Selections from PortraitS


Behind the Dumpster

Behind the dumpster,
Richard Wayne Ammons, Marine
Killed in the first Gulf War.
Who remembers that?

The flag, folded,
a triangle.
His picture, smiling,
in uniform.

Who loved him?
Who tenderly framed
 this memory?

And why now,
not quite,
in a dumpster?

The Finch

She takes to her bed and bourbon each night
to recoup, regroup,
her day spent bringing a possibility of hope
to the hopeless.

A yellow finch in a wicker cage graces her office,
springboard for confidences
shared by one party only,
received with sympathy,
but not compassion.
An agreeable façade,
most of the time genuine.

She takes her bourbon darker
now, without the golden leavening
of ice.
It fits, she thinks, with the foreshortened
days of winter’s approach,
with the soft cashmeres and chenilles
of her nest
which she approaches each evening
with a heightened rush
of warmth.

A safe haven for her dark secret.
No goldfinch there,
Only silence,
perhaps acceptance,
perhaps sadness,
perhaps peace.

My Mother's Hand

My mother’s hand was full of diamonds -
rings strewn carelessly on her bureau
in a china dish my father found in an antique shop
in East Baltimore.
She never wore a wedding ring,
at least not that I remember.

She spoke of a ring my father gave her,
before they married,
inexpensive, a black onyx with a diamond chip.
Her mother made her return it,
but they eloped instead.
Such children, an onyx ring.
I wore it for a while,
then lost it.
I wear a similar ring now, expensive, designer,
I see her, him,
my high school self.

My mother’s hand, full of diamonds,
never held a cooking spoon or a baby bottle,
but a pen, a beautiful script,
and shorthand, the Gregg method.
Her journal,
or perhaps only some writings now and then,
in shorthand,
her way of keeping her secrets.
She taught me to write my name that way.
I looked for it in her writings.
It wasn’t there.

My mother’s hand –
piano keys.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Chicago,
I only play in the key of C she would say.
but she sent me to Peabody.
I can play in any key, yet don’t have her touch, her spirit.
The last time she played,
her fingers, her muscle memory, not failing her,
diamonds still on her fingers.

Hands less beautiful in time,
jewels removed in the nursing home,
to keep them safe, they said.
She didn’t miss them,
she, with her manicure each week
to the very end.

Don’t grieve when I go, she said.
I’ve had a wonderful life.