It’s been about 25 years since I did my last public poetry reading, but I’m gathering up my courage and doing one tomorrow at the Springfield Library. Believing that you “have to get them at ‘Hello!'” I’m going to start with this one. (I just hope that I can pull it off.)
My cousins in downstate New York are all ready for Christmas with their cookies, posting photos and recipes on Facebook and making me feel inadequate as a grandmother.
My mother started baking after Thanksgiving and didn’t finish until the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, after all, was always the extended-family gathering at my own grandmother’s for the Polish Wigilia, a meatless night of eating and drinking and singing “Koledy,” Polish Christmas Carols.
When I moved away decades ago, I drifted away from those traditions, and, not really being into housewifery, I didn’t get into the baking, either.
One of my mother’s specialties was “pizzelles,” which are of Italian origin, but that didn’t stop my mother. She got the recipe from her Italian sister-in-law and each year gave everyone in the family a batch of her homemade pizzelles — which are made on a kind of waffle iron and which take an awful lot of time to make. You have to pour each one separately and then stand there while the hot gadget bakes them. Then you have to remove each one separately and set them carefully aside to cool and harden.
One of the few things I took for myself after my mother passed away was her pizzelle maker, and this year I unearthed it from the cellar, cleaned it up, googled a recipe, and made a batch that I will take to my daughter’s in-laws on Christmas Day.
I found that I actually enjoyed making them — something about the meditative calm of the repetitive task, the memory of my mother humming softly while she poured, clamped, waited, opened, and gently removed her perfectly round and patterned pizzelles.
Mine are not so round or so perfectly patterned, but it was my first try.
My mother always bought — rather than made — one kind of pastry for the holidays. She called them “bow ties” and got them especially for my son, who loved them. They are really Jewish “egg kichel,” and this year I ordered some from Etsy and sent them to my son in Portland OR in memory of my mom. He said that they were just as good as he remembered.
I don’t have many Christmas traditions (especially since I don’t really celebrate the religious holiday) but I think I will make making my mom’s pizzelles one of them from now on.
I finally got off my lazy butt and organized a “writing circle” at the public library. It’s held every other Wednesday afternoon and is loosely based on the Amherst Writing Method. I say “loosely” because, while I have participated in the program in the past, I have not been officially trained to lead a group. But we follow the suggested “prompt, write, respond” method, and it is working very well for us, I think.
So, today the folks each brought in an object for someone else to use as a prompt. I chose a pair of very worn women’s shoes from the turn of 19th century. I had posted it here but removed it because I am submitting it to a poetry journal.
For as long as I can remember, I have dressed up for Hallowe’en. I start in September deciding on and building a costume. Last year I was a mad scientist. The year before, a Lady Bug. The year before that, a Hogwart’s Professor. I have been Elaine of Camelot, a 1940’s gangster in a double breasted suit, Medusa with pipe cleaner snakes in my hair, the “Deadly Sin” Lust (as a vampire), Sneezy of the Seven Dwarfs, Madame Sosostris (T.S. Eliot’s “famous clairvoyant, had a bad cold but was known to be the wisest woman with a wicked pack of cards”), a unicorn, Jeannie the genie, and any number and variety of witches.
My once husband, being a playwright, actor, and director, could occasionally get into the costume thing. One year we went as Elaine the Lily Maid of Astalot and her Jester — with masks. When my kids were little, I made their costumes too. My daughter, as Raggedy Ann, won a prize in a costume parade (an actual parade down the night streets of the small town we lived in then). Here’s a picture of both kids, my daughter as the Queen of Autumn and her brother as a little demon sidekick.
As my son got older, he opted to be some kind of super hero, including one that he invented and designed the costume for. He called himself “Neutrino.”
I am not dressing up this year. I just don’t have the energy, and I’m out of ideas.
But my daughter and grandson are not, and they are in the final stages of building the Dalek that my grandson will sit in and propel around the neighborhood, using my mom’s old transport wheelchair as the base. Don’t know what a Dalek is? Here’s a clue.
I have always approached “clothes” as “costumes.” I had my office worker costume, my funky weekend wear, by ballroom dance outfits. What I wear has always been an extension of who I am, and apparently I have passed those genes on to my kids and grandkid. What they wear is who they are (at that moment).
But what about me? What has changed so that I am no longer excited about a new costume — for Hallowe’en or otherwise. There is very little I seem to be excited about these days, and my Hallowe’en addiction seems to have disappeared. It’s it age? Is it some kind of depression?
Meanwhile, I am getting a real kick out of watching the birth of the home-grown Dalek, made all of cardboard, duck tape, bits of styrofoam, wire wreath frames, cup lids, spay paint, and an awful lot of imagination and determination.
Most people have a general idea of what home schooling is. What they don’t realize that there are infinite variations of how to go about teaching your kids at home.
My 12 year old grandson is home schooled and has always been. I live with him and his family, and so I am usually right in the middle of it all. My daughter is the facilitator — and that’s what she is, more than a traditional “teacher,” (although sometimes she does play that role). She has chosen not to work at an outside job, so home schooling has become her passion, and she is involved in the regional home schooling community.
Learning here is part of living, and most of the time my grandson learns all of the basic skills, as well as research, communication, ethics, history, civic responsibility etc. etc. as part of some interdisciplinary project in which he becomes involved because he has expressed an interest in it.
The computer is right next to the dining table, and when some question comes up in conversation at a meal, he can turn around and research the answer. He has become very proficient at using the computer to further his learning, either by using actual programs that my daughter has downloaded or by researching and creating his own base of information.
Television also plays a big part in his learning. From Mythbusters to Pawn Stars to documentaries on the History and National Geographic channels, he absorbs information like a sponge.
As an involved observer, there is so much I can write about the processes and the products of home schooling. But what prompts me today is his latest project: pygmy goats and can we have them here as pets.
This interdisciplinary project has just begun and will last until spring, when we will make a decision whether or not we can and will actually get a goat or two. Or three.
In the meanwhile, he has been emailing back and forth with the local zoning office and reading online abut the care and use of goats and how they might be used as a source of income (weeding vacant lots in place of having them mowed). He has ordered a book about the care and feeding of pygmy goats. Over the next several months, there will be visits to places that sell pygmy goats and conversations with the folks who raise them. There will be exercises in figuring out how much land they would need and how to provide for their shelter. These exercises will include a lot of math for measuring as well as for finances.
My role as “grandmother-in-residence” is to listen, encourage, ask questions, and share in the excitement of discovery and adventure. Not at all a bad way to spend part of my retirement time and energy. And, actually, pygmy goats, as their popularity on youtube has proven, are fun to have around. I wouldn’t mind that at all.
Finishing Line Press announces a new title: What the Seasons Leave. The poetry chapbook, part of Finishing Line’s acclaimed New Women’s Voices Series, is by Massachusetts author Elaine Frankonis.
“The poems in this chapbook,” Frankonis explains, “become a brief episodic memoir of an ordinary life lived with a sense of personal myth and magic.”
With the acceptance for publication of her first poetry chapbook by Finishing Line Press at age 74, Frankonis, has finally filled the only item on her bucket list.
A “chapbook” is a small collection of poetry centered around a specific theme and published in a limited edition. What the Seasons Leave begins with the metaphor of a compost pile and ends with the image of
...spears of brazen Jerusalem artichoke,
that perplexing garden gypsy
that blossoms and burrows,
grows up to nine feet tall, and
in the harsh summer storm
dances her defiance
to the grim arrogance
Psychotherapist, poet, and author Edward Tick (Dream Healing, War and the Soul, The Golden Tortoise) has said of Frankonis’ work: “Frankonis is a poet who is at once easy and difficult. She is easy because she is lyrical and familiar and embraces the everyday of loving, parenting, gardening. She is difficult in her demand that we go deeply into the simple and squeeze out the juices of love and wisdom. Frankonis lives up to her demand of poets – to make ‘the earth grow bones.’”
Over the past 50 years, Frankonis has had her poetry published in a variety of small presses and online journals (many of which no longer exist). Earlier versions of several of the poems in this chapbook have previously appeared in The Berkshire Review, the Ballard Street Poetry Journal, and Mused: the BellaOnline Literary Journal. In 1998, several of her pieces appeared in the anthology Which Lilith: Feminist Writers Recreate the World’s First Woman.
With a BA and MA in English/Education from the University at Albany, she was accepted by and participated in two competitive poetry workshops offered by the Writers-in-Residence Program of the New York State Writers Institute. For several years, she served on the Board of Directors of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and was co-editor of, and contributor to, Gates to the City, the literary anthology for the Albany, New York Tricentennial celebration.
An admirer of all things Joseph Campbell, Karl Jung, Clarissa Pinkola Estes,
Ursula LaGuin, and the 1940s version of Wonder Woman, Frankonis is a perpetual student of feminist archetypes in various mythologies and science fiction.
When weblogs started to become popular, it was not surprising that she became one of the early adult female bloggers and was the first president of “Blogsisters,” the
oldest women’s group blog on the net. She continues to blog, although sporadically, at Kalilily Time.
Finishing Line Press is a poetry publisher based in Georgetown, Kentucky. In addition to the New Women’s Voices Series, it sponsors the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition.
Cover art for What the Seasons Leave is by Troy, New York artist and print-maker, Linda K. Ryder, Ryder Studio, Troy, NY. Stone and polyester plate lithograph detail from “Diva” series (2009 to present).
Copies of What the Seasons Leave is scheduled for release January 3, 2015. It can be pre-ordered online at www.finishinglinepress.com. Click on “Preorder forthcoming titles” and scroll down the list to her name.
It can also be ordered directly from the publisher. Send a check or money order in the amount of $15.58 (includes shipping), to
Finishing Line Press
Post Office Box 1626
Georgetown, KY 49324
Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt
Go here to read the pieces about the image that others have written.
He was the one (she whispers,
her gaze time-shifting from the photo
caressed by fingers trembling
with fearless age and old desires).
I saw him by the shrine at the crossroads,
where he sprawled beneath the ancient willow
offering newly weaned kittens
to passersby by, like me,
strolling home from morning mass,
smelling of incense and warnings
against the lure of strangers offering
mysteries beyond our simple path.
His dark eyes burned, even through
the dark glasses he wore, turning my skin
liquid, my hands yearning for the silk
of his shirt, the brocade of his waistcoat,
his lips hinting of arrogance and sweet
submission. Instead, I took a kitten,
smelling of some other incense,
redolent of mythic midnight fires.
That was not the last of him in my life.
We were each other’s secret, and we shared
each other as we shared the cat, who loved
us both in her dark feline freedom.
I wrote this poem about him back then,
before he left to seek another destiny,
following the call of his blood
and the hypnotic drift of the Danube.
There are others I have wanted,
but you flow like the river
through my out-stretched hands.
I would not catch you if I could.
Instead, I ride the edges of your tide
and let the strength of your windswell
wash the stones from my hair.
Ever since I as a little kid with allergies, my sinuses have been my “Achilles Heel.” I remember the doctor having to suction out my sinuses because the mucous was so thick that I couldn’t blow it out.
When I was teaching back in the 70s, I was always sick because of the chalk dust in the air. Teary eyes and a runny nose ruled my Springs and Summers. Over the years, even two rounds of allergy shots (20 years apart), and what must have amounted to millions of allergy pills, never made much difference.
A dozen years ago, an Otolaryngologist discovered that I had a badly deviated septum. I opted to have it surgically fixed. I blogged about that back in July 2002.
Last November I came down down a sinus infection that no amount of nasal irrigation, allergy nose spray, and other non-presription treatments affected. So, back to an ENT, another CT scan, and a diagnosis of scar tissue blockage on one side and a re-deviated septum on the other. Three rounds of three different antibiotics, prednisone, and cortisone nose spray didn’t do a thing.
Surgery, again, done three days ago. Packing and splint, antibiotics, and Vicodin.
I got the packing and splint out today, and I have no doubt that surgery was the right thing to do. The scar tissue blockage had caused puss to back up high into my sinus cavities. And there it remained stuck until the surgeon cleaned it out and removed the scar tissue. While he was in there, he fixed the deviated septum on the other side.
They totally sedate you for the surgery, so that was a piece of cake. These three post surgical days, however, were something I had to make up my mind to grin and bear. (Well, not really grin; it was very uncomfortable.) No bending down or lifting anything up. No nose blowing. No hair washing. You just have to stay at home and do nothing. Even reading is hard because your eyes keep tearing up.
I slept in my recliner, blitzed out on Vicodin. Last night, even that magical drug didn’t make it possible to sleep, so I spent the night looking through old photo albums and removing the pictures that I want to scan in to keep for posterity. I had to distract myself from the fact that I could only breathe through my mouth, my throat was getting sore, and my head hurt.
After he removed the packing today, the ENT vacuumed out what was left in my sinuses, even the ones high up over the eye. That wasn’t fun, even though he sprayed lidocaine in first.
It’s going to take me a few days to catch up on some sleep, and even longer than that to get my digestive system back on track after the antibiotics.
Do I think it was worth it? Being able to breathe freely and not feel sick all of the time from the sinus infection is definitely worth it. Hell, yes.
I am looking through my pages of poetry, some written when I was in grade school, but I’ll spare you those. I wrote this when I had just turned twenty and was home from college during a part of the summer. It’s not great poetry, but it’s a great thought, I think.
when I am old
I will not care for
rock ‘n roll
beat poetry and
Jake Trussell and
but now I am young
and I know that all of these
will one day be
on the couch of memories
on which I will repose
when I am old.
The Slop was a dance from the fifties. I had to google Jake Trussell and I still don’t remember why he was important to me back then. But I still like rock ‘n roll. And convertibles. And I’m still known to ogle lifeguards.
Until recently, I always considered myself an extrovert — never had any trouble meeting new people and making friends. I joined groups and often even facilitated them. I had no problem walking into a room where I knew no one and striking up a conversation with a stranger. But I’ve changed; life changed me, I guess. Bad knees keep me from doing the dancing I always loved to do, and I no longer like to drive at night.
After living with and taking care of my mother until she passed away, I moved in with my daughter and family, 90 miles from where I used to live. That was about five years ago. Even though I’ve joined some groups, I haven’t clicked with anyone as a friend, even though they and I have made some effort. And I have decided that it’s not a problem.
I thoroughly enjoy doing the things that I love to do and, while it would be nice to share my interests, in person, with some others, it’s no longer necessary the way it used to be. Of course, I have family right on the other side of my door if I feel lonely, and we spend as much time together as I want or need. I also periodically visit with a group of close women friends where I used to live, and we keep in touch online as well. And yes, over the years online I have made new “virtual” friends and also connected with old friends from my past lives.
I have gotten back to writing poetry — which is a solitary endeavor — and I play around with designing and making the kinds of knitwear that stores don’t sell and I like to wear. If Spring ever shows its lovely face, I will garden. I watch shows via Netflix that no one I know watches, like “Crossing Lines” and “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”
It is said that “happiness is not having what you want; it’s wanting what you have.” At my college reunion, an old friend asked me if I am happy. What I told him was that I was content. I want what I have, so, I suppose, I am happy.
I am certainly happy that I have two poems published in this issue of “Mused.”