Monday, December 3, 2007

Benny,Will You Play For Me?

Will you come and play for me

When I am in the nursing home

And old and bent

And can't remember

What happened

Just ten minutes thence?

Will you come with your guitar

That I may rejoice

While you strum and sing

Your wild sweet songs

As in your newly- manly voice

You just now did for me?

Though in my twilight state

I may not know you or your name

Will you come all the same

And for a brief minute or two

Fill me anew with all the joy

Life has led me through?


Benny, will you come and play for me?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Once I Saw The Autumn Wind

Once I saw the autumn wind 

Lay a carpet at my feet, 

Red and sunshine gold.

But all too soon the wind grew cold

And with defiance bold and mean

Winter's bleak bareness foretold

By sweeping the sidewalk clean.

Then with lion's roar it blew

The last brown leaves 

Dry and dead from the trees

And laid carpet anew of a different hue.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Anatomy of a Scene

Tania and I were on a mission

When without my permission

They blocked our path,

Incurred my wrath,

By blocking the streets 

For the holiday parade.

We were to meet her mom

At half-past two, woe is me!

For already it was almost three.

Oh alas and alack – 

Her mother will think we had a wreck!

Oh what to do?

What to do?

Then comes her little voice

From behind

Stopping me in mid-whine:

Nonna, take a deep breath.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Mother Lost

Why couldn't she have made it all the way to the end with the same gentle grace
and wisdom that had characterized her life?    I sit now with my hand in hers and 
think about that day when I knew even then that it was the beginning of the end.
“Look!  Look!”  she had screamed.  “Over there!  The far wall!  Those
ants!  An army of them! Climbing to the ceiling!  Oh, get them, get them!
Please get them!”
“Where?  Where, Mother?” I had asked, as frantic as she.  
But there had been no ants.  No ants at all.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Native Tongue

I can speak Italian
And in a pinch
Even French
But when push comes to shove
English is the language I love

Some people prefer German or Dutch
Others are happy with Russian and such
And folks in Sri Lanka, if you please
Are delighted speaking Sinhalese
While in China, I fear
One is likely to hear
Several varieties of Chinese

Nonetheless I must confess
That of all the rest
My mother tongue is the best
For its spelling may be peripatetic
And its pronunciation erratic
But I don't mind
Because I find
English oh so nicely
Defines my thoughts most precisely

Sunday, November 4, 2007

One Shoe, Two Shoe, Pretty Sky-Blue Shoe

Long ago and far away
I bought a pair of
Sky-blue shoes
I wore them almost every day

Soft and dainty they fit my feet
But what made them such a treat
Was that wearing them
I felt myself a princess
No less

I loved them so
I later thought I'd buy
Another pair
At least I'd try

Alas I learned at the store
They had that style no more
And to this day still I mourn
Those sky-blue shoes

So if you find a thing
That suits your fancy
Something of a perfect fit
Buy a second one lickety-split

Friday, October 26, 2007

Look, Mamma, It's Me!

Assignment:  “Finish the Sentence, then begin a poem using a simile/metaphor/analogy you have written.

Sentence:  You were my parents, by you were

      Look, Mamma, It’s Me!

The longer I live, the more I see

That the older I grow,

The less I am me.

And the less I am me, 

The more I am you.

Pity my poor daughters, too

Who don’t know it yet, you see

(Although you and I do....)

The older the two of them grow,

The more they’ll be me.  And you.


We’ve got a ticket to ride, old chum.

Sit tall on the horse next to mine

The one that goes up and down.

Stationary steeds are not for you and me.

Hold the pole with one hand, old friend.

Take mine with the other

And round and round we will ride

Pretending we are kids again.

The autumn air grows chill, my sweet.

Catch the ring for me while you may.

I’ll wear it in winter and remember the music

After the carousel has wound down.

There’ll be no repeats then, my love.

One go-around is all there is.

Exit when it stops.  No getting back in line.

But oh what a joy is a ticket to ride with you!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

In Humble Gratitude

Litotes! Litotes!
Sounds like a disease.
What does it mean?
Howard, tell us,

So you refuse?
Are you being obtuse?
“Look it up, you say?”
Okay, bub,
I just may!

Now all becomes clear.

When I used to hear
“I could care less”
I must confess
That in distress
I thought it certainly did seem
To be opposite of what
It intended to mean.

But now, enlightened,
I, like you,
Am erudite, too.

Thank you, Howard!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To Tell Or Not To Tell, That Is The Question

It's an evening like any other in late November, except that, unbeknown to me at the onset, the shattering of an ancient myth looms just over the horizon.

As I tuck her into bed and bend to kiss her forehead, she says, “You know what, Grandma?” I'm going to ask Santa for a special toy you can't find in a store, or anywhere else!”

Whoops! I think.  She's out to test the Santa thing!    

“So then, “ I ask “how can he bring it to you on Christmas morning if it can't be found anywhere at all?”

“Did you ever hear of ELVES?” she asks, giving me a look that makes me feel like a veritable pin head..  “He'll get his elves to make it for me.  I mean, that's what he does, isn't it? ”

Alas! I think, now conscious of the historic denouement that inevitably will unfold.  Do I tell her here and now?  Probably not – not my place to shatter the myth.  Do I mention anything to her parents?  Probably not – lest it tarnish the special bond she and I share.  I decide that silence is the better part of valor.  I am not looking forward to Christmas morning and her coming of age, but it comes about sooner than I think.

Two days before Christmas ( I  guess because she simply can't wait any longer), in a quiet moment with her mother, she poses the age-old question.  “Mommy, tell me the truth.  Is there really a Santa Claus?”

Her mother confesses to me later that, put that way, what other answer could she give her?                     “No, Honey,” she says, I'm sorry – he's not really real.  Don't be too disappointed, Sweetie.  Just think of it as growing up a little.  You do that in many ways every day, you know.”

Poker-faced, the child makes no comment, none at all.  That same evening, though, when a toy commercial comes on TV, she belatedly reacts – with a response that must have smoldered in her young heart all that live-long day. 

“YOU FAKE!” she screams with uncharacteristic violence at the Santa depicted on the screen.  “YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A BIG, FAT FAKE!”

It's going to be a subdued Christmas this year.  I can just feel it. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Perchance To Dream

Later, remaking her bed, as she pulled up first the yellow thermal blanket, then the thin, pale-green quilt, and before pulling up and smoothing the faintly-tinted, cream-colored chenille spread, Kate remembered her dream.  She had slept with one “plug” in her right ear, and all night long had almost, but not quite, wakened to news or airwaves chatter – the innocuous talk show – talk, talk, talk, punctuated hourly with news and weather reports of the snow that apparently had been falling all night.    

The dream.  She smiled.  So vivid – the snow piled high behind her car.   The garage door had remained up, and snow had intruded steadily, patiently, hour upon hour.  But it was only a dream, for this house, unlike the one in which they had raised the children, had no garage.  Only a carport.  

Any time she remembered her dreams upon waking, she tried to fathom what they were revealing to her.  She didn't fully admit it to herself, but she believed in them.  Now she pondered the possible meaning of last night's dream.  Was it that the snow piled high against her car deprived her of her wheels?   Mobility, she thought.  It denies me mobility.  Without use of my car, what happens to my freedom? Why, it’s nowhere!  Yes, that’s the dream's significance.  I must insist on my freedom from now on – freedom to do what I want for a change – not cater to the whims of my family!   There's not all that much time left ahead of me to do what I want.  I must begin now, before it's too late.  Yes, that’s the message in the dream.

Then she remembered that in the dream Daisy, their Boston terrier came bounding over the piled snow and into the cold outdoors.  Was Daisy, too, in symbolic concept, heralding freedom?  Or was she, even in Kate’s subconscious, merely trying to fulfill her canine raison d’etre – that of keeping them, her masters, safe and free of  intruders in their yard?  Was it to further emphasize the freedom lesson, or merely the dream’s valid portrayal of Daisy’s instinct -- to chase deer and all other manner of threat from the yard, the domain she had been born to keep safe for her masters.

Kate “saw” herself as she was then, in last night's subconscious world – standing  outdoors, behind her Toyota, barefoot in the snow.  Although in her dream, a  chill breath of winter wind fluttered her flannel nightgown, she remembered she had felt no cold.   

Nothing had seemed to bother her.  She wanted to carry that feeling now into her daily life – no more fretting about everything.   

And as for that other one, her sister ... if she wasn't happy in the retirement home, at least there she was safe, and Kate was going to worry about it no longer.  The dream seemed to clarify everything.  At least for the moment.   

Tomorrow might prove to be otherwise.

Art Form

The mother bent over to look at the images her young son, sprawled on the parlor floor, was putting on paper.  Tears welled in her eyes.  She turned to her husband.  “Do you suppose,” she asked, and then hesitated to clear the lump in her throat.  “Do you suppose,” she said again, “that the midwife could have switched babies on us?  Do you suppose she could have taken our brilliant offspring to raise as her own and in those moments of emotion and confusion at the birthing substituted another baby to leave with us?”

El Senior P______, the husband, snorted.  “Impossible!” he shouted. “ Look, how he has my face, my round head!  Look how he has my hands, long, slim.  Why, put a mustache on him, Woman,  and he a pequeĊˆo personification of me!  I never again want to hear you say such a thing!”

Pablo, the subject of the father's outburst, looked up from his drawing.  Every time I draw, he thought, she cries, and he shouts at her.

The mother picked up the son's drawing.  “Look, Pablo, dear,” she said, softly placing a hand on his little shoulder, “you have made nothing but lines on your paper.  Wide lines, narrow lines.  Long lines.  Short lines....”  A deep sigh trembled in her throat as she spoke.  “Oh, Pablo, my dearest little boy, what in the name of heaven is it that you are drawing?”

She's not very smart, , he thought.  Always, she asks me to explain my work, and never does she understand.  

“Well,” he said, pointing to a pair of wide long lines on the paper and trying hard not to show in his voice the impatience he felt, “this is Pappa.”  

He pointed to a pair of shorter, narrower lines.  “This is Mamma.” 

Finally, with his finger on a pair of  short stumps of  lines, he said, “And this is Pablo. Now do you see,  my mamma?”

From his position, lying on his stomach on the floor, Pablo stretched his neck to look up at his parents.  He saw the two medium-sized, skinny sticks which were his mother's legs move closer to the thick, long sticks belonging to his father.  He heard her sob.

Grown-ups!” he thought.  But enough about them!  I have to hurry and finish this picture before I forget my ideas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Boy and the Bear

The boy's father had put a stuffed toy, a panda bear, in the hospital crib just an hour after the boy was born, and from then on boy and bear were almost inseparable.  That panda bear, being Chinese, was wise with the knowledge of ancient centuries, and because the two of them, boy and bear, had so loving a relationship, Panda let the boy in on many facts and mysteries of the universe.  Or so the boy said later.  

Panda was fluffy and fat, his white fur clean as snow, and his soft black fur shiny as patent-leather shoes.  That is to say he was fluffy and fat at the onset, before the wear and tear of  the boy's love  flattened and thinned him somewhat.  The red ribbon around his neck and tied in a bow under his chin often came undone as boy and bear started off in life together.  For a while, the boy's mother would retie the ribbon on Panda when she found it lying in the crib, but eventually she gave up and just put it away for safe keeping.  She knew even then that Panda was a family member, and that his baby things had to be saved, just as she later saved the boy's first little pair of soft, white shoes. 

The bear had a tiny music box hidden under his fur, and at the least pressure on his stomach he would play a repertoire of tinkly tunes.  If the boy should waken in the dark of night and roll over on Panda, the bear would lull him back to sleep with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star  or Old MacDonald  Had A Farm or Mary Had a Little Lamb, the strains of which often filled the nursery air.  It wasn't long before the boy learned, when he was bored or scared or angry or hungry, to hug Panda against him.  Then Panda would play his music and make the world right again.  The boy also soon learned to rub the little bear's tiny soft ear against his cheek to give himself a drowsy feeling.  Before long, in symbiotic love and friendship, the boy could not sleep at all unless the bear was in the crib with him.  

What with the music and with the constant interaction between them, boy and bear managed on less sleep than required by most human babies and their stuffed-toy companions.  By the time the boy was a toddler, his mother was convinced she was raising an insomniac.  In desperation one night, about eleven o'clock, she knelt beside the boy's youth bed.  “Will you PLEASE go to sleep!” she said.

The boy patted her face.  “Don't cry, Mommy,” he said.  “The TVs in my head are just starting to turn off.  Panda can't sleep until they all shut down, but it won't be long now.”

One day, about the time the boy was just barely four, he and his grandmother and Panda were in the grandmother's walk-in-closet.  They were pretending to be prisoners of the boy's mother.  It was one of the boy's favorite games.  The mother slipped a ransom note under the closet door, for that was how the game was played.  The boy's grandmother bent to pick up the note, but the boy took it from her hand and looked at it, his eyes moving from left to right across the paper.

“Write out the next note in print characters,” the boy's grandmother whispered from behind the door to the boy's mother.  “I think he's trying to read it.” 

Soon, under the door appeared a second note, this one hand-printed:  If you can read this, you are really smart.  The boy's grandmother handed the paper to the boy, who looked at it intently for a moment and then said, “Well, then I guess I must be smart.”

“He's reading!  He's reading!” the boy's grandmother shouted, flinging open the  closet door.  And then the two grown-ups went a little crazy and jumped around and talked all at once and took turns hugging the boy again and again.  The boy bore it all with quiet grace. 

Later that afternoon, the boy's grandmother said, “It's really wonderful that you taught yourself to read.  How in the world did you do it?”

“Panda taught me,” the boy said.

The grandmother smiled.  “But how?” she asked.

“Well,” the boy explained, “one day Panda showed me a word and told me to sound it out.  So I sounded it out aloud – oak-see-gin.  But Panda told me I could do better than that, to look at the word again and try real hard to sound it out.  So I looked at the word again and tried real hard, and then I saw that it was oxygen and then I knew how to read.”

“What a smart boy you are!” the boy's grandmother said.  “But how odd that Panda chose the word oxygen to teach you to read.  I would have thought he might have chosen an easier one, like cat, or table, or something like that.  I wonder why he picked oxygen?

“Because he's Panda,” the boy said.

“Well, that certainly explains it,” the boy's grandmother said.  “What a bear!”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


    The weather on Thanksgiving Day, 1950 was moderate, but toward evening the temperature began to drop. Both Pittsburgh newspapers, the Post-Gazette and the Sun-Telegraph, predicted light snow for the next day, Friday, November 25. Snow did begin to fall in the early hours of that morning, but to say the newspapers' prediction missed the mark was a gross understatement, for snow continued with ever-increasing intensity all day, eventually burying the city in more than thirty inches of snow. By early noon, downtown offices and stores dismissed their employees and customers, advising them to vacate the city as immediately as they could and battle their way home. Hundreds of stranded cars already snarled city streets and blocked trolley rails. Those few streetcars that did have a clear enough path to run their routes, plowed their way laboriously through caverns of snow. All the while, the snow, unremitting, continued its relentless assault. To make matters worse, the wind blew in great and steady gusts, creating mammoth drifts. Some of them, in the day or two to come, eventually topped five feet. National Guardsmen were called in to patrol the streets and deter motorists from trying to make it into town.

    I was young then and impervious to winter's wrath. I was in my third year at Pitt, and happy in the strong suspicion that a pretty neat fellow-student in his first year of Medical School was falling in love with me. Why else would he have hitch-hiked on such a day all the way from his hometown of Petrolia, to Butler, and then from Butler to Pittsburgh – just because he had promised to cut his Thanksgiving vacation short and come back two days early and attend the Pitt-Penn State game with me on Saturday? The Harmony Short-Line buses (Petrolia's only commercial lifeline to the outside world) were snowbound that day, and the Pitt-Penn State game, of course, had already been canceled, but on he came anyway. By the time he reached Pittsburgh that wintry Friday, it was close to midnight. He phoned me from a pay phone in town and told me that the only trolley running from town was the #73-Highland. There were none able to make a run to the South Hills (Dormont) where I lived. He said he was going to take the #73-Highland as far as he could and then walk the rest of the way to his boarding house in the Point Breeze section of town. After a night's sleep, he was going to try to make it to my house.

    By morning, the Pittsburgh Railways Company had managed to open up a few more trolley runs, and the #42-Dormont was among them. It was shortly after ten when my swain showed up at our back door.
    “I never thought you would set off for Pittsburgh in that mess yesterday,” I said, “but I’m really glad to see you!”
    “Well, I had promised you,” he said. “Boy! Was my dad mad when I set off! My mother, I could tell, was worried, but all she said to me was that the girl I was coming to Pittsburgh to see must be pretty special.”
    I was sorely tempted to ask him, “and is she special?” but I held my tongue.

    My mother immediately offered him breakfast, and then gave him a mission to fulfill — to go “upstreet” with me and find a store open somewhere to purchase milk for my “baby sister,” who was no baby at all, but nine years old.

    “Get two quarts if you can,” she said, “unless in this present emergency, they are limiting it to one-quart-per-customer.”
    “If we find any at all, of course,” he said.

    Miraculously, we found some. The Clover Farm Market on West Liberty Avenue where Mother usually shopped, was open, and Mr. Beck was happy to sell us two quarts of milk, which in those days came only in glass bottles.

    I suggested to my young man that I carry one of the bottles, and he the other, but he said, “No, no. You’ll probably fall with it. I’ll carry them both.”

    I bristled at his insinuation that I could not be trusted to be as foot worthy as he, but instinct dictated that it was too early in our budding relationship for me to argue, so I was silent as he tucked a bottle firmly under one arm and let me help him secure the second under his other arm. It seemed a mightily tenuous arrangement to me, and the thought flashed briefly across my mind that it would be too bad, but poetic justice nonetheless, if one bottle or both should not make it all the way home.

    Later I wondered if I had perhaps jinxed things, for halfway down Dormont Avenue, just before we were to turn into Annex Avenue (our back street), that nice young man, whose family name I much later was to take as my own, slipped on the snow, and in a valiant effort to remain essentially vertical, did a twist, then a turn, then a most agile ballet maneuver — but all in vain, for his legs had an agenda all their own.

    They flew out from under him, and he landed hard on his posterior, his two arms still firmly holding against his sides the bottles that somehow had survived whole and unshattered, although for an instant the milk within each one sloshed almost as wild a fandango as the one he had just danced.

    I wanted to ask if he was hurt, but I was stifling a laugh (O cruelty, thy name is woman!), and I was afraid it would escape if I tried to speak. As it turned out, I needn’t have stifled, because he gave out a loud guffaw himself, and said, “Well anyway, it was a good save – you have to admit that. I guess I should have let you carry one of the bottles.”

    “I guess so,” was all I said.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

If It Dies, It Dies

It is less than a handful of days before Christmas.  Family tradition dictates that before our children visit Santa and ask him for the one special thing each one wants, we take them to the toy section of Horne's Department Store for one last look at what is available, 

Linda, Tom, and Ann have already determined their choices, but Stevie, even this short a time before the big day, is undecided.  The hour is growing late, and the department store will soon be closing.  Still, Stevie, increasingly more and more nervous, in a frenzy of searching up one toy aisle and down the next, simply cannot make up his mind.  The other three children, angry with him, tell him to hurry up.

“We won't get a chance to tell Santa what we want,” Linda says.  “Santa will be going home soon!”

“Yeah!” Tommy says.  “You're going to ruin Christmas!”

Now poor Stevie is really stressed!

Finally, looking at his watch, their father says, “Okay, that's it, Steve!  We have to go see Santa right now.  Settle for something, and come on!”

Soon the four of them are standing in line before Santa's throne.  Stevie keeps slipping back to the last-in-line, but eventually he has no choice but to go forward.

Santa pulls him up onto his lap.  “Well, Sonny!” he booms, “what do you want me to bring you for Christmas?”

Stevie looks back at me in poignant desperation, then blurts out, “A turtle!”

When he rejoins us, I ask, “Why a turtle, Stevie?”  He has never even mentioned such an animal before to my recollection.

He is still visibly shaken.  “I couldn't think,” he says.

Aside to me, my husband, in a whisper, repeats the question.  “Why a turtle?”

“How should I know?” I snap.  That's all I need! I think – the added concern of finding a turtle at this late date!  I feel the annual pressure of my Christmas Funk coming on.

As it turns out, my husband saves the day, not to mention my sanity, by assuming the turtle responsibility.  Thanks to him, under our tree on Christmas morning, among an infinite number of toys and brightly wrapped packages, is a cute little snap turtle in a tiny Plexiglas aquarium.

Stevie seems pleased with it – perhaps not ecstatic, but reasonably pleased.

“What will you call him?” I ask.

“Turtle,” he says.

“You know, Steve,” his father says, “you're responsible for a living being now.  It's up to you to make sure it's cared for and doesn't go hungry.”

Stevie's little brow is furrowed as he nods his head in agreement.

In the days that follow, I often have to remind him before he goes out to play, or when he's off on a house-bound adventure with his siblings, “Stevie, did you feed Turtle?  If you don't feed it, you know, it will die.”

This goes on for weeks on end -- “Stevie, did you feed Turtle?  Stevie, if you don't feed it, it will die.  Stevie did you feed Turtle?”

Finally one day, while playing outdoors with friends, he calls back, “You know what, Mummy?  IF IT DIES, IT DIES!”