Saturday, August 29, 2020

Sandi Leibowitz Returns


This summer Sandi Leibowitz has joined my poetry group for its workshops even though she lives in NYC.  Isn't Zoom wonderful!  The second poem in this entry is from one of the workshops, by the way.


Memorial Day

May 25, 2020


People throng the beaches,

worse than those islands where walruses

flop to shore to mate and bask,

so many bodies toe to toe

rather than tusk to tusk.

So much bare skin,

all those jeans unzipped,

T-shirts ripped off revealing

sun-starved flesh,

and nakedest of all,

unmasked faces.


It makes me shudder,

the thought of all those bodies,

all those mouths breathing

in and out contagion.

If the beach-goers are exhibitionists

of pinniped dimensions,

I am a tortoise,

sheltering in place

within the shell of my apartment.

Even indoors, my white skin’s

duly layered.


At three p.m., from my window wafts

the sound of someone honoring

other bodies:

a bugler playing Taps.

The Boat

For Bay Thi Huynn, who fled from Vietnam in a boat with her husband Joseph in 1980. They died in Worcester, MA of the coronavirus on the same day.


Sixty years ago, the boat of marriage

carried me to you.

It was not a ship of our own making,

but it was our labor

that kept it from foundering.

It had no engines, no sails.

Always, we rowed together,

sometimes through desperate currents.


I counted on you,

as you did me,

to work the oars

despite the ache of muscles

pushed too far,

exertion almost beyond endurance.

If you pulled too hard,

we went off course.

If I stopped rowing,

the boat went in useless circles.


When our land grew too dangerous,

you built in secret a real boat.

We used one of my old dresses for a sail

and gave ourselves and our children

to the sea,

risking everything.


We were lucky ones;

we survived and built

new lives in a new country.


Now in the same hospital

we lie for the first time

in separate beds,

the rhythm we hear not

the splash of waves

or each others’ heartbeats

but the labored intake

and outtake of our breathing,

the machines’ chirps.


Take my hand, Joseph,

let us pull away


as we did in life,

in sixty years of love,

traversing this new ocean.

What is one more journey?






The Word


There are no nuances

in my students’ vocabularies.

They don’t even know

simple words like “faucet.”

So I assumed they have no belief

in the potency of words.


But from the massive continent

of the school library’s

Unabridged Dictionary

someone has carved out

and set adrift the island

of a single word—



In someone’s pocket, the noun

bulges like purloined diamonds;

it rolls unspoken on someone’s tongue

like ice cream before dinner.


-- A version of the above poem was previously published in Bigger Stones.

After the Dentist, I Long for Sweetness but Can’t Console

Myself with Cake and So Stop at the St. Mark’s Bookshop

Before Going Home in the Stinging Winter Rain


A book of old Chinese poems.

That should do it.

I want to imagine a lake.

It’s summer

and there are cranes.

They cross carefully

like courtesans

lifting silk skirts


the emperor’s






Sandi has just published a new book, Ghost Light, a quarantine journal in verse.  The first two poems are from this book.  I encourage you to purchase it; here is the link:


Let's post some music from Smalls Jazz Club, a venue that has broadcast performances daily despite the quarantine, despite the curfew. 

The first video is of a jam session with Roy Hargrove, Stacy Dillard, Sebastian Rios, and others:


Here the Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet plays "The Song is You": 


The Eric Wyatt Quartet plays "One for Hakim":  


I'll finish with the Ari Hoenig Trio and "Take the Coltrane":

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Welcome to Anda Totoreanu!


Recently Sandi Leibowitz introduced me to Anda Totoreanu who then sent me her poems.  Some of them are pandemic poems; some are not.  Let's start with an ekphrastic poem inspired by Hopper's "A Room in Brooklyn," the painting depicted above.

Reflections in the Afternoon

in response to Edward Hopper’s “A Room in Brooklyn”

My mother’s oak rocking chair

is where I sit

to watch the green light

touch my carpeted floors

there is a quiet warmth

to sitting here

in my own little corner

of this great room

she will always take up 

space here

- but I’d like to think

I have a little piece of it. 

written 4.16.20




Thank you

In my fifth floor New York walk-up


I look out into the courtyard

see cherry blossoms against grey bricks,

finches chirping,

& the angry mother in the window

across from mine

yelling at her kids - maybe reminding them

to pick up their clothes

blues and pinks begin to paint the sky - a canvas 

above the grey, soot-covered apartments

I won’t leave my tower today -

instead looking down from above at the kingdom

left to the squirrels and the jesting birds

I close my eyes, bring my hands

to the heart of my forehead, 

bowing with gratitude - 

Thank you, thank you.

written 5.14.20



Rattle my cage

let my bones

     pay for my sins

remind me how they click 

and creak

bend them

     into a sanctuary

for your restless soul

find the heat

     between them

make your home there.

written July 25, 2019

Winter Picnics by the Riverside

in response to “Untitled (Blue, Green and Brown)” by Mark Rothko

Winter picnics by the riverside

quiet & breathless

the birds have gone away

so the trees are singing instead

a wistful tune - an a capella quartet

in my backyard

How lucky am I to know such beauty!

I feel my legs sway along 

the soil crunching to the 

rhythm underneath me

my chocolate brown hair 

lifting towards

the tree branches

higher & higher

written 4.16.20




Escape Plan #521

The tomatoes in my grandpa’s garden in Romania

    are being neglected

When I wake up in the morning the first thing 

    I do is move my coffee table 

    so that I can take up space

There are constellations on my keypad

- Anda Totoreanu

I'll finish with a little music.  The other day I was listening to the pianist Duke Jordan, so here are some of his songs.  
Another song from his 1973 album Flight to Denmark is "Glad I Met Pat": 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Triolets by Joan Dobbie


Photograph by Michael Coghlan
 This summer I was thrilled that my teacher Joan Dobbie was able to join my poetry group's open mic and workshop on the theme of COVID-19.  She brought with her a few triolets.  Some of them plus a few more are published here.

For more information about the triolet, see this link: I encourage you to try this poetic form.  Even if you are as committed to free verse as I am, the triolet is worth a try.  

Here are Joan's triolets.

Joan Dobbie

I live in a blossoming fairy tale world
With white picket fences and grass well manicured
Trump signs on car bumpers, flags ever unfurled
I live in a blossoming fairy tale world
And still something bad happens to my little girl
Who falls sick from that virus and cannot be cured
I live in a blossoming fairy tale world
With white picket fences and grass well manicured

Joan Dobbie

If I'm a black person and I'm wearing a mask
It's a sad fact, some zealot might shoot me
If I'm a black person and I don't wear a mask
I might get sick. I might die, that's a fact.
If I am a black person and I run off the track
If I'm a black person and I'm wearing a mask
If I'm a black person and I don't wear a mask...
It's a sad fact, some zealot might shoot me
Joan Dobbie

The park was opened up, so that woman brought her kids
The sign by the slide and swings said NO, but that woman, she said YES

What good's a park? the kids complained, "If we can't ride the rides?
The park was opened up, so that woman brought her kids

to set them free for just a bit  ---and now the park forbids?
Four kids all going wild at home, her house and brain a mess

The park was opened up, so that woman brought her kids
The sign by the slide and swings said NO, but that woman, she said YES

Joan Dobbie

They want me to work, but the traffic is crazy
And wherever I look the world's full up with people

I got to like it at home, my sweet yard bright with daisies
They want me to work, but the traffic is crazy

I'm not ready, you see, it's not that I'm lazy
It's more like I can't leave my yard and feel peaceful

They want me to work, but the traffic is crazy
And wherever I look the world's full up with people

Joan Dobbie

We were sitting so close I was breathing your breath
That familiar joining I used to love

But now that I fear it could carry death
(We were sitting so close I was breathing your breath)

This working together is somethig I dread
My instincts were screaming, Back off, man! Just move...

We were sitting so close I was breathing your breath
That familiar joining I used to love


I want to add a few more tributes to those we have lost to COVID-19.  This tribute from the PBS News Hour is from May, but I did not recognize all of the names:
This tribute from ABC is also from May.  It is touching but interesting to see what the friends and family members have to say: 
I will add a little music here.  Last night I was listening to a YouTube video of pianist Walter Bishop, Jr.'s music, so here are a few for you.
Here is a recent version of Bishop's "Keeper of My Soul":  

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Welcome to Fran Abrams


  Photograph by Rhonda Baer

 This evening I'd like to post Maryland poet and polymer artist Fran Abrams' poems from the early part of the pandemic.  It would be interesting to see what people are writing about the middle of this terrible event.  Maybe Fran's poems will inspire you to document this part of the pandemic.  Someday we will be done with COVID-19, but we are far from that point now.

The Old Woman Stays at Home

            Fran Abrams

Voices so few these days.

My husband's voice, only as many words as needed

to stay in sync while staying home together.


My daughter's voice on the phone

reminding me not to go out,

asking what groceries we need.


Voices coming from the television.

Some with useful information.

Hearing others, I mute the sound.


No more voices of everyday errands.

Post office, dry cleaners, restaurant,

places I no longer go.


When life returns to routine normal,

I will listen to the voices, grateful 

to hear the music of a world that once again turns.


Published online April 18, 2020, at Verse-Virtual at



 The group above is a Philadelphia-area choir that now meets virtually.


In the Zoom of Our Lives   

            Fran Abrams


In the year 2000, the makers of Mazda

introduced a slogan to sell cars

Zoom Zoom

Meant to mimic the sound

of children playing with toy vehicles

Meant to bring joy into driving.


In the year 2020, months went by

when people didn’t use their cars much

A quick trip to grocery store or pharmacy

They walked in their neighborhoods or nearby park

without using a car

It was all about social distancing


In the year 2020, Zoom

became a place to meet online

Meant to substitute

for getting together in person

Meant to bring connection to people

forced to social distance during a pandemic


When the pandemic ends, will we once again

substitute Zoom Zoom in our cars for Zoom on screen?

Delirious like children

Picking up friends along the way

Filling up real spaces with real people

Once again getting to know people

in three dimensions.




Pandemic Guidance

Fran Abrams

A global pandemic, a
deadly virus

spread by breath or touch.

Keep six feet away from other people.

Why not eight or ten?

We're making it up as we go.


Wear face coverings when out in public

officials decree.

Overnight, face masks with pictures

of kittens and puppies, sports teams and more

are offered for purchase online.

We’re making it up as we go.


Stay at home governors order.

Good choice to work from home.

Set up an office wherever there’s space.

Now there’s a shortage of power strips for sale.

We’re making it up as we go.


Professional sports teams debate

playing to empty stands.

Already 100,000 individuals have died

in the United States,

enough people to fill all the seats

in Yankee stadium

two times over.


I wish I was making this up.





Before I add some music, I am going to include two tributes to those who have lost due to the coronavirus.  The first tribute is from the end of May: is amazing how young some of the people are.  Pediatric nurse practitioner Samantha Ray Hickey died on July 13 in Boise, ID:


Let's add some music, starting with the Wynton Marsalis Sextet's version of "Twelve's It," a song written by his father Ellis Marsalis, Jr.:

Here Ellis Marsalis, Jr. plays "Sweet Lorraine" with his son Branford:


I'll finish with "Joe Cool's Blues," which is from an album that Ellis and Wynton Marsalis did together and released in 1995: