by Joanne Jagoda, Lawrence DiCostanzo, Mary Milton, A.D. Winans, Ralph Dranow, Yvonne Postelle,
Jan Dederick, John Rowe, Madeline Lacques-Aranda, Marc Hofstadter, Maureen Fitzgerald, Nancy Wakeman,
Gerald Nicosia, Stephen Kopel, Scott Caputo, Robert Coats, Don Brennan & Lee Rossi
Two Poems by
Joanne Jagoda (Oakland)
If you Knew
If you knew that your time was up
that your ticket was punched
that the Angel of Death was hovering
bobbling his leg, impatient
and had your name
clutched in his hand on a post it
If you knew that your bucket list
would never be written
much less fulfilled
and you would be dead in a week
from something that would hit you
from out of nowhere
If you knew that the finest medical brains
could not fix you
despite their best efforts
and even a torrent of prayers
reaching to the crests of the heavens
with eleventh hour negotiations
and hard bargains made with God
would be to no avail
If you knew
that after everything
you only had
just that one week
those seven short days
Would you hurl your blackberry
savor the sunlight on your face
eat full fat Hagen Daz ice cream
dance in the kitchen to “unchained melody”
hold your loved ones tightly
and give them a list
meant to endure for the rest of their lives
starting with what colors they should avoid
and to not forget thank you notes
and to bring a hostess gift
and to promise to be there for each other
no matter what
Would you demand your favorite roses
in that certain shade of lilac
Would you go in the shower
with all your clothes
and scream as the water courses over you
why me God
how could this have happened
and couldn’t you have waited
until I held my first grandchild
Or would you just lay back
and accept this decree
with your usual grace and aplomb
and calm resignation
and say your good byes
and give your last kisses
and close your eyes
and welcome the good light
I would have called you “Oma”
I would have called you “Oma”
You would have called me “Little Doll”
I would have cuddled in your lap
You would have told me your stories
I would have gone to you when I was hurt
You would have kissed away my tears.
I would have looked like you
You would have laughed when people said that
I would have had your high cheekbones
You would have fussed with my straight hair
I would have slept on your shoulder
You would have sung to me about geese and rabbits
I would have made cut out cookies with you
You would have taught me your recipes
I would have run to you with my report cards
You would have been in the first row for my graduations
I would have helped you when you were sick
You would have sat with me when I had the chicken pox
I would have told you my secrets
You would have kept them forever
I would have brought around my sweetheart
You would have welcomed him into your arms
I would have stood under the marriage canopy
You would have wept tears of joy
But they shipped you on the train to Auschwitz
And you walked to the showers of gas
Your precious light extinguished forever
And when I hold my own sweet grandchild
I think about you…
I would have called you ”Oma”
-- Poems by Joanne Jagoda ( currently appearing in the Holocaust sectionof the e-zine, “Poetica”)
FENCE ON THE POPE
by Lawrence DiCostanzo (Berkeley)
I’m hanging on a fence,
Glinting in strong country light.
It’s sun-hot, and my folds
Collect dust and sweet pollen.
No more speeding round.
No more stink of the road.
No more burning heat
Of rubber on asphalt.
I flew off a wheel at a bump,
And my round edge
Is a little gouged.
Hands found me in dry grass
And drove off with me
Riding without spinning!
Hands hung me on this fence
Where the ranch meets the road.
For an eighth of a mile,
Hundreds of us shine
On barbed wire
Strung between oaks:
A thin veil
Of flashing gauze,
A Milky Way of round stars,
A frozen moment in
A spinning plate act.
We are, however,
Mainly, a wall of former hubcaps,
Slightly flapping in disdain
At passing cars.
Preening for cyclists
Who fly by like birds.
Poems on Widowhood by Yvonne Postelle (San Rafael)
The following poems are by Yvonne Postelle of San Rafael, whose husband passed away in 2009. She has been working on a collection about facing his illness (it was never clear what he was dying of), his death and her caretaking, the loss of shared memories, and the aftermath of recreating a new identity.
With one elbow on the mantel,
Death smokes a cigarette
and, eyes half-closed, counts
every cocktail we consume.
More accurately it watches Jack.
In spite of having switched
from Jameson’s to ginger ale
he continues to waste away.
At ninety pounds he should be easy
pickings. Why is it taking so long?
he asks, and I keep it light:
Ask your buddy.
Caught up in watching their wary
pas de deux, at first I fail to see,
reflected in the mirror on the wall,
one of Death’s many shadows.
that shadow taps its toe,
sucks its teeth,
keeps its eyes on me.
he asks, and I keep it light:
Ask your buddy.
You loved words
as you loved music
yet come to a wordless end.
With a frail hand
you gesture me close.
I lean in.
caress my breast.
Your eyes close.
Death With Dignity
Determined to die with dignity,
you store up pills, helium,
plastic face masks, all the tools
of self-deliverance, make sure
that when pain comes
you will be prepared.
Then Death approaches
from a different direction:
a lessening of appetite,
forgetfulness, loss of concern
for life’s practicalities.
No way to fend off this
slow, simultaneous fading
of body and mind.
As your molars soften,
we discover baked yams,
soft fried eggs. Not dignified,
the body’s slow erosion,
yet you maintain
the gentle dignity
I’ve always loved in you.
On your penultimate noon
you tell the Hospice nurse
she’s, A fine looking lass.
Then, as evening arrives,
kiss your step-daughter’s hand.
you beckon me
In the Garden
We eat chicken sandwiches
and coleslaw in the shaded garden.
We don’t know it is his last
trip outside. My hearing-aid battery
beeps and dies. I startle,
sit blinking at him.
If death came quickly–
without pain or warning–
it might be like this.
An unexpected signal.
The body’s surprise.
We sit at breakfast.
His half-eaten egg grows cold.
Late morning sun snags in the blue velour
of his robe. Looking across at me he asks,
Do you regret anything?
I think he is talking about us
and reply easily, Nothing.
Then, ready for the next topic,
I pause out of politeness. And you?
His expression turns inward.
I think he is surveying his life:
the urban childhood, service in two wars,
half a century of diligent living
on the coast of your choice. A smile
tugs at the corners of his lips.
I wish . . . the half smile
becomes an impish grin . . .
I had made love
to more women.
I wake early,
come into his room.
He is still breathing.
I make coffee and sit
at the small desk,
open my journal and write,
I went to sleep . . .
but before I can complete
the phrase, thinking of death,
the light at my shoulder
blinks out. Moving cautiously
through the sudden dark,
I peer down the hall,
discern the faint gleam
of his night-light.
Just one lamp then.
Not the whole circuit.
And when one of us dies,
it will be just one death
After you wring wet terry cloth,
if you fold it and twist it again,
it gives a second stream of water.
The Spanish Masters
by Scott Caputo (Santa Clara)
The Spanish masters knew light,
the way it drapes over the exposed torso
sagging with wrinkles.
The raised hand is illuminated in a copper air
washing over the face pulled into itself
as a hermit deep in a cave of muddy orange.
Even in death, the body of Jesus
snatching the gaze of the man
hoping to remain unobserved in shadows.
The last thoughts of martyrs are held still
as the sheep grazing the dark edges
around the rays of heavenly visions.
That place we once knew is lit again
with a disturbing bronze
that speaks of the absence
of other figures to share in this warmth
that permeates even the heaviest blacks.
The last painting seen
is the last candle before sleep,
every figure brushed with hues of forgetting:
the eyes of the beggar,
the yearning of the woman at the river--
all is hidden again
inside the tolling bell towers of the mind.
Black sky’s awhirl with stars.
I’m young, afraid of everything.
I fall to my knees in the cloistered plaza,
in the thick forest, on our front lawn,
and swoon at the sight of so many
fires blazing in such vast space.
Kneeling, I pray to the myriad lights,
the vault, whatever it is holding all this
so far above my jellied eyes,
until I’m just one more small fire
sending out my tiny spark of light.
—Marc Hofstadter, from Luck
To My Successors
My life is jammed with printed facts
of forms, of files, of mail unread.
It seems I can’t unpile the stacks.
Resolve to organize always cracks,
the paper tigers reign instead.
My life is jammed with printed facts.
Paper cuts. I can’t relax.
Unnerved by laxity and dread
I can’t, it seems, unpile the stacks.
With office supplies I plan attacks.
Paper opponents take the lead.
My life is jammed with printed facts.
I’ve threatened shredder, fire and ax.
The piles are stationary, unafraid.
It seems I won’t outlive the stacks.
Can one concede to print with tact?
I fear I’ll never get ahead.
Just know when my obituary prints the facts,
the will is somewhere in the stacks.
White Bean Soup
by Jan Dederick (El Cerrito)
One pound small white navy beans
Like the ones mom would bake up
With a hambone celery onions carrots
A dash of molasses in heavy brown crock
For 4 hours before 4th of July picnic
All signs of whiteness a rumor by then,
No sign of sailors at all by then
One pound small white navy beans
eleven hundred seventy seven
giggle as they tumble into pressure cooker.
Not that they like Rumi's chickpeas
aspire to enlightenment by boiling,
but because they'd snuck by the quality-control
one lone kidney bean
who brings to our winter soup
the slightest blush of pink
by Robert Coats (Berkeley)
“From Asia Minor to Oceania, they share common attributes: shorthaired coats that may be multicolored but are often ginger, curled tails, erect ears and fox-like faces.“
--S. Weidesnaul, Smithsonian 20 (12): 44
We are dogs of the margin, skulking
in shadows, scavenging scraps and
carrion on the smoking middens
of civilization. We come snuffling
at the sound of a drunk vomiting.
If a child stoops for a stone, we vanish.
We cleaned up after Alexander at Persepolis--
What a feast that was!
And Guadalcanal and Galipoli--when
the guns fell silent, your loss was our gain.
In bomb-hollowed Iraqi buildings
our bitches whelp and suckle.
The good people of the AKC
hate and fear us, and we
wouldn’t give a dead rat for all their papers.
To you we are curs and mongrels
but what do you know? You
never really see us.
AKC is the American Kennel Club, which registers and tracks the geneologies of pure-bred dogs.
From a wash of raw umber emerges a creature:
bones and a mouth, angles of lines I’d studied for years
whenever we faced not the same thing but each other
From the palette, deep cadmiums arouse
the desert colors that wear your skin
Clouds of Prussian blue blend with earth
to form the coils of your hair
and finally, coppery irises shimmer in eyes
that held my image as I snapped your photo
in the half light of our bedroom
where you had looked up from your crossword puzzle
with exasperated affection--what is she up to now?--
but secretly so happy that I love your old face
And I wish you could feel my ecstasy now as
you appear here
to love me too
Confession to My Dog
by Mary Milton (El Cerrito)
I know you have smelled them on me
and I admit it--yes--I have been with other dogs
I go down to the shelter and pick them up
And this has not been a one-time thing
no--I have been with lots of other dogs
We go out--hang around the west side
Have a good time--nothing unleashed of course
Or we might go in a playroom--fool around
There's kissing sometimes--and petting
always petting--heavy heavy petting
But not to worry--honey-bunny Lizzie-wizzie
I always come home to you
I swear you are the only dog I sleep with
GARE ST. LAZARE
We’ve both seen the postcard in museum gift shops,
two trains wreathed in smoke, dark figures
swirling between, almost smoke themselves,
the roof resting on nothing but air.
Behind the trains you see three more carbarns —
foreshortened, gothic — and a tall building as weightless
as the sky. And the sky, blue-grey like the steam floating
above the trains. Everything volatile, gaseous, about
to evanesce. When I think of the train station
in Madrid, not the Atocha, but the smaller
one to the north, this is what I see, hopelessly
romanticized and out of date. All the pain
of leaving you made pretty and whole.
Everything in flight, even me. Even you.
-- Lee Rossi (San Carlos)
mining an open field
littered with lies,
treachery, broken hearts,
and careful to avoid
pitching headlong into
dank pits of despair,
romance novelist Vena Cava
holds high her
butterfly net of hope,
snagging, where she can,
snatches of conversation . .
remnants of reconciliation . .
scraps of kindness . .
an affectionate glance . .
a warm embrace . .
even plunging recklessly
into thorny tanglegrowth,
playing a writers’ hunch
an unexpected, handsome groundskeeper,
contrite, making amends,
might haul away emotional debris
creating an atrium of acceptance--
all parties willing to
set aside grievances --
with which Vena Cava
might conclude her
next work of fiction
--Stephen Kopel (San Francisco)
Poem for All the People
in Prison Tonight
Some men keeping other men locked up
Some men killing other men
Some men helping other men to stay alive
Some men feeding other men
Men and women both
Performing these age-old
So that the world never progresses
More than half an inch
Every thousand years
And only one man or woman
In 10 or 100 million
That the prison of time
Can be broken out of entirely
The day we all stop
As if they were anything
—Gerald Nicosia (San Francisco)
(for Margaret Atwood)
Hot chocolate by a crackling fire,
fresh snow cottoning cabin windows.
In the woods an ice pond
shadowed lavender, a wolf's
Over a Canadian range, geese flock
into sunset's flamboyant farewell
taking you with them
to a lover's aurora borealis.
In California, far from
any northern lights,
your two lines sustain me:
"Pray for me not as I am
but as I am."
—Claire J. Baker (Pinole)
Ode to the Moon
by Nancy Wakeman
After nights of fog and rain
The moon glows through ragged clouds
Every creature raises its head
Hearts open in wonder
Poets sharpen their pencils
Clamber up flag poles
Oh! Great Mother Goddess
Swelling and shrinking
They say you are barren
Nothing but dust and rocks
You tug at the tides
Drag them with you
On your westerly journey
To expose the gurgling lives
Of undersea animals
And you carry one giant
Footstep for mankind
Sometimes you disappear
Where do you go?
Mr. Sun is dependable
Always the same size
Absent from Oakland
He’s dancing in Gdansk
Great Mother Moon!
I wear blinders
Don’t take time to see
Blot out your brilliance
With modern living
After weeks of fog and rain
Your polished silver face
Shines through ragged clouds
My eyes are stunned speechless
By your splendor
able to run
and stand on
unable to resist
the need to wail
a wind laboring to be
born in a winter storm
a mythical siren singing
songs to giants
crashing head-on over
love’s jagged rocks
sinking ship after ship
insisting on delicately
reasoned foreign words
to explain frailty
to account for pain
to explain with tears
and joyous shouting
exactly why the sirens
sometimes wake up
why the blessed seas are
sometimes angry, and
exactly how love is able
to toddle about
on tiny legs
Old Warrior of North Beach
He walks the streets of North Beach
Looking like an old man
With eyes empty as broken parking meter
Unemployable weighed down by the years
His mind heavy as an anchor dragging the
Bottom of the ocean floor
Forgotten rebel playing old ballads
In the shipwreck of his heart
His mind destroyed by shock treatments
And one too many police batons
At night he dreams
He’s riding with Geronimo
Has imaginary conversations with Charlie Parker
Rides the ferry with Miles Davis
Getting off at Bourbon Street
To down a drink with Kerouac
He shares a cigarette with Charlie Chaplin
At the old Bijou theater
Walks the battlefields with Walt Whitman
Rides the plains with Red Cloud
In search of the last buffalo
Walking the streets of North Beach
In search of the elusive ginger fish smell
Death a sightless chauffeur
Waiting like a concubine facing another