Ballad of a Needle

If I had an needle I’d sing you a song about a dress.

It would be the pretty blue and white one Mom sent me out to play in.

But, there were benches to climb on and railings to hang from, so

She gave me bloomers to wear under the dress and over my undies.

But I could not hang from railings because people would think that

I’d hang from the railings even if I didn’t have bloomers on and that would be awful,

And shame the family.

So I puzzled about why to have bloomers at all.


Or I’d sing you a song about the dress that was blue,

A jumper with a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar.

This all girls wore everyday to school.

Thus began my total disinterest in fashion.

And my preference for ease and comfort,

To my mother’s dismay.

What beautiful dresses she wore after a lifetime of hand-me-downs!

How about a song about a wedding dress?

It was a beautiful blue and white with beautiful white straw hat.

The maid of honor wore a purple dress and a bridesmaid wore black.

Dresses I wore are far and few between.

It’s like looking for needles in the haystack of memory,

Looking for a needle that could slide between events and clasp them together,

Gather them into a cloth I could cover my present with,

Hold against my cheek and drift off under their weight.

Can I use my grief as a needle and sing a song of loss?

Not about a dress, but about the people who dressed me?

Not about jumpers, but about the friends who touched me?

Not just about dresses, but all the clothes that embraced their soft bodies?

If only I had a needle,

If only I could sing.

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What Is New to Me Now, at 68

(Annual Greenfield Word Festival 2016)


What is new to me now, (don’t bother me with cell phones, legalized weed),


What is new to me now is constant war with no intervals of peace,

What is new to me is the eradication of the illusion that intervals of peace existed between wars;

What is new to me is the eradication of the illusion that racial justice was within sight,

What is new to me now is the necessity of Black Lives Matter;

What is new is the eradication of night sky and of silence;

New to me is the realization of how much work it takes to make fleeting gains,

And how fleeting those gains can be.


What is new to me?  the death of unions, global warming, fracking, intelligent design (whatever the hell that is).

What is not new to me is how little great speeches mean;

What is not new to me is how much poetry means to some of us;

What is not new to me is how much poetry is disparaged;


What is new to me is the sound of my voice reading poetry.



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I Hate Autumn

I hate autumn.

The colors, the wind, the chill, the wilted plants.

Autumn is the drama queen of the year,

Always in crisis,

Flinging beauty about recklessly.


Autumn gets under your skin.

Sneakier than winter, more glamorous than spring.

Deceitful, unlike steady, predictable summer.

Your body rebels, gets hungry, dry, tired.

Bones really can get cold.


Hard earth, rotten crab apples, smacked pumpkins,

Cold floor in the morning, hot floor by the fire.

Autumn brings discomfort, irritation, stinky sweaters,

Dark afternoons, garbage tipped over, the cat goes

In and out, in and out, in and out baffled by the cold.


Okay, so the kids scrape through the crunchy leaves.

The dog is friskier, the sky is blindingly clear,

The stars almost touch the garden ground.

The roof stops leaking. No more mowing.


I don’t care, I still hate autumn.



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My restless, fitful cousin

Punched a black patient in the hospital.

At Thanksgiving dinner he offered advice he’d gotten

From a prostitute the week before:

“The best part of sex is right after the orgasm.”


One eye had been poked out by a paper clip

when he was in grammar school.

He took a bad trip on Spring Break in Florida

and angel dust took him to schizophrenia.


His mother woke up one night and saw him

Standing over her holding a knife.

He stands in the living room now, big,

One-eyed, scary. Everyone’s left the room

Except my father and I, asking him


what else he had learned.



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The Road Around the Hill

He insisted that the road wound around the hill all the way to the top with

No stops.

He lied.

On purpose.


On the first curve was an ice-cream truck.

I passed it by.

First test passed.

On the next curve was a shining silver lake.

I passed.

Second test.


Around the hill two more times until

Around the very next curve

Sat Sigourney Weaver.

I hesitated.

My foot eased off the gas.

Then I pushed down, sped up

And almost hit a car coming down.

That was a close one.


Then just at a narrow pass, were two abandoned puppies.

How cruel not to stop and take them!

However, I pursurviered.

Onward and upward!


On a lay-by a man was selling a Jane Eyre first edition, for $19.95.

Oh torture! Oh heartbreak!

I passed by.


I looked in the rear view mirror until he disappeared.

Hours into the climb I could see the hilltop.

Victory was at hand!

In fast succession came

A garden of roses,

A meadow of wildflowers,

A vacation home on the Maine coast,

A full set of strong teeth,

My father alive,

My grandmother alive,

All my pets alive,

I sped past them all,

and raced to the very top.

And forgot why I had come.

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The News I Fear

Slugs are not much loved.

Maybe God loves slugs,

But who knows?


One day in the garden, no slugs.

Next day,



The invisible destroyer becomes solid,

Well, almost solid;

It’s a slug.


Rare is the animal whose name so suits its physicality.



Now there is a name that suits its own ugliness.

Maybe if I was German…..


The invisible destroyer becomes solid.

My mother is walking back and forth in her own kitchen

Not knowing where she is.


One day in the kitchen, no Alzheimer’s.

Next day…….

No, I lie.


Slugs take their time eating away,

Chewing, or whatever they do to petals,

Until one day I notice what is gone.



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Many Doorsteps

That Doorstep

That doorstep trips you up every time.

Look down, the key is under the bucket.

Look up, watch your head.

Watch, don’t let the cat out.

Look behind, or the screen door will hit you.

Put your bag down; it tips over.

Look down, the key is not under the bucket.

Look up, bang your head,

Hold the screen with your elbow,

Kick the door with your heel. No one answers.

The cat sits between your legs.


The Stoop

The concrete is hot. It must be summer.

The streetlight sputters on. It must be evening.

The Mallory’s slide open their window. There must be a breeze.

Cousin Jimmy has his guitar. There must be no work.

Mom and Mary Ryan sit down to rest their feet. Dinner must be cooked.

I sit on the bottom step, feet planted on the sidewalk.

A cat between my legs.


The Wheelchair Doorstep

Someone must see it is raining.

Someone must be working the door.

It can’t be long now, can it?

Surely someone will come soon.

I back up, rev up my arms and rush the doorstep.

The tiny front wheels catch the lip and tip me forward.

Surely someone will come soon,

See me in the rain outside

A cat upon my lap.


That Last Doorstep

He’s lain there unmoving,

Waiting for God knows what.

The nurses lied on his chart –

He has not eaten in days.

His eyes have not opened,

His throat has not moaned.

He’s lain there unmoving,

Waiting for .…


He is waiting for the precise moment.

Relax, he’s been waiting a lifetime for this moment.

The exact right moment.

Some sound in his silence

Listening for that precise breath

To choose to be his last.

Before stepping over.

I nestle under his chin,

Feel my purr echo in this chest.

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