BEACH

Glasses on an open book
    its pages ruffled by the wind.
Spring air (as winter melts away)
    against a naked patch of skin.

The warmth of sunlight on my back.
    The sight of seagulls as they fly.
The scent of sand beneath a towel.
    The curl of waves under the arc of sky.

Salt water when it’s clear and cool.
    Toweling hair after a swim.
 The beauty of the beach when fall is near.
    How skin when drying, gathers itself in.

These images and more return to me
    when salt and sand and sea’s nearby.
Sweet days lived long before I knew
    how life like summertime could fly.


LIKE ME

Like me.
That’s the drug – a draft of this nectar
can own me into the next life for an accolade
you barely recall.

Like me.
Quiet my fears with the smile and nod
I awaited endlessly at war zone dinner tables, parentless
performances and lonely surgeries.

Like me
and it’s ok not to have been born a son,
to be funny, a tree climber and never a prom queen
to get migraines.

Like me
and I could weep, run,
dance, spread my arms to this fast warming world
in joy, terror and love.

FIDDLEHEADS

Each May I walked the ground along Bull Run
seeking fiddleheads.
Returning home with my bag of ferns,
I’d blow the papery layer off,
then steam them. Their perfume filled the house
with a scent I dream of still.
I’d arrange the stems and
whorled tops on a painted plate
and drizzle them with hollandaise.
Sitting on the porch with fiddleheads and wine,
I’d watch the sun set and
celebrate surviving another Vermont winter.
The feast made it impossible to believe
the world less than
perfect.

Each May I return to that riverside
to walk and pick and steam again
those green ferns in my mind
savor days feasting on found food
before wine and wanting tangled life.

It was a small New England town
I taught English to farm kids.
Summers I sold crafts to tourists from a one-room school
with Gretchen Crookshank, 80, all gossip, elegance
and jangling bracelets and the nervous
mother-son pair from Center Street, whose handmade
hats looked machine-made.
I studied knitting with a Norwegian neighbor and
spinning at the Hoffman’s farm.
Barbara, the bus driver, struggled to get her rabbits
to mate – tales of candlelight and music in the barn
defied myths of rabbit reproduction.
I made spending money as a night librarian.
I had kind friends.
My husband loved me.

Each May I return to that riverside
to select ferns
and steam them once again
to think on the turns
that took me far from fiddleheads
and the small town that held them.

A town I left to wander
from school to ski resort to Fortune 500 corporation –
another marriage and a family
South to Jersey then further still to
Carolina mountains where high along the Blue Ridge
we built a home with our own hands
board by slow board – designing as we went our nest
which, when it fell, almost toppled me as well.
But I had a son to raise and
clothes that needed washing
dinners to cook, a dog to walk
I learned that women hold the world together.
I moved back to the rumble of Interstates and 18 wheelers
where a red-tailed hawk glimpsed early
could hold me the entire day.

Each May I look northward
dream of fiddleheads
along Bull Run
remember pale iris in the yard,
where nightly trains
run whistling by.

Cynthia M. Sheward

UNCLE

He walks the woods no more
this land whose every hill he knows
geodes by the stream
the trail where turkeys file at dawn and dusk.

Right hand upon his dog,
he sits beside the window to watch
the squirrels she used to chase
cache nuts against the coming dark.

A doe, two fawns at clearing’s edge
browse by the lick set out last fall.
Their colors blend with leaves and brush
that hide morels awaiting spring.

His wife is ill. Her malaise named
but without cure. His hips, once limber,
grate now sharply bone on bone.
He lets the dog out, sees her roam.

At his whistle,
she comes trotting home.

Cynthia M. Sheward

LAST DANCE

At a summer wedding we dance under a cobalt sky,
a thing my husband rarely does.  I feel beautiful |
in a cotton dress with flowers I’d stitched across the yoke.
Weddings let us gaze into the holy
from ground we struggle to hold
despite moonlight and candle glow.

We’d lived separately for months.
We knew when vows were said,
the work of marriage would begin
with its crowded airports and unforgiving deadlines.
Cats would die, pipes freeze and
sex be one more demand in days overfilled.

Fights might escalate – blame ignite their home,
Chores lay undone as communication failed.
Someone else’s caring might seem water on dry ground.
We’ve no secrets from ourselves.
Poor choices root in hearts like kudzu.
Cracked, the egg of marriage resists mending.

But this night their honeymoon is still ahead,
cocooned by family and friends, their life sparkles with possibility.
“You’ll always be my star,” Jim whispers as we waltz.
He walks me down the driveway to my car.
He holds the door for me and says 
I want a divorce. I’m going to marry Kathy.”


	

CIGARETTES

Thirty years but
if one’s lit nearby
the scent draws me
like a child to brownies.

Worse to quit
than bread or chocolate
beer on a hot day
wine as I cook.

They told me “Place old butts
in a jar, take a deep whiff
if you weaken” – that jar
smelled of every man I’ve loved.

Two things carried me
my son and the desire
for the freedom to
not need anything.

Still, if someone
snuffs a candle
or strikes a match
just so…

SMALL ABANDONMENTS AND LEAVE TAKINGS 

I thought elephants danced in the car
as my aunt clasped me, age two with pneumonia
and mom drove to hospital – I screamed when they
left so the doctors forbade future visits.
I was alone with nurses and needles
for two long white weeks.

Pat left me tied, age five, to a phone pole.
She didn’t do it. Gerard and his buddies did
but my sister, my protector, walked away
left me bound ‘til dinnertime alone
next to the street, a kindergartener
in suspenders and red Keds.

In 9th grade, Sandi broke up with Tom.
He asked me out – the blond boy of my dreams!
Sandi coached me for a week on
dancing, clothes and French kissing.
Then, outside Grunnings, his friends laughed,
teased me – the date was a joke. Didn’t I get it?

Jamie had a sister – institutionalized.
I had no brother. We were siblings for each other.
I felt safer with him than anyplace I know.
He married young, grandson by 52. A mole grew.
Jamie, who could corral whole rooms with laughter,
called one afternoon to say he did not feel
like he was dying. But he did.

Glenn “with two n’s, like Glenn Miller”
had wave blue eyes I swam in.
Knew me better than I knew myself.
Is married now to someone else.
He called to make amends –
apologize for choices he knew better than.
Said he loves me still – he always will.

I saw the color fall from mom’s face.
“She’s going!” I said.
Pat and I grasped her hands.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy name.”
This is it. So gentle.
Then gone. Her final gift to us.
Death, fearless, light as air.