Thursday, November 3, 2011

Of Snowbirds and Icebergs

It’s November 2, which is hard to believe. Harder to believe is that it’s currently 61 degrees outside and a cabbage white butterfly just fluttered past my library window, looking a bit like a miniature version of the great egret in the above photo.

But just because it’s a balmy day in Western New York doesn’t mean this snowbird and her husband aren’t ready to head to the sunny, warmer climes of Florida (80 degrees in North Fort Myers as I write) where our condo on the Caloosahatchee awaits. A week from today, we’ll have turned south for a leisurely 1400-mile drive to our subtropical home, stopping along the way to visit friends in West Virginia and in Georgia. I’m packed, ready to go. Roger will get there by the time we’re due to pull out of the driveway.

But meanwhile, we’re busy saying goodbye to friends and neighbors, running a few errands (get those Rx’s filled!), and walking the roads along farm fields now shorn of cornstalks and soybeans. The fields look naked, even more so since the last of the Canada geese have departed for fresh fields, warmer waters.

But right now, my mind’s eye turns even farther south…

…to Antarctica!

That’s because it’s time for me to invite you to order a copy of my new book, The Ice Decides: Poems of Antarctica from Finishing Line Press.

Now, you can travel with me on a journey to the ends of the earth and partake in our many beautiful discoveries in Antarctica.

Maybe you’ve been there and long to see it again (and smell the penguin rookeries). Or maybe it’s on your bucket list and you are scrimping and saving for the expensive expedition. Or maybe you’re an armchair traveler who relishes others’ adventures to the Earth’s far-flung places. Or maybe (except for the movie Happy Feet) Antarctica isn’t even on your mental map, merely a word that means “cold.”

Whatever your outlook, now’s the time to (re)discover the magic of Antarctica – for only $14 (plus shipping). Just order your copy (or copies) of my newest book The Ice Decides: Poems of Antarctica, from Finishing Line Press.

As award-winning poet Beau Cutts points out: “You have never before read a collection of poems about the coldest-highest-windiest place on planet Earth!” But now you can, in this unique collection.

You’ll meet those whimsical (and smelly) penguins and other arctic birds. You’ll chase whales across rough seas. You’ll come to understand that Antarctica is far more “The Blue Continent” than “The White Continent” as you face icebergs the size of city blocks. You’ll even encounter the enchanting green of the island continent – its 500-year-old mosses. And you’ll watch as global warming tightens its grip on the great storehouses of ice.

I hope you’ll want to travel with us across the famed Drake Passage to a land of “beauty, terror, silence,/ the blue awe of Antarctica.”

To entice you, I’ll share one of my favorite poems from the collection:


Lo! I’m awake, I think, and blinking.
Because what to my wondering eye
has appeared this bright morning
right outside my cabin porthole?
Penguins! Batches of chinstraps,
gaggles of plump toddling birds
in black berets, black capes,
white bibs and—pink sneakers!
Waddle, hop, waddle, waddle, hop, hop,
sli-i-i-i-ide to the fast-ice edge
for an early hour’s frigid dive.
Make way for pudgy, hungry,
flipper-flapping penguins
and penguins tooting their kazoo voices:
Krill, krill, krill, we’ll get our fill!
And off the briny brink they go—
plop, plop, plop, plop, splash—
into the deep blue smorgasbord,
into the rich Antarctic seas.
Another fine day gets under way
in penguin paradise. Ah, penguin glory!


Please order a copy now.

I’ll be frank: Orders placed now will determine how many copies FLP prints—of if they print the book at all. (I need to help FLP sell a minimum 50 books from now through the pre-sale period ending Nov. 23; such are the vicissitudes of small-press publishing these days.)

It’s easy. To order your copy/copies of The Ice Decides, go to this FLP direct link

I thank you, the penguins thank you and you’ll thank yourself for voyaging with me to “The White Continent.”

And I thank those faithful “fans” who’ve already ordered copies!

Meanwhile, you can enjoy the many pleasures of the new issue of The Centrifugal Eye where I work as assistant editor and book review columnist. You’ll discover a chorus of eloquent poetic voices (including yours truly, if I may be so immodest), book reviews (don’t miss the one for my previous book, The Urn; writer Danielle Blasko does a boffo job of tackling the book) and an interview with and essay by poet Maureen Kingston. Just hop over to and click on the “New Issue” tab! Plunge into the beauty.

Happy November. See you next time from Florida.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Belated Equinox Reflections


Entomologically Correct

Last night the wind
in a rush shifted
south to north swish
goodly wind, tail wind
wing wind,great wind of insects
seeking passage out of Canada
by the legions while there's time
dragonfliers in formation
sporting their dozen spots
monarch butterfliers willy-nilly
dabbing sunlight orange
for crossing Erie’s open waters
in buzz, in flutter
with faith in the genes
of their tiny bodies
today they leap
Point Pelee to Sandusky
Ontario to Ohio
nation to nation

as they depart we marvel
small wonders of evolution
small wonders of migration
so small, so far, this autumn


Greetings, friends. Roger and I have returned home from a fifth summer odyssey into Canada replenished from our time at Point Pelee National Park and nearby Wheatley Provincial Park on the north shore of Lake Erie. Hiking, birdwatching (a bald eagle! a black-throated blue warbler!), smooshing around our campsite overlooking a creek and its marsh. And the beautiful insects you see here. We all recognize the monarch but I wonder how many of us have seen one that's tagged as pictured above. Yes, that white dot is a researcher's tag identifying the individual for the record books of monarch migrations. I'd never seen such a thing. Imagine affixing it to that delicate wing.

The other fellow is a twelve-spotted dragonfly. He was a new one on me; I had to look him up in my Audubon Field Guide to Insects & Spiders. He too was heading south.

We watched hundreds of monarchs and thousands of dragonflies of several species wing south over Erie's open waters--a two-hour journey for them. We marveled.

Then we cursed, driven out of camp by driving rain. But, we returned home sated on the beauties of these bugs and their pursuit of their evolutionary imperative.

Small wonders, indeed. An autumn blessing.

And another:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Live from the Third Coast

As I write, a tang of autumn nips the air above Lake Ontario, breezing lightly out of the north carrying scudding gray clouds. A change in the season may be threatening but so hurricanes forecast, no earthquake warnings unsettle my inner landscape. I’m at home.

This vagabond poet has been a homebody this summer, sticking around Ed Rose Shores and venturing out only on short trips to the North Country to work on the cabin where my brother once lived, another beautiful spot on Lake O. Roger and I have made four trips there in recent months and depart tomorrow for three more days of reclamation as we try to return the property to its iconic status: “Rainbow’s End.”

This summer Canada also has beckoned, with three forays into the province of Ontario and one more in the offing in September.

And we’ve shared the power that is Niagara Falls with good, good friends visiting with us from West Virginia. We had a beautiful day to which this photo attests. That’s purple loosestrife in the foreground, an invasive plant we are not supposed to admire. I can’t help myself. The color is so fine. What you can’t see for all the spray below the mighty, roaring falls is The Maid of the Mist, a motorcraft that takes tourists – like the two of us – into the whirlpool maelstrom within yards of the Canadian side of the cascade. (No, we didn’t need passports!) Do it sometime. Thrills guaranteed.

Staying close to home has made me reflect on how much a citizen I am of “The Third Coast” as the Great Lakes are often referred to, a befitting moniker for bodies of water that are truly inland seas. Instead of traipsing off to the American Southwest or up into the Maritimes as in summers past, we stayed home. Home. As Martha would say, “It’s a good thing.”

Still, I turn my sights toward other horizons. First, that return camping expedition to the Canadian Lake Erie Shores, this time with new eyes, Roger’s that is. His two cataract surgeries were successful and his vision immensely improved. (And the reason we didn't travel far this season.) This time around as we watches the birds who will be heading south during this visit, he’ll be able to see them clearly. Anticipated joy!

Then, in early November, we’ll head south ourselves, imitating the warblers and geese. The snowbirds will alight for our second winter in our second home-sweet-home on the Caloosahatchee River of Florida.

But I’ve two-plus months to celebrate life as a Third Coaster and watch the waves roll in on autumn days. That life, today at least, goes something like this:

Third Coast Scherzi Suite,
West to East

I. Gordon Lightfoot’s Lake Superior’s
Superior Prayer for the Sailors
Lost in Geologic Depths

Say Gitchee-Goomee,
say Edmund Fitzgerald, amen.

II. The Great Lakes’ Prettiest Stones
Come from Michigan Shores

Smooth, coraled Petoskey stones
to pocket—rock art, rock-old.

III. On Huron’s Northern Shore,
Granite Underfoot

From native waters
the Canadian Shield rises.

IV. Pelee (ONT, CAN) and Kelley’s (OH, USA),
Limestone Islands in Lake Erie

Migrations o’er glacial
grooves below the shallow sea.

V. Close Range at Dawn, Lit Stem
to Stern on Lake Ontario

Laker, St. Lawrence-bound,
in her holds: iron cargo.


P.S. Check out my latest online poem at You can both read the poem and listen to me recite it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Oh, what a garden of delights

Happy 4th of July (a day early). While not a holiday my husband Roger and I go out of our way to celebrate, especially these days with the idiots in Washington (most of you know whom I mean) playing games with our nation's debt limit, we do enjoy seeing others celebrating at family picnics and town fireworks displays. And we're glad for those who are employed that the federal holiday gives them a day off from the grind of "do more with less."

My 4th of July celebration has always been a very personal one: My maternal grandmother Amelia was born on July 4th some time back in the 19th Century, probably in the 1880s. She was an Austrian immigrant who became a naturalized citizen as quickly as she could and to her dying day was proud of her adopted country. While I don't know her birth date, I know of her pride because my mother always reminded me of her mother's pride on July 4th, adding that "Mimi" as she was called by her American friends and family or "Mutzel" as she was called by her Austrian friends, "was a real firecracker."

So the day has arrived when I honor my Austrian-American grandmother who was a formidable gardener.

Already I've been out in my garden this morning to water, weed and spread mulch around the west-facing garden that I restored earlier this summer.

Restored? Yes. After 10 years of traveling during the summer months, Roger and I are staying home for the most part, taking only a couple short camping trips instead of our season-long journeys to the Canadian Maritimes, the American Southwest, Pacific Northwest....

And because we're staying put, I've had the pleasure to rediscover my inner gardener who's been long neglected along with the flowers and shrubs.

What a joy! One I'd almost forgotten. Planning, nursery shopping, digging, planting, even weeding has been pleasurable -- and then to see my new hosta lilies (four varieties) and blue hydrangea come into bloom. Ahhhh! Grossmutter Mimi's genetic legacy is alive and well. You can take the girl out of the garden, but you can't take the garden out of the girl.

Reclaiming my flower beds has been a healing ritual, too. Aching muscles and dirt beneath my fingernails are small dues to pay for the modicum of peace I've felt working in the earth, making things grow out of the grief I've felt at the loss of my brother in March. As I've turned over the soil, carved out holes in which to settle a lilac bush or a pair of columbines, nestled their roots in the ground, and tamped them securely in their new homes, I've laid to rest some of the anger and pain of having lost my brother to alcoholism at such a young age (63). Following in my grandmother's (and mother's!) footsteps, I turn the trowel to wedge out a stone from my heart so that love for the dead has more room to grow.


Preparing Jimmy’s Resting Place

Spring leaps toward summer
and this year after so many
years, I am domesticating
my west-facing garden again,
taming it with hosta lilies,
lilacs, hydrangea, datura.
I perform a cleansing ritual
after one death, hopefully well before
the next deadly inevitability. I dig
in warm earth, drop nasturtium seeds
to give me my season
to accomplish grief
the same way I harvest
misplaced thistles, errant ferns
to reinvent a bed for flowers;
the same way I remove the weeds:
one at a time over time.
Thus, one man gone at a time,
one floral elegy at a time.

First, let me plant my brother’s song
by the arborvitae in the Poet’s Corner
paved with limestone lakestones,
that polished dolomite might anchor ghosts.
Let me perch a plaster boy atop the rocks,
its faux verdigris chipped,
its cupid’s wings and toes missing.
This June may I be his little sister again,
a gardener of brotherly love, but this time
I come to pray for broken garden gnomes
one day at a time, every, every, every
miraculously verdant day at a time.


Let the fireworks begin! I'll be my own self-made firecracker, sizling with delight in an explosion of blooms.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Revising the Survey Map of Grief


You are looking at a picture of an asset: a shorewell. This one is located on my property on Barracks Lane in Cape Vincent, the place we used to call Rainbow's End that, as of today, is up for sale, flaws and all. Some items will be repaired, some we'll leave for the next owners, but, by all means, the worst will be cleaned up well before it changes hands..

So, at this juncture in my life, what I find I'm doing is preparing to part with a huge chunk of my life, one that dates back to 1981, when my brother and I bought the parcel together. Egad, thirty years of history there between my brother and me! I say farewell to this stretch along Lake Ontario just as I’m saying goodbye to Jimmy: sadly.

You can gather from the photograph that it's a rocky landscape. Literally, figuratively. My brother's death in March still leaves me, heading into late May, with more clean-up work -- a considerable amount.

That's why I need a break. My beloved husband Roger (whose born a great burden too) and I are skipping town, leaving the country for seven days, six nights. On Sunday morning after seven weeks of what feels like constant "estate caca," we're going camping in Ontario, along the northern, provincial Lake Erie shoreline.

Beach walks, woodsy hikes, a lighthouse or two, campsite chats and "library hour," poems—and sleep. No computer. No Internet. No cell phone. I'm aiming to be blissfully disconnected from that sorrowful world we've been contending with.

This morning before I got going on the details of carpenters and carpeters, I fingered through old files in search of an old poem, one that's never been keyboarded into my laptop. I found it.

It concerns the erstwhile Rainbow’s End. It's from a happier time at the waterfront land my brother and I once owned together. It’s proof: Once there was magic there.


Rainbow’s End

Come to this land for moonrising
Come when leaves in their first week of life
and birds on their first day of flight
listen to dusk then last light of day
Behold! Witches’ hair floats in the misty cove
Herb-Roberts and silverweed grow at shoreline
They shall be as omens
portending unto Ontario this hour
You will heal me, Sisater Water
You will hear me, Mother Earth
and I too will listen to darkness
Now I speak night hawk
I speak snowy owl.
I am the voice wavelapping
for now is the time for answering
now when thoughts follow the Milky Way
and ideas with the Northern Lights glimmer
our tellings in the stars

Out there is the Universe where I am here


Let there be some joy this rainy spring.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Goodbye Caloosahatchee River, Hello Lake Ontario

Our days in Florida wind down as we prepare to depart on Sunday for our home in the north. I'm reluctant to pack up and head out, but know it's part of our cycle as it is the flocks of birds we see heading north, including a flock of sandhill cranes yesterday we heard but could not see upriver just a short stretch. Spring, of course, has long come to Florida. It did not take the Vernal Equinox this week to make its presence known.

Springtime along the Caloosahatchee

Two male cardinals call out
from adjacent territories in the palmettos
earnest, persistently cheering.
The subtropical forests sirs
with the crimson song of Floridian dawn.
Their scarlet duet summons
the sun into my eyes.
I see red; I blush.


In an hour or so, Roger and I will head out on the river in our kayaks for a final paddle into the oxbow among the mangroves. As always, it will be interesting to see what birds appear along the edges and milling about in the shallow, quiet waters.

That sleepy neck of the river -- too shallow for speed boats, but ideal for kayaks -- reminds me, as if I needed any reminder, that my brother, James Karl Merrifield, is at peace.

I flew home to the Rochester area earlier this month, word having come from Jimmy's ex-girlfriend who was his health-care proxy, that my brother was literally on his death bed and I'd better come quickly. I did. And was with him alongside faithful Patti when my brother died...and went on to the great Whatever. The peace like a river he could not find in his shortish life (he was 63) surely he has now. And that thought helps me maintain my own peace.


Wishing all of you the joys of spring. The sprouting daffodils, the raucous voices of Canada geese plying the skies in wavering vees over the fields, the hint of warmth in the air.... All are reason for hope.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Springing to Life

Unrest in the Middle East. Unrest in the Midwest. And even some unrest on the family front that reminds me of what poet Robert Bly said several years ago at a reading in Brockport, "All families are dysfunctional." I sigh deeply.

Yet I'm buoyed by signs of spring.

Days are getting perceptibly longer. This morning twilight arrived at 6:15 a.m., easily a half-hour earlier than in January.

Everywhere the bald cypress trees, a deciduous conifer, are beginning to sport a fringe of fine green needles.

In the Everglades, where Roger and I camped for a couple days last week, anhinga chicks were preparing to fledge (above).

But to me the most dramatic sign of spring was one I'd never witnessed before. I was sitting on the shores of the small lake that flanks Long Pine Key campground in Everglades National Park. I had just settled in for a spell of writing when a swarm of barn swallows shadowed my page as they swept over the lake to feed. The birds swirled in the pellucid afternoon air in ever-shifting fractals of hungry birds numbering in the thousands. Then it dawned on me: The swallows were strategically joining ranks -- safety in numbers -- to begin their migration north into their breeding grounds where I will see them in late April or early May, albeit in far fewer numbers, nesting beneath Ontario Parkway bridges near our home in Western New York. I watched the great swarm in wonder at the spectacle: One species among so many are answering the spring call of Nature.

As has happened to me so often in the past when in the Everglades, my favorite place on the planet, my Holy Land, I became one with the Universe. And it is a Universe of Hope.


Happenstance: The Swallowing

On the day of the Everglades dew,
which is every day,
I awake to realize I’ve been
swallowed alive.
The Universe, having chased down
half-moon shadows,
consumes me whole
like a python swallows his prey:
This is the same Universe,
the Everywhere, which my husband
reminds me – this day
of dew swallowed by crows –

is expanding. We swallow hard.
Then a minion of alligators,
a court of vultures in their black
robes, featherless gray wigs,
cloud swallow,
sun bitterns,
gallinules of the dew
swallow the sky.
And the Universe as it is
in the Everglades bedewed
swallows me with the morning stars.
I am the turtle taken by surprise,
plastron, carapace, soul and all.

for Roger


Another uplifting note: The Urn, my chapbook chronicling the power of love to conquer cancer, is arriving in mailboxes as I write. I'm thrilled, as is Roger to whom the book is dedicated and whose photograph graces the book's cover. I congratulate Finishing Line Press for the fine production; it's also a joy to behold and to hold.

For those of you interested in ordering a copy (or a second copy), it's now available either from me directly (just write or through

If you've read the book and would like to comment, please post a review on Amazon! I'd really, really appreciate it!

Thank you again to all who have purchased a copy. May you find hope in its pages.

Happiest of springs!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Reflections

The stillness of this great egret poised for fishing in Big Cypress National Preserve about 70 miles south of our condo has proven good medicine for this snowbird...who happens to be a news junkie and rather overwhelmed lately from the reports and commentaries still being published about the horrific massacre in Tuscon over a week ago by a young man unhinged in mind and spirit.

Do egrets go mad? Wonder off course of their migration route into strange habitats? Forsake eggs in the nest to incubate a heron's brood instead? Not likely.

Do they hate their fellow birds, shunning the white ibis for having long bills and pink eyes? Or are wood storks with their "bald" black heads much like a vultures the targets of egret bigotry? Not likely.

Although the Arizona shooting has been on my mind often in days past,I think about all this again on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And then I focus on the serenity of Aldea alba and think instead of Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo,,,Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi...Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina...her fellow Russian Nikolai Alekseev, prominent gay rights activist...Denis Mugwege, Congolese physician has treated hundreds of women subjected to gang rapes... Afghan women's rights activist Sima Samar...Aminatou Haidar and Ali Salem Tamek, leading activists for the independence of Western Sahara...Isabel Miranda de Wallace, Mexico's National Human Rights Award 2010 recipient...Viktoria Mohacsi, a Hungarian woman who has fought passionately to abolish discrimination and hate crimes against Roma "Gypsy" communities... and Julius Kaggwa, best known for his devotion to defeating the proposed Anti-Homosexual Bill in Uganda.

Those humanitarians -- and birds of all feathers -- give me hope.

I hope they will you too.




P.S. My new book, The Urn, will be arriving any day now from the publisher and those of you who ordered copies (THANK YOU!) should soon be receiving your copies. In the meantime, five of the poems therein have just appeared in the literary journal miller's pond. To read them, just click on