Tag Archive for Imagism


“Her hands are like icicles on the horizon,” he said and took a drag of coffee. She nodded blankly at him, barely registering the observations that swayed his tongue and flavored his mouth.

“Do you see how she’s shaking?” he asked, not taking his eyes off the porcelain doll ordering dinner across the room. He fumbled down distractedly to the table, found his plate, and devoured a fry in the half-reflective way that dressed all his actions.

To this, she murmured a vague, “Mmhmm…” It was enough of a reply to fill the empty space he controlled over the table, but still enough to be noncommittal and inattentive. She reached through the maze of their cups and plates to spear a French-fry from his plate. She shifted her weight. The chair rocked under her, threatening her already uncertain balance and attempted grace in one blow. She shifted the feet of the chair, hoping to find some sort of equilibrium, but again the seat rocked under her, still precarious.

“Look at the angles to her face,” he went on, working his words around mouthfuls. His eyes never wavered in their stiff critical stare of wonderment and interest. “There’s just something about her that screams vulnerability.”

“Hmm.” She swallowed the hot, gritty remains of her tea. Her cup clunked as it hit the table, jolting the settled objects, but his attention never strayed from the Raphael-wonder. She picked up her croissant, then lowered it back to her plate seeing the tanned lines of her knuckles holding her fingers in place. She turned her palm up and followed the trained lines that traced her destiny.

“You really have to wonder about people like that,” he continued in the silence. “How they think, how they feel, how they see the world. Don’t you ever just wish you could go up and introduce yourself to a stranger and learn their entire life story?”

She repossessed her croissant and took a voice-saving mouthful, nodding her head disjointedly in case he possessed the consciousness to glance at her tongue-trapped tangle on the other side of the table. She sneakily slid her feet out of her shoes and flexed her toes in their freedom under the tablecloth-tiered table. The ache wrenched in her bones and her thoughts drowned in the haze of mid-stride wonderment, but not before the emptiness and pain of dismissal.

“I guess it’s time to go,” he said finally, still not moving his unblinking eyes or shifting his stranger-struck body.

She mumbled affirmative and followed through with her purse. The crowded bag jostled against her hand in the fruitful search for cash. Dumping the entire contents out for the finding and usage of a pen, she scrunched up her eyebrows, figuring the total into halves.

“Mind getting this one for me?” he asked, raising himself up to gather his belongings before heading out the door. Still his attention wandered over to the daisy, blooming at the opposite table. “This was fun. Let’s get together again sometime soon, OK?”

She fell back in her seat, drowning in the whirlpool of inattention. Establishing their funds, she turned to see herself in the shadowy glass window reflection, and saw herself slipping away.

Washington Square

A cigarette butt lies next to my foot, still emitting a trace of smoke. Nearby on the dusty asphalt a pigeon waddles self-consciously, bobbing its head as if pecking the air for some invisible food. A squirrel churrs a threat to his brother, challenging him to romp.

The walkway before me never becomes silent. A buzz of voices blends with the city soundscape of cars driving and trucks backing, swingsets squealing and sparrows chirping. A toddler, holding tightly to his sister’s stroller, yells “Achtung! Achtung! Achtung!” at a squirrel that crosses two inches from his foot. His mother comforts him, in German. A man sits down on the bench across from me, eyelids dropping on his creased red face as he stirs his cup of coffee.

The bench I sit on is green, painted over years of dents and names scratched in wood. My backpack sits to my left with its main zipper opened just wide enough for me to extract my notebook and pen. At my right is my suitcase. Its pockets are crammed full like the subway this morning, barely room left to breathe, creaking and complaining of the overburdening load.

The subway. A couple of hours ago it brought me here, and soon, I will hike the blocks back to the station, shoulder chafing from the suitcase, and it will bring me to the train station. I’m going home today.

At home, the mountain overshadows our farm in the same way that the thirty-story apartment building a block north overshadows this park. They both recede as they rise, shadowed places standing out against sunlit sides, seeming to hold themselves back from too much involvement with their surroundings. This building stands behind a wall of brick rowhouses like the low hill of alfalfa fields blocks a view of the lower reaches of the mountain.

The rowhouses’ potentially beautiful façade is marred by rusty air-conditioner units and a high trim of metalwork, corroded to a bright green, contrasting with the clean brick and the white window frames. Trees obscure my vision slightly, holding onto their last few dirty-brown leaves. A puff of air, cool enough to make you shiver but too warm for a jacket, rustles them.

Strains of harmonica waft from the park bench opposite me. A street musician of sorts has opened for business, a blue-green flowerpot at his feet. His nearly empty bag is next to him on the bench, surrounded by his array of harmonicas. A contented Labrador Retriever disinterestedly glances toward him, not missing of beat of his lazy gait. “Swing low, sweet chariot…” The man plays each line of music, then sings it. “Coming for to carry me home…”

Two benches to his left, a couple of students eat their lunch. One feeds pigeons that strut in a semicircle around his feet. A sudden crash from a nearby construction site sends every pigeon in the park into flight. Their wings create more noise than the blast that scared them.

A lady sits down next to me, lighting up a cigarette. The noxious gray fumes begin to flow from its burning tip. I think it’s time to leave.


1. Crystal

The elephant,

fragile, distorts the waves

trumbling out of the lamp,

and throws an angry rainbow

on the wall.


The earrings slip

out of the case, their icicles

hang from a screw, and drip light

on your shoulders.


In the valley that the snow cannot reach,

It is cold and dry; the ice on the mountain

Looks down at it and laughs.


2. Window

“You must hurry up if we are to make it.”

I lounge on the chair.


The creatures below carry their light well.

Ants with lanterns, they rush home with food.


At a certain line, the moon bends,

And the stream twists to get a better view of our room.


One creature looks up: me on the chair,

You at the mirror, and we giving them a light from above.


3. Windscreen

Soundless driving. In this cage, we hold

Ourselves together as best we can


By looking at a road… some road, this road.

A dog barks in the distance.

The windscreen does not let me see it.


4. Cup

The wine seeps into the deep red carpet,

And is lost.

The maid cleans up the pieces,


It was not our cup.

Juniper Tree

Upon the sun-beaten hills

In the hot and citric embrace of the wind

Under the benediction of the coyote who loves

—the moon

Sanctioned by the sage and the deer, a quiet

—people without judgement


There dwells the Juniper, Old and gnarled

Arms open in an embrace of the midnight sky

He reaches to the stars in prayer and reverence.

His soft and weathered lips, whispering without



Waiting for the stars to answer back

Waiting for deliverance and absolution


I will miss him, that sad old man who is



Lost in a world of which he is no longer a part and

yet still watches over


You see we are so much alike

My soul and I.

The Viola Lesson

I strolled toward the double glass doors, deliberately kicking at a large spiky chestnut pod as I went. It skidded across the concrete and sent three more spike-balls rolling before toppling over the edge of the ramp. Gazing upward through the branches, which were camouflaged by green and brown splotched clumps of large, tear-drop–shaped leaves, I could see bits of crisp blue autumn sky. I repositioned the strap of my viola case on my shoulder. It’s too bad I can’t stay out here to enjoy the weather. At that thought, I slowed my walk. Why am I nervous? I’m more prepared for my lesson this week than I have been in a long time. The set of doors now loomed ahead of me, and I tugged one of them open, making my way up to the second floor of the building. I knew there was no reason for me to be nervous, but the butterflies flitting around in my stomach didn’t seem to care.

As I approached Dr. Sternberg’s office, his door came clearly into view—I always enjoyed looking at it. The dark wood could barely be seen beneath the dozens of cartoons pasted all over it. There was even a picture of Dr. Sternberg himself, with a carrot protruding from his mouth, and a sign below asking, “Do you know this man?” I smiled and could feel my anxiety floating away. Poking my head through the door, I spotted him working at his computer. Dr. Sternberg was in his mid-thirties, with dark hair and a beard he had just started growing over the summer. He looked up and smiled a greeting, motioning for me to come in. “So how are you doing, Miss Marie?”

“I’m fine,” I replied, closing the door and looking for a spot to set my case. The chair where I normally put it was stacked with papers, and there were orchestra parts, folders, CDs, and violin and viola music scores scattered in piles all over the floor. “How are you?”

“Good,” he said, before guiltily apologizing for the mess. We go through this exact conversation at the start of every lesson, I thought, smiling inwardly. I pushed some of the piles out of the way and laid my case down in the cleared spot. If he feels bad about this mess, then he should see my room—at least his stuff is in piles.

I unzipped my case and began getting my viola out. After clamping the shoulder rest in place and tightening and rosining my bow, I put my music stand in the middle of the room. Dr. Sternberg got up from his desk and came over to see what I had brought. Picking up the music and looking through it, he asked, “What’s on the agenda today—should we work on an etude, or did we do one last week?”

“We did work on one last week,” I began, “but after I played it, we got distracted talking about something else…”

“Imagine that…” he grinned.

I returned the grin and continued, “…and you forgot to give me something new to work on.”

“OK,” he said, scratching his beard and leafing through my etude book. “How about if we skip etudes for this lesson. I’ll put today’s date on this…” he scribbled 11/6 at the top of one page, “…and we’ll do it next week. Is that okay?”

“Sure,”I replied, not bothering to hide the note of happiness in my voice. Not etudes! Yes! This means we get to work on the fun stuff.

“Let’s dive right into the Vanhal then,” he suggested, walking over to his desk.

Nodding, I took a deep breath, prepared myself, and began playing the first movement of the concerto. After the first page I looked up to see if he wanted me to go on. He held up his hand, and I stopped.

“I just can’t figure out what’s going on with your bow hold,” he said. “I couldn’t do what you’re doing if someone held a gun to my head.” Oh, that, I thought. Is it still not right? We had been trying to figure out what my bow hand was doing for weeks but hadn’t been able. Somehow I was managing to keep my first, second, and fourth fingers curved on the bow, while the third finger would straighten itself out.

“Let me start by asking you some questions,” Dr. Sternberg continued. “Is your thumb losing its curve underneath the bow?” He illustrated what he meant on his bow. After trying it for myself, I told him I didn’t think so.

“Well then, do you feel like you are trying to push down with your third finger?” I tried that, too, but it didn’t feel like what I had been doing. He kept on asking me questions, and having me try different things until he suddenly had another idea.

“Try thinking of it as holding the bow with the tips of your fingers.” It worked! “Now play the beginning of the piece again.” I did what he asked and could tell he was getting excited. “What do you think?” he questioned.

“I think it’s better.”

“So do I—your hand looks much looser and more elegant.”

A little later in the same lesson, Dr. Sternberg switched the focus from bow to tone. We were working on a section with some relatively high notes when he asked, “Can you get a really big tone way up there? I don’t think you can do it—not the poor little sister of the violin. It’s just not possible, is it?”

“Yes it is,” I retorted. I could see the humor in his eyes and knew he was trying to get me worked up about it.

“Prove me wrong then,” came his playful challenge.

I put my viola on my shoulder and played, pulling my bow even closer to the bridge. I could feel the vibrations of the string in my bow hand, almost as if it was my hand touching the strings, not the bow. The sound spilled from my viola, rich and pure.

“Good! And you intuitively moved your bow closer to the fingerboard as you shifted back down. That was much better. You’ve practiced more this week, haven’t you?”

I nodded. He noticed a difference! The week before, I had gotten very little practice in, and this last week I had been trying to make up for lost time. It’s amazing what a difference three hours of practice can make.

While I was thinking, I took my viola down from my shoulder. It was then, however, that I realized my hair was caught in the shoulder rest. “You’re really getting ‘attached’ to your viola, aren’t you?” Dr. Sternberg teased.

“Yep,” I agreed, laughing as I tried to untangle it.

After my lesson was over, I walked up to the glass doors again and stepped out through them into the sunlight. The sky was still the same vibrant blue, and the chestnut seed pods still littered the concrete ramp. But there was a new lightness to my step, and a bubble of happiness inside me which felt ready to burst. It was wonderful seeing the progress I was making with Dr. Sternberg’s help. For the past few years, I had wanted so badly to play the viola as well as I could, and being able to see that I really was getting better made me feel light enough to float up among the clounds. I wonder if it works this way all the time? Would knowing I did my best at something, even if others could have done it better, make me feel this way in other areas, too?

Suddenly, I remembered something Dr. Sternberg had told me before. He said he had seen lots of students try to excel at too many things. It usually resulted in them being unable to do their best at anything. So, my thoughts continued, I should pick one thing to do my very best at, and then work hard in the other areas with the time and energy I have left. A smile of understanding slowly spread across my face. Through my lessons, Dr. Sternberg had taught me many things about playing the viola, but what I had just begun to understand was, perhaps, of even greater importance. I realized now that this truth, more than any technique, would allow me to reach my goal of playing the viola to the best of my ability. Sighing happily, I tilted my head upward, breathed in the refreshing fall air, and with a well-aimed departing kick sent half a dozen more spike-balls shooting off the ramp.

This essay was honored with the 2003 Frodo’s Notebook Essay Award in the annual Central Pennsylvania Scholastic Writing Awards.

Smell of Sleep

The stale smell of sleep


Through my nose

Up from the damp pillow.


My sticky face soaks it in

As it dries.

I curl my arms around

The old teddy bear

I’ve had for fifteen years.


He smells like sleep, too.


Outside my window

Clouds pass over stars,

Sipping their light

And mine.



The tears start again,

Crippling the wrinkles

In the pillowcase.


I saw the world

in a reflection

in her tear

Hues (Memories of Africa)

Liquid orange silver sliding;

clichéd crimson sky and still

more lovely than a postcard.

Tinted lilac firelit granite

crinkles, smiling, at the sun

shadowed smoky grazes stretch.

Rumpled sheets of powdered ice cream

gently stained by molten gold

sculpted quartz by careless feet.


Rippling panes of tufted tundra:

terracotta pastel-fired

sharp mosaics of thirsty loam.

Cold-still branches soak the sunlight

dappled brown from burlap-greys

silent in the crystal haze.

Blinkless, bloodwashed, bloated, blazing

daylight heaves into the sky

burning whitewashed morning brown.

An Observation on Perception


I was walking


At one point

I looked up

Across the street,

And I saw a little boy

Drop his bottle on the sidewalk

At the base of the Woodman Tower.

He bent down in front of a

Mammoth marble pillar;

Then, giggling wildly,

Was plucked from the ground

And danced in a circle

By an energetic mother.

And the whole time

He never

Looked up,

Completely oblivious to the

Thousands of feet of

Concrete and glass


Above his tiny head.


And I thought to myself,

Hey baby,

I think we’ve all

Been there.

Life of Birds

their eyes don’t need to pierce cloud

wings don’t have to be told to extend

see how they coax the wind into submission


watch them tumble in harnessed waves of sky

their silent agreement

in effortless flight


their grace lands with them

sinks into the earth as they struggle to walk


children chase them back into the clouds

watching their small bodies soar

wishing more than ever that they had been birds


the blades of their wings

scar the mountains, the hills

yet they flinch upon the movement


of the white blouse in the window

the young woman who holds a wineglass to her ear

and listens


for the husky whisper

of crows’ wings navigating the fog

but there are no branches here for them

no perch where they might curl their toes

where she could study the darting blues and purples

on their backs


where can they go to avoid setting foot

on the rocky ground

upon which they are destined to stumble


we pray

let there always be a gentle sea

an uplifting wind

a forest lush with lazy years


the gulls cry out

where can they go

the waves are churning