Poetry on the Journey of Losing Both my Parents at Once
The long, familiar hallway leads to my parents bedroom,
Decades of a sanctuary of love and conversation,
Evening chocolate and old movies.
Dad in his big chair.
Mom and me brushing our hair and
Snuggling on the bed.
That was then.
Now diapers are stacked on the end table.
Tubes of ointment, bottles of pain medication.
And the odor of alcohol fills the room.
Dad, your skin is paper thin, bruising and torn,
Falling off your bones
Even as your smile is bright as sunshine,
Your mind remembers all present and past.
You are smugly confident and urgent about your imminent leave-taking.
Over and over,
I say I love you.
You and I are complete,
Full of the stories of our life together,
All is forgiven.
You are not afraid.
I am terrified
Of living without your strength and tenderness.
What will my life be without your unconditional delight in me.
As your mid-wife,
Ushering you from this life to the next.
I am unafraid,
All is well.
As your daughter though, I cannot bear the sight of your skeleton Bones.
The smell of illness,
Your cries of pain,
The suffering of mom sitting next to you in denial
Of this final turning after 70 years.
Yet, when I am your mid-wife,
I feel the presence of You,
Holding this complicated and beloved man in radiant light.
You are bathing him in redemption and forgiveness,
In healing and wholeness.
You are whispering that his long life has been well-lived.
Make sure that all his loved ones are standing ready
To receive him on the other side of the Great River.
Thank You for guiding me in the
Wise and gentle tending,
The Sacred task of midwifery across the veil.
I sing Psalms, stroke your face
And softly speak into your ear so close.
Of what is to come so you are absolutely prepared.
But please, You, help this daughter
To say good-bye to my skiing buddy,
My silly, joyful, impossible father.
Raise me up with courage and strength
To trust that all the gifts I have received
Will live on within me
And all the generations to come forever.
A Message From Grief
I have come to you
Now that you have been through the fire of loss.
I am here for you in this first station
As a guide until you safely arrive at the next.
I am a holy teacher and have come
To gently walk with you in this land
That feels parched and empty.
Don’t be afraid of me.
I am born from my mother, Love.
I will keep Despair in my pocket and
Make sure that she doesn’t overtake you.
When I send Despair
Know that she comes as a soft message
To attend to rest or sadness.
Let me be by your side to
Teach you the wisdom that I have to offer.
Tears, loneliness and deep sadness
Places to visit. It is safe.
You will see, I promise.
It is for good.
Lean into me.
I am comfort. I am soft.
Open to me.
My First Visit
Six weeks is way too long
To be an orphan.
Come on, where did you go,
What are you doing now?
You don’t ever answer the phone anymore.
Willow and I walk to a hill overlooking the Charles River.
The water is glistening and the leaves are barely past their Breathtaking New England peak.
There is delicious quiet after a noisy day while Willow wades
in the river.
Everything shimmers with extra aliveness these days.
My heart is breaking.
Please show me something.
Soothe and comfort me with a heavenly sign.
I’m good with signs.
Willow and I trudge up the embankment.
Our six legs heavy with the ascent.
A wooden bench perched on the overlook
Is clean and new with
Shiny emerald trim.
As I draw near to take a seat,
I am stopped in my tracks to observe
Two plump lady bugs scittering and racing
On the slender planks.
The angels in Jacob’s dream.
I am still and listen
To the story revealed.
Is that you,
Traveling side by side
Joyful and together.
All must be well
At the Shell station across the street
From where I am parked eating my lunch,
The hydraulic lifts
Have two cars aloft with
Men diligently working on their underbellies.
Emblazoned on the front of the machinery are the enormous metal letters of
The company name.
JOYCE across the first,
JOYCE across the second
Okay! you have my attention.
What is it?
These days my world is a thin place.
I stop to listen.
We are working on your insides.
All the chaos a jumble,
All the broken bits.
Just let us do our job
Right now no effort from you.
You are being repaired and
Slowly put back together again.
March 26, 2011
In the middle of the night
I tried to walk with Willow
Like usual, the two us strolling in the cool woods.
Dry ground, leaves, stone and tree.
Instead in my dream vision,
There is a marsh of
Mush, muck and
Watery mud with scattered debris.
I am concerned about dirt on my new red PF Fliers.
They will be ruined.
I place my foot down and sink
Into shifting sands,
Soft, endless deep.
No solid ground.
There are no trees.
I look to the left and see Willow has disappeared
Under the slop.
Leaping into sludge, I find her
And grab her leather collar easily.
I’m puzzled about what happened to our
Lazy woodsy nature walks I depend on
Among the New England pine and fur,
Roots and rock emerging as we navigate our morning routine.
My heart sinks.
There is no recovering what I know.
Adrift in a new world
With no anchor,
Flailing and slopping around in a
Muddy mess with no path before me.
What is holding me?
Where is gravity’s pull?
My feet can’t find bottom and I don’t know the way.
Nine months later
The adrenaline is strong in the system
That comes with taking
Care of loved ones who are sick and dying.
Regular emergencies and
Racing to buy the next medication.
The grocery store trips and
What will Mom eat for lunch, what kind of soup for dad.
Negotiating the whirlwind of details with
Doctors and caretakers.
I am bone exhausted.
I muster a powerful surge of energy to be in the moment,
To be present because I
Want to be the one
Who in the end is the
One who tends.
Then the dying and death part.
Cheek to cheek intimacy,
The last prayers, the tears and morphine.
The funeral, burial and shiva.
Settling into this expected grief,
There is then the shock of the surviving parent
Leaning into a massive stroke after
Full family dinner over chocolate cake.
And the God presence required
For a week of deep loving and dying.
So soon after the first.
There can be a high that comes with death.
A holy time full of family,
Sunshine, song and love.
Relief after long months of suffering.
And long years of worry how the end will go.
It’s now nine months later.
Those adrenaline chemicals have gone on vacation.
Left me in a dry, arid land.
Depressed and empty.
Can I get out of bed,
Please no clothes.
A dull ache wraps around me like a scratchy blanket.
I am in exile from the life I knew.
The Sea Turtle
The Sea Turtle
Suns on the beach on this Pacific Island
In late afternoon.
I kneel very close to look in his sleepy eye
Completely at rest,
Come to a full stop.
Staying dry in the afternoon sun
And just exactly missing the
Gently breaking waves.
There is not a twitch of his foot
Or quiver of his wrinkled lip,
Not the barest sign of life.
At the end of his day.
He knows what time it is.
Time to rest
Beached on the shore
After a full day of paddling and feeding.
It is also my time to rest.
One year ago today marks the
Beginning of my parents ending.
A year of oceanic chaos ending
In enormous loss.
Can I be still now?
Curled up on the couch I am watching a home movie of me
Early summer 1953.
Navigating the backyard patio stone stairs in my soggy diaper,
Dodging white metal chairs with my unsteady chubby legs.
Our Spaniel, Sparky, watching over me,
On the far away lawn,
My three very Big brothers splash in the wobbly plastic pool .
I witness my young mother delight in my babyhood,
Bathing me and feeding me with a bottle and spoon.
Her beautiful smile and dark eyes single focused
In my direction.
I feel the love still in my bones.
My handsome young father places puppies in my toddler lap.
The house had just been built, a dream come true.
Soil, garden, brick, slate, stately trees.
“Look, so close to the lake, to the school yard,
To the train to get downtown to work.”
This family beginning their sixty year journey on the suburban land.
Fifty-seven years later, it’s early winter,
We light the second night Chanukah candles
In my daughter’s Jamaica Plain living room.
She is radiant with
Her growing Jewish community of twenty somethings
Nibbling on potato latkes and grapes,
Guitars and voices full.
She looks just like my young movie mother,
Same eyes and smile.
And just like me me thirty years ago
Starting my own twenty something adult life
My mother, my first born, myself,
Am I baby, am I new mother,
Or all grown up with grown children.
Is my daughter my mother.
Is my daughter my baby.
Am I my mother.
Time has a way of fooling you
Into thinking it all makes sense.
A Lesson from Sol
May 2, 2011
It was just like my dad to be direct,
Forceful in his opinions and
Dispensing of wisdom.
When I heard him the other day,
Quite loud in my brain,
I wasn’t surprised.
Silly, he says,
In answer to my confusion about life and death,
I see clearly the image of him
Slicing the oranges in halves.
Maybe sixteen of them, sparkling and rocking on the kitchen counter.
He is cupping his hand
On the skin of the half orange
Over the dome of the 1960’s juicer.
If you press hard enough,
It rotates and juice flows
From the spout into a short glass cup.
Come on, he says.
Joycie, take the juice!
Drink the juice.
That’s the stuff you take.
Watch me throw the pulp and the rind down the disposal.
Do you think that I rummage through that garbage,
Fish out the rinds, pocket them to bring to work?
Absolutely not. What for?
The house, the stuff, the bodies we lived in,
Let them go as easily as the rinds of those oranges.
Empty your pockets.
But the juice!
Now that is yours forever
And I will keep pouring.
The Car Ride
Dad terrified me when he drove.
Down Eden’s highway, he would weave
In and out of the lanes,
Speeding towards his destination,
Shaking his fist at
Drivers taking their time.
I cowered in the backseat,
My face in my hands.
That last decade, he slowed down.
But my daughter says he still did U-turns
In the middle of downtown Evanston at age ninety-two.
My first visit from him after he died
Was in a car.
I was driving with him
So close to me
In the passenger side.
I could touch his cheek
And smell his skin.
We were that close.
Giddy with this dream real contact
I asked him,
“Dad, what’s it like on the other side?”
I turn to face him while driving.
With a smile, he replied,
“Joycie, I’m getting the hang of it, I’m getting the hang of it.”
Just like the excitement of their mid-life world travels Navigating the new food, language and transportation,
This new land promised adventure.
He seemed ready.
I am bare naked in the swirling cold water of a mountain river.
A number four rapid,
Foaming and wild.
Thrown on my back
The rough stones
Cut my legs and feet,
My body meets the sharp rocks.
River is carrying me
Down around the bend.
I can’t see where I am going.
Where is my boat
And the protection of a wet suit.
There is yet another
Me safely on a bank of that river
Watching my other helpless self flailing.
My father has his arm around me
And with his wide, beaming smile,
Always up for an adventure,
Says, “Just enjoy the ride, honey.
It’s like skiing. All will be well.”
A crazy patch of river;
The quiet strength of riverbank.
One cannot be without the other.
I am both here and there right now.
A note from Sol
You didn’t know what you would find in the basement after
You ask me why I saved every single piece of correspondence that came my way
Organized and rubber banded.
I know you found all the letters having to do with the business
And every single letter I had ever received over 75 years
From family and friends.
Each scribbled note on scrap paper,
Each tiny flower card.
Every Western Union Telegram announcing
Congratulations for all occasions from
Our engagement, wedding, the births.
Tissue thin aerograms and legal pad size letters.
I even copied my responses to letters I wrote and slipped them into the original letter I received.
I knew you would find them.
Notes from people I had conflict with and notes from strangers.
Notes of love and of anger..
I remember all of it, every relationship,
Even the dialogue.
I kept it all.
I saved each scrap.
I needed to make sense of my life.
To know I was alive
And that I mattered.
That I made a mark.
That I loved
And was loved.
I have left these for you to find.
I knew the time would come and now that I am gone,
It is the perfect moment for you to receive them.
I have carefully saved all of your words.
Do you see the Western Union telegrams congratulating us on your birth?
The crayon drawings from elementary school and
So many scribbled rhyming poems
You wrote in your perfectly learned script
In the evenings after Mom and I would go out.
Have you read the sweet letters
Of confusion from Indian Hill Arts Camp.
The $10 reimbursements requested for college expenses.
How about the pattern and photo of your wedding dress to be made.
And your wedding invitations.
I bet you didn’t remember the contents of your passionate Application letter to the Worsely School of acupuncture.
The notes of silliness, gratitude and love we received on celebration days.
The long letters declaring your values as you became an adult.
I saved for you the defiant and angry letters that challenged me.
I love those too and copied my responses
So that you would find it now and
Remember how we could be honest with one another
And in the end, there was always love.
If there has been doubt,
I want you to deeply see
How I valued you and
Responded with my deepest heart.
As you grieve for us and
As the world you shared with us has shattered
And disappeared in physical form,
I offer back to you all the glorious pieces of yourself.
They are yours.
Carefully read them to
Create a new tapestry of
And appreciation for yourself
And the new life you are embarking on.
Let these shards be tiny mirrors
That reflect the beautiful you
Who graced our lives.
Weave them together and
Wear them as a prayer shawl.
This is the time for you.
June 25, 2011
I am left to celebrate all the rest of my birthdays without mom.
We shared them,
Birthday twins for 57 years.
I was so nervous as June 25th approached this year.
I hoped she would visit me in a dream to tell me
She loved me and missed me.
Perhaps there’d be a splendid vision of an angel that would definitely be her,
Would I encounter a stranger on the street with a
Message straight from mom’s lips.
It’s true, it can happen.
What magic from beyond she will share with me?
I eagerly anticipated my mystical moment,
A crossing of worlds.
Mom would never
Just be silent on this first anniversary birthday without her.
We had a special thing. She wouldn’t forget us.
I know this.
I came home around one o’clock for birthday and
Shabbos lunch with my family.
My girls came running to me.
Brimming with excitement
“You’ll never guess who you got flowers from?!!”
My mother, I excitedly knew it to be true.
A small card was thrust in my hand,
‘She wrote me a card too from beyond! Incredible.
Oh, she was so cool!
“Dear Joyce, a sad sweet birthday to you and Mom from your devoted bros. Love, Us”
Now let me explain,
I almost divorced my brothers last year.
The shit hit the fan while caretaking mom and dad.
They were awful to me and I hated them for it.
A simple offering of peace.
Not a sudden rainbow in my backyard,
A talking coyote or
Her photo falling off the shelf by itself.
Not an intimate mystical whisper just between her and me.
Just Red roses and daffodils sent from my brothers.
Mom wanted peace between her children
Above all else,
This was the perfect birthday message
For my mom, for me,
And for all generations to come.
No more brokenness,
No more bitterness,
Roses and Daffodils
Smooth it over, she would say.
The birthday message Mom most wanted me to have.
I’m Still Listening
July 15, 2012
I figured out how mom speaks to me.
I keep waiting to see her to appear in a dream to
Tell me how proud she is and
How she is crazy for me.
This is not her way.
Once on my way back to Chicago
To dismantle the house,
I asked for her company
To comfort me.
The whole airplane ride
Her diamond ring that I wear displayed
Thousands of rainbows across
The seats enveloping me in
That first anniversary death day,
(I made it all the way through the year.)
I woke up and smelled something
Delicious filling the house.
My ordinary corn plant had
Spontaneously sprouted a
Cascading, multi-blossomed flower
So fragrant that I couldn’t leave the house.
Our second birthday without her in body,
I waited again for a sign.
We always called one another if
We weren’t celebrating together.
I walked up Barr Hill behind our Vermont house.
Maybe a bear, a butterfly, a deer would speak
In her voice.
Instead, she simply appeared..
All of her, walking beside me.
We talked and visited the whole hike up
To the top.
She told me just to love.
To let go.
As if all that wasn’t enough,
This happened too.
I was transcribing a love letter from
Mom to Dad in 1943.
Turning to the last of the perfectly
Scripted eight pages,
There before me are four
Fresh bright red lipstick
Her mouth slightly open.
I can build the rest of her whole 23 year old
Face around those lips.
I bring the page close
Match my lips to hers
And give her a kiss.
It’s been too long.
A Year Too Long
September 8, 2011
One year is too long for a girl not to see her Mama.
One year ago exactly this hour,
They took your body from my house in your
Lacey and silky honeymoon nightgown.
One year ago today was the last time I saw you.
The last time I felt your soft hands,
Saw those gorgeous shapely legs
And grazed your cheek with my lips.
One year is too long for a girl not to see her Mama.
Thank you Mama
For all that deep and unbelievable love for all.
Especially the love for me.
For feeding me, holding me,
Walking me to school, reading to me on the couch.
Thank you for being happy and joyful to see me anytime of day,
Any year and at any age.
Thank you for showing me how to be feisty and honest
Thank you for creating a loving home and loving
The life that was given to you
And for trying your best to accept all of who I am.
Thank you for appreciating me with words
My parenting and all of my choices
Even though some of them were not yours.
Thank you for protecting me and keeping me safe.
Thank you for being a woman that I didn’t have to take care of.
You remained my Mama even till the last hours of your consciousness when you didn’t want me to
Fret over your massive stroke that was ending your life.
Oh my God, the love in those days.
Thank you for that remarkable gift.
One year is too long for a girl not to see her Mama.
Please stay with me forever.
Guide me and bless me and my whole family.
Please keep showering me with that love and softness.
Make sure we are under your wings.
I will never forget you.
I’m wondering if I will be able to see you next year?
326 Roger Williams, 1951-2011
December 25, 2010
Carey to Sol
“Dreamt of you all night, darling. You were a famous architect and built beautiful houses and we lived in the handsomest of them all. Such a wonderful dream and ended only when YOUR son woke us up about dawn with inhuman sounds made with a mouthful of saliva and the new found ability for making new syllables.”
This is the house that Sol built.
Sturdy brick with picture windows
Overlooking the patio and my mother’s garden.
Windows lace the circumference
Bringing the outside in.
The inside out.
“Joycie, we looked everywhere for the right lot.
This one, in between the Northwestern train
A block to the west and
Lake Michigan a long block to the east.
Across the street from Ravinia School,
A deep and wooded lot, just perfect.”
Oh, the stories those bricks tell.
I know and I remember.
Sol and Carey, their dream-come-true.
From Division Street and the West Side to Highland Park.
They raised the roof.
Green slate floors,
Bedrooms for the boys
A baby grand in the corner.
Sol in his dapper hat, suit and tie
Off to work downtown on the train with
The Tribune under his arm.
Carey’s radiant face, holding the baby.
Her tiny waist and tailored blouses,
Hair carefully set in place
Tending to the hearth.
Sledding and skating in the neighborhood,
Tumbling and giggling in the snow.
Birthday parties in the den.
Full of family and accomplishment.
Fresh squeezed orange juice and bacon,
Lamb chops and shrimp Dejong.
Ed Sullivan and Walt Disney.
Dogs and ducks. birds and puppies.
And one Yellow Buick station wagon.
Life was good.
Oh I remember..
326 is alive and breathing with the memories
Of four children in plaid shirts and bluejeans
With travel artifacts and art made by the sons
With Sunday brunches for college kids home for the weekend
With family photos on every wall and surface
My great great grandfather along with
Sol and Carey’s great grandchildren.
326 is alive with almost sixty Thanksgivings and
It remembers my grandparents, great Aunties and Uncles
On Sunday afternoons.
Chopped liver, herring and crackers.
The Chicago Bears.
It remembers whole family birthday gatherings, one wedding
Anniversary parties and catered Saturday night affairs.
Food upstairs, hors d’oeuvres downstairs
Or in the patio sunshine.
The cells of the walls have absorbed
Hours of music from the piano and
The grille clothed phonograph.
Gershwin, Sinatra, Danny Kaye, Mahler, Mitch Miller
Verdi, Chopin and Poulenc.
The decades spilled one into the other.
Our Cameroonian family snuggled in.
Children got married.
Eleven grandchildren made this home their beloved haven
3 plus 2 plus 6 equals 11.
Nana and Grandpa, Nans and Pa
Little ones nestled in laps and reading on the couch.
Flour sifted and cookies made.
And they grew up too.
Made way for a new
Generation of children they would never know.
Soon the birthday celebrations would become loving tributes
Of memories cherished in cloth books.
We joked that when they died
We would stuff them and perch them on the
Living room couch so they could always be found
At 326 just as ever before
Everything and everyone in its place.
They didn’t plan to leave
But nature had a different plan
And leave they did together.
And left 60 years of 326 memories for us
To untangle, unweave and untie
And bring solidly into our hearts.
A new family will grace 326
Just a neutral brick house
That once upon a time Sol built.
I am awakened at 5 AM.
Gorillas and Apes had been throwing
Snowballs and crap at me.
Just a dream fragment I ponder while I stay
Motionless in bed.
Tomorrow I fly to my childhood home to dismantle it.
To discover and retrieve old family treasures.
I chuckle at the dream poetry of those apes posing as
My ancestors flinging their old junk in my direction.
I am not laughing when I cautiously approach the front door.
There is nobody to greet me..
It is the end of all the years of Home.
I have come to untie the knots that have bound
Up the stuff to people and
People to the house
And the house to the stuff.
Closets still filled with Dad’s shoes and overcoats,
The smell of Mom’s robes and sweaters rise
From her side of the open doors.
The silver collected and displayed on the table.
Her entertaining flatware rolled in soft brown felt, antique tea pot and bowls.
Moroccon rugs and shelves of books.
I can hardly stand the empty silence in the kitchen.
Nothing in the refrigerator.
The hodge podge array of family photo’s nearly all gone and thrown away.
This is the grand dismantling of The House on Roger Williams.
I am presiding as the ‘Housepice’ volunteer
To guide this precious home in it’s transition.
It’s dusk and I’m finally downstairs in the Den
Way in the back basement closet.
Surely there is just one more box of letters and
Of course, the shelf of old slides.
Yet in that dark womb in the deepest recess of the house,
It releases it’s greatest secret.
Boxes upon boxes containing
Every single letter that ever crossed my Mom and Dad’s hands.
All correspondence between them and children,
Siblings, their uncles, aunts, parents.
My birth announcement.
My scratched notes saying ‘Good Night daddy, I love you’ from 50 years ago.
Household budgets from 1938.
Every scrawled note on a valentine or tiny flower card.
I sit with splayed legs on the floor with
This mountain of eighty year history
Piled high surrounding me.
It is the parque squares of wood here
Where I had tea with my dolls and explored the
Huge refrigerator boxes Dad cut out to be a play house.
Time bends backwards in and out of the decades
In no particular order.
1953 to 1937 to 1978
What do I take, what do I throw out, what do I treasure?
What is legacy for the generations?
What do I fling back to the apes?
Apprehensively I sort and sift.
Garbage bags filled with fragments of a life.
Carefully packaged and rubber-banded treasures to carry home.
My shoulders are heavy.
I arrive home to Boston
Filled up with too much of what I’ve never felt
Marinating in every cell.
When I go to sleep in my own bed,
This time there are no gorillas or apes.
Instead I receive a radiant visit from Mom and my grandmother, Nanny.
They are standing next to one another in that Den beside the
Clear sliding glass doors out to the garden.
Both younger than I ever knew them.
They are smiling at me, beaming.
‘It’s all okay, sweetheart.’
Letter From 326
Dearest Carolyn, Sol and the whole Rosen family,
I feel so blessed to have served you all these many years.
You, Sol and Carolyn, called me into being and built me with dreams and love.
I promised to shelter you both and your growing family with strength, gentleness, beauty and love.
You returned the love to me.
I have given you all I could from my deepest depths
And you responded with all of you.
I have witnessed love, harmony and sweetness in my walls.
It only made me feel grand and swell.
I stayed sturdy and strong
And you took care of me from beginning to end.
You furnished me, painted me, repaired me, adorned me.
You adored me and I felt adored.
I have stood here as all the children grew
And the grandchildren and even the great grandchildren
Came into my front door.
Now the end of this one Rosen era has come after 59 ½ years.
In gratitude I release all the bonds and all the ties that were strong and deep.
Nothing is destroyed, only transformed.
I will let go and you will let go with ease and simplicity.
The energy that has been bound in me will be free to live inside each of you
And infuse the spirits of Carolyn and Sol.
I offer my fullest and complete blessing for the healing of your souls
For this is an ending and endings can be sad.
Don’t hold on.
Open your heart and hand.
Trust in the eternal love and dream that built such a foundation as mine.
The Truth Of Cards
From the Basement to the Bedroom
I am in the heart of the matter.
In the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies.
I am emptying the contents of the bedroom file cabinet.
It is the Love place.
Every card and letter from their grown children
And from their eleven grandchildren
All the Mother’s and Father’s Day and Birthday cards.
Thank you for the weekend and for the wonderful time
“I love you Nana and Pa. I got an A on my English paper.”
“We had the BEST time visiting especially the half-moon cookies we baked.”
Hundreds carefully stacked in manila files
Sitting in their tandem chairs by the picture window
They opened each one
To read aloud with a joyous smile.
“Listen to this, dear.”
Then filed it away
Each note a capsule of love.
Receiving, Opening, Reading, Sharing, Storing
The incense of love radiating into the pores of their bedroom
From that file cabinet.
This is what it is all about after all.
Makes you feel that it has been all worth it.
That you could live forever
Which is what they almost did.
What Is This Thing Called Gone
What is this thing called gone.
I thought I understood it last year
When gone visited me with a vengeance.
Screaming loud gone.
Gone is gone.
Dead is dead, my father used to say with no expression,
Referring to their friends dying one by one.
I’m not convinced he was right.
If I can’t touch my parents anymore
Are they gone?
I can’t touch the chairs where they sat or
The art on the walls.
Is it gone?
I can’t smell them and I can’t
Speak to them forming words with my mouth.
Are they gone?
I do hear my father cheering me on.
I swear I do.
I can touch my mother’s soft forearm and feel her huge embrace
Okay my eyes are closed but watch me do it with my eyes open too.
I sometimes see them in the night next to me in a dream.
I carry a handkerchief sprayed with mom’s Chanel perfume.
They are going out to dinner with friends. It’s 1965.
What is gone about that?
In my minds eye, I am arriving at the front door,
Hugs and kisses, suitcases dropped.
Lunch neatly arranged on the table.
I feel the cold slate floor under my feet.
I sit on the couch and catch up, the sun streaming through
The picture window.
My right leg is in pain.
Something is on my nerve.
Kicking my butt.
I see an enormous
Black iron anchor chains me to the front hall.
The rest of me reaching towards my life
Stretching till my whole leg is inflamed
Fastened to the house.
This is not good.
Get the saw.
I am hurting.
Where is my true anchor?
Inside, love, inside
How can I move with a big heavy anchor
In my belly. That’s not good either.
What’s that. What are you saying?
Oh, Love is the anchor.
I get it.
Welcome To My Screen
What do I do with
How do I manage with
How can I feel all this
What is confusing is
What shuts me down is
What totally freaks me out is
What I can’t figure out is
Two frames simultaneously of the movie in my head
To the left is 326 pulsing with life as usual.
Mom and dad, arms wide in welcoming embrace
They are greeting me in the driveway.
Begonias, pansies, black-eyed Susan’s grace their magnificent garden.
There are children having lunch in the kitchen.
Little tomatoes, pickles, turkey and olives.
Laughter and sharing stories.
Alive with sweetness and love.
To my right is the other picture frame.
326 is a dead structure
Empty of life, of laughter,
Empty of things.
No life pulsing.
A shell, a corpse.
I am rummaging in the body of the cadaver
Sucking out the final traces of blood in the veins.
The garbage in the garage is heaping full.
No one home, it isn’t even a home.
Simply a pile of bricks.
Where does my mind rest.
With picture of life in the past
Or with the picture of emptiness and loss in the present.
My eyes of my inner vision dart from one to the other.
My heart lurching from one scene to the next.
How can that be.
August 29, 2011
The peacock is full of majesty.
Her colors are blue brilliant and electric.
They say that if peacock is in your life, you will be rising
Soon out of the ashes.
One year gone by.
Thank God for
Peacock in my life.
I am ready.
I see her with others standing by a beautiful mountain lake.
Her feathers fully fanned in a complete semi-circle.
They reach all the way to the earth.
An arc of seeing eyes.
Regal peacock stands in silence.
As I listen, I hear be still.
Don’t run to find a new path.
Don’t build a dam or collect acorns.
Strut and be lovely.
It is not time to make a move.
Rising up, dusting myself off.
A glimpse of returning to me.
Digesting the death and destruction.
Processing the transformation.
The small particles of hell are making their way into my cells
Where they integrate and dissolve into light.
My horse is standing nearby next to the lake
Waiting for the right moment to
Carry me home.
June 10, 2016
Joyce Miriam Friedman
We are going home after a days visit.
On the threshold at the screen door between house and front stoop,
She asks ‘what would YOU do?’
What would you do
With such a short time
To be alive?
How would you prepare
And how would you thrive.
Let me just say,
My death sentence forgotten during my sweet sleep,
Comes slamming into the pit of my belly by morning.
The sudden crash through the sleepy wall of my,
Of all of our denial,
Has me tumbling in a free fall.
Death is coming soon they say.
But today I have no pain
And I am rosy cheeked with
Brightness in my eyes,
A spring in my step.
I go to lunch with you on a sunny rooftop deck,
Just like normal days.
How can you, Death, really be so close?
How do I bear to drink in the glory of my garden
The breeze on my face,
The earth under my feet?
Help me to be present to life’s beauty
Even as I wonder who I want at my bedside during my final moments.
Help me to soak in all the love that I sewed in this life
Like a waterfall of holy sparks,
Even as I wonder where my ashes will be scattered.
Help me to appreciate all the good and precious works I have done
Even as I wonder in pain about leaving my
Lost and broken girl.
Who will help her when I am gone.
Help me to continue to go to the gym,
To dig in the soil
Even as I carry this
Help me to live fully
To make myself ready
For the peaceful ending
That is coming too soon too soon.
Tell me, my dearest and oldest friend,
What would YOU do?
Elul On Barr Hill
The wind on this hill
Caresses and massages the
Wrinkles of my soul,
Cleansing the doubt, the obsessions,
Balancing the ‘I Am So Important’ and the
‘I am Nothing’.
The mikvah of wind
Moving tree, flower and bush,
Cooling the heat and
Raising the dense,
Loosening the stuck.
God, help me to feel you here,
To seek your face,
To pause in the simplicity
Of your Divine manifestations.
Nothing needs to be big.
Big is for some people.
Small is for most people.
Help me to delight in
All you’ve given me
Without my even asking.
Nothing more. It is enough.
My life is blessed,
This one you have given me.
I will bathe in it’s miracle and
Sew the seeds of little things
Which, with Your Grace
Will somehow make a difference.
Lake Michigan 1961
The grand shores of Lake Michigan were
Just one block from my house.
I didn’t feel safe there in July or August.
The alewives were layered thick on the sand
With their rotting bodies and glassy eyes.
I stretched my T-shirt over my nose to
Stop that rancid smell.
I had to walk on tip-toes,
Eyes glued to the sand
Just in case.
I can still feel my high pitched screech
In my body
When my big brother picked one up
Waggling it between his fingertips
And chased me fast down the beach.
Not to mention the shallow water so dense with seaweed
It trapped my ankles
Like so many liquid snakes.
But six months later, in the dead of winter,
My eight year old self found
Comfort and solace at that same beach.
In the early weekend morning hours,
I walked there alone
To witness the lake’s magic transformation.
The mounds of snowy ice caves
In their misshapen rows on the shore,
Desolate, white, sleek, slippery.
I crawled in and out of each
Tunnel entrance and exit,
Pretending I was a
Brave explorer of a new land.
No summer families on colorful towels
Eating picnic lunch in their bathing suits.
No noisy brothers waking up at home or
Clatter of breakfast dishes
No wondering how I was to fit into everyone’s plan today.
The crackle and moan of the ice.
My freezing cold fingers.
This was my quiet.
I have emptied my field.
Standing at the edge
I see the only the breeze in the grasses.
Wild flowers and bees
I have emptied my field
Of all the things that no longer fit
It is stripped bare of the old work
The old fun all of which was new
And marvelous at one time
Brilliant ideas in a burst of creative energy
I manifested them
They shined and then passed through
On their way to another
How can I know what to gently place back
Into my field
Unless I strip it to nothing
And gaze at the empty canvas
My Piano < Mom And Me
My mother exhaled her music to me.
I breathed it in,
Inhaling tiny bits of love and all the rest ambivalence.
She hid her resentment
That she gave up her love of piano playing
To mid-century home life with four children.
It was a deeply held secret.
She never let on.
It was locked up good and tight.
Once upon a time before the war,
The piano filled her with passion and excitement.
I never knew for
All the years
I sat behind the mahogany baby grand in the living room
And then in college
Feeling scared and ambivalent myself.
But still I breathed in Bach and Beethoven and Ravel.
I was good enough
So I took this piano thing and ran with it.
Ran to scary places where my body betrayed me and
My nerves controlled every note.
Competitions and auditions
Behind a veil of terror.
Excellence and skill on the outside
Crippling fear on the inside.
“The notes are right, they are wrong
You aren’t good, today you are good
But probably bad.”
Always a mystery as to why
I couldn’t square my ability to play Chopin and Mozart
To the shaking legs and quivering fingers at performance time.
Could never understand my mind’s constant wandering and lack of emotional connection to this beauty that I was creating.
So maybe when I inhaled my mother’s music
And took it into the basket of my life
And caught more than her love.
Psalm For Turning Old Marriage Into New
Dear One Holy One of Blessing.
I praise the enduring power of healing change.
Of bursting through stuck places that have been bound in an unyielding web for way too long.
Praise You for guiding the untying of knots
And the unbinding of mess
That finally leads to an open meadow where
We can see the view.
Strands unfurled into sweet connection
And soft tones.
Praise You Holy Shekhina for allowing us to
Arrive at the threshold that
Appears after the dark night
Unfolding to a new day.
A dawning pasture of sunshine,
Fragrant flowers, music and laughter.
The door has shut tight behind us.
There is no turning back.
Praise Be O Holy One
For raising us up for one more chance.
For not allowing us to fall in the pit with no return.
Praise You for the healing that arises by Your miracle,
By hard work and by fierce, gentle love.
Praise You Holy One Shekhina
For the sound of gravel beneath the tires
As we climb the driveway to the Greensboro house on the hill.
Praise You for the promise of
Starlit nights and misty mornings
For sudden rain storms and rainbows
For the butterflied meadows stretching to their full magnificence.
I sing Your praises for the air so pure that every pore of my skin drinks deeply of its nectar.
I am bathed and purified by the massage of this breeze on my skin.
Praise You for this land of hills stretching into the vast green.
The sparkling lake down the sloping hill.
The tall grass tickling my thighs
And the fireflies that light my way in the pitch dark.
Praise the gift of my fingers knowing how to glide along the Steinway keys expressing the dreams of Bach, Gershwin, Chopin,
And Praise to the music of the loon calling, wolf howling and Buzz of hummingbird
Creating a symphony for all creatures to enjoy.
Praise You Holy One of Blessing for the peace that descends upon my loved ones.
Praise You for allowing me to behold this beauty with all my soul.
To feel the gravity holding my feet to the earth.
To smell the pine and moss and
To touch the icy cold rushing stream.
To taste the wild strawberries snuggled in the soft brush of Barr Hill.
This must be what You mean when You say
Psalm of Awareness, Awe, Wonder, of Amazement
I am deep in wonder at the miracle of Rocks,
Of flowing waterfall,
Of trees, flowers, shrubs.
Plants that have arisen suddenly from nothing out my back door.
From the silent longing of a whispered desired uttered privately decades ago
I am in Amazement and Awe how a seed took root in the soil of my consciousness
And became manifest as if by a magic want – Your Magic Wand.
A garden of such beauty that came from you Love, God.
With all manner of textured green
All heights of trees, sizes of rocks
Placed in perfect
A Microcosm of the beauty of your natural world.
A blessing on my doorstep.
What work did You do between my secret longing and full splendid manifestation.
What plans were You making behind the scenes while I lived my life and raised my family.
I do not garden but You sent me a Holy gardener who toiled with gentle patience and breath.
You have shown me how to trust the power of my brief longing thoughts to engage you in creation.
I didn’t know You were with me planning all along for the right time.
I am in amazement at the birds, the butterflies, the plants, bursting forth from between the rocks
Soft, hard, green, grey
Winged creatures, insects, small mammals making their home.
How wonderous is Your Creation Miraculously appearing in
You know I am an independent, wild animal,
Perhaps a lone jaguar in the mountains.
Help to understand why You want to contain me on this one
I am confused about the meaning of these rules
You tell me they are an ancient cornerstone of Judaism.
What does being Jewish have to do with my Jaguar essence.
Why I must follow this and that.
Why must I be bound by this Time out of Time.
I don’t like being told what to do,
What cup to lift,
What prayer to say.
Following an order of things.
Above all, I do not like to rest
Holy One of Shabbat Knowing and Blessing
Help Me to leave my Jaguar in it’s mountain home
So that I can join all of you in the sweetness of receiving
The gifts of Shabbat.
Help me to experience being a
Vessel for Shabbat for the very first time.
One day I will invite the Jaguar but not ye
May 12, 2012
Frizzle wears a red nose and bright yellow patent leather shoes.
She asks 12 year old Matt what he loves best in school.
Science? Can you teach me something you know?
Well, said Matt, from his hospital bed.
“Elephants lay eggs.”
Wow, I said, I thought so.
Big eggs, I bet.
“Huge, said Matt, and purple.
These elephants live in the Arctic Circle.”
Let’s go, I said.
I bring a bus in from the hallway,
Big enough for some huge eggs and an elephant maybe.
Matt is the driver.
We rev up the engine.
He takes us twisting and turning up and down the land.
Finally, we reach the Arctic.
Phew, I say, grateful to be safe.
Great ride, Matt. Thanks.
We can’t believe our eyes.
Several huge elephants with their eggs before us.
Elephants on the snow with their
Glittering purple eggs.
What a sight.
Matt decides we can take the eggs home on the bus.
Disturbed by separating eggs from their mama,
He decides to take the elephant as well.
“Her name is Omelette”, he says.
Back in the room, it is crowded.
Watch out for the IV pole!, I yell to the elephant.
Don’t block the bathroom door!
Frizzle calls out to tell the nurses in the hall
That there is an elephant in room 426.
Matt is wondering who will clean up the poop.
That night I have a dream.
I am given the task of carrying four enormous eggs
From one incubation place to the next.
They are warm and heavy..
I try to carry two at a time but drop one.
The egg is cracked but not damaged.
I look behind me and there are people who can help me
Carry these eggs.
I feel them warm and heavy in my arms.
There are ancient Mayan symbols on each egg but
I cannot interpret the signs.
I understand something.
This is all that I know.
It is simply my job to carry these eggs to a new location.
They existed long before I was born.
I will put them in the nest to
Incubate in the dirt nearby.
What has been given to me was laid long ago.
I must carefully hold all the potential
That lies in these eggs
And carry the new life and healing they contain.
Like elephants, slow and steady,
One day they will reveal the mystery.
A Visit with Destiny
Hospital Clowning on the Pediatric Floor
August 13, 2015
There is nothing in this room.
No stuffed animals or balloons.
No crayoned pages from a coloring book on the wall.
No pillow case with elephant design
No mama or grandparent.
There is only
With the sheet pulled up to her neck,
A tube in her nose and
IV in her arm.
Her head bobs from side to side
Do they see Shadows?
Who lives inside this frail body and damaged mind?
Toodles reaches for his harmonica,
Frizzle finds her penny whistle.
They play simple melodies
In soft harmony.
The humblest of instruments,
The simplest of statements.
First there is the slightest flicker
In the corners of her mouth.
Then the slow bubbling up from
The deep core of her soul
Into the full flowering of a
Wide toothy smile.
Her smile cannot stop and
Neither can our music.
This tiniest of nursery melody
Found where Destiny lives in
The mystery of
Some kind of joy and wholeness.
Beware of telling your truth!
The kind that comes from deep in the bones.
Beware of the creativity juice that comes
Creeping up from your toes and
Spreads out through your heart.
Watch out when telling your story,
And for owning your story
And especially for saying it loud
And in front of people that
And those whom you don’t know.
This is a dangerous situation.
Please don’t try to be authentically you and
Say the awful, sad, real, heartbreaking stuff
That you and everyone you know are made of.
Don’t get out of bed one morning
With your seed of an idea.
Think twice before you plant it
In fertile ground.
It will even grow in dry, arid ground.
Because it is from your raw place and
It wants to grow.
Now you are in trouble.
There are sneaky and secret little ways
The seed grows into something
Important to you.
You should stop this entire endeavor immediately.
Please be careful, I’m not kidding.
If you don’t heed this advice
One day you will wake up on the morning
After sharing your finished idea
And your body will be shaking.
There will be awful despair,
A hint of shame.
Vulnerability as deep as the Grand Canyon.
And a desire to jump out of your itchy skin.
The heavens won’t have erupted with applause
And adulation for your efforts.
There will be silence.
The only sound is your frantic little girl screaming
Into the void for
Love and attention.
When the storm calms just a little bit,
I have to ask,
Is it worth it?
Would I ever do it again?
Reach down that deep?
Do I have a choice?
The Learning Lake
January 14, 2012
There are more people than I expected here.
We are adult students learning to fly
At this lovely lake in the country, shaded by summer trees.
When it is my turn, I am a quick study.
My feet leave the ground at one end of the lake.
I make my way to the other side with a gentle glide.
It isn’t far, certainly not even as large Walden Pond.
Just a simple learning lake.
My body effortlessly ascends
But not too high.
I can see the rocks skimming the surface of the water.
I notice that some people are learning to fly with the
Bottoms of their feet touching the water.
Maybe they aren’t ready to totally lift off.
We are all practicing this skill because we will need it one day.
I am sure of it.
When my lesson is finished,
I meet one of our instructors near the parking lot.
So excited by my accomplishments,
I eagerly tell the teacher that I am now
Ready to fly to Martha’s Vineyard, across the ocean.
After all, it’s not that far, not like flying to England.
She shakes her head with compassion.
‘No my dear. You are not ready.
You will find yourself in the middle of the ocean,
Flapping your wings in the head winds, going nowhere.’
Stopped in my tracks, I am prevented from going too far.
Do not rush ahead.
Do not race to the next step
Do not take on more than what has been presented to you.
Do not act before you have listened and heard.