“Self Portrait with Georgia on My Mind,” “Growing up Townie” and “Believer”

by Liz Abrams-Morley

Self Portrait with Georgia on My Mind

And no, not the state, though the state

of the state is cause to fret,

no, O’Keeffe, I say, and we

are painting red poppies. We

are sliding crimson beyond the edges

of our canvases and we

are learning to scribble

outside the lines and critics

be damned.

Deep into my sixties I

seek the wisdom of women

who shed convention,

became more than them-

selves, shining. I lift

my brush, a pencil, dust

vine charcoal across my paper,

my shirt, sometimes even

my cheek, crouch toward

sidewalks to chalk messages,

become a message I know

others can’t read,

leave my marks

anyway, every-

where.

Growing up Townie

i. Spring

In a few days I’ll be a few days

closer to the grave, vintage, I’m

a Smith Corona, sticking keys

on J or L, clack-tapping like

kitten heels on concrete paths we

paced outside the ivied walls,

no diamonds in the rough, not even

cubic zirconium, no, just the paste

stones on rings we flashed as if

these signified engagement in a world

we could not comprehend let alone

enter, oak doors, lead mullioned windows,

rooms dark, tomblike, smelling of cherry

pipe, young men wearing the brocaded

yoke of entitlement. In May

there was too, an almost cloying

perfume of magnolia which clung

to our hungers, to our gauzy skirts.

We stood outside, mannequins, until

a few of us sawed our ways out of display

cases good girls were nailed into. We

climbed the loft stairs that led to safe

silence over your parents’ garage,

carried mason jars of purloined vodka.

Somehow we never tumbled

down to where our parents sat and wove

theories about how they surely knew

what they surely didn’t know. So long

ago; the past is a vast and shifting landscape,

a nice place to visit,

as long as you don’t try to make

claim, stay, plant a flag

and insist on living there.

ii. Summer at the Shore

I count backwards, scratch

subtraction problems into

margins of thought as I roll

under, try to recall the sound

of my mother.

How the surf tossed us at least

once each summer, head over

heels, agitated as if

in the heavy soil cycle and we

could not open our eyes

against the saline sting.

It’s hard sometimes to swirl

in the dark, not knowing

which way is down—you can’t

release your tucked knees, can’t

bring your feet to—not exactly

solid ground—the shifting sand

bottom pitting constantly but

at least a something and finally

you come face to sky, air.

iii. Autumn: City

Saturday: a burst of bloom and eighty degrees. On Monday, your friend Sarah says it

felt like such a great lesson in impermanence, Sunday, gray, the cold storm. Think of

the magnolia petals, how, in your home town, they opened like fireworks and scattered

on the rain slicked pavement as if in one fluid movement every spring. Life’s like that,

Sarah says, the chill closing back in over the grit-city neighborhood of your late life,

where you are home.

Believer

I don’t believe in God, my friend says, but she

means the Catholic school god of boundaries and

virginity shoved down the rolled-over, hiked-up

uniform skirts of her youth. She says her husband

and she went to church on 9-11—Thee 9-11—would

you believe it, because I needed comfort and the fucking

priest at BVM went and likened the souls of the dead

to the innocents murdered—yep he said murdered—

every week in abortion clinics. I mean, pardon the pun

but Jesus Christ on a jet ski, do you believe the nerve?

And that’s not God, I wanted to say, that’s an asshole

priest, but I’m an unschooled Jewish girl reared

in a WASP town and what do I know? Today

I know nothing’s as it should be, snow closing schools,

courts, Philadelphia’s streets on a morning that should

find itself well into spring, magnolias already budded

and likely to freeze before they can flower now, snow

coating my Easter roses and hyacinth shoots beyond

bloom. It’s a quiet snow, this one, not the raging wind-

blown Nor’easter of last week that uprooted oaks

and maples already leafing and tossed them like

so many red, green, blue Pick-Up Sticks across highways

and side streets we navigated, our young grandsons

in the car—precious cargo. Oh the majesty and

the torture, terror, of that drive, how we sang silly

ditties and handed out cookies and smiled as if

we had everything in our control. We got home.

Everyone’s safely tucked inside their own houses

as new snow falls quietly, steadily, lays deep banks

onto pavement just after crews finish hauling debris

from city and suburban streets. We are lucky

or maybe blessed, and yesterday sun shone

through the glazed windows of my favorite yoga studio

and coated the wide planked oak floor like popcorn

butter poured generously and the teacher smiled, said

Welcome to the calm between storms as I took my seat,

inhaled deeply and let my breath out with a sigh. I

took breath after miraculous, clean breath and stretched

like a satisfied lap cat into that sunny calm between.

About the Author

Liz Abrams-Morley

Liz Abrams-Morley’s newest collection, Beholder, was published by Word Poetry, April, 2018. Inventory, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014 and Necessary Turns was published by Word Poetry in 2010 and won an Eric Hoffer Award for Excellence in Small Press Publishing that year. Her poems and short stories have been published in a variety of nationally distributed anthologies, journals and ezines, and have been read on NPR. She is co-founder of Around the Block Writers’ Collaborative. Any given Tuesday at noontime you can find her at the corner of 2nd and Chestnut directing her resistance toward the walls behind which her phantom Senator Pat Toomey may or may not be hiding from his constituents. A poet, professor, gramma and activist, Liz wades knee deep in the flow of everyday life from which she draws inspiration and, occasionally, exasperation.