Practicing Scales (Written February 7)

Practicing Scales

 

And we do overhear her mother practicing scales

In the sunroom, preparing for a performance

She will never give. In reality, she had a voice,

 

When young, good enough for a career in opera

Or on the concert stage, but it was her choice

To stay at home and raise her children.

 

That was sixty years ago, in another country,

But she still has visions of being on stage, thrilling

Her audience, taking a deep bow, blowing them kisses.

 

But in this instance her audience, three women

And one man, sits quietly, listens appreciatively,

But refrains from applause when she’s done.

 

It was her choice, she said, but maybe it wasn’t.

Certainly, she regrets she missed her day in the sun,

And has never stopped thinking she had the gift

 

And the personality, the drive and the ambition,

If not the time and the means to make a go of it.

So much of it, she found, had to do with chance.

Guilty Pleasures (Written February 6)

Guilty Pleasures

 

And shall I tell you what else I happen to like?

What else I keep secret and guard with my life?

The list is long and growing longer, I admit.

 

Everyone has his or her own secret pleasures,

But not everyone feels the need to submit

His actions to another’s scrutiny or her stares

 

Of contempt. Don’t you wonder sometimes

What it is I’m hiding as you come up the stairs?

Or what show I’m watching on TV that I switch off

 

The moment you step into the room? It’s a bad habit,

The way I sneak around even though more often

Than not, what I’m doing does no one any harm.

 

It seems I always have something to be ashamed of,

Though it’s not always clear what. Besides, wouldn’t life

Be terribly dull, if everything were open and aboveboard?

True To Himself (Written February 5)

True To Himself

 

Ned realized this would be a good way to shock people.

The first time he did it, though, he was not thinking

About shock value. He was bored, with nothing to do,

 

Because his parents had been away for half the day.

He’d explored every room in the house, even the loo,

Except his parents’ bedroom, which he’d never seen.

 

His mother had laid a change of underwear on the bed.

He liked the look of it, and the way it felt, so smooth, between

His fingertips. The material was different and made him lose

 

His shyness. After that, every time they were gone,

He put on her nylons, panties, dresses too, and shoes.

He was four or five, no more. It was a way of feeling

 

Close to her. For years he kept it a secret, until one day

His father walked in on him. Instead of hitting the ceiling,

He was surprisingly calm, even gentle. It will bring you

 

Nothing but heartache, he said, as if from experience.

Ned wanted to stop but couldn’t. At college he felt true

To himself, a real person, only when he put on women’s

 

Clothes. In a tight red dress, with long blond hair,

Bright lipstick, and high heel shoes, she’d shimmy

into a bar, or a concert hall, or the ladies room

 

At the movies, and lap up the looks she’d get.

If she couldn’t shock her father, who could she shock?

If they knew who she was, so much the better.

Mindfulness (Written February 4)

Mindfulness

 

The problem is to see reality as it is,

Not reality as I might wish it to be,

Or as I might fear it to be.

 

Reality is not something fixed,

Out there, separate from me.

I am part of what I see.

 

I am not an observer

Separate from what I see.

To be mindful is to perceive

 

The constantly changing

Face and shape of reality.

Reality is not a thing

 

To be dissected like a fly.

It is part of who I am,

And who I am is part of it.

Days of Abandonment (Written February 3)

Days of Abandonment

 

She takes her boy across the grass

To the strip of sandy shore,

Where she lets go of his hand.

 

But he clings even more closely.

On a rocky spit of land a band

Is warming up. It is Labor Day,

 

And the festivities are about to begin.

Billy, who is eight, wants to stay,

But his mother cannot take the noise.

 

As they walk the other way, water

And sky, in momentary equipoise,

Bring calm to her mind. Faces

 

Form in the empty places,

As the sun burns away the last traces

Of the morning mist. A boat

 

Moves away from the shore,

Toward the middle of the lake,

And she remembers, when first married,

 

The time she and Todd boarded that same boat,

Or one like it, and how they were carried,

As in a dream, to far-off Petoskey.

Sand Woman (Written February 2)

Sand Woman

 

But the story is essentially the same.

A man comes to a small town

To do research. He meets a refined

 

Young woman, a widow, who invites him

To her house, but he finds himself confined

To a room when he tries to leave.

 

He must help her in her work,

Pouring sand into urns for sale overseas.

Slowly, with the passage of time,

 

They become lovers, though he still

Longs to be free. He tries several times

To escape but friends of hers catch him

 

And bring him back. Eventually,

He resigns himself to his fate. He becomes

A painter himself and spends long hours

 

Perfecting his technique. He adapts

To his new reality. They share a sense

Of being oppressed by life. One day

 

she leaves the door unlocked,

But he chooses to prolong his stay.

He no longer remembers who he was.

The Year of the Horse (Written February 1)

The Year of the Horse

 

It snorts and paws the earth,

Excited that something is about to happen.

It welcomes the weight of the young woman

 

It has come to know.  At her command

It moves down the path into the bottomland

Of the marsh, swinging its head high and low

 

Until she takes firm control of the reins.

The path is muddy where the ice and snow,

So heavy until a week ago, have melted.

 

She’s bundled in a winter jacket, knit hat,

And gloves, though the sun foretells

A not too distant spring. She is a tall

 

Woman who has come to this sanctuary

With her father, who, always before, would call

For her to mount and follow him down along

 

The marsh trail to the shore. But today

She has decided to go riding alone.

It is the first day of the Year of the Horse,

 

And father and daughter, both Horse

People, had hoped to join forces,

But everything points to a year of conflict.

Steve’s Place (Written January 31)

Steve’s Place

 

He believed he was better for it.

He was able to set his own terms.

He was not chained

 

To anybody. He slept better,

As long as it was not raining,

Or snowing, or bitterly cold.

 

Then it was hard. But he wanted

Something hard, that was like gold

He could work with, and create

 

Something new. He sat in a café

Most of the day. He was free.

He did not have to answer

 

To anybody, not his landlord,

Not his mother, not the other men

Who came and went,

 

Not the people who hired him

For the odd job, which was money well spent,

And earned them the right to second guess him,

 

They thought. The other homeless

Knew and respected him and left him

Alone. Like them, he had his preferred

 

Place to sleep, in the woods by the tracks.

He brought in a mattress, and they referred

To it as Steve’s Place. In bad weather he slept

 

In somebody’s garage, with their

Permission. But what he always kept

Was his peace of mind, so he could write.