The single life, a poem


The Single Life
by Jessica Kantrowitz

“Where is that glass of water
I just poured myself?” I ask
The Christmas angel on my
Mantel. I couldn’t bear to put her
Away with the other decorations.

Because she is made of
Metal and glass, she is
Very polite, and only
Looks down at her trumpet,
Not wanting to embarrass me.

A real angel would be bolder.
Not sarcastic, exactly, but
A little bit condescending.
“Where were you when you last
Had it, silly girl?” she would say,

Shaking her head but with just
A hint of a smile, so I would know
She really liked me.


Renovare — a true story

She was as tired as she had ever been in her life; body, mind, and spirit. She hadn’t known that even bones could ache with weariness, deeper than muscle fatigue, deeper than the bruising of her skin. She lay herself down on the cold stone, not caring that a gentle rain was falling. It was the first time in days or maybe years she had stopped moving. She had no thoughts other than a word repeated over and over in her mind, a word in a language she did not speak but that she nonetheless understood: “Zenethre. Zenethre.” It meant something like, “enough,” something like, “stop,” or “rest,” or “it is finished,” and it was coming from deep inside of her and, also, somehow, from the trees and rain around her. Her eyes closed but she could still hear the rain falling on the few weather-beaten evergreens that grew here, at the very top of the mountain. The moisture settled on her clothes and hair, so light that it didn’t soak in right away but just left a soft dew on the surface. “Zenethre.” She didn’t sleep, unless she was already asleep, unless it had all been a dream, but as she lay there she began to feel the weariness flow out of her body and into the earth below, into the rocks and tree roots, a healing balm as deep as the mountain was tall. If it had been a smaller mountain it couldn’t have absorbed such a great weariness, and if the climb had been less she wouldn’t have needed it to. Yet as the aches left her body she realized that just as she had never been so tired, so had she never experienced real rest. She opened her eyes and saw that the wispy layers of clouds were thinning, luminous with the as yet unseen sun.

More about the sunset, and a poem

The sun just set, at 5:01 (in Boston, that is) — the first time since November 6th that sunset has been after 5 p.m. I am watching the pink and blue glow of the sunset on the icicles across from my window as I write.

And here is a poem by Maya Angelou that I was thinking about today.

Phenomenal woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Mary Oliver

A poem by Mary Oliver I’ve read before, and read again today and liked, even though I am deeply unsatisfied with my ability to give a good answer.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?


She had been saving for years. It was her dream vacation and her excitement at being in Scotland was only slightly exceeded by all the anticipation. She went alone, but told herself she preferred it that way – more freedom to come and go as she pleased. She didn’t meet anyone – the other guests at the hostels were much younger than she, and mostly trying to drink as much as possible and have sex with each other – but she spent the two weeks revising her fantasy of the rough-edged but gentle Scot who would fall in love with her and carry her away to his ancestral castle.

Two days before she was due to return, she felt an unexpected sinking in her heart. On the plane ride home the feeling spread as a kind of numbness to her chest and arms. At Kennedy, as she jostled with the crowds watching their luggage come out of the wall and grabbing it off of the conveyor belt, she found herself crying. She tried to tell herself she was just tired, jet-lagged, but she knew better. It was a wonderful trip, she insisted firmly, but the wall of damp heat outside the sliding doors of the airport hit her like someone slapping a hysterical woman. Not wonderful enough, said the sticky cab seat. The disconcerting mix of good and bad smells from the city streets added: Not wonderful enough to change you.

The cab pulled up to the door of her apartment building, and the driver announced the fare. For a moment she sat there, unable to lift herself and her luggage out of the back seat. Finally, prompted by annoyed glances from the driver, she dragged herself out, and to the lobby, to the elevator, found her key on the ride up and pushed open the door to her apartment.

There was music playing. Loud, Spanish music that made her start to sway despite her confusion. She looked down and instead of her heather-blue runner saw a brightly colored throw rug, and unfamiliar shoes. She took a step backwards. She must have gotten the wrong apartment. For a full minute she stared at the number on the door. 314. This was her number. Could she have the wrong building? But her key had worked.

She stood perfectly still for several more minutes, while one fast, joyful song finished and another just like it started up. Then, leaving her luggage in the hall, she stepped again into her apartment, through the front hall and into the room that served as her kitchen and living room.

Everything had changed. Her furniture, her decorations were all gone, and in their place were other, brighter and more modern things. The walls, off-white before, had been painted deep reds, blues and greens, a different color for each wall. The kitchen counters were piled with food, much more food than she ever kept in her kitchen and everything, even the bowl of fruit, seemed chosen for its color. She heard voices in her bedroom, but she was not afraid. The energy flowing through her, like the music playing, was quick, ready, powerful. She walked into the bedroom, pushing open the half closed door.

Two dark, laughing people turned towards her in surprise, smiles still frozen on their faces. They were both half dressed, and the man seemed to be in the act of spinning the woman around in a dance. The man yelled something in Spanish, and she turned, not afraid but full of life, joy, purpose. She walked out of the apartment, past her luggage in the hall, and rode the elevator down to the street, to the corner where there was a pay phone. She dialed 911, pushing the buttons almost fondly, and tried to keep her broad smile out of her voice when someone answered.

“Someone has broken into my apartment,” she said confidentially, as if sharing a secret love with a friend, “Actually, they’re still there.”

Several hours later she stood again in her apartment, this time with a detective. They had tracked down her landlord, who verified her identity, and the two dancing people were at the police station being questioned. She was showing the detective photos of her apartment, taken a few months ago to send to her mother in Maine.

You say you’ve been gone two weeks?” he was saying, looking at the pictures and then the apartment over and over. “They must have moved in right away. God knows how they got a key – the lock’s not broken. Maybe you forgot to lock it, or maybe they know a locksmith who could have made one. They seem to be crazy: So far we haven’t gotten a straight story out of them, but it doesn’t seem like they’re homeless. They must have spent thousands of dollars to redecorate. Your old stuff is probably long gone. You can sue them for damages, but who knows if they have money to pay you or not. Or you could sell this stuff, it isn’t junk, it’s probably worth a lot. Are you okay? This has to be unsettling.”

She shook her head, meaning neither yes nor no, meaning that, actually, she was fine, everything was fine for the first time in a long time. Her apartment, her life, had been baptized with music, color, sex. As the detective went on talking she ran her fingers over a thick oil painting on the wall. She would not redecorate.