My face was in my hands
not in prayer, but in my hands
my face peeled of skin
by volcanic burst of water boiling up
from a pressure canner that lacked one handle.
The hum of the water didn’t sound right
for the simple hot-water bath the recipe
called for. Too hot? Too late. The lid blew off
when the seal was opened and a geyser of burning
broke over my face, across my chest
and down my arm, my mouth an astonished O!
All in a moment, my face was in my hands
and saving face took on a different meaning.
Before beginning the day’s classes
we knelt on our chairs facing backwards
and recited a litany of prayer to the saint of the day.
Then Sister read from Butler’s Lives
the life and death of that day’s saint––
burned at the stake: Joan of Arc;
drawn and quartered: Edmund Campion;
overcome by arrows: Saint Sebastian,
swooning and slumped on a pole.
Captivated by methods of deaths dealt
we recoiled and marveled, recalibrating
the value of being a martyr, of being a saint.
Judith Robbins’ latest collection of poems, To Bury or Burn, sweeps
across the spectrum of life, leaving in its wake moments of joy and
grief, childhood and motherhood, poets and their poems, and the
company and loss of cats, all of it against the backdrop of the
The book is available from Amazon
from the publisher, North Country Press
from Barnes & Noble
and from most bookstores.
Is there any reason on your birthday
to believe that you have not been reclaimed
from the worm of sickness that struck you down?
In August tomato worms abounded
but the physic of the gardener’s attention
plucked them and ended their tomato
dominion. Did the physic of death
end your suffering just so? Now, like tomato
plants of September, do you bear new fruit
as a sign of time well spent in struggle
to be free of the worm at last?
This poem is reprintd today in commemoration of those who died, and those who lived and saved others on September 11, 2001.
O beautiful boy in the photo, Twin Towers looming
behind you across the East River, crowded with boats,
vehicles pressing their way over Brooklyn Bridge
busy, busy, while the viewer’s eye can’t help looking
up with awful knowledge of what will happen six years
hence, when what was beautiful once comes crumbling
down, and there’s no hope of reconstruction of those
tumbled towers with their personal cargo burned
and crushed to a lethal powder that stings the lungs
of workers, who in their hurry to save whom they can
among the broken, inhale the death of countless others
desiccated, seeking to be borne away from calamity,
from catastrophe, from the end of life as they’d known it.
And you, my son, what of you embodying life
on the other side of the river, seated innocent
above the fray, a trick of the camera having you
eye those distant towers as if you were Gulliver,
and they a Lilliputian pair affixed to your right
shoulder. It’s all illusion except for the deaths
to come and the look of the young man you were
seated on a parapet above the river, eyeing
the future and what you thought it could be.
Four children, one tub
no running hot water––
How did she manage to keep us clean?
With pots and kettles on the stove
heating after supper on Saturday night
in preparation for church on Sunday
morning. The heated water half-filled
the claw-footed tub, and whoever was
first in the week’s rotation stepped
gingerly into the steamy bath.
My favorite slot was number three.
Like Goldilocks tasting the bears’
porridge and finding the bowl of Baby
Bear not too hot and not too cold
but just right, so it was with the third
slot. Granted I sat in a growing scum
but I didn’t mind, what with the rinse
the warm rinse a comforting caress
after it all. Like animals nuzzling
their fresh hay on a cold winter night
and settling into their clean bedding
with quiet nickers and oinks, we
settled onto clean sheets, murmuring
to each other as we fell asleep.
After all these years her reduction to ashes
sits unmolested on the fireplace mantle,
her mother afraid to let her go underground.
Her father had found her frozen in death
his and her mother’s love not enough
to save her from the cold and loneliness
of depression, that folded her in on herself.
If only she’d called, they’d have heard and come
running with hope for a new beginning.