Friday, December 11, 2009

Two Haiku For A Winter's Night

Night winter winds swirl 

      with ghostly voices cry

canting tales of fright

A phantom cloud shrouds the moon

    staining black the hill

      in stealth is gone


Monday, November 16, 2009

Cryin' the Blues

Assignment:  Try writing a chant

Cry, baby, cry

Stick a finger in your eye

Life's a bitch and then you die.

And then you die

So go ahead, baby,


Cry, baby, cry

Tell your mother it wasn't I

Life's a bitch and then you die

And then you die

So go ahead, baby


C'est la vie, or so they say

Life's a bloody bitch that way

Then you die, sweet baby, you die

So cry me a big river, baby

Cry, cry, cry

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Word Or Two

Some folk speak Greek, German and such
Others prefer Russian or Dutch.
While in a land far across the seas
People speak to one another in Chinese.
And in beautiful Sri Lanka, if you please,
The language of choice is Sinhalese.

But I'll stick to English if you don't mind,
For I find it tends to define my thoughts nicely,
almost precisely.
Yet I often wonder why
While the singular of dice is ever die,
Mice in the singular is never my.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Picnic In The Park

Sunlight filters through the humid air that defines summer in Pittsburgh, and shimmers in waves before us as my husband Al and I walk the quarter-mile from our house to Squaw Valley Park.   We are on our way to the O'Hara Township picnic for employees and for residents who donate services.  Al is on the Zoning Board, so we get an invitation each year.

            As we come to the end of sidewalk on Fox Chapel Road, we step onto the shaded path that skirts the back approach to the park, and follow it alongside Squaw Valley Creek.  When the softball field on the left and the fountained pond far to the right come into view, we cut across the grass to reach Shelter Number One.  That's where the picnic is always held.

“They must have hired a less expensive caterer this year,”Al says.

“Why?” I ask.

“The steam table and big grill the usual caterer brings with him aren't here.  The grill that is here is no bigger than the one we have in our back yard.” 

Looking over the small group of people within the shelter, I see that the turn-out is meager compared to other years, and I mention this to Al.  “Maybe people are still away on vacation,” he says.  

Just as I am about to comment to him that I don't see too many familiar faces, a woman waves and says, “Hi, Mary.  It is Mary, isn't it?  We met at Hemphill's Christmas Party.” 

“Oh yes!” I say,  “How are you?”  I don't remember her name. 

Al sees a former patient of his, and they talk together for several minutes.  Al doesn't introduce me, so I  just stand there, and then the man gives me a lukewarm smile and moves on.  

We head for the food table and help ourselves to paper plate, napkin, and plastic tableware.  Someone says, “Hello, Doc.”  Al says hello back, and again I stand around while they talk about ailments and other times.

A man with a box of cookies in hand comes over.  “Here, you two, take a couple of these and put them on your plate before they're all gone,” he says.  “The wife didn't have time to make anything, so we picked these up at Oakmont Bakery.  Go ahead, have some.”  

I reach for a chocolate thumb-print and place it on my empty plate.  “Thank you,” I say, “but

was everyone supposed to bring something?  We weren't, were we?”

“Sure, everyone was,” he says, “but that's okay if you forgot.  There's plenty.” 

             Still  I insist, “We never had to bring anything other years,”

“Yeah, we always do,” he says.  “But, hey! don't worry about it.  There's always stuff left over, you know that!”

“Well, okay,” I say, and decide to let it go, although I know he's mistaken.

The sound and smell of hamburgers and hot dogs sizzling on the grill beckon now, so we take leave of the cookie man.  

Standing between grill and food table  is a woman, about seventy or so. She smiles and says, “Hi!  We have hamburgers and we have hot dogs.  Which will it be?” 

“No chicken this year?” Al asks.

She's still smiling.  “No, no chicken,” she says

“No chicken, eh?  Oh well.  Is there beer?” 

The woman laughs as if that's funny. “Of course not!” she says. 

“How about pop?”

“Well, no.  No pop.  But there's your choice of lemonade or iced tea or fruit punch in those pitchers at the end of the buffet.” 

I look over to where she is pointing and notice some foods are in pretty little flowered casseroles.  Nice change from the usual tinfoil disposables most caterers use, I think, but not very practical.    

“And be sure to help yourself to corn-on-the-cob.” the woman continues.  “It's good and sweet this year.  So, now then, what will it be, hamburger or hot dog?”

Al says “hamburger”, and I say “hot dog”.  We collect the other food we want, and a drink each, and then, seeing no one to sit with, choose two places at the end of the farthest table. Al sits down and is quiet for a minute, then looks around, then immediately starts eating at great speed.

“Whoa!” I whisper.  “Slow down!  You're actually shoveling the food into your mouth!  What's your problem?”

“Shh!  Just hurry up and eat!” he whispers back.  “Hurry and eat up what's on your plate.  We have to get out of here!  It finally dawned on me – we're at the wrong picnic!”

“We're what?”

“At the wrong picnic!  Look down there.”  He points to beyond the tennis courts, where smoke rises from a very large grill, and where a great many people have gathered around Shelter Number Two..  

            “That's where we're supposed to be,” he says..  “Keep eating!”

“Oh!  This is awful!” I say.  “We  have to apologize and then leave right away!” 

“Are you crazy?” he says.  “And waste all this good food?  We'll finish eating, and then leave.”

            “But, Al!  We can't just eat their food and not explain!”

“Listen, Mary!  Just keep your mouth shut, and eat!”

“I will not keep my mouth shut,” I say.  “Besides, I've lost my appetite.  I'm getting up right now and apologizing!” 

“Who will you apologize to?  You going to stand up and make a general announcement?  Like,   Attention ladies and gentlemen!  I'd like to apologize!”   Forget it!  Just keep eating!”

I push my chair back, but before I can get up, a woman from another table comes and sits across from us..  

She smiles at me.  “Hello!” she says.  “Where do I know you from?”

Oh how tactfully she puts it, I think. Where does she know me from indeed!  I'll bet they've all been buzzing, “Who are those two?  And they didn't  even bring anything!”  

           “I'm afraid I have to apologize,” I say.  “You see, my husband and I thought this was the O'Hara Township picnic, and we never realized our mistake until we had already piled our plates with food.”

            I give her a second or two to digest it all, intending no pun, and then I go on to say, “You have no idea how stupid I feel, or how embarrassed I am.  Please forgive us.”

            At first, all the woman says is “Oh,” but before I can wonder what to do next, she says, “My dear,  please don't be embarrassed.  Why, that kind of mistake is the most natural thing in the world.  In fact, you know what?  One time, I was at a funeral home, and when I looked in the open coffin and saw the corpse, I said, 'Who in the world is that?'   Wrong funeral home, of course.  So you see, dear, these things do happen”

            Not for a minute do I believe her funeral home story, but I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude that I want to hug her on the spot.  Instead, I ask, “Which group is it that's having this picnic?”

“The English Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg.” she says.. “We're a small congregation.  We've known each other, most of us, all our lives.  Every summer we enjoy an afternoon picnic together, but this is the first time we decided to rent a shelter here to hold it in.”

“I know that church,” I say, “and I love it!  It's a registered historic landmark, isn't it?  I passed it often on my morning walks when I used to go all the way to Sharpsburg and back.  I don't walk quite that far anymore, but I have always admired your church and wished I could tour the inside.” 

“My dear!” she says, and I know she's pleased, because she reaches across the table and places her hand on mine.  “We would be so happy to show you around!  Do come by some time.  Our Sunday services are at eleven.”

            Feeling better, my appetite returned, I decide I just might take her up on her offer some day.  So the two of us exchange names, and I apologize again and tell her it's a lovely picnic, and how delicious all the food is.  She tells me that's because everyone brings something, and it's almost an unspoken contest each year to see who brings the best.  And all the while we are chit-chatting,  Al is quietly clearing away his plate and mine.  He throws them into a nearby trash can, tells the nice lady to have a nice day, and leaves.  To me, over his shoulder, he says, “See you down at the other shelter, Mary.  No hurry, Honey.  Take your time.”  (So now it's okay for me to take my time?)

  When I finally join the township group, I see that Al, seated at table with a plateful of 

barbecued chicken and a can of beer in front of him, is holding court, telling our story.  Everyone seated

around him is laughing. 

“So!” one of them says as I slip into the seat Al has saved for me, “Are you coming to check 

out our food now, Mary?  Didn't you read the invitation?  It has right on it in black and white, that the 

picnic this year is in Shelter Number Two.”

“Really!” I say, and give him the sweetest smile I know how to smile.  “Obviously, Al and I 

missed that tiny detail.”

There follows more teasing, and Al and I do our share in rebuttal.  How good it is to be with them all, and in the place at last where we're invited to be.

Much later, as we get up to leave, from one of the back tables, I hear, “Hey, Kinsels!  What's 

your rush?  The party's still young.”

“We have to hurry home and get the car,” I say.  “We want to ride around Sharpsburg and see if there's another picnic we can crash.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Route 28 Approaching Town

From East Ohio Street in driving rain

Downtown Pittsburgh emerges

Huddled under blanket of black,

Its skyscrapers, lit by stray sunlight ray.

For one bewitched instant,

The sparkling fabled Land of Oz. 

From behind Gulf's golden tower 

Koppers Building's dome,

A multi-carat diamond

Blinking with uncanny light.

Then the clouds rearrange.

Magic steals away

And leaves behind

Nothing but the gray of day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

An Evening With Giovanni

Sometimes, just before awakening fully, or perhaps in an idle, unprotected moment in the middle of my day, a longing sweeps over me to be back in that lovely land called Italy, whose beauty for me lies in her people.  I was lucky enough to have spent six months there when I was in my teens, and since then, no matter how often I revisit, I come home wanting more.  

Recently we were in Rome for five days, and when I think of that evening in Ristorante Giovanni on Via Marche, just off Via Veneto, I have to smile.  As I sat at table there, enjoying spoonful upon spoonful of tortellini in broth, my attention was riveted on the owner Giovanni, an elderly gentlemen with luxuriously full, snow-white hair.  There was something reminiscent about the way he circulated from table to table, greeting his customers as though they were honored guests in his home, exchanging a smile, a laugh, a word here and there with them.  At first I thought it was my own dear father he reminded me of, because my father similarly welcomed with true enjoyment all who frequented the small restaurant he had owned in Pittsburgh.  Yet, the more I watched Giovanni, the more I realized that he was familiar to me because, like my father, he was the quintessential Italian with a love affair for people.

As he approached our table, I abandoned my musing.  He must have heard me ordering in Italian, for he stood beside me now, and in his own tongue said, “But Signora, you are Italian, no?​​​

Continuing the conversation in Italian, I answered, “No, veramente sono americana, but my father came from Tuscany, from the province of Lucca.”

“Ah, Lucca!  Si, si!  I know it well,” he said.  “So tell me, then Signora, what lovely places did you visit today in Rome?”

“We visited il Vaticano.”

“And did you speak with il Papa?”

I looked for a hint of smile on his face, for the joke is that the average tourist doesn't rate seeing His Holiness, unless on a certain Sunday afternoon, such a tourist should be so fortunate as to be in a crowd of people in 

Piazza San' Pietro, in a crush of humanity so dense that if the tourist were to faint, he would not touch the ground at all.  Even at that, his view of the Pope would be that of a distant figure in sumptuous robes and mitered hat, with arm upraised, blessing the populace from a window high up in a building to the right of the square – the building that houses the offices of the Vatican and is the Pontiff's official residence.

I don't know what made me utter the nonsense I said next.  Perhaps it was the  twinkle I thought I saw in Giovanni's eye.   Perhaps I was just giddy with the pleasure of conversing like a native with a native Italian.  In any case, what I said was, “Yes, I did, in fact, speak with il Papa, and he told me, “Listen, if you happen to go to Giovanni's this evening, say hello to him for me.”

Giovanni gave me a surprised look.  “Oh,” he said, and walked away, which made me worry and wonder if I had misread what I thought were his teasing overtones.  Was he offended by my silly remark?  Did he think I was making fun of him?  I knew from a lifetime of living among my kin, that the one thing one must never do is embarrass an Italian with ridicule.  Even if it's all in jest, Italians do not lose face gracefully. It has to do with pride, which they have in abundance.  

My concern, however, was unfounded, for soon, to my great relief, Giovanni was back to continue our playful charade.

“We were schoolboy friends, il Papa and I,” he said.

Now I was the one to look surprised.  “You were?”

“Of course not!” he said, the twinkle in his eye obvious now.  “How could we have been?  He is tedesco , you know, not Italian.”   Then by way of putting aside our joking, Giovanni looked around our table and asked, “Your family, Signora?”

Si,” I said.  “My husband, and our daughter, and her husband.”

Smiling, he nodded to each of them, and said,  “Molto piacere.”   To me, he said, “Your daughter, Signora, she is bellissima.”

Grazie,” I said.

Striding around the table then to where my daughter sat, he pointed to two tortellini she had left uneaten and floating in a little bit of broth in the bowl before her.

Non sono buoni ?” he asked

Understanding what he had said, but only able to answer him in English, she said, “Oh no!  No!  They are really great!  But if I eat every bit of each of the many dinner courses served here in Italy, I'll go home fat as a barrel!”

He gave her a questioning look.

“I'll get too fat,” she said, puffing out her cheeks to illustrate.

Sternly he shook his head and, picking up her spoon, he ladled one tortellino into it and held it before her.  Like an obedient child, but not before rolling her eyes at me, she, who never, ever takes orders from anyone, opened her mouth and accepted the spoonful.  Without a word, he ladled the remaining tortellino onto the spoon and fed it to her.  Then, “Brava!”  he said, and with a flourish, clacked the empty spoon back into the bowl.

Timidly, tentatively, we smiled.  Then Giovanni laughed, so we four knew it was okay to laugh, too.  Then all five of us grinned at each other.  He knew we liked him.  We knew he liked us.  We were delighted all around

There in part lies the explanation for my longing

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Train

Speaking of the metaphor ..............................

Later when kin and I gathered
As we are wont to do
To weep and laugh and weep anew,
Back to mind came a haunting knell
I now remembered well.

How first afar then closer still
Through winter chill
A warning wail from each crossing.
Whistled down the track
And up the long line echoed back.

And remembering, in a shiver I knew
The whistler was none other than the shrew
Wailing as Banshees do,
Coming for poor Paddy McGrew.

Friday, March 13, 2009

December Frenzy

Christmas fast approaches

And all around me

Like surf of a stormy sea

It pounds at me

From voluminous lists

I cross off faƮtes accomplis

Yet no end in sight

Do I see

Too fleeting, too short

The tide of time

Drives me, reminds me

To rest is a crime

So I bake

And I wrap

And I shop

Without stop

In desperation I swear

December next year

I'll bag the Santa thing

And sleep until spring