Buzzard’s Bay

This ekphrastic poem was inspired by a photograph my brother took a few months ago.

For my brother Ben


A dandelion self-sprung from sand

and dusk,

she stood,

caught in the glow of sunset

and shore.

Something of the girl

lingered with the last light,

breaking soft across the water

like a single golden candle.

In its reflection the woman saw summers

and salt,

grey water warmed by August’s breath,

gulls and shadows,

sailboats and sea-houses.

As the earth spun beneath her feet,

her gaze pulled far, and wide

past the horizon to the point

where the gilded world

was new again—returned whole—


and hers alone.

©2015. Mindy Martin. All rights reserved.

I Have Heard The World Weeping

 I Have Heard the World Weeping:                                                            

 2015 September— 39.7392° N, 104.9903° W

“They found one Breath in all things,

That moves all things between.”

The Threshold—Rudyard Kipling


I have heard the world weeping

at this respite long delayed,

I have seen the ashes falling

in cascades, instead of rain.

They say the world is burning,

It’s we who feed the flame 

of the land that’s been encumbered

by the weight of our domain.

I wonder what can bear the weight

of dreams left unfulfilled,

and who will care to tell the tale

of hearts that have been stilled.

I have seen the world weeping,

I have felt the ocean sigh,

with all the weight of water shed—

a somber lullaby.

The earth gave up its secrets

its mantle, crust and core,

it shattered to infinitude

until it was no more.

I have touched the face of heaven,

I have seen the unknown shore

inside the folds of what’s to come

and what has been before.

There lives a place inside of me

no army dares to breach,

it is a sheltered solstice

beyond the world’s reach.

When all the sighs of all the souls

release and just let go,

we will hear a world that laughs again

in a firmament that’s whole.

©2015, Mindy Martin Pillitteri. All rights reserved.

On Coffee Spoons and Liminality—An Ode To What Is


One hundred years ago this month T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock appeared in the magazine Poetry. Ezra Pound championed the poem to editor Harriet Monroe in a series of letters, and Poetry became the first journal to publish Eliot in America. It can safely be said that Prufrock is one of the first Modernist works, although it wasn’t received with great enthusiasm at the time—it was widely dismissed as something less than poetry. In creating Prufrock, Eliot used dramatic monologue to cross a threshold of sorts, allowing the intensely personal to resonate with larger cosmic questions. Existential angst found its 20th century voice when Prufrock uttered the words “Do I dare disturb the universe?” In modern parlance, it’s nothing less than a Hamlet meets Chopra moment.

Moving forward can be a challenge, especially when you know you’re moving into your end game. Choices always count, but at some point they gain critical mass. Their possibilities are no longer infinite. Unlike Prufrock, I don’t feel that there will be time for a hundred indecisions, visions or revisions. I’ve seen time collapse firsthand. There’s no going back when that happens. Even the best measured coffee spoons fail.

The word liminal has come into my head like the flashing green light on Daisy’s dock in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I hear it in my head. I sense it in my energy. I am navigating a threshold—the place between that which has gone before and that which is to come. I call it my liminal life. It is the space between the space I inhabit.

In anthropology, liminality is used to refer to the disorientation and ambiguity that occurs in the middle stage of rituals. As one set of cultural norms no longer serves and falls away, a full transition to a new status is also not yet complete. And while the concept of liminality gets bandied about more than it should, its Latin root—limen—meaning threshold, is sound. And more importantly, it is apt. Nothing else describes this time in my life with more precision.

I’ve been thinking about the people I have lost, the ones I loved, the ones I never wanted to say goodbye to. It feels like it is time to loosen my hold on them a bit to give us all some breathing room. Notice I said loosen, because I don’t believe I can ever completely lose the imprint of the hearts that have held mine. I wouldn’t want to. They are proof that I was loved—as a daughter, a sister, a mother, a best friend, a student, a teacher—a fellow traveler. But it feels right to lighten up and let the present moment inform my next move, however that unfolds.

Making a new identity without them has been hard. The urgent momentum of doing and caring that spurred me forward for so many years has given way to the need to just be. To be here for myself. And for those who still are here. The ones I love in present tense: my husband, my brother, a few precious friends, my finest teacher, my little dog Woody. I am deeply grateful for the love I have been given. When many others walked away, they stayed. What more is there to say? What higher expression of love is there but constancy and trust? I no longer have to understand all the reasons why things happened as they did—I know time will provide the perspective and the tumblers will once again fall into place.

So now I move forward, not with Prufrock’s scuttling claws, but with intention. It doesn’t hurt that I feel supported by unseen hands—hands that push me just a little farther than I think I can go. Hands that support me and guide me, and even tap me on the shoulder when it’s necessary. I would put my life into those hands, but no one is asking me to. The universe is always flashing green, as green as the summer grass below my feet or the leaves above my head. This liminal life serves a fine purpose; it’s directing me to my future, which is always right here, right now.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding—The Four Quartets

Author’s note: This month marks 50 years since the passing of T. S. Eliot. I invite you to re-engage with his marvelous, complex work. Prufrock serves as a fine starting point while the Four Quartets, Eliot’s favorite work—and mine—reveals a mastery that transcends craft. I have no doubt that we will be celebrating Eliot well into the next century, for such is the power of language and imagination. As always, your comments and thoughts are embraced here so do share them with me.

On Arthur, Abraham and an Old Black Dog


It’s been a long, low weekend and I’ve been feeling the pull of the Old Black Dog—Churchill’s name for the bouts of depression that plagued him throughout his life. Rather than fight the tide, I’ve decided to embrace this inner time and turn to things that bring me comfort—in this case, the feel of my pup’s flank against my shins, an old cotton blanket, and a viewing of “Camelot.” (The 1967 version with Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero–who made me swoon, although I always preferred Arthur.) The Arthuriad is my refuge; whether it’s Camelot or Tintagel, I am drawn to the mist and the mystery in equal measure. The fact that it’s been raining here in Denver for several weeks when normally we enjoy 80° days only makes the retreat more necessary.

My favorite scene in Camelot occurs in the last hour of the film—when the tipping point is at hand. Mordred has made his poisonous appearance and the dye is cast. Arthur has fled to the woods, seeking the counsel of Merlin, who has not been about for many years. Arthur longs to be the boy Wart again and calls for the ancient wizard who indeed comes into view—just far enough, close enough, to be seen and heard.

In the scene, young Wart and Arthur appear side-by-side, each beseeching Merlin to answer the cri de couer that opens the third act: “What’s the best thing for being sad?”

Merlin replies: “To learn something.”

He repeats: “Learn something. It’s the one thing, Wart, that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your heart, you may grow old and trembling in your arteries, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your father, your mother, your dog, your only love.…There’s only one thing for all of it. Learn. Learn. Why the world wags and what wags it. Thinking helps in everything….”

As the scene unfolds, Merlin once again makes Arthur feel and see as the hawk, the fish, the boy. He asks, “What can you see as a hawk that you can’t see from the ground?” “What do you see as a fish?” As Arthur surrenders he is transported to the larger view and is restored if not released.

The larger view. It’s what is required sometimes when the sight of what’s right in front of you seems barnacled and small. It’s the ability to fly above the battlefield so as to once again embrace the perspective expressed in Blake’s lines from Songs of Innocence:

“To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a Heaven in a wildflower,

Hold infinity in the heart of your hand

and eternity in an hour.”

Perspective is enhanced by learning. It may be the only thing that can enlarge one’s world without moving one’s feet. I know that learning something new has always had the ability to bring me out of myself and my circumstances. Knowledge has filled the abyss that stares back like no other potion I know. And life being what it is, what I learn always relates in some way to what I already know. Because the world itself still makes sense even when the people in it defy logic. Nature is a mobious strip, a perfect system, a diadem of sanity in the midst of ancient, modern paradox.

I’ve been reading from a book of Abraham Lincoln’s collected writings of late. His correspondence is direct and knowing and wholly without artifice; it’s as different from Jefferson’s as honey is to salt. I daresay he knew more than his fair share about Churchill’s black dog. I know the war he witnessed rendered rhetoric hollow. I’ve been listening to Lead Belly too. His whole life is in his voice and to listen is to hear something of the soil rooted in my blood.

In an hour or so, I’ll be cutting back my roses. The first blooms were burned by the unexpected snowfall two weeks ago. The sun is actually out today. I see some blue in the sky—a blue that on this Memorial Day reminds me of a memory of my father’s eyes. My dad’s copy of Tennyson is close at hand. I know how much he read it by the feel of the page and the aged, seared binding. The book falls open like a maiden’s skirts in a sunny May meadow. It shows a map of Britain. A view my father first saw from this book perhaps, and then later–on more than one occasion, from above, as the world waged another war that turned the meadows red. I know my father loved to fly, even over a world gone mad. I don’t think he would have survived had he not been able to see it from above. I don’t know if I’d be here if he hadn’t. For that I am grateful. And happy he had a view of Arthur’s mythic kingdom to keep him on course.

I didn’t start out wanting to write about war. It crept in from the corners like a growing shadow. Or an old black dog. So I let it in. It didn’t bite. And now I choose to let it go because today, for one brief shining hour at least—as the song goes—I’d rather focus on the place that was known as Camelot—and pruning the roses to bloom another day is as far into my own kingdom as I wish to venture. In that one red bud, I can see an entire garden.


She Shines In Yellow: A Remembrance of My Mother

“The yellow glistens.

It glistens with various yellows,

Citrons, oranges and greens

Flowering over the skin.”

Wallace Stevens


My mother always liked me in yellow, a color that left me decidedly unmoved. I remember owning a bright one-piece suit, a pair of Bermuda shorts (I had sneakers to match those shorts unfortunately) and a poplin shift—all in yellow. When I was 13 I bought a buttercup colored two-piece bathing suit and tried to sneak out in it to the pool. My mother thought it was fine; my father ordered me back upstairs to change. As hard as I fought to grow up, he fought to keep me the same. Even that sweet two-piece was too much for him. I think he knew there was no turning back once I was allowed to wear it. And he was right. Within two years I was out of his grasp, sporting a bikini and cut-offs, falling in love with a boy named Paul, then a boy named Joe. Then both of them at the same time.

My mother wore yellow at my brother Ben’s wedding. She chose the most lovely gown—it was the color of lemon chiffon, and she accessorized it with long white gloves and drop crystal earrings. The simple diamante cord on the dress accented her slim waist. Her understated dress fit to perfection. I know she felt lovely that day, which, after all, is the true purpose and measure of a dress. I remember how happy and proud she was to have her whole family with her. I could see how special she felt as she was escorted down the aisle to her seat, confident and excited.

We always gave my mother yellow flowers and bouquets. She adored big mums and daisies, roses, carnations and lilies—dressed with purple for spring, burgundy and russet for fall. She liked simple flowers too. Wherever we lived, my father planted marigolds and daffodils somewhere in the yard. She delighted in tulips and violas, the small faced pansies and the big bearded irises. She loved to watch the seasons change and the gardens bloom.

My mother always wanted to own her own home. We had moved so much she had grown accustomed to packing up and not getting attached. After my dad died, she pretty much gave up on the idea that she’d ever own a home again. Then, in 1995, 20 years ago this month, everything changed. Mom and I were running errands, as we did every Saturday afternoon, when we saw an open house and decided to go in. It was a pretty day and we were having fun. The sweet old house had everything we loved: a built in china hutch and a fireplace with bookcases on either side; hardwood floors, a bay window. We were standing in the kitchen when the listing agent started talking to us. We couldn’t keep the ruse up—we confessed right away that we were just looking. She asked lots of questions and we opened up to her. We told her about our circumstances—that mom was a 73-year-old widow working full-time to provide for herself and her disabled son—that I could help, but we didn’t own anything. The agent really listened. When we finished, she said, “If I could find a home for you, would you be interested?” We looked at each other and said, “Of course!”

Our agent’s name was Donna, and she found a bank that gave home loans to buyers with disabled family members. We pre-qualified for a modest amount and set out looking. There wasn’t a lot to see. We were all just on the verge of getting discouraged when my husband and I found a perfect little stucco house with an enormous elm tree in the front yard. It had a new kitchen and hardwoods, a large yard and a driveway. It faced west and was close to everything. And it became mom’s first home.

The first thing we did after mom got the house was paint it. And, of course, we chose yellow. A yellow like creamery butter, accented with sage trim. The little house looked sweet all iced up. We added yellow and green variagated privet hedges and bright barbary bushes along the porch. My brother planted yellow and purple iris down the side of the drive. Some he bought; some he dug up from his old garden. Eventually, we even painted the kitchen yellow in an homage to Provence. A couple of years later, when my husband and I bought our first home, I gave mom the corner hutch from my dining room. We lined the walls of her reading room with bookcases and made sure she had a comfy recliner to rest in after a long day at work.

My mother worked until she was 82. One day she arrived at the office to find men carrying out office furniture—including her desk. The business had been closed, but no one had told the employees. Mom looked for other work as a bookkeeper, but every time she was called in for an interview and they saw how old she was, the position disappeared. Reluctantly, she retired to her books and her recliner and her puzzles. Her health declined as did my brother’s. And the little yellow house became harder and harder to keep.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. My brother died just days before Mother’s Day and my mother gave up. She was inconsolable. Her little yellow house had become a cage. She died in March, a week before my birthday, outliving her son by months, but not by choice. And then the little yellow house was gone too, back to the bank. I could not save it anymore than I could save my family. That was how 2012 and 2013 went.

After my mother died, my husband dug up the last remaining iris and brought it to our house. When he planted it, I couldn’t even tell you what color it was. It didn’t bloom the following spring, but the strong stalks gave me comfort. A few weeks ago, we saw it was budding. Weather took one of the stalks, but the other one stood tall. And then, this week, it bloomed for the first time. It bloomed yellow. Yellow like Van Gogh and Kansas, yellow like my crazy old kitchen sink, yellow like a mother’s love. It’s been two years since I last gave my mother flowers. This year, she gave me one. This year, my mother again shines in yellow.


The Darling Buds of May

Spring has been a reluctant dance partner this year. Our four-season, four-sided landscape stands far more grey than green for this date. The gardens are still in their boned corsets; few blooms adorn the foundations. And while the lilacs boast, delighted to have dodged the recent wet snow, the weeping cherry still drapes her bare arms close to the ground. The burning bushes that trumpeted scarlet in the western sun last fall didn’t make it at all. Lifting them from the earth took no more than a shovel and a tug. Unmoved by sun or birdsong, the pussy-willow never tipped her gray mitts to the blue sky; the flowering almond stayed mute in the wind; the apricot buds fell dark. Coming around the corner of the house last year, the scent from this garden was so strong it stopped us mid-step in either direction. Eyes closed, we could navigate from branch to bush and back again by nose alone. This year, the  first thing we see from the flagstone path is the cedar fence. Greyed by age, its charm is tested by raw exposure.

The rhythms are off in every direction it seems. The mourning doves are late. The black crows distant. The skies tumble with clouds that bring few showers and turn the sun fickle. Inside our brick house, the heat still kicks on. At night, the wind carries the fragrance of  chokecherry blossoms all the way to the back door. It is a tender consolation in this uneasy April. Above our heads, Venus glows bright under the new moon, while we who are restless wait on a song we know by heart to begin again.

It started with a book…

This little book started it all...
This little book started it all…

When I was eight years old, my brother Greg gave me a collection of Emily Dickinson poems titled Judge Tenderly of Me. I still have the book in a box of keepsakes. Its tall, narrow shape intrigued me and I loved the deep tapestry of colors on the front. Emily and I hit it off immediately. She wrote like I thought. And she was funny in a way that made my throat swell. I read everything I could about her; I memorized all of the poems in the small book and kept it next to my bed. Emily and I were already confidantes from across the centuries. The Belle of Amherst with her baskets of letters and need for solitude kept me company as my family moved around the midwest and I learned to keep my own company first.

I had already started writing my own poems and stories, but I didn’t show them to anyone but my mother. I had a diary too, although I didn’t know what to do with it as evidenced by entries that began with a weather recap: “Today it snowed. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Mom worked late.” As usual, I was trying too hard to get it just right and thought that a diary had to be an actual accounting of my activities for that day. Soon enough, I traded diaries in for notebooks where I could write my own poems and thoughts, a habit that I have kept to this day.

The book my brother gave me opens with these lines:

This is my letter to the world/That never wrote to me, –/The simple news that Nature told,/ With tender majesty. /Her message is committed /To hands  I cannot see;/ For love of her, sweet countrymen, /judge tenderly of me!

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