“To Maryat, My Aunt,” “Cold Blue” and “River Stones”

“To Maryat, My Aunt,” “Cold Blue” and “River Stones”

To Maryat, My Aunt

Outrageous, abundant woman,

spirit of fire, spirit of thunder.

You sang fugues to me as a child,

rocked me to sleep with your stories,

made grand entrances and exits

in a black Russian coat,

befriended the egg lady, painted

a black Christ crucifixion for her country church.

Your presents at Christmas were books

or piano music, giftwrapped in old newspaper.

We played for each other on the Steinway

among ballroom ghosts from another era,

sinking and soaring to find that sweet sound.

After your visits, lone beer cans in brown paper bags

lingered deep in the fridge.

With you, I knew I could do anything.

I read your plays about people trying to escape

what they’d built around themselves

and watched you rage at injustice,

transforming the stories of Harlem’s down and out

into powerful street theatre.

But then I visited you in New York,

saw your life, your loneliness,

your struggles to stay healthy.

You told me about your anger

at your mother, your father,

your brothers, how all had failed you,

and among your famous friends—writers,

singers and artists—I had second thoughts.

I retreated to the journal you gave me

while you, whooping like an Amazon,

left New York for West Virginia,

rebuilt a house with your own hands,

started a writing retreat for women,

brought grass-roots theatre into the hollers.

Porch-swing gossiper, fence-post digger,

the summer rain fell softly on your tin roof.

I did not become what you dreamed I would.

I became a professor and a mother

and married a writer. I did not master the piano,

I learned instead how to love.

Now I am grown, I can see

everything is no longer possible.

I see the betrayals you spoke of

and I see yours, too.

We spoke before you died

after keeping our distance for years,

and smiled on each other’s good fortune,

saving talk of disappointment for a night that never came.

Ungentle woman, good neighbor, citizen.

Spirit of earth and hard rain.

Cold Blue

This morning I wake and rise to the sun

tumbling over treetops on the opposite shore

when a rustling like a roll of thunder

bursts from the forest beyond the meadow

and a fawn in flight runs toward me

and I smell the grey wolf right behind

and the musky wind reaches me before the sight

of the horizontal torso, impossibly long legs

veering off toward Joe.

I stand with robe open, coffee grounds

still in their basket, too late

to shout a warning.

That night the wolf returns,

its cold blue eyes seeking me out asleep

in a hollow among the dried leaves

and I wake trembling

and feel Joe’s loins along my back side,

and cry out in the dark.

River Stones

Degrees of smooth

and round

and different kinds

of rough,

holding fossil parts

and not—

mute grey

a beige one

pale blue


striped rust on cream.

Into the shallows

light bores,


The shadows find you

no longer

among your sisters and brothers

but in raked sand

my small rock garden

on the hillside.

I listen for hours, hope

to hear you.

About the Author

Mary Dean Lee

Mary Dean Lee grew up in Milledgeville, Georgia. She studied theatre and literature at Duke University and Eckerd College (Florida), before receiving her PhD in organizational behaviour at Yale University. As a professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, she has published in Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today and many academic journals. Her poetry has appeared recently in Hamilton Arts & Letters, The Tishman Review, and Montreal Serai, and is forthcoming in the following magazines: Event, Grain, and The Halcyone. She lives in Montreal, Canada.

Read more work by Mary Dean Lee.