I pruned petunias today,
dead-headed shriveled blossoms
past their prime.

It wasn’t hard to take dry ones, to pinch,
nip off those bent for seed,
but removing ones not quite dead, spotted,
or discolored, still harboring life’s spark
brought me up short, jolted me
like a seedling torn from its bed.

I saw old Jessie propped up on pillows,
still smiling through her oxygen mask,
listened for the faint beep
of my mother’s heart monitor
and felt my husband’s frail hand
as he spoke unanswered prayers.

I could not pluck the faded petals
hanging tenaciously to vine,
those reaching for the sun’s best rays.

Though those spent bodies,
squandering energy needed for new growth,
crowded round dazzling beauties
I could not hasten their leaving.
I could not bear to let them go.

Learning To Kiss

Big Aunt Grace,
(that’s what we called her)
was huge, gorilla-huge,
and with her sticky sweet perfume
filling the room, she would kiss everyone
with the squeeze of an African python,
coiled tightly around the body
till all breath was gone,
and we’d squirm with fear
to be released.

Grandpa Scott, a doctor and pharmacist,
was always ready to kiss us goodbye,
always reaching to smother us
in his bushy full beard
and prickly mustache that reeked
of alcohol, formaldehyde and ether.

Surely we still feel that vice-grip
on the cheek that left a welt,
the aren’t-you-just-the-cutest-little-thing
pinch-kiss that Uncle Harold planted on us
each time he saw us—

the squeezing and shaking of tender flesh
between forefinger and thumb
that sent us racing for the closet
before he entered the room.

And what about those handsome Aussies
in their Navy blue uniforms, who visited us
during the war? Pipsqueak, a pet name
for sis when she was four-years-old, adored
those tall soldiers, and when
they placed a peck on her forehead,
she went running to the kitchen with a shout,
Mother, I just kissed someone.

Now that we’re ninety,
we thought we’d better warn you, kid.
Pucker up now-—
kisses always lurk in memories.

as told by Sugar Hill residents Diane Hopewell, Harvey Stephenson and Harry Widman


With soft brown eyes, auburn hair
braided to his waist,
the classical guitarist smiles from the stage,
his nimble fingers plucking taut strings.
I imagine he is beaming at me,
sending that I-see-you–invitation my way,
the one that says, Meet me after the performance,
let me play a special song for you.

Without warning, I am fourteen again
on the deck of a fishing boat with my parents.
Squared sailor hat on my head, braces on my teeth,
I grin at the handsome first mate,
curly blond-haired siren with clear blue eyes.
One kind comment from him and the fantasy begins—
maybe he will ask me out, maybe a dance
or a kiss out on the bow of the boat.

Fourteen or sixty-four, it takes one smile
for pimples or braces, wrinkles or bifocals
to disappear and fancy to come alive.
In an instant, I am Rapunzel
waiting to let down my hair.
I am Cinderella sliding my slender foot
into the crystal slipper.


Let’s pretend, she said to her friend
running down the hill in the opposite direction.
Let’s pretend, she said to the sky, to the air,
to the field around her.

Arms held high, as if performing for God,
she danced in a white long-sleeved blouse
and a plaid skirt over black knee-highs.

Blond hair blowing in fall breezes,
her hips gyrated to the beat in her head,
like Tinker Bell savoring Never-Never-Land.

Waving like one of those lilies of the field
that lives carefree under divine protection,
she touched tall grasses,
holding deep conversations with them.

Watched from a distance,
she did not hide in embarrassment––rather,
she heightened the pitch of her twirling
with the air of a princess pleasing her subjects.

How long would it take for her to lose
that spark of self-absorption,
that feeling that she was enough?

Perhaps some teacher would criticize
her crayoned elephant,
a parent would tell her kissing donkeys
wasn’t proper or friends wouldn’t choose her
for their softball team?

When would she become self-conscious
or ashamed, pulling in like a threatened turtle?
How old a woman would she have to be
to start talking to grasses again?


Like clothespins holding socks on a backyard line,
or nylon knots between beads of a hand-made necklace,
pigeons perch high above the city skyline.

Each blue-black marker holds a space,
as if hands took pains to order them,
placed them with a precision
that prevents pecks and squabbles.

Is it instinct that positions pigeons so?
Or did they, like us, learn it was safer to stand apart?
Is it respect or survival that dictates space?

As sentinels surveying the scene,
their feet grasp lines that transport pulses,
carry our stories, our longings to connect.
They teeter on criss-crossing telephone wires
that allow us to technically touch.

Perhaps it is stepping too close to one another that parts us,
perhaps stepping closer would prevent it.
On this wire I long to see
one brave, or foolish, bird sidle up to another,
an avian Gandhi willing to risk a poke
or a peck on the cheek.