Friday, March 17, 2017

Remembering My Irish Grandmothers

In 1882, on a voyage from Ireland to America, my great grandmother Celia Sheridan died giving birth to her son, who also died. She was survived by her husband John Sheridan and their daughter Beatrice.

At Sea

for Celia Sheridan

Your husband holds your daughter’s hand
as he mumbles something about heaven,
angels very near them both, still,
listening, like sailors on watch.

I imagine you slender, with long hair,
laughing softly, even when so ill.
That is the silly thing we are taught,
to be brave instead of sad.
Were you a devout Catholic
or did you read the Tarot,
trembling when the death card turned?

Your gentleness which I am
suddenly certain of
is like a white rose in a clear vase.
I like to think you owned
at least one beautiful dress,
a young girl’s princess dress, soft, lace,
and so feminine those who saw you smiled.

I wish I had a photograph of you
in that perfect dress, young,

Irish, and susceptible to dreams.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Live

It isn’t easy to laugh when the U.S. president confuses his executive power with the divine right of kings in 17th century England and France but thanks to Saturday Night Live it is possible. In "History of the World: Part 1" Mel Brooks says "It's good to be the king" and it certainly was for monarchs in ye olden days as they didn't answer to anyone on the planet earth.
Most of us with a television and a sense of humor have seen the SNL sketches with Alec Baldwin’s ongoing devastating and pitch perfect impression of the president, and Melissa McCarthy’s brilliant impersonation of press secretary Sean Spicer where she focuses more on Spicer’s anger management issues than his personal arrogance. The show’s parody of “Fatal Attraction” where Kate McKinnon plays the movie’s bunny-boiling psycho, and also Beck Bennett’s portrayal of Jake Tapper, was criticized by some as too mean. Humorists laugh at themselves but satirists laugh at others. Satire is often mean, and political satire can be especially mean. Recalling President Truman’s classic line, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” I had no problem with the skit’s meanness but I did have a problem with its attempt to make threatening someone with a knife funny. Still, the very end of the skit where the Conway character dies, and then reanimates Frankenstein style, was hilarious.
Sometimes a sketch can be too true to be too funny as in the SNL People’s Court sketch where Cecily Strong, playing a Judge scolds the president played by Baldwin, “You’re doing too much, okay? I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me!” Since the election, I wake up each morning thinking Who is the president going to harm today?
Every time the president obsessed about the missing people (missing because they didn’t actually exist) in the photograph of the inauguration day crowd, I thought of the scene from “The Caine Mutiny” when poor Captain Queeg goes bat shit crazy right before our eyes about those damn missing strawberries. Watching the president’s last press conference, scenes from two other movies occurred to me. The Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" doing a happy dance and singing “If I Only Had a Brain,” and those famous words of Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" as she was escorted to the funny farm, “I have always been dependent on the kindness of journalists.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Christmas Memory

The following was originally published Christmas 2013.

Remember the lace tablecloth used only on special occasions, the good china, silver, crystal glassware, and the Christmas candles in the center of the table. Dinner will be turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, yams, and cranberry sauce, with a side dish of cucumber salad and an assortment of pies for dessert. Near the dining table, a bridge table is set for the children. Grandparents and aunts and uncles arrive in the afternoon with shopping bags bulging with presents. The Christmas tree is tall and crowned with a marvelous angel.  Everything smells of pine needles, pies, and wrapping paper.

Imagine the manger, before the magi visit, two chubby cows, an old donkey, and one lamb circling Mary and Joseph and little Lord Jesus. All warmed by the breath of the animals and the love within.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Illustration: "Nativity in Stained Glass " © Ewa Mazur/

Saturday, December 3, 2016

An Unfinished Poem

On November 7th, I began writing a poem about a woman I met in a hospital waiting room that morning. Energetic, glad, and eighty-six, Nancy talked about great coffee, shelter dogs, and her son. I didn’t finish the poem that day because too many images and ideas about it were bouncing in my mind – Nancy’s snow white hair, the silver sequins on her blouse, a childhood prayer, and all that blue she was wearing. I needed to let the draft of the poem be a while and return to it another day. It is December 3rd and I have not looked at the poem. After November 8th, it is difficult for me to endow anything I write with a sense of joy and Nancy seemed to me to be all about joy.

Like many other Americans, I am in mourning for the country I thought I lived in. I have not watched television news since 2 am, November 9th when only four additional electoral votes were needed by the Republican nominee. Except for Maryland and Virginia, every southern state went to him. I live in a part of the South where people still preface a woman’s first name with “Miss” when they say it. Every time someone calls me “Miss Barbara” I feel I’ve been transported to the antebellum era or the set of an old Bette Davis movie but there is nothing nostalgic about an unfinished country.

It is difficult for me to write when friends and family members I thought I knew revealed through their vote for the Republican huckster who they really are. And I wonder how Nancy, dear Nancy voted.