Still Travelling

Travelled East
in search of self

Half-family extended
unexpected warmth

Was my identity here
with stranger-brothers?

I contemplated pausing
surrendering to other

But that was sleep-walking

The distance still remains

Journey has no end
till soul has purpose

and wisdom relieves
the wounded child.

(Still Travelling first appeared here July 2020. Edited for this version. Image my own)

They’re Just Family, After All

In anticipation of guests,
the hostess – always bent
on pleasing – carefully selects
the script, ascribes roles,
envisions an afternoon
of light repartee, peppered
with philosophical pondering –
satisfactory entertainment.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, confident
in the outcome, fatally smug.

Crowd arriving, she fails
to read disinterest in eyes,
politely attempts to orchestrate
interactions, while they cast about,
calculating, shunning protocols
of etiquette, dispersing in
an unsettling way, then returning,
savagely encircling their prey.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, panic rising,
confusion overriding confidence.

Unprepared to defend herself –
bears no arms but the giving type –
she ducks, grasps, attempts
retreat from the onslaught
of vindictive agendas, but the wall
of stored grievances, spotlighting
a history of injustices, corners
her, hopelessness in its wake.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, knowing
full well the legacy of pain.

It’s friends, in the end,
who save her – a surefooted
cavalry, bearing the swords of
understanding, compassion
their war cry – reigning in the
once-invited, now betraying
guests – objective hearts
demanding an end to the fray.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells them, tells herself,
composure a mere thread.

Tables turned, the offenders
now plead for forgiveness,
beg for help, pretend the slights
were unintentional, harmless,
expect their hostess to step
over the bloodied and slain bits
of herself, and with benevolence,
restore her love for them again.

They’re just family, after all,
she says weakly, the torn script
of her expectations scattered.

(My art, entitled She Stands In the Middle of It All. This poem first appeared May, 2016)

If I Were a Kitchen

If I were a kitchen,
I’d want an old-fashioned woman
at my counters – rolling dough
canning pickles, chutney, jam,
homemade pasta sauce,
and every Sunday, a roast.
She’d wear her sweat like a saint,
ignore her aching back –
one practiced hand feeding
her Carnation baby, while
other children flocked to Formica,
hot flesh sticking to vinyl
as they picked at fresh made
sweet buns, the pot on the stove
perpetually simmering.

Or give me modern efficiency –
ninjas and presses, air fryers
and induction cookers –
let the children belly up
to the breakfast bar, chomp
on veggies and humus, while
cook totes baby in a sling,
and preps bone broth,
strains of Baby Einstein
emitting from a propped up iPad,
while a cellphone vibrates
on granite, and the Keurig
spits out Starbucks Pike.

Just don’t abandon me,
piles of unopened mail,
or tossed aside receipts
company for coffee rings
on my counters.
Please don’t litter my surfaces
with rotting takeout containers, or
dishes caked with processed cheese –
don’t leave my stainless steel sinks
stained, spoiled food reeking
in the refrigerator, traces
of late night mishaps curdling
on the floor; absence of familiar
sounds declaring my presence invalid.

(Rewrite of a rewrite. Image my own)

Family Portrait

Did you know that life would come to this?
Flattened memories pressed between wax
the essence of our efforts forgotten,
the dreams, so carefully construed, lost.

You leaned toward the conventional,
and I was ever the sentimentalist,
and yet we ended up in the same place –
shadow selves standing at the banks
of our dishevelled lives…

Survivors, nonetheless, tokens
of a a past riddled with so many lies,
so much heartbreak…

We are ghost sisters
haunted, hunting,
unable to step away –

Drawn in,
pulling apart –
all that remains.

(Family Portrait first appeared here February, 2019. Edited here. Image my own)

Prayer Unanswered

Calm, the morning air,
mind lost in reflection,
mirror-still waters

Raise my eyes skyward,
pray for release, an end
to Mother’s suffering.

Nothing. Death
has its own rhythm –
emotions mud.

(I wrote this poem a year ago, when my Mother was in and out of hospital with heart failure and pneumonia. Now, a year later, she continues to struggle. “We live too long,” she says. “Pray for my release.” Photo: Mom at 94, courtesy of my son.)

Sunday supper table (sestina)

Two at the ends, two at the back
one for the cook, one for the help
this was the way of Sunday’s table:
hungry tums anxiously waiting,
family dog glued to the floor
lest any scrap should need saving.

Father would pray for all our saving;
serve himself before handing back,
while Mother paced the dining floor
ever offering us kids some help
till dishes, her end, piled up, waiting –
always an imbalance at our table.

Silence was the rule of the table,
stories and anecdotes were for saving,
politeness called for patient waiting –
chairs tucked in and shoulders back
and no cutting the meat without help,
cold potatoes slyly sloshing on floor.

Youngest feet not reaching the floor
tended to swing beneath the table
kicking knees could not be helped;
from fiendish scowls no saving –
Father’s hand flashed a wicked back,
scolding sermons he kept in waiting.

My tongue would tire of the waiting
no matter how I focused on the floor
and if a sister should glance me back
that would be the end of a quiet table,
giggles nervously emerging from saving
any hope of control beyond our help.

Mother’s good nature was seldom help,
nor Father’s silence as he glared, waiting,
for the situation was far beyond saving,
and his chair angrily scraped the floor
as his storming presence left the table
we happily waved at his regressing back.

***

All the stories we’ve been saving –
childhood foibles we couldn’t help

Days and people we’ll never get back
hoping that somewhere they’re waiting

That one day we’ll meet, share the floor
minus the hurt, forgiveness at the table.

(My poetry circle tried their hands at a sestina.
This is my attempt. Another tale from dinner
with Dad. Image my own.)

Survival of the Wittiest

Father demanded first slice of pie
doled out with high brow perfection
anything less unacceptable

Crumbly bits unleashed a tirade
the shame of incompetence
crushing the reluctant server

Oppressed as we were
we children plotted,
sought a suitable revenge

He got his just dessert
cherry with a subtle trace –
scent of satisfaction.

(Note: no parents were killed in the writing of this poem. Image my own.)