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What is it called
when you’ve been
hiding inside
for so long
that when it’s safe
to emerge
you are reluctant
to embrace
your freedom
not quite
trusting
the invitation

What’s the word
for when you
can only
sit on a bench
watching people
who are probably
your friends
but whom you can’t
quite recognize
talk to each other
and laugh
you assume
they are smiling
too

What does it mean
when you’ve
forgotten
how to make
polite conversation
at a gathering of
more than
three people
when most
of the people
seem extraneous
and make you feel
awkward and
ill-equipped
for the world

How do you
follow the rules
when they are
constantly
being rewritten
how do you know
which ones to
obey and
which ones to
ignore

Where do you
find the strength
required
to survive
in the wild
when you’ve
become accustomed
to shuffling
back and forth
in your
designated
enclosure
littered with
all the evidence
of living

© Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
April 2021

I give myself unlimited chances

and infinite wishes

That I can choose to grant

I cultivate curiosity

exchange skepticism for wonder

I create simply for creation’s sake

Offering the same opportunity to others

I draw with a thick black marker (chisel tip) the delineation between me and you

And I will shimmer and shine in my own space while you do as you wish in yours

I have heard that the cracks are where the light comes in

And in the places we were broken we are stronger

That’s what the poets say

But someone has to sweep up the pieces, to find every last one, and set to work with toothpicks and superglue

Because we the people are shattered, scattered, smashed to bits

According to the sages

our scars make us who we are

But to have a scar we must stop the bleeding and heal the wound.

For now the blood still flows

the wounds are open

the battle continues

Never before
have I been asked
by so many people
to pray

This moment
must require
immense
energy
from all
of us

We understand
(at last)
how much
we are bound
up in each
other

Prayer
(to me)
is intention
not
transaction

So I breathe in
(deeply)
and breathe out
fully

and send
prayers

for

strength

courage

peace

relief

patience

healing

grace

calm

presence

Take what you need
and share
the rest
with
others

Tell me about despair, 
yours, and 
I will tell you 
mine

Meanwhile, we will 
laugh and cry and scream
and threaten to 
run away from home
and lose ourselves in 
games and stories 
and less wholesome vices
and make ourselves get out of bed 
again 
every morning
though sometimes 
we will wear pajamas 
all day

Meanwhile, we will 
check on each other
more than usual 
because we know 
what it feels like
to be teetering 
on the edge of sanity
(and to fall 
over the precipice, 
sometimes)

Does this get any easier?
I don’t believe so
Only more familiar

Meanwhile, we offer 
absolution to 
ourselves
as often as possible
because we tend to forget things 
(and people, 
sometimes)
because our brains 
and our hearts 
are overfull 
and our bodies 
are exhausted

We are making 
more messes
and letting them linger
but we are
doing the best
we can

even when it’s not 
enough

We are sitting with 
our feelings
or under our feelings
(when they become oppressive and heavy)
or eating
our feelings
or telling those damn feelings to
get the hell our of our house
when we have had
ENOUGH

We are listening
to each other
that’s got to be 
enough

© Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso (with gratitude to Mary Oliver)
October, 2020

Looking for a way
out
of the chaos

or a way
through the mess
but I can’t find either

My new progressive
lenses
won’t arrive
’til Tuesday

What I hoped
would be easy
turns out
impossible

What I needed
to be simple
ends up in
a tangle of thorns
mixed with the
sickening scent
of flowers on their journey
to decay

My patience
has shriveled to
a granular level
because I am trapped
inside
far from the coast
with no means
of replenishment

There is nowhere to go
to collect my
thoughts
or renew my
soul
because
everything
is
canceled
closed
cut off
thanks (no thanks)
to Covid

Don’t remind me
that my bad habits
have gotten worse
those seven
deadly sins
squared to 49
at least

How can I
solve your problems
when I can’t even
stay awake
long enough
to understand
my own

Even my
conversations
with myself
are getting
old

There is no substitute for you
no one else who knows what you know

Who says “Hello, my dear!” with such enthusiasm 
when I call, reporting that you are just hunky and dory.

There is no voice that sounds like yours
No one else who fusses quite the same way 
when someone tries to touch your hair
No one else with your signature scent of Charlie perfume

There is no one else who can host a hen party like you
No one else with that stockpile of snacks and treats
you’re always willing to share

There is no one else who drove me around 
High Point to see the Christmas lights
and invited me on last minute shopping adventures
always letting me in on important secrets

There is no one else who would bake a 
strawberry birthday cake 
for my imaginary friend

There is no one else who understands 
Nana’s mysterious recipes so well
and makes them as faithfully,  
always offering encouragement 
when I call from my kitchen with questions 

There is no one else who supplied me with 
such wonderful socks for so many years 
that I had to learn, as an adult, how to buy socks

There is no one else who would leave 
her teeth at home 
when we go out to lunch 
and then just order something
that doesn’t require too much chewing. 

There is no one else who loves 
a good recliner like you do
who devours as many novels at the beach,
who loves to watch the kids splash and swim, 
who skunked us all at cornhole.

There is no one else who loves 
banana ice cream like you do,
well, except your sister.

There is no one else who calls her “Faye Marie.”

No one else who rode eight hours on the Palmetto line
as soon as she heard about her sissy’s stroke
and sat with her for weeks on end
and laughed with her at all the nonsense
until she learned to speak again.

There is no one else who reads 
my Facebook posts
and calls my mother 
as quickly as you to discuss
unfolding events.

There is no one else who keeps as close an eye 
on the weather in Virginia 
and calls us with cautionary alerts.

There is no one else I can count on 
to play Words with Friends
in the middle of the night 
so I know when you’re awake
and you ask why I’m awake
and you play risqué words and tell me,
“I bet you didn’t know I knew that word!” 
and I can hear you laugh.

There is no one else I love 
to watch get off the train 
as much as you
when you come to visit.

There is no substitute for you.

For FG
May 23, 1941 – August 13, 2020

When I came back to the Crescent Inn
to pick up our order–chicken parm dinner, spaghetti and sausage, flounder and shrimp, and chicken tenders–the red-haired woman behind the counter was packing it up

She wore a leopard-print mask that fell slightly below her nose
On her left arm were tattoos of origami cranes
On her right arm a purple dahlia

She was telling me that she was just waiting on one more salad and the chicken parm when another customer walked in
A short, round woman with a brown ponytail, wearing a pink shirt
She was wearing a disposable mask
but asked the red-haired server–I’ll call her Dahlia–
if she could have a mask from the box on top of the counter
Dahlia said, “they’re a dollar,” and the customer–I’ll call her Karen–seemed
disgusted, as if Dahlia had said, “they’re pre-infected with COVID.”

Karen announced, “I’m here to pick up an order!”
and Dahlia said, “Yes, ma’am, I’m just packing up this lady’s order and I’ll be right with you.”

“I ordered an hour ago!” Karen proclaimed, although she had just walked into the restaurant.

“I’ll get your food as soon as I can,” Dahlia said, while checking and double checking that all of the items in my order were present, including the little containers of ranch dressing for the side salads, and the garlic bread that was actually just buttered toast, maybe with a hint of garlic powder, wrapped in brown wax paper. “I’m just one woman.”

Evidently this comment provoked Karen. Perhaps she thought Dahlia should be several women.

“Why you gotta treat me like shit?” Karen asked. I stood up straighter and shifted away from Karen as subtly as I could manage.

“I’m sorry?” asked Dahlia. “What did I do to upset you?”

“You’ve been treating me like shit from the moment I walked in here,” Karen explained, as if using logic. “Will you hurry up and get my f***ing order? I’ve never been in here before but I’m being treated like shit. Is Mike here? Mike knows my sister.”

“He is here,” Dahlia said. “Would you like to speak to him?”

“No, but he knows my sister!” Karen reiterated.

Dahlia looked at me and I looked at her, eyes wide. “You wanted ranch with that salad?” she asked, even though she knew. “Yes, please,” I answered, with all the politeness of a person who had definitely not been treated like shit and had not witnessed anyone else being treated like shit, other than the way Karen was treating Dahlia.

Dahlia used the opportunity to go into the kitchen to get the ranch dressing, murmuring an explanation of what was unfolding out front. I expected a manager or someone authoritative to come out to appease Karen. Instead, a man with a gray mustache came out, surreptitiously looked around, and dumped a bucket of clean silverware onto a dishtowel on the counter. He returned to the kitchen.

While Dahlia was in the kitchen, Karen muttered to herself about how she had been treated. I continued to inch away.

Finally Dahlia finished packing up my order and handed it to me. “Here you go, honey, you have a wonderful evening. Enjoy your dinner!” she said in a tone that said, “look how I am pleasant and definitely do not treat customers like shit!”

“Thank you so much,” I said, “You have a good night” in a tone that I hope conveyed, “I’m so sorry that this lady is being so inexplicably rude to you and I would have definitely said something to her if I had not been afraid she had a gun, which is not an unreasonable fear given the culture of impulsive gun violence in our country, including a recent episode in which a security guard at a dollar store was shot to death by a customer who did not like being asked to wear a mask.” Hopefully she understood.


This shelf includes some books we already had that I pulled from other bookshelves in the house and some of the new books I bought on recommendations of friends and booksellers.

At bedtime these days I am reading a book with Zeke called The Last Kids on Earth. The one we’re reading is the first in a series of six (so far) which has also been made into a show on Netflix. Normally I don’t go in for books about hordes of disgusting zombies and gigantic, stinky, oozy monsters, but 1) the writing is quite good and pretty funny and 2) every single night when I read with him I think, “at least we don’t have zombies and monsters in real life (yet)!”

The Last Kids on Earth was recommended by several parents in my recent quest to find new chapter books for Zeke since the library has been closed for several months and he’s read most of the books we our house. I ended up buying a lot of books, which should surprise no one. My approach to solving all problems is by reading.

This explains why I have also been dividing my book buying among independent book stores where I already shop (One More Page, Politics and Prose, and Solid State Books) and two Black-owned bookstores (Mahogany Books and Loyalty Bookstores) and Thrift Books, a used book website. I have been trying to buy less of everything from Amazon because of Jeff Bezos’ terrible labor practices. I would like to stop supporting Amazon entirely, but I’m not there yet. It’s really convenient. But I’m trying.

More of Zeke’s books. Some of these he’s read already. I had to move the Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss books into the hallway to make room.

The books I’ve bought from all these stores (online of course) include chapter books for Zeke, YA books for Zoe (and me), and a small library of books (for all ages) by Black authors and activists including fiction, history, memoir, and guidance on how to be an anti-racist. And of course I bought t-shirts from all the bookstores too, to feed my t-shirt habit. Don’t judge.

Some of the books I bought were recommended by or written by some of our favorite authors–Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds–who spoke during an online Black Lives Matter rally last Thursday night sponsored by the Brown Bookshelf. I think at this point I have perused every recommended reading list circulating on the internet. Our family is nothing if not broadly read. We have always read books that provide both mirrors (characters like us) and windows (characters who are different than us) but now seems like a good time to open more windows.


I have been hesitant to write lately because I am struggling with the idea that my voice is not what needs to be heard right now. On the one hand, there are other voices that should be elevated. On social media, I am working to do just that. On the other hand, I don’t think am being asked to silence myself. Am I? I don’t claim to be an expert on racism or on Black people’s experiences. I can only speak from my own experience as a white person and an ally. And I think it can be useful for me to speak up as an ally. But how much is the right amount to speak? And where and when?

Throughout many recent conversations with friends–most of whom are moms–a recurring theme is what is the right thing to do? What do we ask of our kids this summer? What is safe? What is worth the risk? When do we protest? When do we hold space? What will we do in the fall? How do we balance the needs for learning, safety, community, and justice? None of us have figured out the answers yet.

At a picnic table
at a pumpkin patch
playground with goats
and apple cider donuts
my kids and I and a friend
sat eating hot dogs and nachos

I was surprised to smell smoke
and looked around to see who was smoking
in the pavilion where people were eating
and where we were surrounded
by hay

At the table next to us were
four Muslim women
all wearing hijabs and long robes

They were drinking tea out of
delicate china demitasses
decorated with flowers

The tea was in a tall red and black checked thermos
that looked like a man in a hat with earflaps would fill
with black coffee to take on an early morning outing

The women were laughing
and one of them was smoking
I have never seen
a woman in a hijab
smoking a cigarette
She looked so relieved 

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