Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dec. 7, a day that will live in infamy, said Roosevelt (who dat? says the teenager) / Poems: Two Mrs Burnley poems

Japanese airplanes from the excellent docu-drama Tora Tora Tora.

My former neighbor, George Schuler, whom I dubbed the Beau of Cowbell Road (I'm the Belle) saw combat in World War II. I sent him a story about Pearl Harbor from the Times and he replied with this note:
Yep, was thinking about the 7th of December 1941 as I was placing two
flags on my shelf in the hallway. I was 17 and visiting a friend's house in
Elkins Park along with my HS girlfriend (Elinor) and two buddies! We had
a radio on to the Eagles-Redskins football game from Washington DC.

We couldn't understand all the commotion going on with Military personnel
being summoned to their stations. And no one knew where Pearl Harbor
was located..........! We three guys all went into the service in very early
1943 after we got out of high school.....fortunately, we all returned and
two of us are still kicking around..........
Elinor is his late wife. They lived at the bottom of Cowbell Road. I was so sad when they moved to Ann's Choice assisted living. George, b. in 1924, was always outside raking, or walking his neighbor's dogs, a man busy in his retirement. Until about four years ago, George used to attend reunions with his old Gyrene (Marine Corps) buddies.

To celebrate Pearl Harbor Day and the undeniable greatest country on earth (what if I were born in Afghanistan or North Korea?) - a country where creeps like former Illinois gov Rod Blagojevich was just sentenced to 14 years in a federal prison and will probly serve 12 of those - I bought a chocolate bar and ate it for dessert, dunking it in the hot jasmine tea I'm drinking.

I sprinkled a new dressing on my salad, courtesy of Joel Fuhrman, tho I'm no longer a fervent disciple. I sprinkled fresh lime juice and orange juice over the salad and then olive oil. In addition to spinach leaves, it's got steamed broccoli n carrots, sunflower seeds, and cheddar cheese.

And I'm never buying Dagoba chocolate again. While it was good, it wasn't as good as I remembered chocolate to be. When I was a kid, there was nothing so good as a good candy bar - Milky Way, Forever Yours, Snickers, Mounds bar. Absolutely supreme taste sensations. When I was in the seventh grade at Byron Junior High in Shaker Heights, here's what I had nearly every day for lunch:

Mashed potatoes and gravy
Reese Bar
Mounds Bar
Chocolate milk

I think I lied to my mom about what I ate. Should I apologize to her today? She's 89.

Compass updates:

Denis liked the article I wrote about him, one of two profiles I did about folks w/compromised kidneys due to taking lithium. He wanted to know the meaning of 'polymath,' a word I used to describe his wife.

Dropped off ten issues to Holy Redeemer Counseling Center across from the hospital. It was absolutely pouring rain. Missy asked me why I wasn't carrying an umbrella.

"I'm not an umbrella person," I said, under my black beret.

Also dropped off a stack at my library - Upper Moreland Public Library, where my friend, the late Lillian Burnley, was once the head librarian. She was on home dialysis from diabetes. I'll miss her forever. That woman could spin a story like nobody's business. I turned four or five of them into poems.


May I say Mrs Burnley that you shall be missed

that is what the greeting cards say anyway

You shall be missed.

I however shall not say that

Forgive me.

Instead I hugged you when you told me

you were leaving

your shoulders heaving

I came round to your side of the desk

and instead of grasping your knees and

kissing your sore water-logged feet

put my small thin arm around your

corpulent shoulders

saying, It’ll never be the same

without you


I will never be the same without you.

The proof of her departure

was mounting

a horse nearing the finish line



rolling on the gravel of the race track

ready to be put out to pasture


You had lost, in bygone days, your stance as thoroughbred.

I watched in silent horror as the clues


and tried not to look:

magnified computer screen

orthopedic shoes


and now some contraption

the final indignation

a knee-high blue boot

Once at a program you hosted

I sat in the back

and imagined you as you once were

a girl

with a beautiful face

opulent breasts

that enveloped three children

eyes big as the sun

Not as you were that day

behind the podium

a full-jowled diabetic

tethered four times a week

to a machine where

people lost the battle in the wintertime, you told me,

gallant Napoleons meeting

their Waterloo,

gauze bandages

littering your

bruised arms

meaty arms

dripping like the silk

of an empress's dress

You believe in an afterlife

We are not descended

from apes

but made of immortal fire

in the image

of our Lonesome Creator

who needs us to keep Him warm

Long ago

Your God sent you Bob

to row you across your

sea of dreams

till death do you part

never dreaming

that your keenest sense

O Librarian

would become

your long swiveling

Buddah ears.


They said Mrs. Burnley would be along soon

after she finished helping the elderly gentleman find

a large-print biography of Winston Churchill

I saw them in the stacks, their heads together,

lifting one book, then another, and putting them

back on the shelf, like the slow peal of bells.

While waiting for Mrs. Burnley, I saw a

book lying on a table that no one was sitting at.

“The Chinese Way,” it read. From my perch near

the reference desk, where I intended to stay

first in line, I stretched my arm over to the

table and slid off the book.

I hadn’t much time to learn about Chinese ways.

Mrs. Burnley could return at any moment.

So I started reading as fast as I could about

a concept called Qi. It had something to do with

balance but I couldn’t pay attention because I

was arrested by those two letters – the Q and the i.

I am talking here about looks

and looks only, not the deeper meaning of things:

the tall rounded Q with the tail of a cat – how suddenly

beautiful it looked to me now – with the i

standing in its shadow.

I snapped my mind back to book,

but, alas, it was too late.

A mother and child were coming my way,

coming, it seemed, to stand behind me at the reference desk,

I was shaking with fear that my sense of peace

would be violated by unsyncopated noise.

But there was no noise at all. It was all done in silence,

the mother and child locked in that eternal power

struggle that dominates the universe.

The child’s knees stiffened in disobedience as the mother

dragged her across the floor like a mule a plow.

At the last moment – glory be to God! – they veered toward

the children’s videos – and I stared with everlasting gratitude

at the stubby pencils placed there for the convenience

of the patrons.

“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting,” said Mrs. Burnley,

as she hunched up her skirt. She is a remarkable woman,

a woman with dangling eyeglasses and black nurse’s shoes

that squoosh,

the only woman, who, when you call to find out the

capital of North Carolina, answers the phone as if

she were expecting your call all along.


  1. Ah, Mrs. Burnley - how is it that it so often comes to that?

    Now, I think I will go into the kitchen and get a chocolate - Dove, dark with almonds.

    Not a fancy, expensive one, but pretty darn good.

  2. exactly the kind of dove bars - not to be confused with the soap - that i eat! last nite for a snack i ate a bowl of plain greek yogurt, walnuts n peanuts, and drizzled it with hershey's chocolate syrup (the lo cal variety). next morning, 5 minutes ago, checked my sugar - 136, not bad! you and margie might enjoy it.

  3. Is anything as good as we rememember it used to taste? I doubt it. I see that your diet as a kid was about as healthy as mine! (NOT!!)
    I remember Dec 7th, not so much because it is Pearl Harbor Day , but because it was the day my dear nephew was born when I was 11 yrs old. He was dead at age not-quite 24, from years of drug and alcohol abuse.

    On to Mrs.Burnley....Mrs. B Will Retire..wonderful..Once again paints a great picture and makes the reader wish to have known her. ..And Waiting for...She must have been quite a person to have inspired these great poems--glimpses into who she was and who you are. Thank you.

  4. hey, thanks for taking the time to comment. i know how busy you are. yes, i did love mrs burnley. amazing about your nephew, nice jewish people with a drug addict son. believe me, i know many of the same!!!