Happy Birthday, Baby


Poets group meets tonight. One of the poets, Jo, has a birthday today. Same as my late husband. He would have been 70 today. I buy a cake for her. I could have baked one, something really good, Julia Child, with Calvados and apples, a clafoutis. Real. But instead I want a birthday cake that looks like one. Sometimes you need that symbol. I buy one with the pinkest pink roses and an almost neon Happy Birthday. Inside: strawberry cream. Go all the way. We may sing. It’s gray, so gray outside. Let’s light the candles, too.

I love Jo’s poems. “Loss,” is one of my favorites. Perfect for me today. Thank you, Jo.


I have lost a bird, I have lost a tree.

I have lost a city. And a state.

I have lost money. I have lost land

with a blue heron and a green pond.

I have lost flat fields and mountains.

Lost a river. A sea.

I’ve lost a father, old friends.

A child. A husband.

Now, I must lose the memory of you.

I nearly have it. Your crisp edges slip.

It’s almost done. There. No, not quite.

Jo Pitkin


My birthday present for 58 years was my mother telling me the story of my birth, the morning I was born. She’d start: “It as a hot June morning. Close. Not exactly raining, a fine mist…. At 7:42 the nurse said, ‘Mrs. Pearce,’ you have a beautiful baby girl.” We would both cry a little on our ends of the phone. At least, I did. Or her voice would break a little as she said, “And you were. You are….”

My husband was adopted. There was no story for him. There was no where. No who. No known face that saw him first. I want to research the weather on that day, the phase of the moon, anything to know him more.

My wedding present from his adoptive mother was this poem. She kept it framed above her desk. When she gave me this poem she gave me her son.


To my death from my birth,

I am thankful I am on Earth.

I am glad I am not an orphan


That I have a real home

and toys galore.

I am thankful for things

that are mild

For everything tame or wild.

I am thankful for this modern age

And for life of humans at any stage.

I am glad I go to school

Because if I didn’t I’d be a dumb fool.

Barre Littel

Grade 5

Happy birthday, baby.

Memories of Snow

Sandor Csoori

Memories of Snow


As soon as I raised the first shade in the living room this morning the words “memories of snow “ came into my mind the way the melody of a song catches one’s  brain and refuses to leave. I went to my bookshelf and searched the familiar chaos (I can always lay my hands on what I want…) for Sandor Csoori’s book of poems, MEMORIES OF SNOW. I couldn’t find it. But I did find his selected poems translated by Len Roberts.

Sandor Csoori. How was I to know that the small, intense man standing in front of me, the man with the mouth line a vertical line and eyes as hypnotic as Houdini’s, was

Hungary’s foremost poet? In the late l980’s things like that happened to me. As the writers from Eastern Europe came to us at PEN, free at last to travel, we welcomed them with panels and discussions, platters of pastrami and roast beef, cases of wine and stacks of boxes filled with Entenmann’s cakes. They were hungry, they were thirsty for food and conversation and books and information.

Another thing I didn’t know about Csoori was that he had been forced to shovel both the bodies of humans and animals when, as a war-shocked 15 year-old, he returned to his village in 1945. He then endured a 45 year Communist clamp-down of his country. Nevertheless, I sensed a deeply alive romantic nature behind his eyes when we met.

At the time I was too busy buying cakes and cases of wine to read his poems. Now, today, I watch the Hudson River, as ice floes like splattered polka-dots all sliding south along a roiling stew the color of iron, and as snow flies around my house, I have the time to read some poems. “My Winter Kingdom,” is worth several re-reads during the stormy day.

My Winter Kingdom

I cannot run on ten paths,

I cannot die ten deaths,

Well, then, I’ll wait for that special one

Which sinks me to the depths.

Winter, my kingdom,

is a snowflake kingdom only;

my departing on a hundred paths:

a lone departure only.

Sandor Csoori

Translated by Len Roberts and Laszlo Vertes

Later, as I survey the snow heaps, my imagination lets me have a moment with my iris bulbs: they sizzle and bump, buried deep inside the white covered black earth…Flambeau, Sunset Cymbal, Little Mary Sunshine.

Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of


“Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of,” was to be the theme of tonight’s meeting of the “Poets Read Poetry” group which has been cancelled because of the weather. The slush became thicker. The air over the river turned as opaque as heavy tracing paper. We were scared.

I had planned to make blog #3 a report of our meeting. But I can’t. OK. This will give me more time to go over my choices for the next time.

More time. More time alone in the house surrounded by ice and wind and rain. More time to listen to Red Garland play “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).”         More time to eat the truffles that were a Christmas gift. More time to listen to Rick Margitza play, “Widow’s Walk.” How does a young guy like him know how this feels? He’s so good. So black velvet and longing, digging deep. So good, I’m going to Paris in April to hear him work his tenor sax four nights in a row.  He’s that good.

Time to go over my poems.  Time to cut and staple them into tidy little packets for the group. I read a stanza of “Aegean Melancholy,”

…The long lament of the woman,

The lovely woman who bared her breasts

When memory found the cradles

And lilac sprinkled the sunset with fire!

By Odysseus Elytis

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

One I must include for the Poets Read Poets group in case they outlive me and attend my funeral–the favorite poem of my middle-life.  I want it read there in whatever big church hosts my farewell. Yes, it’s an unorthodox choice for such an occasion, but those who know me well will know that romance–having it, losing it, finding it again, trying and trying has been a major part of my life. Why not my death, too?

Half an Hour

I have never had you, nor I suppose

will I ever have you. A few words, an approach,

as in the bar the other day—nothing more.

It’s sad, I admit. But we who serve Art,

Sometimes with the mind’s intensity,

can create—but of course only for a short time—

pleasure that seems almost physical.

That’s how in the bar the other day—

Mercifully helped by alcohol—

I had half an hour that was totally erotic.

And I think you understood this

and stayed slightly longer on purpose.

That was very necessary. Because

with all the imagination, with all the magic alcohol,

I needed to see your lips as well,

needed your body near me.

C.P. Cavafy

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Yannis Ritsos understands desire, too. I love those Hellenes! The brain, the body, the heart, the soul, the living, the dead, the sea, the olive, the church, the brothel. Thavmassia! (Wonderful.)

Keeley gets it with his translation, in just two lines from:


….He doesn’t look at her.

He lights up his cigarette. His hand holding the match trembles.

These Greeks have warmed my ice-bound house. They are not the first.


Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day. My Valentine is a friend. We are not sweethearts, but pals. I sat next to her for 15 years at the PEN office. More time than I spent with either of my two husbands.

We’re pals who have shared each other’s romantic turmoil. Our romantic fields leveled now by age and death.  I ask her to be my Valentine. She invites me for drinks at the Russian Tea Room. Perfect. The room is red. The bar is lined with aged sweethearts, couples toasting their love with vodka and bite-sized bits of blinis.

My friend and I lift our drinks to a better year. Then she gives me a gift from the lingerie store, Agent Provocateur. I accept the slick pink shopping bag. “No, please!” I think…no garter belt or push-up bra, no matter how fabulous, can fix me now.

Thank God, it’s better. A thick book, THE GREEK POETS: Homer to the Present. Edmund Keeley, the renowned translator, says “Hello,” she tells me.  Then, the two of us part: kissing each other’s perfumed cheeks, flower scented hair, embracing in view of the drinking, eating sweethearts.

The Metro North Train is abuzz with holidaymakers returning home. Lots of red sweaters and mittens, exhausted colognes overcome by sweat, dozing husbands who missed their Sunday afternoon ballgames but may score later as a reward for their city trip.

A disaffected young man in a suit and tie shifts a limp red-rose encased in a plastic sheath and a miniature cheesecake in the shape of a heart to make room for me on the seat beside him. Is he coming or going? That rose will get him nowhere.

I open my new book in the commotion. I’m sucked in, instantly:  Aratus, “Burdens of blood and war shall bow their backs.”  Philes,”The drink cooled me down/as it flooded the fire in my heart, /so that, moving closer, I seized/your boiling heat to warm my shivering body.” Kazantzakis, “You’ve drunk and eaten well, my lads, on festive shores, /until the feast within you turned to dance and laughter.”

The conductor punches my green ticket but I’m way gone. Back to one of my summers in Crete, I’m on the back of my lover’s motorcycle tilted close to the road on mountain curves, my arms around his torso, my face hiding in the safety of his hair. Here life is filled with death. It’s the truth.

Later, the long driveway seems especially so in the ice cold car. The empty house stands larger, quieter than when I drove away from it at noon.

I Don’t Read Enough

I don’t read enough.

Magazines pool colorfully around my feet. Never cracked books, fat books, thin books, picture-books, books with church book sale stickers still attached, books so old they smell, deliciously, of dirty hair, yellowed-paperbacks all stack around my desk. Books splayed like Pilates-ladies’ legs wait atop the night-table. Chunky books and ones with broken spines clutter the dressers. Upside-down titles nap on unused beds. These books call to me. Call to me.

I cringe at dinner parties when the person at my right asks what I thought of a new title. Where do they find time to read? Are bills unpaid? Phone messages permanently lodged in the machine? Don’t their cats take heart medicine? Do they not dry clean their clothes? Toenails. I sneak a look below the table. Uncut?

I read. I’m reading all the time. My glasses never leave my nose. But what is it I read? Emails. Instructions. Enough of an article to get the gist. A novel on a plane. All fat-free. My brain growls. My spirit gnaws.

Poetry is what I want. But, alone I won’t make it. So I assemble three local poets. Good thinkers. Good writers. I create a once a month group. We’re trying to give ourselves a name. Having four poets agree on anything is tough….

We throw out suggestions for the first session.  I win. “Poems That Made Us Poets.” We each bring 3 to the next meeting plus a bit of why. William Blake, Ferlinghetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Keats. The poems are terrific but the “whys” are better.

Mine: Keats, “When I Have Fears.” My voice cracks as I read it aloud. I want this at my funeral. (Along with Louis Armstrong’s singing both “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” and “Wonderful World.” He’s my idol. And a collage maker, like me.) Amy Lowell, “Patterns,” and Edna St. Vincent Millay, “First Fig.” I’m thirteen again, struck by the powerful force of words, transported, understood, giving in to what William James calls,” mystical susceptibility.”

More to come….


Next month: “The Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of.” Saddle-up Cavafy. I’m about to take you for a ride.