Poems by Margaret Saraco 2017

Margaret Saraco poetMARGARET SARACO’S poetry has appeared in “Shalom: The Jewish Peace Newsletter,” Free Verse Literary Magazine, Poet’s Online, anthologies Just Bite Me, Passing and Italians and the Arts. Featured readings include, “Welcome the Sabbath Bride with Poetry and Song,” “Poetry U: An Evening of Spoken Word,” and the JCC MetroWest Poetry Series. Margaret is also a math teacher and union activist in Montclair, New Jersey.

Charlie the Groundhog

Busy tunneler
In loamy, grainy darkness
Pauses by pink tulips

Suffering
An Ekphrastic Poem Based on “Spleen: by Mara Rucki

Lingering over one last cup of red wine
gray and green tones seep through my body
replacing blood with bile, my cloak hangs
heavily; by candlelight I know
I exist for my shadow stalks me;
pick me up, lay me down; this body
has not served me well; I disintegrate

Transformations

Fear, some pain, knot loosened, my soul woken
Flowers, clouds, crows, evergreens and stone walls
Life sparks, gazing at my painted garden

Time spent writing, healing, listening, hearken
Distracted from life’s few pity pitfalls
Fear, some pain, knot loosened, my soul woken

Sit, gather strength in daylight and brighten
Recuperate, fall into art enthralls
Life sparks, gazing at my painted garden

Each day offers the chance to feel passion
Drips, drabs, not presented as waterfalls
Fear, some pain, knot loosened, my soul woken

Incremental eye-opening visions
Feeling hopeless, hardest when the night falls
Life sparks, gazing at my painted garden

Gray day in my living room, I feel sun
Calming art, reinvigorates, recalls
Fear, some pain, knot loosened, my soul woken
Life sparks, gazing at my painted garden



Confinement

Mama tells her children no doors
locked when we were growing up.
We forget to secure our doors, too.
Cars in driveways and front doors.
Nothing automatically locks barring
us from home and car. Never, meant
never, she says, emphatically
correcting us, we lock them sometimes
she worries about cultural shifts from
her generation to ours, losing trust with
community. There is one story she tells,
about a neighbor during the Great Depression.

He stole a chicken to feed his family.
We were all so poor. They jailed the man for years.
It wasn’t right. For stealing one chicken.
He had to feed his family.

The story resurfaces every time
there is talk of a burglary, break-in or
when we eat chicken. She never
embellishes the tale, unusual.

If he asked us,
my mother would have given him food.

A family of immigrants, you could not
stand up for thieves, as a child she could do
nothing to prevent this travesty. As an adult,
she feels powerless. His name unmentioned,
his fate unknown, though we ask at each retelling.
Thoughts linger with the desperate family,
one less adult to feed his nest.

Mama has long passed, I haven’t eaten
chicken in years, we bolt our doors every
night and day, including the car in the
driveway. I am not nostalgic
like she was, but wonder what safety feels
like. I still have questions: Who had the man
arrested? What kind of culture punishes hunger?

While at night I secure the house,
today, and tomorrow, I will open the
front and back doors and windows allowing
fresh air to cleanse the house of sadness
in a world of limitations.

It is a beginning…



Autumnal Stroll

the playground, austere
in darkness, out of

place without children
eerie shadows cast

from the yellow
lantern light onto

bucket swings and the
cedar jungle gym

the wind spreads its spell
moving the sling swings

up and down, back
forth, ever twisting

on this fall evening
the leaves abandoned

their trees, the waning
crescent moon fleetingly

visible in the
night sky, covered by

stratocumulus clouds,
puffy and multi-colored gray

as I traipse through
the resplendent, ghastly

photographic negative
of its daytime counterpart,

I take pleasure in
its alternate state

don’t yearn for children
to repopulate

in daylight, with their
laughter, play and song

On the twelfth of September, 2001
when friends flocked to synagogues,
churches, mosques, temples
I found a poetry circle
kept books of poetry by my nightstand
fell asleep to the words of
Marie Howe, Billy Collins
Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds,
Stanley Kunitz, Kurtis Lamkin,
heroes that helped me limp
on my spiritual journey
until the topsy-turvey world
we were living in, reset itself
for a few moments.

My Next Climb

The Himalayan Jumping Spider,
I read, preys on Glacial
Fleas and Springtails. Elk
and Bighorn Sheep are
spotted high in the Rockies.
Cascade’s Mountain Goat
follows hikers closely in
search of salt, and the
Brewer Sparrow’s persistent
staccato song heard in the
Canadian peaks, reminds you,
you are not alone. Do not
be fearful. When life seems
scarce, there can still be great
abundance if you know
where to look, your eyes
can serve you well. At the
timberline, even the red
fire sun, can be a companion.

Cross-multiplying

There is simple beauty in multiplying on a diagonal, two fractions set equal, analyzing the products. Are they proportional, less than or greater than? In isolation, it is a task, a thing to learn, a shortcut, unless you help students unveil its past. Many teach math in a vacuum, omitting the tasty tidbits, there is incredulity and joy in understanding the development, creation, invention, discovery, theory and process. The news traveled differently in ancient times. Unaware that someone else had found the same answer or asked an identical question. Mathematicians share knowledge, building on work, competing, cooperating, often at great risk. Archimedes was stabbed by a Roman soldier while contemplating a circle in the sand, Hypatia was attacked by an angry Christian mob, Pythagoras and his followers worked in hiding, Alan Turing was crucified for his homosexuality, many unknown women had to publish under men’s names, Albert Einstein rebuffed McCarthyism and Katherine Johnson defied a racist and patriarchal culture. Once you remove the shroud between our world and theirs the intellectuals lay their work at our feet, a gift. The students’ interest is piqued. We continue, the word algebra, comes from Arabic al-jabr, part of the title of al-Khwarizmi’s treatise, imagine that, they say, they look like me. Not only do the children ask why, they want to know when, and how and whom.

If Wind were Erased from Earth, a Dystopian Nightmare

Without the Wind…
water pools
kites are grounded
chimes are silenced
forests do not whistle
dust remains on the road
windmills are motionless
leaves are not shaken from trees
feathers are not lifted on a whim
seeds are not dispersed and sown
flowers have nothing to withstand
sand prints are not smoothed away
blizzards no longer obliterate our view
bats and butterflies miss their flying cue
rain and snow fall perpendicular to the earth
washed garments on clotheslines are not refreshed
and if the answer is blowin’ in the wind
if there is no wind,
there is no answer.

Robustless

illness ebbs, flows through body
corrupts natural balance
consumed with health memory
threshold of pain met

Waking to Spices

The aromas spiral up the winding staircase
the smell of melted butter, first,
then fried egg, cinnamon and nutmeg
each flavor distinct

His special recipe, he tells us, when we are
children and we believe him
sliced bread soaked in milk and eggs,
a dash of salt, and then, when placing, them in the
frying pan, sprinkle with
milky nutmeg and tangy cinnamon.

We don’t think about the laurel trees
that yield cinnamon bark
or the seeds of the fruit of the
Myristica fragrans tree
that provide nutmeg

And the comical scene when we run
downstairs, salivating
the sink piled high with dishes
mom, could not understand
and neither could we
how so many dishes were needed
to make French toast.
but it was his special recipe.

Mountain View

Sparkling water
spills over the
rocky surface, the
sound is deafening
gaining momentum
rushing downward
cooling, blue
reflections invite
me to submerge
myself,
ripples
pooling
at
the
base.

Ataulfo Honey Mango

Cut thick

skin, freed yellow
flesh, knife carves nectarous
fruit, leave fibrous, flat, oblong pit
Foretaste.

Pianissimo

A child of immigrant grandparents, I learn my second language at five. At home, we are taught to meld as best we can. English first, then Italian. The language stays in our bones. Sitting on the sleek polished, lemony, wooden bench, placing my fingers on ivory keys, cold to touch, my feet dangle above the mysterious trio of pedals unreachable from my perch, years before I can press them. The old woman convinces my mother I will learn to read music while learning to read English. Con gusto I learn to play. Sforzando, glissando, allegro, transport me to the piazza I will one day visit. Learning more Italian than my cousins through music and food, still difficult to speak, grandmamma, I say, decrescendo, crescendo, arpeggio. I confuse her as she shakes her head and waves me away with her hands.

Patiently, my mother daily sits in the dining room in a straight-backed chair, hands folded, while I practice-Debussy cantatas, Mozart and Beethoven sonatas. Go away, Embarrassed, I shout I pay $5 for a lesson. Just play! We argue. I bang the keys, forte! hurts my hands and pride. Both staring, she, out the window, me at the fallboard. Reset the metronome. Focus on time. When she retreats to the kitchen, I whisper into the keyboard, mi dispiace. My coming-of-age, defiant independent move is to Stop Taking Lessons. Can’t carry a piano on your back, like a guitar, I argue. A few years later, I return to my piano seat. Someone offers a baby grand for free-just have to move it yourself, Just. The wood painted with semi-gloss house paint to match the walls, in its injured state, I want it, to save it. We pay movers, who charge several hundred dollars, then increase the fee as they contemplate the winding second floor walk-up. Too big, the tuner says they ruined it with the paint, anyway.

Time to move the baby grand again. No takers. We begin to dismantle, first the harp. The tension of the piano strings is 18 tons, and needs to be reduced carefully to avoid breaking the plate. He makes a phone call, paleness rising in his face. Fermata. This can kill us, he says, our toddler asleep in the next room. We have to tighten all the pins. Presto! The harp can crack and impale us, like a sharp metal stake, through the heart. The piano strings can slice our hands to razor threads. Time moves slowly reassembling bolt-by painstakingly slow bolt. Largo. Lento. Finito. Then in giddy silence, we remove the legs, then the body and watch from our upstairs window while the innards are dragged away.

In our new home, someone offers a piano for free, just pay for the move. Just. Belonged to a musical theater producer who died in ’88, one year traded for each piano key, the shadow of his presence remains. We promise we will never sell, instead give to a piano lover. Silent in the dining room, no mother to listen anymore, no arguments. Life prestissimo and then ritardando. Perhaps we should give it away, I say one day. What would we put there in its place? he says. Leave it. We always had a piano. I say, we adopt pianos like pets, some survive. He says, and I think, our lives would be empty without them.

Fine

ReCycle

The Mayan Return of the Sun Serpent
at sunset, when light slithers down the
El Castillo pyramid at Chichén Itzá,
indicating spring has arrived
the equinox, twelve hours between
dawn break and descent of darkness
Equal Night, Equal Day
is welcomed by weary winter wayfarers

The line blurs between instinct and desire
de-cluttering our lives
rid the house of chametz
remove what does not serve us anymore
remember Isis and her lover Osiris
celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year
the rebirth of Christ and
slaves’ exodus from Egypt

Drenching rains coupled with
delight of spring possibilities
thunderstorms shake the house,
deeply chilled, wrapped in sweaters
seal the leaks dripping through the house

Give way to growth
flowers burst through hardened earth
crocuses and daffodils replaced with
sweet, sweet woodruff and creeping phlox,
replaced with nightshade and mountain laurel
names poems in themselves

How can you despair in the midst of beauty?
Just one flower embodies the soul, lifts the spirit
The wrapping of seasons, life affirming
Spring

I remember

…when vestiges of dusk slipped
through the window
sill, lamps snuffed, birds silent
only hooting owl’s and bat wings
whoosh, wooden floors
creak, wind gusts on
soundscapes, sweat
trickles mixed with
fetid fear, muffled thumping in
my ear fuzzy sight, gradation
of gray, lay still, here, monsters
grow under the bed, clock
tick, shut then bare eyes,
seconds, minutes pass, alarm bell
silent. Jolt of courage, run to
safety, until day breaks unending
cycle of hours in bed. Held
tightly, while monster, a distant
memory by day,
whisked

Inclinations

I am five-years old the first time
I visit Abraham and Straus with my mother
She tries to cajole me, reprimand me, bribe me
To step on an ever-moving staircase.
Terrified of escalators, she insists
My foot hovers with good intent,

Menacing steel teeth disappear
replaced with the next,
and the next,
and the next…
Mesmerized by the repetition
She says, I’ll hold your hand,
I shake my head no, dumbfounded
Waiting shoppers line up
My embarrassed mother
Briskly pulls me aside
I stare at my patent leather shoes
Until they pass, up they go
My mother and I stay still
Twenty-minutes to the store
Wasting gas and time
She’s unsure what to do.
Politely asks the scarf-counter cashier
Can you watch my daughter while I shop?
The woman agrees, this one time,…
We return to A & S often
I sit next to the escalator as she shops
The cashiers change, pay no attention to me
The little girl engrossed in her book.
I read there. I read in the car. I read walking.
Besides the nightmare-inducing escalators,
There is nothing I am interested in
Except reading my book.
I ask my father
Can I buy from a book club?
He agrees, writes a check
Carroll, Poe, Baum, Aesop and Stevenson
Accompany me in red,
Maroon and burgundy bindings with gold gilt
More stylish than any clothing
My mother wants me to wear
Each page weighted with words
Carrying its own scent
Saturdays, my favorite
No school, no church, drives with dad
To the hardware store where
Pleasant smells of metal, dirt and wood comingle
Or, the five-and-dime, to pick up odds-and-ends,
Never sure what that is though I look carefully
Today we park the car near a small shop
A bell rings announcing our presence
When we open the old oak door.
There are
books
stacked on
tables and
shelves
More than I have ever seen before
My mouth open, my father chuckles
children’s books with pictures,
chapter books,
pocket books,
Wooden steps lead to more, another level
We spend forever in the store and leave
With a paper bagful, held tightly.
More to read in my niche
Next to the escalator.

Mirage

The mountain range outside the front bay windows, does not exist. On this brisk April morning, apartments and houses clustered together, across the street from my suburban outlook, suggest anything but, …
Though, squinting in the sunlight, the fire escapes magically transform into distant winding paths and the roofs’ silhouette mutate into peaks, topped with dollops of snow. Do I detect a small mountain creek?
I long to heal and wake to towering landscapes and woodlands with an invitation to grab my walking stick, hike the trail to the overlook, behold the spectacular views, but the small tufts of brown-yellow grass and Maples sans foliage, that dot the landscape outside my window, invite a disconcerting reality.
Nevertheless, the longer I look the more I see.

Palate

As you stroll beneath the burnt sienna arch,
a dull wondrous ache and knowingness of what
it means to be human lingers, when you enter
into the outdoor market, festive with its
floral bouquets, lemon yellow sunflowers,
purple hyacinths, manganese blue gladiolas,
and slightly aging titanium white zinnias,
fragrants sold in bunches and stems, as you marvel
at the artistry of the fruits and vegetables
displayed in glory, cochineal red peppers
mixed with madder root, slightly bruised palatinate
purple eggplant, cadmium orange carrots,
chromium oxide green cucumbers, all basic
foods, but together a composition as
the painter, accumulates images with
purposeful sight and a sketch brush, records
a lifetime panorama of food and flowers
from a blank page to this, now and permanent.

Animate the Objects

Too tiny to hold them
she clutches the two under her chubby arms
chattering in non-stop toddler language.

Hair Dolly, eight inches long
with a soft baby body
adorned with shocked Einstein white hair,
and Other One, named for lost dolls
shorter and bald with the same
soft, cloth body
presents from a loving grandma.

How can we say no?

Soon, their clothes disappear
and an ink mark appears on both faces
if misplaced, the family, including the cats,
desperately search.

Hess Trucks, Legos, building blocks, games
and puppets find their way into her room
balancing peculiar baby gender codes
all objects animate.

Slim markers become townspeople,
musicians, and family, while
Other One and Hair Dolly govern the brood.

Before the markers, after the dolls
strolling down Washington Street
an African American Cabbage-Patch doll
on sale for five dollars, calls to us.

Phoebe, has magical powers
we invest her with so much love
that when we get sick
hugging her heals us,
including her younger brother.

Hair Dolly, Other One and Phoebe
Are the constants throughout her girl-days
The three cluster around her
When all else goes wrong.

I wonder, I ask somewhat sheepishly,
as she packs for college
If you want to take Phoebe with you
knowing that Hair Dolly and Other One
cannot make the journey
Her look answers all.

After we drop her off at the university
Mom, she says before we pull away
if you get sick, you can hold Phebes.

Abre la puerta

Those that erect tall fences
Plant prickly bushes and poison ivy borders
Fasten rusted broken locks
Define separateness.

The gates of heaven are shut to the sinful,
We hear as children
Pickets are for swinging on
To keep dogs in
and children safe from harm
Castle gates bar enemies from entering

Yet, the children still wander
The dog can dig beneath the fence
Our fortresses are museums
The fortified fence does not shut out danger
Open the gate…

Sunrise on a Clear Day

The rush to work, to task, to chore
Each day begins and then ends
Yet, today, the fiery, burnt red orange sun
Stretches across the horizon
Brings pleasure to those who see it.
The sunlight reveals
What the moonlight cannot
Promise of a new day
Light and hope
There is sadness
Lodged in the recesses of our lives
And every day ends in darkness.