Winter Prompts #17 & #18


Winter Prompt #17

Once there was grass,

dandelion and clover,

gill-over-the ground.

Once there was green.


It’s there, still,

under the frozen slush,

the snow. Under

the deep puddles,

the shallow ice lakes

that cover the pastures.


It will turn again;

it will grow green.

The commonplace


Resiliance is reality.



Winter Prompt #18

I slept well with no dreams I can recall.

When I awoke, I noticed first

the light on the ceiling

of the hotel room—or rather a light

and its dimmer double, down

and to the left—an alarm or sensor

blinking orange every half-minute.

I closed my right eye to make the double

disappear. My eye is not single,

I thought. I hardly remember

what that was like.  The light is one

though the lamps be many.  Then One light

ascending through four notes

and The light is one though the lamps be many

in a dominant chord

over the sitar, after the wandering

verses  I can’t remember. One light,

The light is one though the lamps be many.

That simple chorus like a child’s song.

Of course—O brilliant!—the Incredible

String Band’s search—scattered lights

of many lamps, patterns that don’t stick,

chordless rifts resolving into One light.

The light is one though the lamps be many.

Of course. ’Tis the gift to be simple.

The Mary Poems, Part Four



The wife of Zebedee mends the nets–

her hands as rough as a fisherman’s hands.

My husband is too old, she says,

to go in the boat alone.

It is a wondrous thing, she says,

to go in a boat at night.

My sons will not return, she says,

and cuts a cord with her yellow teeth.

Our sons will not return.

But then she laughs and ties her knots:

They’ve promised me a golden crown.


My firstborn took my bread in his hands,

blessed it and tore it and gave it his name.

My bread, in my mouth, the flesh of my child.

And we sang, and the men went out.

After they had gone, we washed the plates and bowls and swept the room.

When there was nothing left in there,  I came out here to watch the moon.

She is empty.

A white hole in the sky.

I am a hole in earth.

Once I held the waters–oceans, rivers, the fountains and wells, every drop of dew–

Now I am empty.

Now I have done.



My son.

Fruit of my womb.

They condemned, betrayed and nailed–

my son,

my firstborn son.

Forgive?  Forgive?

Rebels gasp on their crosses,

soldiers kneel in the dust

tossing dice for the tunic–

can their mothers


My son hangs

and promises paradise

to innocents duped by power,


here I stand.

You, Herod.

You, Pilate.

You, Chief Priest and Council,

all timid and zealous for your laws–

I curse

your laws.

I curse your power.


By all the blood that women bleed,

by all the screams,

by all the fear and bruising,

by water and fire and stone,

by Adam’s skull,

this ground filling and filling

with blood–

The heavens are silent.

His Father in heaven

is silent.

Or he is dead.

It is all the same.

But I have spoken.

I thirst, but not for wine,

hunger, but not for bread.

Once I magnified eternity,

now nothing

but ravage and wrong.

My son.

Our body, broken.

All the wine is sour.

All the water, salt.


So many nights I have watched with the moon;

so many times, alone.

The moon is too silver, too bright.


should not be so beautiful.

The olive blossoms

should not smell so sweet.

The wind should not

touch my face so softly,

so softly.


In my dark house

I am making bread.

We shall go to the tomb

when the cock crows in the garden,

when the sun has pushed aside the stone.


I went to Poland to meet my family.
I went to mend a broken circle. I
went half German. I returned half Polish.
I returned with amber beads and vodka,
with new language, a thousand photographs.

My grandma left Poland in 1905,
when she was fifteen, before both the wars–
train from Ostrowy to Lodz to Gdansk,
ship to New York, to Cleveland, Ohio.
German and Polish and Russian she spoke.
She knew baking and sewing and gardening.
She never saw Mutter und Vater again.
Five sisters came later:  Anna, Helena,
Paula, Wanda, Ottilie. One brother:
Herman. She never saw three boys again:
Rudolph and August and Hans. Two babies died
earlier: Edward and Waldemar. Frieda
was a baby when grandma left home. She
never saw Frieda again.

In the second war when Germans came killing
the Poles, my family with German roots tried
to be German again. Uncle Rudolph
joined the Party. When Russians came to kill
Germans, they shot Rudolph, in Ostrowy,
in front of his house. It was winter. Hans
and August pulled sleighs to Germany with
their wives and little children riding and
the Russians close behind. They ate frozen
potatoes and snow.
But Frieda had married
a Polish man, Tonek. They stayed in Poland
through all of that war. Wanda said Germans
forced their divorce. Their three little children:
Marysia, Eugenia, Henryki died
during that war. Sons Edek and Eugene
were born when it ended.  My kuzyn Edek
says his parents did not divorce. Wanda
was wrong. That never happened, he says.

In Ostrowy where my babcia was born
I stood by the brown plastered tenement house
where Nazi Onkel Rudolph died, where the
sunlight slants down the long upstairs hallway.
I have touched a bannister touched by great-
grandmother’s hands. It is gouged, dented, scored,
ugly, and painted with thick brown paint.
Behind the tenement I saw sod-roofed
root cellars with broken blue and yellow
doors. I saw lawns where my babcia tended
geese. I heard black-feathered kawki calling
from chimneys and smelled the coal fires warming
those houses. Ostrowy is quiet and old.
I saw the red roses climbing the walls and
gardens of cabbages, leeks, beets and
orange flowers that I do not know.
Beyond the gardens, the forest where babcia
picked mushrooms and flowers for her matki.

Once, for the first time, I walked down the street
my babcia walked down, once, for the last time.

I have walked in Warsaw where everything is new.
With my family I have walked those streets in the rain.
I have seen that city from the Russian tower,
I have listened to Chopin in the rose-filled park.
I sat at three tables with my family who stayed–
Frieda’s family who lived through two wars, my rodzina
who have lived in a one bedroom flat and waited
in line for bread. With them–Edek and Celinka,
Gosia, Dariusz, Dominik, Jarek, Ewa
small Zusanna and Bartek–I ate wild mushrooms
and blueberry pierogi and kapuśniak śmietana.
We drank from little frosted glasses: wodka and
Jarek’s soul-cleaning mix that does just that, I think.

Gosia and I believe that people are crazy.
Edek and I believe we are lucky to be alive.



~after David Weinstock

If you won’t tell how I cried,
I won’t tell how you left.
You won’t tell my raging, either,
how I blamed you for everything:
my sister’s dying, the terrorists,
war, cancer and pain, blindness,

So you won’t tell
how I slammed doors, broke goblets,
made a fool of myself every time
I remembered. And I won’t tell how
quiet you were, how you wouldn’t
turn back when I called.

I won’t tell
of the blank, the emptiness
of the faceless winter sky
with its perfect stillness of stars,
the hollowness of the laughter
at feasts, the blandness of Rilke
and Bach.
You mocked me
with happinesses, with sunrises
and hymns, but I won’t tell.
You won’t tell how I tried,
and later, how I stopped trying,
believing as fervently in your absence,
and I won’t tell

how it amazes me
that people still fall in love,
that somebody in that shabby
brown house practices Beethoven’s
piano sonatas with all the windows open,
that strangers dig through the rubble
with bare hands, over and over,
trying to pull strangers back to life.
And especially I won’t tell

how you returned,
how the stories went on,
how the grass grew
green again and again after the snows,
the days lengthened, the chicks hatched
and the moon rose in a thin
white shard.


A bright afternoon, the sky blue
that not so long ago
was full of rain.  A thrush or two
sings from a bush.  Cold water flows
down from the dam.  Through
the air, the scent of earth.  And so
the people gather and agree
to dance the May around the tree.

The old women know just what to do:
weave the ribbons tight and high,
bind the lovers, ease the pattern,
dance and bend and sing and sigh,
dance to live and dance to die,
dance Earth in her complexity,
touch and listen, taste and see.

In and out the dancers go–
stiff and awkward, graced and easy,
solemn, laughing, nimble, slow,
careful, gentle, neighborly,
elders, youth and children twirling by.
If there is a door, this is the key.

Yet here the ribbons bulge oddly and uneven–
something out of line,
out instead of in, the wrong shoulder, counterturn.
The old women nod,
Even so.  The dance goes on.

What is woven here will stay.
Who knows what the year will bring?
Death and sorrow, flee away!

Come into the wood today,
dance ‘round our Maypole in a ring.

Thus once again, we dance the May.



Remember living in the red squirrel’s heart?
You feel her necessity when the first leaves fall.
You can recall the rabbit’s silence,
you dream the hunger of bears and bees.

Remember when you saw through spider’s eyes,
when you soared with vulture’s wings?
Remember breaking the surface of the sea,
breaching and blowing and slapping your flukes?

You were once a pasture oak–
brown cattle took shelter in your shade.
And once you were a yellow dog
searching the midden for bones.

Your mycelium has threaded the forest floor,
and once your shaggy mane
pushed up through decay that was your food.
You know you’ve been decay.

You’ve condensed in the tumult of a cloud,
sparked above a smoky fire.
You’ve known the cold of rain on stone,
You’ve dried and browned and burned.

You will lay your eggs in shallow ponds
and learn the taste of mud.
At sunrise, some late summer,
you will learn to spin a web.

Remember when you were the scent
of marigolds, of corn.
Remember being grass–
all the winter long you hunger after green.