They killed the little doves

and poured their blood on the altar.

She’d taken the ritual bath

after her bleeding stopped,

but she was still sore.

Her breasts leaked

when the baby cried. 

The strange old man

came out of the shadows 

and put the seal on what

she already knew, 

what every mother knows:

This was only the beginning.



. . . for that feeling when the car pulls away

carrying the children home and the house 

is quiet again as it always is now

except when they come

with their suitcases and boxes and diaper bags

and sippy cups and potty chair,

and we take the portable crib

and the high chair out of the attic

and the blocks and wooden train and smurfs

and drum and tambourine out of the trunk,

and the three-year old takes the big metal bowls

and the measuring cups and spoons 

out of the cupboards and we

take the old picture books off the shelf

and make sure the camera batteries are charged.

And when they go, we put it all back

and get that feeling that has no name. 



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.

April Prompts: #21


Janice’s #5:  Whose fairy tale is this?




Once upon a time there was a father

who bought a dozen yellow pears,

one for each of his children.


The eldest daughter found the sack

of pears and they were so ripe and good

that she took one and ate it all up.


After supper, the father took pears

from the sack and gave them

to his children, starting with the eldest.


She took that pear

and ate it before her father knew

there was one pear missing.


There was no pear left

for the youngest child,

and the father did not understand.


The youngest child

went to bed crying

because she had no pear.


The next morning, the eldest daughter

was tending the geese in the long grass

behind the row of gray houses


and she saw God

sitting on the roof of the rootcellar.

God was watching her.


She heard the jackdaws

calling their judgement

in their harsh voices.


She smelled the sulfur smell

of the smoke from the chimneys

of the factory and the houses.


When her father came home

from the factory, she confessed.

Her father wept. Because


his daughter had seen the judgement

of God, he did not punish her.

But always, she remembered his weeping.

April Prompt #20


David’s #2:  A Sea Chantey

How wise we are!

Though the sky be dark and the voyage be long,

Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,

While round in our Sieve we spin!

  ~Edward Lear, “The Jumblies”


That’s what it is, isn’t it?

A-sea in a sieve, spinning around

under a dark sky. Who knows where

we’re going. No compass, no wheel,

no sail. Will we pass Easter on the back

of a whale? Will we reach the Isle of the Blessed?


Or is that where we’ve been all along?

Morning came again, and spring.

Does it matter where?

How wise we are!


Walking this morning, in the rain,

I watched an old man in the wrong lane

on the crest of a hill, driving steady, heading south.

I called the Sheriff. What else could I do? I’m not ready

for anything, even the black-haired baby who sailed in on

Thursday, at dawn, as oarless as his Nan.


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.
Not surprising.
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 the stories don’t 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.
Three crows launch from the trees
and fly toward the window,
across the snowy yard.


    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.