Thursday, December 31, 2009


When the baby rolled

out of the bleachers

in his little stroller

he had not far to fall

and was not hurt.

And the stranger insisted

she had made things

secure as possible,

what with the missing anchor.

But the father insisted

she was wrong, and they argued

late into the restless moonlit night

while cats prowled,

and visions of nutcookies

spun around the edges

of her dream.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The future predictive invocable

calls forth something for which I hope,

but roundabout, so unrecognized:

when my son will have had a child.

The past remedial imperative

fixes old things on command:

he will not have been drunk

on my sixteenth birthday.

And now, especially,

there is the continuative declarative imperfect:

I have been being myself all this time.

I have been being this changing woman,

this irrevocable unremedial woman.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Who can tell about angels?

They pass over sleeping cities scattering death,

make appalling announcements,

play ominous music on brass instruments.

Who can tell?

She beckoned with her tiny index finger,

looked around to see if anyone would hear.

I leaned down so she could whisper in my ear:

Angels. Angels came to visit me in the night.

She’s been here only four years,

what can she know?

“Were they friendly?” I asked.

NO! she shouted, alarmed,

looked around again, whispered again,

They were VERY BIG.

They said “Shhhhh.”

They said



I wrote this several years ago, inspired by a story told me by a friend. The incident is real!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Christmas Eve caught me rummaging through cupboards, looking for the tin

we got full of French biscuits twenty years ago from Reneé.

The kitten followed me everywhere, chasing the odd bits falling in my wake.

Outside, snow fell on the frozen grass--lazy snow, not enough snow.

I was caught searching the Christmas trunk for a spool of red ribbon

I thought I knew I had, for one white angelabra candle,

for the bunch of dented tin bells inherited from my husband’s mom.

I wake Christmas morning in the dark,

after a long sound grownup sleep.

The short Advent is ended; things are done,

presents for the family all wrapped up.

The tin is found, and full.

Last night among lighted candles

we sang Come! Hark! Nowell!

ate the Christmas Bread, passed the Cup.

We drove home talking of Betelgeuse, of the Moon.

Under such a moon, my father once

saw Santa Claus flying through the sky,

his nine galloping deer puffing breaths of cloud.

When our son was small, once,

he saw an angel.

I arise in the quiet house,

light the tree,

dig through myself,

still searching.

MFCP, Christmas Day, 1999

(An old one!)

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I stood under pine trees in the snow

to feed chickadees from my hand,

weeping for the will of God:

shabby woman clothed,

hungry woman fed,

the alabaster flask snapped,

oil gleaming on glorious hair.

All the shadows shifted

while I wasn’t looking,

and the furniture rearranged.

Who are those people in my kitchen,

and what is the language they speak?

Easy to say I won’t.

This is not a manipulation,

a twist of things due to prayer,

but all its own, and mine together:

singular and held in being

by my being, my choice,

the love we can make

of one another.

So I will bear the gift,

consent to carry it in time--

this moment of deepest darkness,

astonishing grace.

MFCP, January 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009


Santa Claus might still come,

to children as old as me.

I might awaken on Christmas morning

and feel the old magic left

by his twinkling presence.

There might be, next to the packages

I myself put under the tree, a small inlaid table

with a silver English tray or a brass Indian tray,

perfect Ethiopian coffee in a cup of blue pottery

or bone china flowered blue and white,

and hot crisp croissants or toast and blackberry jam.

And maybe I’d look away from the exquisite food

and see the floor polished, pillows plumped,

every book and shelf dusted, each ornament

gleaming, the curtains crisp, magazines fanned

gracefully on the shining coffee table.

And the dishes might be washed and put away,

sink scoured; the spices (neatly labeled) arrayed

in alphabetical rows. Refrigerator as clean

as the day it was born, cabinets--even the mysterious

corner one, all tidied to perfection.

Bathrooms done with a toothbrush, ironing finished.

Cobwebs vacuumed from cellar rafters

and the cement floor all painted a gleaming green.

I might sit in the rocking chair (with no cat hair on the cushions)

and sip my coffee in the stillness of the morning,

amazed again that someone so remote in time

could descend, bells all a-jingle,

to make my most material dream come true.

MFCP December 23, 2002

Thursday, December 17, 2009


for the Spring Street Poets

We did not bring poems on papers.

We brought instead little crystal bowls,

arranged them in patterns around our feet.

Leaning down, we poured

olive oil into the bowls,

added fragrances drop by drop.

After Karla had poured her oil,

we said Stop.

The smell of green

is enough.


--I wrote this in 1998, after the first reading I did with the Spring St. Poets. It was a real dream.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009



John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887)

additional verse by Mary Pratt

Seven men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

"God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, -"Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me 'tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

"What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain," quoth he,

"'Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: "E'en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Then, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

The seventh did an MRI

and checked the DNA.

“Now I can analyze each part,”

quoth he, “in every way.

I know I’ll fully comprehend

This Elephant one day.”


So oft in theologic wars,

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I waited a long time.

I came first, got a job in this hotel

down by the river. Folks stay here

before they go on the riverboats.

Mostly they’re nice folks,

but things can get rough sometimes.

I’m glad I’m in the kitchen.

He said he’d come

right after he helped the old folks

with the butchering and the beans,

but that time was well past,

and I hadn’t even had a letter.

“It’s a long way,” Cook kept telling me,

“a long walk. But he’ll come,

I can feel it in my bones.”

Cook caught me crying this morning

while I was stirring up the buckwheat cakes.

“How long since you’ve eaten, child?”

she wanted to know. “You’re getting

mighty thin.” I told her I guessed

I hadn’t had anything for a day or so,

I’d been that worried.

“That man of yours, he’ll get here,”

she said. “Only a fool wouldn’t come

for a woman like you.”

She made me sit down and eat

a plate of cakes, all buttered up.

While I was eating them,

I looked out the kitchen window,

and there he was,

coming down the street in the rain.


(Backstory for an old song. . . )

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


It was the goddesses she wanted:

sheets and sheets of crayoned portraits

the summer before she started to bleed.

And in the Christmas pageant a red-haired soprano

who sang Magnificat while the angel

spread her wings. The wind, too,

little brook through the old meadow,

and at night Artemis and all the rest.

Her lover those days was a crabapple tree;

their roots went together deep as their crown.

Later, of course, it all came apart.

The gods took over, pavements and towers,

languages she learned in order to get along.

She grew small and modest,

stopped drawing them;

there were no apples in her dreams.

And later yet--her own fruit ripened and falling--

she learned how trees want

nothing more than life:

nesting finches, five-pointed stars

in their immortal hair. She learned

how the broken trunks sucker,

the small brush of coppice bears blossom.

MFCP, 2003

Monday, December 7, 2009


Without a magic cloak, invisible am I.

Childbed did not claim me, nor spoiléd milk, nor plague.

My tough-nailed fingers are knobbly and dry;

My gait grows slow and stooped from all the heavy years.

Childbed did not claim me, nor spoiléd milk nor plague.

Black suits me now, flat boots and unshed tears.

My gait grows slow and stooped from all the heavy years.

I gaze out fly-specked windows at the falling snow.

Black suits me now, flat boots and unshed tears.

My garden sleeps agrestic in the frozen ground.

I gaze out fly-specked windows at the falling snow,

brown birds a-shelter in the shrubberies around.

My garden sleeps agrestic in the frozen ground:

garlic bulb and herb, onion, daffodil.

Brown birds a-shelter in the shrubberies around,

one cardinal passes red across the gray stone hill.

Asleep: garlic bulb and herb, onion, daffodil.

Cats sleep in chairs, in cupboards, upon my narrow bed.

One cardinal passes red across the gray stone hill;

at night outside thin walls I hear the brown owl call.

Cats sleep in chairs, in cupboards, upon my narrow bed.

Without ointment, without broom, across the moon I fly.

At night, without these walls, I hear the brown owl call.

Without a magic cloak, invisible am I.


(This is a pantoum, one of the more enjoyable forms to play around with.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


What if the angel

had said to Mary,

Hail. You’re no more blessed

than anyone. You will bear a child

and he will be

an ordinary man.

What if the angel

in that dark garden

had taken the cup away

and said, Don’t be a fool.

Why would your Father in Heaven

want you to die?

What if all the angels

were to say

Be afraid.

The only possible

peace is already come.


Saturday, November 28, 2009


We know it has been used before:

deepest center, old bones,

the remains of fire.

A narrow mouth, dirt floor packed and smoothed.

Rushlights along one wall.

Paint from mud and sap and stone.

All of us know the dances. Most of us

remember the words.

We wait for the cold, the darkest night.

They haven’t found us: we’ve learned to be that quiet,

slipping between the winter trees,

whisking our tracks away.

It’s our oldest place, hidden

in the woods where they never go

for fear of the bears

who prowl the edges in the dark--

clawmarks pressed deep in the wet ground,

their long memories keeping us safe.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


(written after taking too many Facebook quizzes)
Of course King David
had lots in common with Ophelia.
Both liked to sing.
Both had difficult boyfriends
involved in dark plots. Both
had trouble handling loss.
And Ophelia and the King
had a kind of I-Love-
Lucy approach to life--
plunge right in.
It doesn’t matter if
you don’t have the right clothes.
But John Locke?
Well now, he pulls me all
together, with his belief
that everyone starts clean
and accumulates layers
of life, like laughs or
petticoats, or kingdoms
and complicated wives.


Thursday, November 19, 2009


Go early, our friends told us,

just before sunrise, when the light

above the mountains is a pink line

that slowly turns yellow, then gold,

and the sun sends up a long pale pillar.

Then the geese will rise, calling,

against the sky.

You can hear the whisper of their wings.

We went to see the geese,

early, Orion and the waning sickle moon

still in the deep blue sky. We heard

very far away, the geese muttering

in a low wet place, waiting for dawn.

The sky turned pink, and the sun

sent up its shaft of light, and the gray

clouds thickened and the light

shut down. We stood in the shelter

against the south wind. The geese

we came to see did not rise.

Overhead in the rafters, little birds

were waking: a grackle, house sparrows,

one young brown cowbird. They shook

themselves, preened their feathers,

murmured their unthrilling music--

ordinary birds, plain birds,

in the gray morning,

waking one by one.


This was published in Penwood Review, Fall, 2008

Saturday, November 14, 2009


~after a discussion with fellow poets about the uses of euphemism

If shit’s not a poetic word,

then how about excrete?

How else can one describe what’s left

of things we creatures eat?

For water one must often “make”

urine ‘s not elegeeic;

and piss though not poetic,

is onomatopeeic.

(Sorry about that.)


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Mile high glass mountain,

enthroned on the peak

the jeering Muse in her Unattainable Princess mode.

She is eating a melon, spitting out the seeds.

Basaltic monolith set down by an alien god

in the middle of the narrow way

between the abyss and the infinite seething swamp

Fierce dark angel with a sword thin as a laser

darting to and fro, to and fro,

severing all connections

the strands of the web

synapses in my brain

sinews in my hand

Little wooden cubes

painted with apples, balls, clowns,

letters upper and lower case




Mary F. C. Pratt, published in The Kept Writer, July, 2002

Monday, November 9, 2009


The words given voice inside the mind . . .can be gentle and elliptical,

what the prophets called BAT QOL,


-Laurie R. King

You’d never gone searching,

never looked outside the pleasant space,

that one familiar room behind stone walls:

the white-clothed table, long benches,

faces in the brilliant windows all serene,

the heavy silent door.

There was never any thing you needed

or even thought about, out there, before.

Do you still believe in God?

You have seen the young red squirrels emerge

from the abandoned beehive in the oak.

Their mother watched them tumble

in last year’s leaves, the spring grasses below.

When the smallest came to her, searching for milk,

she laid paws on its head, pushed it away.

It ran down the tree again, scrabbled in the duff.

One good dream at last in your restless nights--

you awakened the Daughter of the Voice of God

forgotten by her father in an airy cottage.

She was small, her curly hair rumpled on the pillow.

You traveled with her through the forest,

carried her across deep drifts of snow,

down the last glacier to your kitchen fire.

Be my strong rock, you used to pray.

A castle to keep me safe.

But the windows have shattered into shards

and the walls came tumbling down.

The forest was so much bigger than we knew.

MFCP, June 16, 2003

Saturday, November 7, 2009


We went walking, maybe on your bones;

the keepers of the relics will not tell.

July: two weeks for the news to come

and you named the place:

your future hope declared.

Foundations, breastworks of gray stone,

the star-shaped fort.

Oval spring at the cliff base, cold green water.

Autumn: sticky mud, limestone,

stumps and long yellow sedges.

Wind across bare ground.

Winter: no shoes.

Smallpox, no cure.

Holding down the fort,

building a bridge across the frozen lake--

twenty-one cribs of stone--

to Ticonderoga across the narrows

where in summer again--the glorious Fourth--

your comrades woke to see British cannon on Sugar Hill,

their futility.

Flight to Hubbardton, Bennington.

Delay the nail that won the war,

or so we like to think.

We mark the broken walls,

weeds and sedges overgrown,

limestone forest returned.

We went walking on your bones;

no marker but the curving cedar arms,

no blessing but the falling snow.

MFCP, March 16, 2005

Tuesday, November 3, 2009



This must never be forgotten: life goes on.

Irena Sendler has been named a Righteous Gentile:

she rescued 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto.

Names were written on slips of paper, buried in a jar under an appletree.

Irena Sendler has been named a Righteous Gentile:

elaborate false identifications, map of the sewers, every city wall.

Names were written on slips of paper, buried in a jar under an appletree.

Because this will soon be over I will give my child to you.

Elaborate false identifications, map of the sewers, every city wall;

babies were wrapped as packages, carried away on the trolley--

because this will be over soon I will give my child to you--

parceled child cried out in Yiddish; driver evacuated the trolley to save.

Babies were wrapped as packages, carried away on the trolley;

older children remembered: parents, the terror, all that was lost.

Parceled child cried out in Yiddish; driver evacuated the trolley to save:

ordinary people, their terrible decisions, hidden lives, their shame.

Older children remembered: parents, the terror, all that was lost;

babies adopted, baptized, alive, brittle family names vanished away.

Ordinary people, their terrible decisions, hidden lives, their shame.

Man hiding children shot his neighbors who came to say they knew.

Babies adopted, baptized, alive, brittle family names vanished away--

because I might be killed I will let my baby go--

Man hiding children shot his neighbors who came to say they knew.

This must never be forgotten: life goes on.


I was a twig of apple

torn from my tree--

it bled.

Trimmed and grafted

I was fed

foreign sap like bitter water.

In spring, the bees.

My petals fell

but I did not die.

In autumn

I wonder why

other branches

bear yellow fruit

while mine,

on every swollen fingertip,

is red as blood.


They took me in: kind.

I took their name; Their Jesus-

mark in the center of my forehead.

They gave me future; I took it

in both my hands: hiding, silence,

all of it, the price.

No picture of my parents.

I cannot now remember

their faces. But the parting:

my mother did not cry.

Go, she said, just go.

My father would not release

my hand. We’ll bring him back

the woman said, over and over:

I promise. We’ll bring him

back. When this is over

I promise we’ll bring him back.


Darkness around me,

a dream of sound:

rustle of paper


voices muffled

as though through ash

weeping far away

When I cry out I am alive, afraid

in a tongue I do not know,

a lurch and rumble,

swift silence,

quick steps.

I move rocking

above the ground.


Yes, I knew what they were up to but

I didn’t much care:

my life barren enough

in the gray of this city,

the damned trolley,

every day the stinking crowd.

Fewer people--maybe not

a bad idea, in the long run.

But it was a baby voice

like my daughter’s

just learning to speak.

I don’t know what she said

but I knew she was scared.

I didn’t think--just did

what any decent father would do.


So often on the steps or streets

we spoke: How is his wife? His child

with measles, or the price of bread.

They would help me, I thought,

if I were in need, and I, them.

But at my door that morning,

softly saying they knew,

and those children still asleep:

so frightened, so small,

by now their parents--

well, who can imagine,

and who wants to believe--? The gun

I’d kept in the cupboard close, in case.

What else could I have done?


Now is my time

(or now the time is mine).

There are children in my city

(although I live outside).

Danger, danger,

and what will the powers do

and what will I do

and what am I doing

in my time?

What am I doing

with my time?

Mary F. C. Pratt

I learned about this remarkable woman at about this time of year, and wrote this group of poems. Several appeared in the HABURAH NEWSLETTER, (Middlebury, Vermont) in February,. 2006.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009



--three possibilities

Sleep on, dear spouse, till Jesus comes

Till Gabriel’s trump shall burst the tomb.

Then may we wake, in sweet surprise,

Released from sin in transport rise,

Unite again, and soar on high

No more to part, no more to die.

~Epitaph for Mrs. Dorcas Fuller

Consort of Capt. Josiah Fuller

who died July 1,AD 1800

in the 31 year of her age


And what a surprise, dear spouse,

it will be: angels, trumpets,

the crack of this bursting stone,

earth parting over my skull.

To feel my bones come together,

dissolved flesh reshaped--

You’ll fly through the air

reaching toward me, or in some odd

convulsion of the Infinite,

you’ll simply be there,

holding my hand,

with our babies toddling all around.

Perhaps we’ll soar awhile

to look down on things I held so dear:

our little home, the flowers,

forest clearings full of birdsong,

the river breaking into foam.

I’d like that best, not

to rise straight up

through the blue sky,

directly to that cold unimaginable

city where nothing dies,

nothing separates or changes,

where no seed or sparrow falls.


I can remember how I died:

with you, before the doctor came.

Two little birds outside, so high

like souls escaping from a tomb.

Maybe like that, we will arise

to be together, so surprised.

To feel your kiss--O dear surprise--

your arms around me! Not to die

but live again, on wings to rise

above this earth where sorrow comes

and comes: our babies in their tomb,

our voices weeping harsh and high.

God did not hear us: God so high

he could not care, nor be surprised.

He made this earth a living tomb--

anguish of love--we live to die

and die again. O let Him come

with His answers. I will not rise

until He answers, will not rise

above this dust, to float so high

I cannot see where autumn comes:

the apples, all their red surprise,

the garden full, ready to die.

I will not leave my earthen tomb

until He answers from this tomb

that He created. Let Him rise

when He Himself has learned to die.

The stars, the moon, the sun move high

above where I lie, unsurprised,

where I will stay until He comes.


“Sleep on,” is it, presumably in peace?

What are you afraid that I might do?

Oh, I’ve been watching you ogling Jenny

--those innocent blue eyes, her tight body

as yet uninvaded by you or your brats.

I know where you are sleeping now.

But I take my satisfaction:

it won’t be many years

before her sweet voice sounds harsh,

before she grows tired of your drunken nights,

your blows, your sour breath,

your pitiful attempts at what I can’t call “love”.

When she has worn out, you’ll sink her here

beside me and your endless spawn,

with another cold slate slab to keep her down,

just as you kept me, and Ann before me,

under the weight of your body,

your dirt, your cold and rocky god.