The British magazine Waterhouse Review published this short story “Cerebellum Plural” in 2012.

Cerebellum, plural.

Dillon started to chew the nail on his index finger while he was waiting for his lunch date to show up. Twenty minutes went by. Half an hour. He sat there, mouse-like, gnawing and waiting. Then, when the woman finally phoned to say that she’d be there shortly, he suddenly felt the need to check his outfit one more time. The last woman had suggested he iron his shirt. This time, he had even sent the shirt to the dry cleaner. He had polished his shoes. He thought he had better make sure his fly was zipped. Just as he lifted his head up, the lunch date walked by the restaurant window, heading for the front door. She was tall, with loosely curled brown hair, and she was wearing the agreed-upon green jacket. She looked even more attractive in person than she did in the photo she had posted on the We’re So Smart dating website, a matchmaking service restricted to graduates of elite universities.

She looks like a Fragonard, thought Dillon. Or maybe a Watteau. He had taken art history as an elective, but he always confused those two.

“I went to the wrong place,” said the Fragonard look-alike, breathlessly, as she approached his table. “I had it in my head that your email said, “Sergio’s” not “La Tarantella.”

Dillon smiled and told her not to worry, but then he could think of nothing else to add. Nothing. Even though he had practiced that very morning, while shaving, many of the conversational “ice-breakers” proposed by We’re So Smart. He rose slightly and fumbled to shake Miss Fragonard’s hand, then realized she had already tossed off her green jacket and seated herself so that his outstretched hand practically brushed her left breast. He felt his face grow warm. She was wearing a scooped neck blouse, with the straps of a camisole exposed at the top. From her earlobes dangled small jade earrings. He quickly sat back down and gulped.

He told himself to make eye contact, to resist the urge to stare at the tablecloth. The last person he had met through We’re So Smart had observed that his eye contact was a little sketchy. She had actually used the word sketchy, which Dillon had first taken as a compliment. Sketchy like a Durer print, he had thought, until she explained what she meant in one final caustic email.

Dillon clamped his eyes onto Miss Fragonard, or was it Miss Watteau? Blue. Her eyes were blue, he told himself. Not quite periwinkle, but definitely towards that end of the spectrum. Pervanche. No, they were Cornflower. Kornblume, as the Germans say. Or azul. What exactly was azul? Dillon’s mind flittered here and there among languages. Then he began to wonder how his own eyes appeared. Were his glasses clean? Perhaps they were smudged. Hadn’t he wiped them this morning?

He still could think of nothing to say aloud.

The woman looked directly at Dillon with her bright blue eyes. She smiled. Then she gave a toss of her head, and glanced around the restaurant.

“This looks like a nice place,” she said, cheerfully, as the waiter dropped off two menus.

He agreed.

She mentioned her fondness for Italian food, which led her to describe a trip to Milan last spring, where she had given an academic paper. Dillon managed to nod and acknowledge that he, too, enjoyed Italy. He had gone once to Florence during university and then again three years ago, right before his thirty-sixth birthday. The trip was a gift from his parents. Miss Fragonard/Watteau raised one perfectly arched eyebrow, and asked if Dillon still lived with his parents. He assured her that he did not.

The waiter reappeared at the table wondering if they were ready to order. The woman asked the waiter to describe the house salad, in detail. Dillon couldn’t take his eyes off the perfect row of white teeth which were visible when she said the word “insalata”. The waiter, his pen poised, turned to Dillon. In all this time, Dillon had not even looked at the menu. He quickly zeroed in on the first item he saw printed at the top of the page. Scungilli Rusticana. Only much later did he remember he was a bit frightened of squid.

“Oh, you’re adventurous,” she said. “I’m just going with what I know. “

Dillon grinned, thrilled to be called adventurous. He stammered out a protest, but she continued.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you like adventure. You must go on a lot of digs, in exotic places. That’s pretty wild.”

He had never really thought of his work as adventurous. Most of it took place in dusty libraries or in the caverns of museums. But she maintained otherwise.

“It’s a quest, right?”

He had to agree.

“And what exactly did you say your specialty was?” she continued. “Neo-Sumerian history?”

Dillon was delighted that she recalled this bit of information from his written profile. A good sign, he told himself. It means she was interested. In him. In his work. He asked, hesitatingly, if she had ever heard of Tappeh Sialk. She shook her head. He wanted to tell her all about his research. But, suddenly, all he could think about was his thinning hair. He wondered if he should have parted it on the other side. Was his male pattern baldness that obvious? Would she take it as a sign of his virility? His mind whirred. He had been an archeological historian for fifteen years, but he couldn’t even come up with the names of the two Frenchmen who had excavated Tappeh Sialk. For some reason, he found himself talking about archeological brushes. When he realized he wasn’t making a lot of sense, he grew silent.

“May I have a breadstick?” she suddenly asked, breaking his reverie. She leaned over to take one of the breadsticks propped up in a pottery mug. He caught a whiff of her perfume, or maybe it was her deodorant. She smelled like a field in Provence, or maybe just like the lavender sachets his mother used to stick in her bureau drawer.

“You had mentioned something about the ziggurat at Tappeh Sialk, “ she continued, delicately snapping the breadstick with her perfectly white teeth.

The ziggurat. Of course. Considered, by some, the world’s oldest ziggurat. In Iran. A special site. But when he thought of the word site, his mind went back to the dating site where he had found her. We’re So Smart. He started to think about the logo, two cerebellums entwined around two hearts.

Then he suddenly remembered one of the We’re So Smart guidelines: Conversation should be like ping-pong, going back and forth.

 

He realized that he needed to ask her about her own field.

Polymers.

She was happy to describe her work. “Although I’m not married to it, “ she said with a laugh. She described her doctoral thesis and then her research. He nodded vigorously, but he had to admit that he had forgotten a lot of advanced chemistry. He had only a vague idea of what she was talking about. When she mentioned that her particular interest was recyclable carbohydrate polymers, his mind again went elsewhere. To carbohydrates, plain and simple. The kind he ate. In great quantity, too much of the time. Chips. Biscuits. Chocolate Box Cake. He couldn’t stop thinking about his paunch, flopping its way over the top of his chinos. Had she noticed when he stood to greet her? He tried to suck in his stomach, but gave up when he realized that his belly was now quite hidden by the table itself.

When the main course came, she dug into her insalata and Chicken Diablo. Dillon watched her lips grow redder with blotches of tomato sauce. He took his fork and moved the rubbery scungilli around on his plate.

“You’re kind of quiet, aren’t you, Dillon?” she asked, sponging up the last of the sauce with a slice of ciabatta.

He wanted to assure her that he would talk more once he felt comfortable. But he couldn’t think of a way to say it. He made a brief comment about still waters running deep. Did that sound haughty? Was it too much of a cliché? He hoped it didn’t come from the Bible. No, surely it didn’t. He lowered his head and studied the dessert menu in silence.

Neither one ordered coffee. The waiter left them to split the check, as We’re So Smart suggested. He watched her reach for her purse. The jade earrings swayed like little pendulums. Penduli. Latin I, prep school. Neuter noun. Dillon suddenly could see the declensions in an old textbook, right next to a drawing of a naked Roman goddess, over which some previous student had declined the word “boobs” in indelible ink. Plural. Feminine. Boobae, boobarum,boobis,boobas, and so on.

He wondered if he should ask her about going to the movies. Or to a concert. For their next date.

She got up, pulled on her jacket and buttoned it across her chest. He looked down at his own hands, noticed the bitten off fingernails, and stuck his hands in his pockets. Then they walked to the door together. It had started to rain, so they lingered a minute under La Tarantella’s pink canopy while she took a fold-up umbrella from her bag. She shook his hand, and ran off, her long legs deftly avoiding the puddles.

Later she emailed him, “I don’t think there’s any chemistry here (I’m a chemist, I should know LOL) but it was really nice to meet you. I wish you the best of luck with your research and your search.”

Dillon thought back to her last comment about his being quiet.   He knew that he should have given a better answer. He should have said that he was actually quite talkative, a regular moulin à paroles, as the French say. A windmill of words. He should have told her that he was restraining himself so as not to overwhelm her. Then he might have aced the date.

If you are hungry, or if you have a sweet tooth….don’t read this! This poem was read on NPR’s The Faith Middleton Show in October 8, 2011.

IMG_0007

Dessert Time

Are the old desserts lonely these days?

The Chiffon Pie, the Southern Ambrosia?

Do they talk among themselves, sweetly reminiscing,

or are they plotting revenge, counting the hours

when the come-back cupcakes of the moment

will lose their appeal like aging movie stars?

Think about the brief flame of Crêpes Suzette,

the meteor shower of baked Alaska,

the volcano of Chocolate Molten Lava.

Where are they now, those desserts abandoned,

the Boston Cream Pie masquerading as cake,

the sopranic Peach Melba, silenced by time?

Has any one seen, lately, the magic inversion of

Pineapple Upside Down

all woozy with brown sugar?

I wonder if Tiramisu is still standing upright?

Or has she taken a seat, like a wallflower,

next to the Blondies that once flirted

as if there were no tomorrow?

Who remembers Nesselrode Pie,

gooey charmer of yesterday?

Who wouldn’t root for her embrace,

or at least a brief buss on the cheek?

Life being short,

sweetness is needed,

if only to woo us silly at the end of the meal.

Bring on the Mont Blanc, the Bavarian Cream.

Don’t we all deserve another chance?

An essay entitled “R.U.There, Marcel Proust?” appeared in The Christian Science Monitor in December, 2011

www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/The…/2011/…/R-U-there-Marcel-Proust

R.U. THERE, MARCEL PROUST?

Memory triggers, à la Proust, are going the way of the daguerreotype. Or the Polaroid. Even as we marvel at technology, we might wonder about the future of “Madeleine moments”. So much of our world appears in the same resolution in the same format on the same screen. What unique stimuli will grab us and take us back in time?

I looked at one of our old family photo albums recently. Maroon leather, black pages, and those little paper corners to hold the photos in place. Just touching the worn cover, I am brought back to a day when I was about seven years old. I had tiptoed into the inner sanctum of my mother’s bedroom, where the album was kept in a trunk at the back of the closet. My mother is sitting in front of a mirrored vanity, scenting herself from an atomizer of Shalimar. My mother gets up. I can still hear the creak of the hinge when she opens the trunk and takes out the precious album. She folds me into the crook of her arm as we turn the pages.

As an adult, I keep our family photos organized by date and subject into “albums” and “events” on my computer, synchronized with my smart phone. Kids at Halloween. Trip to Turks and Caicos. Always available. There are literally thousands of digital images, but few of them tingle my senses. None of them is etched into my mind in the same way as the three (!) sepia-tinged, girlhood photos of my mother, all taken at a photographer’s studio.

And what about maps?

“Time to look at the map,” my father would say, on our annual car trip to visit cousins in New Hampshire.

“ Do you mean the map with the coffee stain around Nashua or the other one that’s missing part of Massachusetts? “ I would ask. I took my job as navigator seriously.

“Either one, “my father would answer. Even today, just seeing the words Rand McNally can evoke the soft gray upholstery of my father’s 1956 Packard. Sitting between my parents on the wide front seat, I’d reach over to the glove compartment, pungent with the smell of the anise-flavored Pine Brother’s cough drops my father kept there.

Will our grandchildren fondly recall the voice of the GPS system stating “You have arrived.”

My mother in law’s recipe for brownies was typed on a little blue Aerogram. I had asked her to mail it to me when I was first married and living abroad. My husband was nostalgic for American brownies, the super fudgy kind.

I came across that Aerogram recently in a bulging file of recipes. It has chocolate fingerprints on it. My own and my children’s. Upon holding it in my hand, I breathe in and immediately recall the damp smell of our Swiss apartment, the yellow ceramic baking pan in the kitchen, the sound of the landlady beating her rugs.

I keep a lot of recipes now on my computer. It’s neat and convenient. But these perfectly alphabetized recipes don’t take me on any surprising journeys into the past. Not one of them compares to finding scribbled directions for Clafoutis, written by a neighbor in the middle of a book club meeting. Or the mimeographed recipe for Pumpkin Tea Bread which was provided by my son’s Kindergarten teacher and used every Thanksgiving since.

I won’t even talk about letters. Onion-skin missives from my beloved older brother, scrawled hastily while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force. I find one in a box in the attic. The return addresses come back to me in a flash. Or postcards from my first boyfriend with views of Cornell University and Lake Cayuga. Turning one of those over brings me back to the summer before that sweet young man left for college. His lips were chapped from working in the hot sun as a golf caddy. His neck smelled of soap.

Today I text my own granddaughter and she responds. “C U SOON, GRAN.” My message back is “personalized” with a photo and my electronic signature and LUV 2 U. She knows that I miss her, but she doesn’t know about all the other epistolary things I miss.   Children’s notes written with waxy crayons, exotic postmarks, cartoons and dried flowers stuffed into envelopes.

When Proust’s narrator tasted the Madeleine, he was transported back to Combray. But what about a photo of the traditional cookie, compressed into a JPEG, reproducible at 300 pixels per inch, would that have done the trick?

RU THERE PHoto

A short-short entitled “Tinsel” appeared in The Citron Review 2011

http://citronreview.com/2011/06/07/tinsel/

TINSEL

We shouldn’t be surprised. Not really. It was there in all the old photos. You can see it.   The hollow core. Sure, the lips are stretched into a smile while she was mugging for daddy’s camera, happy balloons surrounding the chair, one fork hovering above a frosted cake, but there, at the corner of her mouth, where the cheek and grin meet, it’s perfectly visible. Not in the early shots, of course. But a dozen chocolate icings later, you can see it, if you look.

What do you mean you never looked? Or do you mean you look and turn away? Because you can’t bear it?   Or are you just taken in by the Anne Hathaway dresses, all velvety and sweet? We never had those. Sure, she was spoiled, but that doesn’t change anything.

We both know that things were easier by the time she came along. I mean financially easier. Papa working at the bank, his own secretary, Momma with that little fur she kept in a vault at Beidermeyer’s, and her hair set each week at that beauty parlor down town. They could afford a new baby by then. And Momma and Papa loved her to pieces. Momma said she was a gift. A late season baby.

I have to say that I was crazy about her from the minute Momma brought her home, dusty with talcum powder, before they knew that talc was bad for babies. Her neck smelled sweet like corn. “This is my new sister,” I told my high school friends. You were already in college. Wagging tongues thought she might have been yours. Or mine. I was sixteen, virginal and unpopular, but you had that gorgeous red hair. People thought you were wild.

Sometimes I wonder why Jarvis Maple picked her. Of all of us. Why her?   If we look at all three of us objectively, it’s clear that you were the prettiest. She was second. And I was third. That’s all there is to it. But he picked her. He had been around all through our childhoods, right? There’s that photo of you, maybe three years old, sitting on his lap. And then another one of me, at the same age. He’s wearing a three-piece suit, a crisp white shirt. My chubby arm is resting on his cuff.   Remember the Easter candy he would bring, sometimes those decorated eggs with a hole cut out, little bunny scenes on the inside? He was there for every holiday. We called him Uncle, but he was no blood relation. Never married. He was one of the bank officers. Vice-President or something. Papa always said he owed his job, and so much more, to Mr. Maple.

So you think it’s because she was docile? That’s ridiculous. How can you say that? She was as spunky as either of us. Maybe more so. You’ve forgotten now, what she was like before. You’ve forgotten how she could stamp her foot. Or refuse to wear hair ribbons to church. She must have been six or seven. We were both out of the house by then. But I remember seeing her connive for a later bedtime, or argue for adopting another cat. I must have been home for Christmas, and I remember thinking that no one was ever going to push her around.

Sometimes I think about Jarvis Maple. It’s a good thing he’s dead. Because I would like to personally scorch his scrotum with a cigarette lighter. Or make julienne slices out of his dick with a kitchen knife.

Don’t tell me not to say things like that, for god’s sake. I’ll say whatever I goddamn feel like.

No, I don’t feel better. How can I feel better? Take a picture of her now, goddamnit. You’ll see.

What do you mean, calm down?   Ever since it all came spilling out, I can’t get it out of my mind. That goddamn Uncle. All the goddamn so-called uncles, everywhere. I start thinking about it, and that’s when I want to reach for a large, sharp instrument. The kind you might use to shuck oysters. But then I realize that Jarvis Maple is already dead. Heart attack a few years back. All the bank people at the funeral. Papa in a black suit, praying, probably, for Mr. Maple’s eternal rest.

Neither he nor Momma ever knew what happened. All those trips to the circus, the state fair. Our little sister in her Anne Hathaway dress. That goddamn son of a bitch.

So we’re the only ones who know. And we don’t really know.

I saw her the other day. She’s bat shit crazy. She’s breathing and living, but her eyes are dead. And she used to smell like talcum and sweet corn. And there were balloons and glitter and tinsel and sparkly things, and those little Easter eggs. Remember?

I was delighted to be published in Room Magazine, a Canadian publication with a great reputation. “Garbled” appear in their issue on sibling relationships in 2011

http://www.roommagazine.com/issues/siblings

Garbled

She tries to forgive the sister

who slapped her by omission

when the others were invited up

that long hot weekend

flies buzzing over the potato salad

the badminton net sagging

everyone sitting on the old webbed garden chairs

or squeezed together on the garden glider

chewing the family fat, succulent as pork,

while she was left behind like a child’s sock

under the bed.

She tries to forgive but instead

swallows her pain,

sucks on it for years

like a hard candy

and finally lets it lodge in her throat

so whenever she speaks

her voice sounds bumpy

and bruised and no one

can really understand

much of what she says

I love New Haven….it’s an amazing city. Historic, cultural, sometimes gritty, filled with talented people. This is my winning ode to my adopted town. “This Haven” appeared in the New Haven Review

thThis Haven

Back when the river was lush with oyster,

long before the Hector rounded the point,

the first tribes understood the sanctity of promise.

Through season and tide, through harvest and flood,

who knows how many oaths have been sworn or shattered

between the red rocks of this land?

Think of the Sachem giving his nod,

scratching his mark on the line next to Eaton’s,

expecting that strangers would honor their word.

Think of a colony anchored at the Meeting House,

planting its hopes on nine new squares,

trusting that the Maker would always provide.

Here, to this haven, dredged deep by courage,

came scholar and merchant, mutineer and protector.

Here, to this sanctuary, carved rich by immigrant,

came artisan and craftsman, inventor and muse.

In time, the fame of the village rippled beyond harbor.

In time, a city grew, mosaic-shaped and celebrated.

Who knows, tomorrow, what promises will be seeded

in this still new shelter

where each generation’s covenant lies entwined with the next,

broken and frayed, perfected and whole?

Continue reading I love New Haven….it’s an amazing city. Historic, cultural, sometimes gritty, filled with talented people. This is my winning ode to my adopted town. “This Haven” appeared in the New Haven Review

This poem is for sensitive men everywhere. Gendered Chrysalis appeared in Calliope, the official magazine of the Mensa association in Winter, 2010.

Winter 2011- Issue 130http://calliopeontheweb.orgHPIM0078

Gendered Chrysalis

Long before he understood much, he sensed

that when he slid out from the dark folds

of his mother’s body,

weewee unfurling like a flag,

everyone saluted his boyness.

Long before he understood much, he feared

fists and headlocks, the lunging towards his solar plexus,

all the noisy dares that defined the bullies on the playground.

Long before he understood much, he saw

that the tough ones followed siren songs into manhood,

speeding cars, war drums, drunken brawls,

the whole fire truck of adolescence

too loud for comfort.

Long before he understood much, he knew

he belonged

to those who were constantly listening,

ready to take in the fragile mewing of a small

cat under the porch, ready to marvel at the harmonics

of rain on the galvanized roof.

Long before he understood much, he reveled

in the gentle flute, the piano without pedals.

His first love was a short, gentle

sonata, tender, and never forgotten.

His second was a woman with a voice

clear as water.

Trusting his instincts, confiding

only in softer souls,

he grew into a man blessed with

perfect pitch and quiet hobbies,

still a man.