Poems ’93

Poems ’93

Most written in Howard Schwartz’ class in 1993 — thanks for help and inspiration!

 

SPF 30

by Mary F. Garrett

Chlorofluorocarbons,

Docile propellants of hair spray,

Drifted upward, past shape-shifting clouds,

To nibble at molecules of ozone.

Rays of sunlight, now unchecked,

Attack sunbathers in backyard pools

And canoeists on quiet rivers.

Skin cells change to carcinoma and melanoma.

Coppertone gives way to Sun Block;

Sun Protection Factor of 30 is best.

For longer outdoor exposure,

A hat and long sleeves are recommended.

Or just stay indoors.

There is no such thing as a healthy suntan.

How I miss the ozone!

 

The Necklace

by Mary F. Garrett

At St. Cecelia’s Academy,

Where the lockers need no locks

And stamp collections and antique dollhouses

Can safely sit on open shelves in the library,

The Mother Superior called a before-school assembly.

“Girls, we need to pray together this morning.

A gold necklace belonging to one of our students is missing.

We are concerned for this girl in her sorrow.

The necklace meant a great deal to her.

On each of her birthdays, her parents have added one bead

As a remembrance of each year of her life.

Of greater concern is the girl who has the necklace.

She is now feeling the burning pain of one who knows

She has done wrong.

Her soul will feel no rest until she makes amends

And asks forgiveness.

Let us pray now for this girl.

May her contrition make her whole.”

Four hundred heads bowed.

Four hundred hearts sought to help the one who was lost.

Later that morning, the necklace was discovered

In the school chapel

Adorning the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

Verna Fussner

Her life is centered around her children,

grandchildren, great-grandchildren.

Though she watches the news and reads the paper,

The current events that really matter

occur within her family circle.

The welfare and happiness of her offspring

are her prime concern.

Trips to the zoo, museums, gardens, storytelling,

and puppet shows with those children

are her major adventures.

Tending her garden and watching the birds at her feeder

are the entertainments of her free moments.

Spring is here, new plants are growing, birds are singing.

New adventures await.

 

Artificial?

by Mary F. Garrett

Life has become artificial:

Non-nutritive sweeteners,

Decaffeinated coffee,

Low-fat ice cream,

Salt Substitute,

Butter-flavored sprays and seasonings,

Low-cal, decaf soda,

Everything light, lite, low-fat, artificial.

Is anything real?  Yes!

Fresh green salads,

Ripe juicy fruit,

Grilled lean meat,

Pastas and breads not drowning in fats,

Ice-cold, sparkling water,

And best of all,

Real size-six clothes

On my now healthier body!

 

Crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge

by Mary F. Garrett

After January, 1972,

Each time I crossed the Washington Avenue Bridge,

I thought of you, John Berryman.

Pausing in the middle of the bridge,

I touched the railing where you waved good-bye.

I looked down at the swirling water

Toward which you threw yourself and wondered

How could you do it?

I could see the coal barges.

What cruel irony that your final flight should end there,

When you aimed for the clean, swift water.

Seeing the young couples walking hand-in-hand,

The craftspeople selling candles and beadwork,

Students carrying books as they hurried to class,

And anti-war activists handing out leaflets,

I felt, because I did not know better,

Smugly superior for being alive.

I thought teachers had all the answers,

And I felt disappointed, cheated,

That you would surrender to death.

I knew nothing of depression.

Now I see that your death was not your choice.

 

Broken Bottle

by Mary F. Garrett

The old man stands on the busy corner,

His faded plaid coat unbuttoned to the cold.

Earflaps hang from his shapeless wool cap.

Deep lines etch his face.

He stares at the precious bottle in its brown paper bag,

Smashed

And dripping

At his feet.

We see the heartbreak in his face

But traffic makes us move on.

We circle the block and return.

We want to help him replace

The lost elixir.

We can’t; he’s gone,

While on the ground the paper sack

Bleeds its last few drops on unappreciative

Pavement.

 

In Surgery

by Mary F. Garrett

Godlike, the voice of authority penetrates

The anaesthetic fog,

“Mary, it’s alright; there’s no cancer.”

I fall back into deeper sleep, blissful relief.

Later, awakening with a smile, tears and fear behind me,

I look to the smiling nurses for reassurance

That it was not a dream.

They offer confirmation and breakfast

And call my friend to take me home.

Still I wonder: when all else,

Even the cutting out and the stitching up,

The invasion in the name of healing,

Was lost beyond the cloud of sleep,

How did that voice find its way

To bring the message of hope?

 

Metamorphosis

by Mary F. Garrett

The sweet and loving child has been replaced.

She once was interested in everything around her.

Now “I’m bored” is her constant refrain.

Once she loved her family; she thought we were nearly perfect.

Now she can’t stand us, and her frequent tirades leave us shaken.

All of the “warm fuzzies” she used to share have been replaced with “cold pricklies”

Hurled at any who dare to invade her space.

We don’t know this new, hostile creature.

From time to time we get a glimpse of the child we knew.

In between the storms she comes out for comfort.

We know the pain and confusion of growing up are responsible for this agony.

Before punishment, my father used to say, “This hurts me more than it does you.”

If one could measure pain, which of us would feel more

The pain of these “growing pains”?

 

On My Desk

by Mary Garrett

On my desk I see,

Pens and pencils and scissors and markers,

In two separate holders,

As if one weren’t enough.

By the end of the day,

Both might be empty,

As I leave pens all over the school.

I see a variety of rubber stamps,

To decorate the “on-time” papers

Of students with “good work habits,”

And, by their absence, brand

The lazy and disorganized.

There’s a box of Kleenex,

My one little contribution

To the physical comfort of my scholars.

The desk is covered with books“ and papers,

Ideas I want to share,

That we never have quite enough time for.

Why do the trivial necessities of attendance and tests,

Have to get in the way of the intellectual gems

That would be so much more worthwhile and memorable?

By the end of the day, there will be a layer

Of miscellaneous papers,

Not handed in at the “proper” time,

Half-read announcements,

Notes from the office, hall passes,

Book club orders, leftover cake from lunch,

And scattered pens and pencils.

I will take the half hour after school

To sort through the papers,

Re-check the attendance,

Put away the pens,

Eat the cake,

And place prominently in the center of the desk

The article I hope to have time

To read to the class tomorrow.

 

Words That Should Be Oxymorons

Working poor

Homeless person

 

Prayers

by Mary F. Garrett

My Catholic cousin and her Jewish husband,

Enjoined at their beautiful ecumenical wedding

To make a warm and beautiful home together

For the comfort of their family and friends,

Did their best to obey.

Fair weather was predicted;

They began work on the roof.

Just as the old roof was removed,

In true Missouri fashion, the weather changed.

Thunderstorms were predicted for that night.

With no time to replace the roof,

No time to move or protect possessions,

They turned to very special prayers,

To female relatives of his and hers

Already departed from this life.

“Grandma, if you do not want to see your dining table ruined,”

“Aunt, if you still cherish the home you lived in,”

“Mother, your linens are in the hope chest,”

“If you love us and want to see us

Enjoy the lovely home we’ve worked to create,

Please help us with this storm.”

That night rain fell on streets all around their home,

But not one drop touched the house with no roof

Save love.

 

Drama at the Baskin-Robbins

Act One

Two Young Women on Children

“I can’t stand her.  She goes out looking all Hollywood and leaves her children dirty and ragged.”

“I know.  My children will be clean, even if I have to be dirty.”

“I told her, your children should always come first.  When you’re old, they are the ones who will still be with you, looking out for you.”

On Husbands

“I’m glad to have been married, but I’ll never be married again.  I just got so tired of calling the police all the time.  They got so they knew my address as soon as I said my last name.”

“Right.  I told them to keep him locked up.  They said, but he seems to have calmed down.  I said, keep him locked up tight and come get his car out of my driveway.”

“He said ‘Baby, don’t hurt me like this,’ and I said ‘you don’t seem to care how you hurt me.’”

“He said ‘don’t go for a knife now.’  I said ‘I’m not going to try to cut you; I’m not a fool, but just put a gun in my hand and see how brave you’ll be.’”

“Yeah, just give me a gun.”

Intra-act

Two couples discussing art auctions.  One woman leaves her purse behind.

Act Two

Older Couple on Honesty

“There’s a purse someone left here.   Come pick up this purse please.”

“Someone’s going to be very worried and grateful to get it back.”

“Couldn’t possibly profit from someone else’s misfortune.”

Young woman returns, offers money as reward.

“No, we couldn’t accept that.  Just pass it along as a good deed for someone else.  A man said that to us when we were just a young couple, and we liked it so much we’ve used it ever since.”

On Marriage

“We’ll celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary next month.”

“It’s been a good fifty years.  I think I’ll keep her for another fifty.

 

Fall

by Mary Garrett

If a Teacher falls in the parking lot and no one is there to hear,

Does she still make a sound? (and if so, is it printable?)

Rushing to a before-school meeting (I do hate those)

and to get out of the cold,

Carrying too many library books (McKissacks’ — I do love them).

Uneven pavement, dark (why are the lights out?)

Suddenly, trip and pitch forward, no time to regain balance,

pulled down by the heavy books. (“Weighted with authority”?)

Stay down a minute to decide how I am.

“You just had the wind knocked out of you.” My thoughts echo my mother’s voice.

No one here to help me up — ah, no one here to see this embarrassing fall. . .

Standing up carefully, picking up the scattered book bags, walking slowly into the building,

Silently cursing that this will make me late.

Inside, I notice my scuffed glove, new and expensive

— guess I won’t be spreading the cost over three years of wear.

Then, taking off the glove, blood!  (I really hate blood).

It doesn’t really hurt, yet, but the meeting will have to wait.

The school nurses prove themselves this morning.

Peroxide, butterfly band-aids, tissues, and TLC.

“Don’t cry,” someone says, but the nurses and I know I have to, for a minute.

Then tissues and Tylenol, join the meeting in progress — get sympathy.

Teach six classes — sympathy.  “I’d have taken that fall for you,” (half-serious).

The bandaged hand my own red badge of courage — even bringing extra dessert at lunch!

Filling out the accident report, “Names of witnesses” — “no one” (thank goodness!)

Arnica for bruises, stretching for stiff, sore muscles,

and new rule for self: No matter what the meeting is or when, I’m not rushing!

 

Plop Quiz

Falling backward in the snow,

What to do?

Accidental snow angel.

 

One O’Clock

by Mary Garrett

Sticky little fingers open and close

The wings of my ladybug watch.

Afterwards, the time vanishes

And then returns as 1:00.

We go to supper at 1:00.

The play starts at 1:00

And ends at 1:00.

I arrive home at 1:00,

Shower and read and am in bed by 1:00.

Tomorrow is my niece’s wedding.

I know I’ll be on time.

It starts at 1:00.

 

Sam

Sam, Sam, Watermelon Man,

Chimichanga, Little Man,

Seeking adventure and affection.

Cuddle and purr, stretch toward the floor —

Yoga expert.

“Chase me, play with me, watch me, walk with me.”

Can’t abide a closed door,

Scratch, scratch, “Why won’t you let me in?”

Our tame Siamese panther, catching crickets,

Stalking birds (but not catching them),

Hopping after rabbits,

Challenging a blue jay from my balcony railing.

I can’t have my own cat —

I’m glad to be your godmother, cat-sitter, friend.

by Mary Garrett

 

Rainbows

by Mary F. Garrett

“Rainbows, class, are formed

When rays of light pass

Through tiny droplets of water.

The white light

Splits into all its separate colors

And spreads across the sky,

Appearing to us as a rainbow.”

“Teacher, no, that’s wrong.

The fairies and brownies,

Coming home from a picnic,

Had to cross the river after the rain.

They took all the flowers

They had gathered in their baskets and

Wove them into a bridge to safely cross over.

My father said that’s what we see

When we see a rainbow.”

Teacher, wise and gentle, only said,

“There is more than one way to understand a rainbow.

Ask your father to explain.”

That night my father taught me the difference

Between the facts of the real world and

The Truth of Imagination.

 

The Child Collectors

by Mary F. Garrett

Dwight and Diane collected children.

They began with one, Dion with the weak heart,

An outcast in Vietnam

Because of his African-American father’s blood.

Then Derek, with one eye destroyed by lack of vitamins.

Dustin had nightmares for weeks, remembering the bombs.

As their hearts opened to more children,

Their house grew crowded; they added more rooms

And more children.

A fourteen-year-old boy found his way

From Saigon to an American ship.

They couldn’t say no.

Two sisters from Mississippi would have to be separated

Unless someone would make a home for both.

One had a heart problem, not diagnosed.

Diane said, “Send them to us right away.

We have experience with heart problems.”

Tenderly, with love and discipline,

They gathered and healed the injured children.

For my friends seeking to adopt children, with much admiration and love.

 

Auto-Mobile

by Mary Garrett

Ray Bradbury, the guru of space travel, will not drive a car.

More die each year from cars than from Vietnam at its worst,

And where are the marches in protest?

Instead, we daily enter thin sheaths of metal, and Auto-propel

Ourselves at impossible speeds over hard concrete.

Only a thin line of white paint separates cars on either side.

We seldom ask if this trip, this job, this play, this class,

This visit is worth the risk.

Highway rules are followed, most of the time;

Defensive vigilance is maintained by drivers, most of the time;

Guardian angels or luck protects us, some of the time.

When those fail, the first law of physics prevails:

Two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

 

Flood

As we sat beside the Missouri River,

I tried to explain the flood to a four-year-old.

I showed her trees with water covering their trunks.

“There wasn’t water there before.  They can’t grow in water.”

We watched the water race by,

Floating branches showing its speed.

A beaver nibbled twigs on a new island.

A young boy skipped stones and we tried to do the same.

He said the Riverfest booths would have to be moved, but

Official word declared them safe until after the Fourth.

I think now of how little I really know of floods.

Volunteers’ shoulders ache from filling sandbags.

A farmer mourns his flooded field, “Those were good beans, too.”

People struggle in the heat to move possessions ahead of the flood.

Homeowners let basements fill with water so the groundwater pressure won’t crack the walls.

It can be as damaging to move a trailer as to have it flooded.

When the waters recede, homes will be filled with silt and critters.

You must sterilize canned goods contaminated by flood water.

Thousands of people have lost everything.

Experts debate whether to strengthen levees or let the river take its flood plain, whether to continue flood insurance or “encourage” people to move.

Out-of-town friends call to see if I’m still above water.

I explain how remote I am from the site of disaster.

Driving over the bridge, I can see the Missouri, a little higher each day.

The flooding of the power station darkened traffic lights on Highway 94, my only personal challenge due to flood.

Truly, I know as little about floods as a four-year-old.

 

The Goldfinch

by Mary F. Garrett

The goldfinch has returned to my balcony.

I saw him today, sipping water from a flower pot,

Nibbling at the plants,

And then darting away to attend to other business.

His favorite treat is the Swedish ivy.

There are two plants,

Kept alive indoors all winter.

By the end of summer,

They will be nibbled down to bare stems.

Our Swedish exchange student

Said they have that plant in Sweden,

But she couldn’t remember what they call it there —

Not Swedish ivy, certainly.

He darts back into sight,

With another golden dynamo in fast pursuit.

They both hit the window and fly toward the trees.

I close the blinds to save them from a second hit

And wonder if two plants will be enough.

 

News of My Death

by Mary F. Garrett

The National Education Association has declared me dead,

And Jim Garrett has been a dues-paying member all year.

My friends inform me after they have corrected the records.

I feel an eerie shiver, but mostly I remember Jim,

A friend and advocate for his deaf students;

He taught my students to sign in his “free” time.

We were friendly, but not close,

Although students were positive, because of our names,

That we were married.

In fact, they said we were “a very nice couple.”

We agreed that at least we fought less

Than any married couple we knew.

Our mail always ended up in each other’s mailboxes,

In spite of my efforts to clearly label and personalize them.

I once received his health insurance claim with one of mine,

My first clue, though I didn’t try to read it,

Of the illness that would destroy him.

It seems fitting that his death

Should find a way to come to me,

Consistent avoider of funerals caught at last.

I decide I’d better tell my mother,

In case official word is sent to next-of-kin.

I joke that if anyone complains about a boring class,

I can tell them it’s the best they can expect

From a dead person.

 

Rorschach Clouds  (for Laya Firestone Seghi)

by Mary F. Garrett

Cloud mother above

Lies on her back

And holds her laughing baby

Above her.

Nearby a stuffed tiger

Stands watch,

Bringing joy to the wind-blown child.

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Mom Poems

I wrote most of these poems as a farewell to my mother and have shared them with others when I thought they might help.

 

Today (April 27, 2014) I’m sharing them as part of poetry month . . .  and to have them safely archived somewhere not at home.

 

Side note: I was reminded today of my mother telling of her mother, who coped with her noisy brood by turning down her hearing aid when they got too loud.  At the end of Revolutionary Road, the realtor’s husband does that, and the sound of his wife’s critical nattering quiets to silence.  I’m not actually recommending the (rather depressing) movie, but I did love that one detail and a surprise connection to Mom’s anecdote.

Image

 

Sitting    by Mary Garrett

 

We spent so much time sitting,

Sitting in doctors’ offices,

Sitting in medical labs,

Sitting in hospital rooms.

 

During better times we sat in your kitchen, talking;

Then in the dining room at Harvester, both talking;

As you tired, me talking and knitting, you listening;

As you became too tired to even listen, just sitting.

 

You sat in your wheelchair to visit restaurants,

Shaw’s Garden, the art museum, the zoo,

(where I nearly lost you on a steep hill),

the Goldenrod Showboat,

(where Mr. Yamamoto taught me to back down steep hills).

Doug called you “love on wheels.”

 

Returning from the doctor’s one day,

We visited the mama killdeer

Who built her nest next to a parking lot.

You could sit in the car and see her through your window:

Drive-through bird watching!

 

At the end, we sat by your bed,

Holding your hand, smoothing your brow,

Saying I love you.

Then we were sitting by your still form,

But you?  Surely not still sitting —

Soaring, flying free

From this world to another,

Released from all bonds,

Too full of joy to sit.

 

 

Verna Fussner   October 8, 1924 – August 14, 1999

My mother lived her life for children, her own five, her five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, of course, but she loved and cared for all children.  Neighbor children and cousins would come to the house for everything from a snack to a haircut, and especially to be listened to — she was a great listener — and for sensible advice.

When we were all grown, I tried to encourage Mom to develop other interests, hobbies, friends to go places with, but her focus remained her babies, and whatever they needed or wanted, she would try to help them get it.  I was looking at a hole I had fixed in a sweater I had knitted for her — a niece had wanted to wear it outside to play in.  When it happened, she said, “I don’t know why I let her,” but I know, because she wanted to and it made her happy.  We have pictures of little ones playing dress-up with her scarves; she didn’t care if they got wrinkled or dirty because the children were having fun.

Donna and I still have the habit, learned from my parents, of noticing and commenting on cute children we see out in public — and they are all cute!  To my mother, children were always the most important part of life, and the love she gave continues in the loving lives they will live.

 

The Butterfly House  by Mary Garrett

 

In January my mother wanted to see the Butterfly House.

My first thought was to plan it for spring break,

But life is always uncertain.  We had mild weather for January,

And school ends blissfully early on exam days.

 

We rushed to get together all the necessities for an outing,

Medicines, oxygen, personal items.

I phoned for directions, and we set out,

Not actually following the most direct route,

But we got there.

 

Mom looked in dismay at the long path down to the House,

And then smiled brightly

When I pulled the wheelchair from the trunk of my little Tercel.

“I didn’t know you brought the chair!” she exclaimed.

Had she thought I would have her walk that long way?

 

Inside, warm summer met us in the middle of winter.

Flying jewels danced through the air,

And a room of chrysalises waited to emerge.

One very special blue giant perched on my mother’s knee,

Completely capturing her heart.

 

The visit was over too soon,

Closing time found us reluctant to leave.

In spring or summer we can come and stay longer,

But I’m glad we didn’t wait — Carpe diem!

 

 

Hawk    by Mary Garrett

 

The baby hawk was trapped in a courtyard,

No food to eat,

No mother to care for him.

He would have starved.

 

The bird lovers found him,

Took him to the one who knew hawks.

They broke the law to help this bird,

Luckier than the injured owl

That died while the vet waited for permission to treat it.

 

Fed to full strength, gorged to satiation,

Baby hawk was brought back to his home field.

Startled, he fled toward traffic and danger.

His new friend gently urged him toward grass.

A sound from above warned them away;

Mother hawk perched high above,

Watching her baby, ready to fly to his defense.

He could now be safely left

Where his mother would feed and guard him.

 

Haiku  by Mary Garrett

As a solution for scary situations, nothing can beat my mother’s accidental

creativity. As we walked to the Arch parking lot late at night, discussing

my sister’s keys and my umbrella as self-defense weapons,

Mom said, “I’ll just tell them, ‘Watch out! I know Haiku!'”

 

— response from a friend:

Mother’s knowledge shines

Daughter’s safety is in words

Self-defense with poetry

— Margaret in Illinois

 

 

Verna Fussner  by Mary Garrett

Her life is centered around her children,

grandchildren, great-grandchildren.

Though she watches the news and reads the paper,

The current events that really matter

occur within her family circle.

The welfare and happiness of her offspring

are her prime concern.

Trips to the zoo, museums, gardens, storytelling,

and puppet shows with those children

are her major adventures.

Tending her garden and watching the birds at her feeder

are the entertainments of her free moments.

Spring is here, new plants are growing, birds are singing.

New adventures await.

 

The Bad Boys  — I have kept this poem mostly private, but I think there’s an important message there so I’m sharing it now.  Caregivers have told me that men are often absent from the lives of those who are very sick, and these male relatives are missed, and missing out, because of that absence.  I don’t actually think they are bad, perhaps more unsure of what to do and how to handle illness.  Mom and I admired the five sons who every Sunday visited their mom, just to visit . . .

The Bad Sons  by Mary Garrett

The bad boys won’t visit their sick mother,

“I don’t do sickness,”  they say.

“Hospitals give me the creeps.”

They won’t help fix her leaking roof,

“I’m too busy,” says one. “I don’t know how,” says another.

The mother cries as she explains to  people

Who think she only has daughters,

“No, I have three boys, but they never visit.”

She begins introducing her neighbor as

“My adopted son, the one who visits.”

 

On Christmas, when they come for a brief visit,

She rejoices, “I’m so happy, I have my b . . . .,

I have all my children with me today.”

 

The boys don’t know what they’ve missed,

The tender moments shared, the life lessons learned,

The hugs,

The pleasure of being told, “You’re such a good daughter,”

The comfort of having no regrets.

 

They don’t realize what they have taught their children.