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The Tenth Leper

The long line of witnesses
appear before the appropriations subcommittee
telling the stories of their struggles
and how one agency or another
had helped them survive.

Every budget cut affects someone.
The powerful are always there
to make sure they get their share.

But speaking before a lawmaker
can be frightening to the disempowered,
the broken, the victim.

The activists find those
that are willing to speak
and can be coached.

They provide classes,
transportation and motivation.

Yet there is more to it than activists
seeking to keep the services they believe are important
funded.

The disempowered find a little power
and the broken find repair.

The chair thanks the witness
and reinforces the encouragement.

The legislator in the chambers
or the voter watching on TV
can hear something else
important.
Those who have been helped
saying thanks.

The Talisman

Throughout my life there have been objects
not necessarily magical or sacramental
that have taken on special significance.

They haven’t been the unattainable
objects of desire,
lost, partial, untranslatable.

Nor have they been transitional objects
like the blanket my sister had
or the velveteen rabbit which became real.

Instead, they have been trinkets received as gifts,
practical objects used long past being worn out,
or some combination of the two.

There was the reversible fall jacket
that lasted through much of high school and college
until finally my mother convinced me
to get a new jacket.

There was that coffee mug
which I was given
when I worked in the high school library
helping with inventory
and stayed with me for over thirty years
until the last time we moved.

At other times
there have been coins
which I carried for years
almost like prayer beads.

Perhaps, they are more like H.D.’s mullein-leaf
causing us to perceive the other side of everything
including time.

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Cognates

I read through the ‘about’ page
of a website my daughter uses at school
“to help students excel at tests”.

It is the wonderful world of
SAT verbal prep.

My SAT verbal prep
was translating Catullus.
“Odi et Amo”

Now, I am enamored with words;
their feel on my lips,
the thoughts they conjure up.

And as much as I value computers
in helping us connect to one another,
the idea of learning words
to excel at tests
I find odious.

The Old Grey Cat

The old grey cat perches on arm of stuffed chair
interested enough in being patted
to feign indifference.

I pat the bony structure
covered by long fur
and carefully work out
a few knots.

In the shadows, the younger black cat
pursues his prey;
a dust bunny, part of a toy,
or perhaps just another shadow.

When I was young
and sick or injured
the family cats
tended me.

They taught important lessons
about curling up
in the sunshine
that shone on the couch
in the afternoon.

As my mother aged
and became even more introverted
the guardian cats
became quieter too.

Now, the old grey cat
walks across my lap
from one arm of the chair
to the other
as if to say,
“Enough.
It’s time to end this poem.”

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Deliberate Distraction

It never occurred to me
that some of my fondest
childhood memories
were deliberate distractions.

Yet these distractions
may not have been
for my sake.

When the latest storm came
dumping more snow
on piles already too high
we made sugar on snow.

There wasn’t any maple syrup in the house
like when we had sugar on snow
when I was a kid
so we used molasses.

We sat around the table
eating the taffy like candy
cutting the sweetness
with pickles.

We didn’t even notice
the wind howling outside
until we saw a coyote
trotting down the street.

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