The Silver Ring (Alice B.)

A poem from my great-grandmother Alice B. Johnson…

The Silver Ring

Within my palm a ring of silver weighed
The many years that marched in swift parade,
As treasured memories it stirred today–
Small silver ring with trinkets laid away.

Once long ago, my daughter, you possessed
The silver ring within my palm now pressed–
I see again your wonder at each move
Of finger where it made a gleaming groove.

How strange to think, the long years through,
It waited this day to return to you–
A silver ring and memories that linger–
I wonder– will it fit YOUR daughter’s finger?

…It fits my finger. I have only this to say:

how to explain?
the words could have been mine, but they’re not.
they cover my mind
with disbelief and astonishment
that curls the corners of my
Cheshire grin.
how can this be? I read on
and on and it is all so familiar.
a déjà vu of structure
and metaphor.
it sits heavy in my gut, a premonition
of thoughts—
this will not be the end of us.



I am flowers dried in tangled hair
and tarnished stars in smudged eyes.

feel that gravity;
feel that pyre burning higher.

for years, we passed around the white and green
while the bottled brown took a turn.
the crowds looked delightfully soft like a
pillow of arms and encore lighters
and I spun dancing into my conflagration.

“Here, scattered to the wind, are the last remains of ____
May there be rest in peace.
May God save the soul from the flames.”

of my name, a gentle breeze.
of my black and white friends, only ash.
sleep on the lawn and rest in these arms.

Born at the Wrong Time

Born at the Wrong Time

One summer, I saw a Texas-style Paul McCartney
in a dark mahogany leather coat
slurring to Bob Dylan’s “rainy day woman”
outside the full moon at a wrangler bonfire in

Last night, I saw a gray haired woman, four feet tall,
in full length tattered gown
swirling in her mess of beads
and her hands in the air like she was
summoning back
the 60’s.

I saw myself tripping on the old Baltimore cobblestones.
I saw myself drunk with Janis and having a grand old time.

Science Fair Project (for my grandfather)

Science Fair Project: How to anodize aluminum

Meet at 210 Charmuth Road,
to the house hidden in aging oaks.
Grab one carrot cookie and go
down creaky wooden basement steps,
pass the antique hair dryer chair,
the wood shop littered with hand cut toys,
down the dark and dusty hall,

There he waits.
Pans of chemicals set up and reflecting our
faces in their sheen.

Before I was born,
there were the late nights, the trials-
mistakes, creativity, mistakes.
Testing all the variables,
days passing to weeks, seasons dusty with neglect.
Did he ever doubt?

He didn’t.
Follow the patented instructions
he knows as
sure as he knows every anode,
every alloy, every wrinkle of the metal
and wait for the results.

As the aluminum changes in the bath
so does the light. The glow in the basement is
from years ago,
my memory of a middle school
science fair project.
My grandfather patient
while I strain to understand.
It is his life in the process.
It is our work there in the morning together
that changes the aluminum,
it is his blood in
that hard and durable, corrosion resistant, permanent coating.

I know I am older now, but is he?

He is that unbreakable spirit, that hard determination,
that iron will.

(RIP Chuck Burrows 10/25/08)

February (for my old dog)

I’ve got a cat in my arms here trying to help me post to this blog (she is not all that helpful)! It makes me miss all those animals who kept me company over the years, especially one little dog:


The night before, the ice fell in sheets from the sky and I was a child.
But in the morning
I awoke to sun that glistened and glowed and melted
the way out.

I skated in circles through my parent’s house,
frantic to pack my life into trash bags and move on.

She sat curled in the snow, watching me.
She shivered skinny from not eating.
We should have carried her back inside but
we were all so busy moving those trash bags.

In that still winter quiet, in her favorite month,
I went out to her.
I crouched down to touch her face.
I said goodbye, turned to leave.

When the melted ice froze that night,
I was in a white lonely place that smelled of new carpet.

She dreamed of snow on her tongue.
She was waiting for her old dogs to finally
take her home.



If I was the woman
in the gas station convenience store
sweeping up the dead leaves,
cigarette butts, dirt
and bugs that accumulate over the week,
what shade of lipstick would I wear?
Deep red to surprise
those drifting passerbys
who assume by my oversized dressings that I’ve grown too tired for
movie star dreams;
Or a softly generic pink
to match the slight flush in my cheeks
from the new cold breezes and the faded wall shades
and the dullness of simple chores;
Or just a gloss,
barely discernible to all but me…

Yes, with the gloss I imagine that
every time my tongue reached out in habit,
I would taste a faint stickiness of strawberry flavoring
And smile inside.

Saturday Night Turned Sunday

Saturday Night Turned Sunday

In that ether
of day to night to day, you twisted into
my bones with a quiet embrace
while candles burned out
their existence in the corner, flickering
their shadowy tongues on the ceiling.

we were mouths pressed to Jamaican cigars.
Our voices drifting towards a lone street light
while our lips smacked with red wine.

Later, there was the
reaching out; the touching that sent shivers
through my thoughts and made loud promises like a
bright neon skyline, or a half smile.

The next day, though,
found resigned whispers from the ceiling fan,
soft morning light through the blinds,
impressions of lips on empty water glasses,

and a hand slipping hopelessly away.

Benson’s Market (Then and Now)

This morning, decided to explore some Baltimore-themed pieces…. Started with Charles (who I haven’t seen at President/Lombard in a looong time) and working my way down to Benson’s Market on Eastern….The city is constantly on my mind.

Benson’s Market (Then)

Sun glare off the wet pavement, I squint
and can see the wrinkled man,
worn white shoes, making his way
out the door of Benson’s Market on Eastern.
He has a brown bag and a cup of coffee
steaming, just like the Baltimore humidity.

He stands balancing his breakfast and
says words to a woman in a flowered housedress,
gray hair upswept high,
reminding me of a bird house that
used to sit empty in the very back of
our neighbor’s yard, except that one was green.

The light changes
and my tires greet the asphalt like
a quick handshake. The man is in my rearview,
walking up towards Patterson Park.
Another, much older, sits in an outdoor lounge chair,
thin legs crossed, watching him go.

Benson’s Market grows small;
diminishing in view the
blue and white checkered storefront and
a sign that says cordially,
bread eggs milk,
for your convenience, open 7 days.

Ahead of me the pigeons who sleep
soundly above the old Ukrainian Youth Center
have woken up
and flown.

Benson’s Market (Now)

Those must have been ghosts
I saw
When we last spoke.
Because the market blinds
Are torn
And cling to bits of dust and darkness
Like I sometimes do
To my tenuous memories.

No one has entered that door
With a ding
Of welcome in many years.

Who were those men that I saw, with
Their steaming cups of coffee
Their bread,
Their milk?
Who were those women
Talking of birds outside the blue-checkered front
That now
Seems so forlorn?

The streets aren’t quiet and peaceful.
The people sit
Empty waiting for the bus
By the Burger King.



A prophet
preaches in front of the scratched
hood of my car.
He is hidden beneath baseball cap,
and a suit of dark wool
too big for his slight bones.
His head is bowed beneath
the weight of a necklace
of trinkets only he understands.
The heat visibly surrounds
his dry and marbled outstretched hands,
but he does not sweat.

He speaks—
prophecies and ancient secrets
that are absolved
into the Baltimore humidity
any recompense. Without any
baptized soul

My Regrets to Leary

My Regrets to Leary:

Listen, the streets are quiet and
the news anchor lies about his whereabouts.
He is the naked enemy
beside me who is a pathological liar,
and tells me my name is
first lady and that I am a spider.

He told
of your delusions and the daisies
behind your ears.
No one believes in flowers in guns,
or kool aid optimism.
It is now a numbing vein,
a forgetting, a
tuning out, a
looking away, listless.

When the lights come on,
I scurry
into a dirty hole like my
other vacant eye socket friends.

When the lights go off,
I spin a regal blanket for us and stroke the
mustache of my enemy while he sleeps.