Message in a Bottle

First a note: A sestina has six, usually unrhymed, stanzas followed by a stanza of three lines. It’s has the same end words, or form of the words, throughout, in a specific order for each stanza. The last stanza contains all six words, again in a specific order. In this case the words are waste, bottles, medicine, treasure, coughs, and circle. I am pooped and will not likely try this form again, but it was an interesting exercise.

Daddy Joe sent parcels regularly from his hospital job—mostly waste
That patients had left behind: bells and banks and beads and bottles
Sometimes there were books and once a whole box of medicine
In tiny amber glass, samples stolen from an office, a treasure
Passed along to my family who bore winter’s chronic coughs—
Now unpacked and arranged in a tight, full circle.

On the hot water heater in the cramped bathroom, was the circle
Of bottles, sized for a child, jeweled fluid that was not to be wasted.
Something sent at last that had value, medicine for endless winter coughs.
The tiny bottles called to me one night, so I lifted a bottle,
Unscrewed the cap, took a sip and winced at this bitter tasting treasure—
A sour nectar for a knowing child who then opened another bottle of medicine.

I knew to take one sip each so my mother wouldn’t notice the missing medicine
And each night I uncapped a few more bottles from the unending circle,
Careful to place each vessel back into the dusty round made by the treasure
So that no one would know my secret or scold me for being wasteful
Or hide my beautiful vials, stored up high, away—bottles
Then unable to bring dreamy sleep or smiling peace—or to suppress coughs.

Daddy Joe moved nearby and the boxes stopped coming, but my “coughs”
Continued over winter months and I reasoned that sips of the medicine
Would never be detected provided I was careful, so the tiny bottles
Played “Skip to My Lou” on the hot water heater, while my mother circled
The hallway waiting for me to get out of the bathroom and to stop wasting
Time, my hair looked just fine, and the mirror in there wasn’t just my treasure.

It was true. This tiny bathroom held no real treasures
A sink that spewed, a toilet that coughed
A too small tub, and the hot water heater that wasted
The already cramped space: But for the medicine
It was a dismal place but one in which the whole house circled—
The sought after room, the way to be alone, with emotions bottled.

Every Friday night meant a visit to Daddy Joe’s house and to bottles
Of Jack Daniel poured full in water glasses, jewel-toned nectar treasured
By the grownups—a sip here, a sip there, until the glasses circled
Back for a resplendent refill of golden tones set to a backdrop of coughing
Ice and raspy laughter while I escaped to the kitchen with the sweetest medicine—
A near empty glass of forgotten whisky and melting ice, about to be wasted.

Then before spring, the bottles disappeared before our winter coughs,
The amber treasures suddenly wiped away by my mother’s own medicine
A tincture of determination to stop the circling destiny of a family’s waste.


Modest Munich
By virtue of geography and a madman,
The wrong place at the wrong time,
Is apologetic and ashamed
So much so that past symbols are verboten
And attempts to rectify wrongs
Are offered with the recognition
That it will be despised and mistrusted
Again and again.
So it revels in Bavarian traditions
And countrified charm
As it smiles, rebuilds, and remembers.

July 19, 2013

Emergency Room

Date: 10/11/08
Doctor: Host
Nurse: Smith
Tech: Richard
We are concerned about you.
Thank you for choosing us
For your care;
The only hospital in a 40 mile radius
With the only room where Smith can
Steal glimpses at the
Georgia vs. Tennessee game on TV,
Where the Holy Host can roll her eyes
When the patient says he cannot
Breathe because the machine grins green
Proclaiming he can indeed,
Where the admissions clerk without a name tag
Brings a blanket and tells him she hopes
He’ll feel better soon, an angel
In hair extensions and a smile that
Radiates enough generous good will
To tame the wild fear and
Gaudy florescent light.

Dream Travel

El Paso,
A city I have never seen
Until last night
In a dream.

It welcomed me
With swirling light
And dancing color
And told me
I belonged –
For here there would be forever love
And I hugged and I hugged
This city that loved me
Sight unseen,
It seemed.

Then my mother
Stood beside me
And I shook with excitement
For I thought she was dead.
But no, she said,
She was just sojourning
In San Francisco instead.

I awoke and laughed aloud
For it’s always good to
See her again
If only in a dream and
How like her to claim
She had merely taken
A twenty year vacation.

Then I laughed once again
When I remembered:
San Francisco, St. Francis,
My mother’s favorite saint in Heaven;
El Paso, the pass,
The road on the way.

Oh, dream, you are so clever
How could I ever

Manage without you?

Old Dog

Old Dog was published in Out Loud: A Year in Review 2017.

My daddy said
The dog was dead
When we hadn’t seen her for days
“A dog just knows
It’s time to go and aloneness is what it craves.”
I could have hugged her
And held her close and whispered in her ear
“Please don’t go, I love you so
Stay here,
Stay here.”

When my mother died my dad grew old
So I checked on him each day
But his oxygen tank and his whiskey glass
Behaved like angry waves.
He called one night and said, “I’m going,”
And traveled from Georgia to Maine
With his thirsty son and his loaded guns
To desolate frozen beauty

I looked for the dog in the hollow fields
And on the worn path in the woods
Called her name and sobbed aloud
When she would not come to me,
Obligations to the departed
Are difficult to fill, and obligations to the
Are even harder still.

My brother said don’t bother to come
There was nothing I could do
But I left, bereft, to his home in Maine
And traveled back in a blizzard
Unafraid and ready to trade
My sadness for my solace,
For I had held his hand in that bleak land
And faced the fear of living.
“I love you so,
It’s okay to go,”
Obligation given.


Jonesport, ME (2004)