Everybody Says Hello
Everybody Says Hello a Partners in Poetry book
Grayson Books West Hartford, Connecticut
Everybody Says Hello Copyright ÂŠ Grayson Books 2009 Grayson Books PO Box 270549 West Hartford, CT 06127 www.graysonbooks.com Printed in the USA ISBN: 978-0-9785382-3-1
Partners in Poetry Christine Beck, Sherri Bedingfield, Ginny Lowe Connors, Tere Foley, Patricia Hale, Bob Jacob, Nancy Kerrigan, and Elaine Zimmerman. Partners in Poetry have met twice monthly since the year 2000 to read and critique each other's poetry. We have organized poetry retreats, presented poetry events and readings, and been active in the Connecticut Poetry Society, of which Christine Beck and Ginny Lowe Connors are officers. Three members â€“ Ginny Lowe Connors, Bob Jacob, and Nancy Kerrigan, have published poetry books. Ginny Lowe Connors is also the editor of Grayson Books, which publishes poetry books and runs an annual chapbook contest. Other members of Partners in Poetry have published in poetry journals and received awards for their work. Everybody Says Hello reflects the love and support that each Partner in Poetry has lavished on the work of his or her fellow poets. The gift of reading aloud the words of our creative spirits to those who truly listen and help us to be the best poets we can be is of immeasurable value.
Acknowledgements The following poems were first printed in these publications, to which we give our thanks. Barbarians in the Kitchen (Antrim House Books): No Other Light Caduceus: Larryâ€™s Gone, Paint the Red Wing and To the Core Connecticut Review: Living Room Connecticut River Review: Seventy Virgins and Still Life with Jackie and Unlit Cigarette The Day Seamus Heaney Kissed my Cheek in Dublin: Everybody Says Hello and World War II Dogwood: Secrets Encore: Prize Poems, 2007: Back Seat, 1960 East Haddam Stage Co. performed Lovestruck Kalliope: Empty Boots Long River Run: In Tahiti Passager: The Manicure
Contents A Roundness of Remembering Everybody Says Hello, Bob Jacob 1 In The Cards, Nancy Kerrigan 3 Lollygagger of the First Waters, Nancy Kerrigan 4 Back Seat, 1960, Ginny Lowe Connors 5 At First I Thought I Must Be Dead, Bob Jacob 7 Awakening, Tere Foley 8 Paint the Red Wing, Elaine Zimmerman 10 Still Life with Jackie and Unlit Cigarette, Pat Hale 12 Nags Head Gannet, Sherri Bedingfield 13 A Roundness of Remembering, Tere Foley 14 In Our Beds, Sherri Bedingfield 15 What I Would Say To You, Tere Foley 16 The Dance of Young Love, Nancy Kerrigan 18 A Blessing, Elaine Zimmerman 19 The Secret, Bob Jacob 20 Ways to Disappear Converted, Christine Beck 23 Secrets, Pat Hale 24 The First Morning He Knew Illness, Before Hope Came, Sherri Bedingfield 25 To the Core, Christine Beck 26 Near Death, Sherri Bedingfield 27 Denouement, Nancy Kerrigan 28 Perpetual Calendar, Pat Hale 29 In Tahiti, Pat Hale 30 World War II, Bob Jacob 31 Lepolskram Castle, Elaine Zimmerman 33 Warren G. Harding Elementary School, 1962, Pat Hale 35 Second-Hand Smoke, Christine Beck 36 Seventy Virgins, Christine Beck 37 Empty Boots, Nancy Kerrigan 38 Living Room, Ginny Lowe Connors 39 Larryâ€™s Gone, Sherri Bedingfield 41 Coming Home, Bob Jacob 43
What Holds Us Up Anniversary, Bob Jacob 47 The Wind, Sherri Bedingfield 48 The Illusion of Moonlight, Tere Foley 49 Love Struck, Sherri Bedingfield 50 Great Blue Heron at Elizabeth Park, Ginny Lowe Connors 51 Kauai, After Disaster, Elaine Zimmerman 52 Holding On, Christine Beck 53 We Turn Sixty on Nantucket, Nancy Kerrigan 54 No Other Light, Ginny Lowe Connors 55 The Manicure, Christine Beck 56 Bones Embracing, Ginny Lowe Connors 57 On the Eighth Day, Pat Hale 58 The Fieldâ€™s Clock, Nancy Kerrigan 59 About the Poets 60
A Roundness of Remembering
Everybody Says Hello Face white as her hair, my mother mumbled “Everybody says hello.” I leaned forward to make sure of the words. The oxygen mask had slipped and I wanted to adjust it. Again, “Everybody says hello.” Eyes closed, only her lips moved. Old age silenced them that evening.
Once Aunt Floss laughed so hard she peed her pants. Uncle Johnny didn’t think it was funny. He was a very proper man, always a shirt and tie. Very proper, until a fourth beer slurred him into the picture. When uncle Jimmy finally stopped chasing fire engines he married a fiery burlesque queen. A ghastly blow to the family. She turned out to be pure sugar. Give you the shirt off her back. When she was a bar-maid she’d give me a pickled egg and beer. Ten years old, I’d sit at the bar. “For God’s sake Bobby don’t tell your mother.” My mission was a pail of beer for the old man. A lovely trip home thanks to aunt Grace. When I was small my grandfather would drop his uppers while talking just to give us a laugh.
A straight laced man. Didn’t drink, smoke or swear. Stood out from the rest of the family. His second marriage was to a lady who loved me, but didn’t like Catholics so she didn’t attend my wedding. That was her loss, but I loved her just the same. A tough old bird who died of cancer. Never heard her complain. Shriveled down in the corner of a couch, she told me about being in Canada selling real estate, driving a car, smoking when ladies didn’t do those things. Uncle Harrison was five foot one inch. Introverted, shy, always broke, borrowing money from the family. Aunt Catherine’s death broke him. Most thought him removed from the world, actually disappeared and reappeared like a magician’s rabbit. He was kind to me though. We worked Karp’s Candy Store together one very long hot summer. He handled the tables. I had the fountain. He taught me how to professionally gift wrap a box of candy. We’d sing while we mopped the tile floor every night after closing. We’re still not sure when he met his maker. Sometimes when the trees out back talk to one another, and the sky rumbles just before rain, I’ll stand at the window and listen. Sometimes, everybody says hello.
In the Cards It’s 1954 in Evergreen Park, where everyone played canasta, at least everyone on my block most of whom were my relatives. Beaches closed, swimming pools closed, amusement parks – closed. Drinking fountains stood lonely, even the birds didn’t splash. There was nothing to do, nothing to do but play canasta. Canasta on the screened porch, in the living room on a white sheet fresh off the backyard clothes line. We cousins cheated like used car salesmen. Afternoons were for rest, so we children were not stricken with that year’s dread – polio. For all we knew, the epidemic began and ended in Evergreen Park. The suburbs were spreading like some architectural disease. Tree lined streets of Georgians and Capes encircled by new construction where we played. Our parents told us a five-year-old girl on our block had a lung of iron. Nine-year-olds questioned, why would her mother iron her lungs to help her breathe? That fall, nurses lined us up like books in the school library. Shots, we were packed in that hot box waiting for shots. A nun in a white habit with very long rosary beads stood on the threshold of the library to lasso bolters. Titles on the books became a blur on my way down to the floor. Total collapse, no. Stricken, no, just a faint, polio just a faint memory for the fortunate. I was so fortunate. Years later, the neighbor girl and her crutches walked down the aisle at my wedding when I married her older brother.
Lollygagger of the First Waters Good Morning Glory, your voice, my alarm clock at the foot of the open staircase. Lying, I’m up, Dad. Out of my bed, onto the stairway balcony and back in bed again like a cuckoo clock. I want to see you! Smell of bacon and hot oatmeal my morning kiss, while I read the other side of your sports page. I’d sit there, bare feet swinging, lollygagging in flannel pajamas, then patter around searching for favorite socks, last night’s homework, anything to make the morning last. Good morning Glory, I say whacking the snooze bar of my fifth Sony Dream Machine. No game of hide and seek, the instant coffee, never fast enough, downed with headlines unfit to print. But Dad, you’re still the steam in my coffee, a vapor that hangs around in my sphere, gone for more sunrises than I can count. Lollygagging, however, lives on as I roam the sunlit house watering plants, searching for misplaced keys. Most mornings you enjoyed the impossible in me. What more could be asked of someone?
Ginny Lowe Connors
Back Seat, 1960 For hours weâ€™ve been driving through this darkness. Our car is the universe and we are planets in it, spinning toward some fate I cannot know. Big brother nods at his window, the little one leans on me, his stubborn peevishness washed away at last by sleep. A soft thrumming travels with us. It might be the beating of his sturdy little heart. In the front, our parents sit, silent and separate. Wherever they go, we are pulled along, a wall of years between us like the back of their seat. Something deep within the car sparks and fires, keeps us going, my father told me once. And I can feel our similar cells sputtering out messages, body to body. No need to speak. Now Father lights up, then Mother. Itâ€™s a ritual they share. Smoke curls toward us, slow and familiar as an old gray cat, one that pads into the room like a whisper, stretching, then arranging its soft shape around us.
Ginny Lowe Connors
The small, warm heap that is my younger brother stirs, sighs, sleeps on. But I am wide awake. My father coughs. All the things our parents never tell us travel too, here with us tonight, glowing just beyond reach like their cigarettes or like small red stars.
At first I thought I must be dead. My lungs collapsed, face-down on the race track, the August dust settling, like a summer blanket. My grandpa raced from the gate, his face reflecting his mistake – to mount a novice rider on a thoroughbred. I’d dropped the reins, clutched her mane as she cantered free, stirrups slapping at my knees. Then I was flying, a skinny kid in checkered shirt and jodhpurs, thrown in a crumpled bundle like a sack of fertilizer. I knew the horseman’s wisdom – I must remount and ride again or risk the fear that bolts a body to the ground. A turning point at twelve – when I rejected outdoor sports requiring patience, practice, strength. Far better to extend a flat hand filled with sugar cubes, allow the horse to sweep them up in neat soft snuffles, pretend I love her satin nose, when we both know what matters most – is the whitewashed fence between us.
Awakening Concentric circles of red and white bull’s eyes make me look towards the center even if I am not an arrow, even if I am only a young girl at scout camp ready to learn archery in this year before thirteen wraps my childhood into the past. I wrap my hand around the bow, hold it at eye level, at arm’s length, see the arc in my mind, then my invisible arrow hits center as I stand there in this bud to blossom of girlhood. Now I reach for an arrow, its even shaft like an extra long pencil, its uneven fletching of yellow and white feathers wrapped around one end. Arrow, slim even for a girl’s hand, placed nock to bowstring, held to my eye. I aim carefully, pull arrow back from the center, release, watch brief arch as shaft lands on grass instead of finding those circles. My failure noted in passing by Mark, handsome instructor, so nice even as I am used to boys’ comments centered on body functions. Instead, Mark stands behind me, wraps his hand over mine to steady my grip, his eyes look over my head, his other arm curls around my girlish slimness, pulls bowstring into curve smooth as a girl’s new breast. He pulls, releases, pulls, releases in rhythm with his moist breath on my nape, eye opening warmth sinking into my skin. His even handed way of turning, bare thigh caressing mine, wrapping his hand around another arrow, my center
now shifting as he envelopes me, a centrifugal force propelling me from girl to woman. We slip the shaft wrapped among our waiting fingers, pull back in unison, pause, release arrow and breathe even as we separate, sending me an eyeful of what I will feel at the center of loveâ€™s courses, even now rendering my girlhood innocence into circles that leave me unwrapped.
Paint the Red Wing At Clarion House the doors are locked by nine. Single beds in rows, three folded washcloths, one plastic cup. Strong antiseptic in the Welcome Room. The sensor triggers light when someone walks by. Arms stretched out, faces up, the statues cast a sheen of light. Some guests stay in rooms, unseen for three or four days. Others come scheduled for spiritual guidance. Young mother with a colicky baby who wails every time she puts him down, comes to find something larger and outside herself. A tentative hold on God, she seeks prayer to keep the child alive. Says psychotherapy does not offer enough forgiveness. A priest with pocked skin sits by the peace garden. He clutches the Bible more like a leash than a finding. The food cut into tiny pieces, tofu, beets, carrots. Each day the same, as if the smallest size and repetition might temper desire. Some come to align spirit and breath, the neck forgetting to turn up when the heart opens. Labor leaders meet at a back table to plan a strike for restaurant workers. They praise the nuns for culinary flair and take on the town when the convent closes in on itself in prayer. Sister Welles learned to master trends when Clarion House went public as a Welcome Center. She reads the Boston Globe. Offers Chi Gong and Kung Fu classes to bankers. She alters cuisine for clientele. Small chicken thighs for writers, bacon piled high for pastors. Like small town thieves, my daughter and I break out each day. Pretending to be in meditative stance, we paint the town. Sneak out to Ya Ya Sisterhood, galleries with laughing cows, dancing milk pitchers. Poised to write and paint at the convent, we choose a pond down the road. On weathered table, cradled in iris, we craft Bantu verse. I start with, “She walks away from fear.” She answers, “Red birds fly under hidden rock.” Then, “The moon is simple in its glory.” The response, “Reminds her she denied the chance
she wished for.â€? We pack up early. Scan the classifieds. A sixteen-foot red Coleman with oars and life preservers For just $350. Why is he selling? He needs the money. We need the wet slap of life. The convent teaches from Scriptures the virtue of roots, design of the universe, force of its elements. We learn the artist is in desire, the wanting. Leave what you must. Turn over stones. Paint the red wing.
Still Life with Jackie and Unlit Cigarette It was still too early for the raspberries – they were all canes and spurs and sour fruit – so we put off picking and swam in the pond, sluiced water in and out of our mouths, trying to grow gills, trying to outwit biology, then sunned ourselves like snakes on the rocks. After dinner we snuck into the new houses they were building down the road from us, walked the rafters, poked into corners to see what the workmen left behind. Didn’t find much but crooked nails and half drunk cokes. We practiced holding cigarettes and looking cool, but nobody watched us, nobody knew who we were. It was nineteen sixty-two, we wore cutoffs and sleeveless gingham blouses with ruffles. It was nineteen sixty-two, and nothing had happened yet, nothing at all.
Nags Head Gannet for my son, Ken Along the coast of the Outer Banks the floor sand moved and shifted with constant undertow. That week the wind didn’t stop. It was September, a bright morning and a gannet dragged itself from the roiling green ocean. We thought at first it was a large gull. It fluttered and struggled to place itself safely, its white wings heavy with wet feathers, so awkward on the sand’s surface. A curious dog nudged the bird’s belly. It quickly raised its long neck and knife beak to hiss that it was still alive. But for how long? It was unable to fly. And that was all you needed to see. You my grown up son, who saved injured pigeons in your closet as a boy, grabbed your towel, and ran in bare feet over sharp shells to rescue the wild one. You covered the bird’s head and held it tight to your own heart. You managed to drive the island, with one arm till you found a vet willing to care for a huge terrified bird. That is the man you have become.
A Roundness of Remembering For Connor and Treva I sit on a picnic bench. Warm lake breezes gently fold across me, sprinkled with the laughter of playing children and the sharp scent of pines. I lift my small grandson onto my lap. His sturdy lake-cooled legs reach the length of my thighs, only grains of sand between us. His bottom is snug against my belly, his head between the wedges of my breasts. I wrap arms and towel around him as he tucks himself under my chin. I rest my head on his damp one, spiced with sweat, tinged with lake water. Breathe in this moment. Breathe out, remembering his mother as a toddler sitting on my lap wrapped in summer lake breezes, same solid body with its clean small child smell, same tucked together feeling. A circle, pregnant with invisible beginnings and endings, a roundness of remembering when I take the time to see it.
In Our Beds My grandmotherâ€™s bed, a boat for dreams, its mahogany posts reaching up to a white-laced canopy sky that hung over us on warm nights. The tall windows welcomed a hazy sun for yellow mornings, opening our days from the east. She would tell her stories, her childhood, her nine brothers, her father a minister, the tall windows wide to pine forest where heâ€™d walked, a man who lost three wives to early death. Stories about stepmothers, their pictures on her hallway wall. Her uncles whittled and whispered on the front porch, you know how family can do that? Her eyes would gauze over when she was sleepy. On those honey mornings she talked about sweet Jesus. She would stand in front of her mirror, a tall woman; I am like that. Her gray-blond hair full and thick, it hung like a waterfall. She looked in her box of jewelry to find round earrings. Each day she wore her cotton dress, her tiny ankles bare. My grandfather had his own room, I played in a sunny spot with trinkets, his gifts to me in a bottom drawer. After his travels she would lay with him in his brown bed, and learn the news. They would talk and talk and talk.
What I Would Say To You For Theresa Agnes Krebs Kehn (1872 â€“ 1924) Lines, Grandmother, I would tell you about lines. I would tell you that trees still make fine ebony lines against the dawn sky, just as they did in Germany when you were born one-hundred and thirty years ago. I put these written lines on paper and paint lines on canvas to find my way to you, Grandmother. There are the lines that you gave me, my name, my high cheekbones, strong nose, almond shaped eyes, shared lines made flesh, mine still moving and feeling. There are more lines, Grandmother, lines of tears that mark my cheeks when I look at sepia pictures of you, see lavender sadness that hangs around your eyes, a color that I too know well. I only know you by these lines in pictures. You, your husband, your four children, one my father, all buried under gravestones etched with lines of names and dates.
I would tell you how you are here now, how your eyes and cheekbones have found their way to my daughtersâ€™ faces, and now to the smiles of your great-great grandchildren. Lines, Grandmother, all your lines, painted on your progeny, lines living on as dawn still starts each day.
The Dance of Young Love We swayed to the notes of a jazz band back and forth in unison with the bow of the base, my chiffon skirt swinging as the drum brushes swished. It was a pumpkin colored cocktail dress whose velvet bodice caressed my flesh, something for which we could only wish. It was just a college dance before the pill before assassinations before Viet Nam. The only demonstrations were public displays of affection on crowded dormitory steps with couples oblivious to the other lovers and the porch light that glared like a protective parent. So much was developing beneath the surface, a war, your malignancy. Soon it all exploded. Iâ€™m drawn back to this innocent time like a veteran to an old love letter to recall that I was once desired and desirable. I still believe that life is a dance of syncopated improvisations.
A Blessing Volterra, Italy Black and white porcupine quills shiny as stars and sharp as danger stick out of your pockets. Feathers in your hair, Tuscan tree branch as weapon, you climb the Venzano path from Volterra proud as a Roman warrior. Then out of fighting armor drifts the sweetness of a four year old boy, â€œLook mommy, a leaf shaped like a heart.â€? Our climb stops abruptly. You place the dried leaf and its simple heart-shaped message carefully in your pocket, tend scrupulously to safety with worry over cracks and breaks from unexpected falls. How can we not fall down beneath these trees, gnarled with time and war, hiding souls, soldiers, animal bones we no longer see? These scenes are painted on bowls in museums. They come from forests like this one, not porcelain shards. We climb an early path of history together, you and I. It holds a place for courage and a place for the heart. Let us be bold with our armor and branches but also soft and thin-veined. May your heart be shaped forever as in these woods, full of awe. Green tendrils loop boughs together. Pomegranates scent the entryway. May you hold onto the large and small of each thing, their mystery, the heart-shape of finding.
The Secret The street I was raised on in Queens, New York City was an arrow going nowhere, a street of laborers and blue collars making the rent for two story railroad flats. No cars on our street in 1940. Elevated trains, subways a way of life. We children in Public School 108 understood lifeâ€™s basic foundation. You want something? Go earn the money for it. The lucky ones like me had aunts, uncles, grandparents within walking distance, always there, human bricks, their lives a constant struggle, but their arms always open. And therein lies the secret which I had to learn but is now totally understood after traveling the world, owning small cars, big fancy cars, small houses, big houses, even a lovely inn. To love and be loved. Everything else is just wrappings.
Ways to Disappear
Converted My paltry sins, the lick of frosting stolen from my cousinâ€™s birthday cake, my backtalk, sullen preteen blues, were washed away one day in 1961, when I was dunked within a tub in the basement of the Kingdom Hall. I became a Witness for Jehovah, sold salvation on the sidewalk. Ten cents for a pamphlet and a chance at paradise. I was like a circus tiger, trained to pose on tiny platforms, heed a human voice. Then one day, a wildness stirred in me, I heard a chuffing in the dusk, sniffed romance on the trunks of trees, and bolted out, my breath expelled in quick, sharp bursts.
Secrets Say nothing. Say anything. Say a fox is loose in the henhouse, say someone wanders through the woods where she should not go. Someone pretends to know what she does not know. Not me. It’s not me stumbling over roots and vines, losing things. Sometimes I can’t exist. Hide me, here, in the branches of the fallen oak, where the ground is soft and dark with leaf mold. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Kiss-Me-Over-the-Fence. Rules: this one is a flower, and this one is a weed – this is what the mind says, and this is what the heart would say, could it just stop beating long enough to speak: We love who we love, regardless. Nothing is wrong. The cat likes to sleep in the sun, birds rest in the trees, and I like to crawl beneath the low boughs of the pines. No one knows where I am or if I have secrets. It’s scratchy there. My clothes get dirty. I’m not careful enough. I’m not crying.
The First Morning He Knew Illness, Before Hope Came He wakes, it is morning and the bed is different. There are no words in his mind. A violent emptiness. A heavy not thinking, as if his mind had turned to feathers. No song of morning birds. He does not see the gold light from the eastern sky and has no awareness of the windows in his room. It is morning; he wakes from a dream of drowning in the rain, dark water everywhere, but he is not dead. His mind is different, in a different body, a body he doesnâ€™t know filled with a new strange pain. A part of him was lost over night. His arms and legs burn and refuse to follow his directions. He cannot move. He CAN NOT MOVE. Go back to sleep, dream again. It is morning and his arms and legs will not do what he tells them. He is confined in a bed turned hard by pain and fear. A vague, cold anticipation. No lexicon. He cannot understand. Every part of him is now foreign. This is before he found reason to hope.
To the Core The lilies on the sill spread a soporific scent, yet you lie awake, ponder in the dreadful dead of night. Your left breast amputated, after months of biopsies, second opinions, indecision. What goes when flesh goes, the firm freshness of invincibility? What would you be if you were peeled away to just an appleâ€™s core â€“ no shining ruddy skin, no pungent flesh exuding golden juice, just a toughened stem, pale yellow, a handful of black, shining seeds, keepers of a buried truth.
Near Death 1. On a lake in deep summer heat one day, a cluster of capillaries swelled inside the head of a girl. Very early the next morning a tiny but important vessel plumped itself like a cluster of grapes. It ruptured. Red cells gushed free, leaking into brain tissue, stealing part of her sight. Her left eye trembled. Her left leg went limp. 2. Frightened parents drove to a hospital where their daughter was placed on a gurney and tests were started to find a diagnosis, and save the life of the girl. 3. In the hospital emergency room, the girl lifted away from herself. But she was still able to look down at her own slender body while she floated above it. Out of her body. An out of body experience, weightless. Watching, over the heads of surgeons and technicians to see if her body could return to life, and to consider where she would go if it did not.
Denouement I wish I could remember the last time I held my daughter’s hand crossing the street, or the last time I brushed her hair? But I’m aware lifting my granddaughters is coming to an unwanted close. I watch the little girls learning to ice skate. I don’t recall the last time I skimmed along without concern for spills, remarkable for one who spent a lifetime treading on thin ice. I can’t recollect the time I could read without glasses. So many of life’s important endings slip by unnoticed, like ice cubes melting on the counter. Some are punctuated with an exclamation point. I will never drive in a blizzard to anyone’s house on Christmas day again. I don’t care if it’s the pope at the other end, napping in a wing chair! I rail against ending. Period. I’m not ready to fill my days with bus tours or to glide around the house in a walker, hoping for help to get across, though a child’s hand in mine again would be warm. Yet, I clearly remember a summer evening with no moon but you, lying on backyard grass, with every star ours for the taking and the naming, entering the heavens. Abundance and possibility wrapped around us like a zippered sleeping bag. Years pass. Our denouement, equally etched in my mind. Me, with my forehead on your chest, your chin on my head, as we stood, arms at our sides, facing one another, facing and accepting what we both knew to be inevitable. It was not in our stars to reach the end, together.
Perpetual Calendar I am now in my thirty-seventh year of waiting. Weeds grow up between my toes, spiders cast invisible strands binding me here as you drift toward me and away again. I can no longer remember your face, just that I thought I could love you. And now look what you have done! There is more than one way to end a life. The monarchs head south, the leaves blow away, dark comes early and here am I, alone. Sweet boy, my hands are cold, my heart is empty.
In Tahiti from “Christmas Night: the Blessing of the Oxen,” painted by Paul Gauguin, c.1896, in Tahiti Gauguin wakes one day and thinks of France. The sun is already hot through the palm thatch and the rough bed beneath him offers scant comfort. Perhaps a water buffalo he saw yesterday standing in shallow water reminds him of the oxen waiting so patiently on Christmas night, content for once to bear no burden, to stand mute in the churchyard, rather than on the threshold of the slaughterhouse, to wait for whatever constitutes a blessing in these times – a dash of holy water, words murmured over incense. He was a boy then, and snow lay thick on the roof like a girl’s hair upon her shoulders. Now his body is broken by dysentery, heartbreak, and fevers that rise from the soil at night to take lodging in his blood. But for today the sweats have left him. He takes his brushes from their leather pouch, ignores for once the bare-breasted girl with the flat basket of fish. He gazes across the water, sees France.
World War II Queens, New York There weren’t many cars gas was short but the few that traveled had upper headlights painted black, turning them into monsters with heavy eyelids the better to hide their lights in case of an air raid which we practiced for only at our age we weren’t sure it was just practice sirens would wail a deep basso profundo then very slowly rise to high soprano holding for a moment before plunging down to repeat in specific waves and when the count was right my father would grab his flashlight white civil defense helmet with red white and blue circular insignia on it rushing around our block yelling Lights Out in a loud Air Raid Warden’s voice banging on doors so the German bombs
wouldnâ€™t find us huddled under the dining room table where we sought safety and on occasion searchlights would roam the sky lighting our young fear of possible harm which never came and then one day a boy with straight brown hair sat behind me in class and asked my name in a British accent his being Alan White so we became friends as he slowly over many months told me his war orphan story and how the bombs we were fearing had landed on his house instead.
Lepolskran Castle Salzburg, Austria, 2000 Tonight people jitterbug at the castle. Oriental rugs rolled back. Moonlight and snow-capped peaks light the lake. Painted cherubs look down as a bald man shimmies with a young blonde. Aroused, she kicks legs up and around him. Taken aback, his head of no hair turns bright red. The act of sex swelling up and out like a top hat without his knowing. She pulls him forward, revved up like an engine prepared for ride. Another woman, dressed as a man, sweeps her date across the floor. A few men know they can’t match this Fred Astaire style and exit for Merlot in the parlor. They don’t sense that the man with the billowing shirt and pinstriped tux is female. Champagne in hand, the diplomat turns to the guest next to him and says, “Problem with these kinds of events is that it’s hard to find a kinky woman nowadays.” The guest laughs as if he knows what the diplomat means or pretends to know, but is appalled and wonders what kinky women do with heads of state anyway. Laughing with an older German, the young Jew can’t help but wonder where he was in the war, what he knew. Locked in a beat, they step out together. He catches her swing, pulling forward and back. Holds her tight and surely.
Embrace covers fact with longing, pulls at truth through pearl camisole and one torn stocking. After all, how long can one sip Schnapps, talk atrocity, the music imitative of American songs and forty years out of date? Outside, stone horses stand mid-air. A sudden halt trapped in the eyes. Carved dwarves from Mirabelle Gardens flank the terrace. An impish bricklayer and vested bureaucrat point the lovers to the lake and whatever small fish they can catch before lust becomes dawn.
Warren G. Harding Elementary School, 1962 Oh Nikita, how you scared us! With your foreignness, your failure to speak English, your plain babushka of a wife, your round face so angry, so white we knew you never saw the sun. We knew you did not sit in lawn chairs at picnics, did not eat corn on the cob, did not play touch football with your brothers and their children like the Kennedys. The only time we saw you smile was in photographs with children, Life Magazine, boys in short pants, girls with white eyelashes and neat braids, red pioneer scarves at their throats. They would gladly take our seats in the classroom, replace our flag with their own. The Readers Digest said it â€“ we believed. Oh Nikita, when we crawled under our desks for the air-raid drills, when we cradled our heads and turned away from the windows, when we lay in the hallways with our coats over us, our faces to the floor, it was not mushroom clouds we imagined, not missiles arcing in from Cuba. It was your face we saw, your angry shoe, and row upon row of schoolgirls marching.
Secondhand Smoke Home from Vietnam, he said the past was past. Now it’s back – photos of a GI boot abandoned in the dust, men crouched in doorways wielding M-16’s, bodies of dead soldiers, swinging from high tension wires. Smoke drifts through his dawn like a thousand fallen angels, searching for a perch among the wreckage of Iraq. The New York Times assaults with bloody children, buses burning. Shell casings form a desolate mosaic on Iraqi streets. Avoid the news. It’s better for your nerves. He commands our deck alone in the early morning; peonies salute with crimson blooms. He clutches coffee and a cigarette, lost within a haze of steam and smoke. I shut our sliding door against the fumes, inhale the still suburban morning, picture him when he was ten, posing on a pony on a New York City sidewalk.
Seventy Virgins Mohammad’s prayer rug traveled miles from Pakistan to a flat in Birmingham. Yusuf fingers the fringe, tries to feel his father’s touch in tightly woven fiber, find the imprint of his forehead embedded at one end. Each morning, his father unrolled the carpet with reverence, then left his wife and sons, busy with breakfast, shopping, the life of upward mobility, for the first of five daily prayers at the mosque. With his father gone, Yusuf drifts to school, his track meets, the pubs, until one day, he finds himself at the entrance to the mosque. He enters like the prodigal, hesitant of his place. The Imam nods him welcome. Yusuf takes his father’s place, prays for Ummah, the Islamic nation, prays thanksgiving for his father’s life, prays for his own soul, to see his father once again. Three men approach, wrap Yusuf in concern, eyes ablaze with holy terror. They show him tapes of Chechen fighters, shot in the head by Russians, splayed like squirrels smashed by autos, guts a mass of bloody meat, faces mutilated. “They torture your brothers and sisters,” they hiss, “but you can avenge their deaths. Imagine eternal life in the highest place of Jannah. Seventy virgins await you. In a private place you can have sex with them. Diamonds and pearls line the walls, where even the angels cannot see.” They’ve come too late. Yusuf has known a virgin – Sheila from the take-away. After the groping, stifled mewls of pain, the silence of defeated expectations, bodies turned to stare at separate walls, he’s sworn off the young and innocent. Deflowering virgins seems a poor reward for packing sticks of TNT into his rucksack and blowing up commuters. “No thanks,” he says, and turns back to his prayers. The men become a myth. They were never there.
Empty Boots A soldier in camouflage, a young man, kneeling in prayer like the men he has come to kill, kisses the empty boots of a fallen comrade. His soldier was a young woman. Both toes of her dusty government issued shoes are lined up so evenly, they look as if theyâ€™re saluting. She will not realize the college education for which she enlisted. She will never again slip into a pair of slinky high heels, or kick them off as she peels away lingerie on the way to the bedroom. Nor will she chase after her kids in sneakers, or try to balance motherhood with anything. Her rifle rammed upward in the sand, helmet on the bayonet of her gun.
Ginny Lowe Connors
Living Room for Owen For now the war is silent, folded on the coffee table, inky smudge of smoke, young man’s dark eyes left to stare at the ceiling. Tomorrow he’ll be recycled. There are many ways to disappear but we’ve planted ourselves right here. We’ve painted our living room red, hung mountains on the walls and trees and clouds, a few slender boats like the slimmest of moons rocking on gray water. Tenderness and Slaughter I’ve named my two hands. Sometimes I need to disappear, enter the meadow and follow it into birches there above the couch. The yellow leaves stir and feathery grasses clutch briefly at my legs, to see if I’m real. That place where night steals over soldiers and my son’s strapping in for a mission, it’s where I don’t want to go. He flies always in darkness – harder to track him that way. There are good ways to disappear but my heart is a desert. He moves through a heat rising up, a rug he must breathe through. The room inside me bleeds anew, murmurs like a stony stream, what if, what if… I switch off the lamp, but its filaments crack and pop. This room, the room within, paints itself. No need for fixtures,
Ginny Lowe Connors
it unspools its own pictures, long rivers I travel all night. I hold a white cloth and gently wash an infant’s face. Where has he gone? I’m picking up stones, weighing their heft, their talent for damage. For hours I look for lost luggage, trudging through a city of bells, ringing and ringing, gold domes, and rubble in the streets. Within me’s a room of red heat and things that float like bats, all shadow. When I close my eyes the stars appear. With every breath fireworks sizzle, even as the clutter of my life fades away. So many ways to disappear. We don’t talk about fear but we’ve painted our living room red. The mantle’s bone white, like the shelves for our books – a place where memories rest. The beautiful trees remain. And the clouds rushing over that lake, they’re splitting open; I watch them break.
Larry’s Gone For Lance Cpl .Lawrence R. Philippon Larry’s at Arlington Cemetery, he is one of the dead now. In his twenty two years, he was a tall hockey player, and first son to his loving parents. September eleventh shook him. After the Towers fell his face took on a different look, a distance came to his stare. He had been called and knew that he would go. It was spiritual. He would be a Marine, even though both his parents were army. Larry would be a Marine. He had a calling and he knew. After training, they left on buses. Larry’s Mother went to see her son leave, with many others. She stood beside him, silently praying, while talking calmly, her smile bright. She put her shaking hand in her pocket and he did not see it. She focused to make the minutes long, chatted, casual. He listened. It was the start of a journey to war. Larry’s journey. He would fight to save America. His mother wore two watches after that day. One of them told the time in Iraq, his time, and she prayed when she looked at Larry’s time. Larry is one of the dead now, but when he was fighting at war in the streets or the desert, did he see the black helicopters silhouetted by the perfect blue sky? Did he think everyday of his brother and sister, who would wait, as his parents waited? Did he lie on the desert ground, still holy home of ancient Bible stories? And stories from the Koran? Did he hold his face to the dirt? And that would be the place, wouldn’t it? That would be the place that Larry and all the soldiers, all the Marines before him would turn, to talk with their God, when their faces hit the dirt. Larry’s grandfather knew this from his tour in Viet Nam. But Larry would not return to his parents’ home.
On one of the dawns after Larry was gone, his parents lay on the damp grass at Arlington. Both stretched alongside his stone, a clear morning with countless robins grazing the short grass. Larry’s parents rested still beside his grave, and his mother’s eyes shifted from the sky to a robin that had come unusually close. The bird looked at her and she was taken, her eye locked to the bird’s eye. Something of Larry’s light was in the eye of that robin. Both the mother and the bird knew it.
Coming Home Like it was yesterday I remember that day Walking down Fifth Avenue Army boots spit shined Trouser legs blossomed Over boot tops Ribbons on my jacket Cap pointed downward On my forehead The shined division pin In its place of honor All aimed at the ritzy hotel Across from Central Park Almost like a dream After so long After living a Collection of wishes After barely existing In cold loud snow The fancy lobby The slow elevator climb The soft hallway carpet You answering my knock Staring in disbelief Embracing â€“ holding on Holding on to one another
What Holds Us Up
Anniversary, 2006 for Betty You have graced my life for fifty-four years, through childhood love, through our wedding day, through separation caused by army service, through the births of our three children, through the arrival of twelve grandchildren. You have nourished our children body and soul. You have nourished our love with actions and words. You have nourished my life more than breath itself. I want you to know that sharing this journey with you has, and still does, mean everything to me. I want you to finally realize that you are surrounded by family love, that your terrible childhood emptiness is filled to the brim with our love. I want you to know how deeply I love you.
Evening Evening is here and you come in my back door again, as youâ€™ve done many times before, parka over apple green turtleneck you got from me for Christmas. Your neck skimmed with scent. Before you, I never noticed scent. Evening is here, it is mid-winter. But you bring the sultry air of summer and stand big and square on my kitchen floor. The last tail of day light slides back to the sky for its night rest, yes, evening is here. You and your pale eyes wink at me with crackling red love.
The Illusion of Moonlight We slide the canoe into the black water, darkness enfolding the lake like a blanket. We paddle dip, pull, glide dip, pull, glide towards deeper water slap-wapping against fiberglass. All is velvet black, pinprick stars far overhead. We head toward the next bay, the water’s drum beat harmonizing with the rustle of pines as we near the hill. Dan signals, stops paddling. As he takes out his fishing pole, I lay my wooden paddle across my thighs, the water quietly dripping into the canoe. I hear the plop of his lure and the slide-pop of his hula popper seeking a bass. I breathe in the sharp scent of pine, someone’s smoky fire, warm smell of lake tinged with fish. Faint light breathes on shadowed evergreens as Grandmother Moon slowly begins her ascent behind the hill. Just as slowly my short hair becomes the color of midnight, becomes two braids so long that they rest on my breasts, on my creamy soft doeskin shirt, its quill and beadwork a waterfall from my neck. Leggings and moccasins keep me warm as I kneel in this wood and bark canoe. Grandmother Moon brightens this ride. I first hear, then see a bat fly nearby, its squeak-chatter telling Small Flying People to beware. My people believe the bat’s power and lesson is one of rebirth. I absorb its spirit, feel its freedom of flight as it tumbles through the air. I fully breathe in the night air, put my paddle again in the water, dip, pull, glide. Grandmother Moon smiles down on our canoe, her full face now above the hill to brighten the path to our camp. 49
Love Struck I am so in love with you. What more do I need to know about you? You say your mother, your father, your uncle too, all in prison for ten years! What does that matter? They will never come between us. You say your twin brother is a chronic paranoid schizophrenic, what do I care? Your eyes are like onyx jewels, so what about your brother? You tell me your family are actually WEREWOLVES and you must prowl together when the moon is full. How interesting. I, always the beginner, dazzled by the new, What do I care! I want to marry you!
Ginny Lowe Connors
Great Blue Heron at Elizabeth Park I stop when I see it standing there, smoky blue in low waters, a bird Modigliani might have invented. Without thinking, I take on its stillness. My breathing slows, focus sharpens. Is it telepathy that shapes me, for a moment, in this birdâ€™s image? And then it leaps into flight, its wings too large to believe. Unnerving, its sudden change from slender statue to menacing motion, to a density and darkness that make the pale sky seem a paltry thing. And though I am earthbound, clumsy and plain, something hushed and unsullied stirs within me. I feel it, the belief that we can rise above the weight of our mistakes, that any of us can be, if only briefly, large against the sky. I look toward the island in this pond, where a birch tree leans over water. On an extended branch the heron lands, becomes another limb set against evening sky. Like smoke, that bird transformed itself and I am trying to believe it, that we can do it too, and that a place of safety waits for each of us, white branch hanging over water.
Kauai, After Disaster Looking for squid, he held himself up by a tire in the narrow lagoon where hollowed-out houses had smashed against rock, the ocean still muddy and slow pulling on pieces of rubble and glass. With tree trunks suspended and branches fallen in the random shapes only disaster imagines, he dove into water to spear the night’s fish for the wife and three kids waiting in a pick-up. We climbed lava rocks and cracked foundations mixed in a rapid tumble of broken beach line and watched this family come right to the jagged edge, with country music rising in the heat, a young girl’s hair braided clean and food for the night’s dinner slapped flat against an old black tire as if what holds us up must feed us.
Holding On On my daughter’s thirteenth birthday The winding road descends from sun-struck hills to reach Muir Woods, where redwoods rise three hundred feet enveloped in thick fog. Dwarfed by massive trunks of battered bark, your legs in summer shorts stick out like twigs. You think you will be perfect if only you don’t eat. These trees survive the summer’s drought on filigrees of fog that drift in from the sea, catch on their needles, then condense, fall to the forest floor. They grow in circles, shelter shoots that sprout from trunks. Their roots entwine with those nearby to hold each other up. You are beyond the reach of roots, the comfort of the scent of loam, of sea spray, new growth, and decay. Yet when I reach down with my hand, you take it as you did when you were six, and I knew all the ways to keep you safe.
We Turn Sixty on Nantucket White caps curl, unfurl, cerulean blue is the sky. Purple hydrangeas ring clapboard cottages, gray as we have become. Again we pilgrimage east to initiate a decade as expected as the tides. Unlike the one in our twenties where we drove backwards on the interstate, today we arrive at the ferry with the precision of a moon landing. Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio and Connecticut the launching points; we embark holding onto the luggage of children, grandchildren. Our friendships, as sturdy as the fence posts that guard this rocky shore. We vacated the shells of youth. The pearls at our centers more lustrous, harder. There are undercurrents, some hurricanes have touched land â€“ illnesses, betrayals, a son at war. All thatâ€™s important is, we are with those who knew us before, before life left skid marks on our surfaces. The end is nearer than the beginning. Whatever old age does to this necklace of friendship, I never want to think of it broken, locked in a musty jewelry box, forgotten.
Ginny Lowe Connors
No Other Light We return to the world from that other place where gravity spins and spins till nothing holds and logic splinters into sparks. First the blaze of our bodies settles into separate stars. Then a little chill caresses my shoulder. As you fall away from me, I start to remember who I am and where it is I’ve landed. Now your damp skin, separate from mine, is something I breathe in. Your bony shoulder leans toward me and there is the little crease in back of your neck, a thin path time has ploughed without your knowledge. In my right ear, the soft whooshing of my heart, its small extra beat like a child hop-skipping to keep up. My dear, we’ve returned to our mortal bodies. It’s the deepest part of winter, yet I sleep in your steady heat. On the other side of the glass long shadows of trees fall over silent snow. The moon is just past full. No other light is needed.
The Manicure A young Korean man takes my hand in his. I am embarrassed by the age spots sprouting on my skin. He clips my nails, oblivious. To him, I’m just a client. Then I recall my grandfather, a lean, laconic farmer, gasping through ravaged lungs in the hospital, attended by the woman he had decided, fearing death, he wanted me to get to meet. Her name was Francis. He’d met her at the feed mill, buying fertilizer. Pale and deferential, she was my mother’s age. Here, seemingly in secret from my grandma, Francis held his hands in hers and gently clipped his nails as if she were an acolyte seated at the feet of Christ. This gesture, more shocking than a kiss or exposed flesh, silenced small talk. I saw a man I’d never known, his chest pumping lightly, like a starling about to soar.
Ginny Lowe Connors
Bones Embracing Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period, locked in an embrace. Itâ€™s clear they shed their masks eons ago. Their flesh, a trick of sunlight, faded away. Between them thereâ€™s a kind of gold weâ€™ve never known, but recognize from songs of saints and heroes. They entered together a place of deep quiet, a most tender darkness, where stones settle deeper and deeper. And they became an island, never lost to one another. Deep in their cold harbor they plumbed such depths. For thousands of years they curled toward one another, his face toward her face, their legs a latticework, her hand just touching his chin. We must not move them now.
On the Eighth Day from ”Head of the Virgin” by Leonardo da Vinci He hears them talking in the garden and regrets giving them speech. No good will come of it – better to have left them mute. Better to have left them blind and mute, perhaps better not to have made them at all. But he doesn’t go down that road. He is a firm believer in what is done is done, so he settles down to watch and listen, and because he hears all things and is at once in all places, all times, and all universes, what he sees and hears is eternity unraveling. And he names what he sees desolation, and notes wryly that it is Not Good. But still he can not stop himself from watching, can not turn off the infernal curiosity that began it all. He listens to the sparrows and hears beneath the sound of their wings the shudder of boots on pavement, the thud of deadbolts sliding home. But this does not prevent him from hearing the birds or the quiet patience of a mother soothing her infant. He sees it all – the mother, the child, the death – and much as he wants to rush to Mary’s side, to tell her to rend her garments now, that she must run and weep and learn to lose; much as he wants to tell Leonardo to paint only in bile and blood his portrait of the holy mother, he can not help but drown in the beauty of the artist’s chalk drawing, the delicacy and innocence he has captured in this most temporary of media. He watches Leonardo in awe – this too has he made – and holds his tongue.
The Field’s Clock Chicago, Illinois In 1897 Marshall Field erected this, once bronze, now turquoise filigreed clock on the edge of his marble palace. Its time displayed in Roman numerals, for the many friends, couples and families who met under it, or didn’t, then left notes stuck on his store’s plate glass windows. This department store whose retail motto: give the lady what she wants, was the site for our many brief encounters where I ran to meet you in three inch high spectator pumps, hatless, bobbed hair blowing, clutch purse in hand, my navy striped dress billowing like a spinnaker in the gales of the Windy City. You leaned under the suspended clock of this Beaux-Arts building, one long leg bent behind you on the building’s limestone exterior, bracing yourself for the routine wait which you reported was always worth it. Sport coat slung over your shoulder, shirt sleeves rolled up to feel the embrace. Only me, the clock, and the cornerstone survived; Field’s trade name gone the way of other partnership deals. Years later, I stand on Washington & State streets, thinking of you. I don’t recall that we ever entirely missed each other, like those sad lovers on the Empire State building, but know that it is you that I’m waiting to round the corner today. I leave buoyed by the architecture of a love that forces time to stand still.
About the Poets Sherri Bedingfield works as a licensed psychotherapist and couples/family therapist. Her poetry appears in Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge, (Grayson Books), and The Breath of Parted Lips, Voices from the Robert Frost Place, Vol. 2, (CavanKerry Press), Connecticut River Review, Long River Run 2005, 2007, New Songs from the Meadows, An Anthology of poems from the Wood Memorial Library, and Caduceus. Sherri’s poem Love Struck was performed in “Plays with Poetry” by The East Haddam Stage Company in 2004. Christine Beck is the President of the Connecticut Poetry Society and the Contest Chair of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her poems have been published in the anthology Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge and in numerous journals. Her poems have also won contests in the Connecticut River Review and the NFSPS. She is an attorney and instructor of legal studies at the University of Hartford. Her book, Forensic Evidence in Court: A Case Study Approach, was published in 2008. Ginny Lowe Connors is the author of the poetry collection Barbarians in the Kitchen (Antrim House Books) and editor of three poetry collections (Essential Love, Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge, and To Love One Another, all by Grayson Books). The recipient of numerous poetry prizes, her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. She is a teacher in West Hartford, Connecticut. Tere Foley, a contract manager for the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Family, is very involved with her family, including four grandchildren. Her poetry is frequently inspired by music, and she has created many art works based on her poetry. Pat Hale has written poetry since she was a little girl. Her poetry has appeared in CALYX, Owen Wister Review, Sow’s Ear, Long River Run, Dogwood, Connecticut River Review, and Long River Run II. Her awards include CALYX ’s 2005 Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize and first prize in the Connecticut Poetry Society’s 2007 Al Savard Poetry Competition.
Bob Jacob has three books of poetry to his credit. The latest, Perspective, consists of sixty-two poems based on his nine years as a hospice volunteer. The book has been nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. For further information go to www.artsathospice.com. Nancy Kerrigan is an alumna of Wesleyan Writerâ€™s Week, 2000, and workshops at the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. Her first chapbook, The Voices, in which she writes of her sustaining interest in mental illness, is being published by Finishing Line Press. She has a private psychotherapy practice in West Hartford, CT. Her poetry appears in Nantucket: A Collection, Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge, Caduceus, and The Breath of Parted Lips, Voices From the Frost Place. Elaine Zimmerman is a policy leader for children, an essayist and poet. Recent publications include poetry in Lilith, The Peralta Press, Visions International, Urban Spaghetti, New Millennium, Connecticut River Review, Dreamworks, Long River Run, and two anthologies Sleeping with One Eye Open and Worlds in Our Words-Contemporary American Women Writers. Honors include a Pushcart nomination and Honorable Mentions from the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award, Connecticut River Review and the Israeli Poetry Peace Prize.
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