Maternal Wisdom



Be careful what you wish for—

You may just get it.

When you get it, you may not want it.

Then you live with the consequences.

Then, you will have to want it anyway.

Just saying.


I got it.  I make it work.

It’s not what I expected, but I will never give

Anyone the satisfaction of uttering those four words:

I told you so.


Don’t make that face—

It will stay that way.

The world throws its grenades.

You will scowl and glower.

You were much prettier when you were 16—

Pageboy hair, monogrammed sweater, staring wide-eyed at my camera.

Pure cipher, shackled vessel.


I can live with my crinkled nose scowl of disdain.

Botox fixes the lines.

A shot every six months wipes the slate clean, until the next time.


No one buys the cow if they can get the milk for free.


But what if the dude is lactose intolerant?

He was, it turned out.

Vastly intolerant of me.

So, Mama, am I off the hook?

Can I rejoin the herd unscathed and unbranded?

I took my name back.

I use it and sign it freely on every credit card receipt I can.

I am I.


You get more flies with honey than vinegar.


Work your honey, Honey.

Smile, nod, and march in line like your life depends on it.

It really does. 

You have no more second tries.


Every action has a reaction.

Every shard of karma you’ve hurled,

Every act of love, of hurt, of light, the decades of obligation—

It all tells you:


This is the final round.

You won’t fuck this up.







I Was a Child of the 80s

80s me

It would have been cooler to be a child of the 60s–

When things were important, and mattered.

When folks marched on Washington

And men danced like bobble toys on the moon.


Instead, we got the moonwalk.

And Madonna.

Neon clothing, cocaine, Bret Easton Ellis, shoulder pads, power perfume.


I was a child of the 80s.

Student loan Reagan debt,

Work-study slut girl who just wanted to have fun.


It would have been nicer to be a child of the 60s,

Making macramé, growing organic herbs.


Instead, I was spoon-fed Martha Stewart.

I married up in life.

The good wife, serving thin French beans on fine china—

Dipping chocolate strawberries no one ever ate,

Including me.


I was a child of the 80s—

Stuffed in a corporate cubicle in my ill-fitting cheap power suit and bow foulard tie.




We sang about losing our religion,

Asked how soon is now–

And I found myself, left of center,

Walking like an Egyptian to the love shack.


I will rock the Casbah.

I need your tonight.

I live on a prayer.


My God, what a feeling.

Here I go again—

I am a child of the 80s.









CBS Sunday Morning



I won’t watch it any more.


My flesh crawls—

Recalling the growling air conditioner buzz,

The shrill cardinals in the lush garden trees,

That I shouldn’t have had that last wine but I wanted it anyway dry taste in my mouth,

The old apprehension,

And me, curled in a fetal ball under the clammy white sheets.


No. No. No.


This comforter, its cheerful sunflowers cannot protect me.


Sunday morning.


You were always up early

Puttered in the yard,

But you always returned, showered, brushed your teeth, shaved.


I can still smell the Listerine on your breath, the bad cologne.

The Old Spice that my father wore.

I think it was an old bottle of his.



I knew what was coming.


We watched the stories,

I pretended to be interested.

Made idle small talk.

But I always knew when CBS Sunday Morning was over

You would demand sex.


If you loved your family you would do this.


If I didn’t you were petulant for days—

Alternating between silence and taunting me in front of the child,

Or the cleaning help.


I did it to keep the peace.

I allowed myself to be raped,

In the name of marriage, whatever that means.


I always took a shower immediately after.

Washing your scent from my body

And my soul clean.


Finally, I saved my life and left.

And now, now

You have the audacity to call me immoral.


If saving my life means damning my soul

Then, yes—

I am without morals.


You will never touch me again.


photograph by John Stanton

Pop, you look just awful.

What you need is a haircut.

I will come see you Saturday and bring my shears—

Get you tidied up and handsome.

That will make everything better.


Pop, I’ll be right back.

This lady wants to talk to me.


What we didn’t tell you was this:

She was from hospice.

You have three weeks to live,

Lungs and liver full of shadows.

There is a room ready for you, there.

They will do some tests tomorrow,

See what sort of malignance is in you,

Manage your palliative care.


Pop, I will be back on Saturday, with my shears.

I promise.

Get some rest.

I love you.


If I had known this was the last time I would see you

I would have been at your bedside until that day

When you fell asleep and did not wake up,

Passing to where I could no longer touch, hear or see you.


I wish I had known.

JJ Niland

-For the 15 of us who share genetic matter

Gramma Gertie served tea in Irish porcelain,
The late afternoon sun kissed the white lace sheers—

Painted rosebuds touched our noses over the scent of Earl Grey,

And just a touch of whisky for her.


But our corner of heaven will be throwing beer cans at the Puritans.


J.J. Niland and his brother made fine Irish glass.

Not crystal, but solid and sparkling.

Sold at Tiffany’s, luxury for the masses.

Far from County Roscommon.
I imagine he pours my wine.

Sparkling silver and mahgony,

Parlor tapestries hung heavy

Here, daughter of Ireland—

Drink, and know from where you came.

But our corner of heaven will be throwing beer cans at the Puritans.


Father Jimmy shoots whiskey and dances like an Egyptian on the table.

And when the band breaks, he takes my confession—

God, the Father of mercies,

Through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself

Sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins

Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace.

Now don’t get caught tossing beer cans, my child.


Oh, the extended threads of you all—
We make words, films, music and tea.

We drink wine and whisky.

We have compared fingers and toes—
Separated for years, discovering they are the same.

James Niland, in your factory—
Taking your family across the sea,
Blowing glass, making your art,
White-hot glowing bulbs paved the way for ours.

We are all made of stars and Glenlevit and dreams.
Our corner of heaven will be throwing beer cans at the Puritans.



Minneapolis steam

Photograph by Cynthia Daggett

It’s another kind of homelessness—

This sense of not having a place.


Yes, the sheets are clean.

They are not mine.

The towels are fresh, the water hot.

There are dishes and pots that look the same,

But are not.


This freedom feels more immediate,

More so than wandering into the dark New England ocean at midnight,

After too much champagne—

Or dashing through airports across North America,

Rushing toward the next thrill.


This life has made me restless and insecure.

I’ve learned that the old tangible things are replaceable—

And not to hold on to things, or people.


I have learned.


The world doesn’t end when things don’t go as you plan.

When you’re alone,

In a strange large city,

The streets unknown,

The buildings billowing steam

Into the vast horizon, you realize—


The most powerful person in the room

Has the most power over you.


You can say otherwise.


Mojo Boots

mojo boots

Yesterday, I got me some mojo boots.

Leopard print, with a bad-ass heel.

They have soles that don’t slip in the Minnesota snow.




I walk a little prouder,

Talk a little louder—

Me, and my mojo boots.


My boyfriend says Lieutenant Uhuru had a similar pair on Star Trek—

Except hers were black, not leopard.


I will conquer the world in my mojo boots.

That new job will be mine—

My life will be fine.

I am almost 54, but that does not matter.

I got me some mojo boots.


I won’t be worrying about money,

Shopping at the dollar store.

I will have someone to clean my floors.


I will slide into middle age.






Best part?

Sears is going out of business and I got my mojo online for 15 bucks.