Poetry & Prose 2015

A Gift of Peace

My mother had Alzheimer's. She suffered terribly from it, as did everyone in our family, especially my father, who devoted himself to her care for the last few years of her life. I believe, however, that there was also a gift in what happened to her - and it was, for me, of supreme importance to acknowledge this. Because that helped me to be at peace with the process  - which, in turn, helped me to help my mother be at peace.

Me: "Where do we come from?"

My mom: "I don't know."

Me: "Well - where are we going?"

My mom, with great joy: "Oh - I know where we're going – though I won't try to put a name to it. But there are lots of places we can stop along the way... and If we write a book together, we'll be so astounded we'll forget to die!"


When my mother was alive, we visited every Sunday, for Sunday Dinner, as my parents had done with her parents. My folks were from Nebraska, and it was a hallowed tradition.

One Sunday, we had a big get together: my sister and her family, my brother and his family, me and my family, and our parents. There were about seven kids, eight adults, and a great spirit of boisterous delight.

But my mom had lost the ability to follow conversation and join in. Once a dynamic woman, leader of the pack, she now felt lost and isolated in a group - unless someone was paying direct attention to her. I knew this, but that Sunday, when everyone was together, I really wanted to be with my brother and sister and all the others; and I wanted a break from the constant vigilance of making sure my mom was OK. We were washing the dishes and laughing and watching the kids' wild antics - and forgetting my mom. 

I was exchanging stories with my brother and munching leftovers when my dad drew me aside with a contained franticness.

"Will you come out here and see if you can keep her from leaving?"

"Oh - OK." I followed him into the garage. My mother was sitting in the driver's seat of the car. The garage door was wide open behind her.

"Come on Betty, get in." Betty, the fat golden retriever, sat there undecided. "We're leaving this place."

My mother hadn't driven for three years.

"Hi!" I plunged into my role. "Where are you going?"

"We're going home." She was wearing my grandfather's face, the Depression era face of bitter resentment. 

"Don't go yet - I wanted to spend some time with you! Let's go on a walk." I felt she could read right through the ruse. I was pleading, but I didn't know what else to do. I bent down to look in her eyes and took her hand. She remained sitting, obdurate, but I could feel a little give. 

"Well - OK," she muttered. I tugged gently, and she began to climb out of the car. To give her what independence I could, I let go of her hand and walked out the garage door, into the evening sun. She began to follow, but at the last minute, noticing the dog and the open car door, she said, "Betty! Get in the car. We're going! We're not going to stay here with these people." My dad, helplessly following all our moves, was hovering silently on the perimeter.

"Come on!" I pleaded, "Let's go on a walk, please!" I knew this semi-frantic begging was a mistake, but I couldn't generate anything else. Forgetting there was no key in the car, I thought she might really get in again and drive away. I sought her unwilling hand again, "Come on, come with me!" She pushed weakly at me. "Oh, whatever for?! Go away!" But, then something shifted ever so slightly, and she did follow me. I stood behind the car and leaned on it, looking out at the hills as if admiring the evening. "Look how beautiful it is!" She stood beside me, and I put my arm around her thin shoulders, standing close. Stiff, unresponsive, she glanced sneeringly at me. 

"What's happening?" I asked her, "What's wrong?"

"This is a terrible place." 

"I think it's great. What's the problem?" 

"Everyone hates each other." 

"I thought it was quite the opposite, everyone's having a great time." I felt stupid. I knew this was the wrong thing to say - I just couldn’t seem to find the key to helping her out of this state. I knew she felt left out. All the unresolved insecurities of her long life, which she had always pushed away through reason and determination, were flooding over her.

I kept my arm around her shoulders, response or no response. "Mom, will you play some music for me?" She still played the piano, an ability which uncannily remained intact; in fact, although her technique sometimes stumbled, her playing seemed to be getting more and more emotionally expressive. "Oh - " she turned to me, a new light kindling in her eyes - "all right!" 

Relief. We went in, to the grand piano in the living room. The others, probably noticing what was going on, had gone somewhere else. I sat beside her on the bench, snuggling up to her. She laid her brown, oak-tree hands, on the keys. Brahms. It flowed out of her, my tears flowed out of me. I didn't have to hide them from her. She had no criticism. We submerged in a bath of pure, powerful emotion. 

My father had been watching, listening, from the shadows. After the first piece, he shyly approached, "Is there room for me?" My mom looked up at him with affection, "Of course!" We slid down on the small bench, and he perched on the end, beside me. I put my arms around them both, and hugged them tightly. I loved them so much. My mother turned toward us gaily, "Isn't this wonderful? Isn't life amazing?" 

She played and played. One piece turned into another. All the elements of her ancient repertoire - from classical to ragtime and jazz to her own passionate improvisation - entwined and intermingled, creating their own marvelous evolution. She played a song from their courtship, "Come, come, I love you only," and my father joined her in his pure old tenor. The tears coursed down my face. I didn't hide them even from my father. We sat together in precious oneness, something we had never been able to find when my mother was "rational," protected like the rest of us by her armor of reason. Now, in her nakedness, she had been released - and had released us as well - from that reasonable prison. 

Finally, after fifteen or twenty minutes, she played a final chord, and with reverence, sat, head bowed, in silence. Then she turned again, smiling and peaceful, to look into our eyes. Her joy blinded me with its light. "Thank you!" she said. "Aren't we lucky?!"


Aunt Birthday and the Ocean

She was 70 years old – a great hulk of a woman, iron hair in a tight bun that jutted out of the back of her head, massive jowls forbidding when the children went to give the necessary kiss. Her real name was Bertha, but she was called Aunt Birthday because she had the same birthday as Johnny, her little three-year-old great nephew. She was visiting from Nebraska, birthplace of her parents and their parents under the flatiron skies that weighed like lead on their souls, keeping them grim enough to face reality.

But here was California, and the Ocean! She had dreamed of the ocean as a girl – vast, frightening, unbelievable, water as far as you could see, a boundless prairie of bottomless water, dangerous and unfathomable – yet sparkling, sparkling in the endless sun. So many times she had dreamt of it – and daydreamed too, when she was home in that flat land, ironing her husband’s starched white shirts, or washing the dishes, gazing into the murky water that reminded her of her ocean dreams…

Now she was 70 and her life had passed and she didn’t know what on earth was coming. If anything. They said if she was a good Christian she would be taken by an Angel and fly to Heaven – but she was not so sure, it all sounded like malarkey to her. Life was a bitch – she would only say such a word in her innermost private place, but it was true, life was hard, hard, unforgiving. The end of her charity toward it had come when her son had gone to war and it had swallowed him along with everything else good in her life. Then she had put on a mask, and had worn it ever since, to frighten the ghosts. Now, decades later, she had at last lost her cagey old husband – thank God he was at rest, and she could rest too…

Her brother Frank and his wife Leota were good people, and tried to be kind, although they too had their share of spats. They had invited her to visit them in their California bungalow by the railroad tracks where they had come to be near the kids. Frank and Leota were the lucky ones, all their children alive and well, although that one, the little boy, had grown up peculiar, queer they called it. Good thing he was out in San Francisco now where he belonged. 

But now she herself was here, on the edge of the world, where the land ended and the great drink began – enormous, enormous, and terrifying – just as she had always imagined it.

They got out of the car at the top of the beach and she said to them, loud and clear, I want to go down to the water. 

They looked at her doubtfully – sure, us old folks in our good clothes and good shoes, tramp down through all those miles of sand – have you ever even walked in sand?? 

Of course, she bellowed, of course – though she hadn’t. 

So they humored her and tromped down through the sand, and it was rough going, like to suck you under. Exhausting. Her black pumps – sensible old lady shoes that laced up the front, and stood on two-inch thick black heels – were sturdy though, and she was no wimp, no weak ninny. Her thin black dress with the little purple flowers flapped in the cold wind, her sweater wasn’t near warm enough, and she was glad for her girdle and sturdy nylon stockings. She trudged onward, and the ocean roared and gleamed at her and she couldn’t wait to be there – it called and called her with the sweetest deep voice… 

At last they reached the brink, and the edge of it rolled toward them and almost touched their toes – and she had to step back in a hurry on the wet sand – but then it rolled away, swept into itself with a great sucking sound, and she thought she would die, she wanted to go down on her knees to it and dip her forehead in the sea…

What nonsense! She glared at it, her hard mouth a thin line across her battleship visage.

Up came the water, gurgling and beckoning – then back it fled, sucking and huge, into its impossible depths. What could be lurking, swimming and blinking in there, what millions of fishy monsters?

Aunt Birthday stood her ground. She was going to touch the Ocean. Let no one say she had come all this way without touching the Pacific. So the next time it came laughing toward her, she stood firm, and when it reached her she put the toe of her black shoe into the dancing water – and it came right in, its coldness filled her toe box, wetting her real toes – the great Pacific! And she wept – a little girl running up the beach screaming and screaming in delight.



Beside the Merced River 

in Yosemite



The water flows

Carrying the silence

That is inside the world


On the surface

Leaf and needle swirl

Now together

Now apart


Borne on 

Bell-clear depths

Empty and full

As my heart

Functional Ecstasy

Plunging west

On the freeway

From the warm inlands

Toward the bay

In the silence

Of the rushing car

I contemplate 

The Mystery:


Rough gold hills 

Lifting on all sides

With their waiting oaks

Planted roadside trees

Waving their pink hands 

At the hot blue sky

Curling fog 

Dark on the horizon


And all at once

I am filled

With a sweetness

So deep and gentle and 

So soft

It ripples me open

And I swoon inside

While staying  

Fully steady

On the road



Arriving at my destiny

I tell myself:

Remember this!

You believed the senses

Were a boundary

Separating you 

From the world 


But if all things 

Of this world 

Can touch you so

As to send you into





The senses are no prison

But a bridge

Or a Door

And we – 

All beings

and the World –

Are in no way “other”

But One.

Getting Unstuck from the Past


In my dream

I was pouring over a thick old book 

Of cartoons

Its pale pages covered in plastic 

Like an old photo album

The black ink faded to murky blue

In thousands upon thousands

Of detailed drawings

Of mundane moments with my family

Including my dead husband 

Who was looking over my shoulder


Apparently, I marveled to myself,

Once upon a time

I had drawn all these.

How could I possibly

Have spent so many hours

So long ago?

They weren’t bad,

It must have taken me forever…

I turned the pages 

Completely entranced

Until my husband asked me why

Was I keeping all that?


When I woke up

I had the thought that

Maybe I need

A colonic.

Maybe that

Would loosen up and dislodge

All those pounds and pounds

Of impacted memories

That are stopping the flow

Of living my life

Plugging the pipes

Of just being me.




for Alex


Dear boy, unruly child,

You were six years old

Wiggling on my lap

When last we met


Word has it

You became a man

Towering, magnanimous

Sweet and grand


Sensitive and brilliant

And Inventor of a whole

New word 

Of which you were also


The very prototype:

Heavenly Eccupesence 

Of intelligence, manly strength, 

And sonly loving kindness.


True, you had your problems,

But they were not your fault:

It was the craziness of the world

Never of your sweet heart.


And so for decades

You fought to do your part 

As wild companion and protector

Of my kindest friend


Then, when at last you'd done 

All you could 

You went on ahead

To get the lay of the land.


Now we, two old women,

Sit dreaming

Just this side of the

Wonderful Gate


Ready to join you or

Already there

Still asleep, but

Soon to wake


On Dealing with Monsters


Most of the time

it's Fear

that drives us -

and this

besides being debilitating

is embarrassing

since we're supposed to be


needing help

from no one.


Particularly pernicious

is the Anxiety critter

that dogs our steps,


on our frustrations

and our abandoned

aspirations -

nasty byproduct

of the world's gross




we do have

magic potions

to knock such monsters out.

They work great,

though you have to keep

dosing the critter

every now and then

pouring just a little

in its crinkled ear

if you want

any peace.


On the other hand

if you prefer

to get rid of the monster


you can eventually

starve it to death.

Which admittedly

takes some work.

You have to ignore

the temptation

of frustration

and just keep on truckin’

fueled not by fear

but by fascination

and the occasional sip

of inspiration.


This is hard at first

but it gets easier

and it's never too late

It's hard

but not that hard.

If you're in a real pickle

by all means

use a potion!

But sometime

when you're up 

for adventure

you might want to try

dealing with the monster

on your own.

I say

Go that way.

Take that chance.


Heart Child

Heart child

what i see in you

goes deep

beyond success

or failure

though perhaps

through failure

you can find 

your true



Like a diver

running out of air

battling asphyxiation


at the last moment

he finds that narrow gap

and squeezes through

into a sanctuary 

of unexpected air


and gasping

in wonder

and relief.


You learn something


in that desperate search

when all seems lost.


and only then

the choruses

of angels

teem in your ear

Come This Way!

This Way!

And they lead you

with their bright

silken voices




In Defense of 

Identity Theft 

(for all my beloved victims)


I know it’s illegal


Just in case you

My love

Someday find yourself 

Overly attached

To another

Human Being 

And feel compelled

To steal their


Let me explain

This thing

And why I keep 

Doing it

Time after time

After time.


The good news is

It’s not our fault.

After decades of 

Wallowing in guilt

I have it at last

On good authority:

This Sin

Is actually a disease

Of the addiction sort,


The most common form

Of kleptomania.

Sometimes known as

Mistaken Identity Disorder,

The condition is



Most of the

Human Race.


The symptoms

Are seductive, galling,

And unmistakable:

Acting in the name of Love

You begin appropriating

Another person’s

Rights and privileges

Imposing upon them 

The most 



And oppressive behavior,

Until they can’t wait

For you to 

To disappear.


The bad news is

There are no


And there is no cure.

Any number of palliatives  

Among them

Cognitive Therapy




And Avalokiteshvara


May provide

Temporary relief
But the disease

Is yours

For Life.


Just when you think

You’ve got it beat

You’ll find yourself 

In the throes

Of fondling someone else’s 

Personal Identity,

Convinced it is 

Your own -

Then suddenly

You’re writhing on the floor 

Or rushing out the door


With Possessiveness


And Revenge.

Being everywhere 

And irresistible

This plague

Will ravage you

Again and again

and again

Leaving you 

Permanently disabled

Drained, depressed

And confused


Its seed is legion

And it masquerades

As that which it destroys.


Few can withstand

That cuddly deceiver 

Who claims

To fill the void

And erase

The possibility

That you are

Some kind of Misfit

Caught in your own

Lonely Hell

While a million 

Happy Others

Are laughing at you

From their private

Gated Heaven

Where you

Can never go


Having raved 

In the throes of 

This vile delirium

More times

Than I can count,

I can tell you from experience:

It’s not a one-time affair

Like the chickenpox

Once you’re infected –

And you will be –

You can get it


And over

And over

Until you die of it

And some people



But don’t worry

If it doesn’t kill you

It is reputed  

To impart

Useful lessons –

Although I can’t say yet


What they are.

Especially if you

Are one of us



You will have to endure

Endless terrifying 

And boring 


Before you learn

To change

Your life.



There’s no way to avoid it

And nowhere to hide -

It leaps the walls

Of nunneries and monkeries,

Hones in on hermits

In caves and treetops 

Finds defiant single folk

Hiding in mansions 

Or in hovels

Even lonely scientists

Seeking uninfected life on 

Other planets and 

At the bottom

Of the sea.


No matter who 

Or where 

You are

This devil will find you,

Knock you flat 

Hold you down

And torture you

Until you die

With those same

Infuriating riddles

still unsolved:

Who am I?

Where am I going?

And Why????

No pill will impart 

That wisdom,

No university degree,

No shopping spree.

Some say you’ll find 

The answer

If you step off that 

Cliff over there 

Into who knows where -


There are reports

That the ride

Can be quite pleasant

Though most 

Wouldn’t take the leap

To save their hair.


But Who knows?

One way or another

Everyone has to die

And I’m getting tired 

Of this drama

It might be worth a try.

If someday you feel 

The same 

Perhaps then

I’ll meet you there

Both of us falling 


And giddy

Down down down

Through the deep 

Blue air