5 Golden Rings

It started with a partridge in a pear tree. Not a real breathing bird of course but a ceramic one in blue and gold. Cindy found the package on the way to work after Clare had left for school. She drove the package kelly green paper with a satin red ribbon to work and opened it on her desk.
“Cute, hon, where’s did you get it?” PollyAnn the dental hygienist said leaning over Cindy’s desk.
Cindy explained how she found it on her doorstep. PollyAnn gave her a weird look. Suddenly embarrassed Cindy reorganized her desk.
The next morning the package arrived earlier. This time the gift was striped red and white. Cindy’s mom brought the package into Cindy’s house when she came to take Clare to school. Cindy’s heart gave a little flutter when she saw the gift on her small kitchen table.
“Don’t get excited. Fat single moms don’t have secret admirers. It’s a mistake. Or maybe an advertising stunt,” Terry said. Cindy hugged her present, two wooden turtle doves salt and pepper shakers, to her chest and then stowed them in her pantry.
Cindy didn’t get the third gift until the evening. Her back hurt, Clare was talking a mile a minute, and dinner was waiting to be made. On autopilot, Cindy headed for the kitchen. Clare placed the wrapped package in silver snowflake paper on the counter and started dancing in front of the sink. Cindy grabbed Clare’s tiny hands and joined in the dance. Clare and Cindy ate pancakes with lots of syrup with a trio of brass French hens.
The four calling birds came on a Friday. Traffic was a nightmare. Her mom called twice. And she had to text Gary that she was running behind for the pickup. Cindy hurried to her mom’s house to retrieve Clare and then raced home to pack her daughter up for the weekend with her dad. Cindy was packing Clare’s pink My Little Pony suitcase when her ex banged on the door.
“Daddy, daddy.” Arms raised Clare ran for the door.
Gary was standing there with a small wrapped box, a jewelry box in gold dotted paper.
“Hey princess. I found this outside for Mommy?” Gary was talking to his daughter but watching Cindy. “Secret admirer or another boyfriend?”
Cindy ignored him and gave Clare a big hug, a little hug, and three kisses. Cindy avoided Gary’s eyes when she took the package but she could feel the heat of his smirk. Later that night with a generous glass of Chardonnay Cindy opened her gift. The four calling birds were a pendant on a gold chain. Cindy gasped in delight. Cindy wore the necklace to bed and dreamt of the Nutcracker.
The next morning Cindy was wrestling two duffel bags of dirty laundry out the front door. She had slept poorly. Nights without Clare were always harder and last night was half forgotten nightmares. The gift was waiting for her. A larger shoebox sized box in powder blue paper with angels. Cindy loved Christmas angels. She reached and then stopped. Who knew her so well? A strange sensation sizzled up her arm. A small voice niggled deep in her mind. Listening, Cindy backed away and locked the door.

Do Right

“Uncle Mikey, explain it to me again. Explain it to me like I was five,” Bridget said. She got up from the rocking chair and began pacing around her old bedroom.
Michael scrubbed his face and sat on the pink and purple polka dotted bedspread. “Listen, honey, you made an investment in a special kind of insurance and it’s not quite working out like it should.”
Bridget pounded the wall, ripping her R.E.M. poster. “You promised my settlement would be safe as houses, safe as mother’s milk. But insurance is a safe investment, right?”
“Usually, but these policies are viaticals. That’s when a really really sick person, like terminal about to die sick, sells his life insurance policy for a lump sum of cash to a viatical investment company. And that brokerage firm sells that policy to an unrelated third party like you. When The sick guy dies you collect, see. That’s how it is supposed to work.”
“Wait I’m making money off dead people,” Bridget said. She grabbed Amelia Renee, her beloved Cabbage Patch doll, and muffled her scream in its squishy yarn covered head. “What have I done. What did you do! Is this even legal, Uncle Mikey?”
“Of course sweetheart. It’s all perfectly legit, see. These are AIDS patients and they get money to help their last days. It’s a good thing really. But it is not quite as regulated as I thought. Doctors are supposed to determine prognosis and everything.”
“Where’s my money? Where’s all my money?” Bridget was squeezing Amelia Renee’s narrow neck.
“Well that’s the funny thing. Not funny but okay have you heard of protease inhibitors? Me neither ! But these miracle AIDS drugs are saving lives, extending lifetimes, honey,” Michael said. He looked everywhere but at his niece.
Bridget’s door opened. “The turkey’s on the table. We have to say Grace before Danny and Denny started fighting again,” Christina said. Reading the tension, she looked between her brother and her daughter. “What’s the conspiracy? Do I have to get my bat and crack heads.”
Nervously Michael chuckled. “No worries here Big Sis. Everything’s copacetic.”
“Yeah no worries Mom. I was just talking to Uncle Mikey about a special Christmas gift I wanted to get for a certain person. Unc always knows the best deals. He’s just promised to do right by me?” Bridget playfully tossed her dolly to her uncle. She headed towards her bedroom door. “Right, Uncle Mikey?”
Michael noticed the doll’s head was almost torn off its floppy body.
Arms folded and eyes steeled, Christina and Bridget both waited for his response.
“Of course honey. I will do right by you.”

The Big Sister

I wasn’t sorry when Evi left home. I mean I was ,but I wasn’t going to let her know it. I don’t remember Mama; she went away with baby Ferenc after the spring rains. But Evi left school to care for Papa and me. She was a little mother. Papa was angry at first. He was angry at the whole world for takng his baby boy. He used to shout and throw things. When his blood was up, Papa would take the strap to us. I am his favorite. I made him laugh with my funny songs and dances, but Evi only made Papa angry. Evi would make that face, all sad and teary, and it would upset Papa so much. I told her to be nice and to not make a fuss. But she wouldn’t make happy and Papa couldn’t help himself.
When the troubles came, Papa started planning Evi’s marriage. I remember when Papa told Evi her husband was Bela Bussink, the old clockmaker. We were at the dining table with good mutton stew and appelkuchen for dessert. Cinnamon, warm and sweet, was heavy in the air and I pleaded with Evi with my eyes to be nice. I saw her eyes grow wide and I held my breath. All she said was, “Thank you, Papa.” Her voice was a pebble in a shoe. Then she smiled. I was so happy the night wouldn’t be spoiled.
I was cross the next day when I realized I would have to take over the cooking, washing, and mending. I would have to be the little mother while Evi got to live with old Bela. He was no prize sure. At school, we threw rotten apples at his door and called him Old Mandrake because he was so gnarled. But old man Bela had a bigger house than ours and all of his children were grown and gone except for his youngest son, Erik. But Erik was a few years older than Evi and would be married off soon enough. Stupid Evi, I thought, she gets everything first.
I didn’t see much of Evi after her wedding. I had to wear hard shoes that day and a silly dress Evi made for me. When I did see her it was the same old Evi, more pale maybe and that same awful teary face. I had to cook and clean for Papa and had worries of my own. One day Evi came back home to help with the canning. She was different. I can’t explain it she was just different. Eating her pickled beets a few nights later, I thought about my big sister. I knew she had a secret, a secret from me. Papa would be cross if Evi was keeping secrets.
Next day, quick as a flash I slipped from school and followed Evi. I was an undercover agent like in the comics. I laid in the shadows of the bush watching her house. Finally Evi came out with a large willow basket. I could tell she was only pretending to shop. Soon Evi meandered to Zsusana’s back door, the midwife’s back door.
Everyone even Papa feared the midwife. Maybe it was her loud voice. Or the bold way she had about her. The menfolk would whisper about Zsusana and grow silent when she was around. Church or no, midwives can bring babies into the world or stop them.
I knew Evi was going to have a baby. I pressed my head to that door. The two talked of angels makers. The two talked of freedom. Through the thick wood I could not make out many words. Some I couldn’t understand. But I knew evil when I heard it.
I followed her back to Bela’s house. I lost her in Little Wolf woods then she came up behind me. Something stone hard flickered across her face and then she was my sister again.
“Evi, I heard everything. Don’t do the bad thing. Don’t kill,” I implored my sister.
“Oh ZuZu, such big ears you have,” Evi said. She kissed my forehead to quiet my racing heart. Wrapping her arm round my shoulder, Evi pulled me close. “You have things all mixed up. Come home with me. I am making gruel for my husband. He’s under the weather. Let us talk over hot chocolate like when Mama was alive.”
I don’t remember Mama. Sweet, velvety chocolate, the thought of the steamy mug filled my head as we walked through the forest.

Over the River & Through the Woods

The car door slams. A headache sizzles at my temples. One hand drums angrily on the steering wheels. One child is whining while the other’s long thin legs pound the passenger seat’s back. I’m forgetting something, something important. Loading the trunk I unpack my brain. Traveling with children is like decamping a circus, I think running back to the house one last time. Our tattered caravan backs out of the driveway and the children begin hitting each other in the backseat. Already exasperated, we exchange looks. We exchange a look. He navigates our narrow street. I fish for my phone and trying to remember what I’m missing. I don’t think about surviving strokes or where my kids are. I don’t know about variants or probation or planning a funeral. Driving through orange flame oak leaves we head for the highway on the way to grandma’s house. I’m hoping my ginger cranberry sauce doesn’t leak. He puts his hand on my thigh and tells me that story again. I still giggle. We pick up speed. The boys start singing Ring of Fire. Loudly. Soon we are all singing Maybe Baby. Loudly. The apple pie cools on our kitchen counter and I remember.


What is that?
A smell, not just bad it’s sticky
Collecting on the bottoms of my shoes
Stalking my steps
Seeping into my fiber

Its dank syrup stains my sleep
Leaving me restless
Tossing, turnt into this stink bereft
Without even the refuse of dreams

As sharp as bone shards
Relentless as a headache
Burrowing into my temples’ sweet meat
Has anyone has noticed the coppery blood smell?

Then I remember that
I hide in plain sight
Behind my jemina mask

Durability masquerading as strength
sadness congealed into sickly stench
Let me camouflage with pharmaceuticals
The artful chameleon

No one can see me
Let alone scent my secrets


A poem where each line ends with a word made from the letters of the single word title

A weight barely bearable of being a parent
Heavier than pushing a pram
Harder than standing betwixt the world and my teen
Lift, lift each day on repeat
My love is a tender tether mistaken for a trap
As what was my family spins apart
Shattering like a window pane
Some day it will be me
that splinters like a storm soaked tree
Letting go, sinking down, split and rent


Held, beheld, beloved
Squishy soft and warm in my fingers
Browsing the shelves
With my hands and my eyes
Until I find the perfect skein

Beheld, beloved, held
Hours, days, weeks
I carry my knitting with me always
Stealing curls of time with my needles

Beloved held beheld
Picot edges frame your face
Your small arms reach out
In woolly sleeves to me

Emptying drawers in an
Empty house
Folded with a lavender sachet
And moth holes
One tiny green memory with a picot edge

Study Hall

I don’t remember when I first saw her
Probably in the hallways
Maybe in the cafeteria
One pretty girl amongst pretty girls
Pretty much the same
I remember when she saw me
In the library, study hall, second period

Her eyes a little too big for her elfin face threw wide
A cloud sailed away from the sun; I burned from her light
She asked me to be her lab partner
Cracking the sternum
Dissecting the four ventricles

I wasn’t shy just deep quiet
She, awkward effervescence of the perpetual new girl
Soon we were
Sleepovers, secrets
Braiding hair
Falling asleep on the phone
We found a home in each other’s pocket

Then her dad got another job in another state
And she was gone
Like that
In a flurry of boxes and cardboard promises to visit

There were other friends and boyfriends
College then work
Then a husband and children
Some days still
Every once in a while
It rains while the sun is shining
When that sliver of light carves cumulus
I feel her little too big eyes on the back of my neck
I turn
and look for her looking at me

The Ride Home

A thin ribbon spooling out of the growing darkness
Watching him from the corner of my eye
In the passenger seat

I’m afraid for him
Afraid of everything
Glittering his eyes picking up the street lights

Afraid if he’ll go to college
Afraid if he doesn’t
Afraid of his friends, his choices

Rows trees speed past us
I turn to speak
As the sun slides beneath our feet

As the moon weighs down
My head our home looms before us
His hand pats my shoulder

“Thanks I appreciate it.”
Suddenly cold air washed over me
A hush metal against metal

I sit in the roar of the quiet
Moving forward through
Stands of questions and doubts

A Closed Book

Sun faded sage cover
Brushed velvet from fingers after bedtime
Opened under a pastel petal comforter
Lit by a flashlight and the promise
Of a walled garden blaring
Bellflower and lilac purple
Magenta primroses with saffron throats
Among a hush of lamb’s ears like the edges of well-thumbed pages

Resting on a crowded shelf in my flowered wallpapered bedroom
in my dorm room
In my first apartment
In my son’s nursery lingering
The way the memory of a brushed geranium
clings to your fingertips

Alone on my own little bit of earth
Electric lime coleuses and violet etched fern fronds,
punctuated with scarlet begonias
What is left of your gold letters is
burnished calligraphy lady’s mantle on my shoulders
I sit in the shade peaceful as a closed book