Facing Finalities

I am going to Maine with two friends next week. While there, I am going to put to rest what remains of the guilt and sorrow and regret regarding my relationship with my mother.

The other day I went and spent some time with a good friend, and who is also a healer of souls carrying burdens of regret and guilt. Ed Tick began as my therapist and over these 30 years, that relationship blossomed into a friendship. I still reach out to him when I am troubled, and I visited him earlier this week in his new home not far from where I now live.

The result is that, next week, in Maine, as part of solidifying this new phase of my life on which I have embarked, I will do a ritual to let go of stuff that needs to be freed. I will build a fire, read this last missive to my mom, and then burn the paper. And then burn the triptych with her images — sending her history as a woman to soar with the gulls.

In preparation, I have set up a little altar to honor the good parts of my relationship with my mother, who died five years ago. I have her wedding ring that I put on a chain, and beads from the old red coral necklace (that has been a part of my matriarchal lineage for several generations) that I made into another necklace. I will wear these during the ritual, but, for now, they are a part of the altar. One of the few things I have left of hers is her old statue of Saint Anthony, the heretic converter. I’m sure that she prayed to him all of the time to convert this heretic. It didn’t work, but this icon,one of her favorites, has become mine. Maybe I like him because he holds a lily. And a child. And an open book. In my poetic heresy, I can interpret that any way I like.

altar

So, here is what I will read. And what I will burn. In place of prayer, I write. Here and wherever. Because I can.

If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,
Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.
But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
caught in the tangle
of a cord never cut.
There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.

I am sorry, Mom, that I was not the daughter you wanted. I’m sorry that you were not the mother I wanted. I know that you tried your best to be the best kind of mother that you knew how to be – the kind your mother was. And I did my best to break away from that kind of suffocating tradition.

Yet, despite how I disappointed you over and over, you were always there for me when I needed you. Because that is what the mothers in our family do, And that is how the best parts of you still live on in me – in the kind of mother I have finally become.

I’m sorry that your last years were filled with such turmoil. I wish I had made better choices about how to give you the care you needed. I guess it was my turn to try my best. That was all either of us could ever do.

I’m sorry that your last days were not what you had always hoped they would be – to die at home, in your own bed, with family around you. I did the best I could, Mom. I tried to make sure that you didn’t suffer. Instead, I suffered for you, and that was OK because it meant that in those last days I kept you safe from enduring some unnecessary familial narcissistic tyranny.

There were good times and bad times during the last of the years that we lived together. I like remembering the time we had then to talk and laugh, to dance the polka, to sing all of the old songs, to share our memories of times that were good for us both. I liked that I was finally able to do things for you that you really appreciated, that made you feel good. Because I know there were many other times before that when I made you feel bad.

All of those years as I struggled to grow up, I never really saw you the way that others did. You would have been glad to hear what cousin Cristine wrote to me about you after you died. She said:

I remember the enigmatic smile she always wore, like the one in The Portrait. I never remember her upset or angry. She was always dressed impeccably and I remember her love for Ferragamo shoes. Odd what we remember from our past — the strange minute things that become permanent strong memories and the important things that fade away. I always remember the bathroom at your house on Nepperhan — the l-o-n-g narrow pink bathroom with a door at each end (how cool!) and how it always smelled of green Palmolive soap. I remember your mom cooking and running back and forth to the kitchen and not sitting down and enjoying her own meal.

Someday, I will write a poem about that “enigmatic smile,” which I now think was a biting back of your disappointment and frustration for the parts of your life that you were never allowed to make your own — but I was too wrapped up in my own selfish agendas to realize that.

I don’t know if you were aware of much during your last days, but there was a sea gull who spent most of each day screeching from and pacing on the roof outside the window of your hospital room. This is what I found out about sea gulls:
Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities. They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world. Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side. Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

So tonight I am here at the ocean, communing with the messenger seagulls, sending this message into the wind, into the endless sky: I miss you, mom, I’m glad we had some good last days together, and I wish we had been able to be closer, sooner. I release what is not worth carrying, and I cherish what is left: the comfort that, at the end, we knew how much we loved each other.

Back in the Saddle

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.)

An Old Lady Raps Back

you don’t see me
not really
with my edges
grown soft and my
curves gone
to middle thick.

I see that your eyes
don’t stick on my face
laced with time’s
weary tricks.

I’m invisible in your world
of constant noise and sullen bluster,
all the anger you an muster.

I know you got it tough
rough — never enough.

You think that’s new?
I grew my thick skin
long before your tiny hide
slid into snide and sin.

Oh, I know your words —
I was talking hard
long before your sorry ass
passed its first gas.

But I make a choice of voice
to mold a tighter tone
to pose a clearer tune

And then I stand and roar
more than you even think
to know.

Those Christmas Cookies

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.

my delightful writing circle

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.

my Hallowe’en addiction

Granny WeatherwaxFor as long as I can remember, I have dressed up for Hallowe’en. I start in September deciding on and building a costume. mad scientistLast 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, medusaMedusa with pipe cleaner snakes in my hair, the “Deadly Sin” Lust (as a vampire),sneezy 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”),sosostris a unicorn, Jeannie the genie, and any number and variety of witches.

ElaineMy 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. raggeyann 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). autumnqueenHere’s a picture of both kids, my daughter as the Queen of Autumn and her brother as a little demon sidekick.

neutrino 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.dalek1

adventures in living in a home/school

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.

officially announcing the publication of my first poetry chapbook

coverdesignFinishing 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
of gravity.

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

Mag #227

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.

tintype 1850s

tintype 1850s

Legacy

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.

River Man

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.

My Achilles Heel

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.

when I was 20

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.

on the boatbwhen I am old
I will not care for
rock ‘n roll
slopping
and jazz
bongos drums
beat poetry and
Kafka
Kerouac
Jake Trussell and
lifeguards with
sea-burnished hair
and convertibles.
but now I am young
and I know that all of these
will one day be
the cushions
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.