Monday, January 25, 2010

View from a Train, from a Table


January 14th

On the train, moving through Trenton

at twilight, I see the bleak back of the city.

The houses we pass are dark, waiting.

The office buildings are emptying of

workers and shirkers,

or have emptied, and darkened,

have the night to themselves.

Everyone is on the move--

sheltered in cars or buses,

or on foot, rushing toward warmth.

I’m snug, and somewhat smug,

as I move toward New York with a seat

to myself, wearing my best black coat.

January 15

Even my cousin’s steam-heated apartment

is chilly as we drink strong coffee

at the table by the window.

We eat English muffins spread with tart lemon curd

and her warmth sustains me.

On this six degree morning we see an arctic Hudson.

There will be no ferry to New Jersey today;

they are ice-locked and idle.

The sun is just for fun, and might

as well have the day off

for all the heat it provides.

Without the crisp blue sky,

the scene would be

of an unbearably

gray, cold palette.

My fragile optimism

would fail me

if there were

no sun today.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Amy Gets Help

Amy Gets Help

Gently placing the gingerbread man with the others, Amy pictured Langston’s long face peering through the icy windowpane, waiting for her to arrive with the promised basket of baked treats. As she turned away from the fragrant cookies to hang up her apron, she heard a tiny voice call to her.
“Amy, keep us. Keep us, please. Don’t let him eat us!”
“Oh, no! They’re talking again!” Amy pulled a ladder-backed chair away from the old table, slumped onto it, and buried her face in her hands. After a few moments of quiet, she raised her head, and after a few more, she opened her eyes. Nothing moved. Amy stood up, took her bonnet from its hook, tied the ribbons under her chin, wrapped her cape around her, and while trying not to look at it, picked up the basket. Her fiancĂ© and his guests were expecting her. If she walked quickly, she could still be on time. The Potts house was only over on Fillmore Street.
Just as she went down the last step of her back porch, a squirrel dropped out of the oak tree alongside her path.
“Langston Potts cooks us in stews, you know,” the squirrel chattered. “He devours every single thing he can. He’s a greedy, needy man.”
Amy missed her footing and sprawled on the hard December ground. She was struggling to sit when one of the gingerbread men escaped from the dropped basket and ran away with the squirrel. Her neighbor’s barking dog flashed by her, then, apparently satisfied that the runaway cookie and his new friend were truly gone, trotted back to the young woman.
“My dear, it’s clear that you can’t marry that man,” Collie said. “He’s mean and he’s lazy and you’re surely going crazy.”
“Am I? Is that why everyone and everything is talking to me?” I don’t think I can bear another minute of it.”
Collie arranged herself beautifully on the brown grass, and beautifully rolled her eyes. “Oh, really! Can there be any doubt? Do cookies, squirrels, dogs, and yes, I know about the Blue Jay early today, talk to perfectly normal women?”
Amy scootched closer to Collie and put her arm around the dog’s neck. “No, they don’t, but I must say I’m rather glad you all do, now that I’m a bit more used to it. But you see, I have to marry him. That’s all there is to it. I’m all alone now that Mother’s gone, my money won’t last long at all, soon I’ll be old myself and all shriveled up, and even if all he wants is a nurse and a cook like the Blue Jay said, and he’ll boss me around all day and all night, what else am I going to do?”
The marmalade cat across the street joined them while Amy was talking, and curled up in the tearful woman’s lap. The ground was cold, but neither Collie nor Amy seemed to mind. Marmalade never sat directly on dry winter grass if he could help it.
“You’d be better off dead than living with that rat,” the cat said. “His whole family is a ratty family. Animal haters, they are. I should hope you know that people who hate us hate you, too. You do know that, don’t you?”
“I suppose I do. Or at least…I suspected. But I wouldn’t be better off dead. Oh, my dears, would I?”
Collie, not one to agree too readily with a cat, crossed her pretty paws and paused a moment before answering.
“I concur with Cat. The man is a snake. Life as his wife is a dreadful idea. Yes, dead would be better. Take our word for it. We know.”
“Oh, you are sillies. I’m perfectly healthy. I’m not going to die between now and Saturday. Why would I? How could I? I’d better get up and go on. I’ll take him my baking. These that are left are quiet at least.” Amy pushed herself up and brushed herself off. “Thank you for trying help. I think you might be right about dying, but never mind. I promised him, you see.”
Amy walked down her path and turned into her street, April Lane. There was only one motor car in town so far, but this car had heard the whole conversation between Amy and the animals, and just as his owner thought, he had a mind of his own. So, he started up with a growly shout, and ran her down.
Just like that, she was dead. She was better dead than married to that rat, Langston Potts, but that’s another story.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


(Think summer.)

Art Coop

Nina, wearing a Mexican-flavored dress with a flounced voile skirt, fanned herself with a brochure about the Art Coop, sucked an ice cube, lolled in the armchair they’d given her when she’d first arrived. She’d been the warm-up act, the only poet, for the night’s open-air performance. Nina thought about removing her wide leather belt but didn’t want to make the effort. She was all but done in by heat, humidity, by August in Florida.

The second musician, who was a kid dressed in a plain black t-shirt and low-slung, baggy jeans, finally started. He sat on a low chair inches from Nina’s sandaled feet. She wasn’t expecting much. His teenaged girlfriend had been an annoying chatterbox since they’d sat down.

After a few nervous, jokey remarks, the boy checked the tuning of his glossy black guitar and played the first of several original, solo instrumentals. Nina closed her eyes and laid her head back against the scratchy fabric of the old chair. All the stuff taking shots at her that night- her drunken AWOL brother, her chest pain, the surprise of a friend’s rude behavior, discovering, mid-read, that she had the wrong version of a poem in her hands-disappeared. Nina swam through a cool sea of guitar notes, afloat and happy with the luxury of listening to extravagant talent on a steamy summer night.