Pink toenails

Reading in a coffee shop
I catch sight of my fingers
pale against the pages of a book.

My fingernails have been bitten
down to nothing
in moments of anxiety,
which could be any moment –
or every moment – for me.

Usually, I am not bothered –
short nails are practical
good for computer keys
and playing piano,
but sometimes I am sad –
my hands will never boast nails
glittering with color.
Instead, I paint my toenails
and glory in the sandals of summer.

If I could bear the cold and wet
I would go barefoot all year round
and paint my toenails
a different shade of pink every day.

Close to the surface days

Some days the tears flow easily
Close to the surface days
A song, a turn of phrase, a gesture
And I am weeping

I take deep breaths, turn out my feet
Dip into ballet squats by the bedside
Muscles flexing in time to music
The deep voice of a folk singer tells me
She has heard the voice of God say ‘hold on’
Soon my face runs with more than sweat

A new mother brings her baby to the office
Coos and awwws ‘round the stroller
Her tall, solid husband reaches down
Softly brushes a hat from dark hair
Gently – so gently – this tall, solid man
Touches his daughter’s cheek
I almost lift my hand to my own face
Tears sting the corners of my eyes

I sway on the el, watching an elderly black couple
Dressed for a night out, holding hands
Smiling, nudging, moving their bodies
In the way of long-time partners
Familiar with the other’s rhythms and meter
Reading a thought in the lift of an eyebrow
The way she touches her skirt

I look away, let the tears come
Time is against me
There will be no 50th wedding anniversary
No sheet cakes in a church basement
(My grandparents’ faces in a gold frame)
The math is cold and real
Meet and marry now – and live into my 80s
Prophetic how I never pictured us old together

Some days the tears flow easily
Close to the surface days
But I no longer try very hard
To hold them back

Spring melancholy

ah, here is my old friend
settling again onto my body
like a hazmat suit
full body coverage smothering
my every movement
encasing me in a permanent
foul mood

night time is worst
when the wind blows 
from west to east
frantic with some hidden purpose
striking the high rise blocks
swinging construction cranes
sneaking into my condo
through some crack
to make my light fixture sway

I lie in bed
flinching at each howl
at nature’s attempt to blow
the human interlopers
into the lake and start over
with the smelly marshes

and I feel utterly alone
as if nature has succeeded
but forgotten me
and I will awake to find
all humanity gone
empty like a post-apocalyptic
movie where the hero
wanders among the rubble
searching for survivors

in my case I expect
a vanished ozone layer
will render
my oh-so-important worries
about happiness, career, and love
like old tires melted
in the newly toasty world
seeping back into the bog
from which the city sprang

but I must shake off this
these thoughts of death
and tragedy
that recycle through my brain
on schedule
with the changing seasons

I tell myself to think
tulips and bunnies
many colored eggs
but all I can picture
are unhappy rabbits
sick from eating too much
which is the color of the mud
that blotches my pant cuffs
and shoes

oh, joy
spring is here

Long silences

Long silences on the phone
I don’t know what to say
How’s the cat, how are you feeling
But nothing of substance
You must visit the farm, the city
When the weather warms

The important things in my life
Are unknown to them, unshared
My poetry, my therapy
Dilators in my nightstand
My sister told them about the job
I forgot to call – yes, it’s my fault, too
Memories and pain between us
Hurts that cannot be made right

Why did you not protect me
From my enemies, my friends
Schoolyard playmates who
Inevitably turned on me
Why did you not protect me
From 12 years of wondering
Why no one likes me
Thinking it was my fault
For being ugly, awkward, strange
In my love of books and learning

How could you not see
I was so unhappy
Or did you just not care
Did you feel helpless to help me
You should have tried anyway
You were the parents
Teachers who could not teach
Their own child how to be
Tough and invulnerable
To other people’s words
Why was I less important
Than other people’s kids

Too smart for my own good
I heard that a lot from Dad
What earned me praise at school
Got me spankings at home
Smart mouth – don’t talk back
He need not have worried
Soon I didn’t speak at all

The silence lasted until 1993
When I met Tom at IBC
Suddenly someone cared
About my words, my voice
At least for a while, but
Even he tired of my chatter

Today seems oddly similar
When it’s my turn to speak
Eyes glaze over, suddenly
It’s time to pay the check
I just want someone to talk to
About the sky and the sun
And those long silences
On the phone with my parents
Today’s coworkers are just
Old school friends in disguise

My parents, too, have failed
They did not understand
Their other daughter
Why worry
She’s the smart one
She’ll grow up to be
Insecure, depressive
Distrustful, scared
Dysfunctional adult
But on the bright side
She’ll have years of learning
To cope with loneliness

No echoes

Am I necessary to the spinning of the earth?
Do my footsteps leave any pattern?
Does anyone hear my voice break when
I think out loud in the elevator?

I smile at toy poodles and huge panting mutts
But their owners’ eyes avoid me
I hail doormen and waiters and store clerks
Who say thank you ma’am, good-bye

Maybe I’m melting away like the icecaps
Or growing extinct like South American butterflies
One day I’ll wake up and find I’m in some other place
Where the unnecessary people go

I’ll play bridge with someone’s sweet, old aunt
And walk on forest paths with cousin Tim
(He stayed too long in grad school, just disappeared)
And I’ll skip rope with all the abandoned kids

Sounds rather peaceful and pleasant at first
Until you remember that we all go home alone
And our voices and footsteps leave no echoes
Our lives have left no mark