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From Radiance Winter 2001.

At the beginning of each year we tend to look back over our accomplishments “so far” and ahead to goals that are sometimes daunting. Maybe it’s time we listen to our elders, some women who have the gift of perspective and down-to-earth philosophies, both calm and humorous, to guide us into this New Year.

– Catherine Taylor, 
Senior Editor, 


Daddy’s Sweet Potato Pie

was no jive,
low-fat, no-fat, lo-cal, sugar-free
shadow of a killer custard pie

only the richest ingredients
in the down home kitchen:

whole eggs
condensed milk
butter—if no lard—
white flour
white sugar
spice from the jar

so out of this world—
you’d have to call it unnatural

so heavenly—Lord!
Daddy must have put his big toe
in the peaks of meringue.


DENISE ABERCROMBIE teaches English at E.O. Smith High School in Storres, Connecticut. She has published poems in Phoebe, Kalliope, Radiance, and the Minnesota Review. She lives with her family in Willimantic and gardens organically with her husband. Alvin H. Wilkerson, for whom this poem was written, lived a long, healthy life eating this downhome cooking.


Meditation at Eighty-Six

What shall I be when I shall be old?
Shall I be withered, sere like a fallen leaf?
Brown and wrinkled, fragile. Careful now!
A sudden mis-step might create
A barely visible pile of dust.

Shall I instead be fresh and green?
Born of spring rain and gusting winds,
Strong on the limb of a stalwart tree.
Eager to feel the sun released from a cloud bank
Shooting its rays to the burgeoning earth
To warm, to enclose, a moment of promise.

I shall be something in-between.
Neither new nor old, neither brown nor new-born green.
I shall be flame, all scarlet, orange and gold.
Still passionate and yearning to live
Full of knowledge to impart
If there be one to listen
Life flowing on. . .

I shall not know when I shall be old.
Only one day I shall no longer, be.


ESTHER BURGEN SUNDEL served as lieutenant-nurse during World War II. She has retired many times in her life but always reenters the work force. Currently she works for San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, volunteers at a local hospital, participates in several writing groups, and plays golf daily. Now eight-eight years old, she says that life is a lot of fun.


Now That I Am Heavier, and Older

I found a picture of myself from when I was twenty.
Blonde, tanned, tentative.
The structure of my collarbone was visible above the V-neck of my casual top.

But now that I am heavier, and older
People come to me for advice
They listen to my opinions
Salesmen don’t try to patronize me.

I can wear what I want
What’s comfortable and right for the weather
And always shoes with sturdy soles
Because fashion magazines don’t even capture my attention
Now that I am heavier, and older.

I can be friendly or not to whomever I choose
I can introduce myself to people I don’t know
Men or women
And I’m not "asking" for anything, or even flirting
Although if I choose to flirt I can do it elegantly
Now that I am heavier, and older.

And I spend much less time waiting for other people
To take care of things, to call
To fill up my life with their words
And to serve me my self-esteem
In precious carbo-counted portions
Because I have more important things to do with my time
Now that I am heavier, and older.


L. A. DEDDEN sent this poem to us from Lansing, MI.


This Body

All my life
I’ve been wearing
this hand-me-down
that never quite fit.
Changed in shape
by childbirth,
chocolate and time.
Distinguished by stretch marks,
broken veins, freckles into age spots,
dimples into wrinkles.
This body comfortable
as a rump-sprung jogging suit
finally suits me.


JULIE HOUY is a writer blessed with a husband, five children, their spouses, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She has conducted a volunteer poetry group in Pacific Grove, California, for fifteen years. Her first novel, a mystery that she coauthored, is titled Beyond Bingo (Creative Arts Publishing), and was published in 1999. Written with Joan Drummond Miller and Carolyn Livingston, Beyond Bingo is about the friendships of three old women as they go about getting marijuana for a sick friend. Now, at eighty-three years of age, Houy says, “This body endures!”


Plum Tomatoes,
Even Smaller Red Cherries

I languish through Mollie Stone’s
where produce is lit like soap opera queens
nested in playpens of green mesh, glistening
from an hourly shower
as Angelo tucks them in,
balancing their round unruliness,
segregating tiny yellow beakers
of plum tomatoes
from even smaller red cherries.

I assess the freshness of peaches,

their cheeks dimpled by a suggestive
crease, skins so tight their fur
stands on end inviting me
to touch their cheeks to my cheek,

to drink in the smell

of Winesaps and Gravensteins,
the sharpness announcing itself;
cantaloupe with rough skin
but the smell at its stem-end promises
lush orange flesh,
and a mariachi of seeds
rattles inside. It’s ready,
begging to be eaten.
I choose this one for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Then I turn to the hunchbacked gourds
where they lie crooked and bulbed
yet somehow appealing
in their tumbling resistance of order.
Straight from the vine,
a riot of yellows and greens
reminders of the farmlands
from which we have traveled
so far.


“Plum Tomatoes, Even Smaller Red Cherries” first appeared in a different version in Earth Tones, an anthology from Vergin Press, 1994.

The latest book from CB Follett’s Arctos Press is seeing/perception, looking at the world through an artist’s eye, the provocative and innovative writings of Ann O’Hanlon as she explores creativity. Follett’s book of poetry Visible Bones (1998, Plain View Press) will be followed in 2001 by At the Turning of the Light, from Salmon Run Press.



The menu of the day is posted
in the stairwell of the building
where I teach—in air,

wafting up the flights
from refectory to classrooms
high above.

I climb the stairs
and know that breakfast features
bacon, coffee cake, rolls of cinnamon

and raisins, and lunch will offer
fish sticks, tacos, and a pudding—
maybe butterscotch—for just desserts.

Later, when I descend
I know that dinner
will bring sauerkraut—

a reuben sandwich underway?—
or maybe German sausage with potatoes
and a chocolate cake.

When I smell a turkey roasting,
I know that harvest home is near.
I feel at home more in that stairwell

than any other place I go. The kitchen
comes to classroom as I climb the stairs.
In my mind I hear the women

talking, stirring, sifting, tasting
and I‘m once again a child
who’s coming home to love.


MONZA NAFF, a teacher, writer, and clergywoman, has previously published poems in Radiance.



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