A Poem: 3:15 SATURDAY, BOONTON

Thunder cracks open

a pounding rain that rinses clean

your new marigolds

and winter’s grime.

 

You tromp back out for the avocado

while i stay behind

to unload our bags from earlier

and figure out where everything belongs.

 

I browse your saints and sinners—

Mary and Frida

Jesus and Genet

Buddha and The Book Thief,

“Finest in the marketplace,” you’d say—

and light candles

(though the storm may be clearing),

pressing pretzel crumbs into a napkin at the table,

 

just one more trace of me here,

as you climb back up the stairs

and i wonder

what else we might be missing.

A Poem: JULY AFTERNOON

I say something that makes you laugh,

a crack about angry yoga people and cigarettes,

 

and you snap your head back into the wall,

which makes you laugh harder

 

but which hurts like a smack across the face,

I can tell.

 

With our overmilked coffees we stumble down the boards,

elbows brushing, hands unsure where to go;

 

we bite our tongues

as the holy rollers sing and sway to Jesus,

 

the irony of the gay man dancing among them

not lost on you and I,

 

just a couple of sinners,

holding on, letting go, searching for the right path

 

like the line of surfers bobbing softly,

patiently treading the 5 o’clock sea,

 

wishing their timing had been better

as the waves fade to foam the color of piss

 

and the orange summer sky

turns suddenly gray.

gray sea

Adios, Winter! Hello, Spring! Life! Poetry!

Spring has finally sprung here along the shore of New Jersey, a state that probably brings to mind visions of smokestacks, smog, and spray tans for most people. I suppose I used to think the same thing of Jersey, growing up and living half my life in New York, but on a beautiful day like this….Well, there truly is no place like home.

Seagulls swoosh away the daunting, black crows that have been perching in the trees outside of my apartment all winter. Warm 70 degrees tap excitedly on my windows to be welcomed back inside through the screens. Last summer’s flowerpots and planters beg for some love and attention from my balcony. And I leap into the celebration, heart, soul, and each four limbs, bidding a swift adieu to Winter and each of her harsh, cruel lashes.

On to Spring! Life! Poetry! Wait…poetry?

Ah, yes. Just as the tulips and crocuses begin to poke through the earth, and chocolate bunnies and matzoh fill hungry grocery store shelves, Poetry Month makes her appearance, one that I have come to relish each April.

Yesterday, I attended a Writers Conference at William Paterson University, where American journalist, critic, and author (and New York Times obituary writer) Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, as well as four other writers/editors (including poet Christopher Salerno), spoke of revision. More thrilling for me, though, was when poet Timothy Liu (whom I discovered at the same conference last spring and have read avidly ever since) plopped down in the seat right in front of me. Goosebumps! Electricity! During a break, like some trembling teenager approaching a rock star, I croaked out through a huge, toothy smile (and crimson cheeks, of course), “Excuusee meee, would you mind signing?” and held out his collection Say Goodnight. Liu signed eagerly, chatting with me briefly before heading toward the buffet. No one else seemed to notice a great poet among them on line, but I smiled all the way home, new treasure in tow…..

Only to find a surprise package in my mailbox, another unexpected treasure, cloaked in a padded envelope from Georgia: a signed copy of Book of Hours by poet Kevin Young. A special gift from a lovely someone, meant to console me as I grieve and try to make sense of a loved one’s suicide, though she is also suffering heartbreak of her own. A simple act of loving generosity. Poetry in motion.  

Spring. Life. Poetry. Indeed. Here in my humble second-floor perch in the Garden State, I sing out a loud, boisterous “Welcome!” to each.

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Christopher Salerno, Timothy Liu (Writers Conference – William Paterson University)

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A Poem: MORNING WALK

Walking among the detritus—
a feather and rusty screw
a red leaf torn away from its roots—
I let the sea wash over my shoes
and hum a song to you
on the hard nights
you’re the ace right
.
These waves could swallow your mountains,
the surfers stand no chance,
even the boats simply rock and dance,
we’re all just mixed-up pebbles
tossed up on the sand,
waiting for a hand
to choose and rinse us off
like these tiny orange shells,
mini saucers made of carnival glass,
which I would gladly carry to you
on a carousel horse
made of water and foam
just to place them in your palm
or the crook of your door
wiping clean the miles
between those hills
and this November shore.

(italicized lyric is from “Tiderays” by Volcano Choir)

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A Poem: MORNING WALK

10 Things That Make Me Happy

Several weeks ago I underwent major surgery, which left me healthier than before but also with six to eight weeks of recovery time.  Here at the five-week mark, I have consumed more popsicles than imaginable, formed an unhealthy attachment to Pinterest, read nearly all of Augusten Burroughs’ books (thank you for clueing me in, Leslie Griswold!), and become officially addicted to a plethora of reality television shows (the names of which shall remain secret in order to spare myself any undue embarrassment).

One program I hadn’t seen until this afternoon was called “Ten Things That Make Me Happy,” which highlighted two celebrities’ ten favorite things.  Sooo, being that I am a sucker for lists—as well as things that make me happy—I thought I would give it a whirl.  As I am currently under doctor ordered house arrest, I looked right here within the confines of my home.  Of course, I instantly found at least thirty – forty things that make me happy, but I trimmed the list down to ten…for today.

Buddha statues

I am not an official Buddhist (Catholic by birth actually, “spiritual” if I had to classify myself, though I cringe that it’s become almost cliché to say so), but I have read scores of Buddhist writings throughout the years and gleaned much wisdom from their words.  I have also always adored statues of Buddha.  Quite simply, they make me smile and feel comfort and peace—even Buddha would be happy about that. 

Dandelions on my wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro bathing beauty    Just look at her.  Who wouldn’t feel pure delight and joy over displaying her in front of a DVD collection?    

 

Blue                 

This corner of my bedroom     A figurine bought on the Amalfi coast.

Giraffe painted by my mother.

Turquoise stones.      

My books  Solace.  Learning.  Adventure.  Calm.  Joy.


Mary statues   One of the only things from my Catholic upbringing that still offers me peace and comfort rather than issue and conflict.

An old rusty red teapot  My mother always placed this in her flower garden back home in North Salem.  Now it sits on my balcony and conjures up happy memories of bluebells, iris, and fireflies.     

Big Boy

If you have never stopped at a Big Boy (“Home of the Original Double Decker”) on a road trip through America’s back highways, woods, and truck stops, you have quite simply missed out.   My Big Boy figure (many more in storage) instantly takes me back to many a happy summer drives to Grandma’s house in the backwoods of Elk County, Pennsylvania.           

 

An unexpected gift  There is no blessing greater than an unexpected gift from someone. Large or small, such a random act of kindness instantly lifts one’s spirits and spreads love. This original painting is one of my most special possessions, a gift given to me randomly one afternoon in Asbury Park by someone just as special. It hangs on my wall and continues to make me very, very happy.

Smoke

Image  I’ve been a bit grumpy over the past few days.  I guess it could be early menopause setting in or the blazing heat and humidity.  Perhaps the vast wasteland of summer television programming or the annoying bumper to bumper shore traffic around here.  When I give this a good, long ponder, though, I realize my crankiness comes down to none of these things.   It dawns on me that I am completely out of sorts because of smoke.  Cigarette smoke.

I have never been a big fan of the stuff.  As a kid, each Sunday morning, I was squooshed into the back seat of our family Buick like a breakfast sausage with my younger sister, Emily, for the weekly drive to my grandfather’s house.  It took longer to back out of the short driveway than it did for my parents to light up.  Down the treacherous curves of Sunset Drive, up past the rushing dam in Croton Falls, then miles around each of the reservoirs, up and down the hills all the way to Peekskill, which was at least 45 minutes away, my mother and father would smoke, smoke, and smoke.  And then smoke.  With the windows pulled up.  And then, like clockwork, I would collapse out of the car once we had arrived and politely deposit a slushy pile of whatever I had eaten for breakfast slap-dab on the sidewalk.  No wonder my grandfather never seemed ebullient over the Buick’s arrival.

The minute Em and I were old enough to catch on to the hazards of smoking, we would kneel and writhe at our parents’ feet, begging them to stop the nasty habit immediately.  “You’ll leave us orphans!” we would cry, beating our breasts, flailing our arms, all as they sipped their gin martinis and smoked a couple of cigarettes before dinner.  When that didn’t work, we tried threatening them with an even harsher guilt.  “Murderers!  You will kill us with your second-hand smoke!  Have you no shame?!”  I’m pretty sure that one only prompted them to smoke like chimneys before shooing us off to bed.

And then one day, out of the blue, my father was no longer smoking.  We never watched him suffer an arduous struggle to kick the habit.  He never hired a hypnotist, for example, nor checked out library books on beating the nicotine monster.   We never spotted suspicious packs of gum or arm patches.   One day he smoked.  One day he didn’t.  That was it.  (Em and I didn’t ask a lot of questions in those days.)

My mother was another story.  I would sweat myself to sleep picturing her lungs turning into charred hunks of roast beef as depicted in TV commercials and magazine advertisements.  Thankfully this was before today’s even more graphic commercials showing actual lung surgeries, a lone orphan crying in a crowd, or a toothless man talking through a vibrating contraption held to his throat.  Years after college and into our own lives and careers, Em and I would visit my parents in their new retirement home, which smelled beautifully of new lumber and paint, fresh, plush carpeting.  At long last, my mother and her cigarettes seemed to have parted ways.  Not wanting to smell up her new castle, we figured.  And then, Em and I would sniff a trace of cigarette smoke on her blue blazer or in her frosted hair or spot a faint line of ashes on a paint can in the garage.  Aha!  Like two detectives, we would agonize over where she might be hiding her packs of killer sticks.  Lift the toolbox lid, poke through cobwebby boxes in the garage, peek behind rows of toiletries, piles of washcloths.  Nothing was beyond our prying eyes in search of the hidden cigarettes.  Alas, to no avail.  My mother would remain a closeted smoker, at least for a year or two longer, doing her best to mask her charade with a variety of perfumes, air freshening sprays, and breath mints.

It’s not that I don’t get the allure of cigarette smoke.  As someone raised on old movies, I can’t imagine them not including heavy-duty smoking.  I mean, just think about To Have and Have Not.  The absolute finest scene in that movie (and most other movies ever made) is when Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart flirt over a match and cigarettes.  They even went on to marry and live happily ever after in real life.  Well, until Bogey died of throat cancer, that is.  What about in Rear Window, when Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly peer across the courtyard into the darkened window, where only the orange glow of the killer’s cigarette is visible.  And let’s not forget Gene Tierney, Cary Grant, or Bette Davis, let alone Sean Connery as 007.                 

Even more recent classics have been made greater thanks to cigarette smoke.  Think:  In Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close’s maniacal character lighting her cigarette while luring Michael Douglas into her psychotic web.  The poor schnook never knew what hit him.  And what about Sharon Stone lighting up during the interrogation scene of Basic Instinct.  Yes, that scene.

Not to mention television.  Cigarette sales have undoubtedly skyrocketed thanks to Mad Men, the series about the advertising world of Madison Avenue during the 50s and 60s that paints smoking into one glamorous portrait.  And anyone like me who has obsessed over Helen Mirren as the chain-smoking alcoholic Jane Tennyson in Prime Suspect has also probably been left with a sudden overwhelming urge for not only a glass of scotch but an evening’s supply of ciggies.

In fact, I wish I were smoking right now.  After all, I am writing.  Shouldn’t I be smoking? (And drinking scotch, but that’s for another story.)  My obsession for writers certainly helps me appreciate cigarette smoke’s allure.  Look up any of the greats (Ernest Hemingway, JD Salinger, Ayn Rand, John Steinbeck, Daphne Du Maurier, Anaïs Nin, Truman Capote, you get the idea), and you will immediately spy photograph after photograph of the geniuses smoking.  At a typewriter, in an armchair, on a cliff’s edge, no matter.  All swarmed in swirls of smoke.

Confession: I have tried smoking cigarettes.  Many times.  Behind the old shed at Grandma’s house, where my mother, Em, and I would visit every summer, for example, my sister (otherwise known as my poor unfortunate sidekick) and I once rolled corn silk into toilet paper and struck it with a match—only to watch a wad of toilet paper go up in flames.  During one phase of college, including a semester in England, I smoked quite regularly (if one vanilla-flavored Chelsea or clove cigarette every other weekend or so counts as regularity).  And then there was a short-lived stint of smoking while I was a copy editor at a women’s magazine years ago in New York.  I suppose I thought I would give off a more sophisticated air to the higher-ups, show them what a real writer looked like.  My ploy halted abruptly one evening, when an after-work gathering of too many margaritas and cigarettes turned into an all-too-familiar slushy pile in my backpack on a train back home to Westchester.

No, cigarettes just aren’t for me, but it is really the smoke of these devilish things that bothers me most.  A blustering summer storm the other night is what started me musing on the subject in the first place.  Thunder roared and shook the walls of my apartment.  Lightning crackled and lit up my bedroom, where I had just sprawled out on newly fluffed pillows with an engrossing mystery novel.  Torrential gusts of rain slapped my balcony and the sidewalks below.  As the storm slowed, the comforting scent of electric air and warm rain wafted through my open windows.   I felt cozy and at peace, filled with gratitude for one of my favorite things about summer.  I inhaled, took a deeper breath, and then…CHOKED.  In streamed a long spiral of cigarette smoke from the neighbor below.  What the –?!  A perfectly serene moment ruined.  Now instead of enjoying the scent of a summer evening, I was coughing into my pillowcase.  Peace, cozy, gratitude?  Puff!  Poof!  Gone!

Just for the record, I am the same person who sighs loudly, obnoxiously even, on the beach, should a stranger position his or her blanket near mine and proceed to smoke a cigarette.  Every single time, without question, the smoke veers directly toward me, as if on a mission to obstruct my enjoyment of the sea and salty air.  And just today, as I was driving excitedly toward the library, happy to be healthy on such a gorgeous summer morning, enjoying the cooler air with the windows rolled down, what happened?  You guessed it.  The driver in front of me decided to smoke a cigarette with her windows down too.  Not only smoke it, but relish it, revel in the blasted thing.  Unable to pass, I was forced to follow her as she drove about two miles an hour and exhaled the smoke, which, of course, made a beeline for my open window and nostrils.  I’m not sure she noticed me yelling, “For cryin’ out loud!” out the window like a maniac, hair flying, sunglasses steaming over, but eventually she did flick the butt onto the road.

I guess I wouldn’t mind cigarette smoke if it smelled more like swirls of strawberry ice cream or autumn leaves or grape soda bubbles instead of, well, cigarette smoke.  I don’t care if people want to smoke.  I suppose I just wish they wouldn’t do it near me.  In the meantime, this grump is going back to her bedroom to read another gripping novel long into the night—windows open wide, candles and incense standing by.

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