NewVerse News publishes poetry dealing with current events. Most publications take months to read, select, and publish. But NewVerse News shares writers’ immediate reactions to political and social happenings. Yesterday they published my poem “The Supreme Court Justices Go to the Garage”, which was inspired by the much-celebrated legal decision upholding the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It is dedicated to a courageous and talented friend, Erica P.
The blue work shirt. The logo for City Motors Then her name The name which used to be Jim embroidered over the left breast The left breast which used to be flatter The voice, which used to be deeper. Oh, they teased, those other mechanics, put tampons in the tool box. wrote Jennifer in brake fluid| under the lift, on the toilet mirror. The garage owner, ticked off, weighing the trouble yet knowing Jennifer was good, better than good, reliable, on time, quick to figure out the rattle, the hum, the tinny sound that the others missed. Jennifer, not Jim. Now holding up her head. Doing her job. The shirt. The name. The breast. The voice. A turn of the wrench, a law upheld.
A multi-media issue of Rockvale Review features two of my poems: Friend: Submerged and Talking Not in Turkish. The theme of the issue is communication….right up my alley! Artist Henry Jones paired his artwork with each poem. In addition, Friend: Submerged was selected for a musical response. Musician Jeff Byers composed original music inspired by the poem. I am deeply honored.
When Ayse’s mother comes from Turkey, we speak to each other with our eyes, iris to iris, lens to lens. Sometimes Ayse translates, but mostly she’s busy with other guests, passing out baklava, pouring tea. The Pearl and I sit side by side, no language between us. Mostly we grin. Or we link arms, or hug, or pat each other on the shoulder. Her cheeks smell of rose water, minarets, the sea. She wears long skirts and a silky hijab that ripples when she prays. I wonder what she thinks of my tight black leggings, my skeptical faith. We’re both former teachers, confident in our voices, older matriarchs who can’t help seeing the big picture yet each hides worries from her grown children, each mutters hopes that they may be safe from harm. How do I know this? Because I know. We often spend the evening without a word, just breathing in each other’s presence. Once we tried using one of those apps that translate from one tongue to another, each of us pecking away on Ayse’s Ipad, spelling out our points of view, tidbits of opinion, but after the novelty wore off, we went back to our beloved silence, the squeeze of the palm, and the quiet veil of friendship.
After her stroke, all droop and slack, her words came out in a gurgle of drowning, as if she were under water. Her grey head, barely visible above the hospital pillows, tended to bob a bit, like a gull on the waves. “You’re looking well,” I’d lie. Then I’d lean in and kiss her moist forehead. Her face would lopside into smile. I’d sit by her bed and listen as best I could. She’d mouth vowels like a fish, the puck of her lips pulled down over the consonants. Her voice would rise and fall, tide-like, but I’d understand almost nothing. Straining my ears, I’d search for familiar sounds buoys of sense, fog horns in a dark cove. Once, I think, she admired my scarf She reached out for the aubergine silk. with her good arm, her blood-shot eye drawn to color Whenever I visited, I couldn’t help feeling as if the two of us were scuba divers, floating like jelly fish, thirty meters under the sea. She’d try to speak, and I’d grab her hands, and we’d submerge deeper, far from the surface of conversation, down, down, to the place where life is purely love and fluid, where survival depends on gesture, the tug of the hose, the fingers talking, oxygen flowing, an unspoken trust.
Eastern Iowa Review and PortYonder Press just produced an anthology called All Things Anne (of Green Gables). My short story Akage appears in its pages. The setting for Akage is Japan, not Prince Edward Island, but maybe you can guess what the title means.
The fertility doctor had told Midori that time was running out. In his opinion, she should try to conceive within a year. Certainly before next summer.
When she explained the facts to
her husband, Masashi, he didn’t seem all that surprised.
“We married late,” he said, “It
stands to reason that we are racing the clock.”
Masashi was a consulting
engineer at Mitsubishi, known for his perfectly knotted tie and his devotion to
the company. He was nearly forty, with slightly stooped posture from sitting
too long at his desk. He assured his wife that he understood the parameters of
the baby problem.
Midori, herself, after hearing the doctor’s opinion, got on
the bus as soon as she finished her job tutoring at the Total Language School
near Shinjuku. She
went all the way to the Kokubunji
Temple, where she stood in front of one of the smaller altars, and
clapped her hands together and bowed her head.
“O, Kami-sama, I
want a baby so bad. Please. This year. As soon as possible.”
She was a petite woman, with pale
skin and beautiful black hair cut in a careful bob. Standing there at the
altar, in her fashionable autumn coat the color of persimmons, she looked
younger than her years. She would be thirty-eight in July.
Later, at the temple store, she
bought a good-luck amulet for fertility.
She was not used to praying,
so, after a few weeks, she wondered if the gods had turned a deaf ear because
she had been so blunt. Perhaps she should have said “please” with a greater
degree of politeness.
Masashi suggested she buy a
She started to confide in a few
friends about her dilemma. How she was now monitoring her body temperature. How
she was obsessing over the calendar.
“I’m losing hope,” she said to
one of her closer colleagues, an Australian woman named Jennifer.
““Why don’t you try a more
relaxed approach?” suggested Jennifer.
She was smiling broadly,
looking as if she were about to tell a joke. The gangly Australian teacher had
two rows of large teeth, like a stallion, and a twinkle around her eyes. Midori
grew very still.
The two colleagues were sitting
in the lunchroom. The air smelled of rice balls, hand-soap, and
felt-tipped markers. In the
background they could hear the voices, in different languages, of other tutors
still working with private students in the cubicles.
Jennifer’s face lost its smile.
She stared at Midori and continued her advice.
“Don’t try so hard,” she
said, “Chill out. Re-live your honeymoon.”
Midori looked surprised/.
“Our honeymoon? You mean return
to Prince Edward Island? That would cost a fortune,” said Midori.
Five years ago, she and Masashi
had taken a once-in-a-lifetime tour all the way from Tokyo to Toronto, then on
to the Maritime Provinces, with their final destination being the home of Anne
of Green Gables. Like so many Japanese, Midori admired the
little orphan they all called Akage
no Anne, the redheaded Anne.
“Oh, you don’t have to go to
the same place,” said Jennifer. “Just re-create the atmosphere.”
But how could Midori and
Masashi recreate the wind blowing along the bluffs of that magical spot? How
could they recreate the Haunted Wood or the wildflowers blooming in August?
“Look,” said Jennifer, who
spoke with an openness that Midori found both shocking and admirable. “You
don’t need Prince Edward Island, you’ve got hundreds of charming islands right
here in Japan. Pick one and go away for a weekend.”
Midori tried to explain. It
wasn’t just that PEI was charming. It was imbued with Anne’s spirit. Both she
and Masashi were able to feel it. It was in the air and in the grass and in the
sky. It was in the little red-headed Anne actresses who replayed scenes from
the books and stood outside the hotels. It was in the carriage rides offered to
tourists. She and Masashi had felt so happy there. For those few days, it was as
if Anne’s way of being was just another commodity in the world, available to
“Well, daydreaming about a storybook is not going to bring
you a baby,” said Jennifer, and she picked up her bento box and excused
On one level, Midori knew that
Jennifer, with her quick remarks and her forthright opinions, was absolutely
Daydreaming didn’t help.
a quiet weekend with Masashi will do the trick, she
said to herself, picking at her tamagoyaki, but
not actually eating it.
A few days later, she brought
up the idea of an island getaway with Masashi. He was reluctant at first,
because he was in the middle of a big project at Mitsubishi. He didn’t want to
travel too far from the office.
They ended up booking a ryokan on the
island of Enoshima, just a short train ride from their apartment in Tokyo. The
inn had crisp white sheets, a beautiful cedar bathtub, and a view of the
Lighthouse. Sagami Bay was not the Lake of Shining Waters, but it was pretty
They passed a perfectly pleasant
weekend there, lingering over breakfast, visiting the caves, standing on the
sandy beach until the sun set.
Unfortunately, in spite of
Enoshima’s attractions, the little marker on the home pregnancy test kit stayed
in the negative zone.
Then, one day, as Midori and
Jennifer were again having lunch in the faculty room at Total Language,
Jennifer casually brought up the idea of adoption.
“There are lots of babies in
the world who need homes,” she said. “Or older children, even.”
Midori didn’t know any
adoptees. Except those called Mukoyoushi, who
were adults adopted by families to protect business interests. Adoption of
children wasn’t at all a popular custom in Japan.
But the Australian friend
“Your little Anne, for example.
Wasn’t she adopted?”
Midori sighed. Yes, that was
true. The carrot-haired girl’s parents had died of typhoid. She had been in and
out of orphanages, living with Mrs. Thomas and later with the Hammond family until
the Cuthberts had taken her in.
But still, Midori wasn’t sure
what Jennifer was suggesting. Midori sat and stared at the tamagoyaki on
her plate, but didn’t make a move to eat it.
Jennifer said, “Ne?”, with her best
Japanese intonation and then waited for some kind of acknowledgement from
“I don’t know,” said Midori.
“I mean,” said Jennifer,
growing feistier, “ I think it must be a beautiful thing to open your arms to a
baby who needs a home.”
Midori raised up her eyebrows
and stared at Jennifer.
“Look how well your Anne turned
out, right?” continued Jennifer.
“Well, my Anne, as you call
her, wasn’t a baby when she arrived at Green Gables. She was eleven years old.”
Midori’s voice was shaking a
“But she was still lovable,
right?” said Jennifer.
The two women sat in silence
for a while.
In her mind, Midori turned over
the pages of her favorite book. She thought about how the saucy little Anne
wasn’t so lovable in Marilla’s eyes. Not at first. Nor did she make a good
impression on the neighbors. And yet, little by little, Anne Shirley won
everyone her over to her side.
Midori thought, too, about the
whole idea of disappointment. How Marilla and Mathew had asked the orphanage
for a boy, not a girl. How sometimes life doesn’t bring us what we want, or
expect, or think we need.
That night she slept poorly. At
one point she even dreamed that Akage
no Anne showed up at her door. The child was wearing a starched
pinafore with purple jam stains all over it; her red tresses were flying away
in six directions. Midori took a brush and said to the dreamy creature, “Here,
let me fix your hair.” When she woke up, the sensation of smoothing down those
long red locks remained on her fingertips.
Midori and Masashi went on one
or two other relaxed weekends during the winter, but after a while, the idea
seemed pointless and Masashi took to returning to his office on Saturday
afternoons and staying late into the night.
Midori decided to put the home
pregnancy kit in the back of the bathroom medicine cabinet. She had grown tired
of checking it.
Every day she went to work, bought
groceries, and came home. She never took the bus out to Kokubunji anymore.
At work, she and Jennifer
talked about the weather in Tokyo, how rainy the spring was, how the cherry
blossoms would be late. There was no mention of babies, adopted or otherwise.
In the quiet of the evening, with
her husband still at the office, Midori would find herself staring off into
space, comforting herself by watching a film, listening to music, or leafing
through books, including her old battered copy of Anne
of Green Gables.
One night, she got to thinking
about all the happiness that had come to Marilla and Mathew with Anne’s
many good things, thought Midori.
Her chin started to tremble,
then she wept uncontrollably. When Masashi came home he found his wife curled
up on the sofa. Her beautiful bobbed hair was stringy and tousled. There were
dozens of balled-up paper tissues at her feet, a half-eaten bowl of soup on the
low table, the television was illuminated, but silenced.
He took her in his arms, and they
It was actually Masashi who
took the first steps. He did thorough research, something he found easy to do.
Then he called an agency and made an appointment for both of them to speak to one
of the adoption counselors.
In his careful, precise way,
Masashi double-checked every page of the complex application.
It was not legal to specify
gender. And there was no box to request red hair.
The Comstock Review is pretty amazing. They’ve been publishing since 1986, as a non-profit organization, devoted to poets and poetry. I’m honored to have my work appear in their Spring/Summer 2019 issue.
If I’m the one to go first, I’ll try to remember to leave something on the edge of the crevasse, my gloves so you can remember the shape of my hands, a small candy heart, that photo of the two of us by the Swiss lake.
But if you are the one who leaves first, how will I continue the climb alone? Of course I can figure out the poles and crampons, the tricky compass. The technicalities are not the problem.
It will be the absence of footprints, the slap of frost, no warm breath.
Red Wolf Journal recently asked writers to create a poem “borrowed” in theme or language from a famous poem. I’m delighted that they chose my poem”Bedpan for Icarus” which was inspired by W.H. Auden’s work “Musée des Beaux Arts“.
You might recognize the opening lines. But the rest of the work is my own take on his theme. Auden’s poem means a lot to me because I kept reciting it in my head as my mother was dying. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that she passed away long before Dancing With The Stars existed. (She would not have been a fan!)
About suffering they were never wrong. The Old Masters. How well they understood its human position, how it takes place when someone else is just scarfing down a burrito, or adjusting their earbuds.
When my mother lay dying, her heart skipping beats, her pulse losing rhythm, the nurses stood in the hallway, outside her room, chatting normally, taking bets on “Dancing With the Stars”, ordering Mexican food for dinner.
Mother could have been Icarus, falling from the sky, Icarus needing a bedpan. I shook my fist at the nurses through the hospital curtain.
And yet, I should have known, we all turn away, quite leisurely, from disaster, just as Breughel drew. We run our eyes down the screen, clicking even as the typhoon hits, the mosque is bombed, the small child drowns in the Rio Grande. We hear the splash. We gulp and shake our heads, maybe mutter a prayer. And then, quite calmly, we move on.
Red Wolf Journal also recently accepted another one of my “borrowed” poems. “Grounded:Seventh Day” was inspired by Wallace Steven’s famous “Sunday Morning.”
Complacencies of the sweatpants, and a late latte, and those really good blood oranges from Trader Joe’s. Stretched out on the couch, pecking at the tablet like a cockatoo, in the holy hush of NPR, with the news shrunk and week-end withered, and then, later, after the laundry’s done, a few hours along the river, barely a job, the day like wide water without sound, not even church bells or a call to prayer, disinterested in sacrifice or sepulcher, just grounded on the soft moist earth holding the entire bickering planet in the Light.
I’ve long been fascinated by the Canadian painter and writer, Emily Carr. Who wouldn’t admire a woman who went off – in 1898 – by herself – to stay in aboriginal villages in British Columbia? She was a daring Modernist artist, Canada’s answer to Georgia O’Keefe. At the same time, she was a staunch environmentalist before most people knew the word or understood the concept.
Today, Aji Magazine (pronounced Ah-hee) published a poem of mine about this amazing artist in their “Emerald Issue”. http://ajimagazine.com
Brushed: Emily Carr
No one asked her to come. She just came. To Cumshewa, To Haida Gwaii. To The Islands of the People. A leather satchel, wrinkled like an old woman’s nose, stuffed with tubes of pthalo blue, camel hair brushes, old rags. A dented frying pan, blackened by beans, hung onto the slope of her horse’s back like a metal tail.
She was there to paint the hidden woods and waters, to sweep the mines of aqua and marine. Her arrival stirred the native sons, who narrowed their eyes and hid behind the virgin firs at her first approach. But the elders knew sacred when they saw it and praised the transparent quiet of the stranger’s step.
At night she bedded down alone on the forest floor letting the wolves speak to her, fauve to fauve. By day, with hurried strokes, she copied the beryl pond, the turquoise lakes, the blue-green domes. Before the loggers slashed, before soapsuds curdled streams, she stashed emeralds onto canvas, none too soon.
I’m just back from Montreal where I participated in the launch of My Island, My City, a collection of new work from forty different writers, sponsored by Montreal’s own Lawn Chair Soirée and edited by Jan Jorgensen. I was delighted to have my poem Skatingto China included in this anthology.
If you don’t know Montreal (one of my favorite cities in the world!) you might like a bit of an explanation.
The quick facts are:
1)Montreal is really an island in the huge Saint Lawrence River.
2) Jacques Cartier arrived in the area around 1538 (think about that for a minute!).
3) He was certain that China lay beyond the rapids blocking his further passage. The area south of the city became known as Lachine (China) and still bears that name.
4). Eventually, around 1821, they built a canal to bypass the rapids.
5). You can bike, walk or rollerblade along this now refurbished canal path.
6). It’s really fun to skate to China.
Skating to China
It’s not that hard, even for an old lady with bunions and a bad knee. Bring water. Start at the Vieux Port and just keep going. A few kilometers or so. It’s mostly flat, except for a few dips below the highways. If you’re too chicken to fly downhill, take off your blades and waddle under the Décarie in your SmartWools alone. Cyclists, with their lime green jerseys, will buzz past you like flies. But pay no attention to speed. Put your skates back on again and continue Notice how a city, too, takes its time. Getting rooted, decaying, rising again. See here the graffiti, the crumbling walls, the edge of Montreal unfurling. Then the greenery, the new and tidy condos, the canal reborn. All along, the wild smell of the sea will follow you, floating on the Saint Lawrence like the feather of a gull. There will be wind and boats and birds and all things marvelous, which you might have temporarily forgotten even existed, but now you remember, and you’ll want to hold them inside you, even as you leave them behind. When you arrive in LaChine, remember why it’s called LaChine. Turn around. Skate home
The Alaska Writer Laureate, Peggy Shumaker, provided the poem prompt for the spring issue of Willawaw. The prompt was Parenthood, Unplanned. I’m honored that two of my poems, Edelweiss, and Nest, appear in this issue.
Mother was always the oldest of mothers. The gray chignon, the lace-up Oxfords, the little metal cart she pushed back and forth to the Blue Goose Market because she never learned to drive. The other mothers kept their hair short, so practical for playing tennis, riding in convertibles, quick showers after a swim.
Mother, as the oldest of mothers, was a bath person. The hard-milled soaps, imported from France, the shrimp-colored girdle dropped onto the tile floor. Sometimes she’d let me sit, as a little girl, on the edge of the tub, and I’d stare at the flat crepes of her breasts, the two or three hairs growing on her shins like thistle. Did I come from that body? I would ask. Yes, she would say, you were a bloom in the desert.
Mother was always the oldest of mothers. Not frail exactly, but the old country was in her bones.Something slightly brittle. Given to fretting: wet socks, drafts, sniffles, prunes. Frugal, too, she was, because there had been a war. She knew people who had eaten shoe leather, put sawdust in their bread. She could not bear to watch me toss a half-eaten apple into the trash. So much waste in America, she would scoff.
Mother, as the oldest of mothers, didn’t like surprises. The questionable report card, the note from the teacher. It was best to prepare her. She had already suffered the ultimate shock, the one that turned her auburn hair the color of ash. Once she told me how she thought the doctor had been joking. But then you appeared, she said, the edelweiss in my winter.
She was the grandmother, after all, so she had little choice. But they were a handful, those two brothers, sullen as sin, given to the surreptitious pinch, the bully stare.
She had brought them home from out West, two little disruptions to her cozy retirement. One was eight, with scrawny limbs like a toddler.The other was six, with cheeks pale as chalk.
Their mother was long gone. Some said a half-way house, she was messed up, that girl. Others thought Las Vegas, a so-called ranch, the legal kind with doctors.
The grandmother said little, except, perhaps, a prayer under her breath. Neighbors whispered that she, herself, had once been a nun, or a yogini. Who else would have such patience?
She must have known that nothing would change overnight. Doors would still be kicked in from time to time, rocks thrown. The kitten would be tortured, its paws bound with rubber bands.
First came Cleanliness, a nightly bath, the banishment of lice. Godliness would have to wait while she cured the scarlet scabs of impetigo and taught them how to wash their necks.
For afternoon snacks, she insisted on apples, cut into fourths, or whole-wheat cookies that tasted like dust, but she was not above a little bag of M&M’s for chores well done.
That first summer, she pointed out Venus rising in the evening sky, The Pleiades falling above their heads, the velvet bats flapping around the street lamps, the natural rhythms.
All her efforts. They won’t make any difference to those kids, said the neighbors.
In the spring,she took them to see the nest, waking the boys each day at dawn, showing them how to focus the field glasses on the wisps of straw,the fragile eggs.
One morning two little birds, barely feathered, cracked through the shells. The boys watched as the mother bird chewed the worms herself before dropping them into the gaping baby mouths.
In time the boys would understand about hunger and nests and the natural order of things. For now, all she could give them was the safety of the morning meadow, and the future hope of flight.
The Compassion Anthology is a beautiful collection of writing about disasters, refugees, loss. I find it both uplifting and inspiring. I’m honored to have one of my poems included in the latest edition. Please read below:
Where did the tortoise go when the winds blew? Did he pull his scaly head inside his shell and ride it out?
Where did the tortoise go when the rains came? Did he get plunged down the ravine like a life-less stone?
When the dock sank, when the church lost its roof, when the porch of the market was sucked into the salt pond…
Where was the tortoise?
Did he dig down into the earth itself, his mouth bloated with mud, his small heart nesting against the roots of the baobab? Afterwards, no one thought about him. Not at first. Not when there were men stunned and peeing their khaki shorts, women wandering in circles, twisting their hair, unable to speak. Not even later when folks began making their way through the jungle of downed wires, splintered shutters, hijacked hulls. Now and then coming upon surprises.
A toy bear, soggy, but recognizable. A wedding dress, its lace intact. A bottle of Heineken, unbroken.
But where was the tortoise?
No one knew. No one cared.
And then, in time, everyone lining up like dung beetles, seeking water, signals, familiar faces, those chalky packets of Red Cross food, ever-welcome, even so. And little by little, a carapace of the old life emerged from the rubble, and the tortoise emerged too.
He was last seen crawling along the Coral Bay Road, his house on his back. Slow as usual, but undeterred.
You might also like to check out the CHARTER FOR COMPASSION with which this anthology is affiliated. This is a document which urges the peoples and religions of the world to embrace the core value of compassion, inspired by Karen Armstrong, the writer and religious scholar.http://www/charterforcompassion.org It is available in thirty languages and embraces forty-five countries around the world.