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Starfish by Eleanor Lerman

oooh new poem to love thanks to the Writer’s Almanac. I just went online and ordered her books from the library. So excited to read more.


by Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
stopped when you should have started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

“Starfish” by Eleanor Lerman, from Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds.


Independence From…

After the parade we ran some errands and returned home. Today was a day to do nothing but relax.

I curled up on the deck off the bedroom to do some writing exercises from Natalie Goldberg’s book “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir”. It was peaceful.

The deck in summertime is kind of like being in a tree house. This year I added lights and more plants and have enjoyed it more in the last week than I have for years.

I did “I remember” writing pieces on Fourth of July’s past.

I remember my 16 year old brother getting arrested as a teenager for shooting off fire crackers in Lake Nebagamon, a sleepy lake village with no tolerance for fireworks. I was six years old and the judge insisted that I join my brother and parents in his office to discuss the offense. I remember the judge’s lecture to my brother-“what if you had blown your sister’s fingers off?” he said, pointing directly at me. “what if you blew out her eyes? How would you feel then?” I remember looking at him in horror, angry that terrifying me was part of his lesson plan. I remember thinking-knowing-even at six years old that that was a pretty shitty thing to do.

Just when I started thinking that maybe I would be forced to cook something our neighbor brought over a plate of delicious grilled meats and spicy avocado sauce as a thank-you for a bag of charcoal I gave him. It was brilliant and delicious and saved me from having to cook.

So back to the deck I went and watched the sun make shadows on the house.

Even though it was still daylight the pops and whines of fireworks were everywhere. Birds were flocking to my yard to escape.

I wrote a poem…

Oh birdies come here and hide in my trees while the rest of the world celebrates independence with mortars, bottle rockets and things that go BOOM! I am resting peacefully in my tree fort of a deck-silent and thankful
so feel safe here in my mulberry branches, thick and green and ride out the mayhem with me

I love fireworks but did not want to deal with the traffic and crowds that a Chicago Fourth brings forth so we stayed at home, but that didn’t mean there would not be a full on show. As darkness approached the pops and whines turned into full on explosions and screams. Canyon and I went out into the street to watch the show. The humidity clung to us like a rescue blanket, heavy and damp as we stood in the intersection of our block. The sulfurous smoke hung low and thick, limiting ground visibility to about half a block. Explosions surrounded us and we turned in a circle to try to capture the best views.

The fireworks were impressive-not the Black Cat bottle rockets of my youth, but full on quality flash and bang. Wet with sweat we went back into the bliss of our central air conditioning.

It is 1am and the boom boom pow is still going on. I am making “Apocalypse Now” jokes. “never get off the boat man” and “the horror, the horror”.

I remember my first summer working on the North Shore Scenic Railroad. I was 19 years old and spending all my time with Vietnam vets, bikers and a bunch of high-schoolers and college kids like me. That first season we took the tourists up the shore and then back down to Bayfront Park for the fireworks show. The passengers got off the train and the crew gathered up on the hood of the 652, a silver and green diesel locomotive. Karl, a Vietnam vet was the engineer and he would let me blow the whistle for the best displays. I would call out “ooh and ahh” and “it looks like Tina Turner’s hair!” Karl would say, “looks like Napalm.”