When you were six (tanka)


Redlights, June 2018:


when you were six
I longed to keep you
that age forever
      once upon a time
      I knew you so well




birthday candles 6



Dedicated to my son, Adam.



Only four . . . (two tanka)


Published in Ribbons, Spring/Summer 2018: Volume 14, Number 2



the squeak

of the old swing . . .

only four when carefully taught

to keep that secret

to myself



This tanka was published in the Tanka Café of Ribbons



the little girl’s doll

marred by lipstick

scrawled on her face

. . . maybe this time 

mother will notice



Brushing Your Hair



Brushing Your Hair

In the last month you ask me a favor.
Will I brush your hair when you have passed?
You seem to want to greet whatever comes
looking your best. I give my promise.

Each day when I come home, I offer
to brush your hair, but you say no,
maintaining the independence
you have always shown.

Later, in hospice, I no longer ask.
I hold your hands, rubbing lotion in,
skin so fragile, like a butterfly wing.
It is time now to make the last ablutions.

I clean your face and brush your hair,
your sleeping eyes flicker
under paper-thin lids, pale blue veins
tracing their course across them.

I imagine your mother tenderly holding you,
stroking your cheek, watching you dream
in her arms—her newborn daughter
with milky breath.

Ninety-one years separate us, your two watchers.
One joyously bringing you into the world;
the other sitting silently in the dim-lit room,
keeping watch over you through the night.          





The poem, “Brushing Your Hair” is from my chapbook, Erasing the Doubt (c) 2015, Finishing Line Press.




Mary, Mary…poem by Mary Kendall (SAME NAME Poetry and Prose Series)

A new poem just up at Silver Birch Press. Click at the bottom to get to the original on the SBP site.

Silver Birch Press

kate maberlyMary, Mary…
by Mary Kendall

Shut away.

Your attributes, little Mary.
A long list.
No one liked you.
Except for me.

Not true. There were others.
Your sweet Indian Ayah, who fed you,
washed you, dressed you, taught you,
tolerated your contrary ways, angry words,
miserable frown. She held you close,
rocked you after nightmares and dark dreams,
fanned you in the hot Indian summers.
She sang to you—mellifluous, soothing songs.

Your mother denied your existence, hid you away from view,
just as later, you’d find your cousin Colin, hidden away, too.

What damage it did.
What pain it caused.
Like a plant held too long in a small pot,
its roots pot-bound and crippled,
Colin, unwanted and denied like you.


My family separated when I was just five,
I felt…

View original post 514 more words

Salted Feathers


To listen to an audio of me reading this poem, just click on the link below. Give it a few seconds, and it will start.

salt shaker

Salted Feathers

I was four when you told me the story
that if someone wanted to capture a bird
they must sprinkle its tail with salt.

We went outside, salt shaker in hand,
not sure what we really planned to do.
In the end, it was a tiny sparrow foraging

for fallen seeds or tiny insects on the other
side of the chain link fence at the back
of the yard. You told me to go ahead and

sprinkle it. My hand would not fit through
the opening link square with the shaker.
Blindly I tossed a spray of salt that landed

more on you and me than any place else.
The little bird was spared, and he continued
rummaging around in the grasses, indifferent

to the plans made by two small girls who
had no real idea what it was to take away
the gift of flight. No salted feathers for him.

All I remember now is that I felt something
happen inside when the little bird looked
at me and, in the way of all birds, off it flew.

1-chain link 1 (1)

The Mutability of Memory

All of us have memories. Good memories. Bad memories. Memories we love to revisit over and over. Memories we push far back, hoping they will disappear. Some memories are vivid, while others are dreamy and vague. A few are very, very real as if they just happened, but others feel as if they stories that happened to someone else rather than us.

Memories can be haunting. Memories can be triggered by all sorts of things—from a taste that evokes brilliant memories from early childhood to a scent of burning leaves that reminds us of an autumn long gone.

It began with a prompt in March 2014 in Poets Online to use a first line from an Emily Dickinson poem as our own poem title and then to write a new poem. This was one of my favorite prompts because it asked me to do something I had never considered. I do read Emily Dickinson’s poetry from time to time. I puzzle over her words and meanings. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what she meant and how she did it. She never ceases to amaze me or probably any of her readers. To borrow a first line from her seemed a bit like stealing something sacred. And then the fun began–going through all of her first lines (which, of course, have also become the titles of her otherwise untitled poems)–and selecting one to work with. The prompt suggested we not read (or reread if we had read the poem a while back) Emily Dickinson’s version until our own version was complete. Fair enough.

After going through the list of first lines of Dickinson, I had to eliminate all those I knew. That meant excluding some wonderful poems I knew and loved. It also meant I had to find a poem that was unknown to me. Oddly enough the one I ended up with is a well-known poem of hers, but I couldn’t remember reading it (failure of memory on my part perhaps?), so I chose it. I love this line. “The Past is Such a Curious Creature.” Don’t you love the very idea of it, calling the past a curious creature, personification with such crisp alliteration?

Following the instructions, I did some thinking of what the line meant to me, what it brought forward. That’s how poets work. It can be rather vague to those who don’t write, but all poets know that a simple line can bring to life so many things. A poem comes from someplace deep inside, a place we’d love to explore but we only get glimpses of it. It took me a while to write the poem and to rewrite it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to submit it for quite some time. I even tested out a few other lines as prompts, but I returned to this irresistible line that Dickinson wrote. Here is the poem I finished and submitted. When the final poems were published, it was fun to read all of them. The other writers did a wonderful job. Some wrote in a style resembling hers. A few wrote in rhyme. I did none of that. Mine was in free verse, dictated only by the ideas and images that spilled out.

My poem:

THE PAST IS SUCH A CURIOUS CREATURE  (Line taken from Dickinson’s Poem CXXVII)

The past is such a curious creature
capable of creating such marvelous lies
that we begin to believe as we hear them
said again and again, forgetting that
there are those who love to distort
the truth and let it spill out and break
into brittle bits & pieces that are left
on the street to be kicked and crushed
until the shards are too small to see.

The past writes a story of its own choosing.
Its pen might be inked in faulty memory;
its paper might be marked in things that
did happen as well as those that did not.

This story is examined with the lens
of exaggeration and embellishment
until the tale that remains
is now so embedded in our minds
that we can no longer know
what was real and what was not.

And now for the inspiration piece, the poem written by Miss Dickinson:

by Emily Dickinson (Complete Poems, 1924).

Part One: Life CXXVIII

The Past is such a curious creature
To look her in the face,
A transport may receipt us
Or a Disgrace.

Unarmed if any meet her,
I charge him fly!
Her faded ammunition
Might yet reply!

Although the prompt suggested reading the original poem after our own was nearly complete and then comparing where we were going, I opted to read Emily Dickinson’s only after my poem was more or less complete.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem, her personification of the past as a feminine being is a surprise. Then she tells us that as we remember the past, it might reveal a hidden delight or a remembrance of something disgraceful or shameful. That said, she moves to the second stanza and urges the reader to be aware that if the past memories are ignored, there might be consequences that would take us with surprising force. How true. Memories that are suppressed can and just might tumble out to reveal an unfathomable nightmare. Or more.

My own poem chose a different path. It opted for examining the past by questioning the mutability of memory. Is the past always the past? Is it constant? Or is its story one that changes in the retelling and perspective of the storyteller? My point of view came arose from the self-examination of a few haunting memories from my own early childhood. These particular memories were negative, but they were mine as I perceived them.

In asking one of my sisters about her perception of these same events, her memory was quite different from my own. So, which was true? Either one? Both? True for her, and true for me, even with different observations and conclusions? I spent a long time trying to figure it out but was unable to do so. My past. Her past. Our past. Memory can change and distort with time, age, experiences, contemplation, It does present some good leads for poems, but it does not answer the question as to what that unhappy childhood memory really was all about.

Poetry allows us to raise questions and to examine possibilities. It is not psychotherapy, nor is it scientific. What it does do is give the poet a way to explore personal stories and experiences and to turn them into something that goes far beyond the individual self. It offers each reader a chance to follow along and even to join in, adding their own experiences and memories into the mix.

What do YOU think about the mutability of memory? Can we ever answer all of the questions we have about the past?

(Note: part of this posting appeared on my other blog, Bedford Square +2)

My Attic is Full


It’s time to try something new on my blog now that I’ve reached the one year anniversary. I’m adding an audio version of this poem, “My Attic is Full.”



This week’s poem was written in 2011 for a friend I worked/taught with, Jean Sotelo Coene. Somehow we got to talking about cleaning attics and about all the treasures hidden up there and how hard it was to part with things. Jean mentioned her grandmother’s handbag and all the stories it held and that was it…a tiny seed of a poem was planted. I don’t know how those things come to be while others never take hold. I wrote the poem and gave it to Jean as a little present. I love to gift poems to just one person. For that reason, no one has read the poem except for each of us.

Today I was going through some lovely photos from a trip to Cornwall in 2013. [See Bedford Square +2, my travel blog for the whole story of that visit if interested.] We had visited a small manor house, Lanhydrock. [http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lanhydrock/] Part of our wanderings allowed access to the attic. Of course it was beautifully staged as were all the rooms in the house, but seeing these pictures this morning was too hard to resist. I worked on the poem today, changing words here and there, adding in a whole stanza and then deleting it. In the end, I liked the first version best. Only a few words are different from the one I handed to Jean.

This poem is dedicated to the memories of all grandmothers who gave us so many wonderful stories to listen to, to dream about, and to share.

To hear the audio, simply click below. I am not much of a professional reader so please bear with me.



My Attic is Full

The attic needs cleaning. It seems so simple,
but it isn’t easy to throw old things away.
There is always the worry we might forget
those we loved, the ones crossed over.

Old boxes hold memories and clothing.
Do you hear the stories held in the silence?
A flowery print dress of soft lawn cotton
holds the story of when it was freshly laundered
and worn in the days of the mid-summer sun.

An old leather purse might tell you where
she went and what she wore.
Inside, a handkerchief delicately edged
in tatted lace is tucked away.

How often she must have clutched it
in her hand to wipe away tears or sneezes,
stifle laughter or mop her brow.
Even now the linen is redolent of old
damask roses from the flower garden.

Beyond the piled boxes of her belongings
are clothes from her husband so long mourned.
She kept them up here all those years,
the only way to keep him near.

Don’t you wonder how often she came up
into this dark attic, pulled the light string,
unfolded a crisp white shirt
and held it to her nose, eyes tightly closed
longing for the scent
that had faded from his pillow?

Lovely tatted edging-22maids-of-honor22-by-mary-konior.jpg

Lovely tatted edging-22maids-of-honor22-by-mary-konior.jpg