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July 14, 2014
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In 2003 my mother started to lose her memory. It was subtle at first. We would walk on Avenue U and she would fail to come up with the name of an acquaintance or two. Nothing alarming. After a while her shopping list started to look like an art project, with drawings of mushrooms and strawberries next to the words milk and bananas. Soon the drawings faded away. In the supermarket she would say to me, “I’m looking for those red things with a little green piece and they come all together.” Sometimes it was obvious what she wanted; other times we left without the crackers or the American cheese.

Translating the Fables of La Fontaine: A Creative Linguistic Challenge

Everyone has an urge to be creative. It’s important, though, to recognize one’s proper medium. I’ve picked up paintbrushes, cameras and sketchpads. I’ve satisfied my brief obsession with quilting with the completion of one potholder. And I finally had to admit that my medium is words.  Read more

The Potency of Words

When I was involved in a cult they interrupted me constantly. “Enough with the story already. Just tell us in ten words what happened.”

I should’ve known better. In my life, nothing’s ever straightforward. One story is a skein from another, equally vital and germane. From there, I weave an intricate design, a pattern of words to provide a scenario, background and rationale to what occurred, what may occur and the importance of whatever I have to convey. To reduce a situation to ten words makes as much sense as Albert Camus’ character in “L’Etranger” who stated, “Au cause du soleil.”  Read more

The Language of the Seasons

Summer came and she danced to the music
of live bands at county fairs,
and the Delaware River spoke to her of romance
and childhood dreams,
her youth melting like ice cream
on a hot August day.  Read more

Mother Tongue, Mother Lode

Whenever I asked my mother how to spell a word, she would invariably tell me to look it up — a strategy that instilled in me a lifelong love of language.

I also owe a debt to Mad Libs. “What’s an adjective?” I demanded whenever my sisters and I played the fill-in-the-blanks word game, which required familiarity with the parts of speech. I had a firm grasp of nouns and verbs, but adjectives were still beyond me.  Read more

Mother

Have you seen your brother lately?

A question rising out of
a mind confused
so clearly came the message  Read more

The Word is Yes

Verbatim conversation:

“Can you play the bongos?” I asked my daughter’s friend, Skye. He grunted in reply.

“I’m sorry, what was that? I just wanted to know if you can play the bongos.” He shrugged.

“Is that a yes or no?” I asked. He smirked, shrugged and then grunted.

Desperate to get around the words that weren’t happening, I placed a set of bongos in his hands and he instantly performed one of the most impressive solos I’d ever heard. When he stopped, he grumbled, “I really can’t play.”  Read more

Word

Far off grackle
Cat bird screech
Cat pressing through weeds
Isn’t that word enough?  Read more

Poetry Is

the unusual in the usual
the nugget in the cliché
the dot on the i
the cross on the t
the picture worth a thousand words
the tree you can’t see
for the forest
the black sheep  Read more

Pop Poetry

I

Cross Walk

Push button to cross Tappan Road
People push my buttons
Cross me
Just try it!  Read more

Misunderstandings

When my grandson, John, was seven, he had a friend visiting who told him he was going to the libary later. John said “It’s not libary, it’s library.” Later, when my daughter wanted to know what flavor ice cream he wanted he said, “strawberry,” but then said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I mean strawbrary.”

My son runs his own business and once had an office cat, which didn’t create a problem until he hired a computer operator who was allergic to cats. His secretary said, “We’ll have to keep him outside.” The office manager replied, “But how can he operate the computer from out there?”  Read more

Out of the Mouths of Babes

“There is no conclusion; the story blooms.” — from “The Last Sunday in October” by Jean LeBlanc

We are all storytellers—you, me, all of us. At least one story waits in us all, waiting to be born, to make it free into the world, somehow, and change things or people, just a little bit. Perhaps children are the ones who know this best. I know I learned this from a child a long time ago...  Read more

Lastword: Perspectives

The horses stand at the gate.
“Where have you been?” ask their eyes and ears.
“I’ve been writing.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s my art of arranging words — the sounds you hear me think to express the ramblings of my mind — so many other humans may know them.”
“Primitive!” they say with a twist of lips and narrowed eyes.
“Humans aren’t horses,” I remind. “We’re a relatively new species, still trying to figure things out.”
The thought “too much figuring” takes form within, as I catch my mare’s mischievous grin and glint of eye.  Read more

Sentences

The word-seeds that seed our sleepless nights
with consonants and vowels, left alone unsyntaxed

never hear the light of day‑
unfurl and stretch in banks of clouds

or along long streams before they disappear
into sentences never spoken.  Read more

Multiple Choices

“When you have a million choices, you have no choice at all.”
— Barry Schwartz, “The Paradox of Choice”  Read more

Niqab

I did not know the girl behind the veil. I could barely see her eyes. Yet, I could feel her humiliation, her disgrace, her indignation. It stabbed at my heart to see her being treated as an outcast. These strangers treated her with contempt, simply because of her dress and her foreign tongue. A compulsion came over me. I needed to experience this persecution for myself so that I could better understand, so that I would never forget that an individual should be judged by their actions and values, not by their outward appearance.  Read more

Where the Dead Live

I have a black and white photograph taken in 1909 of my father Sol, who was four years old, his older sister Miriam, a younger brother Joe, his mother Leah, who looks pregnant and angry, his father Jonah, uncle Benny and his sister Rose.

The adults look solemn; the children frightened.

The men are in dark suits, the women in gowns, I wouldn’t be surprised if the clothes were supplied by the photographer. Only the children seem to be wearing their own clothes. It’s a formal, posed studio photograph taken to record a significant moment, perhaps their arrival in the United States.  Read more

The Bamboo in the Garden

One evening during my mother’s last stay at the hospital, after we told her good night, my aunt and I walked uptown. On our way, we encountered a man standing outside an ethnic deli. He held out a smudged Styrofoam coffee cup. And I reached in my purse for money. Don’t do that, my aunt whispered.  Read more

The validity of winter

April opens my tight-fisted heart
and rattles away all bias
and judgment
against the winter I fought
yet needed so perfectly.
Today the heavy blanket
I stitched feverishly
with chaotic weave
in fierce, breathless resistance
to early darkness,
death, cold, solitude
and change,
I will cast into the rising Delaware
as my wrong accounting…
seeing finally,
in this blessed armistice
conveyed by troupes of daffodils
and robins,
that not one thing can hold firm,
and no one season
holds more wonder
or validity
than another.

Why I Live Where I Live

Meet me on Old Mine Road
near Bevans Church and
I will tell you about
that snowy February day
on the gravel trail
near Van Campen’s Inn,
air, ice fresh,
rock-strewn fields
like whipped cream swirls,
the sounds of foraging
mice, snow crystals
shifting in afternoon sun,
the click of a Nikon
as we pushed knee-deep
through drifts
shooting crumbling
barns and shadows
cast by barren limbs
in late day light.

I will tell you about
the lone house near
the river’s edge
warm with yellow light,
how wisps of smoke
like wind-blown kite tails  Read more