Dreaming of Margaret

There are no ghosts for me to fear.
When you arrive here, mid-dream, post-
midnight, you appear whole and rested,
your mind ready and quick as ever.
We get on with things.

You are dressed in our favorite shade
of purple–you were the only grown-up
who dared love such color in my Seventies
childhood of mustard and green. I wanted
to be just like you: confident enough
of what I could do to do it.

Tonight, you must be near, reminding
me of things I have forgotten.
Just one more time, we stand side
by side and cheer our candidates
and make poor jokes. We walk
arm in arm, to New York City

and a theatre. Your diamond smile,
your perfect hair. The best day
I’ve had all year. Then the dog

barks and the sun snaps
through the blinds. To find
you, I see, I need only
close my eyes.

 

on a wing and a prayer, 1

JUST BEYOND THE GARDEN GATE

I ate that apple, whole. I spit
its tiny black seeds into my hands.
Later, I’ll plant them to see
what clay makes, other than that
creature who found me here, blaming
me for that ache in his side, and a chunk
missing from the apple in his hand.

FullSizeRender (1)

No one said Paradise would be easy,
or that a bed of roses—I’m talking thorns, hon—
is a place I’d ever lay my head.

Adam is off, shaking his fist at me
and pleading with the clouds. I will not
let him drag me down,, all that anger
and finger-pointing. Who has time?

O! This sweet apple is so filling,
its skin so red and unblemished.
O! That satisfying crunch every bite
I take! That hard white center
is irresistible. For all the trouble
it has caused, I am savoring
every morsel. It is so ripe,
my lips run with juice.

key words: poetry, Janice Lynch Schuster, Eve, Garden of Eden, apples

ANGELS PASSING TIME

for Meme, 1920-2015

Birds flew, like checkmarks in the sky
marking off the clouds. Where I stand,
I can close one eye and squint.
I find your face, drifting
in the light. Birds travel
so quickly and far, to a place
I can only imagine, not know.

how her garden grew

Where I stand in the snow
it is cold. We once stood here,
together, eyes lifted to the sky
as it darkened for a storm.
You told me I had nothing to fear,
you were near and would not leave me.

Anyway, you added, thunder is only angels
bowling, and lightning, the devil’s anger.
He is a poor sport, you said.
And what about the rain, I demanded.
“Just rain,” you said,
so much magic could only go so far.

Have faith, you told me,
though you cannot see.
We were on a balcony
full of last summer’s flowers,
their dried heads nodding
in the wind.

 

KEY WORDS:  grandmother, heaven, faith, angels, poetry

LAST WALTZ

for Grandmom

 

Grandmom in Alaska

Because she believed, I did,
all those Sundays she filled me
with forbidden fruits,
a grandmother’s reward
for having persevered. Everything
tastes better with sugar,
even oranges and secrets
kept from home.

In old St. Jerome’s church,
we’d kneel for communion,
long after my parish priest
had dispensed with being
an intermediary for God,
and handed me a wafer
All that was holy
flourished in my palm.

The years sped by so fast,
time invisible as angels.
Now, though belief is less rote,
I mouth her prayers
to lift her journey
to its end. If there were candles
I would blaze a trail.

I smell her Noxzema kisses
and count pennies won
at gin rummy, and remember
how I danced on her toes
and she laughed.
“Step lively,” she’d say.
“Here’s your hat,
what’s your hurry?”

Surely, now, some light-
footed prince has freed
a card for her and swept
her away in a drift
of stars, a cascade of ‘wow’
a mystery that sets
her free.

Key words: poetry, end-of-life, vigil, grandmothers, family, grief

GARDEN IN WINTER

IMG_1983

The gardening catalogues land
with their beautiful images
of what you could pull
from the dirt if only you had
the latest tools in this year’s
Pantone colors, and sand
delivered from some Holy Land.

If only you outfitted the place
with brilliant bottle trees
in primary colors to remind
you of an African sun
you have never glimpsed.

If only your beds
were smoothly made in boxes,
deer proofed. If only your kitchen
garden grew herbs fit
for the mouths of queens.

As it is, just promises
of summer, empty as your head
that night in the bar
when the married man
tied his gold ring to his shoe
laces and told you he knew
how to make love grow.

 

key words: Gardeners Supply Outlet, Audobon Society, Homestead Gardens, Riva Gardens, gardening, flowers, love

Possession

on hearing Jeffrey Harrison describe the shoulders of women

My shoulders are not on display.
If they ripple, it is strength from years
of propping others up.

If they are bare, it is that I had no time
to cover myself. If they are strong
it is because I made them so.

They are not your wishbones.

If my hips curve, it is from bearing
down too hard to release new lives.
If my breasts swell, it is from feeding people.
If I walk with a sway, it is because I need
to be someplace, fast. There are places

I must be, alone.

This body was made for me, not you.
It is no one’s for the taking.
Just because you bit some shiny apple
doesn’t mean I’m yours.

Key words: writer’s almanac, poetry, possession, feminism

Balance of Power in the Pharmacy

I meet a boy who carries a notebook in his breast pocket.
“That’s quite a weapon,” I tease, pointing to the blue stain
spreading across his lab coat. He is a man, but so clean-shaven
and slim, he seems young enough to be a child.
High school job, I think, or between classes.
We wait for my pain pills, which the pharmacist measures
so slowly, he could be using coffeespoons.
His lilting accent assures me I will be relieved.
We are close to done, he says, counting pills.

We are far from it.

The man-child says he is two years
past the Navy, where he worked on ships that lined
the suffering shores of the world, witness to the worst
humans could visit on the living.

He tells me his thoughts move faster
than debris in a hurricane, and he gathers them
in the notebook, trying to piece
his life together again. If only he could collect
them all in one place, put a lid on them,
bury them deep, and move on.
Then, he says, he might find sense
in this incomprehensible place.

What is poetry that does not save nations
but souls? The kid mentions that he is a lefty,
able to spot four-leaf clovers in fields of grass and weeds.
He collects them in his wallet.

Life shoots dreams down. To him, I am one more old woman
with pain pills and worry and grey temples and belly fat.
I want to hold his smooth young hand in mine
and tell him how little we know but this:

words, gathered like storm clouds
on a horizon can unleash a torrent
that changes the landscape of this world.
What’s in his mind, he says, he cannot see.
But it is there, and ready.
He did not sail so many seas, he promises,
for his voice to be lost in the wind.

key words: Janice Lynch Schuster, veterans, dreams, writing, creativity, poetry

All Soul’s Day

For Grandmom
June 26, 1915-November 4, 1994

I was born into a golden dream
of an old woman’s heart.
She held me when others could not,
rubbed my ear, whispered lullabyes,
rocked me hard or soft.

I thought I’d always be her doll.

What I held for granted vanished
that November, all the gold
in the world could not have saved us.

My turn to whisper, then, holding
her rosary in both our hands,
my incantations some lament
I could not name. I thought she’d always
be mine to love. Our souls surely rested
together in  worlds that do not end.

What would I trade
for one more moment
in the corona of her love,
science of her affection,
calculation of her black pen
working problems in ink
until I understood what ‘x’ equaled?

I would always be her doll.
We could pack the car again,
drive out into the night,
just over the speed limit,
me in my pink seersucker skirt,
her with a map and quarters
enough for any toll.

What river could we not cross,
to get back on that highway
that lasted beyond night?

 

tags: grandmothers, love, grief

 

Steel

dancing buddha

I was forged by desire,
hot, molten, flaming
that lovers stoked
at their own risk.

They melted into me.
I was hammered
by love, reduced
by its aftermath.

My leaden feet lifted
by force of will,
I learned to dance
with monkeys
and their crosses
and that weight
on my back.

What else could we do?

When nothing ever happened
on time, when doors slammed
with us behind them,
when we witnessed
everything
but saw nothing,
when we prayed for help,
and were left to ourselves?

Weren’t we all steeled
by love, etched on singular
faces, long after the bodies
have gone to dust?

What wouldn’t we try
to be so warm
again, to strike
over and over,
casting our mistakes
without regret?

key words: Janice Lynch Schuster, poetry

What Fire Was Like

 

 

leaves on fire

What we needed, we did not want.
What we wanted, we did not need.
Whatever safety I sought in you
Did not exist there.

We were in a cold room, two sticks
for hearts. When they rubbed
together, some kind of furious dance,
a spark, ignited the bed,
set the house on fire.

There is no joy in melting
into the other. No self in the end,
no sense of what made
us whole—or what we made.

The skeleton frame of the house
stood still, smoldering and terrible,
while we watched, our hands seared
by nothing we could touch.

key words: Janice Lynch Schuster, poetry, divorce