Poetry Triplet: The Widow’s Lament in Springtime
Each week The Learning Network of the New York Times features “Poetry Pairing” a series they collaborate with the Poetry Foundation to feature a poem alongside content from The Times that somehow echoes, extends or challenges that poem’s themes. I thought this was a creative and interesting idea, so what if I threw in Rumi to make a triplet? That’s what Zen of Water’s Poetry Triplet is about. Combining real life stories with great artists to touch your heart and inspire.
“Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.”
I cannot sleep in your presence.
In your absence, tears prevent me.
You watch me My Beloved
On each sleepless night and
Only You see the difference
Looking at my life
I see that only Love
Has been my soul’s companion
From deep inside
My soul cries out:
Do not wait, surrender
For the sake of Love.
“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
– Orson Welles
“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”
– Dag Hammarskjold
The Widow’s Lament in Springtime
BY William Carlos Williams
Original article published by The Poetry Foundation
Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before, but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
I lived with my husband.
The plum tree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red,
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they,
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.
By John Leland
Original article published by the NYT
ON a raw, gray morning this month, two women sat at their usual table, eating breakfast from plastic trays. Rose Bosco, who is 95, was having oatmeal and toast, her white hair swooping magnificently back from her pale forehead. Delores Brown, 73, passed her a carton of milk and a banana to slip into her purse for later. Their shoulders touched as they leaned close in conversation.
Five mornings a week, shortly after 8, they meet at the same round table with the clear plastic cover in the main dining area of the Seaside Adult Community Center in Rockaway Beach, Queens. They have been sitting together since last fall, though neither can remember how it started.
“I don’t know how we became friends,” Ms. Bosco said, turning her head so she could hear with her good ear. “Maybe she came and sat here one day.”
“No, I sat over there,” Ms. Brown said.
“Delores is always with me, all the time,” Ms. Bosco said. “When I have a friend I’m always with them. Of course, a lot of them passed away.”
Seaside, a squat one-story brick building, was one of 105 senior centers that the city marked for closing because of state budget cuts in January. Its ceiling tiles are water-stained; large bugs roam the musty gray carpet. In a past life the building was a bar. Four years ago, the city closed it temporarily because the roof was unsound. In no neighborhood would it draw praise for its architectural beauty or innovative services.
“Some places have more stuff,” Ms. Bosco acknowledged.
But for Ms. Bosco and Ms. Brown, the center has been the soil for an unexpected and valued friendship, one of many formed between bingo games and complaints about the food. Each afternoon Ms. Brown, a former nurse, walks Ms. Bosco, the daughter of a sharecropper, two and a half blocks home. The elder woman lives by herself in a small bungalow owned by her grandson; the younger, in a house with her son and grandson. Though they are coherent in conversation, both repeat themselves at short intervals, seemingly unaware of what they said moments earlier.
“I don’t know how I got here today,” Ms. Bosco said. “The wind almost blew me over.”
“Did you walk?” Ms. Brown said.
“Yeah, how else would I get here?”
For these women, and the 80 or so other regulars who spend most weekdays there, Seaside provides a place of connection in the face of isolation. They can buy breakfast for 50 cents. Lunch is a buck and a quarter. Complaining is free. The rest is the mess of human interaction, a community that forms around the most commonplace events: a phone call that means a relative is visiting, another that means a friend has passed.
The two women were there all winter, even on the snowiest, iciest, windiest mornings. Budget cuts permitting, they will be there all summer, even on the most sweltering, humid afternoons. Where else would they be?
Ms. Bosco, who has been going to Seaside for about a year, picked indifferently at her breakfast. Her daughter visits the center once a week to spend time with her, but even then Ms. Bosco talks mainly with Ms. Brown. She does not know anyone else’s name, she said, though everyone knows hers. It took her long enough to learn Ms. Brown’s.
“How long have I known you?” she asked her friend.
“Long enough,” Ms. Brown said.
“You were sitting over there before,” Ms. Bosco said.
“No, I was over there, at Table 7,” Ms. Brown said.
“She taught me how to dance,” Ms. Bosco said, adding, “I don’t know if we have all the new steps.” She shrugged her frail shoulders. They do not have many opportunities to dance; at most Seaside parties, there are few men. “Who you going to dance with?”
“You danced with me, didn’t you?” Ms. Brown said. Ms. Brown is a very good dancer.
“We only did it once,” Ms. Bosco said.
“More?” Ms. Bosco said. “It was good, though.”
Ms. Brown nodded in agreement. It was good.
THERE are 256 city senior centers, feeding about 28,000 people a day, at a total cost of $86 million to the federal, state and city governments. The centers are a legacy of the 1960s, when stories of older people living on pet food shocked the city and the nation. Nearly one quarter of New Yorkers over age 65 live in poverty, according to the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity, which uses a formula that factors in the local cost of living.
Last year, state and city budget cuts threatened 75 of the centers — Seaside was not among them — and 29 were ultimately closed. The centers are intended to serve New Yorkers over age 60. This January, the dance began again: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed redirecting $25 million from the centers to child welfare; that, said the city’s Department for the Aging, would mean closing about a third of its centers; on March 15, the centers got a reprieve, with the Assembly and the State Senate voting to restore the money.
But even if Governor Cuomo, as expected, signs the legislation by the April 1 deadline, those who run Seaside say they will feel safe only until next year’s budget cycle. Meanwhile, they are looking for another home, one without stained ceilings and water bugs. Situated on a windswept strip of land separated from the rest of Queens by the waters of Jamaica Bay, Seaside, whose budget is $259,823, serves a population particularly vulnerable to isolation.
The center is operated by Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens on a contract from the Department for the Aging. About 60 percent of those who use the center are African-American, according to Rose Lawrence, the program director; the rest are mainly Jewish, Italian, Irish or Hispanic. There are two other centers in the Rockaways, one 26 blocks away, the other 73 blocks. Neither serves breakfast.
“If this place closed, where can I go?” asked Marty Mortner, 83, who started going to the center after his wife died in 2007. “Who wants to bother with an older person? You go downstairs and wash your clothes. You stare at the four walls. It ain’t the best place, but we stay because there are no other places. What should we do, lay down in the gutter for the garbage truck to pick us up?”
If the center closed, Ms. Brown said, she and Ms. Bosco would still get together as friends. Ms. Bosco said she didn’t think so.
“I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “I wouldn’t have Delores for a friend. We stick together. There’s not too many friends like that.”
Days at Seaside fall into a regular rhythm: Monday is sewing and bead work. Tuesday is tai chi. Wednesday is exercise class and Pictionary. Thursday is painting. Friday is flea market day. There are occasional outings, parties, nutrition workshops and blood pressure screenings. And daily there is bingo after lunch, and dominos whenever anyone is game.
But these activities are merely the ticks of a clock, organizing and marking time. The life of the center is what happens between and beyond them.
FOR Veronica Meehan, what happened was love.
Ms. Meehan, 86, wears her white hair pushed upward in a crest of perpetual wonder. Her arthritis requires her to use a cane, which means she had to give up her purse. So one recent morning, she carried life’s essentials on two lanyards around her neck: keys, wallet, lipstick, money, frequent-shopper cards from a few stores, and invitations to three St. Patrick’s Day parties.
Getting to the center can be an adventure. Two years ago, a gust of wind knocked her over and she broke her arm.
“Did you people notice that the last couple years the wind has gotten extreme?” Ms. Meehan asked no one in particular as she arrived the other day, shaking off the cold. “I wonder if they’re doing something funny with the climate.”
She started going to the center in 1990, after she followed her daughter to the neighborhood. At the time she was divorced. “I was an old woman,” she said. “I never thought I’d end up with — is it ridiculous? — a boyfriend.”
Two months later, she said, a widower from the center asked her to meet for Sunday breakfast. She did not think much of him at the time. She was 65; he was 15 years older. He had made comments that struck her as ignorant. But the restaurant had a special for Sunday breakfast: buy one, get one free.
“He said, ‘I was just wondering,’ ” she recalled. “ ‘It’s a lovely day. If you walk your way and I walk mine, we’ll meet at 94th Street.’ ”
His name was Tom, and he made her laugh. He took her to dances and places where people drank alcohol, things she had missed during her marriage. Her friends and her daughter said that he was too old, but he was good company. She had married at 18 and raised five children — six, she said, if you counted her ex-husband.
Tom introduced her to a new life, one she thought would never be hers. He took her out at night and then saw her in the mornings at Seaside. For 15 years, until his death in 2006, he was the great love of her life.
“He used to say to me, ‘You’re my treat in my old age,’ ” she said. “And I thought, ‘He’s my treat in my old age.’ But I never told him that.”
Ms. Meehan’s daughter Maureen Meehan, 66, remembered Tom as the “catch of the center,” and said she had been wrong to tell her mother he was too old. “She’d had an unhappy marriage, and now here was this man,” the younger Ms. Meehan said. “They’d spend the entire day together. It just made her so alive and vibrant.”
The elder Ms. Meehan said she hoped she would never turn into a complainer. Life was good. There were parties.
“All I ever did was clean house, take care of my children, take care of my mother and father,” she said.
“So now I have this,” she said of Seaside. “A lot of times I’m nice to people I really can’t stand. I say, ‘Lord, don’t let me be like that.’ ”
IN the dining area one afternoon, Angel Soto, 66, planted a loud kiss on Ms. Bosco’s forehead, then drew back and did it again. “This is a man-killer right here,” he said, loud enough for all to hear. “How many husbands you destroyed already?”
Ms. Bosco gazed ahead as if weathering a sudden storm. She said she had no idea who he was. “What does that man see in me?” she asked. “He’s been having his eyes on me for a long time. Maybe he’s interested in me, I don’t know.”
Ms. Brown looked on wryly. She had no time for such foolishness.
Ms. Bosco was born early in the last century, one of 14 children in a sharecropper family near Baton Rouge, La. “Women didn’t know how to protect themselves then,” she said with a mild laugh.
She left school after the third or fourth grade because she had typhoid fever, and she never had a full-time job, though she worked briefly as a seamstress. She outlived a husband and a son.
“My mother doesn’t make friends easily,” said Arlene Sinansky, 70, Ms. Bosco’s daughter, a retired teacher. Before moving to Rockaway Beach, Ms. Bosco lived in a building for the aged in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, until her money ran out. “You want your mother in a nice place,” Ms. Sinansky said, “but she lived so long.”
Ms. Brown was born a generation after Ms. Bosco, one of eight children in a family in Harlem. She worked as a nurse at Bellevue and at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, and when her parents became frail she cared for them. “I always liked taking care of people,” she said. “I missed it.” Ms. Brown has three sons in New York, a daughter in California.
When she first started going to Seaside, several years ago, Ms. Brown befriended a woman named Barbara Davis, who suffers from uveitis, an eye condition that leaves her nearly blind. Ms. Davis is outgoing, an Aquarius. Ms. Brown helped her navigate the center; on weekends they went to church together.
So when Ms. Davis stopped showing up for a while last year, “you could see that Delores was at loose ends,” said Ms. Lawrence, the program director. Around that time, Ms. Bosco and Ms. Brown just gravitated toward each other.
Their friendship has brought out qualities in Ms. Bosco that she never showed before, her daughter said. “My mother can dance,” Ms. Sinansky said, still seeming surprised at the notion. “We were always uptight.”
She added: “The center was Delores for her. She was her core.”
After lunch one day, everyone prepared for a pre-spring party: music and dancing, cake and ice cream. Parties are a regular feature of life at Seaside. As is bad news.
“You come to these places, you see people, then you don’t see them anymore,” Mr. Mortner said. “That’s the only bad thing about it. You say, ‘Gee, I was just talking to her.’ ”
Parties are a chance to dispel such thoughts — or at least, drown them out. A staff member cued a CD of disco songs from the 1970s. A few people danced; a few others complained that the music was too loud.
Ms. Bosco danced with Ms. Brown for a few songs, then continued after her friend sat down.
She danced to “Stayin’ Alive.” She danced to “I Will Survive.” No one assigned any significance to the titles.
In midafternoon, some members lined up for the van that takes them home. Ms. Bosco and Ms. Brown prepared for the walk in the elements, past the empty stores of Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Ms. Bosco covered her hair in a knit cap with ear flaps.
“Delores always walks me home,” Ms. Bosco said. “I don’t know why she does it. She doesn’t have to.”
The first street crossing is the widest, without a light to stop traffic. It is an act of faith for the women to cross at their speed. Ms. Bosco does it twice a day, with and without her friend.
After all, she said, “What are we going to do, stay at home?”