Betty Buschbaum

Altered State

        “The Gates” Central Park, March 2005
        Installation by Christo and Jean Claude

Tramped this park dawn to dusk for two days
wanting to know it
in its short-lived altered state.
Though alone, I was never lonely
my body a tireless companion
a young, excited guide with no taste
for standing still to mull what is it? do I get it?
It walked me miles of winding paths
through gates of pleated saffron
flowing from tall frames
gates that didn’t divide, shut out
but marked a procession of bright thresholds
step by wintry step I moved
through opening after opening
the orange-yellow of saffron
a weave of hot sun, golden moon
marooned at times in stillness
or billowing like sails
or shimmering on pond and lake
like paint on a watery canvas
and always highlighting
the varied slant and width of footpaths
frames molded to curves
distinct as those of the human body
and when I doubled back
crossing north to south or east to west
never the same light never the same bare branches
etched in folds of saffron
and rarely the same cold or warm wet or dry
and no ultimate peak or summit
simply no end to my desire to walk winding paths
of unguarded joyous openings—

oh body, just remember!

Phoebe Hoss

A Splotch of Yellow

Up here in bed, reading, writing, watching
the slow onset of spring, spying
a single yellow tulip crying by the fence,
the tide in the creek beyond
at the full, its mirror
solid, implacable, I recall
the hours and hours of wailing
night before last, the little boy,
away from home, inconsolable; his patient
parents, their murmuring

                           A scab
tears off memory: a night
forty years ago visiting my parents,
my little boy frantic, his angry
mother slapping, shaking him,
patience far in her future.

It’s not that some things
are best forgotten; it’s that
they can’t be, that a change
of light, a splotch of the yellow
he loved, can spring them from the deep fresh
and untarnished, unsullied, honed
only the sharper by time, by tide.
It’s that we must live
with who we’ve been.

Nancy Kassell

262 Capricorn Ave.
Oakland, CA

Scrawny eucalyptus trees, hilltop perch up 67
uneven steps we climbed like mountain goats to
an ether of dream and myth. He would write plays,
I was devoted to scholarship. Even a cat named

Thisbe. Mornings, I set out text, Smyth, Allen &
Greenough, dictionaries on the dining room table.
I read:

               Pre-Socratics parsing the universe
               Thucydides on the war, journal and commentary
               Pindar on talent in the blood
               Aeneas plowing destiny, a new homeland

in between nursing my new baby daughter before
the winter fire. At three o’clock I gave my older girl,
home from school, a snack, and put the books away.

One professor studied my face and intuiting
a certain intensity, prophesied,

You will do lyric.

Dactyls six and five, iamb, choriamb

Later, free

Rita Brady Kiefer


Did your eyes flash terror when they hijacked your school bus,
one of the men snarling your name down the aisle,
scanning each innocent face before lighting on yours?
What images blazed just before the bullet
grazed your luminous brain, sweet Malala?
At the hospital did you have nightmares: Taliban
instead of your loved olive trees in the orchards
outside your father’s classroom, a thousand
points of grief webbing your mother’s face.
Or did you dream bright streaks shooting across
a black sky? Not disembodied particles of dust
but flesh and blood women, subversive sisters
from the past? Were their stories familiar?
               A 17th century girl so bent on learning
she hid her body under boys’ clothes to go to school.
               A Mexican nun, reproached in an open letter
by a bishop masked with a woman’s name,
replied with a learned defense of girls’
and women’s right to study.
               A female German mystic eleven centuries back
who depicted God as Female.

Why do we doubt the sky is filled with history?
At eleven, Malala, you blogged:
Why aren’t girls allowed to learn?
I want to read books. I want to write them.

Incandescent little rebel, you’ve already begun.

Liane Ellison Norman


I’ve been rehearsing
the next big thing:

like choosing and blooming at
the right college; like finding
the only man I’ve loved
and lived with
more than half
a century;

like giving body’s
to infinitesimal

who’ve blossomed
from blastocysts

to three
particular people.
The daily signs—

ache of hoisting

bone and flesh
up stairs,

where once the right
word bounded

like a friendly dog
with a slightly
slimy ball.

Margaret Randall

Wherever You Are, Lois Lane

Barbie, unwrapped this holiday season
by another million little girls,
ratio of waist to hips
defying anatomy around the world.
Consort Ken still tries to pass
and Clark-slash-Superman
flexes his muscles in the wings.

We rage on behalf of our sisters
behind the burqas, hijabs, veils,
who cannot vote or drive,
are saddened by those Utah wives
with hair rolled back
and skirts about their ankles.

Wherever you are, Lois Lane,
come out of hiding.
We need to talk.

Myra Shapiro

At the End of the Play

Twice this month I’ve cried
at the end of a play, for the men
become disarmed and tender.

It’s not Blanche made me weep
in A Streetcar Named Desire,
it’s the gentleman caller she’d hoped for
sobbing against the wall.

“Make yourself an angel,”
the Victorian doctor’s wife asks of him
in a new play. In the Next Room.
“Open your arms,” and, like a child,
he does. In the snow he disrobes
for her. For all of us.
My husband and I hold his nakedness

close as we walk home—our 57th year
further in than we can climb out of.
“Let’s have a brandy,” he says. “Yes, I’d like that,” I answer.

Carol Stone


God could have gotten Jesus down
from the Cross,

blood staining his side,
his gaunt body stretched out.

The same Old Testament deity
who didn’t save the Jews

from going up in smoke.
It doesn’t help

to be the Chosen people.
I look away

from such suffering, not believing
in Resurrection,

nor an eye for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth.

Yet hold absence in my heart,
like a small god.

Florence Weinberger


I tend to hum in supermarkets. My daughter hears me two aisles away. She asks me whether I know the market’s song. She’s being sarcastic. I thought by now she’d outgrown her unwillingness to be seen with me. But she makes me question what I’m doing. Am I praising or praying earth’s syncopation back to itself, scoping its music until the hum becomes a hymn sung in layers like the ohms in the throats of Tibetan monks.

The other day I listened to a mass for four voices in a Gothic church. Because they sang a cappella, I became the organ and the chimes, I was the wooden pews worn to satin, I, the melancholy saints, I, the flames, the shadows, I, the coins. I was the supplication. Last night I heard a rabbi sing a word so softly it was sister to a hum and the word ru-achh was the word for spirit and the word for wind.

To those who have brought my humming to my attention, who understand that sometimes my hum is a whistle in the dark and sometimes it is grieving, I give thanks. You have helped me know how one sound sets another in motion, how thunder and gun shots are different tollings, and why this earth is always shaking, though I must be honest, you haven’t quite shown me the source of that final quake, the one for which I seem to be rehearsing.

Nellie Wong

I Know My Mother Better
All the Time

I know my mother better all the time.
She leans on my shoulder, awake,
her hands dishing pancake flour
Can’t follow her movements,
they are so quick, an eye-flash, in the kitchen.
Sugar, too, she scoops
with a Chinese soup spoon.

How to measure ingredients,
How to tell when the batter’s just right
light as air, creamy and sensuous, soft as a woman’s touch.
The heat becomes unbearable
and Ma’s here.
Yes, she leans on me. No she climbs up on my shoulders,
her weight a gentle breeze,
she is quince blossoms on Chinese New Year’s.
The oranges are tiny pyramids
topped with a tangerine
with a leaf symbolic of the family though we are spread
throughout California. We will gather to hoy nien to start
the New Year,
to forget work for one whole day.
Yes, Ma’s here
telling us just how much soy sauce
to pour, how to crush the garlic
with the flat of the big knife.

I know my mother better all the time.
She lives inside me. Her hands and mine, our fingers,
knuckly twins. Together we shred
chicken for Chinese Chicken Salad,
we spread out on tables
winter melon soup, squab, duck
and the Monk’s Dish
knowing that we feed ourselves
’cause Ma taught us
that self-sufficiency
means work
in the kitchen
and out on the streets.

Sondra Zeidenstein

In the Middle of the Night

Now that we’ve stopped “making love”
because my old bones hurt so
sometimes in the middle of the night
when you are asleep
and night lights make a path
for each of us through a different door
I wake heated by the moisture of our sleep
my nerves sparking with delight
and am joined to the memory of our loving
wherever our skins touch
my hand on your shoulder or back
or between your thighs
just below your sleeping sex I do not stir.

By day I’m often cranky, irritated:
the paces of our brains uneven
we fail to remember in the same way
the history we share. We are often
                       But now when you
are sound asleep in the heated bed
out the winter window not a single sound
in the house an occasional chewing in the walls
hot air knocking its way through base board pipes
I have you
                     an interlude I keep thinking
we’ll look back on—too soon—
as a lull, a plateau before the steepest climbing.
You do not feel my touch
do not hear me whisper my darling, my darling
and I love you so much
love more insistent than clawing each other
in the greed of pleasure or the bliss of sleeping after sex
two as one.
                       I am all mouth, all skin
and yet there is no urgency, these nights
in our side by sideness, your body entrusted to mine
our breaths quiet, this reaching of my nerve endings
of my pores, all space between us closed.
I don’t want to forget this in the days to come
of dying from each other. We have this.
I have it, this space sealed with tenderness

Geraldine Zetzel

        after Matisse

You sit facing us
mantled in sunlight,
sturdy and whole
as a loaf of new bread.
Shadows define
your body.
At your belly’s center
the deep well of the navel
is a promise of plenty.

Like a beacon you glow against
the ochre of the wall,
the gray of an empty fireplace.
The artist is a red blotch
in the mirror,
trying to set down
on canvas this unabashed wonder—
no more wonderful to him, perhaps,
than the blue jug on the table,
no more sexual
than a bunch of tulips.

What is there to stare at?
remarks your gaze.
No odalisque or nymph,
you wear your nakedness
like a robe of clear water.

(If one dared touch that skin
or the heavy braid of hair
it would be like touching
the flank of a lioness.)

How do I learn this ease?
To drop the self—its shame,
its complicated appetites
and its lies,
as casually as you’ve dropped
that pink towel
across one thighs

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