Ruth Sabath Rosenthal’s poetry chapbook Facing Home has just been released by Finishing Line Press. As the title suggests, these frank and emotionally charged poems are about facing memories of the home we grew up in, as well as the homes that we as adults have made, broken, and re-formed. Rosenthal’s accessible writing style balances humor, anger, and compassion. She employs enough specific details from her own life to make the memories feel real, while staying focused on universal themes that will resonate with many readers. Some of her strongest work is about the complex feelings involved in caring for elderly parents who were emotionally unavailable to her as a child.
I chose the poems below for reprinting, with her permission. The extended metaphor of the porcupine is clever in its own right, but gains additional significance in the context of the more straightforwardly autobiographical poems–a sign of a well-constructed collection. As for “Zinnias”, I loved how she made the colors and textures of the scene come to life. My grandmother also slipcovered the good furniture in her Lower East Side apartment, and she also had a canary who died prematurely from the heat of the kitchen, though it wasn’t for lack of love–I’m told she let the little fellow fly all around the house, pooping where he wished!
Contemplating Caring for a Porcupine
A roof over its head, easily done.
Nurturing, quite another story.
Bathing — only with a long hose.
As for mealtime — the prickly thing
jumping up and down, impatient —
what protection would repel prick of quill?
What if the rascal was inclined to make
sport of that, then hide the mischief?
Get angry and chance an antsy porcupine
turning combative? Pay dearly for that;
or, if the critter contrite, savor the moment?
Or, having fed the robust rodent,
if it yelps for more but is on a diet,
what would distract? A game
of Hide and Seek might, though if
the quill ball should turn up missing,
how to know it would fare well, and
what angst to bear if the poor thing
was found to have been the dinner
of some known predator — when
all the poor porcupine wanted was more gruel,
and all I ever wanted was to care for it?
I Remember the Zinnias,
autumnal hues with bee-magnet centers.
In the planting, pearls of satisfaction
beaded Mother’s cheeks, made her glow
head to toe. Each summer, till first frost,
zinnias fringed the pathway to
the side door by our kitchen.
Mother loved her zinnias, their color rich
contrast to the dusty-rose brocade sofa,
aqua cut-velvet of Father’s chair —
both bound in clear-plastic slipcovers
that, in summer, made the backs
of our thighs stick to our seats.
When her new dining set arrived, keen
to keep it pristine, Mother moved Lucky,
my beloved canary, to the kitchen, to roost
inches from pot roasts simmering, the window
nearby rarely open — and, child I was,
I didn’t protest on my bird’s behalf.
Weeks later, just back from school,
I learned that Lucky had died
and Mother had given his cage away.
She claimed to have buried him
in her tomato patch, just feet
from her prized zinnias.