Breastplate of Curses

Our free hours were spent outside, in the neighborhood, on the streets of our block, where our mother could easily spot us from the second floor window where she clipped the laundry on a clothesline to dry, the squeak of the wheel that made it possible to rotate the rope nearly as loud as Stewy’s magnificently courageous curses.

From the moment we were old enough to venture out onto the street, Stewy was swearing.  He was the the kid across the street, the kinetic, energized quintessential bad boy who threw rocks as well as footballs, whose mouth might have been home to millions of soapy bubbles over the years. Anytime Stewy was out, it was his street.  He had the loudest voice and the most outrageous vocabulary.  Yet his language belied his jovial personality and sweet nature. It made absolutely no sense.  In retrospect, it is easy to see how he wore his bad language like armor.  It protected him from the real dangerous characters out there.  And it never poisoned his friendships with the rest of us — all under the age of 10 — on our modest triple-decker block.

Stewy’s bold bad boy banter became part of the fabric of the neighborhood.  It gave us the impression that he knew more about life than he probably did.  So we were in awe. We were sworn to protect him from the disapproval of the eavesdropping adults, and we valued his friendship.

So when I mistakenly mentioned to my mom that a fancy dress looked like ‘maternity clothes’ — a term Stewy tossed out there on one of his milder days — I refused to buckle under my mother’s questioning. I shrugged and shrugged until she gave up.  Who taught you that word?  Children don’t use these phrases.  It is disrespectful.  Did one of your friends teach you that? Don’t ever say it again.

I don’t know if parents regulate their children’s language so strictly anymore.  But I do believe that language creates realities and attitudes.  It creates and reflects culture as well.  

It was not that difficult to adhere to our parents’ rules of conduct and language.  But each of us made unfortunate language choices occasionally, and it was probably due to our colorful exposure to people in the neighborhood.  Though none of those indiscretions were as egregious as Stewy’s adult-rated poetry, we were promptly scolded and punished.  We were sanctioned for using words like:  lousy (forbidden!), stupid (duh), pregnant (uh-oh), and jackass (incredibly not as problematic as the others, as it is an actual animal).  We giggled every time someone mentioned any of these words. Prohibited words were entertaining enough at this level.  So we never considered crossing the line into cursing territory.

Throughout our childhood and into adulthood, our adherence to the family rules of censorship (read as ‘respectful behavior’) remained intact.  That is not to say that once out in the world, any of us maintained a pristine glossary of everyday terms, particularly in times of intense frustration, fear or anger.  I am the first to admit I’ve failed (and continue to fail) while behind the wheel of my automobile. I am the first to laugh at stand-up comedy that is smart and edgy and intuitive, regardless of the cursing.  And while I firmly and staunchly believe in our rights of speech and expression, I am bored and tired of today’s Stewy-speak, especially in the political arena.

Isn’t it time we became more creative communicators, and more respectful of the beautiful languages our world has given us?  There is no doubt that it would help us become more thoughtful people while helping us rebuild a mode of communication that’s growing shabby and predictable. Let’s start by choosing to use the language of poetry and art whenever possible, consciously leaving the street language out there on the street, where it belongs.  With sweet Stewy.



Textures – Waites Wharf


Newport, Rhode Island. August 5, 2017

After the early rain, the day remained cool and the activity on the water in Newport was nearly nonexistent.  By 8 p.m.  the shimmer of the water and the soft colors of the sunset from our position on Waites Wharf was too moving to resist.  It was a typical summer night in New England.

This photo was taken with my iPhone.

Textures – Trustom Pond


July 2017

Every summer, Trustom Pond nearly explodes with water lilies.  The wildlife refuge is actually a closed lagoon in South Kingstown, and is one of nine coastal lagoons in southern Rhode Island. The brilliant white flowers sit serenely on the glassy water, unencumbered nature. On a typical day, visitors can actually spot frogs sitting serenely on the lily pads.  I loved the combination of textures in this scene.


Teen Supreme

img_3431.jpgvia Daily Prompt: Symphony

While most of us were struggling to reverse the curves in our long hair and bodies, she was sporting a new shag haircut that emphasized the natural wave in her dark hair.  She wore it with a confidence only Sandra could have in 8th grade.  I was new to the school but we connected early on.  And soon after that first introduction, we were playing The Supremes on a portable turntable, bobbing and singing to the music on the sunporch of her parent’s modest bungalow.  

She would start by singing the first chorus.  Because it was her record player. And her record.  And her sunporch.  But most importantly, because her voice was rich and resonant, and mine was challenged and timid.  She would sing a verse,  then I would tentatively follow.  Then we’d share the chorus. She never acknowledged my shortcomings or her immense talent. She just enjoyed our young collaboration, almost as much as I did learning from her.

The music had little to no literal relevance to our lives.  

Whenever you are near, I Hear A Symphony,

A tender melody pulling me closer, closer to your arms.

Then suddenly, ooh, your lips are touching mine.

A feeling so divine ’til I leave the past behind.”

Neither of us had quite kissed a boy on the lips, much less let someone hold us so tight that we’d leave 12 years’ of “past behind.”  But she had her sights on Jay, and I on a blonde-haired blue-eyed god I spotted at my cousin’s country club.  A boy who would never know my name.

In the spring of that year, our school produced a talent show.  And we were the featured act.  Sandra was lead singer, director and choreographer. I was in good hands.  Even though there were only two us — whom I imagined as Diana and Mary — we forged ahead as the Teen Supremes.  (There was no Flo.  We couldn’t convince another friend to step in just for the sake of being more Supreme-like.)  

The PTA enjoyed our performance, at least according to our own mothers, and despite my rattled confidence after the warm up act — a very brave 7th grade boy who used the microphone as a weapon to pummel us with the loudest and least transcendental version of “Let it Be” that we would ever hear — I knew that that I would be forever grateful to my sweetest and most symphonic best friend for helping me to realize my own dream of singing for an audience.

I wouldn’t have done it without her.

Sandra knew what she wanted from her life, and that she would get it.  She did not want to be a famous recording artist, though she could have been.  Even before her first kiss, she knew she wanted to be loved by the man of her dreams, the aforementioned Jay who went to the a parochial school located right next door to our public K-8 elementary.  She knew she would have beautiful black-eyed children to whom she could sing Portuguese lullabies,  and perhaps work just enough outside of the home to help support her family. That was fine, I would tell her.  But what about the rest of the world?  How about a profession?  Wealth?  Travel? Fame?  She didn’t need it.

Sandra was the conductor of her own beautiful life.  She knew all of the things she needed to make it beautiful, and she would wave her wand to signal to the strings that it’s time to come in, and motion to percussion for an occasional cymbal clash at important moments.  As time when on, I became more amazed by her clairvoyance and power.  How could she know that Jay — a boy to whom she barely spoke — was just as mad for her as she was for him?  That they would date through high school and marry in their early twenties (while I — the one who had no plan — only excelled academically as I grappled with a chaotic, erratic, tragi-comedy that I called a social life, until I met my wonderful husband at 29.)  And though my affection and admiration for her never waned, our real friendship evolved into a simple cordial acquaintanceship  by the time I saw her again.

Cocktails were being served on an outdoor deck, when I spotted Jay and Sandra.  It was a class reunion, held during a time when cigarette smoking was still allowed in certain social settings, and I approached them as I dragged on my menthol.  Niceties and cocktail hour small talk ensued.  A respectable amount of time had passed before Jay struck up a side conversation with an old friend, and Sandra looked at me and, with a hint of disappointment, said, “Why are you still smoking?”  It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that her rich brown hair was different.  In fact, despite her beauty, everything was different.  Her skin, her eyes, her voice.  “I have breast cancer,” she said.  “Promise me you will quit.”

What I really want to say is that I spontaneously threw my beloved cigarettes over the deck railing and never smoked again. That my life changed immediately, that she got better, and her two little boys are now grown men who see their mom and dad every Sunday, and twice for dinner during the workweek.  But I can’t.

The truth is, it took me about five more months to actually quit smoking. I did it for her. For my family.  For myself.  I wanted to write Sandra a note to thank her, but didn’t know how to get started because I was afraid I would mess too much with fate.  As long as I heard no news on her condition I could trust that her treatment was working.

But the truth is, I am not a very good conductor.  I can’t orchestrate life as successfully as she did.

The truth is that Sandra’s cancer metastasized to her liver.  She was dead about six months after our last meeting. I never sent her that thank you note.  I went to her funeral instead.  

Every so often, when the Supremes are within earshot, I hear the voice of my dear childhood friend, and I thank her for all she gave me.  


Where I’m from

I’m from the speckled mint green linoleum stairway

Leading to the chlorine clean second floor apartment

Past my unhappy grandmother’s locked door

And its matching painted green walls

of which we were forbidden to touch

With our intolerably dirty small hands.


I’m from the untroubled mid century modern

Living room and its white leather sofa

That saluted the Orient and Mom’s elegance

On which Dad occasionally rested in front

Of the huge cube of a black and white television set

Encased in wood as blonde as Mom and Marilyn.


I’m from a family of sprites who fought for the coveted seat

Next to Dad

Where one of us, sometimes two,

Could rest against him and listen to him breathe

And his stomach gurgle.


I’m from a small apartment

In the North End of the city

Where a tall thin man named Blue Goose

Stumbled out of a dark bar and onto the streets in dank mid afternoons

Scaring us all back into the serenity of the untouchable

Green speckled hallway,

But only just until he passed.


I’m from a place of curbside Hi Lo Jack

That the older kids marshaled

And scuffed bicycles that they taught us to ride

Without the training wheels

Of garden snake lassoes

And stolen grapes from

The old lady’s trellis next door

Of carefree summer days of freedom and joy


Until Blue Goose or my Grandmother

Stepped into the light.