Happy March, everyone! I wish it were Happy Spring, and I hope you’re not still buried in snow as we are here in the Northeastern U.S. It’s hard to believe that Daylight Saving Time begins March 8.
Our poet today is Jill Stein, who lives in the vicinity of Princeton, New Jersey,practices as an individual and couple’s therapist, and is a long-
time member of U.S.1 Poets & Writers
Cooperative, where I first became acquainted with her work. She has M.S. and is in a wheelchair, which she often incorporates into her poetry. Her poems have been published in fine literary journals, including Poetry Northwest, Seattle Review, West Branch, MacGuffin, Pearl, Sojourner and Rattle, among others, and in two chapbooks, “Cautionary Tales” (Finishing Line Press) and “Steeplechase” (Main Street Rag). We’re including one from each of her chapbooks today, as well as a new poem, published here for the first time. I daresay many of you will find much here to identify with.
Visiting My Mother at Greenwood House
I’m trying to steer my mother
to the music
as if to yank her up toward air
to where the wakeful ones
assemble in the cafeteria behind the glass
listening to the man in the gray suit
sing Frank Sinatra songs
but she bats my hand away and
like a marching ant,
out through that holding chamber
with the silent parrot
the piano no one plays
and those people
planted in their chairs
heads drooping down like
on their stems or
But she’s always aiming
for the next corridor
and you can hear
the door locks click
as she approaches
with her ankle bracelet
warning she’s a wanderer
so I’m taking her
to these outer realms
to please her
though she’s moved
to some stark continent
where there is no pleasure and
no memory of pleasure.
Still, the nurse tells me
she has enemies.
The toothless man who
argues loudly with himself
dislikes her knocking
so she takes her wheelchair
and rams into him
with that blank Buster Keaton look.
Then she smashes up against
the nurse’s station
rattling the door
and tries to bite them
when they feed her–
ironic for the dentist
that she used to be
and I remember how back then
she taught me to squeeze
the silver from the mercury
inside the tiny cloth,
how I was not supposed to touch
those magic liquid globes that
traveled to the other side
but I cheated once or twice
because I loved the way they jiggled
and though she warned me not to
she didn’t really seem to mind.
from “Cautionary Tales”
As usual, they’re sitting around the table
with their coffee cake and empty cups.
My grandmother is offering me a grape
and she’s saying
It’s so terrible what happened to your mother
and I’m agreeing.
There’s a pall over the canasta game.
I’m hoping they’ll have some inside scoop
on all of this
now that their dead.
I mean, my mother
the former tennis champ,
the dentist, when a woman
had to fight to be one,
my mother who made the best birthday parties,
and believed in fun, or so she said,
and then, okay,
the one who bullied me with platitudes
pretending she had the answers
even to herself–
but still, how it can all add up
to mindless pacing
through the halls
knocking and clapping-
so I say
Surely you must know something
and I’m whining now
but no one’s talking
no one’s even looking up and
my grandmother says
Here, have another grape.
My Parents’ Ashes
I scattered her ashes in a clearing in the woods.
My daughter took handfuls of her grandmother,
and they became dust clouds in the wind.
Although I don’t believe their souls
are trapped inside the urns like genies,
I know my mother would have wanted that.
But when it came to him,
I knew he’d rather be tucked
on my basement shelf.
The catch: she’d want him
to be a cloud beside her and
she’d blame me for keeping them apart.
I just can’t please them both,
and he, accommodating, selfless,
so easy to mute, was always sacrificed
Even now, I see him full of resignation
floating upwards like a Macy’s Parade balloon
while she draws the boldest outline of her shape.
Let there be some justice now–
unless there’s a different logic
in the afterlife. Maybe they’ve finally worked it out
and glide together like Chagall lovers drifting
above rooftops in a blue night sky.
Of course, that would have been her dream.
But he only wanted shelf space for his papers
and time to arrange them daily,
incurring no complaints.