Sunday, September 16, 2018

Celestial Rolodex, by Fran Markover

A is for Albie, beloved uncle, fighter pilot, who made model airplanes at Horizon Village. His last words to me as he lay dying were “I’ve still got all my marbles, kid!” At his burial, my cousins played Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”

B is for Barbara, mother-in-law, her favorite expression: “I’ll be darned” to most anything we said. She loved her hummingbirds, hummers who alit on her trumpet vines. “I’ll be darned,” she’d cackle to them.

C is for Carl, my father, who I miss so dearly. Dad, whose harmonica I found in a velvet-lined box shaped like a casket. “Chattanooga Choo Choo, Woo, Woo.” Somewhere over the rainbow he’s chugging out a song. His finale ─ “Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.”

D is for Deborah, classmate at Ellenville Central, who gave me a 16th birthday party at her home. I can picture the gift she gave ─ my favorite sweater, the one I saw on the cover of Seventeen magazine, pink mohair with yellow knit dots.

E is for Elizabeth, 2nd mother, who adopted me in college. She’d sit patiently in her rocker, wrapped in a homemade afghan, listen to my misadventures with boyfriends. She sheltered me after my surgery. Years later, when her husband George was so ill, she called and said, “please come over, Fran. I need children.”

F is for Feigele. I’m named after her, my grandfather Morris’ mother. She remained in her home in the 1920s. “They’d never harm an old lady,” she told Grandpa in her Ukrainian doorway. Feigele. It means “little bird.” I’m so sad she never took flight.

G is for Gerry, our friend, poet, who loved to take walks in the woods. Who knew all there was to know of white-tailed deer. He had a booming voice. Cancer took that away. To this day I can hear Pastor Jack at the funeral say, “Sometimes we’re dealt a bad hand of cards. Gerry played his the hardest. Gave it his best.”

H is for cousin Harry, a man I never met. He was the first relative in America, early 1900s. Harry was a tailor from a line of tailors and seamstresses. I can imagine him in a tenement, early Brooklyn, cutting away with his big scissors. They’re now in a place of honor in Tante Ruchel’s hutch.

I is for Izzie, another tailor from the old country. His shop was down the block from our house,
Izzie was the shortest man I knew, also the most ornery, the most gruff. When I brought my prom dress to him he questioned me as if he were part of the Spanish Inquisition. His last name was Needleman.

J is for Uncle Jack, my father’s brother. He was a Navy man during WWII. Jack gave me a grass skirt from Hawaii and I’d dance bare-breasted around our poultry farm, wildflowers in my pigtails. At five years old, I didn’t think he’d never speak to us again, how heart-broken my father was for the rest of his life.

K is for Mr. Kesselman, superb Social Studies teacher in high school. I remember him not so much for lessons on world events but for the handsome blond boy who sat opposite me, Peter, my first crush. Oh, yes, there’s one lesson Mr. K. taught that I recall: “jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

L is for Laurie, expert musician and my meditation instructor who taught me to breathe in 2, breathe out 4. She planted flowers in every nook and cranny in her neighborhood. They have bloomed long after her death. I picture her in a celestial spaceship playing a flute cantata, seeding posies like stars dotting the universe.

M is for my brother Michael who passed 5 years ago at 56 years old. Severely autistic, he lived in a group home for adults. I think of him daily and with every piece of writing, with every poem, I try to channel his voice, to say words he never got to express. Rest well, Michael.

N is for Nick, my husband’s client, who remained a friend to us. Nick, developmentally disabled,
beaten as a boy, still so angry as he grew up. We loved him, became family. When he was found deceased on January 2nd, the coldest night of the year, we felt the ice in our hearts when the cops came to our door with news of his passing. Every month, we place a stone on his grave.

O is for Olga, my aunt. I wear lipstick in her honor ─ Passion Fruit #308. She began each phone call: “Hello, Bubbalah. How are you, delicious girl?” I miss her orange puffy hair that reminded me of cotton candy, miss her muumuus and gold lamé sandals. If love were a color, it would be bright orange.

P is for Papa, my mother’s father, Morris. He’d greet me ─ “Francinooski, eat something, skinny girl.” When he escaped from Vinnetska, he carried his mandolin as he rowed across the river Dnestr. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I hear his Russian folk tunes strumming after seders.

Q is for Leo Q., my cousin. I only saw him on Passover. His cigar formed circles each time he’d catch the little ones giggling at Hebrew or sneaking matzoh under the table, breaking the unleavened bread into tiny pieces so that the floor felt like a beach.

R is for R.C., poet and sailor. I saw him 2 times a year at workshops held at Amazing Grace. He once pinned a buttercup into the button hole of my sweater and whispered how poetry was “necessary.”

S is for Slapsie Maxie, my father’s distant cousin. He was welter weight champ in the ’30s and a Grade B movie star. I know him through his films like I Married A Monster from Outer Space. On bad days, I imagine him yelling: “Don’t take no crap from no one.”

T is for Tante Ruchel. She worked in a millinery. Her hair was the color of parchment. Ruchel earned her high school diploma at the age of 80. Every time I wear a sunhat, I picture her sewing ostrich feathers, or polka dot netting, or velvet trim around the edges so I could be a proper lady.

U is for Ursula, my father’s mother, who left my grandfather when dad and his brother were young boys. I never met her. She headed to Ohio with her lover, abandoning her children. Ursula was a hand model. Did she ever think of her grandkids? My father? I believe she’d disapprove of my fingers, garden dirt under my nails, uneven crescents.

V is for Uncle Vinny, mother’s brother. No one liked him. He was a gambler, snarled a lot. Once, he met Cousin Eileen at the door with a shotgun. After his funeral, I discovered he was an Elvis wannabe in a band called the Four Roses. He once loved a woman named Rose but felt he couldn’t marry her because she wasn’t Jewish.

W is for Ed Wuppersahl, dad’s friend. Both worked as prison guards. Long after Ed died, I found a newspaper blurb about his life. He was a member of the Klan. Father never knew this. I think of Ed and his wife at our dining room table, joking, eating ice cream in front of our menorah.

Y is for Yitzak. He was Grandma’s brother. He lived in her attic and came downstairs for dinner. Yitzak was toothless. He loved sardines. He spent time mumbling in prayer. I was fascinated by his tallith that hid him like a fringed curtain. I was certain that if there was a God, he’d look like Yitzak, tired, very wrinkled, robed all in white, looking out from above.

Z is for Zeke, short for Ezekial the cat, supreme outdoor adventurer. He originally belonged to in-laws. We had promised we’d look after him when my in-laws died. Zeke had other plans, and ran away. The last time I saw him, he was resting against my mother-in-law’s feet like some furry Egyptian deity, as she lay dying. “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…” I hope, Zeke, that you are still dreaming of heavenly mice scampering across some Elysian fields. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

School Daze, by Rob Sullivan

white shirt immaculate,
conception of knotted tie
still room for improvement
older brother's aid invaluable

trousers had the crease
black shoes had the shine
face and hands- the sheen
heart and spirit- the genuflect

make no mistake
to be of value and use
all we colts
needed to be broken,
brought low
quitted down
and tamed

every manner of half-truth
and subversive lie
was to be weeded
from the garden-primeval

catechism, church doctrine,
daily prayer ,weekly mass and confession
all designed to bring
wayward young souls
back into the fold
back into the arms of the one true god

how we wanted to be saved
how we yearned for love
and acceptance
into the good
boys and girls club

save for the fallen angels
who would not bow down
or cower in fear
of ruler and switch
across knuckles or bottom

these prideful angels
found themselves
thankfully banished
to the most public
of schools -- forever

each of us who stayed
fought the good fight
to be saints
in a fallen world
to be imitations of Christ
to be of and not of
this world

to be good
to be small
to be quiet
to be humble
to be servants
to be docile
to be less
to be no trouble
to be obediant
to be afraid

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Kansas Wind, by Marty Blue Waters

Every day in Kansas you can pretty much count on the wind to mess around with you. It is so ubiquitous an element that not much concern or attention is usually given to it. Even when everyone grabs for their hats at exactly the same moment an enormous gust of wind whips by, nobody misses a beat, they just continue on with whatever they were doing or saying.

It really made sense to me when I learned that the state of Kansas was named for a Sioux Indian tribe, the Kansa, which means “people of the south wind.” When I was growing up in the open spaces of western Kansas, I liked to watch the wind at work, and discovered many different ways to witness its power for myself. A cottonwood tree was a good choice for climbing. I could sit astride a high branch as though I were riding a pinto pony, heading into the wind, and looking it straight in the eye. I rode with great glee. The leaves of the cottonwood rattled like fleshy castanets and provided an inspiring rhythm to dramatize the movie that was playing in my head.

Nobody had automatic clothes driers in Kansas. We had clotheslines stretched across our back yards. Sheets became parachutes, straining to free themselves. Everyone had their own special methods of battening down the wash. Clothespins usually worked just fine, if you used enough of them. But sometimes they still needed a little help. Mom sewed iron weights into old pairs of socks and knotted them together into long, heavy strands. Then she tossed these odd ballasts over anything that attempted to leap into the sky.

For some reason, our next door neighbor, Miss Pew, never quite got the hang of it. She was a robust woman, and her huge overalls flapped on her clothesline like giant flags on a ship at sea. Her bloomers, as she called them, were cumulous clouds darting about in the bright blue sky. It was not unusual to see a pair of her runaway bloomers flitting down the back alley in search of a lilac bush to get all tangled up in. It was one of my favorite neighborly duties to retrieve these escaped undies, fold them up nicely, and knock on Miss Pew’s door with a grin on my face. She always had a good laugh and said “Oh, did those naughty girls run away again?!?” Then we’d sit on her big porch swing for a long while and talk about anything that crossed our minds. Or just be quiet and rock gently back and forth.

Miss Pew was called a spinster, whatever that was really supposed to mean, and I think she was in her 80s when I was in grade school. She lived in an enormous house all by herself and she loved to collect things. Like salt and pepper shakers. They were handsomely displayed in two giant glass cases in her living room and she enjoyed telling me the history of each pair, over and over.

And, speaking of pairs, I wanted so badly to have a pair of overalls like she wore. They looked so comfortable and had lots of deep pockets. As soon as I started babysitting to make some money of my own, I went by myself to Woolworths and bought a pair of Osh Kosh overalls, much to my mother’s horror. She had to drag me into clothing stores to shop for skirts and dresses to wear to school and church, so this was quite a shock for her. Thank you, Miss Pew, for giving me the courage to do that, back in 1958.

As I approached my teenage years, whenever a big storm blew through town, there I was in my overalls, disregarding the sirens that were blasting the well-known code, informing everybody that it was time to dive into their basements immediately. I only heard the wind in superb action and headed for my favorite tree. I had to grab on to that upper cottonwood branch so tightly I thought I might snap it off the massive trunk all by myself. Like a Thanksgiving Day turkey wishbone. I imagined I was in a rodeo riding a bucking bronco and I was not about to let myself be thrown off. Afterall, I was a fearless cowboy having the ride of my life!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Things That Make No Sense, by Rob Sullivan

twig cracks underfoot,
rain drop chooses
this moment to fall
into a puddle

eyes smile serene,
knowing long beyond
the kingdom of words
the province of thoughts

mind blown as the wind
shifting, sculpting
dry, desert sand
into a greater design

body, ephemeral vehicle,
for this leg of the journey
that spans the birth and death
of many universes

spirit remembers true calling,
dross melts away
revealing wondrous beauty
of a love supreme.

Friday, June 8, 2018

I Remember (Except When I Don’t), by Annie Wexler

There are things I don’t remember anymore. Like I don’t remember what I did three days ago, or two days ago. On a good day I remember what I did yesterday, but I don’t have a good day every day.

I started a journal a few months ago where I wrote down everything I did on a particular day so I could look back on a date and be reminded of what happened. But after a few entries I forgot to write in the journal, so most of the pages are blank. I would be in a state of panic over this except for the fact that most of my friends nod in knowing empathy when I bring it up. “Oh God, me too,” is what they say.

But there are many things I do remember. Like most people’s names. When I see someone I haven’t seen in a while the wheels start turning and out pops, “Hi Jane,” or “Hi Joe.” My husband Tony remembers clearly what he did yesterday, but when we run into someone we haven’t seen in a while I can see that blank look in his eyes. So I announce, very loudly, “Bill! Great to see you.” Or if I think Tony still doesn’t get it, I’ll say “Look Tony, it’s Bill.”  I’m sure our friends know exactly what I’m doing. If they are young they just say “Hi Tony.” But if they are old (our age!) they catch on right away and say, “Don’t worry, I’m the same way with names.”

I remember quite well things I’ve learned over time, like how to speak French. And even some Hebrew, which I spoke fluently in 1968 after living in Israel for two years, and after lying in an open trench, terrified, during the six day war, wondering if I’d come out alive. I remember how to cook chicken and matzo ball soup from my grandmother’s recipe, but not how to make her sweet plum tart. Although I can’t fault myself for that because I never tried it.

I remember how to read music and how to play all the chords, including all the diminished, and the majors, and the minor sevenths and ninths. I just started my piano lessons again last week and sat down to play “You Go to My Head” and only messed up on the G-flat major 7th chord  with a sharp ninth.

I remember all the bird songs I’ve ever learned and I can walk in the woods on an early May morning and hear the yellow warbler go, “sweet sweet I’m so sweet.” Or a chestnut-sided warbler sing, “pleased pleased pleased to meetcha.”  Or if I’m lucky, a barred owl in the distance hooting, “who cooks for you who cooks for you all.”

I remember how to play crazy eights and gin rummy with my grandchildren. How to iron a shirt collar first, as my mother taught me. How to blot out a red wine stain by pouring seltzer on it.
How to polish my brown leather shoes, but come to think of it, since I never do that anymore, I can’t be sure that I actually do remember.

I remember how to design a garden — how to know in early April what flowers will bloom, and what color each will be, just from seeing a few shoots of green.

I still know how to find my way around town, how to make and keep friends, how to be happy. So until I find my purse in the freezer I’ll consider myself lucky and be grateful

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Morning Glory, by Barbara Anger

Before I had a garden I praised the morning glory
Watched it climb up the sides of porches
Open its fluted white flowers
At the dawn of day and reach for the sun.
How sweet, I’d think.

Now as I weed my garden
There she is in all her glory.
Wrapping herself around the clematis
Choking its budding flower
Taking it, pulling it over
Toward the thorny rose vine.

Careful not to break the stem
Of the clematis
I begin to unwrap the morning
Pulling its root from the ground.

There I spot another one.
Her leaves nearly heart-shaped
Taking my leg in its reach.

Clinging to my bony ankle
And running up to my knobby knee
Growing upward to the spot,
My spot, where I cannot resist.

You can’t get rid of morning
So I try to manage her,
But you know
That’s not something you can do
In a relationship.
Wild remains wild.
Accept her in the garden.
What else can you do?

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Room at the Back of the House, by Sue Crowley

My mother didn’t want us playing in that oldest part of the house. She always insisted that it didn’t belong. It stood out off the back, where ages ago, when the house was a much larger structure, a grand hotel with spa, deliveries were made and inventories taken. As kids, we would never have guessed at such a rich history for our ramshackle old house.
The grownups spoke about boom times back in the day before even our parents were born. The boom times began in the late 1800s with the first discovery of crude oil in the U.S. and lasted through the Roaring ‘20s right up to the Great Depression. Not much around these parts survived after that.
When you’re a little girl, a bit naughty, a bit of a tomboy, hearing your mother fret about an old boarded up room being off limits was simply an enticement. What self-respecting, rambunctious 10-year-old wouldn’t want to explore such an ancient and hidden place? It wasn’t a very big room and decades of neglect had left it unbalanced, cantilevered to one side. Mom and Gram wanted Dad and Uncle Frank to tear it down entirely, first because it was “an eyesore” and then because they thought it dangerous. No, we weren’t supposed to go near it, let alone inside.
Drawn to the forbidden, I finally convinced my more cautious and constant companion, my cousin Joanie, to go exploring. Now Joanie was best as a lookout. She’d keep watch for big people, meaning not just parents, but our five older siblings who would either take over the adventure or rat us out to the grownups. I did reconnaissance, like in those World War II movies that filled tiny TV screens back in the ‘50s. In my imagination I was a brave soldier checking out an enemy outpost.
I began carefully peeking through the rotted-out door frame, but the view was just too limited. So then, balancing on my bike seat while it was propped up against the wall, I looked through dusty, broken windows into a space littered with boxes, filing cabinets, old broken bits of furniture, faded papers strewn around, and a calendar, still hanging by a nail on the far wall. There was a date circled on it. That was exciting. My imagination said it was a clue to the movements of the enemy. My head said, I want to see that calendar. What day was it? What month? What year?
Sometimes, when you’re a kid, you just have to find out these things. The world is such a big place, filled with big people, and you need to make your own space. We were surrounded by seemingly endless mountains and forests, dotted with run-down towns and villages, and one city two hours away by car. And in all that, you have to find your place. 
Some kids might never feel that way. Joanie, I suspect, was one of them. Some kids already know their place, both assured of it and bounded by it from birth. Some just feel at home in the world. I felt at home only at home in that strange old house in Knapp Creek that was built to be something else entirely, only a fraction of its former glory still standing. And there was  always some little itch at the back of my mind.  What’s out there farther than I’ve ever gone, around the next turn? Or what’s in there, where you’re never supposed to go?
Later, after the adventure, my Gram would say, “There are ghosts in that room.” I believed her.