Some kinds of losses are so slight and undefined we may be unaware of their impact. Poet and photographer Jay Alan Martin reflects on the loss of one resident in a neighborhood with a wistful nod to the objects that speak to her lingering presence:
Junipero Serra is a road not lived on by the pretty or the rich. It’s a beaten path from 280 to the Golden Gate, exuding bumper to bumper exhaust, breathed by those who made peace with the urban curse in the darkening houses walling the freeway.
A woman tumbles from the Muni train. She waddles to her home on Junipero Serra.
I know her, or do I know of her?
After work, she hauls her backpack in a grocery cart on the short slow journey home, finally.
She’s short, Filipino, broad nose plunked on broader face, rivers of wrinkles rounding pits and pocks on a wincing face.
On weekends, she weeds her front lawn, sitting on dirt, her wide sweaty neck beading like hot wax.
She pulls weeds slowly. I don’t know if they’re all weeds. She pulls her arms like the torque of axles needing grease.
The yellowing house looks on.
I haven’t seen the woman in months.
Now the curtains she had put up some year swirl recklessly in the windows. The black jetties that peek between the curtains are impenetrably black, her eyes I see.
The lawn is all weed. The house stands more than just still.
She’s there on the curb.
All of her Kodak moments bulge glossy in 4 x 5 albums.
France, Italy, Greece, the Philippines flip in wind. The noble knights of the Loire riding their sweaty horses are still as stone, and the ancient columns towering over 10,000 worn tourists are fading even in the spring of San Francisco.
Her scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, spiral notebooks, notes to a dead husband, kids (who put their mother here) wait.
One notebook called, “Cakes,” flips open.
She wrote in a fine hand. Rustling pages reveal “Coconut Frosting,” “Sour Milk Devil’s Food Cake,” “Cheese Chiffon Cake.”
The recipes flow from light green pages onto the thirsty grass.
The backs of the cake recipes are tortured by tumbling multiplications and divisions, indecipherable code calculated for sweet consumption.
Foxing eats “2 c. sugar.”
I take the Cakes notebook. No one is touching the leftovers.
Jay Alan Martin is a writer and photographer who lives with his wife and cat in San Francisco.
He explains that “foxing” is “that slow growing of old paper.”

Quiet Drama in a Garden

Evening is closing in on a

Bush bearing roses of Sharon.

Darkness disables their blossoms

Except for one holdout:

One lone flower tucks itself in

According to its own readiness to surrender,

As a robin chants

The closing hymn.                       -by Karen B. Kaplan

Faleeha and David: Poetry of Loss and Peace


An Iraqi woman who I was sitting next to at a poetry reading shyly handed me her card. Her logo ran, “The Maya Angelou of Iraq.” I had the feeling I had come across someone who was out of the ordinary, especially because she and the gentleman sitting with her have collaborated to present a program at various venues called,”A Muslim Woman and a Jewish Man: Reading Poetry and Hosting a Discussion on Peace.” Both Faleeha Hassan and David Steinberg are poets who have innumerable publications and honors. Faleeha herself is said to be one of the most prolific female writers in the Middle East. I include her poem Writer’s Block in my blog  not only because it is evocative and compassionate, it also speaks to losses we rarely consider:

Writer’s Block

When I try to write
I sense that millions of readers are
Crowding the paper’s edge,
Kneeling, genuflecting, and lifting their hands
To pray for my poem’s safe arrival.
The moment it looms on my imagination’s horizon,
Gazing at the concept in a diaphanous gown of metaphor,
Young people smack their lips—craving double entendres.
Meanwhile, with piercing glances, the elderly scrutinize
Its juxtapositions and puns.
Then the concept smiles shyly, dazed at seeing them.
On the paper’s lines both young and old meet for a discussion,
But my words resist
And erect walls of critical theories.
Then the paths of personal confession contract,
My imagination calmly shuts down,
And the conception retreats inside my head.
At that hour, it afflicts my world with
Bouts of destruction.
Workers refuse their paychecks.
Farmer let their fields go fallow.
Women stop chatting.
Pregnant mothers refuse to deliver their babies.
Children collect their holiday presents but
Toss them on the interstate.
Our rulers detest their positions.
Kings sell their crowns at yard sales.
Geography teachers rend their world map
And throw it in the waste basket.
Grammar teachers hide vowel marks in the drop ceiling
And break caesura by striking the blackboard.
Flour sacks split themselves open, and the flour mixes with dirt.
Birds smash their wings and stop flying.
Mice swarm into the mouths of hungry cats.
Currency sells itself at public auctions.
The streets carry off their asphalt under their arms
And flee to the nearest desert.
Time forgets to strike the hour.
The sea becomes furious at the wave
And leaves the fish stuck headfirst in the mud.
The shivering moon hides its body in the night’s cloak.
Rainstorms congeal in the womb of the clouds.
The July sun hides in holes in the ozone layer,
Allowing ice to form on its beard and scalp.
Skyscrapers beat their heads against the walls,
Terrified by the calamity.
Cities dwindle in size till they enter the needle’s eye.
Mountains tumble against each other.
My room squeezes in upon me, and
The ceiling conspires against me with
The walls,
The chair,
The table,
The fan,
The floor,
Glass in the frame,
The windows,
Its curtains,
My clothes, and
My breaths.
The world’s clarity is roiled.
Atomic units change.
I vanish into seclusion,
Trailing behind me tattered moans and
Allowing my pen to slay itself on the white paper.


David wrote the following prayerful poem moments before his sister died. This led to his meeting Faleeha, when he presented his poem  at the monthly meeting of the Society for Poets of Southern NJ. Faleeha subsequently translated this poem into Arabic.


Time Grows Short

Time grows short

As the hour draws near,

Transition shall take place

Gently, ever so gently.


It time to let go and

Escape the earthly bounds.

Angels waiting to guide you

To the next step.


May the White Light

Surround you with peace.

May the Lord

Guide your spirit.


Your work here

Is now complete.

Face the future

With certainty.


It is time to rejoice

You are Heaven’s gain.

And surly we shall

Meet once more.


  This is an excerpt from the book by David L. Steinberg, Copyright, April 2014. “Pour Your Heart Out,” Condolences Sympathies, Concerns and Comfort. This features the 7 Stages of Loss, spiritual poetry, comforting thoughts, and breathtaking images for those who suffer loss in their lives. Permission is hereby granted to Karen Kaplan to publish it in her blog.