Novels and Long Prose
Poetry and Short Stories
When I was three years old, my hair a mass of golden curls and my blue eyes, wells of innocence, my father taught me two things I still remember. When people asked me my name, I answered without hesitation, “Eleanor Roosevelt.” He also taught me this recitation:
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
how does your garden grow?
With silver bells, cockle shells
and not one damn violet!”
In an old photo album, I find a sepia-toned snapshot of me sitting on my father’s lap. We are reading a large storybook spread across my legs. I am dressed in a girly blouse and corduroys, a shoe dangling precariously from one foot. My father, in army uniform, is dark-haired and handsome—a precious moment I don’t remember.
almost lost in time’s black hole
my father’s tinny voice
whispers in my ear
We climb to our seats in the Hearst Greek Theater—unyielding, rough-hewn granite in the cool sunset. People sit on cushions, low-slung portable chairs, and padding. They’ve been here before. Dressed in layers for the late August evening, we sit on our folded blanket, hoping we won’t need it for warmth. We have hiked to this steep, stone amphitheater to hear Yo Yo Ma play Bach’s Six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello. Will I be able to sit so long on this unfriendly seat?
Alone, on a riser with cello, microphone, and bottle of water, Yo Yo Ma begins his lyrical, loving journey. The suites have been his friends since childhood, and tonight he carries them to us. At his touch, the cello keens, trills, and trembles. I want to swim in its undertow, dance to its song, and sigh in its honeyed longing.
weeping night songs
sparkle the sky, embrace angels,
caress the hungry earth
From her wheelchair in the dining room of the dementia unit, my 100-year-old mother greets me.
“They arrested me this morning.” Her voice quavers.
I’ve learned to enter her stories.
“How awful,” I say, taking her trembling hand in mine, bending toward her so we can hear each other above the clatter of dishes and staccato of chattering voices.
“It was terrible. Six of us had to sit in the hall for hours. I don’t know why. I told them I didn’t do anything wrong.” Her lip quivers.
“Of course you didn’t. You’re a good person. That’s why they had to let you go.” I reassure her, kissing her cheek and squeezing her hand gently, mindful of her tissue-thin skin.
When I see Andrea, the elegant Eurasian social worker, enter the dining room, I leave my mother’s side. “I’ll be right back.”
I repeat my mother’s story to Andrea, who listens quietly. Her response surprises me. “Your poor mom. I’m so sorry. The police were here. We had to call them in for a violent resident who assaulted his sleeping roommate. We tried to keep it from the other residents, but your mother must have seen the police.”
The story, the odor of corned beef and boiled cabbage roil my stomach. I return to my mother and ask her if she’d like to go to the café for a decent cup of coffee and a treat.
She smiles. “A bagel with lox and cream cheese?”
The tall café windows overlook a patio and lawn, bordered by red and pink rhododendrons. Mum munches her bagel, watching a woman play tag with her Golden Retriever.
“Who’s feeding Matisse?” She asks about her poodle, a decade gone.
“I am, but he needs to go on a diet.”
She chuckles, sipping her coffee. “You spoil him.”
The morning thunder clouds drift away as she chews on her bagel. Resilient soul, healthy appetite, incredibly strong dentures.
In the elevator, we wait while Andrea, our social worker, holds the door open to confer with a colleague—a tall, broad-shouldered man with thick, wavy hair. Conversation over, he walks away, the elevator door closes, and we hear my mother say, “He’s hot.”
Photo Credit: Khachik Simonian on Unsplash