So, a couple of sixty-somethings decided to make last year’s busy holiday season even busier by writing a poem a day during the month of December as part of an annual challenge posed by Two Sylvias Press. We ended up with 60+ poems, and because we liked a lot of them, we worked together and chose our top dozen. Then got down to the business of editing and revision, a back and forth that culminated in these final poems as a collection to share with you. Please enjoy, comment, like, and share broadly. And, as always, thanks for reading and loving poetry even almost as much as we do.
Anne Marie and Michelle
(Prompt 5: Humankind’s Folly)
A Rose in the Aisle
Anne Marie Mackler
My husband ran to the store to buy pantyhose,
toothpaste, and ChapStick for Alice Walker.
She blessed our babies, our home. I can still smell
her oiled braids, our embrace, her eyes never let go.
Barbara Kingsolver was ragged, a new mother, yet
she hugged me and said, “Yes, yes, of course,” to my
shy inquiry: “Could I call you?” Her need for connection
as visceral as my own. Baby breath behind our ears.
The photograph of Gloria Steinem and me
sits contentedly at eye level; she and I talking
about my chapbook of poems, my face
intense, hers accustomed to the cravings
of young feminists, mothers, writers.
Our fragility earns no scorn.
Naomi Shihab Nye and I laughed ‘til we cried,
almost peed our pants sitting amongst teddy bears
in the last-minute lodging I found for her. I still have
the tiny vase she bought me, delivered with small
pansies, and a promise that I’d be okay. My husband
had left days before. The clay tube holds Q-tips now
on my sink, so our conversation can continue.
Anne E Proulx wrote ‘to the excellent’ before
my name when she signed her book for me.
I had told her story, not my own, as MC’s do,
I guess that introduction earned top grade.
Joy Harjo hugged me like I really was
something, really was someone she remembered,
really was just another doting white woman who,
too, deserved all her kindness. She smelled of sage.
Marge Piercy loved “On My Vanity.” I should
have had her sign my t-shirt, nearly a rag now,
still worn, an excerpt from her poem “Right
to Life” on the back. Wearing it
makes me feel like superwoman.
Sandra Cisneros signed “Woman Hollering Creek”
with a sparkly gold pen long before they were
cool for white girls. Her layered skirt rustled
as she walked to the podium, a drum roll
to her stories, her curled hair pasted
to her cheek like a spotlight.
I see Joni in my email, I’ll announce it
casually, “Another email from Joni Mitchell,”
if anyone is nearby. Recently a freshman thought
I was all that–her face! I told her the truth
about jonimitchell.com. Oh, youth.
I’ve only really seen her in my dreams, Joni.
In one, she handed me a rose in the aisle.
I woke up feeling like I had just eaten
a grilled cheese with tomato soup
on a rainy day in Detroit ’68.
(Prompt 5: Humankind’s Folly)
Little fool I feed every day,
the last bite of apple pie,
the chewy best end of the brisket,
just to hear the bells on his curled toes
tinny and cheap.
Quite impulsive, decked out
rainbow-colored short jacket
the silly bifurcated hat,
ends bent over his ears, bouncing
when he laughs, a dead give-away.
Did I say the fool dances high on his toes,
as much my heart as behind my blinking eyes,
there’s no pinpointing the ridiculousness.
“Pull my finger,” he says. “Just this once,”
so encouraging. I should not be surprised
when I feed this fool who calls shotgun,
thinks he can tell me how to drive.
(Prompt 30: What ____ Doesn’t Know)
Anne Marie Mackler
I read about artists, songwriters,
avoid the news like a plague,
like the sun, my spotted skin
timid now, not with the bravado
of the 13-year-old, bikini-clad girl
I was, ignoring the Coppertone
in my back pocket, headed
for the beach, river, pond.
We didn’t care, as long
as the sun was shining there.
“Let’s get dark,” us girls would say.
I was lucky if I got pink,
usually scorched and un-
attended—sunburns were taken
for granted like eating brown
sugar toast for breakfast with
Tang and a multivitamin. “Finish
your apple,” my dad would say,
from behind the tall newspaper,
as if he could see me scooping
more Nestle’s into my milk.
He offered headlines,
lowering the paper shield,
Nixon this, Vietnam that, oil
prices again. Never mentioned
Roe v. Wade. I hiked up
my shorts before
I left the table.
He hated my youth, my verve,
my bright red skin. Mostly he
feared the world and what
freedom could bring to daughters:
guys groping and untrustworthy,
maybe he’d been one, or
maybe just an orphan boy
afraid of having nobody
to soothe his broken heart
or rub butter on his burned
shoulders, so he refused
me an ice pack for my skin
blistered and seeping, he hoped
I’d figure it out like he did.
Two thousand miles away
and half a century later
I did. Dappled and well-
read, resting in the shade,
I talk to his ghost, who doesn’t
seem to mind my sassy,
might even admire
my artwork, my poems,
my little green house. It’s
easy to find an apology
in an imagined postcard
arrived from the other side,
only eternity separates us now.
But I find solace in his
caring notes, urging me
to stay on top of the news,
put on sunscreen, eat my kale
raw. He recommends Vaseline
for my funny-shaped moles
and I laugh, aloe vera in hand.
He says read the politics page
too, then the arts, then the funnies.
He knows me still, still fears
for my verve, for mean
men, for sunburns. He’s aware
of his limits: parenting
got easier in his death, I guess.
He signs off. His handwriting
always upright and strong:
“You’ll be okay, kiddo,”
and he knows I will.
(Prompt 16: Dear Diary)
Pink Berries on the Mistletoe
“I never travel without my diary.
One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”
I’ve neglected you since I turned sixteen,
since the magic of desire disappeared
in a cloud of cigarette smoke, the bed of a pick-up,
the boy who never wore a belt,
his name could have been Loki,
we shared a six-pack on a summer night,
down where the railroad tracks used to be.
Can’t say I was willing, but I went along
for his ride, and lost the last of what I thought
was love, fell into the role of siren.
From that day I brought the boys to me.
I ran the pool table at the local bar,
put quarters up, made bigger bets
after I stopped doing shots; the men
who liked watching me bend over
watching me eye the diamonds
to bank the eight ball, kept drinking.
Oh, Diary, I am too old for sensational stories,
my siren days are long gone.
My husband is dead, our daughters grown,
having survived the consequences
of their sensational choices.
Nothing much of the Oscar Wilde
left to raise eyebrows, flutter my heart
with the tale I could tell, yet Loki rises
to the occasion, without his belt,
without a sound until I’m out
among the juniper looking for mistletoe.
You know the story, Diary? The one that wraps
you into what a fool I was to ignore prophecy.
I am no goddess of love,
couldn’t raise enough protection
for a May-December marriage.
Even my daughters warned me
I would be a widow.
Tiny luminescent, pink berries,
glorious clumps in the mistletoe
this year. Perfect color for creating wreaths,
or hanging surreptitiously
from the vigas near the tiny pagan tree.
I’ve stopped dreaming of dragons
romantic knights who shine,
or some rider with my horse
in tow, saddled and ready to head out.
Gravity keeps me grounded
in the triumph of surviving every day
finding the sunny place on the sofa
with two cats on pillows behind my head,
closing my eyes before the sensational happens:
pink berries on the mistletoe this year.
Dear Diary, this is a sign. The sign that I can
conjure against the scheming Loki,
who got to my invincible husband,
the god’s arrow tipped
with mistletoe. My husband, Odin’s son,
fell to Loki’s arrow, and I didn’t see
the scheming god arrive before he let
the arrow fly, but Diary, here’s my prophecy:
the rain this summer brought berries
back again to mistletoe,
and gods, I call on you, all out there,
to finish the story this winter season,
bring love back into my house,
under the vigas, with the right kiss.
(Prompt 21: Fun Facts)
The Moon Pulls at the Planet
Anne Marie Mackler
I have whittled this year down
to a splinter of itself, only seconds
or a few days, anyway, remain
of the human-implemented time
frame that means nothing
or everything at once
cause for great
humbug, I say.
Afraid of knives or power
tools with sharp edges, it
is a wonder that I can take
time by its ridged neck
and carve away at it, like
a seasoned carpenter,
chisel back its minutes
to mere sawdust, a puff
of the former branch
it was, as if a year
could be more than
the construct, written out
on a thin slice of tree,
preserved and idolized.
I am not alone
in my destruction
of this glory, the prayers,
the idolatry of clocks.
The moon, too, pulls
at the planet, razor-
shaving time like
a 5 o’clock shadow.
Years shrink bit by bit
like whiskers whisked, only
a billion or so to go.
I’ve my work
cut out for me.
My tools already
weakened by this
wood, like iron, or
Time, cut it out.
I don’t even consider
walking in the morning,
when you pull out my
pendulum, dull my dial.
Didn’t think twice about
having cookies for dinner,
or pretzels, or air, a glass
of wine and a good novel.
Aging and you, time,
strangle me, I want to wedge
your knotted logs
into the chipper.
Where did I go?
Time took me, and
I took the dust bin
to the curb, and there
it was, the earth, the
truth, not a year, or
calendar, a second
hand, or digital display
just a crease in the sky
where the night’s storm
opened to show me
the daybreak it could
no longer hide, bright
white line of the future
of possibilities, this to-do
list in the fragrance
of rain chased
my nostrils to the curb,
rising from the concrete
driveway and not,
unbelievably, with scold
or punishment or a harsh
word against aging
or fearful regret, no
just a morning hug, an
“I miss you, girl” a “Come
back soon,” and I
sat down and wrote
this and remembered
me and promised
again, once again, to
not let time
trick me or
for me to try
(Prompt 27: Night Journey)
Driving Home in the Dark
Always the middle of the night when I land at the Sunport,
drag my suitcase past the other tired travelers
waiting for hotel taxis as I aim for long-term parking.
The lights of Albuquerque will bank the highway
as I head north, I will follow red tail lights, traffic
will thin, and thin. Oncoming headlights wane.
My headlights give me the road. The darkness
rises solid on either side with acres of high desert, mesas,
and the wide, dry beds of arroyos, waiting for monsoon rain.
I know there are buffalo, small herds,
on Ohkay Owingeh land, who roam
the barrancas to the east
of the highway, across the deep ravines.
Once or twice a year, I catch sight of them,
across the jagged outlines of arroyos,
between juniper and chamisa.
I know there are wild horses out on broken land
just before San Felipe, who graze
on tufts of grama grass between the saltbush.
I know they are there, making home of this land,
these badlands I drive to get to my own home,
not visible from any main road, waiting in the dark.
People, friends, UPS all get lost on these roads, never find
their way to my house, no cell service, no GPS,
just me nestled on the unpaved Rincon de los Trujillo.
Between two arroyos, beside ancient cottonwoods,
the adobe farm house calls to me alone, my home
is landscape. Like the horses and buffalo,
I know where to find home, even in the dark.
(Prompt 30: What ____ Doesn’t Know)
If Only You Knew
Anne Marie Mackler
Love, what you don’t know about me is the breadth of my resistance.
Tough as a ram’s horns, talons like an owl, and a head swivel to boot.
You think my perseverance is as trite as a cute freckle next to a nose?
That you can stop on by when I’m with some sweet guy, and I
would fall flat on my face, as if one flattering remark from him
with glint in his eye, like that would drum up that ache, the one
below my belly button, like a girl, like a teen, as if
I would find myself putting on lipstick at odd times
staring out the window humming? Swaying?
Oh, love. Silly love. What you simply don’t know is that
I am not Play Doh, not a daisy pulled in late August,
easy to pick, bend, lift petals asking questions, does
he-doesn’t he, no, no that is not me. I am as resilient
as the prickly pear in my clay pots, standing strong,
dangerous, clear on my boundaries, holding back
on the fruit, letting loose if and when I want,
I’ll last as long as I like, love. What?
You think you can have your way with me
because his eyes are as soft as chocolate
pudding and looking into them makes
me want to eat him all up, without
a spoon? No, love, you have
got it all wrong. That smile
does not wrap its way around
me like a shepherd’s hook
pulling me into his stories
and laughter like a bleating
little lamb. What?
No love, what you seem to have forgotten
about me is that I’ve been down this little path
of yours far too many times, and I know
the way, the bumps and crevices,
the intersections and puddles,
the potholes and edges,
where trespassing is allowed
or not, where the sunrise
can be seen most clearly,
where the sunset
is most romantic.
Love, I know that journey, I am
not fooled by all his kindness,
these sweet conversations, the
gentle nudge or elbow rub,
the “OMG this is more than
a hug.” I am not tricked
the way you think I am.
Love, you’ve got me
all wrong, again.
Find another victim, love,
for your old-as-time scheme,
thank you very much.
I’m too busy being me
alone in my safe solitude
calm in my quiet rooms,
in a few.
(Prompt 1: Practical Magic)
When the sky fills the grainy space
between mountain shadow and morning light,
I leave the whole of all that’s metal and man,
all that holds my body under roof,
water pipes, laundry, and grocery lists.
My hands in motion, small loose fists mark time
until they become the trail, same color, same texture
and feet steady in rhythm lose the body,
no weight at all, the ground and sky embrace me.
Just before the fence line, in the lean early light,
out of the earth, there’s a badger,
a surprise of black and white stark against
the dirt and juniper, and she knows
about rain and the sunflower
that grew thick-stalked and straight
out of the arroyo, she nods at the leaning grasses
that hide the single track I follow out of habit.
I whisper “cradle me,” the dawn rocking
into this Western Badger, who growls and digs,
while the world becomes the black stripes
on her pointy head, her fur thick, coat
unmarred and smooth, her lines stark, her voice
familiar, fiercely inviting, without walls. I’m listening.
She speaks in raking syllables, a rasp
guttural, yet familiar. The conversation widens,
I hear birds chattering about
the inevitable day. My dog goes still beside me.
There are no answers in this repartee,
but that’s not what I’m looking for,
not here on this mesa trail of ancient fence posts,
juniper, prickly pear among eye-lash grama grasses.
The badger speaks as my skin becomes sand,
head and heart in the rhythm of air. “Convolution,”
I hazard as greeting, our words roiling like molecules.
Without the walls, the sockets of electricity,
the black on white words that purport
daily confirmation of my body being,
but this morning, there’s the badger talking,
there’s the trail I have become.
(Prompt 19: A Place that is No More)
Anne Marie Mackler
We splashed in huge puddles
in the Detroit rain
the look in our eyes
kept us dry
How much Liebfraumilch
can two college kids
drink but only get
drunk on each
I fainted when you kissed
me in the doorway
giving you a story
still told and
No more umbrellas,
wine, or classes,
that place gone,
a puddle, except
for this moment
(Prompt 30: What ____ Doesn’t Know)
What Grief Doesn’t Know About Me
You don’t have to try so hard,
every drawer opens to the scraps
and detritus of all I’ve lost,
even the stray paperclips talk
about what they used to hold.
I am surrounded, so there’s no need
for that constant drumbeat disguised
as my pulse, or his oversized sombrero
perched to protect from too much sun.
Grief, there is nowhere to hide. Your song
began on my body, dancing around
my heart in his roomy cowboy boots,
with your harmonica and baritone drawl,
as if I’m the second stanza of some
country-western song you know all the words to,
now lodged in my right knee, your insistent
self, just under my five-year-old scar that
aches with any change in weather.
No need to be so obvious, you don’t
seem to realize that I can’t breathe without you anyway.
You show up in the kitchen chairs,
Spanish Colonial carved and clear polished maple
he built to place around the dining-room table.
Your keening insistent under the autumn slant of light
on the barrancas slashed across the canvas
with the piñon and trail in the foreground.
All the paintings he painted surround me.
There’s a turquoise inlaid band
for a watch you won’t stop, keeping time
in a desk drawer. Think I don’t hear it ticking?
Don’t think I’m not hungry every time
you throw evidence of all I’ve lost my way?
This isn’t a game of hide and seek.
What you don’t know is “No worst,
there is none,”* as I know mountains
of my mind include all you carry,
because I carry you, not surprised
when “Angels Fly too Close to the Ground,”
plays again, and the light graces just right
onto the wood pile or catches the top
first greening branches of the big cottonwoods
as more of your hammering reminders.
No need to be so loud, really, I won’t drop you
or forget where you are hiding.
*Quoted line from one of Gerard Manly Hopkins, “Miserable Sonnets,” “No worst, there is none, pitched past pitch of grief.”
(Prompt 14: Equestrian Language)
Mares Eat Oats
Anne Marie Mackler
We do not ask to be born, get on this saddle,
take this ride for as long as it goes
without being thrown, instead we jockey
to best avoid the inevitable weakening,
the breaking, shriveling like leather
in the rain too long. Where’s that shoe
bearing good luck? We watch our girth
crumble, ask again and again,
is this really my horse?
We raced our way through love,
carrots be damned, we saw no finish line,
raised kids like foals under our bellies
until they heard the thunder and galloped
for the simple glory of rain. Alone now,
envy is rough on weather-worn bridles,
We wonder over lunch, oatmeal again,
at our knuckles buckling, we beg not to be
measured at all or by our knotted hands,
toes as tough as hooves, oddly grateful
for no lover to witness us break
against their buck, we know our bend
is in the slow cup of coffee at a warm
fire, nobody to worry about our keening
trot even if determination still drives us
to the gate, and back, again to the trough
of a rickety rocking chair, low-lit dinner.
We’ll still chomp at the damn bit,
impatient to toss another layer
of padding between us and the memories
of how we cantered across a day,
showed well at twilight, or candlelight,
bright-eyed fillies perfectly cinched,
ready for whatever turns,
bets, or stretches await us
in this long race
(Prompt 17: Alternate Facts)
What Keeps Me Here
Not my constant fear of catastrophe
when the phone rings at 2 a.m.
or I wake up in a cold sweat at 3:30,
to look at the clock, lean back
and breathe my way out of the coming apocalypse.
Like the horse who can never
go calmly past the place where the bobcat
sprang from just above the trail onto his stout back,
the claw marks visible still, like a ranch brand.
The horse survived, bears riders again,
like me, who knows that same fear,
and will climb off each time to lead, and coax,
and reassure, get us past the place where
everything went to shit.
Lots of things happened a long time ago,
it all becomes stories we tell ourselves,
in order to stay in the world,
or give us the excuse to leave.
Fear is not what keeps me here.
Maybe it’s just gravity or habit,
underneath the theory of everything,
that thin vein of what is really priceless
glows like the sliver of red at sunset,
or the aptly named precious metals
running invisibly through layers
of pressure and change, quartz and granite.
What keeps me here is what I fall into
where there are arms to catch me,
what I can hold onto when my daughter
calls just to hear my voice, to say,
“Mom,” and I believe her.
Mining the minerals,
finding the vein, is such a risk,
to open all of it, to know
that what keeps me here
with breath and body is
as tangible as love can be.