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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 


Originally published on invocations.blog

They were invited 
to take off their shoes and socks
which is usually NOT allowed at school
but this was barefoot day 
in kangaroo class

On the concrete floor the teachers 
had taped down
bubble wrap
(the kind with big bubbles and the kind with small bubbles)
that padding that goes under carpet
and lengths of textured yellow foam–
packing material that could be a topographical map
of another planet

Along one wall 
of the classroom
they laid out a long sheet 
of brown butcher paper
with gallons of bright paint at one end

Each child who wanted to
(which was not everyone–
some built train tracks or 
sculpted play dough or 
did wooden puzzles of 
farm animals and vehicles)
chose red or yellow or blue paint
and the teachers poured a puddle
onto a square of bubble wrap
and the child stepped in

The teachers had to hold the hand 
of each child as they squished their toes
into the paint
because paint on bubble wrap
can be quite slippery
when you’re two or three years old

Walking along the brown paper path
they left small footprints
until they came to the end
where I had filled a big blue basin
with warm water
and they stepped in
and i washed their feet
with my hands
even though they did not know me at all
they leaned on my shoulders
to steady themselves
as I gently lifted one foot 
and then the other
to wipe away the paint

Then I held their hands
as they stepped out of the water
onto a towel 
where I dried their feet
and wiped off smears of paint 
from their ankles that I had missed
(there was still some paint between their toes, 
but I had to keep the line moving)

Soon they would return
having left more footprints
now in blended colors
because eventually all the paint
mixed together

and I would wash their feet again
and now they knew me as the lady
who was there to wash and dry 
their feet
(still between their toes the paint clung)
and they smiled at me 
in wonder, 
so delighted by what they had done

At the end, one of the teachers decided
to walk through the paint and 
down the brown paper path
and one of the little girls
quickly took her hand
to walk beside her and make sure
she was steady

(originally published on invocations.blog)

So much is out of our control
who moves in next door
who doesn’t clean up 
after their dog 
on the sidewalk 
in front of 
your house

When the bus finally arrives
Whether the check
is in the mail
How your boss
behaves
How anyone
behaves

Who lets you in when 
you’re trying to 
turn left out of your 
neighborhood onto 
Columbia Pike 
Who stops when
you’re trying to 
cross the street

Who is having a bad day
and takes it out 
on you
who holds 
the door open for you and
all the kids you’ve brought along
and smiles and doesn’t seem to mind
that they are oblivious to the fact of the door

How viruses mutate
whether the nurse assigned to your room 
has ever taken care of a patient like you before
Whether the people in charge of your country
decide to start a war 
against another country or
against you
Whether someone who looks like you–even a little bit
commits a crime
What DNA you inherit
What your mother did
or did not do while you were 
becoming human
Whether she brought you 
into the world with joy
or despair

Whether you get put in the class
of a kind kindergarten teacher
or one who should have
already retired or found
another steelier line of work 

So much is out of our control 
it is a miracle that we find
at the end of the day that
a single thing we set out to do
has been done

A testament 
to our optimistic persistence 
that we write out
yet another to do list
naively determined to try again
even though
so much is out of our control

(originally published on invocations.blog)

My main skill
on the soccer field
is getting in people’s way

Also I can cheer

I am not fast

No matter how many 
games I play
or watch
I cannot see
what needs to happen
beyond my need to kick
the ball away from me 
toward someone who will 
know better than I do
what to do with it

Nothing that happens 
on a field
or with a ball
or on a court
or in a pool
or on a track
or on a mat
comes easily to me

This is not to say I am weak
because I AM strong
I can be fierce
and determined
and endure
but it is
never
ever
easy

I watch my teammates 
sprint toward the ball
maneuver around our opponents
boot the ball gloriously 
through the air
with what seems 
to me like
no effort at all

I hear them talk about the other team’s 
offense and defense 
and which players 
are the ones 
to watch 
“All we need to do is…” 
they explain
on the sidelines

but I don’t 
really 
understand

still I will jog onto the field 
and see who I need to 
get in the way of 
when she has the ball
and maybe steal the ball
if i’m lucky
and pass it
and cheer loudly 
for whoever
takes it down the field
to score

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 10.53.41 PMWe are the broken branches,
splintered by the wind
We are the thousand twigs
scattered across the yard
We are the enormous, unshakeable oak
—apparently we are actually shakeable—
that boomed to the ground, just barely missing the house

Uprooted
leaving a chasm of earth
displacing those who depend on us to live
We are the bird that picks up those twigs to build a new nest
We are the squirrel that finds acorns revealed by the fallen oak

We are the ancient elm propelled by the storm onto a car
Shattering the windshield, crumpling the roof
(we are also the car)
We are the friends who came and cut up the tree
While we were working a weekend shift at our second job
We are the firewood shared with neighbors and the warmth it provides
We are slices of elm for playgrounds and pathways
We are the people who walk or jump across them

We are the wind
We are the calm after the wind subsides

Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
March 10, 2018

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