You find the family you need.
Marilyn, a somewhat cured agoraphobic and hoarder,
in the one bedroom to my right,
appeared at my apartment door one night at 3 am
and announced “Never get married,”
before turning on her heel.
At that same door she told me I needed
only five pieces in my wardrobe. Black and white. Classics.
Don’t bother with the rest.
When I tried quitting smoking I enlisted her
to help wean me off, agreed she would ration me,
leave three cigarettes
in my milk chute every day.
First day they were burned to nubs by noon.
She suspected her European husband was a spy
and walked in careful circles around him,
a slippery tyrant who played Wagner every Sunday morning.
So loud it once knocked a picture off my wall, breaking it.
Furious, I headed over.
When he flung open the door I saw, instantly,
the chaos Marilyn had been living with
all this time.
You find the family you need.
There are always good people.
Mr. Rogers was right.
Just yesterday the man on the plane
who saw me struggling with the overhead bin,
jumped up, took over, smiling.
The mother of three across the aisle
handing out cleaning wipes,
her children willingly helping.
The flight attendant, struggling with her face mask,
joking with her colleague:
“If I hyperventilate behind this, you got me, right?”
The Customs official facing a sea of disgruntled travelers,
asking me if I had fever or sickness: I told him no.
“I’m happy you’re well,” he said, before sending me on.
Heads up, people.
We have widely different families and streets and seas,
but underneath it all
we share a beating human heart,
the same skies and sun,
the same bewitching moon.
If it’s true
as grim neurologists now claim,
that our memory is far from intact,
that the very process by which we retrieve the past
is flawed, random, that it plays fast and loose with
fact, detail, even
colour. Then how exactly do I conjure
what was us.
If it’s all up for grabs,
all bets off,
what was true?
The way you looked at me that evening
on the boardwalk,
was it as tender as I picture it now?
And your kiss. As deeply felt?
Did you profess your love in three languages
or was it just two?
Before you round the corner do you actually
turn to look at me
one last time?
Are you in the blue shirt
or the red?
Are those actual tears?
But science falls short. It overlooks
the power of the human heart
which has a memory all its own,
where the moments of our lives never alter,
or grow old.
Where a look remains as tender
as when first it was delivered,
a heart quickens just as it once did.
Yearning as fervent,
passion as acute,
and in that special place
the moments worth remembering
lie in wait for us, inviolate,
undefiled by time
Coming to Nothing
The day-to-day momentum
carries us with it,
making it impossible to imagine
this all shall pass.
Too much to think this will end,
carrying us into oblivion alongside
all of our carefully honed plans,
our exquisite attention to detail.
Who can contemplate that one day
and not so very far away,
another, perhaps even a stranger,
will be charged to sift through our lives,
tossing into random piles
our old day timers, nail polishes
and favorite sunglasses,
expired library cards.
Who can comprehend that one day
Some distant cousin may glance
at a dog-eared photograph
of a laughing, red-haired woman,
and ask with fleeting interest
to no one in particular:
“Wasn’t she a writer?”
You need to know that I want
Unabashedly sentimental songs.
Think Van Morrison
In his earlier, less angry days and
Dylan, in his later, gentler ones.
An instrumental of Annie Laurie is a must,
As too Mark Knopfler,
Who so magically supplied the soundtrack
For my days here.
You’ll need really good food for after.
Excellent, piping hot coffee and brewed Orange Pekoe in china pots,
Kentucky Fried Chicken,
Pizzas made to order,
And a Build Your Own ice cream sundae station
To add the requisite whimsy.
Display a very few pictures of me,
Not huge Bristol boards packed full of them,
So popular these days.
Black and white predominating, if you will,
My unwavering preference.
Yes, my nod to tradition,
Scads of calla lilies, but white only,
The yellow look fake somehow,
Oh, a few off white roses, would you,
Champagne they call them now.
And in the middle of everything
Position one commanding vase of
Fat white peonies,
Because their fragrance, their sheer deliciousness
Outdistances all the others combined.
Everyone there ought to tell
One story about me that stands out for them,
And not just of sweetness and light.
The dark, too.
You all know
I was more than one shade.
A piper would be wonderful at the close,
Just one, as there was for my father,
A whole band of them he felt excessive
And I must agree.
Then let me go.
Knowing that most days
I cherished this life of mine
And that while briefly here,
Laughed probably more than most,
Loved a few of you beyond measure,
And with providence in my corner
Was able to write a few poems
I would not change one word of
So It Begins.
If I’m looking for the seeds of
my intolerance of injustice
I need look no further
than a Grade Nine girls’ only Health class.
Sister St. Cletus calling us up to the front,
two or three at a time, those still seated
charged with critiquing, in turn,
on a scale of one to ten,
each of the girls’ personal grooming.
The plump unkempt Rosario
newly arrived from Sicily suffered most.
The bookish pale Margaret also paid dearly.
It wasn’t just that the exercise was callous, arbitrary.
It was its pitting girl against girl for reasons entirely inconsequential,
the time and sheer energy it exacted,
the pitiful tears shed privately after,
when those same girls
could have been banding together and begin to
change the world.
I asked my friend Chuck what the boys did.
Turns out their Health class was held outdoors.
They ran the city streets in all weather,
he said proudly,
in matching shorts and tees,
a pack, cohesive,
and growing stronger.