IV. Hearts’ Design

 Looking for the Girls 

Are you looking for the girls

inside the house this summer morning,

their miniature dolls on the shelf,

their mansion for parties—a shoe box

with pink satin lining they kept

isn’t there anymore.

Look in the alley where they run

around the clothes-line pole

in their watch-plaid skirts playing tag,

or stretch their arms to throw

a ball for ‘baby-in-the-air’,

or try out front where they go

after lunch to the end of the block

to pick the honeysuckle growing

through the churchyard fence.

Wait, if no one’s around,

at twilight you’re sure to find them

darting in the street

catching the lightning bugs, marveling

how they flash in their hands.

—Reizel Polak

 

 

Room For Everyone

           

11 invitations that morph

into 40 ‘cause of word of

mouth and ‘cause 6th graders

like to tell each other

everything; so they all show

up at once for Jimmy’s Birthday

party and somehow we make

the cake—chocolate—divide

out for everyone who wants a

slice, and somehow the chips

and cookies and ice cream last

long enough so each child

has a little bit of something.

—L.B. Sedlacek

 

  

Leaving the concert hall

 

She is eleven, maybe twelve,

but numbers no longer matter,

for she has heard Bach and Mozart

for the first time,

has mastered the mathematics of the wind,

the heart’s algebra,

where A is not A and need not be,

and now her fingers conduct the weather

until it shivers with illuminations.

 

She walks, then skips, then

spins to a private pantomime

that need not reveal itself,

for she is the conductor.

Silent notes come swirling around her

in wizard colors of the new,

and the ecstatic leaves whirl

in xylophones of dance.

She feels her joy float from breath to breath.

 

Bezeled light dazzles round a point,

a perfect jewel, for she is the conductor,

and everything is all right, for a moment all right.

Then, as the sky imagines a storm,

and the school bus pulls up,

she folds a crescendo inside a breeze,

and sets it free.

                                               —Sean Lause

 

 

 Oceans Apart

 

Words, written on my diary’s pages

expressed thoughts, confusion,

pleasures and anxieties as pre-teen

years moved through calendar boxes.

Another, across the Atlantic Ocean,

penned her coming-of-age.  But

my dad purchased new blank books

for me annually and each leather

album recorded my life journey.

Had I been born when and where

another imagined her future, on

her side of the expansive ocean,

I, too, might have died in

Bergen-Belsen with only my

diary noting I had lived.

                                  —Lois Greene Stone

 

 

Transport (for Yeva who came back)

 

She carried jewels

in the lining of her

coat. The seamstress

aunt, now her mother (the

other sent away somewhere),  

sewed a scrap along the

bottom of the

dress the girl was

growing out of.

 

She carried what was

left (a watch, four rings,

some brooches) in the

lining of her coat, to

Tashkent to sell, punishable

business. She was maybe

twelve, and had no ticket

or excuse to board

a train.

 

The seamstress

aunt sent her out, warned

her: “You must not be

seen.” So she crawled

beneath seats, crouched

among suitcases.

 

She carried gold and jewels, a girl

so slight. And when the soldiers

asked, the passengers cried

out “Leave the girl alone. She

is only a child,” but

a child who made it

back that night.                                               —A. Cabrera

 

 

 

Grand Wizard

 

People lined the curb

along the length of Flagler Street—

 

Memorial Day, Miami, 1958,

I recall my mother holding my hand,

 

when I was five.  The white summer

dress she made herself only made

 

more fashionable with the blue cloth

belt around her waist, and me dressed

 

in beige shorts, a green polo, sandals—

both of us delighting in the parade,

 

the colorful display of the marchers,

the onlookers.  Until the wedge

 

of the white cloaked riders, with

veils and pointed hats, on horseback,

 

approached where we stood

on the side of the road; their energy

 

that of an imminent impenetrable

darkness drawing you into its center,

 

magnetically; and for everyone

to see, its Grand Wizard, his veil

 

lifted, hard obdurate eyes gazing

into the crowd along the street named

 

after the Standard Oil magnate and

railroad tycoon who died accidentally

 

in a fall down the marbled stairs of his

home at Whitehall.  My boy’s soul

 

intuited evil incarnate and rebelled

against it instantly, the sheer malice

 

and foul malevolence in the man’s

visage, smoldering beneath the zany

 

hoodlum costume, precipitating

my protest beside my mother, openly

 

crying out that I didn’t like that man,

the one on horseback riding past us,

 

the man meeting my face with his cold

eyes, the one my mother began pulling

 

me away from and covering my mouth,

beginning to make her way through

 

the crowd by the curb with me

in tow,  her stopping eventually to

 

whisper loudly to me that I couldn’t

say such things out loud to the man

 

on the horse, that he could do

things to us that we would not want

 

done, that he and his men were

the ones who burned crosses on front

 

lawns, that these horseback riders

were known as the Ku Klux Klan.

                               —Wally Swist

 

 

Bedtime Stories, copyright 1955

 

I scream

you scream

we all scream

for ice cream

 he brings me chocolate-chocolate chip in the wrong bowl after her scream

 wakes me

and call me their little queen

and says Mommy just had a bad dream

when I cry and ask what’s

he gives me more ice cream

 

the next night he brings us ice cream again and he sings I’m the Good Humor man

                with the ice cream kids all favor

                but that’s silly

he’s the same Daddy, not the Good Humor man

 

I like Ike

They wear identical smiles for their children every morning and

they wear matching campaign buttons:

clearly a match made in heaven

 

Don’t tell Daddy that your Mommy

it’s a special surprise that

can you keep a secret, Sweetie?

now that you’re a big girl, I bet you can

 

I’m a good girl, I  never told on her—

such a good girl she is, no trouble at all, even now—

but like her running mascara, gold stars stain your face

 

                                It’s Howdy Doody time.

                                It’s Howdy Doody time.

                                It’s time to start the show. So kids

and dads, let’s GO!. On today’s show, Princess Summerfallwinterspring

 

                MY NAME IS ALICE

AND MY BROTHER’S NAME IS AL

WE COME FROM ALABAMA

AND WE SELL APPLES.

No, it’s her turn with the jumprope. You have to learn to take turns.

MY NAME IS BARBARA

AND MY BROTHER’S NAME IS BOB.

WE COME FROM BOSTON

AND WE

No, your father and I will take turns having you for Christmas.

MY NAME IS NELLIE

AND MY FATHER’S NAME WAS NED

WE COME FROM NEW YORK

But my mother said that even in New York I shouldn’t tell

my friends that we were getting a divorce

AND WE SELL LIES

On this jump rope it’s easy to trip

 

                Saying goodnight for Camels, America’s

                                                         favorite cigarette

he is smoking even more

she never empties the ashtrays any more

 

bedtime stories are still read at her

till the final page

of theirs

 

I bet you don’t even know. Cornelia’s last name changed over the summer. Her brother’s too. You’re crazy. How can a last name ever change? Except when you get married. And boys’ names never ever change. Her mother and father got divorced and then— Divorced? Cross your heart and hope to die? I thought that didn’t happen much except in the slums and things

 

But my mother told me not to tell the other children at school because

 

Daddy loads a

                                heartful of presents for them  on

his visiting days but the prize in the Crackerjack box bleeds.

—Heather Dubrow

 

 

 

EPITHALAMIUM

An Old-Fashioned Wedding Toast

 

Assuredly, each to each, with all to all,

astonishments invest you both at first

by voice, form, lilt, light, fragrance,

leaving only taste of lips, and touch,

for further time.  As prelude, gestures grip,

and minds fit in tongue and groove companionship.

 

At this turn, poets usually disclaim all hopes,

speak cleverly, lack patience.  Too young,

they warn of boredom, harp on wrinkles, guile,

despair, ungrateful children, temperaments

at odds, lure of drives and lusts, as though

events and time obliterate warm hearts’ design.

 

Poets conceive poets’ conceits immortal,

account ironic stanzas as sturdier than life,

plump each discouragement as fatal strife.

While true, that mishaps make for muddle,

directions tangled, reliances and dreams disserved,

still, vows have latency—beyond dreamers’ dreams

runs a vein of iron soft as gold

and bright, mined this wedding day, and night.

             —Harvey A. Steinberg

 

 

SYNCHRONICITY

 

We stroll down Columbus Avenue; October sweater-

weather, gift of a day till a cursing, hair-matted,

rag-wearing man behind us gets closer, louder.

 

Herb, wait, let him pass.

We gaze into a jewel studded window.

Herb says, That curved silver necklace, 

how much?  I guess $45.

 

Herb presses the door buzzer, Don’t take it out,

but that swirly necklace, how much?

The salesman lifts it off black velvet—18 karat white gold

with diamonds.  Forty-two hundred. 

 

Oh, my wife guessed forty-five.  I tap his foot,

afraid he’ll reveal my ignorance.  Try it on.

Okay, just for fun, I say, as white-turbaned Harmeet

closes the clasp around my neck.

 

You look great in it.  This is an embarrassing question, 

how much if it’s cubic zirconia?

We only sell diamonds but since we make our own

jewelry, well, $1200.  It will take 4 weeks.

Herb asks, Do you want it? 

I think, $1200, but we worry about his retiring. 

I ponder the fragility of life. 

9/11 has changed us. 

Yes, I do.

 

A day later Harmeet phones, offers

the display necklace a bit above cost.  I reply,

I doubt Herb will go for it but I’ll call him. 

 

Herb says, Grab it.  That money won’t change our lives. 

After all you’ve been through, it’s about time. 

I’ve never given you such a gift.  It’s about time. 

 

Again I wonder how I got this lucky.

A woman with my history.  Unheard of, a man who

adores her.  And, a screamer who detoured us

against this store window.

Jane Herschlag

 

 

Rose and The Fruit

 

She was a blooming, happy girl,

her name was Rose, and she was wed

to handsome man that she liked best;

her skin was white; her cheeks were red;

she had a little boy and girl,

just babies yet, sweet lisping things,

her joys were all in home and hearth,

as some wear crowns, she wore her ring.

 

She swept the floor and sang her songs,

she rocked the babes, she loved her man;

her world was beautiful and small,

and every day was joyful span.

One day she went out to the wood

to gather herbs to make a tea,

the babies slept while she searched round

the bases of old forest trees.

 

She saw a wall of stone, far off

she’d never seen it there before,

and ran to it through darkest wood;

she found it had an open door,

which she passed through, and gasped, surprised,

a tended garden spread out there,

and sunlight flooded down within;

the trees were cleared; the plants were rare.

 

She wandered for a while inside,

enjoying all the flowers, sweet,

then saw a tree with hanging fruit;

she couldn’t help but take, and eat.

Rose ate and ate, it was so rich;

far sweeter than her sweetest cake,

she gathered some to carry home,

remembering the babes would wake.

 

Once home again, she ate the rest,

she couldn’t stand to see fruit there;

too sweet to leave another hour

too sweet to save, too sweet to share.

She turned to making dinner then,

but heart was in the garden still;

she’d eaten all she had and yet

she knew it wasn’t half her fill.

 

Her husband came, she kissed his cheek

but didn’t smile, or laugh, or sing,

dejectedly, she cooked for him

she looked down at her golden ring

it gave no thrill of ownership,

she sighed at last; the babes arose

and came to kiss her, and she thought

how easily they dirtied clothes.

 

Around the table where they sat

the food was good and plentiful

but not a bite would Rose consume

instead, she felt the garden’s pull.

Her husband worried for her then,

but Rose told him that she was fine;

then waited ‘til he slept and left

to seek more of the fruit divine.

 

She couldn’t find the garden wall;

she looked that night; she looked next day,

she wandered weeping through the woods

so hungry, bitter at delay.

The babes she left with neighbor maid,

as day by day she chased her plan,

and neighbor maid took on her joys—

the babes, the house, and finally, man.

 

Rose wandered, starving, through the woods

her home was gone, her joys all lost,

the tree she sought above all else,

for tree she’d paid the highest cost!

She walked until her dress was rags;

she walked until she finally crawled;

but then, through woods ahead she saw

the open gate; the rising wall!

 

She gathered strength and ran within;

she took the fruit, and bit it, wild,

she gasped with joy, she sighed, alive,

and didn’t think of man, or child,

but only fruit, the luscious fruit;

her cheeks were wet, her dress soaked through,

and when she sat and fell asleep

the juices covered her like dew.

 

She never left the place again;

she was afraid it would be gone,

she lived her life within its bounds

she gathered fruit at every dawn;

and wept for what she left behind,

she grieved within the flower beds,

but never left beloved tree;

sweet fruit hung thick about her head.

—Lisa Morris

 

 

love’s letters 

 

a single long shadow, reminder of his defiant quiet,

and a face like stubbled November corn fields.

it’s all that remains? a few lines of verse,

and some letters…

 

one woman claimed she’d miss him--

the one who left empty lipstick rimmed cognac glasses

on the night stand, and never read the news,

not once,

did they acknowledge their approaching separation.

the hope of heaven looked Kandinsky,

rancio, heady, unearthly, unspeakable.

 

during the day they thought together,

but at night, they dreamed apart.

their children radiated in another universe,

as his contracted into fields or particles,

and incalculable darkness.

 

gravity of tone, the final threadbare force,

has, in the end, limits--

beyond which even words lose their attraction.

stretched letters scatter into scribble.

ink evaporates. the dent of its imprint,

flattens into the final illiterate horizon.

“Hold on, hold on,” she said,

“I’m coming, to read to you.”

                                                    —David C. Miller MD

 

 

From Cape Cod

 

If you live long enough

everyone you love will betray you

and you will forgive them

for the tides and marshes of age and love  are sharp and hurting and deep

and dying a relief

when the years too long

when the losses multiply and thoughts dim

but hold here fast

for the sky is blue and wind salty and fresh

and the sun is lighting the pine

early this snow covered morning.

—Susan Oleferuk

 

 

I Will Always Come to You in May

 

I will always come to you in May

poppies for remembrance, roses for love

honeysuckle tangled ties of abundance now gone

the dead speak in color, scent and song

so much else is forgotten

See my shadow in a moonflower before summer’s end

when the nights are still warm

and the stars speak like old friends

they tell the others what was and shall come

and for you the serene evenings bring dreams of new love

 

I lie in winters dead in the cold ground of my icy bed

far from strength, my hopes, my dread

but if I had one moment to claim as mine

the end of May would be my time, when the sky darkens and tender trees sway

and I drive through the hills to you.

—Susan Oleferuk

 

 

 Curio

 

He keeps a shelf of souvenirs, objets,

he calls them, from trips, jobs, old loved ones turned

to friends, then strangers. . . .

 

                                                      One recalls the one

who’d shouted his name in the middle of a crowd

from the back of a great convention hall

and all the heads there turned, like scattered magnets

drawn to the sudden energy between. . . .

 A colleague chucked his shoulder and advised

him, Marry that one, bud! But, resisting the

imperative, he didn’t. . . .

                                            

                                              I turned it in

my hands as he told me the story. Ah. Manquée?

I asked. He took it from me, turned it around,

and said, I must remember to tell

Whatshername to dust these, then fumbled for

a rag and wiped it himself, but softly, like a memory,

dabbing it, not rubbing, leaving it still stippled

with deposits from the air, the dusts of time.

Then he put it back on the shelf, and wheeled away,

coming to life at the whistle of the kettle,

calling for some time now, and needing some attention.

 

                              —James B. Nicola

 

 

When You Are Gone From Me

 

Since you are gone, the signs of you are everywhere

but the most precious are the silvery strands of hair

I find on the living room rug, on your chair,

or clinging to my clothes.

One by one, these too will disappear,

everything does,

But this silver hair, once on your dear head,

is all the comfort I need from the dead.

I don’t need much,

and this is all that’s left of your gentle touch:

a silver hair held softly in my palm

and all around me your descending calm.

 

You don’t know how I miss you

or how I long to kiss you,

but it will suffice, I understand,

to bend and kiss what I hold in my hand.

Anything can be a prayer,

even this strand of silver hair.

                                                —Red Hawk

 

 

Yellow Leaf Floating In the Birdbath

 

The exactitude of the Cosmos, down to the least

yellow leaf falling to its exact place in the

grand design, is a source of wonder to me;

 

I didn’t turn wide on the playground in 3rd grade

as I was chasing around the school building corner

ringing the tardy bell, and ran full face into

 

a late boy racing to his classroom, and fell

to the asphalt in disgrace, bell clattering

across the ground, and that slowed me just enough

 

so that 31 years later you and I arrived

at exactly the same space on the warehouse floor

but did not collide, we embraced and that

 

moment of grace gave us our lives. So I look at the

yellow leaf and I wonder: what if it had softly

brushed the lip of the birdbath, just missing,

 

and landed among the thousands on the ground;

what star might have been erased, its dying arc

across the night sky leaving what solar system

 

suddenly and irrevocably plunged into darkness,

and in what lonely basement room may I have found myself,

longing for your embrace, with no trace of you?

                                                —Red Hawk

 

 

Bird Tracks: A Pantoum

 

As my mother ended her ninetieth year,

on my bonsai appeared a bold blue jay

who regarded me with no trace of fear.

I knew him, he’d been her protégé.

 

                On my bonsai appeared a bold blue jay.

                Contrary to kind, he made no squawk.

                I knew him, he’d been her protégé.

                He came as an augur, not to mock.

 

Contrary to kind, he made no squawk,

the first of prophets to come by wing.

He came as an augur, not to mock,

an envoy of flocks who do not sing—

 

                the first of prophets to come by wing.

                Then ravens alit on the giant pine,

                two envoys of flocks who do not sing.

                They were too clearly a fatal sign.

 

Then ravens alit on the giant pine

next door, where Fran my friend declined.

They were too clearly a fatal sign

for her and for one more yet to find.

 

                Next door where Fran my friend declined

                they conferred darkly on a limb

                for her and for one more yet to find

                and fling beyond the world’s bright rim.

 

They conferred darkly on a limb.

It was you they chose to take away

and fling beyond the world’s bright rim—

ravens, successors to the jay.

 

                It was you they chose to take away.

                They left me with this conundrum:

                ravens, successors to the jay;

                what rare bird was yet to come?

 

They left me with this conundrum.

I asked the rainbow-circled sun to say

what rare bird was yet to come?

A hawk on your cremation day!

 

                I asked the rainbow-circled sun to say

                the gist in the gyre of this braying raptor,

                a hawk on your cremation day.

                I welcomed him as your messenger.

 

 

The gist in the gyre of this braying raptor

remains a mystery not mine to pierce;

I welcomed him as your messenger.

Why he came when called, shrill and fierce

 

        remains a mystery not mine to pierce.

        Perhaps your totem Phoenix knows

        why he came when called, shrill and fierce,

        a bolt from where the hot sun glows.

 

                Perhaps your totem Phoenix knows

                you chose a card with its brazen guise,

                a bolt from where the hot sun glows,

                left words for your funeral to my surprise.

 

You chose a card with its brazen guise

to write a “reminder” to yourself,

left words for your funeral to my surprise:

the credo  that “flames can’t destroy the Self.”

 

                To write a “reminder” to yourself:

                What prompted, years before your loss,

                the credo  that “flames can’t destroy the Self”

                but rather just “burn off our dross”?

                                                                —Diane De Pisa

 

 

 

Pensive Night at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

 

Subdued under a canopy of towering crape myrtle trees,

cantilevered stainless steel timelines are illuminated shrines.

 

Like a moon succumbing to clouds, pulsating in aeonian peace,

cradled water ebbs, flows softly.

 

Silently sounds alter the ineffable.

 —Vincent J. Tomeo


 

 

THE PEPPER TREE

                (in my mother’s voice)

 

Each morning, each evening I cherish it

as I sit, drinking coffee, sometimes tea,

by the kitchen window. The tree is long

in the tooth, one might say of it, as one

might say of a man; but the voice of man

was never as dear to me as the sound

of wind through these bright-green leaves.

It has lived here all my life, obligingly.

As I often tell my children,

I hope I do not outlive it.

 

Together, we share our years.

I understand the language of its bark,

its knots and burls; the silence of its flowers.

And then this morning: a tired groan,

a yielding up, as it slowly fell, a branch

gently grazing the kitchen glass—

slow, slow in the late heat of summer.

And I am hushed, as if I’d lost a brother.

                                                —Constance Rowell Mastores

 

 

MOTHER

 

The night is not far

from day and heat,

but still quite its own.

 

It is much past the time

when I lost you to the stars,

the moon’s absence.

 

Even then, come slow.

I shall wait for you

in this white vacancy.

 

I shall smell the curries

you used to prepare

once upon a time;

 

I shall wait for your

footsteps from beyond

the river, my children’s

 

laughter. You are here too

but in a single guise: your

picture hangs green on the walls.

 

The movements are not here.

Let me not destroy you; come,

following your wish, come slow.

 

I am sure, you will arrive

long before my child and wife

find me waiting for a single ghost.

 

Even then, time is endless;

take your time, come slow.

I can almost feel your breath.

 

I never cried when you left.

Today, let this lean hour feel

ourselves together, while I

 

waste myself in your arms

like a child. No one, no one

will know. Mother, come slow.

—Bibhu Padhi

 

 

THE SHADES

 

Hand and hand with equal plod

they go…the child hand raised

to reach the holding hand. Hold

the old holding hand. Hold

and be held. Fulfilled beyond

fulfillment. The moon achingly bright.

Plod on and never recede. Slowly

with never a pause plod on

and never recede…Joined by held

holding hands. Plod on as one.

Old man in his tramping rags, girl

child in her pinafore dress. One shade.

Another shade. Walking together.

The body’s cessation of no account.

                                                —Constance Rowell Mastores

 

 

How to make a graveyard

 

Will these stones ever speak?

They have.  They did.

Long ago, to an angel

too earth-faithful for flight.

 

Measure carefully.

Sarcophagus

is much too long a word

for death’s sincerity.

 

For heaven sake

do not quote anyone.

The dead speak only silence,

and silence is all of loss.

 


 

Be patient.

Breathe like the windy leaves.

Enclose the silence,

and weed it well.

 

Let the maple seeds

drift where they will.

Much depends

on their random choices.

 

Leave room for lovers

who can outdream the moon.

No one here will judge

their deathless lunacy.

 

God is near, and watchful

as the hare, yet the dead

speak only silence

that blows like cut grass through air.

—Sean Lause

 

 

BILHAH’S SONG

 “And Laban gave Bilhah his maidservant to his daughter Rachel, to be her maidservant.”

(Genesis 29:29)

 

Leah’s soft voice is weak, but mine is strong;

Dinah is locked in silence and cannot sing;

Rachel died in childbirth; I sing their song.

 

Zilpah clings to whispers, for nights are long

In half-empty beds where lovers rarely cling;

Leah’s soft voice is weak, but mine is strong.

 

Rachel loved music, which was her native tongue

That she and Joseph spoke in Joseph’s spring;

Rachel died in childbirth; I sing their song.

 

Leah embraces Dinah, who, when young

Would cradle dolls that Leah used to bring;

Leah’s soft voice is weak, but mine is strong.

 

Dinah had danced with dolls, and shunned all wrong;

But where are Dinah’s wedding dress and ring?

Rachel died in childbirth; I sing their song.

 

And I—I gaze at crescent-moons, now hung

In wind-filled skies by a frayed and fragile string;

Leah’s soft voice is weak, but mine is strong;

Rachel died in childbirth; I sing their song.

—Yakov Azriel