“Excerpt – Sally’s Song*”

Mother was a witch

she say, catching me at breakfast play

with her “behind eyes.”


Her familiar friend

a big indigo snake curled

atop the hundred-gallon fuel oil tank.

She’d talk and bill and coo

through her kitchen jalousies.


Her prince was warty.

A frog whom her Bronx dog

tried to stop that first fiery

wartime sailor’s reaching kiss.


Her realm: a three-son universe

for which she suffered,

later endured with quiet pride,

and quietly praised her God

for each Cesarean gift.


“You never divorced;

you never went to jail;

you never told on each other,”

her last and highest praise

told to me at evenin’s end one

afternoon of insistent prodding.


She asked about “The Lump”

and next I heard her doctor say

“Hey, J, tennis today?”

And I resumed breathing.


She saved all our report cards

and second-grade stuff

and quietly rid our rooms

but never did our top and bottom drawers.


It was only much later I learned

she and dad

“spelled” us through our lives,

quietly weaving dreams

on their matched backporch

rocking chair starships.


She survived that cancer

but not the scoliosis*-scared doctor

who sent her hospitalward

where pneumonia waited

her decades-long dispute

with blood-gas numbers.


And she was ready.

Lucid one last time

she awoke before the

crit-care doctor and me –

Mom: you gotta tell them now!

You want no more care

but air and food and water.

I want to keep you here

but you want to go so tell them now

because if you code and dad or I

are not here to protect your wishes

they will stick that tube down  your  throat

and try to save your life.

I would have my way and you would stay

’cause I ain’t through botherin’ you.


She smiled

and took my hand,

Grinned at a stone dad

and reached for his

over mine and looked

at that statue too doctor

and whispered:

“What J said.”


I flooded inside

and dad stood mute.

I left the room to those two

tykes in rocking chairs.


Later, my friend the crit-care nurse

came up and hugged me hard

“Thank you, J.”

And the flood found outside.


  • (Sally Claire Feldman Richards had infantile paralysis and went through hell as a youth.  And Hell surrendered.  She had several operations just to be able to have children.  What both my parents did not know – and only later learned after much pain – her suffering was yet to begin.  She was Rhesus Factor negative; Dad, positive.  One B, the Other A.  Her three sons all were Rh Factor B+.  She had 21 units of transfusions for her third child – two months premature – and both survived.  One day I expect her to leave, probably after the last of her grandchildren to depart, knowing that silently stubborn bitch whose wrath could be turned by an ongoing laugh or a simple sinner’s hug. Comes now, Sally’s Song:)

Sally’s Song


My mother was a witch, she say,

catching me at breakfast play

with her behind eyes.

Which witch? would I reply.

Red shoes or none,

Dorothy’s Done

and run with the sun.

It rained the night

my mother died.

‘Twas well Earth cried.








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