Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Flood of Words

Harrisburg, PA, September 2011

The Susquehanna, already full from a year of very high level rains, threatens. Tropical Storm Lee saunters up the East Coast, adding insult to the injury of Hurricane Irene. Northern tributaries are overflowing by Thursday, September 8th, and in Harrisburg, the nutty Mayor orders all who live between Front and Third Streets to evacuate ... regardless of the fact that wide swaths of that area do not flood until the Susquehanna is at 31 feet or more.

Reason has never been one of this mayor's strong points. She does love power, though, and this natural disaster gives her an opportunity to strut.

Reports start coming in saying the river might hit 29.5 feet. Just for a point of reference for non-Harrisburgers, the Susquehanna floods in Harrisburg at 17 feet. The worst flood on record was during Hurricane Agnes in 1972, when the Susquehanna reached 32 feet. Half the city was under water.

As the new predictions arrive, and the rain keeps falling, my friend Paul, who lives in a very nice basement apartment, is told by his building manager to move everything upstairs. Everything.

We start packing.

The Mayor continues to blather in front of the cameras about closing down Restaurant Row because drunk people do obnoxious things like jump in the river. Having ordered everyone to leave, she realizes she'd better put out a second order for a curfew.

At one point she actually commandeers a rescue boat and has rescue personnel motor her through the already flooded streets of the city's most low-lying area--Shipoke. She waves her princess wave from under her bulky life jacket. That the empress is wearing no clothes via pearls and cashmere is only part of the entertainment of these few days.

On Calder Street, where I live, seasoned neighbors, including Betsy, who grew up here, tell me I have nothing to worry about. Yet worry is one of the things I do best. I laugh in the face of danger, then panic. After a stroll down to the river shows the mighty Susquehanna, always an impressive broad spectacle, spreading into the garden where my son had his prom pictures taken, I hurry back and commence cleaning my basement. Maybe I'm not going to lose my piano and furniture, but that basement has a lot of cool stuff, and I need to save it.

Hours later, cobwebs hanging from my sweaty brow, I have toted clothing to the second floor, stacked boxes of beloved children's picture books on top of high shelves, and hauled out four garbage bags of stuff that should have gone out long ago.

Nearing exhaustion and hefting containers filled with children's early photograph albums with Mickey Mouse motif covers, I uncover a nearly empty plastic storage box I haven't seen in quite a while. I open it. Inside are my master's paper on Emily Dickinson, my PhD dissertation on Iris Murdoch, and, in a plastic envelope, the manuscript of a novel that took me years to write, in between mothering three young children and working at jobs that actually paid. My family life in one crate, in photographs, and my intellectual self a tiny relic in one oversized plastic tub.

The electricity doesn't fail on my side of the street, much to my chagrin, as my neighbors are outdoors complaining about theirs being cut off, but I lose cable and Internet. I sit down to read.

The next day, I'm still reading. I fall asleep reading one section. But later, I flip pages compulsively, eager to find out how I ended it that draft around. I fall back in love with my characters.

The characters truly are like old friends. I've missed them. I forgive them. Who abandoned whom? I forgive myself. They're all nicer now than they were before, and perhaps so am I. There is no absoluteness about them anymore. Something within me has changed.

About the flood. I had not one drop of water in my basement. I'm awash in gratitude.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Incomprehensible Divinity

It is Sunday morning and
before Mass,
turning on the stereo
for some radio news,
I find, neatly folded,
the brand new black
cotton top
that last week
I spent a quarter hour
fruitlessly seeking

It blended in with
the color of the speaker
and I walked past it
for days

Touching the smooth
fabric makes me
laugh at my
very human

And smile with
this miniature
that what we most
want is only lost
when we fail
to listen

Copyright 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Very Full Nest

Students who attend The Harrisburg Academy for 13 or more years receive a "survivor" award.

Annie started in 1993 ... thus, by extension, I have just survived 18 years of The Harrisburg Academy ... including: an exhausting 3-year teaching stint that knocked me to my knees; years of PTA/lower school library/classroom volunteering; chaperoning field trips as close by as Hershey Zoo and as far away as Freiburg with Mr. Gutwein et al; countless soccer games with some field hockey thrown in; endless All-School Concerts ... oh, the middle school band, oh, oh, oh; invisibility at events dominated by the ex's posse while I nearly cried wishing my family could see, if only my family could see; States Fairs; Science Fairs; mostly happy and successful but also some scary bad days for each kid; lots of runs with a forgotten sax; crazy years of rescheduling the dentist, the orthodontist, the doctor, to accomodate something much more vital like, err, a French quiz; endless listening on my part to the injustices of the school world; frustrating meetings with certain administrators leaving me feeling the injustices of the school world; poring over yearbooks to find every photo of one of my kids or one of their friends; uproariously funny drama productions including those meant to be serious; and ... and ... and ...

Diese Kinder. Die sind jetzt alle drei Erwachsene. Sie wissen viel mehr Geschichte und Wissenschaft als ihre Mutti, die auch kein Franzoesisch kann. Sie wissen viel mehr als alles, das ich unterrichten kann, das sie von mir gelernt haben koennten.

To the teachers who changed my children's lives: I can never repay you for the loving guidance and inspiration you provided them. You are my heroes as much as you are theirs.

To the students who trusted my home because I tried my best to listen and let live ... thank you for being good friends to my kids. They learned just as much from you as they did inside classrooms. So did I.

Now, in my home, all gussied up for the last of the graduations now concluded (although the cards and awards still litter the piano among the photos of the honored graduate), it's just me and the dog Chuck (and well, the ghost of Pandora as she pussy-foots about hoping to find something remotely edible), and the two crazy cats, Amber and Moony (Princess Whisper Moon ... everyone has a say in the naming in this Garden of Eden ) ...

There is no metaphor boundless enough to contain the joy I feel. This house cannot contain it. I feel like it must be spreading into neighboring galaxies, and yet that doesn't dim the way it shines right here.

My mind is peopled with smiling children with hairstyles from cute little blonde bangs and "pigtails" (yes, on Peter, too), to Sophie's carefully pressed and tamed brunette mane, to Pete's sparkling gray wig from The Miser. On the stage of my mind Annie pirouettes in a black and orange witch costume that made her poison ivy itch. Sophie confidently calls to one of her teammates across the soccer field. Peter tosses his guitar over his shoulders and he and AJ and the others slam across the stage on their knees. Annie sings. Sophie sings. Peter sings. Across the years, their voices harmonize.

These children have composed an opus for me. They've written me a multiple volume history of my own life that I will reread forever.

Thank you, Annie, Sophie, and Peter, for being my children. I couldn't have dreamed you any better than you are.

And now ... to a peaceful night's rest. Be well, knowing that no matter how far away you are ... Brazil, Peru ... or Baltimore ;-) ... you are right here with me. Always. And I'm right there with you.

Onward ... I can't wait to see what you're going to do next. And man oh man am I glad I still have plenty of energy to write a few new chapters of my own.

Because, surprising to us all, although it felt sometimes like we were just surviving, in the end, it turns out, we were all being born.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Wingback


Torn now
worn now

is structure
solid as
of posing
in a prom gown

my mother's chair
would require
exposing her
inner secrets

And how
could I ever
a better color

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Abandoned Hound

Skyline Drive slices
the lean landscape.
Her soul is hungry.
Her ears and eyes
drool exhaustion.
We are at a stalemate.
Then she reaches
and crosses
a divide as grand
as a canyon.
Her long face lies in my lap.
I too had to get to the end
of myself
before resting
in the kindness of my savior.

Thanks to Steve, Todd, and Pat for the words you read above. All I had to do was break them into lines.

Copyright 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Visit for a post called Superman's Already Here, on the lies told in "Waiting for Superman," a so-called documentary about failing American schools that was actually funded in large part by the Gates Foundation and supports charter schools and the privatization of American public schools. American schools are not failing; they only look like they are when measured by standardized test scores that correlate to the economic status of student families. Then, schools are judged by their scores on basic skills as opposed to 21st Century Skills (data interpretation, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, adaptability, entrepreneurship, initiative, and more) and penalized if they don't "measure up." That gives federal and state governments the opportunity to cut funding for "under-performing" or "failing" schools when measured by inappropriate data -- as opposed to increasing graduation and college admission rates and falling dropout rates -- in order eventually to close them and hand students and tax dollars over to private education companies. These companies will pay teachers less, using the same tax formula, and thus make millions of dollars in profits on the backs of children, now being less well served. Some of that profit will go to campaigns for the very same far-right legislators who started the cycle. What happens when the bulk of public schools are privatized? What happens when teaching is de-professionalized? Teachers need supports and schools need proper funding. Without both, public schools will fail, and so will the municipalities in which they serve children. As go schools, so go the cities. In the end, all of us will suffer. Our democracy will be undermined. And the top 1% of earners will have won.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Unhappy Unhour

In those days
when the dark
came early and
the unfinished work
on the desk
was haunting
the corner pub
promised warmth
and out
light banter
and a glow

Fire is comforting
but not
when it comes with a price
so profound
with a burning curiosity
what was said
what unsafe paths traveled

In those days
the morning light dimmed
an hour was a day too long
even in its wintry brevity

Waking to a day
in which happy means happy
an hour means an hour
is like singing
four-part harmony
in perfect tune

Copyright February 2011