Some of My Poems


Italian Lesson
When I Wait for a Cab in the Rain
Morning Ritual
Walking in Savannah With My Landscape Architect
Low Tide
Hospital With My Sister Visiting
Pomegranate
Provisions
Tasha’s Water Bowl
Their Last House on Earth
Talismans
English as a Second Language
Dopo Cena
Pre-Elegy for John


Italian Lesson

It’s lunchtime in August. I’m standing on the corner of Duane Street
waiting to Walk. Waiting to take my Italian friend, Valentina, to Odeon.
I want to see her eat an 18 dollar hamburger.
I want to introduce her to American mustard and potato salad.
I want her to get parsley stuck between her teeth.
To hear her ask for help.
To teach her new words.
I want her to be happy, bask
in hours of air-conditioning.
I’m sweating. Hazy sky muted yellow. Fancy work shirt sticks
to my back and it’s hard to breathe.
A garbage truck passes and its loud breeze cools me.
I shake out my shirt and fan my face.
I ask her to say garbage truck in Italian.
Anything sounds beautiful in Italian, I tell her.
Camion della spazzatura, she says.
I roll the words around in my head.
Truck of trash, and remember.
I want my father back.
To hear him utter garbage truck in French. In Yiddish.
The Latin meaning: derivative.
My father spoke four languages fluently. But never Italian.
He’d add o’s to the endings of English words
and call it a day. Garbago de trucko, he’d say.
I want to hear him tell me another story.
How life in Tribeca was small then:
1942 and the Bronx Bombers had just lost the Series
and the grocer tossed him an apple each day on the way to school.
And were the streets uneven? Did he help his mother?
Cup her elbow in his hand to keep her from tripping in high heels?
I am not hungry anymore. I am waiting
for a table on West Broadway and it’s blurry and my eyes are sad.
I hear laughter from the bar. It muffles inside me.
I turn to Valentina and ask her to say two more words.
Ma dai, she pleads. Come on. I bite my lip.
How do you say, history?
How do you say, gone?

“Italian Lesson” appeared in Lumina (2004), where it won First Place in the 2004 Poetry Contest, judged by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

Back to top ^


When I Wait for a Cab in the Rain

it’s the sound of a snare drum I love. Water beads bounce and land
on the tops of air-conditioners.
It’s earth’s wish for water,
filling dry cracks
on soil and pavement.
Tulip bulbs, seedlings, tree roots
and the birds at my feeder
have learned how to drink.
We all know about parched things.
Cars splash through puddles;
sometimes our feet get drenched.
O, let this ground around us fill.
Let no one ever go thirsty again.

“When I Wait for a Cab in the Rain” first appeared in Eclipse (2005).
It now appears on Eric Kent Wine Cellars’s 2007 Freestone Pinot Noir wine label.

Back to top ^


Morning Ritual

I pull up the covers of my bedspread,
adjust pillows, spray them
with lavender and geranium,
smells of a harbor on Monhegan.
The door is open, and the window,
and I leave them that way.
A breeze blows through my curtains.
Outside, leaves from a Bottlebrush Buckeye
fall to the pavement.

“Morning Ritual” appeared in Lumina (2005).

Back to top ^


Walking in Savannah With My Landscape Architect

Daffodils unfurled, yellow signs
of rebirth bursting through
green shoots. I noticed and pointed
to the Spanish moss, impatiens
and begonias, walled gardens
of clivia and ivy.
If I always admire the weeping
willows, magnolia trees and live oaks,
I will live forever.
Everything reaches for warmth,
I whispered once,
leaning my head on his shoulder.

“Walking in Savannah With My Landscape Architect” appeared in Watershed (2006).

Back to top ^


Low Tide

How the hermit crab,
carried from stone to stone,
unbruised, moves
with the current she is given.

She knows what I know:
when to wait for stillness,
then stretch and scurry.

She can find new shelter in
driftwood and empty conches.

I wriggle my toes for warmth
and hear the thrumming
of pebbles drenched in attention
before the tide retreats.

We all wear our homes on our backs.

“Low Tide” appeared in Oberon (2006).

Back to top ^


Hospital With My Sister Visiting

It isn’t the IV line or me
at the window feeling winter at my fingers.
It isn’t the heart monitors beeping,
or vomit, bedpans, ammonia,
but the light out there – genuine
light and a large maple tree
moving in the wind.
It’s the shining of sun on certain patches
of bark harkening: orange and gold.

A white plastic bag, clean and empty,
blows across my window,
flutters from limb to limb
until it hooks a high branch
and stays put
while its body floats and fills.
I touch my swollen and throbbing face.
See, Sarah? Things hold.

“Hospital With My Sister Visiting” appeared in Illuminations, an anthology published by Celestial Arts, an imprint of Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California (2006).

Back to top ^


Pomegranate

At a fruit stand, I’m trying to examine a pomegranate: ripe or rotten? And I want to call my dad and ask him to explain everything, all over again.
Ask him where periwinkles come from. His hands cupping my five-year-old face. Let’s go find their mothers and fathers. At ten, how to clean the paintbrushes so the bristles won’t fray. I sniff the pomegranate for sweetness, freshness. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. All I really want is to make that new salad I saw on a cooking show last week. The one with a pomegranate, arugula, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and shredded dried ricotta. He’d know the difference in texture between dried ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I listen for the pit’s rattle. But he said to shake the avocado. I drop it back into its heaping pile and fish for one that isn’t too soft. A clear, red pomegranate without mold or bruises. I close my eyes and hear my dad explaining, pick before overly ripe, before they crack open, especially if they’ve been rained on. The chef on TV said to warm the fruit by rolling it between your hands to soften the insides, to ready the juice of the seeds.

“Pomegranate” appeared in Gastronomica (2007), where it was nominated for the 2007 Pushcart Prize in Poetry.

Back to top ^


Provisions

There are no facts, only interpretations.
-  Nietzsche

Does he remember? The steep hills of Eze, slow
walks on cobblestones past high walls, narrow
roadways lined in red bricks surrounding
the medieval village. A small church perched
on a narrow rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean.
Some say Nietzsche composed the last part
of Thus Spoke Zarathustra over 100 years ago under
the olive and pine trees along Jardin Exotique Panorama.
Four hundred meters from the sea, boutiques hide in tiny caves
filled with candied tangerines, lavender soap, bergamot
perfume. A stand selling fresh figs, dates, rosemary,
tarragon and thyme, the smell of lemons filling the sea air
as carob trees block the hot sun.
Or does he just remember the essentials,
what he thought we needed to carry that afternoon?
Clutching one baguette, a local bottle of Bandol –
the Romans who seeded the first vineyards 2,500 years ago –
a wedge of mountain milk cheese. And she, holding
a map close to her chest, Badoit water, bottled in
St. Galmier since 1883, the guidebooks, the knife.

“Provisions” appeared in The North American Review (2008).

Back to top ^


Tasha’s Water Bowl (25 Years Later)

I fill her bowl with
salad grown in the soil where
her spirit still rests.

When my parents were moving a few years back, they found Tasha’s stainless steel water bowl. It was mixed in with the old kitchen bowls that were going to be donated to Goodwill, but luckily Tasha’s name was marked on the bottom in black permanent marker. I love that my parents saved the bowl for so many years. I love that they gave it to me. I love that now I serve salad in her water bowl, remembering her as I fill myself and my friends with fresh vegetables.

“Tasha’s Water Bowl” appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle (May 6, 2009).

Back to top ^


Their Last House on Earth

When my first grade teacher asked
what was the first thing I should do
when moving into a new home,
I told her, “Knock down the walls.”

Installing toilets, sanding floors, stripping paint
and varnish – primed and ready to refurbish
the Victorians from the ground up – my mother and father
worked together then, in the eddying
final days of their marriage, preserving the abandoned
fixer-uppers, unfinished lots and driveways
of Newport’s historic houses on the Point.
Saving cantilevered upper stories
the way they couldn’t themselves anymore,
they dropped rusted nails
into the bounty of a Savarin coffee can.
Back and forth, making trips to empty the remains –
history’s proof of what was unsturdy.
Aging roofs, beams and shingles incapable
of holding their own weight.
I watched in silence: sunburned backs, stained fingernails,
and my parents’ white sneakers blackening like fish –
salvaging what beauty they could from the earth.

“Their Last House on Earth” appeared in The Ledge (2010).

Back to top ^


Talismans

Loma Prieta tribute specials are all over the news.
Flashbacks of a bridge almost fallen and three-story
apartment buildings crumbled like the sides
of the gingerbread houses I made every Christmas
with my mother; laden with heaps of icing,
purple spice gumdrops and candy canes.
I am reminded to recheck the emergency car kit:
one dozen water bottles, first aid supplies,
five pull-top cans of Chef Boyardee raviolis, flashlight
with four C batteries, towels, duct tape, sneakers.
The heaviness of everything in its blue canvas sack,
like the bricks I used in the trunk when commuting
on the slippery Long Island Expressway in snow,
as if we might ward off danger with weight.

“Talismans” was a winner in the Poets 11 2010 Poetry Contest, sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library and judged by Poet-in-Residence Jack Hirschman.

Back to top ^


English as a Second Language

For Roberto, Age 10

So what if he hasn’t matriculated from reading class yet,
can’t hear the difference between mile and mild
or a diphthong from a digraph,
has no sister or brother to help him with homework.
Roberto has worn socks and shoes for only three years
and still speaks about the stray dogs he had
and the grandmother he called Mamá.
Still, he smiles because school breakfast and lunch are free
and there’s always extra butter for pancakes
and as much bread as he dreams of eating.
His dirt floor’s been replaced with pine.
Erasers glow in the dark and here,
All Spanish people wear shoes.
In the hallway, when his new American friends
ask nonchalantly where he hails from,
he tells them about crossing the border with an uncle,
about listening for footsteps in high grass,
spotlights and flashlights of the policía
making it hard for him to see Orion,
about meeting his mother for the first time:
I thought she was a lady representing my mother.
Soon it will be Halloween
and Roberto hasn’t chosen a costume yet.
Maybe he’s a football player, he tells his friends
one morning on the way to art class.
But not a devil, he says to Ariella,
putting his small hand up like a stop sign.
I never wanna see the devil again.

“English as a Second Language” was a winner in the Poets 11 2010 Poetry Contest, sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library and judged by Poet-in-Residence Jack Hirschman.

Back to top ^


Dopo Cena

Turin, Italy, 1992

After dinner, Mamma fed the 16-year-old parrot,
serving him pesto e gnocchi on a white cocktail napkin.
Loreto ate with his beak and claws inside his cage,
yelling Ciao, Ciao between mouthfuls.
Papá in the living room poked at the fire
to make the flames stronger for the chestnuts,
then watched his soccer team triumph on the TV.
Forza, Juventus. Gol!
Away from home, I was a guest
and wasn’t allowed to help.
I could sit in silence as my Italian mother
glanced over her right shoulder
to see if I wanted more
biscotti, acqua minerale.
Valentina, Cristina, and I sat drinking espresso
and leaned toward each other on elbows.
We stirred our white porcelain cups,
metal spoons clanking like lost cowbells
as Mamma rinsed the dishes.
Loading the Miele, she sang something
off-key and beautiful:
Good night, between the sea and the rain,
between your snowflakes and tea leaves.

Blue-flowered tablecloth scattered with sugar
and me, picking up each sweet crystal,
licking my fingers, one at a time.

“Dopo Cena” appeared in Alimentum (2010).

Back to top ^


Pre-Elegy for John

Is there anything good about Parkinson’s?
I asked my stepfather John as we swam in the pool,
water buoying his rigid arms and legs.
Eldapril makes me remember my dreams
sales calls and shooting the bull with his dead
best friends. He spoke clearly then, the language
of chemical engineers: turbine, butadiene, styrene.

Fours years later in the kitchen, my stepfather
won’t swim anymore. We sit at the table
and I pour hot water into his teacup. I want
to keep him talking. His ancestors were mule-skinners
who sat on buckboards, driving supply wagons
in the French and Indian War. Pennsylvania Dutch.
Where the people are known for their red barns and fat women.

John’s time is regulated by 25 pills per day in blue pillboxes
and still he goes on, from cane to walker to stretch class.
He once showed me how to skull our Catalina 30’
back to shore. I was born near a lake so water is part
of my history.
Patient, he pushed the tiller back and forth
to create movement without wind. How did he survive
his first wife and oldest daughter dying in one year?

It’s a new day, so keep the smile that you have.
I drop new peppermint leaves into his empty cup.
He can still stir. Still slips anyone who comes to visit
a twenty for gas. My stepfather cried when the men
first walked on the moon and when he found his neighbor
Mrs. Weill dead in their shared basement. She killed herself
by breathing in gas. I dreamt about that for a while.
Says I’d have liked his favorite car, the 1965 hard-top
red Corvette convertible. I imagine his steady hands
at the wheel, light blue smoke rising from the tail pipe.

John once drove his daughters to see the Beatles
at the Pittsburgh Airport. Left work early and figured out
the route where the limo would be taking the Fab Four
to the center of town. Rode alongside and let
his girls hang out the window. Everyone was screaming
and Ringo gave my stepfather the finger.

I don’t care if he’s a Republican anymore.
For twenty years, he’s padded his way in the early
morning to microwave eggs and green peppers
and broken clumps of sharp cheddar for my mother.
He’s never forgotten to reheat her day-old coffee.
Before his afternoon nap, you ask him to say
something else about water. A gallon is 7.5 pounds
and 0.833 cubic feet. But maybe I have that backwards.
You tell him you think he’s got it right.

“Pre-Elegy for John” appeared in The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine (2014).

Is There Anything Good About Parkinson’s? Dr. Ronald Land Talks About a Poem That Explores This Question

Back to top ^