drafted motions and memoranda and such

Employing my tab key expertly and

With business acumen.

But my computer is different

It turns a blank face to me.

It took me three years to learn how to double space

And the tab key is still mysterious

So I am resigned to writing in ragged rectangles

And will leave typographical advances to poets smart enough

To understand a screen.

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Animus

I have an animus

Which is defined as hostility or ill feeling

I had to look up the word.

I have an animus

For my neighbor who is viciously unhappy

And disdainful and parasitically feckless.

She once used the expression “greasy Jews” to describe men she rejected.

I think of my animus as a small mouse-like creature

Bad tempered

Ferocious in spirit

But more apt to hide under the front steps than confront an enemy.

When I see my neighbor I run the other way

Nursing my animus

Close to my chest.

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Pop Culture

All morning I look at the clock

Waiting for the moment I can announce that

I think I’ll have some popcorn. If it’s

Too early then I have nothing to look forward to later.

Too late and my stomach feels hollow and growly

When I decide that enough time has passed

I get out the machine

My jar of kernels

A big wooden bowl

Butter and cup

I measure out three tablespoons of popcorn

Place the bowl carefully under the chute

And plug the machine in.

While the kernels are heating up and starting to pop

I cut a tablespoon of butter into the cup

Melt it to yellow and

When the bowl is filled with popcorn

Pour the melted butter on top. I

Take my bowl to the corner of the sofa

And eat kernel by kernel by handful

and lick my lips. Sadly

When I am finished

All I wish is that

I had a bowl of popcorn to look forward to.

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Tripping the Light

I can’t dance

Unless I’m tripping

Then I am gripped

By the music, you know

I found that secret in dream town when I was

Down and out

Panhandling at the intersection of Haight and Asbury

That night about eight or so

Wearing a gauzy peasant blouse and

Long skirt

Bearing feathers in my hair and

Beads

And barefoot

An old coot gave me a small square of LSD and a ticket to the show

I crow-walked in

Heart played on stage

Waves of music splashed through the hall

I started to dash and rage and jig and two-step in time

Lights flashing and pulsing in rhyme

With hundreds of others

All psychedelic colors and fancies ripping

And me with the best of them dipping and

Dancing fit to bust.

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The Omnipresence of Cats

Cats feature large in my world.

Just when I think I am writing a poem about death

A cat appears in the second paragraph

When I am drawing a portrait of my husband

He sprouts whiskers and pointy ears.

At the opera listening to Un bel di vedremo

I can hear meows

And Madame Butterfly swishes a furry tail.

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