Saturday, October 30, 2010


The hour is late and he is gone for good, at last.
I welcome the howling storm this night
as the furious wind is blowing past our lone cottage.
The shadow cast by the oil lamp hides no threat
as the rain's percussion is hard and fast. Our home's
the haven we craved at last. Lightning's our trumpet;
each strike proclaims that we are saved.
My good dogs were restless, followed me
with their round brown eyes. When I spoke,
they settled, stretched, laid down their heads.
The fire, one far more generous then he'd allow,
warms our souls and cooks our mutton stew.
My tabby cat, calm and curled on the hearth,
will not cringe from heavy boots tonight.
We four, two dogs, one cat, and I,
have had sweet comfort, ease,
since I returned and fiercely cried,
"The deed is done and he is bound for hell at last,"
And even now, the screaming wind is blowing past.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm not a witch...either.

But I wrote a poem about one.


In her painted cave I lay
on panther pelts, my cold
blood warmed by fire,
my mind revived
by the brush strokes
on her stone walls.

Wearing a shawl
patterned all with green,
crimson, and saffron moons,
silver figures carousing down
her gown’s black depth,
she whispered ancient words
and fed me Witch’s Stew.

The storm sped boulders flung
by the Tyrant of Blight Mountain
against her rocky door.
The monster raged at me,
an arrogant fool who,
with near deadly misperception
of my strength, my wit, had scaled
the high granite steps that slowly
led to his gates of sculpted bone.
Thinking I’d the stuff of heroes,
I’d stalked him there alone.

This Highland Witch schooled the Brute
with black steely grace, and rescued
my full-shamed, half-dead self.
Healing here in her cave, I’ll try to learn
heroic Magic, earn honorable love,
and value her onyx, endless courage.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Madeleine Went Into a Funk the Other Day

On Monday, Madeleine read the breakdown of the Federal tax dollars in an e-mail from an old friend who’d been sent it by a friend of hers during an Internet conversation. She (Madeleine, I mean) hadn’t been looking for trouble. She had some time before needing to start dinner, so she’d sat down at her computer. Of course she’d been aware, in a vague way, that a sizable chunk of each dollar she paid in taxes went to the military, but if she’d ever seen how “they” disposed of each of her tax pennies with such precision, she’d forgotten.

It turned out that the US military took 26.5 cents of every dollar. Military debt got another 5.4 cents, and then there was veterans’assistance which got 3.5 cents, making the total 35.4. Madeleine felt like a chump-a guilty chump. She should have known, for instance, that only 2.5 cents went to energy and the environment, and that a mere 2 cents went to education. State taxes were supposed to handle public education, but, well, they didn’t, did they?

And maybe if more than 1.3 cents were sent along to transportation, people who lived anywhere outside of big cities would be able to get to their jobs and everything else without having to drive, which always struck Madeleine as being an especially idiotic fact of American life. Like that poor family of five she’d seen straggling along the side of the road in the heat. The parents in their thirties, the baby in a stroller, the tenish boy and the sixish girl were skinny, blond, and holding full plastic bags. (There were two bags in the baby’s stroller.) Clearly they didn’t have an operable car, so where were they supposed to work? There wasn't much going on, job-wise, within walking distance of where they were walking. Madeleine hoped they weren’t going to join the homeless, but it wouldn’t surprise her to find that they did.

She’d been a teacher, and had been worried about almost all of her kids, but especially the homeless children. She’d been able to arrange for one boy, who’d been picked on because he smelled bad, to take a shower in the gym every morning. Anthony fared a little better in seventh grade once he could show up in class clean. Housing and community got 7.2 cents of her tax dollar. Hmph, she thought. Did his family know about those 7.2 cents and how to get their share of it? She noticed 3.7 cents went to Food (agricultural subsidies/nutrition help.) “So what” Madeleine thought, if fast food was still the cheapest way to fill up empty stomachs?” She’d just read on the Internet that MacDonald’s hamburgers and fries could last at least six months without even growing mold. They just got harder and a bit shiny. She wanted her 3.7 cents to take care of getting fresh fruit and vegetables to those kids walking along the road the other day.

Health was getting the next biggest chunk: 20.1 cents. That sounded good. But health in America was a mess! Her neighbor was giving up his insurance. Ted had been paying $800 a month, just for hospitalization. He couldn’t do it anymore, and was crossing his fingers that he’d stay out of the hospital until he was eligible for Medicare. Madeline watched or read enough news to understand that reform was on its way, but Ted had to drop his health insurance now. Not in 2014 or whatever. He was the nicest guy, always willing to lend Madeleine a hand with stuff she couldn’t figure out, like her new television remote.

Her tax dollar gave the Government (a separate category on the list) 9.8 cents. Almost a dime out of every dollar. That seemed fair to her, she thought, as she put on a pot of coffee. But government got it wrong lots of times. Like that young woman from Delaware running for Senate. Her vote would count as much as a senator from California. Madeleine did some Googling and found out that the population of Delaware in 2010 was approximately 870,000 people, and that this year’s population of California was about 37,205,591. How could that make sense to anybody?

Madeleine always voted, paid what “they” told her to in taxes, had spent lots of time working “off the clock,” so to speak, because she had often felt that was what was needed. But that didn’t seem to matter much in the scheme of things. She wished to hell she felt like she had a bit more power, more “oomph,” more understanding, of how things were handled. It rankled that 13.6 cents had to go to national debt, military and non, because these expensive, expansive wars hadn’t done much good, had they? Foreign aid got 1.3 cents. Even though Madeleine mostly read poetry and fiction, she’d read enough John LeCarré to know that foreign aid was a mysterious deal indeed.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher were the TV guys she trusted most, but they didn’t get around to everything she wondered about. Sometimes there just wasn’t a punchline, she guessed. Once again, Madeleine sat for a while in a puzzled funk. Then she got dressed and took her dog for a walk. That was something, anyway.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Helping Gracie Up

Helping Gracie Up

Gracie’s Dead met for lunch on a terrace overlooking the heavenly Adriatic Sea. Well, the spirits gathered weren’t just Gracie’s Dead. Except for Annie Claire, they each had many, many links to the living. Annie Claire was a heaven-born, and having been among the living a mere eighteen weeks, and in a womb at that, she hadn’t time to make connections, other than to her mother and father. Because Gracie thought of her lost daughter every day, Annie Claire always had easy access to her mother, and knew Gracie inside and out. Her father? Not so much.

Teresa and Otto, one set of Gracie’s great-grandparents, were hosting the festivities in a spirited version of their beloved Trieste. The party was winding down, and several of Gracie’s dead relations were dozing, lulled to sleepiness by the mild sea breeze.

“Okay, dearhearts. Let’s all have a cup of whatever you want to help you get serious, and we’ll have this meeting about my mother, shall we?” Annie Claire, a teenager now, called out brightly from her seat at the end of the long table. The dishes quickly cleared and cups and saucers, carafes of hot coffee and teapots, creamers and sugar bowls arrived.

“I’ll start things off with a brief report about Mom’s progress. She’s only left her house once, for groceries, in the last two weeks, but she has started playing piano again. Although she’s promised her brothers she’ll come visit them, she hasn’t bought any warm clothes for December in New York, or made plane reservations or anything. I’m worried that she’ll poop out on the trip.”

Dorothy, Gracie’s mother, said, “Well, I’ve been badgering her about new clothes, you know. E-mails and catalogues in the mail. I’m afraid she still has the “too poor to buy clothes” thinking she inherited from me. Damn that Depression!”

“Keep trying, Grandma. She’s never traveled anywhere without some new things to wear, which she also got from you, and she’s got more money in the bank then she ever had. You’ll help her with this security thing, I’m sure of it! Look how far you’ve come!”

“I have come a long way, it’s true. Then again, I’m in heaven,” Dorothy said.

“I’ve been working on her about music,” said Alex, Gracie’s brother. “She doesn’t want to perform, but I’m getting through to her, I think, about giving herself a break. She’s done enough. Jeez louise!”

Gracie’s father, new to death, and still fairly dumbstruck with heaven-wonder, cleared his throat. “I want to help her, but almost every time I visit her, she ends up thinking about how miserable I looked in that nursing home. I’m beginning to think I should stay out of her mind, at least until she perks up a bit.”

Ollie, a handsome Springer Spaniel, barked to get the crowd’s attention, then spoke in heaven’s universal language. “As we know, this sort of thing happens to the living when deaths stack up on them like some of ours did. Our Gracie’s faith is wobbly right now, and she could spiral dangerously down. However, I’ve talked to Blossom, who’s a lovebug if ever there was one, and she’s agreed to go back to the living and become Gracie’s dog. We don’t have all the details worked out, but she’ll get there soon, and then Gracie will have to take Blossom for walks, and she’ll start talking to her neighbors, going to the store to buy dog food and toys, all that soul-warming pet stuff. And we have plans for a particularly comforting and personable cat, Harry, to hang around Gracie’s house so that she can rescue him. Leave it to us. Gracie’s going to be fine. In fact, I predict that very soon she’s going to learn to just be. Animals are the best at just being and that’s what she needs to do now.

“All right! Hey, everybody!” said Annie Claire, who’d begun flitting around when Ollie was talking. “Mom’s starting to lighten up a bit. We’ve helped, I’m sure, but I think she wants to feel better herself, too. She was playing Mahler on her piano, then she switched to Mozart, and now she’s playing Scott Joplin! Thank heavens! No one’s ever been sad and played Ragtime.”