A Cottage in Sag Harbor
My mother showed me the photo,
the cottage, the sea, the shore
and told me we needed to go—
away from here, and him,
and everything that was going wrong.
It would be best for us all
and, she swore, it would be just a while,
maybe two weeks, a month, or the summer
if we liked. I could call it a vacation,
if my friends should ask, though I knew they would know.
And it’s nice out there and cool with a breeze
and we’d take a bus and bring only what we need.
My kid brother would thrive in the sun, the sand–
and even if not, we’d have each other,
and Dad will be fine,
he knows how to care for himself—
he can open a can of soup and make eggs.
I looked at my father, dead asleep
on the floor, and told her–
till then, the hardest thing I’d ever said–
Looks nice, Mom,
but I’m staying here with him.
by Alan Walowitz
Editor’s Note: The last two lines in this poem carry the entire thing from nostalgia into purpose.
Photo of Snow in the Suburbs
The snow that began the night before fell far into the day,
leaving just enough time as the moon rises,
so we can take in some of that utter whiteness
before the cars are unshovelled and their leavings get stirred in
with all the other mess humans can make.
But for now, the snow tops the neighbor-evergreens
like a row of strollered infants in sun bonnets sleeping softly at the park;
streets still glisten where the plows haven’t hit bottom
and left a coat of ice for tomorrow morning’s melting;
no one’s out except for us who had been house-bound
and stir-crazy for a night and day of too much TV, too much wine,
and the never quite surpressed fear built into us humans
that we’ll never get anywhere again.
But here on the street the air seems cleaner somehow
that way it gets after some little cold sun
warms everything just enough to help our lungs work easy
and make us swear we’ll swear off drink and the great indoors.
You say you want to try to get a picture of it all—
the moon, the street, the snow caps, the air, the evergreens—
and you climb to the top of the pile of snow some shoveling’s made
into a modest mountain. Always the arbiter of what’s impossible,
I’d tell you it can’t be done, but you’re determined
and I wait patiently at the door instead of rushing inside where I’d prefer.
There’s no danger out tonight—by now plenty of moonlight–
even the raccoons that get more brazen each night
are tucked beneath the porches and into our basement wells.
I too want to take it all in, as you angle for that picture–
destined never to be looked at again,
you know I would be happy to say.
But mine would just be you
and I will keep it in memory’s well where
what’s truly impossible might find the perfect place
where it can permanently reside.
by Alan Walowitz
Editor’s Note: This is a perfect beautiful love poem, meant to be read again and again.
Though I’ve called the county plenty,
the street light’s been out for days
while I’ve struggled in this moonless winter dark
for the path to the door, crunching in the now faint footsteps
I’d previously made, and more than once fumbled my keys
and hoped I’d catch them, the way a trapeze artist
might feel for the hands of his mate in the neon circus dark.
But when they fall, as they will, I pray they’ll dent the layer of ice
that’s limned the lawn for weeks now, and might be dug out easy,
and God forbid, not have to hear them skid down the hill we live atop
and back into the street, which is the direction I’ve already come
so many times, and it’s dark down there and oh so cold.
Don’t buy a house on a hill. the inspector’d said.
You won’t be young forever.
Dark magic, that he could tell the future,
and how like me that I was bound,
as if by spell, not to pay him any mind.
by Alan Walowitz, first published in Muddy River Poetry Review.
Editor’s Note: This poem’s conversational tone deceives the reader into thinking that it is about an ordinary night, when in fact the narrator moves beyond that moment and into more mysterious places by the last three lines.
I am happy to announce the following poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize:
Sonnet to negotiate peace with your dementia by Tracy Lee Karner
The Morning of My Madness Waking by Jim Zola
No I in Team by Ed Shacklee
The First Night by Devon Balwit
Moving Day by Alan Walowitz
After the Ghost Investigation by Christine Potter
Congratulations and good luck!
Next time we’ll try and do what’s right:
tie the lawn chair to the deck,
stow in the shed what’s apt to fly,
listen close to those who know by heart
what breaks in times like these
and what might keep.
This is no age that holds bad news at bay:
the big storm brewing in the night,
and written daily in the skies.
The umbrella we forgot outside
gets called to duty in the reckless wind–
all we can do is hunker down and wait.
We find out middle of the night
more of what we might have known–
a tree comes down with whoosh and crack–
the circus sound of whip in air,
not the earth-shaking thud
we’d dreamed and feared.
We stumble out at dawn to gasp and behold
this streetscape we wished we’d memorized—
now downed trees, smashed cars, life’s debris,
chainsaws gearing up to go. All subject to change
at the whim of winds—we thought was ours
was not ours to keep.
by Alan Walowitz
Editor’s Note: This poem’s impressive rhythm breaks down in the last stanza, mirroring the destruction the narrator realizes could not be helped.
She finishes the sweeping in front of the house
and moves on to the side. There the hose is in the way,
wound and wound in uneasy arcs on the cement path,
from just before when her husband–tired now and in to rest–
had been using it in the way of the suburbs,
powering into the street the smaller debris—cigarette ash,
blades of grass from a final cutting,
and Polly Noses from the old maple which leans now,
so many years later, out over the path.
When dry they tend to stick to the walk,
even clean as she works to keep it,
though it shouldn’t much matter moving day.
In fact, I note to her, from my own driveway
next door where I’m trying not to watch too close,
but afraid I’ll never see this scene again:
Millie, it’s pretty damn clean.
Alan, I know. It’s just . . . and her voice trails off.
Last thing I mean is to discourage her
and she goes to the back, now dragging her broom,
leans against the gate, sighs, as she looks at the place
her kids and neighbor-kids and grandkids played.
There had been a swing set, screams of joy
and sometimes pain, a plastic pool, grass
now covered over in concrete, less to maintain,
and says, only partly to me, turning to go,
I guess it’s clean enough. For now.
by Alan Walowitz
Editor’s Note: This poem’s narrative seems simple on the surface, but hiding beneath the characters’ actions lies an emotional wallop emphasized by the closing line. Scattered rhymes and random iambic meter soothes the reader even as the story grows more emotional.
No tears when the stately old divan
departed. Only when the new owner
sawed off its middle leg to get through
the door, did it give my mother pause.
Meanwhile her three remaining pals
dutifully chose one shmata each
they’ll surely never wear themselves,
but come Christmas might offer the help.
Finally a few items had to be trashed
—moldy Good Housekeepings: recipes
she couldn’t bear to part with,
but never good enough to make;
tchotchkes varie: the alligator nut-cracker
from the Everglades, Baby Big Ben
that once played God Save the Queen,
olive oil we pressed ourselves in Spain,
surely rancid now,—then we thought we were done.
Till we looked at the glacier
that had formed in the freezer:
Interred there like a twelfth century mountaineer
hiding lost truths, were meals from lifetimes ago:
a meatloaf from the 90s buried behind
more recent triumphs; half pints of milk
smuggled from the Senior Center in case of natural disaster.
And this, a shriveled piece of wedding cake.
Ma, that was to be eaten
your first anniversary, for luck.
She pauses, thinks about her husband
long dead, longer mourned and says,
Maybe that’s why things didn’t work out—
and drops it in the trash.
by Alan Walowitz
Editor’s Note: Some poems are meant to convey the human condition. This one lists the detritus and treasure of a life, with a kicker of a closing.