Waiting among strangers*

The past has been wiped
like puddled milk
from the kitchen counter.

The mug she constantly misplaced,
its coffee grown cold,
has vanished forever.

The oatmeal raisin cookies
in the green glass jar were
long ago devoured.

Only shadows dance under
the branches of the weeping willow
where she and grandad box-stepped.

The apple trees in the orchard
that supplied her sauces and
pies and cobbler

Have withered and wasted,
their small, hard fruit rotting
on the ground.

Now she waits
among strangers, her life a mystery
even to her.

*Revision of Decomposition

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Decomposition

What must it be like
waiting among strangers
to die?

The past has been wiped like
puddled milk from the kitchen
counter,

Vanished like the coffee cup
constantly misplaced, liquid
grown cold,

Devoured like the oatmeal
raisin cookies in the green
glass jar.

The weeping willow where she
and grandad box-stepped,

the apple trees in the orchard
that supplied her sauces and pies
and cobbler:

Now, all are withered and wasted;
small, hard fruit worm-ridden,

rotting on the ground,
waiting for decomposition.

Holiday cards (2)

A revision of a previous piece. 

The cards begin to arrive:
photos of children
in red and green sweaters
standing before trees
bedecked with handmade
ornaments.

Joy and peace
from two little boys in argyle
and a plump princess,
all with their mother’s nose,
posed by the fireplace grate,
visions of soccer practice
and the school play and
spelling bees dancing
in their futures.

And here’s a fresh card
framed in colored bulbs,
the laughing girl on daddy’s lap
about to escape, about to run
through the tissue paper and
ribbons of a Christmas morning – 
mom’s belly nearly ready
to divulge baby #2.

From New England,
an envelope bearing
the biggest tree of all,
its ornaments passed down
through generations of women;
and the pale-looking boy
clasps his little sister,
protecting her from scary
reindeer or wicked elves.

His sister smiles sweet
like her grandmother,
and I can see the two of them,
bent over a bowl of flour
and sugar. She is learning
to bake cookies; she is
counting teaspoons and
forming equilateral
triangles.

Next an oversize collage,
a year in review: photos
of chocolate cakes, candles
ripe for wishing, a ballerina
spinning, a heartbreakingly
beautiful little man clambering
into the dishwasher.

Someday, the ballerina
will march on Washington
and her brother will
find the cure for cancer;
it’s in their genes,
DNA so obvious,
that you – a stranger – could
cut the photos into pieces
and match them
to their parents.

One
blonde,
blue-eyed angel
begs me with her eyes:
hold me close
and read me stories
of dragons and dwarves
and Misty Mountains.

Teach me to play the piano;
show me beauty and love
and kindness.

And I can do nothing
but nod and cry.

Holiday cards

Cards begin to arrive:
Photos of children
In red sweaters,
Standing before trees
Beaming with handmade
Ornaments.

The little boy looks just
Like his uncle, I think,
Shocked, as if that was
Not to be expected, as if
He was dropped from a
Spaceship onto the dry
Desert floor where my
Former college roommate
Found him.

Her little girl smiles sweet
Like her grandmother,
And I can see them
Bent over a bowl of flour
And sugar. She is learning
To bake cookies; she is
Counting teaspoons and
Forming equilateral
Triangles.

Will I have anyone to
Teach, I wonder? Or
Anything real to leave
Behind? A few scribbles
On scraps of paper, an
Occasional clever turn
Of phrase. I have made
My choices – but
The season reminds me
What I have missed.

No bright line

I was young once: I wanted
Fancy clothes and designer
Shoes and the perfect leather
Bag. I dined and traveled and
“Did” the museums – most
On the company’s dime.

I waited for my husband
To love me again; I waited
To fall again in love with him.
I waited for him to find
Someone else – and he did.

But I am only 35 you say?
The line between young and old
Is not so clear. Now I want only
The things of “old age.”

To wake up in the morning
Next to a man I love.
To watch the cat chase sunshine
Across a room. To see the sails
Or the whitecaps or the ice
Upon the water and by this
Know winter or summer. To hear
Birds and dogs and children
Playing. To see an old man
Feed squirrels in the park.

To go to bed at night knowing
I’ve accomplished some small
Thing – repotted a plant or cooked
A meal or written a poem.
My greatest worry? Those
overdue library books.

I was young once,
but I am done with that.

November 20th

What is this need we have
   to mark time?
Another November day…
   rain and leaves fall,
And somewhere it is the
   anniversary of a battle,
Or the memorial day
   for an earthquake or flood,
Or the date a great jazz
   singer-songwriter died,
And it is also the date
   of my birth.

That early 70s evening,
   my grandparents dined out,
Celebrating their once-upon-a-time
   wedding, while my mother
Waited, not knowing it would be
   her night to push and groan
Late into the evening to grant
   her first child life.

Thirty-five years later,
   the wedding date passes…
Orlo is dead many years and
   Alta remembers nothing
Of the little girl with curly hair
   eating gingerbread cookies
In her after-school kitchen –
   both of us cheated of our past.

On my November day,
   the temperature drops,
Puddles collect by curb and median,
   mother winter waits her turn.
Still… lights and street lamps glow,
   and trees twinkle with water,
Telling me:
   to be alive is magic. Just that.

Cliche

I feel like such a cliché
girl says for years
she doesn’t want children
then one day she cries
at the sight of a mother
nursing a baby
she holds one in her arms
and thinks
I want one of my own
so here I am
alone
fighting
my personal anxiety demons
contemplating
several years of grad school
many more of debt
all quite far from motherhood
and wishing I was
a few steps closer
but very unsure
what all these feelings mean