Touch Me

This, the last poem in Stanley Kunitz’s Collected Poems (2000), touches me every time I read it. I thought of it often during the months of isolating and social distancing, though my hugging-averse friends have a point that we do entirely too much indiscriminate touching here. Handshakes could go, especially in ‘flu season, even with diligent hand-washing.

Covid Haiku

I want a hug as much as the next person,

But I’m not dying for one.

Posted to my social media page, this got the biggest response ever.

Touch is necessary to human thriving, but the pandemic has taught us to be more selective about who we touch and how. Maybe we could do better than hokey-jokey elbow bumps of politicians. Eye contact, a nod. Hand on heart. Palms pressed into namaste, say, or Japanese-style bows.

As I learned in Japan, one quickly adopts and adapts, even if a few rules of etiquette are mangled in the process. For example, who initiates the bow? Gender differences? How low to go? Can you bow and exit gracefully? Do you bow to an elevator attendant? Maître d’ but not server? This is probably all covered in a handbook for business travelers.

In Tokyo, particularly on public transportation or in crowds – impossible to avoid – it was common to see people wearing masks. At the time of my visit, I found it noteworthy. But isn’t it just common courtesy, common sense, to avoid spreading a cold, the ‘flu, or worse? No big deal in a nation that puts community good ahead of personal convenience.

This afternoon, I’ll be meeting my book group on Zoom, once again. Omicron transmission is still a factor in South Florida where I live, though many of my fellow citizens are resisting vaccination and refusing to wear masks. (Neil Gorsuch, for shame!) When we began talking about books just before Covid, we took turns entertaining and we all miss that face to face intimacy, and yes, hugging. However, like most people I know, I’ve adjusted to Zoom (even if I haven’t mastered how to make myself look less cadaverous).  

Thanks to Zoom, I am part also of the Montclair Writers Group that used to meet in the local library. I live and raised my children in Montclair, New Jersey, earned two degrees from Montclair State U, so I feel I’m home, in some sense. These weekly meetings where we write poetry or prose to prompts for about 20 minutes each, then ‘gather’ to read and share some writerly tips and ideas, was the inspiration for my 80th birthday poetry reading on Zoom last October. About 50 friends and family members from around the U.S., plus England and Germany, joined in. High tech; high touch! Intimate as one could get in, in our little lighted Hollywood squares. Brought to us by Covid-19. Who would have thought?!

Forgotten Origin





At the Shapleigh Maine Baptist Church

the youth choir tunes up a fiddle

tap-taps the mike

woman in red hoodie presses

a Jesus Saves booklet  

into your reluctant palm  

Gotta love these kind strangers raising

funds for their free food locker

they woke up early to bake cloverleaf rolls

banana bread  blueberry muffins  mystery pie

for the bake sale

cleaned out dusty attics    a forgotten jumble

of odd cups  plates  pots missing their lids

wicker baskets  candle holders  linens

clothes  tools  toys  books

Take what you want — pay what you wish

On our way here roadside Trump sign fresh

as if for a new — or relentless — campaign

Forget the origin of this quiet desperation

at your peril

©Marika Stone July 28, 2021

Delray Laundromat

Saturday night on Atlantic Avenue:

flashy cars slow-mo on restaurant row

as a see-and-be-seen crowd

crosses wherever. Laughter.

Smoke from grills, cigarettes, weed.

I have shish kebab on my mind,

the final night of a poetry festival.

Must have passed the Laundromat

Dozens of times without pause.

Must be the fluorescence that limns

faces this Saturday night: people making

change while making eyes, could be.

Could be singles night for the lonely —

between relationships, between jobs,

between homes, shifts. Hands smoothing

tee-shirts, stacking jeans, while sneakers

in the dryer summon a disco beat.

Could be me.

Dancing in Our Living Room

When we rearranged the living room
to make a passage between kitchen
and patio, we found enough room
for dancing.  

The other day you said when life
returns to normal, we could
take some lessons.

I don’t want to wait for someone
to teach my body how to move when
a tune I love starts playing.

We didn’t need lessons in how to find
each other across a room, either,
though we had come to the party
with other people, and would
go home with them.

I pull you to your feet and kick off
my sandals. The Tennessee Waltz
is playing its old sad story of lost love.

And here we are in the middle
of our 36th year of married love,
in the middle of our Oriental rug,
cutting it.  

©March 1, 2021, Marika Stone

Crowdsourcing to the Vax

We first learned about an artist friend’s serious illness (not COVID) via a Go Fund Me link established by his wife. She was looking for $25,000 to help pay his medical expenses, a fact of life in these United States that should horrify — and motivate — all of us who are not on Medicare, not to mention work to preserve and even extend it to more of the population. We immediately donated to the fund with enough other people (between $50 and $200 each) and soon the fund topped $30,000. Alas, crowdfunding did not save his life, but at least she has some way to help pay his bills.

I’m hugely interested in solutions like this using the kinder side of social media. And I’ve tapped into another version — crowdsourcing — to help my spouse and I and others get vaccinated against COVID-19. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term, chances are you are already using it: Wikipedia. The term crowdsourcing is made up of the terms “crowd” and “sourcing” [that] uses the masses to find a solution to a problem.

If you’re one of my South Florida readers and are over 65, you probably have had direct experience of the complete incompetence and chaos around the Publix vaccine delivery program. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the highly political nature* of this award to the corporate entity that funded the current governor> Or the fact that it leaves out communities of color who are suffering the greatest devastation from the disease: people who have limited access to online services; a local Publix supermarket; and/or the time to devote to enlisting their friends and family to spend an hour or more online to register for a vaccine appointment.

As for the design of the online access to an appointment itself, any one of our computer-literate grandchildren could probably have done better. So here’s what we’ve been going through, and I realize our experience pales in comparison to that of people left out of the process entirely. After three attempts to secure appointments, the last one an early family mini-crowdsource (five adults and seven screens), we came up with zip. Last Friday, as the numbers for Palm Beach County’s remaining vaccine supply plummeted from about 9000 to less than 150, our son managed to pull up the opening form. But by the time he entered our information, there were no pharmacies with available stock, closer than Vero Beach. Two people + two shots each = four different trips. Maybe it will yet come to that for us, and we’re lucky enough to have the time and transport.

We have already filled out Health Department forms (more than once!) and call the Florida Marlins’ hotline (786-629-5752) daily to check whether its vaccine drive-through service is taking appointments. We are on our own UMiami Health system, though they also ran out of the vaccine. We even applied for a drug trial with the J&J vaccine, only to learn during the informed consent process that it was a double-blind study involving a placebo. Does this all sound a tad desperate? Well, when you read about COVID variants potentially extending this pandemic out years, you can get a little anxious about becoming one of the casualties. Yes, at 85 and 79, we’re healthy with no pre-existing conditions, and we have some adorable masks we haven’t even tried out yet. But still and all.

So the latest: Thanks to some friends who have managed to hack the system and get their appointments/first shots through at a Publix nearby, we’re going to give crowdsourcing one more go this week. All of the team is well over 65, so it’s not a small ask them to get up at 5:30 and pull up that screen, then sit there eyes glazing over, watching it roll over ever minute in the hopes your number will come up. Meanwhile, you can scroll down to your county and watch the available doses dwindle until, maybe an hour later, it closes. As I said earlier, what genius designed this?

I hope we get our appointments this week because we’re exhausted spending so much time and energy on what, in the better world I dream of, would be a relatively simple procedure. When I was a child in Burma, the entire country would get vaccinated in a matter of days whenever the was an outbreak of Cholera or other infectious disease. It was mandatory and very efficient. And the country, at the time, was parliamentary democracy.

The good news is, once you’re out of the appointment bottleneck, it’s all easy-peasy. Those who have been lucky enough to get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine say it takes 15 minutes at most, and appointments are made for the next shot, then and there.

The best way we can think of thanking friends for their effort on our behalf, is to pay it forward (now there’s a movie to add to my ‘feel good’ list!) So if you are still among the Great Unvaxed and live in South Florida, and don’t want to wait for the Federal Government to step in, please zap me an mail at yogimarika at gmail.com. If you have a good hack for the current system, please let me know that, too. And, as one of my book group friends noted: we have to make more political noise about the sheer awfulness and injustice of this vaccine rollout in Florida, especially for those who have been left behind. Let’s do it!

Photo: Hakan Nural https://unsplash.com/photos/niBllet7sTw

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*Palm Beach Post: “I’m absolutely, absolutely disgusted that the governor of this state has 100% taken the authority to administer the vaccination program out of the hands of the public health department and given that authority to a corporate entity,” said Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. This decision is completely oblivious to the reality of economic disparity. Publix does not generally place its stores in poor neighborhoods. If you’re in Belle Glade or Pahokee along Lake Okeechobee, there’s no Publix for 30 miles. “There’s no way in humanity my seniors can make such a long drive, and I wouldn’t want them to,” says Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.

Something There is That Doesn’t Love a Tree

I stopped once to hear a sitar
played in a leafy shade.
A carpet had been laid to soften
spreading roots, and when the musician
paused, he rested his instrument
against a sturdy trunk.

Felled for a utility pole, says the young gardener
with outraged face. Couldn’t they
have found another place?

Now, where just a week before
we gathered in uncommon grace,
a stump and side-lying trunk.
Growth rings slowly weep sap.
Severed branches collect in a heap.

Something there is that doesn’t love a tree,
that sees only expendability; sees logs,
split and stacked for firewood;
sees timber, 2 X 4’s, cash.

That looks at shade and wants full sun;
that wants to make way for a lawn,
a fairway, a putting green.

©July 29, 2020
#68 of my 100 Poem Pandemic Challenge

Revised 1/12/21 with Susanna Rich

Enough of This Excitement!

We knew it would end with a bang!
Because bang gets eyeballs, enriches
The already rich, and besides,
No one is really interested
In reality, these days.

It’s all Disney, all the time –
Let us entertain you and you will
Come back for more. You will
Empty your wallets; max out
Your credits cards; go into debt;
Vote, to keep the damn show going. 
You will confuse your performance
With actually doing something,
Because that’s how we roll here.

I say, bring back the dullness
Of a government that actually works —
No soundtrack, no makeup,
No lights or camera, no Academy Awards —
For the least of us.
Let public life be respectful,
Again. Let’s reward the people
Who just do their essential jobs in obscurity
That they and we may all sleep better.

Boring is beautiful. All the world’s
Not a stage.

January 4, 2021

Just This Morning

Our steps along this section of boardwalk have led us here again.

The rocking chairs are motionless until they hold a body or catch a breeze.

The thatch above is fragrant. Reeds bend to the wind.

We have added nothing but our presence for a short time, and when we are done rocking, all will be as if we’d never been here.

So too the earth, before and after humans.

The Bearable Lightness of Being

Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
– Billy Joel, New York State of Mind

Not me. I’m more of a staycation kind of person, which like being an introvert, is an advantage during a global pandemic.

I’ve played tourist in New York City while living across the Hudson in Hoboken, N.J. How else would I have discovered gems like The Jewish Museum that had a Chagall exhibit at the time, and two other less well-known museums on the northern reaches of 5th Avenue?  El Museo has a collection of Caribbean and Latinx artists you rarely see elsewhere, and you won’t do better than the Museum of the City of New York, for a dose of history and view of the diverse citizenry that make NYC unique. I had never been to Ellis Island before my NYC staycation, either, though my spouse’s mother passed through there as a 3-year-old arrival from Poland. As an immigrant myself, I found it intensely moving to stand at the foot of a towering exhibit of all the suitcases and trunks donated by other people who first laid eyes on this country from New York Harbor. If objects could talk, what stories these might tell!

A few years and another staycation ago, we rented an AirBnB guest house in nearby Flamingo Park (West Palm Beach) for a long weekend, partly to test if the walk score of 83 was accurate. Yes, but only in Downtown. The average for WPB is more like 43, though the public jitney makes many things nearer. From where we were situated, we had easy access to The Armory Arts Center and the new Grandview Public Market developing just across the railroad tracks, and to The Norton, where we are members of long-standing. Flamingo Park itself is filled with beautiful stucco homes, some of historic interest, and we enjoyed just walking and taking photographs. Of course, someone had put up a little free lending library by their walkway. The Antique Row was also an easy stroll for morning coffee and window shopping, and it wasn’t too much of a stretch to Flagler and the waterfront. (BTW, if you’re interested in walkability and how it raises the value of housing stock, you might want to check out this article from Strong Towns.)

Now that exercise, cooking and eating healthier have become even more central to well-being, I content myself with 2-3 visits a week to Grassy Waters Preserve and with a heightened attention to where I source our food. I have always enjoyed grocery shopping and after all these years here, remain in awe at the abundance available to the average American. But the new normal means making different choices. Not so much stocking up at Costco (though I like how they treat their employees), but shifting my business to smaller purveyors like the produce and Asian specialties spot near me, or its neighbor, a well-established organic supermarket. Neither is ever crowded at the times I choose to go, and both observant of CDC guidelines for masks and barriers. It maybe a while before I’m near real farmers markets with locally grown and raised offerings, let alone New York’s Chinatown, but small is ever beautiful.

As Joanie Mitchell sang, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,’ the months-long closing of Grassy Waters for repairs made me realize how important it was (and still is), to have a complete reset of pace, mood and mind throughout your day, however you manage it. As I step onto that boardwalk, I can feel my shoulders soften and my breath deepen. I’ll sniff the air like the animal I am, for a whiff of what other living things are out there (preferably not another of my species wearing cologne). I love knowing that, to the various inhabitants of this pristine wetlands (and fresh water source for West Palm Beach) — even the larger creatures like bobcats, deer or wild boar — I’m no big deal. I’m just a part of the scenery, of what goes on here:  an alligator’s leisurely swim along one of the waterways; an anhinga warming its wings; a Moorhen couple; bright green lizards; the croaking of a bullfrog; and even, one day on a picnic, a shy little girl with her father, drawn to the sound of my daughter’s live harp music. Perhaps, it’s a shift in perspective worth cultivating for the long haul, even when vaccines have made the world safe again for hubris.

We usually do a couple of rounds on the boardwalk, then find an open tiki hut and rocking chairs to sit for a short meditation. The thatch overhead is fragrant. The reeds bend to the wind. It’s not escape I’m seeking so much as simply being still, because there is no getting away from the neighborhood of the here and now.

Term Limits

My elder friend, Margaret, once told me that one’s 70’s were ‘a piece of cake,’ but the 80’s … well, she just rolled her lively eyes and chuckled. She was about to turn 90 and would become widowed soon after this conversation. She had stopped attending Sunday services regularly, though she scolded me, right in the middle of the produce section, for leaving the congregation. I hope she lives a long time.

This month I turned 79 and it wasn’t until I took the training for being a poll watcher that I began to seriously question whether some tasks are beyond my ability to perform with aplomb and confidence. I’ve kind of taken for granted the good longevity genes I inherited from the women in my line: Mom died at 94; her sister, Josie made it to 96; and Granny Daw Thant was well into her 80’s. All were physically active and mentally with it. Mom was swinging a golf club until her knees gave out, and remained a canny bridge, poker and Rummy 500 player until near the end. Aunt Josie, who spent her adult years in the UK, never cared to get a driver’s license. She could run down a bus carrying shopping bags, and worked in her vegetable patch past her 90th birthday. Granny? Legendary for her Thai-style massages, she could hop up on your back to knead the muscles with her feet, never losing her balance — or wicked laugh — until she died, instantly as she always wanted, of a heart attack.

They set a high bar. At 56, I trained as a yoga instructor and launched classes in my stripped-down living room in Hoboken, N.J. I called it 11th and Yoga and filled the space with students three nights a week. My body-mind was my business card. In yoga, I felt as though I’d discovered, if not the fountain of youth, then flexibility and resilience for my later years. I retired from teaching after 20 years, but maintain a regular practice with an app that let’s me choose the kind of class, the music, and the teacher I want to deliver instructions into my ear: Australian Chad, these days. One of my daughters-in-law is devoted to workouts with stretch bands and got me interested in this as well. I put all of this to the test recently, by moving my writing desk up one flight of stairs while my spouse offered sight lines so I didn’t take out the bannisters or scrape the wall.

Post-carding and texting were perfect get out the vote activities during lockdown. But as this particular election looms, I find myself drawn to poll watching because it’s clear we are up against some formidable attempts to interfere with the peaceful process. I have always admired those who serve every election year in various capacities. At my polling place in 2016, I witnessed one very polite worker remind an apparently confused Dr. Ben Carson that having cast his ballot, he needed to vacate the premises immediately. She gently but firmly escorted him out. Doesn’t that sound civil and orderly, the way a democracy is supposed to work?

But I must admit that the hour-long Zoom training to be a poll watcher has given me pause as to whether 1. I can be in the room from 5:30 a.m. to poll closing or even manage a 7+ hour shift during the early voting period which began in my state today, or 2. be mentally sharp enough to challenge my counterpart in the other party if I need to, and text reports of what I observe to the ‘boiler room’ of the Lawyers Bound for Justice. Not to mention that I use hearing aids. As they say, I’m on the fence about this. But it does make me think about the wisdom of knowing when you have reached your personal limits, legends like RBG notwithstanding.

This is going to sound odd coming from the co-author of Too Young to Retire: 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life, an argument for staying in the game long after so-called retirement age. But term limits for all forms of government service are beginning to make sense to me, if only to forestall Murphy’s Law*. Congress is currently full of people who have forgotten why they ran for office in the first place. You don’t need a better argument for term limits than the spectacle of a 48-year-old SCOTUS nominee whose views don’t represent the majority of Americans, possibly gaining a lifetime appointment.

*“If something can go wrong, it will and usually at the worst time.”