Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Earth Angel

My stocking feet
glide across the gym floor
like a figure skater in
an ice palace.
My left hand reclines demurely
on his right shoulder.

oh, oh, oh,
oh, oh, oh

My right hand is nestled
like a baby robin
in his much larger palm.
I close my eyes to fend off
a wave of dizziness as he
twirls me in circles.

The vision of your love-loveliness

My powder blue angora cardigan is
securely buttoned down the back.
My pony tail swishes softly
from side to side.
My circle skirt floats like a parachute
above a thermal current
of crinolines.

the vision of your hap-happiness

I open one eye to steal a glance
at Connie as she sails by with Kent.
His duck tail glistens in the reflected
light bouncing off the bleachers.
Her braces sparkle as
she smiles up at him.

oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh , oh, oh, oh

Our chaperones slouch silently in the corner
Coach Stevens glares at one of his players,
Bruce Johnson, as he wraps both arms
around his partner’s waist.
He’ll pay the price tomorrow
in laps around the track.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Christmas Photo: Three Sisters

We stare straight ahead,
smiling at the photographer.
The camera loves Carolyn,
with her high, photogenic cheekbones.
Catherine flashes that megawatt smile
that can light up any room.
I stand erect,
posture-perfect me.

We look lovely.
Stunning, actually.
The camera has been kind this time.
With the Christmas tree as backdrop,
we stand ready to face another year.
Another decade even.

We have stood by one another through
the terrible twos
bouts of depression
graduate degrees
breast cancer
marital conflict
house hunting
college graduations
love affairs
broken hearts
career set-backs
financial hardships
and economic downturns.

We have traveled together through China.
We have toured the southern coast of Spain.
We have visited France, Italy, and Germany together.
We have criss-crossed the borders into Mexico and Canada.

Three sisters by marriage.
Staring into the camera.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sioux City, Iowa

The stench of the stockyards
always let you know
you were getting
close to home.

The Missouri River sparkled
and swirled along I-29
like a brown velvet ribbon.
It led you into the center of town.

How many times had that river
overrun its banks,
filling buildings and basements
with mud and sludge?
No sandbags could stop it.

I remember the Flood of 1952.
I stood on a high hill with my Dad
and watched downtown Sioux City
sink into that muddy river.

That was the year of the polio epidemic.
You couldn’t go to the swimming pool.
Everyone was supposed to stay home;
otherwise, you might end up in an iron lung.

This town had struggled to save itself.
The inner city had a brief renaissance,
but the mall did it in.
It’s pretty much deserted now.

When I was a kid,
we used to take the streetcar into town.
We went to the movies at the Capital Theater
or shopping at Younkers Department Store.
They’re both gone now.

Central High School had been converted
to apartments.
Low income housing, I understand.
This was the Castle on the Hill
where I went to school.

The neighborhood around St. Thomas Episcopal Church
was littered with junk cars and graffiti.
Parishioners from the North side of town
would no longer worship here.
They were afraid to come.

The big Victorian homes along Jackson Street
were still standing.
People still lived in them but
the “Painted Ladies” looked tired,
in need of a face lift.

I sprinkled Dad’s ashes
under the mulberry bush in the yard
of the house where my mother was born
and my parents were married.

I sprinkled them under five trees
in the yards of five houses
where my father lived
during his 91 years in this town.

I sprinkled his ashes
at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
I buried them in two cemeteries,
alongside each of his wives.

I threw his ashes up in the air
and let the wind carry them
all the way to the Missouri River
as I drove out of town.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I Once Lived in Narragansett, Rhode Island

Wealthy Philadelphians summered here
in the 1800’s.
They came by rail
with their steamer trunks
and servants.

There were grand hotels,
golf courses,
polo grounds,
tennis courts,
a race track,
and a casino.

John Wilkes Booth’s brother
visited regularly each summer.
He used to stage plays
in a circular guest house
on Central Street.

Jefferson Davis’ daughter
attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
as a part-time parishioner.
A Tiffany stained-glass window
was bequeathed in her memory.

I remember the seagulls
screeching at the sea wall.
Beady eyes on high alert,
always on the look-out
for a snack.
Flying rats
the locals called them.
I loved their big yellow beaks
with the tiny red spot
on the tip.

Bright beach umbrellas
in primary colors
luffed in the breeze
like spinnakers
in a regatta.

Out on the water
sailboats drifted by,
tacking and jibing
their way
to Block Island.

The smell of sea kelp
marinated in salt water
slapped you in the face
at low tide.

The tympanic pounding
of the waves
against the shore
sounded like the percussion section
of some celestial symphony.

I used to walk down the beach,
past the Dunes Club
to the Narrow River.
When the tide was running out,
you could dive into the water
and the current would suck you up
and spit you out
at the mouth of Narragansett Bay.

I will always wonder why Narragansett
never achieved the stature of Newport.
Although Jacqui Kennedy’s maiden aunts
had once lived across the street from me,
the Vanderbilts never came.
I suppose it was the harbor
that was lacking.

How different it is
from the Sonoran Desert
where I now live
amid the succulents and cacti
that populate this place.
The painting of the old casino, So Many Memories,
still hangs on my dining room wall.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Up in the Attic

That crusty old screen with its peeling green paint
and missing hinges. That pair
of Rossignols in the rafters
with the bear trap bindings. That yellow
steamer trunk stuffed with high school scrapbooks
and old love letters. That wall of grey
metal file cabinets crammed
with obsolete lesson plans.
That kerosene lamp I had wired
for electricity but never used.

That mattress and box springs
I’ve been storing for Michael
should probably be donated to
the battered women’s shelter.
That dining room table
we bought second-hand
from the family in Beverly Hills.
That Victorian birdcage
complete with canary
that Emma always thought was alive.

That fake ficus tree
I bought in a yard sale
to fill in a corner
where nothing else fit.
That musty bolt of floral chintz
would have made great slipcovers
if I’d ever gotten around to it.

That black plastic foot locker filled
with file folders, transcripts, and audio-tapes.
That dissertation debris: I promised
the Human Subjects Committee
I would dispose of it within ten years.
Clearly a lie.

That set of Ben Hogans
you got
the year we were married.
That fight we had
because you bought them
without asking me first.
That miniature doll house belonged
to Melissa. That I’ve kept it this long
is amazing.

That dented brass headboard
I bought at an auction,
that old gooseneck lamp
I found at a yard sale,
and that reindeer skin rug
I picked up in Norway
are perfect examples of
buyer’s regret.

That big, red
Selectric over there on the table
predeceased the word processor
by three or four years.
That machine was a marvel
with its built-in white out key
and instant carriage return.

That old raccoon coat
that Mom wore in the 20’s.
That brown mink stole
with the glass eyes and tails
may still be of interest to
the local consigner.

I should call her tomorrow
and see what she says.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I Had Forgotten

how much Mom
loved to smoke Kent Cigarettes with her morning coffee
and how hard she struggled
to give them up over the years.

How much Mom adored chocolate covered peanuts.
She would buy them and hide them in high places
so that we kids wouldn’t find them,
but Ricky knew all her hiding spots.

How Mom said Dad was really three different people:
one at home, another at work, and a third at church.
I asked her once which Dad she liked best.
She said she preferred Dad at church.

How we invented games
to entertain ourselves on hot, summer
afternoons sitting on the porch,

watching the cars go by, pretending

the next Studebaker belonged to me and
the Hudson after that belonged to you
and then laughing out loud if one of us got stuck
with all the clunkers.

How we slept on chairs in front of the window
air-conditioner in the dining room on muggy
Iowa nights when the humidity was 90
and so was the temperature.

How we begged Dad to take us for a drive
down Country Club Boulevard
with the top down so we could feel
the cool air swirling around our faces.

How he took us to the Dairy Queen where we ordered banana splits
with three scoops of soft ice cream, swimming
in a sea of chocolate sauce, strawberry syrup,
and pineapple chunks.

How Mr. Hilgers would sit out in his front yard
in his rocking chair
and smoke Camel cigarettes non-stop until the nicotine
turned his fingers yellowish-brown.

How I sat on Dad’s lap and sobbed
because I had been lying in bed thinking about eternity
and how long you would have to spend up in Heaven
after you died with no possibility of ever leaving the place.

How Ruth Ann Bryans died at the age of 14
when a metal pole from a swing set fell on her heart and crushed it.
How Bobby Berryman died at age 13 from chronic colitis
after intentionally eating popcorn when he knew he shouldn't.

How I once had a butterfly collection
that I kept in a box, lined with black velvet.
How I caught the butterflies with a home-made net,
fashioned out of a bent coat hanger covered with one of my mother’s

nylon stockings. How I pulled the butterflies’ heads off to kill them.
Then I laid their wings in the velvet-lined box and
placed a hand-written label under each set of wings
with the butterfly’s name on it.

How I tired of the collection, eventually,
went up to the third floor attic,
opened the window, tipped the box over, and
let all the dried butterfly wings sail
out the window and float to the ground.

The Minister's Wife

In Public

She wears a hat to church each Sunday.
She sits down front, close to the pulpit.
She knows the words to all the hymns.
She recites the liturgy from memory.
Her children go to Sunday School.
She wears white gloves and pearl earrings.
Her hairstyle is ten years out of date.
She wears her skirts below her knees.
She drives an older Chevrolet.
She genuflects before communion.
She buys her clothes at J.C. Penney’s.
She avoids discussing politics.
She listens well and smiles often.
She very rarely criticizes.
She serves on several church committees.
She entertains on Friday nights.

In Private

She sneaks a smoke when no one’s looking.
She spends a lot of time on Facebook.
She curses under her breath
at the slightest provocation.
She gravitates to romance novels.
She often has erotic dreams.
She envies other women who are
better dressed than she is.
She resents the late night phone calls
and parishioner demands.
She’s sick of parish politics
and tithing every year.
She thinks about her early life
when she was still a teacher.
She finds it’s hardest late at night
when everyone is sleeping
and she is left to contemplate
the choices that she’s made.
She knows her faith is fragile.
She prays to God to help her
to become the kind of person
every congregation needs.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nobody Could Cook Like Aunt Ida

She could fry walleyed pike in a batter
so light
it brought tears
to your eyes.

She made home-made doughnuts
in a deep-fat fryer.
We loved to watch as she
dropped little dough ringlets
into a pool of sizzling lard.

The doughnuts
bobbed and danced
as the fat
sputtered and spit.

In no time, it seemed,
she fished them out
all puffy, crispy, and brown,
sprinkled them with white sugar,
and placed them on parchment paper
to cool.

We could eat all we wanted.

I was told that Aunt Ida
catered her own daughter’s wedding reception.
Following the ceremony,
guests were forced to wait for an hour and a half
while Aunt Ida arranged
the relish trays.

Friends, 1957

We were two skinny girls in love with Elvis.
We walked to school together every day.
Your idea of breakfast was a Twinkie and a coke.
My mom made me eat bacon and eggs.

We worried a lot about our complexions.
We agonized over our hair.
I bleached mine with lemon juice.
You wore yours in a pony tail.

We wore pale pink lipstick
and Cherries in the Snow nail polish.
We took dancing lessons at the YMCA.
We dreamed of becoming cheerleaders.

We read “Gone with the Wind”
two times, back to back.
You loved Melanie Wilkes.

I worshipped Doris Day.

You taught me the shuffle step
on your basement floor.
We used to lean on one other whenever
we walked down the sidewalk together.

We rode the streetcar to the Capital Theater.
Our favorite movie was Funny Face.
We wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn
and dance like Fred Astaire.

We sneaked into the Coney Island
and ate hotdogs with onions,
even though your mother didn’t approve.
We both loved horehound drops.

We played Kingston Trio records on your brother’s phonograph.
We talked about sharing an apartment in New York some day.
We dreamed of performing on Broadway
or becoming missionaries.

We competed for grades, but never admitted it.
We knew we were smart, but you were a genius.
We went to the boat club when your mother would drive us.
While I swam in the pool, you sat in the sun.

We each found a boyfriend, of course they were “jocks.”
We learned to make out without going too far.
We gossiped and giggled and whispered our secrets.
We pretended to know a lot more than we did.

We set a high standard and we were proud of it.
Our own reputations were all that we had.
We acted like Doris, the perpetual virgin.
We modeled ourselves after Melanie Wilkes.

When Elvis was touring, he came to Sioux City.
Your father arranged to take us backstage.
We waited downstairs in the old auditorium.
And then the door opened and Elvis appeared.

We rushed up to him with our programs in hand.
We gave him a pen and begged him to sign.
He protested a bit, but then he relented.
His upper lip curled as he scribbled his name.

You still have his autograph, 50 years later.
I’m sure you could sell it on Craig’s List or E-bay.
I threw mine in the trash when I left for college.
My love for Elvis had faded away.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Summertime at Lake Walker

That red iron pump handle
in the kitchen sink
stands silent, waiting to be primed.
That well water is so cold
it can give you a brain freeze.

That kerosene lantern
on the dining room table
promises an evening’s entertainment
of gin rummy, charades, or monopoly.

That hand-cranked Victrola
on its stand in the dining room
scratches out “La Vie en Rose”
by Marlene Dietrich.

That maroon Harvard banner
competes with an enormous turtle shell
for pride of place
on the cabin wall.

That pile of walleyes
spread out on newspaper
on the back stoop
is dinner.

That fillet knife slices
through thick white flesh,
while fish eyes stare blankly

That dented-up tackle box full of lures, jigs,
sinkers, spinners, bobbers,
leaders and hooks
nestles neatly
in the bow of the boat.

That stringer of crappies tied to the dock
will be turtle food if we don’t
bring them in before dark.

That ice box in the kitchen
needs a delivery tomorrow.
That bottle of “Old Sunnybrook” in the pantry
will take the chill out tonight.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Miss Reese

The room holds two pianos:
both baby grands.
I come here every Tuesday night
at seven. Although

I’m not supposed to,
I always take the short-cut
down the alley toward
Hubbard Park. I carry

my sheet music
and my dollar & a quarter,
let myself in, sit down
on a dingy-grey upholstered chair

in the living room.
Another student plays
ahead of me.
I wait my turn.

I sense movement
behind the dusty drapes that
separate this room from the parlor.
It’s the old woman, I’m sure:

Miss Reese’s ancient mother.
Hidden away like a bad report card.
Without smiling, Miss Reese dismisses
her other student and invites me

into the music room.
She dresses completely in black:
black dress, black stockings,
black old lady shoes. Her grey

hair pulls into a tight bun.
Her complexion is grey.
She wears no makeup,
but wears grey, pearl earrings.

She instructs me to play the piece
I practiced all week.
She sits to my right as I labor
over Bach’s Prelude Number 1 in C Major

from the Well Tempered Clavier.
Her lips purse in and out,
out and in,
like a metronome keeping time.

When I have finished playing,
she leaves the room without a word.
It takes her only a moment
to place the record on the turntable.

She reenters the room and instructs me to
“Listen to Prelude Number 1 in C Major as it
ought to be played. As Bach,
himself, might have played it.”

The ancient woman,
hiding behind the curtain,
listens, too.