Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Memory

This was in 1985, and this was my fourth grade class. The students were curious and excellent learners. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Summer Memories... with Margaret Bourke-White

In August 1961, for 3 nights, I slept next to Margaret Bourke-White. I was right there, sleeping right next to her, in a small wooden cabin on Martha's Vineyard that actually could only fit two cots and a small dresser. She had the bed on the left side of that cabin next to the trees and I slept in the bed closer to the water on the other side. The cabin was just to the right of this photo, which I took that summer.

The cabin was in Vineyard Haven on the grounds of The School of Creative Arts, a summer camp owned and managed by Kathleen Hinni, who was the dance instructor at The Chapin School in NYC. The cabin looked like this, but the door was not decorated with the art work of campers. Miss Bourke-White had Parkinson's Disease and she chose to spend quiet summers at the camp on Martha's Vineyard with her friend, Miss Hinni. A few of her photos hung in the main house's living room. 

I slept there for three nights because I was sick. The procedure was for campers who fell ill to pack up and go to stay with Miss Bourke-White, in that cabin's designated "sick bed." So, for three nights, I lay there sick as a dog and rather unaware of her presence or the magnitude of the great accomplishments of the remarkable woman who slept next to me. 

What I do remember is that in the middle of one of those nights in her cabin I was awakened by a head counselor who told me that one of the girls in my cabin had tried to kill herself by overdosing on Midol. She wanted to know if that camper told me of her intentions to die that night. She actually did, but I lied and said I knew nothing. I did not want to betray a best friend's confidence. I also knew of her plans to "run away" from camp and spend a day in town with her boyfriend, who looked like Sal Mineo. Who could blame her? It was a camp for girls only and we were all terribly homesick and boy crazy and hungry in so many ways.

Years later, I read in a local newspaper that this camper smothered her infant son and she was found later that day wandering the streets of her Long Island home town. I became severely depressed. 

All summer long, we danced and gazed at the water on hot days and jumped in and out of cabins for fun. I spent four summers at that camp. Even though our days were filled with inspiring activity, they were the four most miserable summers of my life. Still to this day, when I hear a ferry fog horn I am reminded of those lonely times when that sound filled the air and made us all long to be any place else... but there. 

Gold Miners in Johannesburg's Robinson Deep Mine was displayed in the living room of the main house:

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Street Poems, with graphics (more curtain calls)


Between Muirfield Road and Culduthel Road,
In Inverness, there is a street with no name.
But, you can get there.

An old stone building is quietly hidden
Surrounded by a low iron gate
In a lush green fragrant forest.
All sad sounds have fallen away
The many footprints are gone
And all that is left is the still.

The now boarded up windows
Allow no lights from inside to
Show the way home
And I think
Nobody is home
In this long ago forgotten home.


On McDonald Road,
In Lovington, on the dusty
Road under the blue sky
There is an old wooden
House that is deserted.
There's nothing left of the roof,
Or the porch, or the doors.

I traveled down that lonesome road
And saw another house, also deserted.
And then another, set far back and
Looking all broken and empty, too.

I suppose at some time people
Played here, and danced here
Maybe they even sang here
In these now empty rooms.

But, they are all gone now
And nothing is left to hear.
Not the songs they sang or
Even the sound of the wind
That once was, once was
Right there and heard
On days long gone.


On Tazewell Avenue Southeast,
In Roanoke, some houses sit very high
Above the street under a bleak grey sky.
The trees are suffering and bent and leafless
And the air appears to be chillingly cold.

I wonder who climbs those long steep
Staircases to sit closer to that foreboding
Sky, where clouds cling together trying hard
Not to let thin patches of blue peek through
Because the view might be less mysterious.


On Clifton Hill,
In Niagara Falls, there is a soft intoxicating
Smell in the air of sweet and heady nostalgia.
Walkers cross the street to a bright lush green
Park and the water is then behind them as a
Light mist sprays their backs and the
Visuals turn into blurred memories
Set in stone.

All the excitement is about to begin.
There is a turquoise haunted house,
A beckoning moving theater,
The wax museum,
And a souvenir shop:
It's a massive swirling kaleidoscope of
Dreamlike and almost surreal color.

Then, in the center of all this heady elixir
Is a glorious and perfect SkyWheel,
Where I imagine children sit with parents
High up above it all, setting the graphics into
What will years later seem almost


On Coast Road,
in Larne, two people stand
Between the purple rocky cliffs and the
Pale colorless sea on the other side of
Yellow and purple flowers.

Cars pass by with drivers and passengers
Whose faces I will never see.
There is an open gate with a path that
Leads to an unseen place.

And soon, there is a sign that says,
"Boats," and then the sky turns magically blue.
But, in the distance the clouds are so low that
They touch the water.


On Højdevangs Allé,
In Copenhagen, the flowers
That line the street
Are so fragrant that two
Women stopped walking.

They stood between two buildings
To look at small blue flowers on
One side while purple and white
Flowers flourished without moving
Behind them, on the other side.


On Main Street,
In Chatham, there's a lighthouse
Between the red, white, and blue flag
And a white house with a red roof
All at the end of the street.

There are cars looking to park and
Men pushing baby carriages
And women with shopping bags
And everybody is going one way:
To the ocean, to the blue ocean.

There's a lantern there to light
The way back at night to other
Places: to other places near to here
So that the walkers can go
Back the other way to reach home.
And the way is lighted so the drivers
Who have come from far away from here
Never quite reach the end of the street
At the end of the day.


On Main Street,
On Martha’s Vineyard, I am
Filled with bittersweet memories.
I remember Main Street...
I was there, so long ago.

I can still smell that ocean air,
So briny and salty and
All those summers come
Flooding back.

The day we ate in the diner
And how the jukebox blared all
The songs we loved.

In spite of all the quaintness
Of that lovely and charming place
I longed with desperation
To be some place else.

I suppose we are what we carry
Inside us and in spite of that
Heady beauty, whenever I was there
I longed to be somewhere else.

I suppose there are places that always
Make us want to go home.


On Main Street,
In Northport, there is a
Guy standing in the middle of the street
Wearing an orange helmet
And a lady, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk,
Wearing a pale straw sun hat
And two children walking home from school
Wearing book bags and carrying skateboards.

A beautiful house proudly displays the flag,
There are two churches on both sides
When you reach Church Street
And one has lovely pink flowers in front.
There's a post office, a bank,
The fire department announcing
The "Fireman's Fair"...

In front of pristine houses on a crisp clear
Day ordinary things are happening
Where extraordinary things happened.
Nothing remarkable here at all
To speak of the remarkable man that
Once lived here.

Pass through this town, keep driving
Keep going, don't look over your shoulder
Keep going until you read the end:
The water with the boats and the looming
Hill on the other side
And you know you can't turn back.


On Larimer Street,
In Denver, I went the wrong way
Because the sun was endlessly bright
And my eyes hurt.

So, I winced and decided to turn
Around and see a different view
And go the other way.
I longed for night, so the darkness
Might blur the vision.

In sunlight, there were too many new
Things and I longed for the
Old buildings; these pieces didn't fit.

This music is too now,
And the haircuts are too today.
These silvery parked bicycles
Have taken short trips.
The billiard club fills me with despair
For times gone by so I go over
And look at all the hanging beads for
Making necklaces, as if they held a key to
Some magical thinking and wearing beads
Could bring back what once was.

I wondered if this pawn shop
Accepts memories,
And keeps them safe
Until later when the memories
Are bought back.

Nobody finds places long gone.
But, taking back memories
Makes me smile.
On this street,
It would be fitting.


On Merrimack Street,
In Lowell, there's a signpost
That says: Detour.

Maybe he never should have
Taken the other road,
Maybe he should have gone
Back, gone the other way
And stayed on these roads.

The air at the end of these
Roads becomes thick and
Dense and there is fog.

Here, on lonely low bleak cloudy days
There are quiet somber and grey
Places: big old several storied houses
With many front steps and slanted roofs
And lots of windows for eye prints.

The houses on University Avenue
From long ago are comforting with
Stubborn intoxicating attics whispering
Secrets obsessed with what
Was, so returning to this street
Reveals air like a strange pentimento.

Old stores with faded signs, corner
Places that never ever yielded or
Changed and they don't bend, they
Remain strong, proud, and solid.

If he stayed for more than a short
Time he always heard the swing
Music; drizzling so he could remember.
At night, in dreams, when
The way became lost, he
Soon realized he never left.
All that time, all those years
His eyes were just closed.
The boarded up windows gave
Him reasons to cry.

Now, this is the end of the seductive
Road, his forever destination:
A place that always surfaced
When sad dreams and deep
Longing finally fell away...
And he had to return to this place
Like a traveler who finally uses his
Return trip ticket.


Via Comandante Simone Guli,
In Palermo, a street so old that
High above wives still hang the wash
Out over the black iron balcony gates
Next to green leaves and blue and white
Striped curtains falling out of windows.

Once children stood there with mothers,
Waiting for fathers to return home.
The red flowers now sit high over sad
Graffiti and a tobacco shop which
Serves as some reminder not
To obscure the view.


On West 10th Street,
In Kansas City, there is a
Library that looks like

The front looks like
Big books all
Next to each other
All tall and proud.

Catch-22, Oh Pioneers!,
And Fahrenheit 451
To the left, and
Lord of the Rings, Truman,
And To Kill a Mockjngbird
To the right.

Take a walk through
The middle doors,
Right through the middle
And go inside, go all the way in
Walk right inside the books to the
Places the stories can take you.

On County Highway 585,
In Newark, there's a seven story
That looks just like a basket.

I didn't want to be outside the
I wanted to be inside.

I wanted to be inside that basket.
And when I was inside,
I wanted to join hands with
Everybody else who was inside
And sing a song.

Some places are just like that.
They inspire singing;
I left this
This road
With a basketful of smiles.


On Beard Street,
In Kernersville, there are colorful
Wall murals which give glimpses
Into what was, long ago.

I saw ladies in billowing long
Red and white dresses standing
With gentlemen wearing tall hats
All waiting at the railroad station
For family arriving from faraway places.
Soon, they would all step into a horse
Drawn carriage to take a short ride home.

Nobody looked up to see the child
Perched high above who on bleak days
After school would climb to the flat roof
To wait for the trains to pass.

The trains were carrying weary passengers
Traveling to faraway places, and they were
Also going home.

Many years later, she would remember
The sound of the whistle as the trains
Passed and she would speak of the sound
As both sad and mournful,
Perhaps because it always
Strangely reminded
Her of all times past.


On Maiselova,
In Prague, so many people
Come to visit the long gone
And dead at the Jewish
Cemetery near
Staronova Synagogue.

These are the dead from
The ages: they were born,
They lived, they loved,
And what's left here now
Is the dust to dust.
Visitors walk slowly as if a
Mere whisper might wake
These dead.

All the many people tiptoe
Quietly around and around
The wall around the old cemetery.
They walk around to get to the
Other side where there are boats
On the still water and newer things.
And they speak, or speak not,
Of times long ago.

The clock in the high distance
Reminds that time always passes,
It passes and passes and passes
In time with the heartbeats,
And there is always a solid wall to
Separate the living
From the dead.


On Edinburgh Street,
In Winnipeg, parts of the ground were still
Covered in snow under a crisp blue and
White sky that almost crackled with sharp
Definition and clarity.

It was there that I turned a corner
And stopped at a driveway and saw
In the icy cold snow carved footprints
That finally reached an almost
Tropically lighted home.


On the Promenade,
In Blackpool, exquisite wonder
And bright colors create an intense
Kaleidoscope of magical fun.

There's a high tower and
Amusements and prizes and
Horse drawn carriages riding next to
Modern cars.

On the pier, there's a Ferris Wheel with
Rotating gondolas perfectly suited for
Grand and glorious views
Of luminous illuminations.

Luminous illuminations
All right by the sea
By the sea, so all the children
Who come here
Will remember these days.


On East Guenther Street,
In San Antonio, I felt I should
Be wearing fancy ribbons in my hair
Because the houses are so pretty.

I passed by houses that are
Treasures with artistically sculptured
Facades and stunning lace screened
Verandas where guests might dine
On tea cakes spread out on crisp white
Doilies and later when the sun goes
Down, talk of small things that matter
And rinse their hands in dainty
Finger bowls to keep things fresh.

There's a place to stand to view the
Spot where the breathless
Flowing river passes through
Bringing a sense of sameness.

I got lost on this intoxicating street,
Longed to stay, and knew I could return.
There's a sense of serenity in this old
Comfort as the sunlight falls on this same
Street as it has fallen on this street forever.


On Gay Street,
In New York City, there are quaint
Red and white and orange houses that are
Intoxicating because they are so old and little.

There is a building with turquoise shutters and
There are pinks and red and white flowers in
Lovely window pots and green trees
To the left and to the right.

The facade is frozen, but not the living...
Or the dead.

It is said that number 12 is...
Haunted. Maybe so.

It is the house across the street where I see
A ghost.
She is peeking out from the second floor window
On the left side of an orange brick building.

She has bushy eyebrows and one hair roller
Sits on the top of her head.

Her mouth is open as if she is startled and
She appears to be more frightened than the
Tourists who down below night and day
Haunt the street looking for the
Ghosts of Gay Street.


On Repatriation Road,
In Pickering Brook, I drove
For a long time
And saw almost nothing
Except the narrow road
Ahead and trees on both sides
With nothing behind me
And nothing ahead of me.
Then, I saw a tractor on one side
And a low gate on the other and
I knew I was reaching a place.
Some place.

Then, I saw a tiny little house
All alone there behind some flowers.
It had a front porch with old chairs
And some other muted things.
In front of the house was a tree,
Three times taller than the house!
I kept going.
I kept going
Chasing the end of that road.
Until I reached the end of the road.
And then I went back home.


On Aleppo Road,
In New Freeport, there are wonderful
things, rich and wonderful things.

Old houses made of dark crumbling
Wood that remembers what was,
A dry waterless sandy creek
And an old and tired bench
Where an old grandmother sat
And turned, with bent and gnarled
Fingers, the pages of a book
While whispering magical words
That filled a child's imagination.

Keep moving past a graveyard where
Old and broken and long forgotten cars
That yesterday were shiny new cars that
Once took children to faraway colorful fairs.

And past some jumping deer going up a
Steep hill to get back to the forest to hide,
To get back to familiar safe places.

A shiny white gazebo stands alone on
The grand grass where dolls sit
Wearing fancy hats and having sweet tea.

To get to this place you will need to
Go the other way, go that other way,
Go a different way to be taken away.


On Via Regina,
In Griante Como, I knew I
Was very far away from
My own home and
All places familiar,
All things remembered
And then easily forgotten.

This street with this view was
Created by some artist with sentimental
Sentiments and great attention to
Detail from his own mind's eye: the buildings
With arched entrances, the restaurants where
Diners eat outside under white umbrellas or
Under the clear blue sky next to the perfectly
Sweet green round trees near the boats
On the lake coming and going,
Going and coming.

The remote and fancy street looks out
Upon a gorgeous lake with mountains
High above in the distance on the other side
On all sides.

On the other side, there's a soft
Mist above those mountains with a
Tiny village sculpted right into the
Mountain above the view of the lake
Behind the red flowers, red flowers
On this side.

This place, where children grew up
And in later years returned to
The same place with the same view
Of the mountain under the mist
And the tiny village sculpted right
Into the mountain.

This might be a good place to stop
A fine place indeed, to stop.
Because after all, all journeys end
And where do I go from here?
Where can I go from here?

© 2010 Marjorie Levine

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Partial Look at Naked Amnesiac


There is a moment of quiet stillness
Right before sunrise, before light;
When a clammy breeze passes
Through Manhattan
And nothing moves, nothing stirs.
My pristine gown clings in the humidity
Like translucent second skin.

I awaken, not knowing if it is evening...
Or morning.
See my reflection
In the haze of this smoky cracked mirror:
This is all I have ever been,
And all I will never be.

© 2010 Marjorie Levine


Long ago...
A child rested on a maroon sofa
In the still musty living room
Of her grandmother’s house.
The house was decorated with gold tassels
And white lace and starched doilies...
And it trapped a scent of burnt potato pancakes.
At night, the ghosts of ancestors sucked the juice
From the peaches of a backyard tree.

A fake fireplace electrically glowed
Orange-yellowish and whispered in
All seasons the child was home.
On a maroon table, sat an
Incandescent pink seashell...
“Hold it to your ear and you can hear
The sounds of the ocean,” ventriloquists urged.

The steady whir and flutter of the slats
Of off-white Venetian blinds lulled her
As chill winds passed through Brooklyn.

At dusk, the front door opened and
A man, wearing gray and gray,
Silently traipsed through the house
To “his room” and he closed “his door.”
He was home, too.

The grandmother called the man
Just “the boarder.”
The child only glanced up as he passed and
He never spoke to her... nor she to him.

On the clearest of days she cannot even recall
His face... yet she stares at him whenever chill
Winds pass through Manhattan.

© 2010 Marjorie Levine


At dusk, a dream through stained glass:
In a hazy deciduous forest, I am almost naked-
Pristine gown clinging like translucent second skin,
Chartreuse satin slippers, cheeks pale porcelain rose,
And humidity turning my hair burnt sienna.
The scent of dried lavender drifts through trees-
“Alone in nature, by nature,” ventriloquists murmur.
Bejeweled spiders, resting on carefully crocheted cobwebs,
Melancholy widows, eyes green tourmaline,
A soldier seduced by indifference...
Haunted beauty washed forever in soft pink light.

A fading fragrant French cologne-
Earlier a sweet intoxicating elixir- melting and melted.
An elusive black-throated warbler,
Pausing on a great oak, bears witness:
An icon is shedding mellifluous silver tears,
Reflecting my grandfather, wrapped in his tallit
Stirring, turning, saying, “You look very familiar to me.”

A clammy breeze passes through Manhattan.
I awaken this time, awakened last time,
Acquiescent and still, not knowing
If it is evening... or morning.

© 2010 Marjorie Levine


She is not the first tenant who weeps
Into that stained pillow at night.

She limps to the window
And peeks out to face the pale moon
Jumping from one side to the other
While the heat of the evening
Becomes even more oppressive.

So! That bright star is not a star, after all!
“It is Jupiter,” she murmurs.
The strange sound of a fog horn,
In the clear night, seems to place
Her in one moment and then another.

She tries to remember what
Passed from there to here,
From one time to this time...
But she is lost now like a
Prisoner in this nightmare,
This fantasy...

This fantasy or nightmare
In a thick veil of darkness.

© 2010 Marjorie Levine


I awakened and longed with desperation
To return to Brooklyn.
I wanted to ride until dawn on a creaky
Ferris wheel left behind by a carnival and
To visit the still standing luminous
Chartreuse home of my grandmother.
Memories behind stained glass windows
Beckoned like some naked amnesiac
Who struggles to reach home.

In the air, I could still smell the fullbodied scent
Of burnt potato pancakes that wafted through that
House and I often glimpsed the ghosts of ancestors
Lurking and sucking juice from the backyard peach tree.
I longed with desperation to return to old Brooklyn.

At 5 P.M. I slipped into my car
And drove south through Manhattan.
The pink sun soon sizzled on the Hudson River
And set, to my right, in bright blazing Technicolor.
In the distance, one kittiwake
Seemed to have found the way.

I headed for the elixir of the spinning
Teacups: the kiddie rides at intoxicating
Coney Island... in the most haunted and
Haunting of places: Brooklyn.

© 2010 Marjorie Levine

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Rich and Rewarding Life

Here are some class photos of my long career as a proud teacher.
Jon Hamm, in Parade magazine: “I got into acting because my teachers kept nudging me into it,” says Hamm, who taught school himself for a few years after graduating from the University of Missouri with an English degree. “The power a teacher has to influence someone is so great. I can’t think of a profession I have more respect for.”
Parade magazine

I was a teacher in NYC for almost 35 years. I have close to 35 class pictures to help reflect on my long career. I had read in the UFT paper, "The New York Teacher," about the long career of Regina Sayres, who is now 100 years old. She was a teacher at PS 41M in 1968 during the time of that long teachers' strike. I was a teacher at PS 41M during that time when
Ms. Sayres was there, and at a place when she was perhaps ending her career... mine was just beginning.
I looked through all the class photos in my collection, and I selected many for inclusion in this blog. They represent the four schools in which I taught... and the memories come flooding back. (please click on each photo to enlarge)

The year was 1973, and I was teaching grade 6 in a public school in the theater district of Manhattan. I entered my class in an essay contest sponsored by Bella Abzug and one of my students won. She went to Washington, DC to read her essay. I found this photo: Charity goes to Washington. And I also found the (now very wrinkled and faded) letter I received informing us that she won. That was over 35 years ago. It seems like so long ago. I guess it was.

This was my fourth grade class at PS 33 in 1986. The next year, when they were in the fifth grade, these students were chosen by Eugene M. Lang for his "I Have a Dream" college scholarship program. Over twenty years later... I am wondering: "Where are they now?"

And most bittersweet:

The year was 1974. I was teaching at a small school on West 45th Street. I had a wonderful 6th grade class. The students were bright, creative, and they had a real sense of humor. The school was on the same block as the Actor's Studio, the Manhattan Plaza had just been completed, and on nice days I could walk home. I loved going to work.
One day, a student named Christopher came to school a little bit late. I asked him the reason for his tardiness, and he told me that the night before he had attended an opening of a movie in which his father had a role. I asked him the name of the film, and he replied, "Godfather 2." "Oh," I said. I asked, "What part did your father have in the movie?" He replied, "Frankie Five Angels." I did know that Christopher's father was the playwright who had written "Hatful of Rain." But, I did not know that he was in the film, "Godfather II." So! Christopher's father was "Frankie Pentangeli;" interesting... Godfather II, was released and it opened at a Loew's theater on Broadway. It received phenomenal reviews and I couldn't wait to see it.
Soon thereafter were parent-teacher conferences. I am lucky Christopher was an excellent student. I do not think I would have had a comfort level sitting across from that father and giving a bad report. Mr. Gazzo had written a note to me during that school year asking permission for his son to be excused early on an October day and I saved the note. It was not just a signed note, it was an autograph.
A few months later, the Gazzo family moved to Los Angeles. Christopher kept in touch with all of us through letters he sent to the school addressed to me. In one letter, Christopher asked me if I was still singing because I was awful. I was a teacher who sang while she taught? He said he was going to a school 20 times better but he would rather be going to our school because he missed all of us.
I think about all of the students I had in so many classes over the years. Eddie, who died of a drug overdose. David, who fell off the roof of his building one hot summer day when he was up there with his brothers playing ball. Debbie, who was crossing 9th Avenue and was hit by a car. Brenda, whose mother we saved.
Larry David was asked why he still works. He clearly does not need to work. He said his mother had told him many years ago that we all need to always wake up in the morning and have a place to go. I had a place to go.

Didn't Mr. E's secretary leave out the 's' in comprehension in #4? He should have proofread that letter!