MARGARET R. SARACO is a writer, poet, teacher, mother, and feminist Publishing credits include anthologies, newsletters and journals, the Poeming Pigeon’s Love Poems, Italian and the Arts (American Italian Historical Association), Peace Poems (New Jersey Peace Action), Just Bite Me, Passing, Shalom: The Jewish Peace Newsletter, Free Verse, and Jewish Currents. Margaret also has been featured at several readings including Welcome the Sabbath Bride, The Art and Poetry of Teaching, and Poetry U: An Evening of Spoken Word.
I Hope Thee Fares Well
Oh, garden from many years ago where your thickened wisteria vines, so densely grew over a trellis they had to be cut with an axe each spring, we miss you. When we discovered you, you were strewn with weeds, some tall as trees and rooted in hardened dirt. Committed to bringing you back to life we cleared your choking excesses down to cement stones and planted. With little money, you were rich in friend’s cuttings. Some seedlings took hold with friendly advice and few personal experiences. We eagerly watched for small growth and ecstatic when herbs and flowers blossomed in your small confines.
Our cats so happy to accompany us from our second-floor walk-up, they would leap onto fences and into yards forcing us to yell for their return; a game we played often. A few years later, you entertained a gaggle of one-year-olds rolling in mud and rinsing in the kiddie pool. Together we hosted parties, lunches, dinners, playdates; we sat beneath the full moon or watched the sunrise and the flutter of birds tickle you awake.
Now, our lovely garden is marvelous, crisp and hopeful in Spring, though it gives way to poison ivy growth at its borders in Summer and water-soaked leaves in fall, more work than play; it will never be the same as you.
When we moved out of our city apartment, as we drove away, I insisted on going back, one more time, to gather some of your cuttings. Sadly, I can’t remember what was old and what is new anymore.
I sometimes wonder if the past 25 years, the memory of you is all that remains.
The teacher stands at the front of the room and explains the homework policy to her class. “On time and complete, gets full credit. Late or incomplete receives partial credit and if you don’t hand it in at least by the following class, you don’t get any credit.” One of the younger students raises his hand, “Excuse me,” he asks, what if I did it but can’t find it?” She says, “that would be late.” He raises his hand again, “what if I don’t know how to do it?” She answers while picking up a dry erase marker to start the lesson, “ask for help before the assignment is due.” He stands up without raising his hand, “what if I forget to come by?” She responds while glancing at the clock, “then it would be late. Remember to raise your hand when asking a question.” He raises his hand. “Yes?” Scratching his forehead, he asks, “what if I had a dog and he chewed on it?” Sighing she says, “have someone write you a note.” She sits down at her desk. “Yes?” He thinks for a second, “can I get my sister to write a note?” She shakes her head, “no, a parent or guardian.” His hand is down. The class is amused and a bit incredulous at the exchange. The boy still considers other possibilities. This one is a critical thinker, a problem solver; that’s what she wants them all to be. “Are there other questions?” No one responds. She gets up, marker in hand once more and then before she has a chance to speak, he asks, “What if I am on vacation? What if I am sick? What if I don’t want to do it? What if I have to do other homework? What if I have a game to play?” Mulling it over she answers, “well, either late or zero, but I can be flexible if there is a situation you can’t control. Let’s not worry so much and get started on the lesson. Okay?” she asks. “Okay,” he concedes, and sits down. “All right, girls and boys, let’s get started…”
Ode to a Pineapple
Oh, pineapple, with your crusty exterior
and thorny spikes
Your hard, waxy leaves when chopped off and
stuck in dirt will spawn another you
Oh, that I could ever see the wondrous sight
of your delicious tropical fruit grown on trees
your sweetness balanced with minerals and vitamins,
good for me
Juicy flesh, when bitten through your yellow chunks
leaves tangy reminders behind in my teeth
Your core seems impenetrable but really your
toughness shows off your pliable, delectable fruit
freely offered to anyone able to cut through
your thick skin.
The sight of cardinals brings joy with
a hint of sadness. Years ago, dad always
called for us to see the beautiful red birds
framed against a December snow, butterfly
bushes in June, cosmos flowers in August
and amidst fallen leaves in October.
We four crowded around the view and
marveled at their beauty.
A few years later, at the kitchen table
three of us sat consumed with grief
my 15-month year-old niece, face
pressed against the window pane,
pointed outside at the bird perched
on a tree branch and mouthed Pop Pop.
At first, the loss lingered then
slowly dissipated; the heartbreak
bearable. Yet, I realize, the pain is no longer
constant as memories distort and life continues.
I call to my husband and children, all grown,
that a beautiful red cardinal sits in our garden,
and as we crowd around the window,
I remember my father.
I remember my father…
Society dictates the path from birth to death.
Expectations create alarm when not met.
Reality collides with best laid plans.
Change is the only truth.
The rest is just a story.
Remember to swerve.
Separating and Sorting
filled junk drawer
must be sort-
ed, keys, pens
used to have
a place on
the fridge, a
day cards from
old friends, hard-
ware from wood
long gone, a
made when she
was five, a
my son drew
when he was
four. The end-
game is to leave
here for some-
where else. When
do we go
and where? Shed
what is not
The plan is
Still, our new
home will need
at least one
Trying to live through heart-breaking news
the shock of the shower spray does not diminish the numbness she feels
the scalding hot water does not temper her body pulsating with anger
the icy cold water does not expel the anguish from her chest
she screams and gasps and screams again
tears of rage
the deep recesses
tears of grief
her heartbeat slowing
one breath in
one breath out
Give it some time
Why is the sky blue?
What I am supposed to do?
Why do my knees feel weak?
How is it that I cannot speak?
When will you pick up the phone?
How much must I atone?
Why do I ache with sorrow?
Where will I be tomorrow?
Accompany the beauty and destructive hurricane wind, forceful, pressing the edge of permissible limits, testing the well-built framed homes for safety, snapping trees then laying them down, pruned for pick-up–blustery and boisterous opera diva soaring about refinement, carefully wreaking havoc. The moments before change is afoot–scent of a storm to come. Exhilarating. No idle words, thoughts or deeds, a whirling, gyrating, and then after, nothing and nothingness, abandoned and abandonment. Seen and heard.
Make Matters Better
Viewing the early spring garden
through the tiny second story
glass window, shows hope in the
flowers efforts to push through
newly softened ground.
The dirty screen obscures
part of the panorama and the
window with mineral deposits
from rainy seasons past, give
the garden a grittier look
than it deserves.
When I walk the paths
we have created, I am
heartened by the yellow,
white and pastel pink daffodils,
crocus, Lenten rose and forsythia
bush that bloom.
I spend my life filtering the real
from the obscured trying to
discern the difference. We tend
to see what we expect to see
and to experience what we expect
The world is a complicated place
because we have to interpret it.
Some days I just want to look out
a crystal clear, streak-free window
and not second guess myself.
When someone dies they are gone forever. Right?
Well, in my world all of our family and friends remain and can visit upon demand. Dispensing advice when necessary and letting us know what lies ahead gives us the opportunity not to fret about the future or worry about death. Inviting many spirits can fill the room and you don’t have to provide food and drink. But they can light up the dance floor and participate in scintillating conversations. Laughter fills the room and conversations that didn’t occur while they were alive, happen now.
With nothing to worry about, we worry about nothing.
In keeping with my Italian tradition, I am named after my mother though it was not her real
name. Registering for kindergarten the teachers could not pronounce the Italian so they
Michelina became Margaret. My mother stood next to my grandmother who, with little English
and embarrassed about the confusion, did not argue for fear of reprisal.
Years later my mother became a fighter. My name, she taught me, is an early lesson learned
about how the world works. I have never felt like a Margaret or a Michelina.
In past lives, I imagine myself a goddess–a powerful ruler–with a complicated suitable name all
would learn to pronounce.
But for this life, in the here and now, Proud Margaret will do.
Awaken the Senses
In my dream
an uncovered pot of
simmering spaghetti sauce,
bubbles barely breaking
the surface, needs to be stirred
with my grandmother’s
old wooden spoon.
While inhaling aromas of
fried garlic and onion,
tomatoes, garden fresh
basil, oregano, and
olive oil (never extra virgin)
I find the temptation too great,
like when I was a little girl.
I have no choice but to dip
a small piece of sesame semolina bread
from Giambruno’s bakery to taste.
At the end of six lap lanes, plastic triangles are set up
designating where to swim-
slow, medium, fast, fast, medium, slow.
Today they are in a different order-
fast, medium, slow, slow, medium, fast.
Those of us who need glasses for distance
can’t see the signs from the other end of the pool,
only realizing our dilemma once in the water.
To make matters worse, the fast sign states
“allowed in this lane if you swim one-minute laps”
I look to my left, a slow swimmer in the fast lane.
I look to my right, a fast swimmer in the medium lane.
Me, I’m in the middle, freestyling at my la-di-da tempo.
I hate being in the fast lane even when the lane is empty
or the lifeguards encourage me to go in. It is
just like at the grocery store when the cashier says
it is okay to checkout at the express, 15-items-or-less line
when you have a basketful of food, then while quickly trying
to load the purchases onto the belt, someone behind
gives you the look
Surprisingly, I notice the clock. I am already
twenty-minutes and halfway into my swim.
It has gone by quickly while I contemplate
my embarrassment if someone asks me
to get out of the fast lane and swim at my pace.
While I am not a rule breaker, I am a rule bender,
so, I might just ignore them until I am done.
And if they force me to switch, I will not make a scene,
but politely point out that the signs are in the wrong place
and ask if they could please fix them.
A daily routine, a third of our life
essential as food and water,
spent in an alternative reality.
Everyone sleeps, but does everyone dream?
As I age, my slumber has shortened,
interrupted. I function on
less sleep than I need and lucky
babies nap most of their day
Why do we dream? I ask, my father as a child.
Some people dream in color, he says,
others in black and white.
He doesn’t answer my question.
The blustering wind
Rearranges the landscape
While I stand stock still
Undomesticated, your brown fur
matches the soil where you burrow
beady eyes and a short-hairy tall useful
for tunneling and walking backwards
your fur-lined cheek pouch
reaches to your back
and transports the carrots lettuce and radishes
to your den, to eat alone
does anyone care?
you do not live in large communities
and seldom find yourself above ground
the door to your home
is marked with small piles of soft soil
if attack is perceived, with
claws drawn and long, sharp teeth bared
you will defend yourself against
human or small animal: beware
who else will protect you?
briefly, you share a chamber with your mate
the pups born blind and helpless
weaned at 40 days and on their own
pushed into the world and underground
you, prefer your own tunnel
flattening yourself to move about
busy working, spending time
An Ode to Rue
Magical, mysterious rue. Mad Ophelia’s
hands carry columbine, fennel and you.
Priests used your Herb of Grace to sprinkle
holy water on parishioners
and it is Milton’s arch-angel that rues
the dire event. Ruta graveolens
known as plant of purity protect
me from poisons and fleas. Preserve my sight
and like Michelangelo and da Vinci
who ate the trefoil leaves, inspire me.
Too much of you can kill me; your pungency
can make me sick. Though tiny morsels can
improve my health; ward off evil spirits;
change my mood. In winter I bundle your
bright green leaves and tiny yellow clusters
with twine and hang upside down in my window
until you turn brown. Remove my sorrow.
Rid my home of regret. Keep safe my
spirit like an innocent child running
through an open green meadow.
No cares. No worries. No regrets.
This is not a conversation; this is something else
They all say the worst part is waiting.
How do you spend the time in-between?Go to work. Read a poem.
Notice the grey sky before it snows
Rub sweet oil into tired muscles
Eat spicy Thai food with chili peppers
Go for a long walk on the beach in winter Drink hot tea with lemon and honey
Curl up beside your partner at night.
Burn sage. Go the movies.
Have dinner with friends.
Take notice, wherever you go.
Distract yourself until you cannot any longer.
Call the doctor’s office. Have them paged.
Tell the phone operator, the receptionist,
the nurse this is urgent or don’t call at all.
After all it is nothing.
The reason they don’t call is because
they haven’t found anything.
No new is good news
Just tell me, I plead.
Diagnosis is a surprise.
Diagnosis is not a surprise.
The answer is always more tests.
The question is, how bad is it?
The worst part is waiting, they say.
More diagnoses. More information
All good! they say.
It is cancer, I say.
MRI, ultrasounds, surgery, radiation
In remission and clear, they smile.
More tests, more visits,
Come back and see me next week
The worst part is waiting, she says.
As I sit in another paper gown
Shaking from anticipation.
I know, I say. The waiting.
The worst part.
The mantle of night
can cast a pall over day
yet, I welcome its pearly translucence
which forces me to calmly focus
on what has already transpired
and what is yet to come
claw feet settle atop snow crest
her orange red bill searches
peck, crack, crackle, swallow
a melodic, fife-like burst
tweet, tweeter, tweet, twitch
with a slender, sharp, long tail
head cocked twitchy
hip, hop to the left
hip, hop to the right
peck, crack, crackle, swallow
stretch to full height
turn 360 degrees
peck, crack crackle, swallow
At sunrise when the nest was filled, and then after when the birds flew away
At 6 AM, he’s up already up feeding the cats and making espresso
I wake, shower, dress, rouse kids, forget breakfast
Down coffee in two, maybe three gulps
Kids awake? Hmm.
We make lunches assembly-line style, he at one end, me at the other
Brew more espresso, warm milk to make macchiatos.
You sure the kids are awake? Hmm.
A peck on the cheek and a smile.
Down coffee in two, maybe three gulps, again.
Gotta go. Bye. Bye.
Bye mom! They yell. They’re awake.
Throw work bags in car, house still bustling.
Halfway to work phone rings, what did I forget?
Your lunch. Don’t worry, I’ll bring it to you.
At 6AM, I wake before the alarm rings, shower and dress
He went for a run and already fed the cats
I brew espresso and warm milk to make macchiatos
Make lunch, stare out the window and meditate
Back from your run, a peck on the cheek and a smile
Brew more espresso, warm more milk
Wipe down the counters and set the dishwasher
Tune to NPR and read The New York Times
Go to work.
But every once in a while, I secretly check your bedrooms
To make sure I didn’t forget to wake you both up.
The bedroom ceiling is black and flutters with bird’s wings.
They turn into inkblots, specks and are gone.
The white ceiling is now dirty with dust-balls, and in the center
above my head a grayish outline of a pentagram emerges.
Confused, I want to get out of the bedroom, so I decide to take a shower
but my son is bathing. I walk to the other side of the house,
where there is an apartment of sorts that has not existed before today.
There is another bathroom here, familiar to me.
I turn on the water. The silver showerhead is alive. Snakelike
tentacles reach everywhere. Blindly searching for me, twisting
and spurting water with its jet-sprays. Dodging Medusa, I shut it off
with a struggle and leave it hanging limply and harmless, behind me.
Unsuccessful in my attempts to wash up, I am now dressed
in jeans and a t-shirt and walk around my house which is oddly decorated.
Shelves are stuffed with knickknacks and tchotchkes. I am perplexed
by the amount of junk but not surprised. There are people living here;
I don’t know them but I know them.
Back in bed next to you, a mother and her daughter walk into the room
while we are asleep and stare; though not awake I can feel them see us.
They walk over to the bay window and talk excitedly, surprised that we are here.
I know, as I look at them with my eyes shut that the others that live in the house
occupy a place when I am not in dream-space but are invisible to my waking eyes.
Port Authority Bus Ticket Booth
Can I buy a round trip?
Should I buy two one ways?
Can I buy a ticket on board?
When do the buses leave?
Where do they leave from?
Questions come too quickly, and thus are unanswered.
A woman in her 50s with a worn backpack is asking a frowning employee.
Ahead are two couples, one young, one older, and us.
Sighing, I look around the waiting area, where time has shifted.
My eyes settle on a 7-foot red sculpture that looks like a squeezed ketchup bottle.
Passengers stare at phones, make eye contact with the women in 2 booths
While commuters mill about, run or dawdle
One traveler avoids looking at any of us, insists her bus is leaving,
walks to the window, purchases her ticket.
The line grows from six-to-12-and counting,
Patience is lost. The young couple made their purchase and left
The backpacker still commandeers the surly ticket seller’s attention
She straddles both windows as the line extends, people fidget and mumble.
Abruptly with no thank you, she walks away.
Our turn, I smile.
We politely ask for tickets and a bus schedule
We get our tickets, but no schedule. We ask again
She does not answer and shakes her head no.
No bus schedules?
How do we know when the busses leave?
Are the bus schedules posted somewhere?
Questions come too quickly, and thus are unanswered.
Listen, I just need to know one thing, I insist, straddling both windows, are the buses heated?
Well, she answers…shrugs her shoulders…Next. I grumble as we leave.
Riding a rollercoaster speedily plunging
between personal and public face
frantic, exhausted by noon
haunted by dusk,
unwelcome dreams by night,
meditation at sunrise,
at-peace, calm, refreshed, rational
Should I continue to reflect or forget?
Should I let myself be led to despair or remain aware?
“Quiet, Not, Silent”
I know I am alive…
if I can hear the sound of my breath as I swim at the pool
I know I am alive…
if I can hear tree trunks press against each other in the woods
I know I am alive…
if I can hear heating pipes and radiators knock late at night
I know I am alive …
if I can hear the mournful wail of a loon on a still lake
I know I am alive…
if I can hear my thoughts echo in my head
I knew I was alive …
when I could hear my young son thump down the steps, one-at-a-time
I knew I was alive …
when I could hear the hiccup right before my daughter cried
I knew I was alive
when I would awaken to the hiss of the TV station
cozied up to my father on the sofa, resting peacefully
Regain (Slight) Composure
of her purple body cloud
did make her unwittingly
share vacant glances
with the two-eyed glaring,
flame monster across from her.
by the window sill
there they sit, every morning, cat-sisters on the sill,
gazing at grass, together. tails curled and wrapped around
the grass sometimes brown, sometimes covered with snow, green today
the breeze moves it slightly, yesterday wind gusts pressed it
from side-to-side. crocuses have recently broken through
the ground blooming where there were no flowers just last week,
but because they don’t move, cats don’t focus on them.
who knows if the two have memory of yesterday.
the tabby lays down, and the young grey tiger sits erect,
still as she can be until the bulldog saunters down the
street yippin’ and yappin’ startling both for a moment.
the elder cat, goes back to feigning sleep but the younger
wants to investigate. morning meditation complete.
crisp light is replaced by mid-morning sun. breakfast is
a memory. snacks and dinner a possibility,
This is about you
Though they carry
deep meaning in their
Tell me what it is you feel
and I can help.
and I am like a kayak
without a paddle
Oh, miniature pastry confection
Behind the glass case
Your creamy chocolate frosting swirls
Covering your tiny top and touches
The speckled white decorative paper cup
Formed to your rounded sides.
Topped with a delectable berry pink-iced rose.
A cake the size of a teacup
Perfectly molded, a single serving
I must pull and peel your liner away
A small bite, mixing the flavors on my tongue
Mashing you between my teeth
I inhale aromas of cocoa, vanilla, sugars,
Sweet. Sweet. Sweet
More tiny bites taken successively
And you are gone
Before I leave the bakery counter.