Author: nicoled

After the Storm

by Elena Schwolsky, Workshop Leader

“It has been exactly a year,” Sarah thought as she glanced at the calendar from Valdez Insurance Inc. held to the fridge by a magnet. The magnet was one she had bought on one of her vacation trips—it had tickled her at the time. “The only normal people are the ones you haven’t met yet” it proclaimed—black letters on a white background that had yellowed during its time on the fridge.
___“More true now than it was when all this started,” she thought, gesturing around her tiny kitchen as if “all this” was somehow contained in the hodgepodge of mismatched appliances, Formica counters, and clutter of tchotchkes that crowded the kitchen where she had made her morning coffee for over 30 years.
___Nothing in the kitchen had changed in this year. The toaster still worked only when it wanted to. The refrigerator sounded like an outboard motor when it cycled on and the stove required a long wooden match to light the burners. Oh, but she and Nate had whipped up some tasty meals in this kitchen. Well, there was something that had changed–– Nate was no longer here. Sarah wondered if their love and deep friendship would have survived quarantine together––or the isolation of being in their own separate spaces. But Nate had left, just before all this.
___There was a before, though it seemed long, long ago––but so far, no real after that Sarah could hold onto. Yes, she had managed to get her two shots and had celebrated briefly––pouring herself a rum and coke and imagining herself on a tropical island—even asking Alexa to play some cumbia music and dancing around the living room with an imaginary partner.
___So much in her life was imagined now—what a hug from her dear friend Deenie would feel like after all this time, how it would feel to walk on the Avenue without a mask covering her smile. She wondered if she even knew how to be with people in real life anymore, make small talk, laugh at a joke. Was it like riding a bike—just get on and pedal—or would she have to learn all over again?
Sarah sat with her coffee in her chair by the window. The garbage had finally been picked up, but patches of dirty snow still dotted the curb and trash was strewn up and down the block.
___The storm was over, and they had survived–– worn, battered, ragged at the edges. How much they had learned was still unclear. And what would happen next––a complete mystery.

Blue

The grey blue of a sliver of sky visible between dusty brick walls
The yellow of a tulip curling into itself
The magenta of the tiny buds on the tree outside the window
The filtered gold of the sunlight behind the shades
The distant song of unseen birds
The milky beige of her morning coffee
The clank of the spoon on the saucer
The smell of garlic from her neighbor’s kitchen
This narrow slice of the world was all she had
Shrinking from one day to the next in a relentless test
Of her ability to subtract.
What would be left when she finally opened her door?

Case Closed

By Jeanne Swartelé-Wood

Eleanor knew she would have to leave out much of what she wanted Eddie to know about her after she was gone. Over the past three years she had broached the subject of vital information he would surely need—or maybe even want—if she were the first to die.
___Even thinking about Eddie on his own in the old house, oblivious as he was regarding its plumbing and heating, the quirks of odd sounds that meant nothing and would remain meaning nothing because inaudible to him as he would probably ever remain resistant to wedging his hearing aids into place—yes, Eddie on his own, at a loss even to find the toolbox—oh, it would be grim and she felt for him.
___Would she look down from heaven or up from hell and pity him? Or maybe an afterlife she might find really did exist would allow her to whisper, in ghostly fashion, “Eddie, call a repairman. Face the facts. Be glad, you have cash to pay him.”
___The first of the two suitcases was almost full. Only add the last three years of their joint tax returns, a checkbook, photocopies of Eddie’s medical records and of course, Eleanor’s life insurance policy that should serve as a big fat cushion of cash, $750,000—more than either of them had ever dreamed of possessing.
___Next, she reached for the dark blue leather suitcase, Aunt Chrissy’s from her college days. Eleanor opened it and did a quick calculation of which mementos, letters, notebooks, and diaries she could safely leave for Eddie’s eyes.
___As for easing his heart, she had already a cardboard box half-filled with her photos and letters from the boys and men—some from her long-ago youth, some from recent years—who had enraptured her and frustrated her over those years. All those engagements and attachments that, if Eddie were to learn of them, would surely break his heart. She knew herself to be at times disloyal, but she did not think herself cruel. In two hours, she would have the cardboard box full and could heft the lot out to the backyard. Newspaper, kindling, and matches were all in place. What a bonfire it would be!

 

 

A Day at a Time

The rain had stopped before dawn. Lydia had now no excuse to cancel her visit to her new neighbor a mile or so along the track to the village. An older man, maybe sixty to Lydia’s forty-six, but agreeable in a sort of Solid-Citizen way. Although these days what fit that description was becoming ever harder to describe and, Lydia had concluded, even harder to find.
___His name was George Harrison. He chuckled at the many jokes he’d been subjected to for not being the George Harrison. “No, can’t sing a note. Never learned an instrument. I can dance a bit, that’s about it. I like to dance. Do you like to dance?”
___Lydia was unaccustomed to this kind of banter with its hint of a possible invitation to spend time together on the dance floor. What came immediately to mind for her was the flash of a mirrored globe, revolving on the ceiling. Scenes from a distant disco past. This George Harrison seemed reasonable. Maybe not a solid citizen, but not a scoundrel either. She could be a casual acquaintance, invite him for coffee and cake—innocuous—and why not try out again, after seventeen months of mourning John’s cancer-ridden departure from this life, to get to know a man, just a little?
___Lydia had met George two days earlier and smiled when he waved and walked on toward his rented cabin. Then turned back and called out to her, “Do drop by. I’d like some company.”
___She had pulled from the freezer the apple cake she made every three weeks or so. It was thawing, the rain had stopped, she had argued with herself the pro’s and con’s of “dropping by” George Harrison’s cottage. Maybe he would have gone for a walk, or off to the supermarket. That would be best. He would not answer her knock or the ring of his doorbell. She could put the one-half cake, carefully wrapped in waxed paper, into the small package bin on his doorstep, tape a note to say, “Sorry I missed you, George Harrison. Cake in the bin. Enjoy. —Lydia Crouse.”
___Then she could pick up today where yesterday had left off. That would start another no-risk day.

Storm

by Sandy Santora

The Battle of Stalingrad. The storm. This months and months long battle between Germany and Russia was one of the turning points in World War II.
___It occurred between August,1942 and February,1943, and ––after countless defeats for Russia–– their strategy was finally effective against Germany.
___Russia’s top general, Zhukov, brilliantly encircled Germany’s weak point to their stronghold, gathering momentum. The German general, Frederick Paulis, was ordered by Hitler to stand firm and not retreat.
___This decision would draw the Germans to the streets of Stalingrad for house-to-house fighting. It was no match for the Russians. But they were no match for the Russians who were noted for their combat in one-to-one confrontations. Eventually the Germans were trapped and the consequences dire.
___Against the direct orders from Hitler, Field Marshall Paulis (newly promoted) surrendered to the Russians and it marked the beginning of the end for Germany.
___Many historians have their opinion on the turning points of the war.
___This is mine.

 

Tina

Tina had no idea that she would go from the adoring wife to a man she trusted with her life and happiness, to a woman filled with a broken heart and fear for her life.
___Her growing doubt about John was always pushed into the recesses of her mind but today it caused a nagging feeling to surface and, with it, trepidation for her being.
___John had told her late last night that he wanted them to go to their summer cottage located deep in the forest in Maine.
___It was November and his excuse for going was that he needed to meet with the mayor of the town to discuss something to do with building a restaurant in the area. It needed the approval of the county board members.
___Tina would not have thought this trip meant anything sinister, but just that morning she saw it–– the reason John had been working late, missing dinner and pulling away from her affection.
___She saw his emails. Why she had scanned and then spied on his emails?
___“I can’t believe I’m doing this. Why am I so suspicious?” The thought gave her a chill.
___But there they were–– love letters written every morning for weeks from her husband to joanie@email.com.
___The notes between them were so intense. Tina felt her heart sink with hurt and anger. Then a worry began to grow.
___“He wants to go to the cottage, in the woods, away from anyone close by,” Tina thought. “Why doesn’t he just ask for a divorce?”
___Then It then dawned on her. Just a couple of months before they had both taken out life insurance policies–– for a million dollars each.
___Later, packing to leave for their trip to Maine, Tina called a friend. John did not know where she lived. Then Tina left her apartment to hide from the man she had loved forever and save herself from his intentions.

 

Where is the Light

Where is the light?
Has it been hidden for these too many years?
Does it shine where we cannot see it?
Does it shine while we sleep?
Oh, a glimmer is passing through quickly – hold on to the seconds it appears.
It’s moving more slowly now.
Yes, we can see the shine peeking through the maze of darkness.
Oh, light keep appearing so we can feel that sense of satisfaction within ourselves.

Questions for the Quarantine

by Rhonda Zangwill, Workshop Leader

Is your mask impermeable? Impermeable to what? To air?
Does it filter, purify, sanctify? Are you impermeable? To me, to my moods? What about my slings and arrows?

And what of the undulating microwaves? From kitchen to bed to bath and back to bed. Do you want to go back to bed? With, or without me? With or without a mask?

Is this a high touch surface? Is that? Don’t you miss the depths? The digging, the excavating? All those layers? Will they still peel back now, today, after all that…Disinfection?

Did you miss a spot? Is that the spot that will invade, insert? Maybe adhere? Or will it just drop by for a visit, depositing nothing?

Will it dissipate into a thousand inconsequential, insignificant ions, capable of no deadly mutation?

When will it become no more than ordinary matter?
And when it does, will it matter?

 

The Oracle

I consulted the oracle this morning. No appointment. I knew this was wrong, but it was an emergency. Time was fleeting.

She was sunbathing. In a kidney-shaped pool. Wearing tiny black eye protectors. She gave no sign that I was there. She was tossing pinto beans into the shallow end, each creating little concentric circular waves.

I heard that to get her attention, an offering was necessary. The rumor was that she favored sliced mangoes but this season all the mangoes had withered. Instead I had Prosecco and an exquisite champagne flute. It was well known that the oracle had a weakness for carbonation.

I placed the glass, brimming with bubbles, on the pool’s smoothest edge.

I had prepared questions sure to appeal to her reputation for philosophical conundrum. Clearing my throat, I asked: “What kind of times are these? Are these the times that try men’s souls?”

Then I added “How about women’s?” The oracle did not respond.

I tried again, refilling her glass. “Are you having the time of your life? Am I? Is anyone?”

Still, nothing. No response. Also no more pinto beans.

The oracle frowned.

Maybe, I thought, a more whimsical approach. Maybe a fairy tale. “Once upon a time,” I said, “time stood still.” I waited. Just when the silence was nearly unbearable I announced (with a mischievous look) “then it marched on. In a huff. But, is it true what they say? Is it true that time heals all wounds?”

The Oracle stared at the empty champagne flute. “Time’s up,” she said. And then she submerged, leaving only a steady stream of bubbles on the surface of the pool.

If You’re A Lady

by Beverly Schutzman

If you’re a lady
If you’re a lady who owns a horse
If you’re a lady who owns a horse that is also a lady
If you’re a lady who owns a lady horse and you’re both born bred and breathe Southern
_________________THEN
You may gentlewoman below the Mason and Dixon Line swish hooped skirts of
nostalgic Civil War Time just a yesterday away
You may charge into an antebellum dining hall as long as an Alabama drawl mounted
bare back on your summer white stead Lady
You may accessorize your flamboyance with extraordinary eccentricity and far out of the
box hoof marks flattening the plain cardboard of conventionality
_________________BECAUSE
You’re a lady
You’re a lady who owns a horse
You’re a lady who owns a horse that is also a lady
You’re a lady who owns a lady horse and you’re both born bred and breathe Southern

Boogie

by Joan Reese

Be afraid, be very afraid!
Dressed in black,
Leather strap hung from leather belt.
If that didn’t scare you,
Guaranteed, You will be scared by the end of the day.

 First day of Catholic school, Sister MaryMarie,
Held a jar of red pepper and lava soap.
“Misbehave, this is what you get!
Sit up straight! Fold your hands or get my ruler
Cracked over your knuckles.”

Screams, loud, from the bathroom.
Boys got the strap a lot.
Boogey, a classmate, ate his boogies or flung them at girls
Who made fun of him.
Boogies special talent: he could fart on command.

Sister MaryMarie wrote on the blackboard, her back to us.
Our class egged Boogie on.
Boogie’s butt exploded.
The room smelled of cabbage
His favorite dish his Polish mother cooked.

“Sister MaryMarie turned, Who did that!”
We shrugged, as we lowered our eyes.
We never ratted out Boogie.

 We didn’t mind suffering the smell.
After all, most of our fathers thought it was funny
If they farted at the dinner table.
I must admit I never farted in front of anyone.

 At the church dance, I slow danced
With Jackie Carr, my first crush.
Gas from dinner beans tried to slip out.
I held it in while trying to dance to “It’s A Man’s World.”

 That was the day I decided to stay single.
Holding in my farts, if I married, seemed too difficult!
I ask married women what do you do, if you have gas?
One woman laughing said, “I just let it rip.”

It is on my bucket list to spend time with a boyfriend:
Feel free enough to let nature take its course.

What Does Lawrence Ferlinghetti Know

by MonaLisa Ortiz-Rosa

The world’s spoken for
Why bid on it
Yes, it’s a beautiful place
and so is God’s face
Inscrutable, translucent
Even the most elastic imagination
won’t ever recover its form
Once it’s beheld

Because beholding
Is being held,
and Being held changes you
And since we named all things
That creep and crawl,
We presume we know a thing or two

But if we’re more lucky, wiser
Then Lawrence Ferlinghetti
we may know
That we’re a puny thing, vindictive and small
But pleasing somehow still to our maker
Whose presence
mountains melt like wax in heaven
Where all they do is sing.

Remembrances

By Molly Muskin

I have grown very accustomed to my comfiest set of clothes. The bottoms are warm and roomy, and my socks have small pompoms by the ankles which I love. They were a gift from one of my grandchildren. I can’t remember which but that doesn’t matter as I love them all the same.
Shut in because of COVID19, no one coming to visit – you can zoom and you can spend a great deal of time on the phone, wearing whatever you want or even as little as you want.
Nowadays, most people only dress the top parts of their bodies. You only need to be halfway presentable if you spend your time on zooms. Floating torsos, talking heads, fake backgrounds – all of these make up the daily visuals for many working people. What lies beneath those desks and tables is more than likely a pair of PJ’s or yoga pants.

I am now lucky enough to have a closet filled with clothes, some more stylish than others. As I currently have nowhere extravagant to go, and receive few visitors, I choose to wear the same selection of 5 or 6 items day in and day out.

As I look back on the turbulent years of my youth, growing up in a lovely seaside village on the shores of Northern England, I find the correlations to modern day issues to be quite remarkable.
What is now a lazy indulgence was then all we had.

As a child, I also wore the same clothes each day but that was out of necessity. We were not a poor family, but new clothing was an impossible luxury that was simply not available during the War. When the Messerschmitts flew over our village each night, we would don our Siren Suits over our simple clothing. You would step into the suit, one leg at a time, just like our beloved Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There was a sense of safety and security that overcame us as we zipped up our suits and headed down into the bomb shelter in the cellar beneath our house.
One thing I always hated was my gas mask. The smell of stale rubber will haunt me forever. My mask never fit me quite right. There was always a fear that if the need should arise when I had to put on my trusted mask, it would not seal correctly or protect me from possible invisible substances that could do me harm.

I find it disheartening and deeply saddening that I now must wear a mask once again when I venture outside. I may be kept safe from the invisible virus that threatens our planet today by wearing an ill-fitting mask, but at least this one doesn’t stink of musty cellars.
My mother refused to wear a gas mask or even venture down into our cellar when the air raid sirens would howl at night. We were always fearful of what may happen to her. Today, my children are now fearful for me if I choose not to wear my mask or to stay inside. But I have taken this modern-day threat as seriously as I did when my country was threatened by a foreign power and thankfully have managed to stay safe, if not completely sound.

One of the most important elements in any crisis situation is the constant and reliable flow of nourishing and hopefully delicious food. I am ever so grateful to receive a daily visit from a lovely young man who delivers surprisingly tasty food from Meals on Wheels. The variety is impressive – fresh fish properly prepared, meat that is cooked in savory sauces and healthy vegetables accompany each portioned delivery. A dietician develops each meal specifically to include the necessary vitamins and to manage the caloric intake to combat possible obesity. I receive so many deliveries that I can share my meals with others on the floor in my building.

As a child, there was little chance of receiving such a thoughtful and well-organized delivery. We subsisted mostly on the eggs from our marvelous flock of chickens. Fresh fruit and vegetables were obtainable, but in scarce supply. However, my grandfather was a fisherman in the village of Grimsby and he made sure we never went hungry. There were many mouths to feed in our cellar. I was one of 6 children and each one was hungrier than the next. My grandfather would arrange for a well packed cardboard box filled with ice and the tastiest fresh fish in the world to be delivered whenever it was possible. We cherished the days when the box would arrive.

That night, we knew Mummy would be able to prepare a wonderful meal.

New York 1984

by Annie Morse

In Tompkins Square we stepped around
The junkies lying on the ground
A rockstar boyfriend briefly wooed
Me nearby, till Suzanne allured
Him thither, and he ghosted me.
In my mind’s eye, myopic now
I see the avenues’ Sunday crowd
In motley, festive, frankly mad.
The drugs they took to be less sad
Are legal now, or different drugs.

You scraped and plastered your whole place.
It was a rental; you embraced
The task as practice for a day
When your own home would look the way
You wanted. How did that work out?
How did we come to houses, yards,
Driveways to shovel, credit cards,
Snow falling, melting, always snow
Like mortgages, that grim escrow.
We left the city. Our regret
Melts like the snow, but slow as debt.

 

Monday Woman

Each poem is a spur
Urging me, or you, to think of Her
Comparing selves imagined or gone by
And finding oneself wanting. (Quiet sigh.)
Kathleen Fraser’s thighs are more concrete
As she reflects on them from toilet seat
Appreciating all they’ve done for her –
A gratitude unusual. That spur
Is one I’d take and run with, cantering
Toward the women talking, posing, bantering
With one another; rich beyond compare
With insight, foresight, history, aware
That every mirror is reflected in our eyes.
The mirror can be judged, we recognize.

[Kathleen Fraser, “Poem In Which My Legs Are Accepted,” 1968]

 

Whiskey Not

They call it whiskey, but unless it’s Scotch
It’s not what I call whiskey but a splotch
Of rotgut; you can keep your Bourbon
You can catch her in the Rye
Just tell Canadians and Irish, “in your eye,’
Even the Japanese have got into the game.
I’m telling you, for me it’s not the same.
In spirited debate we used to scoff and quaff
Perchance to spill, by accident, and laugh.
Now that it’s time for truth, I’d just as lief
Drink wine. The whiskey burning’s too intense:
First on the lips, then shame in lacking sense.

New York, I Abandon You

by Florence McDermott

New York, I abandon you.
Former lover, faithful friend, you done me wrong, as they say in the song.

Those wild concerts on hard chairs
Where old men clean their nails with a penknife–and sit in pairs.
And silly old women faint in the crush around an obscure pianist and the crowd says, “Hush,”
As they’re carted out like wet laundry.

COVID extracted a payment: give up the City that Never Sleeps
or I bring you to the waters of the Styx,
Across Gravesend, full of picks,
Flowing on the other side of the Island called Coney,
Not an island and all of it’s phony.

I leave the bacchanal:
Meeting ladies for latte at four or later,
Women who laugh a lot, have ticks, walk with sticks.

New Year’s Day, eating brunch inside a bubble for four,
Downing coffee to keep the body temperature off the floor,
For the pleasure of eggs served by a man who remembers my wedding,
And friends who remember nothing.

Riskier than Vegas, New York holds the thrill of violence in its sweaty palm–
That was always its balm.
As I await the all- clear to emerge from isolation, I see the task:
To dodge death from a stray bullet, or a kind word from a neighbor without a mask.

New York, I abandon you.

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