In all the years I’ve known Leslie, this is probably the expression I most often see. She has an almost zen-like calmness about her. When we see and greet each other with a hug, there’s an immediate sense of peace. Yet she has this deep, expressive passion for the causes she cares about – the environment, politics, women’s rights – and her poetry covers all of that. And of course she’s passionate about the people she loves. Oh, and her rescue pit bull, Leeloo.
Her collection, Splintered Memories, is a moving tribute to her mom, but also the love between her parents. In Leslie’s own remembering, she reminds us of the importance of memories, and the fragility of memory itself. There is a longing for the mom who is no longer there, even before her mother passes away.
From Splintered Memories, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.
She told him:
I’m a little crazy
an attempt to justify earlier
actions she couldn’t explain
It made him weepy
and gnawed at him that she
might actually believe
it was true
He assured her:
You’re not crazy, Honey
but she had no recollection of context
nor cause to appreciate his gesture
She calmly resumed her mission
of planning, piling, gathering and sorting
odd objects to pack in her purse, and
when full, requested her suitcase
Honey, we’re not going anywhere
he told her – yet again – stifling frustration
behind patience and a gentle but firm tone
when she challenged him
She looked at him as if he was crazy –
Of course they were going somewhere, maybe
to Queens, maybe Holbrook, the places of her
past lives, or maybe that place in her mind
where everything made perfect sense
and she walked on her own in gardens
of fertile soil that unearthed only
Mom always emphasized –
“I pulled old rusty nails, by hand, from
The boards were red, splintered, heavy,
seventy-eight years weather-worn –
once siding on the 1898 hay barn,
destined by Dad’s design to be
repurposed as interior paneling
and kitchen cupboard doors
in the house that Dad built.
Mom reminded all who’d listen –
“I pulled the nails from
When the anti-gods of ailing
were doling out disease,
what made them choose
to give you so many?
You never deserved your lot.
Your list is long, but on it,
no cancer – you always said
I don’t do cancer. But maybe
a short course of breast cancer,
or something experts could
catch in time to cure . . . maybe
it would be worth the pain, hair
loss and fear just to know
that the demon – not you –
would soon pass.
But your curses are chronic,
progressive and unremitting.
I’d swiftly give up my left tit
to see you whole again.
This isn’t noble on my part,
it’s sheer selfishness.
I want my mother back.
Leslie’s answers to my questions ~
I’ve probably cast out of memory the earliest efforts, but two poems come to mind. One was about counting raindrops; the other was a haiku about a woven basket, which my mother wrote out in calligraphy on a construction paper basket I wove in class. I recall she volunteered to do that for all the kids in my class, and everyone’s haiku were displayed for parent/teacher night. I was ten or eleven years old, and don’t remember which poem was first.
That’s a tough question given all the greats who have left us, and the amazing poets still working hard at their craft today. At this moment, I’m inclined to say Okla Elliott, who just passed away unexpectedly on March 19. Ten years my junior, he had me in awe of his brilliance. I’d just like to hug him one more time, thank him for his contributions to the literary world, his brain engaging Facebook posts, his wit, and for passionately caring about the betterment of humanity. And, I’d say a proper goodbye with glass raised to a poet friend gone too soon.
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