Trust Comes Back

can I trust this world again
after years of tending to our ailing child now gone
the energy spent returns
does she send it back to us
how do we begin to receive it

I carried little Liza on my shoulders
which was bouncy fun
played peekaboo in the window reflections
until she grew tired
so tired she could bounce no more
with her hands clasping my forehead
her trunk draped over my head
she melted deep into sleep
eventually I laid her down
and yet years later I carry her still
now she is light
and my back is strong


if they ask
how many children
do you have
I almost always know
how many I have
I’m ready to shout
or sing
or say
three not two
if they ask
how old she is
a simple question
I brought upon myself
I don’t know what to say
how to add
six years alive and the time since
six plus one is usually seven
but now
I don’t know what to say
how to count
for a long time
she was stuck stuck at six
but now she lies far beyond
any single rational number


last night while I was sleeping

one of a trillion cells in my body mutated into a cancer cell

under the influence of ultraviolet rays from the sun

microwaves in the atmosphere

pesticides in food

god knows what in the water

under the influence of age—my age in this age—

under the influence of stress and grief and karma

it circulated through my bloodstream

how many times through the capillaries

the great veins and arteries

how many times through the four chambers of my heart

before my healthy lymphocytes detected it as out of the ordinary

as having improper identification

alerting all in its lymphocyte network of secret police

to start with chemical warfare

and to get the word out

send the signals

sound the sirens

alerting the intelligence of the liver

alerting the jailors of the spleen

to search attack capture and

without any further hearing

without advice of counsel

destroy destroy destroy

all while I slept

unaware my life

had been saved

Let Go the Day

Time to say goodbye to this day, May 20, 1996, Day 150 since the bone marrow transplant—PUVA treatment number fourteen. Overall, I’d say it was a pretty good day. Getting to and from the hospital went smoothly, and you made great progress with your K’nex building project with Mommy. And with each day that passes, we get a little closer to the light at the end of the tunnel:

the end of the rash, the end of having to take steroids, and the return to normal activities with full energy. It may not always feel that way, but just like now with each day we are getting closer to summer and further from winter, so each day we are getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Time for some deep breathing. Slow, deep breath in. Slowly blow it out. Deep breath in. Then blow it out with a big sigh. That’s a great sigh. One to rattle the cups in the pantry. That rattling must have startled Mommy and Nanny downstairs! Feel the muscles of your chest and tummy and throat, the muscles all over your body, moving with each breath in and with each breath out. And with each breath in, hold on to the best of this day, together at home.

You picked out some delicious mangoes on the way back here. Yes, and after your great long shower, Mommy combed your hair. And the laughs we had when those I shall not name were passing gas and everybody was saying, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me,” all at the same time. And with each breath out, as best you can, let go the worries and frustrations of the day.

Worries about trying to stop scratching the itchy spots so hard. Frustration at having to take so many medicines and at having to be so careful about germs. All the worries about getting well. With each breath out, let them go.

Imagine a warm shower like the one you had today. The water rolling over your skin. Taking the itchies and hurties away. And the soothing sound of the water spraying all over you, helping you relax and get sleepy.

Imagine a rainbow parachute gently floating you down to the ground through the cloudless sky so clear and blue. And as you float so softly and gently down to the softest of landings, your eyelids get heavy and they close. All your muscles get soft and relaxed. And your mind fills with the deep, clear blue of the sky. And now let that blue get darker and gradually darker, turning into your favorite midnight navy blue.

The night sky fills with cloud shapes rolling by. There’s a cloud the shape of a doggy like Toto. There’s a cloud the shape of a trumpeter swan like Louis. There’s one the shape of the Cowardly Lion. And one the shape of a Woozy. And one the shape of a great big cow. And just behind that cow-shaped cloud is the first star of the night. On it, we can make any wish we want. I know what I wish for: for your return to full strength and health immediately.

Feel the gentle breeze become stronger. In the strong wind, the leaves of tall trees rustle and the branches sway. The clouds move swiftly across the sky. And more and more handfuls of stars come out. Soon all the clouds have blown away. And the dark, blue-black sky is filled with a zillion stars sparkling, like a magical blanket covered with sparkles. 

Looking up at that sky, we feel tiny. And yet also connected. The whole universe is one fabric. Every part connected. Every animal, fish, and bird, with every plant, flower, and tree, with every cloud, every star, every puff of wind. And with every girl and boy, man and woman, all connected.

Over the horizon rises a huge, orange, oval-shaped moon. And as it rises, it gradually changes shape to become a perfect circle. And it gradually changes color, becoming golden, and then yellow, paler and paler yellow, and at last at the top of the sky, it becomes the brightest, whitest light we’ve ever seen. Shining down on us. We drink it in. And take from it strength and courage, hope and love. It reminds us of the light at the end of the tunnel. Like the wind that blows across our skin and then passes away. Like the clouds that covered the sky and then blew away and disappeared. So this day has gone, and we let it go. Now to rest and be ready for the new day.

Where I Came From

This is where I came from this house, these trees, these gardens, these parents, this brother, these dogs, their poops used to fertilize the shrubs, this driveway gravel registering the movement of cars arriving, departing, this garage with the red Rambler, where I get this rake to pull together a huge mound of leaves from the maple and then jump in, and this lilac from which we take cuttings to bring the sweet smell inside, and this weeping willow that could hide me when I wanted to stay lost, these neighbors who were warm who carried me home when I flew off my bicycle after trying to ride downhill without holding on hands in the air, and these chilly neighbors and their barbed wire border to be wary of, and this spot at the corner of Valley Road and Candlewick Lane where I caught the bus and went away to school and learned a bit about the larger world and then went fifty ways farther yet.
(with a nod to Carl Sandburg and Gimme the Ax)

The Mirror

For years now
whenever we visit my mother,
we can feel her readying herself.
Her ears are primed for any comment
of admiration for a tchotchke,
fondness for a book or kitchen item.
“Take it,” she’ll say.
“Take it now. I don’t need it.
You enjoy.”
Disarming and alarming. 
Does she know about her ending?
She’s messing with my denial, my spunky mother.
Taking pleasure in the gifting. Good for her.

I notice the mirror in the entryway –
an antique with a stylishly carved light wood frame –
a large horizontal oval. 
A tad shorter year by year,
she looks up to see her reflection,
Checks her red rain hat – just so -
Or the wide brimmed gold sun hat,
her Calderesque earrings
Her lipstick - just so.

Hesitant, I admit
that when the time comes,
I’d like the mirror.
“It’s yours,” she assures me.
In it, I will find her, just so.

Sweet Tooth

I have a sweet tooth,
and I come by it honestly.
My dad loved every kind of dessert.
Did my mom love them too,
or did she love most
providing the treats for her men –
her man and we, the boys?
Pondering now, Yes, I think
she loved them, too.
She was the savorer
who enjoyed each bite, each mouthful.
Without effort, her way was to take her time --
all the time in the world,
always the last at the table
Yet the sensory pleasure was dwarfed
by the delight she felt as the giver.
It was as if we were the euphoric dogs
hearing her set down our bowls on the floor,
racing to gobble our kibble in ecstasy.

The treat that jumps to mind this minute --
baby rum buns.
I’d discern that mom had gone shopping
at the department store.
I knew that, in addition to selling clothes and wares,
Hutzler’s had a bakery.
Had she stopped there?
I didn’t ask, not wanting to risk hearing No.
I just watched
until, from the bottom of the last bag,
she lifted a large white cardboard box --
or maybe even two.
I’m not sure how I got to be there first,
but, in my memory, I was.
So, I had the privilege of lifting the lid
after she clipped the tape.
Oh my god the box is full --
more baby rum buns than I can count –
the smell of the swirled dough so buttery,
the hardened icing so sweet and thick and still smooth,
the crevices brown with cinnamon,
and on each an absurdly bright red cherry.
I’m tipsy remembering that in these treats
I’m allowed for the first time to taste real rum!

My Heart

This is an ode to my heart.
Thank you for beating whether I think of you or not.
Thank you for your service
even when unacknowledged
even when ignored.
My father’s stopped when he was sixty-five.
My brother’s faltered and was repaired by stents.
This morning I listened to Joseph Goldstein guiding a meditation.
His last words were “relax your heart.”
I can do that. Even though heretofore,
sixty-six years, I never thought to do so.
It’s an excellent idea.
A way to say “thank you, heart.”
You seem strong, heart. Stronger for opening, I’ve come to realize.
Not simply an alternative to closed, but open
with a possibility for opening further—
open without limit.

As a young doctor-in-training I saw pictures of hearts,
held and passed around sample hearts - normal and abnormal, healthy and sick.
I observed in open-heart surgery the beating heart
shocked to stop beating.
And then repaired.
And then shocked again to resume beating.
I was in awe looking at that outward miracle.
No capacity at that time to understand the miracles within.

School’s Out

Eddie’s out of school, too.
I’ll bike over to see him.
We’ll head down to the post office,
where we’ll roll down the hill sideways five times
bumping into each other until we can’t breathe laughing so hard.
We’ll buy some penny candies – wax coke bottles and atomic fireballs.
I’ll get a fudgsicle, and he’ll get a dreamsicle.
We’ll lick them away on the porch of Mr. Crooks’ store,
chew on the wooden sticks for a while,
and then ride our bikes some more.

When I get home
I’ll sit on the floor
in my room by the round fan
the size of a generous footstool.
I’ll keep changing its three speeds
because high is like a tornado.
I’ll stay on the floor worshipping it
Until I feel the urge to move

She Is Looking Right at Me

She is looking right at me
not at the camera, at me.
My friend Lou showed me
when photographing people
to just hold the camera in hand and click
with faith
that there was a good chance
the lens would capture
what one wanted to capture
in an interesting way
without the camera up in front of the photographer’s face.
Better to Let our faces be open to one another,
nothing in the way

In this picture
she is looking right at me
her light brown curls are longer than they have ever been
cascading over her shoulders.
Her forehead is fully smooth
no troubles have landed there.
Her faith in the world
and in us is complete.
Her face is completely open
Like an open-faced sandwich.
The top piece of bread just isn’t there.
It isn’t needed. 
That’s how open her face is.
Her hazel eyes sparkle, curious. 
What’s up daddy?
Because I said her name
not Hey, Lizie
I didn’t need to say Hey
I knew how she was just then
alert and receptive
I had a sense
saying her name would cause her to look
and I would catch her in just that open state.
We were getting out of the car,
A rented minivan. In my imagination
I can feel the texture and picturize (as she might say) the maroon upholstery.
Elena and Molly had been quicker out of the car.
From where were we coming back?
I can’t recall. Nor why she has an orange yarn necklace.
I remember It holds a card with her name dangling on her chest
below what the camera captures.
What we were doing that day,
Why would she be wearing that name tag?
It won’t come back to me.
When it comes to recall at a certain point,
you get what you get, and you don’t get upset,
so I let it go.

She is looking right at me with a clarity
a composure that I associate with certain pieces of music.
When I listen to them my brow softens
becomes smooth
As smooth as it can become at this age
Maybe Terry Riley’s G Song
Maybe Poem in G Minor played by Jessica Williams
Next to that one I see the word Live.
I know it is meant to rhyme with strive.
It was recorded Live.
But it could just as well rhyme with Give.
It would be Live.
Live, Lizie, Live
as long as you can.
Live, everyone, live, as long as you can,
as fully as you can.
Live, give as much love as you can give.

Can she see the past
to the ancestors who never knew her
And all the burdens they carried out of Russia?
Can she see the future
And all the relatives who will share her family tree
No. She has good eyes but she cannot yet see through time.
Not yet. She is looking neither behind nor ahead.

She is looking right at me.
She is looking right at each of us.
At all of us.
She is full of wonder
and is easily astonished.
She does not know what is coming.
Any more than we do.
She is not thinking about what is coming.
She is looking right at us.
Seeing us simply
As we are right now.