In August of 1969, when my younger cousins never made it to Woodstock because they got stuck in all of the other traffic trying to get there, I was married and living in rural suburbia with a 7 year old daughter and a son several months from his birth. While I was into the music of the era, I had neither interest in nor access to weed. I can’t remember whether I cared or not.
Fast forward to the 80s. I am a divorced single working mother during the day and disco diva at night. I have access to weed through a colleague who grows it in his urban backyard and shares the dried leaves freely. Smoking before dancing keeps me from getting out of breath (the THC opens up airways) and loosens my inhibitions. I love the nightlife; I love to boogie.
Those Disco Nights
Those were the nights,
tho she never did the coke
in the shadows behind the bar
where the blue-eyed bouncer,
strategically sun-bronzed and bleached
macho-hot in open shirt gleaming gold,
found new places for fast hands;
but she’d arrive already gone
from toking on the road,
primed for fast stepping,
skirt hiked high on thigh,
eyes that said “ready
to hustle me dizzy,”
spinning close and low
and bass-booming blood
binding her to the heat
of those gone dancing nights.
But I am not being a great parent. I am trying to survive. As I move into my 50s, disco starts to poop out and so do I. It’s a little too late to fix what I messed up as a parent, but I do the best I can.
Fast forward to today. I am almost 76, have oseoarthritis and really bad insomnia. I have tried just about every available prescription, OTC, and herbal concoction to alleviate symptoms. Some never work. Some work but stop. Massachusetts has legalized medical marijuana to use for those conditions, and I know enough about weed not to be afraid of it. So, I go and get an official Medical Marijuana card. I get online and try to figure out how to take it, how much to take, what kind to take. It’s information overload. I commandeer a friend to accompany me, and we drive up to Northampton to the only MMJ dispensary available to me. And so begins the inspiration for this Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour. Keep checking this site for more stops on the journey.
I am no longer with my extended family for the holidays. Our life’s lessons have brought us to different places, literally and metaphorically. But there was an important time that we shared, and I celebrate those times of endearing family gatherings, before our realities diverged and they developed a need to pray for me.
And so I post these, remembering my extended family with nostalgia and also with an appreciation for even the tenuous connections that still exist.
They pray. I write.
Vigil Eve (“Wigilia’ 1950)
There was no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.
The men earned hard money, revered their vodka.
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest was woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve drew near
the men disappeared into their smokey enclaves
to share storied fatherland memories,
while the women gathered in her kitchen
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.
Her enameled kitchen table, an assembly line
of dough, tools, bowls of rich concoctions,
filled with reflections of final farm harvests.
For days, they rolled floured, filled and pinched,
boiled, browned and layered.
We children sat at the floor, eye level to legs
in a corner of the steamy kitchen,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.
The night of Vigil Eve flowed with prayers and feasting,
as full families gathered at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
to sing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.
They sang of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.
Generations of voices in harmony
drifted through the lace-curtained windows
opened to the cold winter night, the night
when animals talked, wishes were granted,
and ancient rituals forged the bonds of blood.
Heart of Rom
(an earlier version published in The Berkshire Review, Volume 4, 1996)
Cyganka! My grandmother scolds,
as I bound off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.
Gypsy. Even the word brings blood
blood rushing to the pit of my stomach.
How I wish for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for a power ancient as the land,
the sweep of continents
and countless untamed hearts.
She ruled us with her will,
that Polish grandmother –
a small strong-handed woman
with a voice of faith-forged mettle
and a back turned straight against
truths too bold to hold.
Yet, they tell me once, as I lay young and dying,
she revealed her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups, vials of spirits, leeches,
while my mother watched from shadows
fighting demons with her eyes.
They tell me, when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commented on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
the scattering of blood marks along the back
like ancient glyphs on altar stone.
He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.
Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.
I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.
My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.
Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.
The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.
It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.
something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
fine night dining,
And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:
IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A. autographing pens
strapped to hips
B. rakish hat
C. boots tooled
with female in-
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT
My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.
Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”
I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.
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.
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.
I am absolutely intrigued by every one of her images in these two portfolio pages , and sent her three responses. I don’t now whether or not she will use any of them, but I like the combinations so much that I am sharing them here:
(Addendum 9/17/16: This poem is being exhibited next to the collage at Geersten’s exhibit as the Mesa Art Center in Arizona.)
She follows the lead
of the lone snow goose
released from the burden of flock —
a warrior in white and Mary Janes,
astride a steed from dreams.
Such is the muse that carries her,
along with miracles of fragrant earth,
safe across the deep seas of memory.
It is always there,
over her shoulder,
both threat and promise —
a whisper in a wind
that can send her flying
finally, into a landscape
devoid of browns and
navy blues, a rainbow
of wildflowers and sunlight
and a bright hint of birdsong.
If she sits, still enough,
breath held and ready…
wait for the moment….
wait for the moment…..
Sometimes it gets into a girl’s head
to wield staff instead of broom,
to stand like a stag in morning mist —
antlers the crowning touch —
to command with eyes devoid of fear,
demanding safety and serenity,
the sovereign right of rulers
to craft their own lives.
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
with my edges
grown soft and my
to middle thick.
I see that your eyes
don’t stick on my face
laced with time’s
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
It never mattered much before how often and where my poetry got published. I wrote because it was a compulsion. When I did send anything out, it was to publications to which I figured I had a good chance of being accepted. Every once in a while I would get a rejection, but it wasn’t very often.
Suddenly it’s mattering to me to know if my poetry is really any good. Am I average? Am I a “B” level poet? I know I”m not an “A.” I’ve never been an “A” in anything. “B+” is about as high as I go, and that goes for my talents at knitting, crochet, sewing, and ballroom dancing.
Now, writing is something else. I’d say I’m about an “A-“. Every job I’ve every had has involved writing, and I’ve always done well at it. I’m a pretty good “persuasive” writer. I used to say that I am able to spin straw into gold; I can take disjointed ideas and turn them into a compelling piece of written material.
So why, now, is it important for me to know if my poetry is considered “good” by others? It doesn’t seem to matter how good other people think I am at anything else I do. It’s all just part of how I spend my time.
But with my poetry, it’s different. For some reason, now, at my advanced age, I need to know.
So I’m taking a chance and sending poems out to more discriminating poetry publications. I need to know.
And if they are rejected? It shouldn’t matter, right?
I just had two poems accepted for the Winter Solstice issue of Mused: The BellaOnline Poetry Review. There’s no payment for getting published; there’s just exposure. And it’s better than having my poetry sit unread on my hard drive.
Mused published a poem and an essay of mine a couple of years ago, so I started wondering if they just accept every submission. I couldn’t find any info about that through an online search, but I did wind up on their Facebook page, and the comments there indicate that they, indeed, do NOT accept every submission. Of course, I have no way of knowing if my stuff is just the best of a bad bunch or how it stacks up against other accepted submissions.
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.