Look at his hands and tell me what is his job.

Yes, rough like your pa’s hands, so hard work.

That lady has been crying, has red eyes.

See— gold ring on her thumb.

I think her husband is maybe dead.


There is accent behind; no, don’t look.

You know is not German, not Russian.

Czech. Is enough like Polish to make me laugh.

Someday you teach your children

always there is something new to see.


Why is that man wearing slippers?

Is he stupid, or did he forget?

Oh maybe no shoes,

but look at his clothes.

He is not poor.


Remember story:  I thought my papa

did not miss one pear. Foolish girl! Papa said

God looked down from heaven and saw me

like God saw Adam. Remember:

everything God sees.


Is that lady sister or girlfriend?

Yes, girlfriend. Look at their shining eyes.

Here is hospital so we get off. Your papa

will be happy. You make him smile.

Big step down. Hold my hand.




First, her mother prayed No

but there was nothing

she could do. All along

she knew.

She watched

the angel announcing,

heard her daughter’s consenting.



Many things cannot be told:

What it’s like to fall in love

(though the poets try)

To hold your child

To feel the pressure

of the hand of god

To die



I can feel the pressure

of the mothers’ hands.

When I awaken in the night,

afraid of how my life will be,

how hard my death,

I hear them,

see them in the shadows

a spiral that will hold

from the first light’s song

to the long winding home.

November Writing Challenge #2

What the heck?




Five children, gender doesn’t matter, about age ten. They are in a line on the empty stage, facing the audience.

Child One is holding a toy horse.

Child Two has a toy screwdriver

Child Three has an easel in front of him/her and is painting

Child Four is holding a doll

Child Five is sitting at a desk, writing in an old fashioned black & white composition book, and continuing to write throughout the play. This child will have some dialogue, though it may be read from the notebook.

Five adults. Gender may be the same as that of the children. Director’s discretion. They enter one by one.

Adult One is dressed in barn boots and outdoor work clothes.

Adult Two is dressed like a professional engineer—

Adult Three’s is Dressed for Success—a very neat suit, etc.

Adult Four’s clothes don’t matter, but are kempt.

Adult Five, ditto. She has a paperback book behind her back, which is concealed.



Adult One:  enters, stands behind Child One. The child turns and gives him/her the toy horse, and the child exits.  When I was a kid, I loved horses. My parents couldn’t afford riding lessons, but when I was old enough, they called up a woman who owned a riding school and talked with her about what I could do to earn lessons. She was great—she let me muck out stalls, and later taught me how to rub down the horses. In exchange, she taught me how to ride. I was, she said, a natural. Eventually I got a scholarship to college, and then was old enough to get into vet school. Now I work with horses all day, and I have two of my own. I’m really lucky.  Exits

Adult Two:  enters, stands behind Child Two, who gives her/him the screwdriver and exits.

When I was a child, I was always fooling around with things, mostly taking them apart to see how they worked. I got scolded a lot, especially because I took apart things like clocks and radios and once a telephone. But then there was a teacher who told my Mom that curiousity about how things work is a good thing, and he/she suggested that Mom give me stuff of my own to take apart, and she did. Mom went to second-hand stores and bought me old stuff. The only rule was that if it was electrical, I couldn’t plug it in, but I did once, and blew a circuit breaker. Well, now I’m a mechanical engineer. Now I figure out how to put stuff together. In my spare time, I like to fix clocks. Pretty good, I think.  Exits.

Adult Three: enters, walks over to the painting child and watches for awhile, growing contemptuous. He/she then suddenly kicks the easel over, and exits. The child follows, imploring, waving the paint brush like a wand.

Adult Four:  enters, smiles at the child, who smiles back and gives him/her the doll before exiting.

I always wanted to be a homemaker. It wasn’t a popular calling back when I was a child. But way back then, and to this very day, I believe that making order where people live is an important calling—a vocation—like medicine or philosophy or art. I was lucky enough to find a spouse who honors that. He/she earns enough to support us, and I keep the house nice and grow most of our vegetables and make nice meals. We’ve adopted four great kids who are mostly doing well, though we have our ups and downs. A bunch of neighborhood kids come here after school so their parents don’t have to worry about what they’re up to. Now that our children are all in school, I’m on the library board in town, and I volunteer at a nursing home, too. We take the kids camping for a couple of weeks every summer. My life—you know—it goes on. And I like it. A lot.

Child Five: setting down the pencil, reads from the notebook:

Once upon a time, there was a little boy/girl who lived in a house in the forest with her/his parents. One day, his/her parents were eaten by a bear. The girl/boy knew where to find nuts and berries in the forest, but winter was coming, and she/he didn’t know what to do, and she/he was scared. As the last sentence is read, Adult Five enters and walks over to the desk. The child goes back to writing, while the adult talks.

Adult Five:  I told stories as soon as I could talk, and my mother wrote them down. But when I was older and the stories grew sadder, my mother did not want me to write.  And when I was twelve, and my life was as ragged as Cinderella’s, my mother’s friend Ellen sent me a package for my birthday. Ellen was my mother’s best friend. She lived far away; I’d only met her once, but every year at my birthday she sent me a wonderful book, and she often wrote me letters, and I wrote back. And on this birthday, this most difficult of birthdays, Ellen sent me a package. I wasn’t allowed to open it until after I’d blown out the candles on my cake. In the package was a metal box, a green file box. On the lid, Ellen had taped a note:  “Every writer needs one.” In the box was a red notebook. On the first page, Ellen had written:  “Every writer needs one.” And there was a book, too, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. On the flyleaf, Ellen had written:  “Every writer should have one, and use it.” Taking the book from behind her back and holding it up. And I still do.  So you see, there is such a thing as a fairy godmother.  She and the child smile at one another, and take hands, and they exit, the child with the notebook under her arm.


It has taken time,
but I have made the story mine:
how beautiful the dark,
how easy my crown.
How she would not let me be,
how she never looked
at my face.

What they don’t say is that I found
that pomegranate and ate all the seeds myself.
The thought of being up there forever
in that heat, the hard light–
the tangle of vine and blade–
and Mother.

Poor Mother.
you know the tale–
how she searched,
how she withheld
the Spring.
She always withheld
when she didn’t get her way.

She insisted the world was hers–
how the worms worked,
olives, the corn.
And always she sang the same refrain:
how she had to manage
every blossom, every grain.
How the sun and sea betrayed.

I missed her for awhile, but–
and this the stories do not tell–
I love my husband.
When he came roaring
up through the earth, driving
those lusty horses, I wanted
him and when he asked me,
I said yes.


From her chair by the window,
Mother watches crows settle in the pines.
I can call them, she says.
I caw and they come.

Underneath the table,
her tiny dog snores his tiny snore.
I search through piles of papers on the desk
for notices and bills;
I make us cups of tea.
She scolds me for carrying
a stack of books she thinks too heavy.
I scold her because she bends
to pick a paperclip from the floor.

She won’t write captions
for the family photos,
her trip to Mexico after the War.
I don’t bring her copies
of my poems or tell her
I’m writing a book.

Our failures persist like rusty stains
on Grandma’s tablecloth.
Mother can say You’re doing
so well.  You make me so happy
but that’s not something I know how
to hear.  You did what you had to do,
I can say, but she knows
so well that I am wrong.

Caw, she says, caw.
Now come and see.


    I wrote this in 1998.  Our son came home from a semester in England, and we met him at the airport.  I hadn’t yet written my Christmas sermon.  This is essentially the poetic version of the sermon that resulted.  It was published in The Other Side the following year.


Drove to Boston, four hours in wet snow.
Already tired, late flight coming in,
and I’m preaching Christmas Day:
something about snowgeese, maybe,
the way they change the landscape
even after they’ve flown away–
the way God changed it once,
by making human footprints.

Half the world is here, waiting for planes.
A tall kid in a baseball hat
slouches around, looks at his watch, drinks a coke.
Passengers from France are surfacing.
The kid spots a first class woman in a suit
crisp and red as a poinsettia,
dances on his toes,
hollers, “Here Mom, over here!”

A thin woman from the back of the plane
stands still as the last tree in the lot,
touches one enameled fingertip to a shadowed eyelid,
shoulders a cheap vinyl bag.
Roaring into the crowd
–did he ride his Harley through this snow?–
a man in a motorcycle jacket
who has not forgotten her.
The lights come on all over town.

The plane from Lisbon lands,
the watchers shift and hum.
A tiny black-eyed boy breaks away,
screaming “POPPY!  POPPY!”
runs through the NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL barrier
as if he’s authorized,
throws himself at an old man carrying an umbrella, a paper sack.
Poppy drops his burdens,
raises up the child.
I see ten thousand white geese.
I see starlight on the snow.

The plane from England touches down, taxies in.
The doors open.
When after all these months I see my son
I know that together we have one face,
the face of God,
of someone being born.


The year they found her bones
my son was riding my hip.
The year they found her bones
he learned to sing, sitting on my  lap:
Row, row, row your boat,
life is but a dream.
I watched him climb the chairs,
he practiced stairs.  We made faces:
Can you make a happy face? 
Angry? Silly? Sad? 

He learned to say please and thank you,
the intricate gaze and glance.
Sentences grew long.
He found meter and rhyme,
the spine of his stamping dance.

Raising little hominids
takes time.

Juvenile, he stalked us with his friends,
spying from the edges of the lawn;
always they carried sticks.
He kept an eye on girls,
to see, he said.
what they’ll do next.
Adolescent, he found his clan;
invented lives and names.

Now, he’s a long walk away
but the mother-bond holds tight:
his low voice on the phone
every Sunday night.
I believe Lucy
held together.  Our hearts shatter,
people scatter.
Our bones come apart.


for Henry


In this quiet house
electricity drips from the fixtures,
ghost of Muggs threatens to bite.
One bedroom smells of camphor,
and in the garden a Unicorn
browses among stone bloodhounds.
Can you still name some towns in New Jersey?

I gave you Thurber in the womb:
the book balanced on my belly
those long hot nights in our ninth month.
You grew to completion shaken
by my laughter at his disastrous times;
among your first words, his fables,
captions of cartoons.

Will our house one day resound with ghosts,
as here:   Grandfather brandishing his sword,
the bed falling on Father,
night alarms in the twisty upstairs hall.

What of our life removed by time
will make the others laugh?
The way I shrieked and ran from moths,
the werewolf who woke you at midnight,
Dad’s “Checkerboard” pronouncement in his sleep?
Mouse parts in your bed,
that fetid moose antler,
wasps between the walls,
our dog Louise who talked to stones.

October 1, 2004


He didn’t succumb
to Sleeping Beauty,
that languisher awaiting awakening.
Or to Cinderella–
self-righteousness waiting to happen–
but of course, since it was his business,
she didn’t tell him that.

She did tell him
that he would likely not
enjoy the kind of mother-in-law
who’d imprison her daughter in a rock
or sell her for a salad.

When he left on his quest,
like all good mothers,
she held her breath.
For years.

She worried
about trees grown from goat guts,
lurking dragons, glass mountains;
she had nightmares
about the secret names of dwarves
and stupid princesses with sensitive skin.

But he returned with a woman
who had slipped in between the pages,
who could read between the lines.
For a dowry she brought big feet and inky fingers,
songs about birds, stories about rabbits,
a laugh that could shatter stone.



In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.
~Carl Jung

Scraps from every quilt I’ve made,
linoleum blocks, pillows that don’t match
anything  but each other
which someday I’ll recover.
Tight ice skates, mildewed ski boots,
The winter sleeping bag
that he promised
would keep me warm.

The print of a scarecrow in a brown coat
that hung  above the piano
till I couldn’t stand it any more
even though my father made the frame.
Mother’s Marine Corps scrapbook.
Textbooks from before the Flood
arguing the case for Continental Drift,
books filled with proofs
for the goodness of God.

Bone china cups and saucers
wrapped in paper and piled in a pail.
Two soup tureens,
a dye pot, a spinning wheel,
dishes I saved
for the kids who bought better ones.
Bearfeet slippers with no soles,
high school notes and sweatshirts,
a blue stuffed animal of unknown species.
A model of the plant Hoth
built of styrofoam and blue rubber gloves.

A broken plastic fireman’s hat.
Cowboy guns.
Campfire girl beads,
a wedding gown,
an opera costume,
a Canadian flight suit,
a green wig, a paper skeleton,
my father-in-law’s last bathrobe.

Tante Lillian’s missals and the portrait
of Jesus’ Sacred Heart I forgot
to put into her coffin.
A Jerry Garcia clock.
A broken lamp
given me as a parting gift
by a terrible boss.