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  • My Jazzman


    MY JAZZMAN

    Copyright 2007 by Madeline Sharples

    CONTENTS

    • What Is Loss?
    • Blizzard in B
    • The Last Night
    • Thursday Morning
    • Suicide
    • My Jazzman
    • Aftermath
    • September 23, 2002
    • Demolition
    • The Dreaded Question
    • White Swan
    • Buddha
    • Done Deal
    • Dream World
    • Long Division
    • Letting Go
    • Three Cemeteries
    • Remembering Paul
    • A Poem that Wants to Be for Ben
    • Making It Hard
    • Meditation Practice
    • July 14, 2001
    • Prickly
    • A Summer’s Day in New York
    • Nadia
    • Black and White Dreams
    • Romeo and Juliette’s Wedding Night
    • Through the Parking Lot, Into the Gym
    • Tonglen Practice

    What Is Loss?

    I lose my keys or sunglasses
    and find them in my hand all along.
    I lose my little boy in the department store
    and he pops out squealing with laughter
    from under the clothes display.
    I lose important papers
    and find them
    in the stack of other papers on my desk.

    I didn’t lose my son, Paul.
    Paul is dead. Death is forever.
    There’s not a chance of finding him.

    The light I’ve left on in the hall for him
    every night since he died
    doesn’t show him the way back home.
    There are no more piano gigs out there for him.
    The Sunday paper entertainment guide
    doesn’t list his name at any jazz club.
    He can’t join the young guys at the Apple Genius Bar
    and help people solve their computer problems.
    Paul would have loved that job.
    He was made for that job,
    but he checked out too early.
    The new meds and surgery for manic depression,
    the new information about mental illness
    are not for him.

    Why do people refer to death as loss?
    Maybe just to encourage
    people like me.
    Maybe just to keep me looking for him.
    Maybe so I can pretend he’s still out there.

    Maybe that’s why I long to mother
    the strong young men at the gym
    who hardly notice me
    and the bright ones at work.
    They are the right age.
    They have the same look.
    They have the same appeal.

    Every time I see a young man
    with close-buzzed hair,
    well-worn jeans
    a white t-shirt and a black jacket
    sitting outside of Starbucks
    sucking on a cigarette,
    every time I see a skinny guy
    walking fast across the street
    carrying a brown leather bag over his shoulder,
    I look to make sure.

    Blizzard in B

    It is mid March, 1993,
    and a bitter blizzard blows in.
    Some predict
    the century’s biggest.

    Flakes of snow swirl in gusts to the sidewalk.
    Cold slaps our cheeks
    pushes through our clothes
    as we cling to each other,
    walk through the cavern
    at the feet of New York’s skyscrapers.
    The sirens set our teeth chattering
    as impatient cabbies honk,
    inch their way up the streets.

    Yet, we trudge forward
    uncertain of what
    we will discover when we arrive.
    A more foreboding blizzard, perhaps,
    blows through our boy’s broken brain.

    The Last Night

    How could I have known
    it would be the last night? A night
    like all the others:
    the low creaking groan
    of the garage door,
    tires screeching to maneuver
    into the narrow place,
    the roar of the engine before silence.
    Then slamming the door,
    my son, sweeps down the long hall,
    calling out hello in his deep friendly voice.
    I startle as I hear his heavy strides
    pass my door,
    I call out to him.
    Returning, he enters my room –
    standing, staring, looking more calm
    than I’ve ever seen him.
    His blue eyes like sapphires
    fringed with thick dark lashes
    never leave mine while we speak.
    My lips kiss his cheek
    cool as alabaster.
    I marvel at his smile – lips
    barely turned up not showing his teeth.
    He looks like the angel
    he will soon become.
    He has already found peace.
    Only I don’t know it yet.

    Thursday Morning

    When all I heard was silence
    behind the locked bathroom door
    that Thursday morning,
    when all I saw was darkness
    through the open bedroom door,
    when Bob went to investigate,
    calling his name, Paul,
    pleading with him, Paul,
    open the door,
    when Bob went to the garage
    for a screwdriver to pick the lock,
    when he opened the door
    and closed it quickly from the inside
    while I stood on the stairs,
    waiting
    as Bob found our son in the bathtub,
    sitting in a pool of blood,
    blue, already cold and stiff,
    tongue hanging out of his mouth,
    when Bob came out of the bathroom
    face red, hands shaking
    and told me
    Paul is dead,
    when all I heard were sirens
    and the footsteps of the police
    as they stomped though our house,
    all I could do was huddle
    in the corner of the couch,
    my legs drawn under me,
    my arms folded around me,
    as I rocked back and forth,
    my hands clamped into tight fists.

    Suicide

    There is no gentle way to say it:
    He killed himself
    Took his own life
    He ended his life
    He released his pain
    He committed suicide

    What he did one night was
    put himself in the bathtub and
    slash his throat with a box cutter.
    That’s what he did.
    That’s the truth.

    Calling it dying, passing away
    does not change the reality
    for me and his father and his brother
    who cared for him and loved him.
    but couldn’t keep him from his destiny 
    death by suicide.

    My Jazzman

    My jazzman
    beat it out
    on the mighty eighty-eights
    played those riffs
    tapped his feet
    bent his head
    down to the keys
    felt those sounds
    on his fingertips.
    Yeah, he was a hot man
    on those eighty-eights.

    But, all too soon
    his bag grew dark.
    He went down
    deep down.
    My jazzman
    played the blues
    lost that spark
    closed the lid.
    And, yeah, you got it right,
    quit the scene.
    laid himself down
    in that bone yard
    for the big sleep.

    Aftermath

    They came in droves at first
    out of concern, out of curiosity.
    They sent flowers, cards
    and sweet notes saying
    call anytime
    anytime at all.

    Now it is quiet.
    A few friends
    invite us out,
    or come by.
    The rest have moved on
    glad to have done their duty.

    Don’t they know I’m not contagious?
    My son’s death will not rub off.
    I’m the same person I was before.
    A sadder person, perhaps
    but needing my friends
    just the same.

    September 23, 2002

    The phone rings once
    startling me awake
    from a deep sleep.
    I jump out of bed to answer it
    knocking the Waterford
    perfume bottle from my dresser,
    and there is no one on the line.

    Only 5 a.m. but I am up
    for the third anniversary of Paul’s death,
    a day I dread every year.
    All I can think is
    Paul called to check in,
    to let us know he is still around:

    I go out on the porch
    and watch the orange half moon
    set behind the trees.

    Demolition

    Bathroom:
    We don’t have to look into that room anymore
    and wonder if spots of blood still remain
    on the floors and walls.
    We’ve demolished the scene of the crime.
    We will no longer step into that tub and see Paul
    in his white long sleeved work shirt
    and khaki pants sitting against the shower door
    in a bloody puddle.
    They’ve taken it all away.
    The old aqua blue tub
    the toilet, and sinks.
    the faux marble counter
    with burn stains from the tiny firecrackers
    he set off as a teenager.
    The god-awful blue and yellow vinyl flooring is gone.
    Sterile white tiles and fixtures
    will take their place
    in a room with no memories
    either of life or death.

    Bedroom:
    Six years later
    instead of the dark room
    he walked out of for the last time
    leaving the door slightly ajar
    his bed never slept in
    his dirty laundry
    slung over his over-stuffed chair,
    his paychecks left on the side table
    uncashed for weeks,
    his pictures and posters meticulously thumbtacked
    in perfect rows on the walls
    his books and records all lined up
    in alphabetical order in his closet
    along with his shoes and plaid shirts from second-hand stores,
    his keyboard, electronic drums, amplifier,
    and his music, each tape labeled and packed
    in a canvas bag,
    so we could easily choose
    a piece to play at his funeral.
    Instead, the room now totally bare
    except for a new bay window
    that looks over the garden
    and new shiny hardwood floors.

    A writing table and a comfortable sofa
    will go in there
    with space in the closet
    for shelves of poetry books,
    files of poems hoping to be published.

    Garage:
    Boxes labeled Paul’s fiction A-Z
    Paul’s jazz records K-O
    Paul’s rock and roll A-F
    stacked where I can see them
    as I open the door
    park my car every evening
    after a long day at work.
    On top of the boxes
    a pile of dungeons and dragon games
    one tarnished brass duck bookend
    he got for his Bar Mitzvah,
    the purple treasure chest
    where he kept his pot,
    a cigar box filled with metals and belt buckles
    his uncle brought him from Russia.

    Leaning against the wall
    a roll of drawings
    he made in Bellevue’s psych ward
    each declaring his love for Sally
    now married with two children.
    A photo of her
    with high pointing breasts,
    slim waist, flat stomach, and round, firm buttocks
    shows her proud, and so ready,
    though Paul was not.
    He let her go
    He let it all go
    with one sweep of the knife.

    The Dreaded Question

    It happens again like so many times before.
    I’m at my sister’s house,
    talking to her neighbor
    someone I’ve just met
    and she asks me the dreaded question
    one that I’m avoiding
    by talking about what a great day
    this has been in Portland
    and isn’t my sister’s garden just beautiful
    and what do you do for a living
    and where are you from.
    And there it is,
    after I’ve tossed the salad greens
    put the tomatoes in the bowl
    and sliced in the avocado
    “How many children do you have?” she asks.
    And never missing a beat
    I say, I had two
    but now, only one.
    My oldest son died.
    Then I leave to get myself together
    and wonder what she and my sister are saying
    while I am lying down in my room.

    Buddha

    “The dead we can imagine to be anything at all.”
    Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

    He sits cross-legged in a tree
    deep in concentration,
    the way he would sit on the floor of his room
    learning against the bed doing homework,
    composing music, talking on the phone.
    His closed-mouth grin shows
    he is pleased to be where he is.
    No longer a skinny rail, his cheeks filled out,
    his skin clear, his eyes bright.
    His tree has everything – soft jazz sounds
    flowing from all directions,
    deep vees and pillows for sitting and reclining,
    the scent of incense and flowers,
    branches of books by Miller, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky
    the music of Davis, Gould, Bach and Lennon,
    and virtual communication to those he loves.
    He needs no furniture, no bedding, no clothes, no food.
    Those necessities are for worldly beings.
    The passing clouds give him comfort
    and the stars light his way.
    Heaven takes care of him
    as he imagines himself
    to be anything at all.

    The Bully

    Paul is a bully.
    Always waiting to take over my poems.
    I’m writing about my mother
    who starved herself last year,
    hanging on for weeks in a morphine-induced coma,
    using up every bit of energy I had
    until she finally died.

    And here he comes pushing her aside
    to get to the front of the line.
    He brags so the whole playground can hear.
    “My suicide is bigger,
    I used a box cutter; she just stopped eating.”

    And he’s right.
    Compared to his death
    hers was a bump in the road.
    He was my beautiful sick boy,
    she, a not-so-nice shriveled old woman
    who had wished for death for years.
    She’d call me a bad daughter for saying this
    but I don’t miss her at all.

    Done Deal

    We sat at the wooden table
    shaded by large heart-shaped leaves.
    The crone with wispy white hair
    hanging in strings around her face,
    a mouth that’s forgotten how to smile,
    skin drawn, pale like rice paper
    hunched in her wheel chair
    listening or not.

    This is where you’ll be for the rest of your days,
    this is the end of the line.
    You’re done moving, I said.
    You’ll never be able to be on your own again.
    No matter how much you hate this place,
    get over it.
    It’s a done deal.

    Then, I laid out the plan.
    I’ll give notice at your retirement hotel,
    put your things in storage
    minus the few pieces you can bring here.
    And, don’t worry,
    I’ll keep them all safe.

    Not saying anything in return
    she tapped her painted red claws
    in between the grooves of the table.
    When she couldn’t see or hear me anymore
    I pushed her chair inside
    while her vacant eyes
    filmed over
    stared out into the gloom.

    Dream World

    I look toward my mother’s bed
    in its sunny spot by the window.
    Her young nurse is smiling.
    So is mother.
    She lies in a blue hospital gown
    printed with triangles, squares and circles
    in shades of gray, burgundy and dark blue.
    Her skin looks healthy.
    Her thin, white hair brushed off her face.

    After the nurse leaves, she looks at me
    with wide eyes and asks,
    “Do you want to play bridge? We need a fourth.”
    “I haven’t played in years,” I say
    She accepts that excuse
    and points her long painted nails
    to two or three other people
    she imagines in the room.
    “They will play,” she says.

    I stroke her damp forehead,
    holding her bony hand bruised from the needles
    that had been stuck into it.
    I brush my fingers down her white, silky legs,
    now devoid of hair.
    “Do I look a mess?” she asks.
    The sun casts a shadow across her bed.
    “No, you look wonderful,” I say.
    She smiles at me, not minding
    that her mouth has no bottom dentures,
    and brags how her cousins
    tell her how good she looks
    and how well-dressed she is.
    Even here with her gown hiked up to her diaper,
    she cares.
    I try to pull her gown down
    but she keeps grabbing it.
    I cover her with a sheet,
    and sit down to watch her play cards.

    “Six spades,” she proclaims,
    “Play out.” I play out.
    Using her night gown as her bridge hand,
    she tries to lift off each pattern section
    one by one as if it were a card
    and place it on an imaginary table
    in front of her.

    I want to know what happened to her,
    and what can be done about it.
    “Hospitalitis,” the nurse says.
    She has seen it a million times before.
    I go back to the bed and continue play-acting.
    I am thankful too. Her mind is taking her to that other place
    where she is young and beautiful
    and lives on the west side of Chicago.
    “I like this little room,” she says.
    “I’m glad,” I say.

    Long Division

    I gathered all the papers
    piled on my desk for weeks
    and put them into neat stacks –
    Medicare receipts, bank statements, insurance policy,
    taxes, unpaid bills, funeral records,
    and a special pile called “Memorabilia” –
    with her typed-up life story,
    her citizenship decree,
    and her husband’s death certificate.

    We had already divided her things:
    each piece of furniture,
    each piece of silver,
    china and jewelry laid out
    and chosen one at a time.
    My brother got the breakfront,
    my sister the Illadro figurine
    and I kept the diamond watch.

    Letting Go

    She flexed her fists
    on the cold bed railing
    keeping time
    with her heartbeats,
    Soon her hold relaxed,
    and fingers intertwined
    she wrapped her hands gently around the bar

    Drugged from the morphine potion
    placed kindly under her tongue
    she lay there in a ball
    like a sleeping skeleton,
    head tucked into her sunken chest
    I sat with her, stroked her arm
    like a skinny rail itself
    and soothed the damp hair
    off her forehead until she pushed me away,
    took hold of the railing again.

    Finally too weak to reach her metal friend,
    she allowed her folder fingers
    to rest on the bed.
    And I, kissed her gray, fading face.
    A woman strong until the very end
    took 94 years to finally let go.

    Reaching for a Star

    It used to be comforting to see her
    at her computer as I passed her office door.
    Sometimes we’d nod or say hello.
    Other times I sat in her guest chair
    against the wall and we’d chat.
    I don’t remember about what –
    our work maybe, her art projects, my poems,
    or an exhibit one of us had seen
    at the Getty, LACMA, a gallery at Bergamot Station.
    Now her door is closed,
    her name and title still on it,
    but, she doesn’t work in there anymore.

    Now we sometimes chat in her nice
    third floor room in a tall building
    on Prospect Avenue in Redondo Beach
    with her favorite books around her
    along with photos, writing papers, art supplies –
    even a big screen TV –
    all the comforts of home.

    Not at a computer anymore,
    she sits propped up
    in bed in an aqua gown,
    an oxygen tube in her nose
    and a permanent IV shunt in her arm
    to receive the doses of morphine
    that increase day by day.
    We look at the ocean as she tells me
    her plans for her death.
    Her ashes will fertilize several gardens
    and her spirit,
    happy to miss the daily catastrophes
    of the living world,
    will soar to her own personal star.
    If all goes according to schedule,
    she’ll be there in time for her 52nd birthday in August.

    Paul’s Poem

    You didn’t even touch me, Mother.
    I was just down the hall,
    sitting against the shower door
    in the blue bathtub.
    I was cold in there.
    Why didn’t you touch me?
    All you had to do was step
    inside the bathroom.
    I was still there
    sitting on my box cutter
    in a small puddle of blood.
    I was dressed.
    I still had on the clothes
    I wore to work,
    my white long-sleeved shirt and khakis.
    It would have been okay if you came in.
    You didn’t have to keep the door closed.
    I was lonely in there.
    You could have come in.

    Why didn’t you come down to the garage
    to kiss me goodbye?
    Strangers from the coroner’s office
    put me on a gurney
    stuffed me in a plastic bag
    and took me away.
    I didn’t want to go,
    but they had to make sure I was my murderer
    not someone else.
    You could have unzipped me down to my neck
    and kissed me on the forehead or on my lips.
    I wouldn’t have minded.
    Even though my tongue was sticking out a little
    I didn’t look too bad.

    I know you weren’t allowed to visit
    during my four days at coroner’s office,
    but I don’t understand why you didn’t come
    with Dad and Uncle Ken to the mortuary.
    That was your last chance,
    That was your last chance to see me whole
    and you stayed home.
    Why did you stay home, Mother?
    Oh, sure, Dad probably told you to.
    But you could have come anyway
    How come, Mother?

    I wanted you there with me
    before they took me away for good
    before they turned me into a bag of ashes.
    Were you mad at me, Mother?
    Were you mad that I did it?
    Were you mad that I killed myself?
    Were you frightened to see me dead?

    Black Bomber

    Swaddled in this
    black bomber jacket all weekend,
    I am safe from the Big Sur chill.
    It’s too large for me.
    And that’s okay. It was Paul’s.
    I bought it for him
    years ago at American et Cie on La Brea
    before he went crazy
    and decided to leave us
    way before his time.
    I like how it snuggles me,
    like he’s in there too giving me a hug.
    It’s the only piece
    of his clothing I have left.
    I’ve given away the rest:
    his favorite plaid shirts
    that smelled of sweat and smoke,
    the torn jeans he salvaged
    from second-hand stores,
    his worn brown Doc Martin oxfords
    that took him miles on his manic escapades,
    and the tan suede jacket
    he had me repair over and over
    because he couldn’t let it go.
    Like this jacket –
    I’ll never let it go.
    It has stains I can’t remove
    and threads unraveling,
    My son is gone.
    But, this jacket –
    try and take it from me.
    Just try.

    Three Cemeteries

    On a cool, sunny day in Normandy
    the breeze does not disturb
    the graves at the American Cemetery.
    No matter where you stand,
    looking diagonally, horizontally,
    or straight back and forth,
    each alabaster white grave marker
    each chiseled engraving
    in perfect precision
    and symmetry
    as far as the eye can see.
    The grass covering the graves
    mowed just the right height
    a shade of green
    from a Technicolor garden.
    The surroundings –
    a rectangular reflection pool
    the curved wall inscribed with the names
    of 1,557 Americans missing in action,
    the center bronze statue commemorating
    the spirit of American youth,
    and the Omaha Beach below –
    create a restful setting
    for the 10,000 allied soldiers
    killed in 1943 or 44
    during World War II.

    On a gray, rainy day
    in Prague,
    hordes of tourists stroll
    through the Jewish cemetery.
    Their feet crunch
    the brown and yellow leaves
    covering the ground.
    Housing 800,000 graves –
    some over 12 layers deep –
    this cemetery, not functional since 1787,
    on the verge of collapse.
    The packed gravestones lean
    every which way
    in a hodgepodge of rectangular, square,
    and triangular shapes
    so old, so worn and broken
    the Hebrew or Yiddish markings
    are hardly readable.
    Just like the Jews
    who were forced to live
    crammed together in
    the Prague ghetto,
    these gravestones want
    to escape the barriers
    that keep the visitors and vandals out.

    On a stormy day
    in Los Angeles
    we drive through the gates
    of Hillside Cemetery
    and curve around the drive
    to the back wall
    and a small plot
    of miniature flat rectangular
    gray and black marble gravestones
    lying flush
    with the closely cropped grass
    marking the cremated remains
    of fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles,
    grandparents.

    Full sun interrupts the downpour
    just long enough
    for us to kneel
    at our son’s grave
    on his December 31st birthday,
    wipe away the raindrops,
    leave a smooth black stone,
    and four yellow roses
    and allow our tears to fall.

    Remembering Paul

    I’ll always remember he slept
    without closing his eyes all the way
    I’ll always remember he walked fast
    and way ahead of us
    I’ll always remember he had long, thick, black eyelashes
    surrounding clear blue eyes
    I’ll always remember he played the piano
    legs crossed at the knees, leaning
    way down over the keyboard
    I’ll always remember he liked to wear
    second-hand clothes and didn’t mind
    if they were ripped
    I’ll always remember he stood
    at the pantry door munching almonds
    I’ll always remember he liked to climb –
    trees, rocks, diving boards
    I’ll always remember he was meticulous and anal about his things
    I’ll always remember he could play almost any tune by ear
    And that he was always a loner
    And how much he loved his girlfriend
    and wasn’t touched enough after she left him
    I’ll always remember he was sensitive
    I’ll always remember he drove too fast and erratically
    I’ll always remember he got lots of parking tickets
    I’ll always remember he was in love with John Lennon
    I’ll always remember he liked Doc Martin shoes
    I’ll always remember he tapped his foot when he sat down
    I’ll always remember how he sat
    all folded over like The Thinker
    when he drank coffee at Starbucks
    I won’t ever forget the feel of his cool pale skin
    the last night I saw him
    Or the sound of his voice
    I’ll always remember his hair was thick
    I can’t forget he knew all the nursery rhymes
    by the time he was two
    and he said he wanted to watch a record
    when he lay down on the red and black plaid couch to take a nap
    I’ll always remember he and his brother
    called the back of the station wagon,
    “the really back”
    I’ll always remember he loved to fish.

    A Poem That Wants To Be for Ben

    They are always about Paul, my dead son
    the one who died of his own free will
    so many years ago.
    My hordes of poems go on like a mantra:
    his mania, depression, his delusions, escapades,
    his suicide. They never fail to mention
    his piercing blue eyes, the little half smile
    that never showed his teeth, the smoky smell
    and the way he slumped over the piano like the thinker
    as he played.
    Paul and his death have been my muse.

    Ben’s living eyes brim over with love
    as he looks down and folds me in his arms.
    He is the son who says
    I love you
    every time we speak.
    His smiles are wide
    even when he faces disappointment
    in his own life.
    This son is the reason I choose to live.
    Why isn’t he the reason I choose to write?

    Twelve Hundred Head Shots

    I scroll through them
    one by one.
    Each a full-face shot
    in black and white.
    His clothes change – tee-shirts,
    dress shirt, tie and suit jacket,
    a sweater slung over his shoulders,
    a shirt with open collar and loose hanging tie.
    But the poses repeat again and again.

    First his face is serious, eyes slightly squinting,
    looking dark and foreboding,
    His hair slicked back
    not one out of place.
    This guy means business or he’s got a gun.
    Next he shows a little half smile,
    long dimples on the sides of his mouth
    but no teeth.
    Full, dark brows, deep,
    friendly eyes
    reflect the light of day.
    Finally he smiles wide
    showing teeth, dimples,
    and crow’s feet
    around the eyes. His jaw is long,
    square, honest.
    This is a guy
    you can trust to be your friend
    for life.

    When this young son of mine
    played tournament tennis as a boy
    I sat on the sidelines at every match
    with all my fingers crossed and my legs crossed
    and my arm crossed
    as if my body language and my wishing
    could win him the point.

    Now I click through the head shots
    and wonder which one, which look, which outfit
    will get him a part on a TV series
    as a smart aleck lawyer or sinister gangster
    or a part in a movie as the leading man’s sidekick
    or better yet, the role perfect for the Tyrone Power,
    Laurence Harvey,or Montgomery Clift type
    that his new manager says he is –
    the role that will find us both sitting together
    at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
    on Academy Awards night.
    He in his Hugo Boss tux,
    I in my long Armani gown
    waiting, holding hands,
    squeezing them together until they hurt,
    until his name is called
    and he goes up on stage to accept his prize.

    Making It Hard

    The bright room is almost full.
    Four walls of mirrors reflect women and men
    in baggy shorts and sleek black tights.
    The music so loud
    the woman in front of me
    stuffs ear plugs in her ears.
    Lisa G says, “work from the core,
    your workout relates to your real life.”
    I want to get on with it.
    I don’t come here at 6 a.m. to listen to a lecture.
    The neon sign on the wall says, “sweat,”
    and that’s what I want to do.
    The woman behind me complains.
    I don’t know her name, but she’s here every week.
    Always in the same spot, always complaining, always in black.
    Black tights, black sports bra, black thong leotard,
    black headband on her head of black hair.
    Even her lipstick looks black.

    A drill sergeant in baseball cap and high-top aerobic shoes
    Lisa begins her mantra.
    “If it were easy, everyone would be fit,” she shouts
    “Don’t come here and expect it to be easy.”
    She doesn’t single me out.
    I like it that way.
    I like being anonymous here
    I don’t know anyone and no one knows me.
    Being anonymous is a benefit.
    It keeps me in shape, calms my mind,
    gives me the space to be myself.
    It’s a mini vacation from the horrors of my life.
    So, I thank Lisa G
    for getting me moving,
    for making it hard,
    For making it hurt,
    for helping me
    trade one pain for another.

    Meditation Practice

    I face the shrine,
    place my palms together
    bow and walk into the room.
    I choose a spot in the second row
    and sit in the middle of a brilliant red cushion,
    cross my legs, straighten my spine,
    take a quick look around
    before I gaze ahead,
    lowering my eyelids until
    my eyes focus on the gold leaf mandala
    adorning the lacquered alter.
    Soon the tang of incense sends up
    a trail of smoke, like a fine silk thread.
    It disappears above my head.

    I begin to settle down and listen:
    my breath moving in, moving out.
    It sounds like I’m in an echo chamber.
    This is not my breath. It’s the sound
    of something far away.
    I keep listening. The echo louder,
    enveloping me, swaddling me
    in its raspy arms.
    I’m lost in this warmth until I startle,
    my head lurches forward,
    my eyes pop open, my body arches.
    I barely catch myself
    from keeling over.

    The instructor at my side nods.
    I unfold my legs,
    and leave the room with him.
    I sit with him in another room,
    a smaller version of the shrine room,
    to hear his lesson on how to meditate.
    I try to listen carefully,
    I try to stay focused,
    I try to stay with him
    and his words
    but my mind is anxious to try again.

    I take his words with me as I open
    and close the creaking shrine room’s entry doors.
    I go back to my spot and sit again,
    I fold my legs again,
    I straighten my spine again,
    I fix my gaze again.
    Yeah, I’m ready this time.
    I can do this
    if only my right ankle will stop
    distracting me, aching, giving me fits.

    Okay, focus, like the instructor said.
    Pay attention to your breath.
    If you get distracted,
    count your breaths
    cleanse your mind.
    I must let my ankle hurt, let my nose itch,
    and watch my breath move in and out
    I must push invading thoughts aside.
    Okay, take it easy,
    Stay calm.
    How hard is that?

    The leader, sitting slightly elevated in front,
    strikes the copper gong once, twice,
    then produces several more short bursts of sound,
    letting the prolonged vibrations permeate the air.
    It’s time for walking meditation,
    and boy am I ready for that.
    I know I can do that.
    My legs feel like a couple of stiff rails.
    but, wait a minute.
    Is this supposed to be a walk in the park?
    No, of course not.

    I enter the circle of my fellow meditators
    walking the perimeter of the room.
    I tuck my left thumb into my left fist
    and cover it with my right hand,
    holding my spooned hands close to my belly
    just like I was told to do.
    I begin to become aware of my feet
    as I take slow step after slow step
    around the room.
    As I walk my arches rise,
    my toes curl like a ballerina’s,
    my feet are like wings made to propel me,
    elevate me into a perfect pirouette. And,

    I am there,
    walking,
    breathing,
    getting it,
    one step
    one in breath
    one out breath
    at a time.

    Prickly

    “You’re prickly,” my husband said.
    “hard to get along with
    “and snappish.”
    I just stood there, surprised.
    “I’m sorry for being prickly,”
    was all I could think of to say.

    I am never so blunt
    when critical of him.
    He would retort as he’s done
    so many times before,
    “I guess I’m just not good enough,
    “You should just find someone else,”
    he’d say. And, of course,
    I would quickly shut up,

    I wonder what prickly means.
    Do I hurt to the touch
    like little pin pricks?
    Do cacti envy my prowess?
    Do the cats that roam the streets
    and sleep under cars hiss
    and scatter when they see me coming?
    Do the few stars
    that burn through the haze
    look down at me in wonder?

    A Summer’s Day in New York

    My back is hot to the touch.
    Still, the sun beats down
    as the whole world strolls,
    taking in the smells at the Union Square market.
    Fresh basil, warm bread, cut flowers,
    vegetables as vivid a still life,
    all the way from New Jersey farms.
    We go to breakfast at The Coffee Shop,
    across from the square,
    and eat mountains of eggs and crispy fried potatoes
    while listening to live jazz.
    Afterward, we head uptown on the subway
    breathing in the soot, the pee stink,
    and body odors
    to see the Jackie O exhibit at the Met.
    The lines are so long we huddle
    against the wall for an hour,
    but we don’t care a bit.
    Then we push and shove our way through the crowds
    just to get a glimpse of her clothes.
    Over 80 dresses are there – by Givenchy, Cassini and
    who knows how many other designers
    who made those
    60s A-shaped dresses in stiff fabrics
    that hit just below her beautiful knees
    or skimmed the floors she walked on
    with matching coats or capes and little pill box caps
    she wore way back on her head.
    The sparkly strapless white gown,
    its gauzy train
    made her look like a fairy princess.
    We think of her that way,
    mouths open, teary eyed, watching
    the clips of her upstaging her husband,
    beaming at Nikita, Nehru, or Charles de Gaule,
    speaking fluent French and Spanish
    as she ignored those rumors about Marilyn.
    Those were magical times for both her and me
    before our tragedies changed everything.

    We leave the Met
    walk downtown on Madison Avenue
    browsing, trying on dresses,
    Jackie O sunglasses,
    and shoes until
    we can’t take another step.
    So, we perch ourselves on bar stools,
    sip some Chardonnay,
    and watch the hordes of people go by.

    Nadia

    We sat across the table
    covered with a white cloth.
    Her bright face glowed in the light,
    her smile radiant
    punctuated by deep, long dimples
    in each cheek.
    Simply dressed in black slacks
    and a white sweater
    she spoke confidently in English.
    And, when speaking her native Italian,
    she spoke slowly so we could
    understand her words.
    At this first meeting
    in the quiet La Casa Volpi Ristorante
    just outside the city,
    we ate heavy ribollita soup,
    we dipped our bread in oil
    from olives grown and pressed nearby,
    we drank smooth, dark Chianti,
    and we knew we would be friends.

    We lingered, over biscotti and vin santo
    giggling about our language goofs,
    not wanting to end this evening
    and our time in Arezzo in northern Tuscany.
    When we parted
    we embraced with hugs so tight
    I knew she would forever
    have a place in my heart.
    She must have thought so too.

    The next day, as we were leaving her city,
    she told me she was giving me a piece of herself –
    lavender she picked from her garden
    packed in a heart-shaped sachet.

    Black and White Dreams

    I feel like snuggling in,
    feet up on the coffee table
    watching whatever inanity
    the tube spews out
    to attract me. Like the dashing
    Paul Henreid lighting two cigarettes
    as his eyes smolder in their glow,
    Lauren Bacall flipping her hair
    off her face
    as she gives Humphrey
    the come to momma look

    There was a world one could live in,
    black and white and out of focus,
    where one could get lost in dreams.
    We’d sing, we’d shout,
    we’d kiss and do the Continental
    down the wide boulevards of Rio.

    All our endings would be happy
    as the credits roll
    over our bodies
    locked in a smoky embrace.

    Romeo and Juliet’s Wedding Night

    The black drapes open
    on center stage, a bed
    covered in heavy red quilts and pillows
    with a red satin cloth sweeping up
    into the rafters from the headboard.
    The bed covers and white sheets
    crumpled in heaps
    by the bodies of two lovers on top,
    then underneath,
    then on the pillows at the foot of the bed,
    then on the floor
    as they wrap their arms and legs around each other,
    first one on top and then the other,
    never separating as they kiss
    and stroke each other
    until almost daylight and it is time to part.
    But still they don’t part.
    While he buttons his shirt,
    tucking it in half way,
    she, wrapped in a sheet,
    long dark hair covering her breasts like a halter,
    her arms out to him,
    kneels on the bed,
    pleading, “Don’t go, not yet,”
    calling to him to come back
    crying in full soprano voice,
    “It’s not light yet.”
    And he turns around and looks into her eyes.
    His tenor voice roars,
    “Yes, I’ll stay,”
    and he tears off his clothes again
    leaps back onto the bed again
    pushes her back down
    and enfolds her in his arms — again.

    At daybreak, finally getting up,
    picking his clothes off the floor,
    he dresses, this time for good.
    He pulls her to him,
    crushes her body against his,
    jumps over the balcony
    to the ladder.
    He begins to climb down and stops,
    looks back up at her on the bed,
    the new light glow on her pale face.
    He raises one hand to her.
    She runs out to the railing,
    Leaning, reaching, stretching her arms out to him,
    until she almost falls over,.
    Their fingers touch once more
    before he climbs down and runs from her,
    before the full morning light discovers them together
    on this their wedding night.
    And, we all know,
    this was their last night together alive.

    Across the Parking Lot, Into the Gym

    5:30 A.M.
    in the dark, the cold rain,
    lines of cars jockey for the space
    closest to the door.
    The huge gray flatbed
    always in the compact section
    just to piss me off

    Inside
    blinding light reveals every pore,
    frown, furrow,
    sleepy eye, yawn, bed head
    every drop of sweat,
    every added inch
    gained chomping on chips,
    shoveling in the cookies
    pizza pies, McAnythings.

    The same folks line up
    like race horses
    in rows of stairsteppers
    rows of treadmills
    rows of elliptical trainers
    rows of bikes
    rows of rowers
    ab crunchers, thigh shavers,
    hip slimmers, arm deflabbers, chest expanders
    dumbbells, barbells, bars with no bells
    and no whistles.

    They’re on slantboards, flat boards, balance boards,
    wood floors, carpeted floors, balls, bozus
    You ask what’s a bozu – it’s a half ball.
    You have to be there.
    They wear
    baggy tees, baggy sweats,
    long shorts, short shorts, tight shorts,
    skin tights, tight tights,
    bra tops, tank tops, see-through tops, no tops –
    whoops, did I say that?
    Really, they all wear tops.
    Guzzling, suckling like babies
    their sports drinks
    from those ubiquitous plastic nipples.

    They’re plugged in
    to iPods, CDs, cassettes, radios, TVs.
    Anything to drown out the drone
    the cacophony of weights bouncing off the floor,
    feet clip clopping on the treadmill,
    Anything to miss
    the macho guys yelling across the room,
    ridiculing, riling up their buddies,
    exposing their pecks
    and their sex lives.
    Anything to erase
    the voice of the brunette with glasses
    still gloating over W’s win –
    The I told ya sos
    And so what?
    Others running, climbing, cycling, walking,
    flexing, flaunting, strutting their siliconed stuff
    The old geezers checking out the babes.
    The comes ons, turn ons, hard ons and on and on.

    They’re all there when I’m there
    every morning
    Day in, day out.
    5:30 A.M.

    Thirty-Eight Years

    He folds her in his arms
    and looks down at her
    with his deep blue eyes
    and a small, closed-mouth smile
    that shows just the hint of dimples
    in his ruddy cheeks
    the way he looked
    as he stood at her apartment door
    on Mentone Avenue
    that first night,
    his hair
    straw blonde, cut short,
    stuck straight up,
    his beige raincoat
    damp from the March drizzle,
    carrying a bottle of champagne
    under his arm.

    He remembers how
    after drinking champagne
    after dancing so slow they hardly moved
    after she invited him
    into her bed
    they were up all night
    exploring, tasting as they got to know
    and feel every inch of each other
    stroking faces, necks, thighs, feet,
    kissing, mouths open,
    almost swallowing each other,
    coupling, coming, resting,
    one on top, then the other,
    spooned, joined
    over and over again
    until dawn and hunger
    drove them out into the rain
    to find a place to eat.

    And though he admits nothing,
    no nothing,
    has ever come close
    to that first night,
    his memory of it
    and the girl standing in the doorway
    with short dark hair,
    a tight-fitting yellow dress,
    black patent-leather stiletto pumps,
    keep them joined together
    now.

    Tonglen Practice

    It’s the mothers and fathers I care about.

    When my son died, I grieved for him
    and all mothers and fathers
    who ever lost a child.
    I breathed in pain,
    and with each exhalation prayed
    that no parent
    would have to feel
    the pain of such a loss again.

    But I can’t do it alone.
    The mothers
    and fathers
    over all the world
    must practice Tonglen with me.

    We must take the pain into our bodies,
    into our souls, into our hearts,
    and cleanse it with our healing breath.
    Then with our collective breathing out
    give this world a chance
    to be safe for all our children –
    all our sons and daughters.

    Breathe in, breathe out
    now, forever,
    breathe.

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