Last week one of my oldest cousins died. The oldest? Well, the oldest one still with us. Patricia was 86, the youngest child in this photograph from about 1937. My mother is the little girl in the middle, back row. My aunt Darlene is in the front row. I called Darlene this evening and we talked about my cousin — who was more like one of Darlene’s sisters. “She always called my mother, ‘Mother,’ and her mother, ‘Mama.’ She did that right up until the end.”

The conversation made me think about how the older people in our lives are repositories of history, of story, and it made me think about how much of that history dies, untapped.

Patricia had a son one year older than I, and another son, one year younger. Her mother, Violet, was like a second mother to my mother. I don’t think we saw a lot of Patricia’s family when I was young, though I have vivid memories of their collie, Shep.

I knew the “Mother/Mama” story. I didn’t know that my cousin’s favorite food was pierogis. My aunt Darlene is making a batch of them to take to the dinner after the graveside service. “She won’t get to eat any, but it’s the last time I can make them for her, so I’m doing it.” I remember my aunt Violet’s cabbage rolls (they are one of my specialities). But if I ever had pierogis, I don’t remember. So, I told my aunt I’d make them, too. She told me how she makes them — in great detail —  and then said, “You can find a recipe on-line.”

I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand, but they turned out pretty yummy anyway 🙂

I thought of that poem by Grace Paley, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative,” about making a pie instead of writing a poem.

I also thought of this short poem, though it isn’t especially appropriate to the occasion:

On the Death of Friends in Childhood

We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven,
Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
Forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
In games whose very names we have forgotten.
Come, memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.

Donald Justice (1925-2004)



Grace Paley (1922-2007)

Yesterday afternoon I met a few of my Artist Way friends for pie in Port Townsend, at Hillbottom Pie, a little cafe on Tyler street. For dessert, I ordered strawberry-rhubarb pie, with ice cream. It was delicious. It made me think of my cousin Joan, who served us strawberry-rhubarb pie, warm from the oven, when I took my mother to visit just before Memorial Day, 2014. It made me think of the Dryad cemetery, which my mother and I also visited that day, and how, when Mom walked across the wet grass to put the flowers on the graves, I worried because she had fallen in the night. It made me think of this poem, by one of my favorite writers, Grace Paley.

What did you do today instead of writing a poem? Could you write a poem about that? 


I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead    it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft    a poem would have some
distance to go    days and weeks and
much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it    many friends
will say    why in the world did you
make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership    I do not
want to wait a week    a year    a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

Happy Birthday, Grace Paley

One of my favorite writers, Grace Paley, was born on this day in 1922. (The link will take you to her 1992 Paris Review interview.) She is best remembered for her short stories, and once, at the library, I found a set of cassette tapes of her reading her own fiction. If these are ever released on CD, I will be the first in line to buy them.

Paley was also well known for her political activism, and she wrote poetry. Here’s one, from Fidelity, published in 2008:

Anti-Love Poem

Sometimes you don’t want to love the person you love
you turn your face away from that face
whose eyes lips might make you give up anger
forget insult   steal sadness of not wanting
to love    turn away then turn away    at breakfast
in the evening    don’t lift your eyes from the paper
to see that face in all its seriousness    a
sweetness of concentration     he holds his book
in his hand    the hard-knuckled winter wood-
scarred fingers    turn away    that’s all you can
do    old as you are to save yourself    from love