Category: 14th St Y (Mondays)

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
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
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


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.

History Repeats Itself

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.

The Red Bath

by Maureen Johnson-Laird

When my mother worked as a house cleaner, she was often given the keys to apartments. She went to one of her regular jobs one dreary Monday morning and let herself in through the front door. The couple who owned the apartment were usually both out at work so she was surprised when, she heard a loud gurgling noise coming from the bathroom.
___“Anyone at home?” she called out. No reply.
___She put her ear close to the bathroom door. Yes, there was a definite gurgling sound.
___She rapped on the door loudly.
___“It’s me, Sully,” she shouted. Still no-one answered. She got out her cleaning materials to start work, but after a few minutes she decided to check the bathroom again.
___She opened the door cautiously and then took two steps back. A naked man, his eyes closed, was lying slouched in the tub and the bath water was bright red. She recoiled in shock, and tried to regain her composure. She risked a quick glance to see if he had slashed his wrists, but his hands were under water. She was nervous to touch the man’s body, so she stared at him for a long time, wondering what to do.
___Eventually, she lifted one of his arms and peered at his chest to look for any sign of a wound.
___The body stirred. The man awoke with a terrific start.
___“What are you doing, Sully? Can’t you see I’m in the bath?” he said.
___“Sorry, Sir. I thought you were dead.”
___“I must have fallen asleep while I was reading,” he said.
___“Why is the water red?” she said.
___“Maybe it’s because I was reading a red book,” he said. He started feeling around in the water with his hands. He held up a slim tome with a red binding that was dripping with soapy water.
___“Is it a thriller?” Sully said.
___“I borrowed it from the library. It’s a novel about a hemophiliac.”