Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Offering Gentleness

Gentle is time to be gentle.
            —Ole Dalby, private correspondence

Gentle is time to be gentle,
   he writes, and I let myself
     fall into the cadence of his words

the way as a girl I once dreamt
   I could fall into a cloud—
     something soft beyond soft,

something infinitely calm.
   Gentle is time to be gentle,
     he writes, and though

my mind struggles to decipher it,
   my body instantly nestles
     into the tenderness of it,

as if he has wrapped each word
   in cumulonimbus, as if gentleness
     is the only obvious path, as if I, too,

might offer such gentleness
   to someone else with words
     spun of nimbostratus, with syllables

of cirrus, with thoughts as cushiony
   as the clouds we once drew as kids,
     those clouds we once lived in

before we were told we could not.

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reminds me of the day
my dad held me
in front of him
while riding his bike
and fifty years later,
I remember most
the moments before
the bite of the spokes
when we were laughing
in the muggy Wisconsin June,
the sky dark with rain,
the joy of being held by him,
the thrill of going fast,
the wind in our faces.
I remember most
how he picked me up
as I cried and carried me
as if I were precious.
Fifty years later,
though he is the one
in pain, he still picks me up
and carries me every time
we speak. Thousands
of miles away, he holds
me close.

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The only rule:
keep the chain intact.
I didn’t know
in the grade school gym
it was a way to practice
meeting all that would try
to break us apart,
practice being bombarded,
practice calling in our fear.
Red Rover, Red Rover
let sickness come over.
Once it felt like a game.
Now—oh friend.
Hold on to my wrist.
I’ll hold on to yours.

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Ode to the Bic Lighter

My first lighter I found in a parking lot—
a smooth red plastic tube that fit
in my pocket. I knew playing with fire
was dangerous. I knew I wanted
to learn how. I remember trying again
and again to get the right purchase
with my thumb on the serrated sparkwheel.
I rolled and rolled until my skin was raw,
until at last the brief flame sputtered then died.
It wasn’t long before it came second nature—
the smooth flick needed to produce a spark,
the slight pressure on the red tongue
to maintain steady flame.
I learned how it burns
to be lit up too long,
but once you know how to make light,
how easy it is to bring it with you
everywhere you go.

This poem is published in the wonderful ONE ART Poetry Journal

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Off the hot street and down

the narrow stairwell,

I entered the smell of books—

a musty scent of paper and ink.

How I loved entering the stacks,

shelves taller than I was.

Loved running my hands

along hardcover spines

wondering at the worlds inside.

I was allowed twelve thin books,

that meant twelve chances

to travel to realms where monkeys

stole hats and the Whangdoodle snoozed.

Twelve chapters in which I

was no longer an awkward girl

but a baker in an old village

or a mouse in an attic befriending a girl

who was something like me,

or at least like the girl I wished I could be,

a girl who was brave, a girl

who couldn’t help but stumble

every single time

into happily ever after.

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Like Monopoly. Because you always ended up landing on Boardwalk

where the red hotel meant you owed two thousand dollars

and all you had were mortgaged railroads. Or like checkers,

because really, what was fun about moving small plastic disks

diagonally and hearing the other kid say, “King me.” And soccer?

Only because your mother made you because she wanted

to be coach. You did want to play school, but no one else did,

so you were the principal, the teacher, the student,

giving yourself homework, grading it yourself. Writing in red

in your best cursive at the top of the page, “See me.”

You didn’t want to play basketball, because no one else

ever chose you for their team. Even though you were tall.

And you were chosen last for volleyball, too. And t-ball.

And Red Rover. And dodge ball. Is it any wonder your favorite

way to play was to visit the junkyard and find treasure?

Or to walk along the lake to look for flowers and worms?

Is it any wonder you learned to love playing alone

in quiet rooms with an empty page and a pen?

There was no way then you could have known

that it would save you—no, you just thought

you were playing the only way you knew how,

walking through the only doors

you knew how to open yourself.

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That was the summer

they drove the Ferris wheel into town,

erecting it in the park—

and James Taylor and Carly Simon

sang to each other over the radio

and people paid money

to throw ping pong balls into small jars

for the chance to win a goldfish;

to throw darts at balloons

for a giant teddy bear.

The park smelled of beer and grilled corn

and from the top of the ride,

I could almost see the whole town—

down to the five and dime and up to the cemetery.

Those were the days before I knew words

such as mercy or duplicity or forgiveness.

The cotton candy melted on my tongue in sharp crystals.

The Ferris wheel was gone the next day,

my pocket full of tickets I couldn’t spend.

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My brother thrilled to pummel and punch

that red-nosed clown again and again—

an inflatable plastic sack with a round weighted base—


and always the clown returned to standing.

Forty years later, I still don’t want to punch anything,

wish, instead, I could be more like that red and blue Bozo,


could roll and twist and spin each time

life knocks me over, and though I wobble,

though I bob, I would defy the laws of physics


return to standing, yes I would,

and find a way to smile.


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The day is quiet and

the light is strong and I sit alone

in the V of the weeping willow


in a place where the sun can’t reach me

and no one can see me.

I pull off the bark in thick rough slabs,


and the day is drowsy and the light

is long and the bark feels rough

in my four-year-old hands,


but I flip it and find it is smooth

underneath where it touches the tree.

Yes, the bark is smooth, like my dress,


like me, and I move my fingers across

the soft side, surprised by the secret writings there—

meandering marks that slither and wriggle


in cursive spells, some language only

the tree can tell, that only I can read.

And the day is page and the light


is song and I am not at all alone,

perhaps there is writing inside me, too,

the bark thrilling in my hands.


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How Long Has It Been?




They sit on the shelf now, mostly,

or have moved into boxes of memory,

those soft cloth dolls we once cradled

and cuddled and dragged from bed

to the yard to the car to the store.

They went everywhere with us,

their small yarn eyes always open,

never narrowing in disapproval,

never turning to shine on someone else.

Their plump cheeks eternally blushing,

their smile never uncurling

into disinterest, never snarling

into disdain. We could tell them

everything—about the girl

down the street who jeered

that our plaid pants were too short,

who sneered at the way we ran.


We could tell them about

the blue monster who lived in the closet,

and how he sometimes slipped out

to crawl beneath our bed.

And they listened. And smiled.

And let us hold them and suck

on their hands—or their hats—if that’s

what made the night feel safe.

They never whispered mean

words about us to their friends

while we were off at school.

Sometimes, it’s true, they would

disappear. That’s what all

beloved things do. And then,

days later perhaps, they’d be found

under a pillow on the couch or out

beneath the willow tree sitting

in the dirt beside the shovel and pail.


Now, it is we who have disappeared

into the world of harder things—

keys and doors and ceilings,

and women with words

like sticks and men with eyes

that seldom meet our eyes.

We are too old for dolls.

Still, there is in us, perhaps,

the faded longing to hold something

soft, something so familiar,

something so well loved,

so absent of cruelty

it makes us feel capable

of loving utterly, unguardedly again.






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