Sunday, October 18, 2020

Talking to Myself Forty-Four

 Two pink zinnias and a yellow butterfly by Janet


Talking to Myself Forty-Four October 18, 2020

For Janet

In my mind’s eye a zinnia garden

outside my back door. Tall, large,

showy circles of pure color atop

branching stems: orange, red, yellow,

white, purple, even green. The frost

hovers and will kill them all. Not  yet! 

Not yet! Janet dug out the roots of

the spreading small sunflowers, 

found rich compost and dug that in,

scattered seeds and watched the

seedlings and the morning glory

weeds pop up. Brought me a photo

of the first bud, then bloom. Slowly

they gained height, branched to 

make room for dozens of blooms. 

We brought some in. She took 

some for friends. She guarded

her treasures and made photos for

me, So many photos, sometimes

with a butterfly. I’ll never forget

my zinnia garden. Let the hard

freeze wait!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Talking to Myself Forty-Three


 Judy's zinnia garden, planted by Janet summer of 2020


Talking to Myself Forty -Three October 11, 2020

When you live in a pandemic

that gets worse when you so need

it to get better, to go away, in fact,

ordinary problems get magnified,

distorted, all out of proportion. 

A sick dog will keep you awake 

or even some especially good

news like finding a publisher

asking for the writings of a woman 

who is “courageous, innovative,

definition-defying.” You wonder:

how did he know what you were 

like? You queried him immediately

in the pre-dawn quiet house, but

no response came yet to this

magic call for poems, and you

lay awake wondering how long

it would take him. Of course,

your expectation was unreasonable.

But you’re eighty-three and 

already your options in this life–

your only life–are fewer each year.

You walk to improve your ability 

to walk. You proof old manuscripts 

which you want to enter the world

of published books. You search

for publishers and publish some 

books yourself. You’ve always been

yourself and no other. It was easy

to ignore you since you weren’t

seeking fame, but only readers.

You reached them not as mobs but

as thoughtful individuals. Fame can 

wait. I don’t need to be alive when 

it comes, but the books have to be 

out there somewhere readers can 

pick them up and enter my created 

world of peace, love, and sanity.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Talking to Myself Forty-Two

 Hummingbird at Jordan Dam by Doc Ellen, DVM


Talking to Myself Forty-Two October 4, 2020

My main goals now are healing and

strengthening. Slowly, I do more

work in a day, leave home more often.

I saw my eye doctor, got my hair cut,

mailed out review and thank you 

copies of my new book, and will see

my dentist in ten days. I’m even

having a bookmark made. So far,

so good. I get tired, but I don’t get

sick. I made bread yesterday and

will make pizza today. I wake at

two a.m. but sleep later. I enjoy

my work of proofing and teaching. 

We live in strange times, yet I

read, write, and teach as per usual.

I forget more easily. Some people 

I used to see often, I miss. I see

them rarely or not at all. I reread

books I wrote years ago and aim

to publish. I like the life I’ve lived,

the courage I found, the stands I

took. Some of my enemies never

ceased to hate me, but some forgave

me when they knew me better. I

have been doing what I felt called

to do, and I’m quietly grateful I

have friends in far away places: 

China, Russia, Finland, Holland, 

Italy, England, Wales, 

Am I not blessed?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Talking to Myself Forty-One

 Red zinnia from our flower garden, thanks to Janet for flowers and photos /summer 2020

Talking to Myself Forty-One September 27, 2020

The thing about aging is that it’s so slow.

Slow to get sick and slow to heal. I walk

slowly. I work slowly. It takes me longer 

to get dressed, to bathe, to eat, to gather

the trash or start the wash. And I put

off mopping the kitchen floor. I accept

help even when I don’t need it. Easier

than arguing, and then I know I won’t fall 

down. I didn’t used to worry about

falling, didn’t use a cane. I still don’t 

like it, but then I fell and got a black

eye. Another fall broke three toes. So

I use a cane. I still don’t like it, but it

might prevent a fall. At night I sleep

with the lights on and use a walker to

the bathroom. I did get a haircut so I 

don’t look as old as I am, and I think

it helps. Slowly, I can do more and

not get sick. Slowly I proof and

publish more books. The main thing

is to keep walking, keep working,

rest as needed, but don’t stop.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Talking to Myself Forty

     A Teen's Christmas in Wales. Pub date: November 15, 2020

Talking to Myself Forty September 20, 2020

For Dr. Cohen

Some days are hard and wear me out.

Other days I float through, even though

I dreaded them. Going to the eye doctor

during a pandemic I’d delayed for three

months, but they gave me an appointment

right away, the same week, and Janet

said, “I’ll drive.” So driving home with

dilated eyes wouldn’t be a problem. I

said, “Yes, if you’re sure.” We waited

an hour. I love that Doctor Cohen, and

he remembered me. “Writing any books

lately?” I told him about The Teen’s

Christmas in Wales. “Good, good,” he

said. I said I was teaching, too. “Keep

it up,” he said. They took pictures of

the back of my eyes. He seemed to 

approve of what he saw. He looked

and looked for himself at the back of

my eyes. Then he said, “Your eyes

are good, and these glasses are okay,

too.” The ones that got bent when I

fell last November. True, I’d been reading

with them. Still, I’d worried. Janet

had waited and drove us home, gave

Wag a little time outside and then went

off to her next job. All the rest of the

day, I kept thinking: My eyes are good. 

My glasses are good.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Nine

 Thanks to Janet Wyatt, a white cosmos from our garden.

Talking to Myself Thirty-Nine September 13, 2020

I never know what’s going to 

keep me awake, but it’s usually

at two a.m. Maybe worrying

about the ballot. We’re doing it

absentee this year and witnessing

each other’s. I read all the instructions

twice, and we’re going to drive ours

right to the Board of Elections

because we don’t trust our president

not to cheat or try some other act

of the dictator, even more obvious

than trying to ruin the postal service.

Once I’m awake, there’s not

much I can do but get up and

make breakfast and then sleep

another hour or two later, and 

reread the directions. The main

things turned out to be simple,

and we did receive our ballots. 

Who would have thought ten years

ago that our president wouldn’t

want us to vote? If you’re a worrier, 

two a.m. is bound to be a problem

once in awhile. Except for that,

I sleep like a log.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Eight

    Naked Ladies/Tiger Lilies

Talking to Myself Thirty-Eight September 6, 2020

Summer is winding down. The naked

ladies have begun their rise as the air

cools. Some call them tiger lilies, but

I like naked ladies. They always 

surprise me. The zinnias hold their

own a few feet away, and some

determined cosmos. When you’re

eighty-three, you heal so slowly,

but my helpers confirm: I’m looking

better, I’m coming down the back

stairs with more ease and grace.

We’ve lost our heat index days.

I can work harder, longer. I rarely

fall. My body’s slow to heal, but

it does heal. My new book was

approved. And in the wider world

where it has become so hard to

hope, we have good news. The

big industrial polluters are being

slowed and even stopping. They

told us that all we have to do is

last one day longer, and we did.

In a pandemic it’s hard to believe

in any victory, any pause in 

pollution and devastation. Yet

quietly and without fanfare it

arrives, and the naked ladies

join in the zinnia chorus with its

pinks, oranges, multiple reds,

yellows and even greens.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Seven

Our Zinnia Garden, photo by Janet Wyatt 

Talking to Myself Thirty-Seven August 30, 2020

Zinnia time again, thanks to Janet.

How I wanted something we planted

to grow. The perennials fought their way

to bloom: daffodils, a few determined

crocuses, daylilies, the small sunflowers,

the hydrangea bush, and the forsythia,

but I missed my zinnias. Janet egged

me on, and we ordered Benares giants,

all colors. And my favorite cosmos: 

Sensation. Pink, white, purple.

Yesterday Tim picked the first bouquet.

The more you pick them, the more

they bloom. Now they rest on our

dining table: dark red, bright pink,

yellow, the new green. They join the

table clutter: this week’s newspaper, 

various papers I’m working on, books, 

my Trollope novel Phineas Finn, my

appointment book, cracker boxes, 

salt, the honey jar, miscellaneous spoons,

a roll of paper towels, Tylenol, file

folders, toothpicks, the sugar bowl,

green placemats. They belong. I’ll

make sure the zinnias have their water.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Six


photo of our first Zinnia bloom taken by Janet Wyeth

Talking to Myself Thirty-Six    August 23, 2020

It’s hard to admit that my life had lacked joy.

Then it arrived, despite the deadly virus, the

rare face-to-face conversations, the rising

death toll, my slow rate of healing. We have

seven new Zinnia blooms: pink, yellow,

orange, white, and many buds rising. We

eat a lot of beans and rice, homemade

bread and ginger tea. Then comes a

letter in Russian. I paste it into my translation 

program and read: “Sweet Judy.” He thanks

me again for his voyage to America twenty-

seven years ago. It was work, but those days

of communion, of barriers falling down, were 

worth it many times over. He’s writing about it. 

He is convinced that between Russians and

Americans there is not much difference. I’m 

lifted up, grow stronger, walk more easily.

Then joy. Now I know all will be well with me.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Five

Talking to Myself Thirty-Five August 16, 2020

I had decided to try a street event. 

First Sunday I believe they called it.

They gave me a space on the sidewalk

in front of the Joyful Jewel, an art shop.

Sales were hard to come by. I barely

made more than I paid to enter.

Then the art shop owner, Mariah,

came outside and said she’d be happy

to take my books. I gladly accepted.

About that time I began to publish 

my mysteries myself. Friends advised

me to do three or four a year. When

I had the funds, I did three. Mariah

kept smiling, but I suspect the volume

of books overwhelmed her. Then

I joined her annual Voice and Vision

event in April and wrote poems about

paintings I liked. Clearly, the poets’

art came from the heart. They hugged,

cried, and laughed. Around them the 

paintings, sculptures, hats, cups all 

rejoiced with us in this shop which 

hallowed the eternally creative spirit. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Four

Talking to Myself Thirty-Four August 9, 2020

These years push forward their agenda,

but I’m not to know the details or the names.

My episodes might be tiny strokes I don’t

even notice. Or maybe seizures. Brain

doctors can name many things that can

go wrong in an aging brain. Yet most

days I’m tranquil, resting body and mind

more than I used to, sleeping or not

sleeping by whimsy. Sometimes I feel

jittery and make myself rest. One doctor

congratulates me on doing this well at age

eighty-three. Anther threatens me with

massive stroke. Yet I walk, I read, I try

to solve copyright problems for my new

book. Days pass. I muster my patience.

I still love a man who no longer walks

the earth. I type old manuscripts and

translate a Russian friend’s memories, 

amazed that he trusts me. I read old

books and study our failings and 

foibles, our moments of truth-speaking

and commitment to justice. No one

else knows the details either. Doctors

love to try their fancy medicines, but 

sometimes the cures are worse than the 

episodes. I want to choose how I live

my life–as long as I can. I haven’t

done too badly so far. 


Photo by Janet Wyatt in August 2020  Rose of Sharon tree.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Three August 2, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Three August 2, 2020

I remember Schelykovo. You 
took me there that first week.
We saw the house, carefully
preserved, of Russia’s playwright,
loved and honored as our Shakespeare.
We went into a peasant house, sat 
on the benches against the walls,
visited the pool where the Snow Maiden 
died, wetted our faces for a long
life, if not an immortal one. Your
friend Yuri knew him personally,
was scolded and influenced by the
great man. And I, at an age you 
never reached, still have my
students. How much longer will
I influence them, scold them, and
praise them? In some ways I was
the peasant woman you longed
for but less submissive, more
outspoken. Someone to cherish 
while keeping your distance. Still,
we had those moments. We stood
outside ourselves, we communed. 
No one noticed at first, We sat on
rocks in a stream bed. You prayed
to a tree that it wouldn’t rain. Each
day I get older, but you stay the
same. Your life is trapped in
eternity, but we each have a wing,
and who knows where and when
we’ll be together again.

Photo of the front of Schelykovo by Vera Belikh. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-Two

Talking to Myself Thirty-Two July 26, 2020

For Dr. Kylstra

I had agreed to another MRI.
The stroke doctor interpreted my 
two episodes as stroke. I didn’t
think so, but I wondered if he was 
going to claim stroke no matter
what this brain picture showed.
My own doctor, who always
listens to me, said she’d support
me, whatever I decided to do. My
body, my choice. I like that logic.
I wrote to the neurologists a letter
asking for a diagnosis to be 
explained, and no scare tactics.
Doctors make mistakes, too,
right? So I went into the tube,
and they took pictures. They did 
find the little bleeds in my brain
but said, “No sign of stroke.”
My brain’s behavior was more 
like Cerebral Amyloid Angioplasty. 
I wanted to shout, “See! I was
right.” They may never admit it,
but I know what to do. Trust my
own doctor and choose carefully. 
I won’t have this body much
longer. I may not make it to a
hundred, but I haven’t done too
badly so far. I’ll continue 
recovering my health, write, and
publish four more mysteries
and three more Russian memoirs.
Once we’re clear of the pandemic,
I can re-open my home to my children,
grandchildren, friends on this island
of peace and love.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty-One

Talking to Myself Thirty July 19, 2020

When the big doctors talk,
we’re supposed to listen.
They don’t tolerate arguments
and turn to threats. All I want
is a good explanation. I don’t 
believe my two episodes were
strokes. The doctor says if I
don’t take their medicine, I’ll
have a massive stroke and
end up in a nursing home. All
I’ve had so far–and nine
months apart–were a headache
and trouble speaking for a few
minutes. The big doctor doesn’t
listen to me. My friend suggests
a blood test for heavy metals,
reminds me of all the poisons
in the area where I live–from
coal ash dust in the air and
forever chemicals in our water.
And who knows what else?
It’s a wonder I’m alive and
mostly functional. They don’t
seem interested in my thoughts
or my realities. They’re scientists
not dictators. Their job is careful
diagnosis, not mindless threats,
not scare tactics. I won’t be cowed.
I’ll speak up. I always do, and
I can spot one abusing his power
in a flash. Isn’t the medical code
of ethics “Do no harm”?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Talking to Myself Thirty

Last summer's zinnia with butterfly

Talking to Myself Thirty July 12, 2020

It’s the doctors that scare me. 
Not my own. She listens and thinks
for herself. I told her that I’d had
some bad experiences with
neurologists, the ones who study
the brain. So it was a risk, talking
to one, but she arranged it, and
I told him my story. He listened well,
but did he think for himself? The
stroke doctor was certain I’d had
a stroke. I’m sure I didn’t. If I’m
having strokes, they want me to
take a blood-thinner. If I’m having
a cerebral amyloid angioplasty, 
blood-thinners could kill me. I’m
not ready to die. My body keeps
healing. Yes, some loss of memory,
but a normal part of aging. I forget
words and names or where I put
things. Pretty usual for eighty-three.
Can I be right? The doctors wrong?
It has happened before. It’s my body, 
my health, and I have a stubborn 

streak, but let me be wise.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Nine

Talking to Myself Twenty-Nine July 6, 2020

Good things are happening, and some
more difficult. Wag and I have our
medicine, and are healing. I slept
twelve hours. Strange, but the
antibiotics kicked in. There is to
be an article about me in the
newspaper. I think back to the degree
I never got, but how I learned,
reading Homer and Hesiod, Sappho 
and Catullus, the pre-Socratics and
Plato in Greek and Latin. Two
professors believed in me and helped
me. The others were skeptical. Over
fifty years ago. These days I’m 
contained. Not even going outside 
without help. Not able to get my
dog in and out. My friend and I
prepare a flower garden, but no 
seeds are yet in the ground. One
hen keeps getting into the backyard
by flying over the fences. We want
to clip one wing so she won’t fly,
but she has disappeared. With
my eleventh mystery, I got finally
a rave review. Other good things
are happening. Should we take a 
risk that that winged chicken won’t
be back? Or trust the gods of 
chickendom to keep her busy
on her own land?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Eight

Gladioli borrowed from web

Talking to Myself Twenty-Eight June 28, 2020

She brought in flowers–gladiolas,
my grandmother’s favorite, deep red
and pink orange, fallen over but still
blooming on our dining table. They
brought them  to me in Russia. I was
the guest, given the best food even
before the children. I was taken to
meet the local administrators. They
fed me huge meals, gave me vodka,
danced for me, sang katushki. We
walked and hugged our favorite
trees. Theirs were familiar. Mine
was new. Through trees we spoke
our love, calmed our spirits. You
tried to stop loving me, and I tried,
too. It went too deep.  Feasts were
provided, but I couldn’t eat. They 
showed me their gardens. They
grew their food all around their
house. In desperate times they had
fruit and meat. They were rich and I
shared their bounty, their aching
songs, their laughter. All these
connections. The same flowers;
different times. I still flourish, still
marvel at the treasures I’m given
that I never asked for.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Seven

Three of Judy's Plymouth Rock hens waiting on the back porch

Talking to Myself Twenty-Seven June 21, 2020

Getting back on my feet–quite literally.
Those three toes needed special attention
and protection for eleven weeks in a big 
heavy boot. I had to learn to walk again.
I iced it once a day while I read my
favorite books. I had a walker for nighttime
trips to the bathroom. I didn’t want to
break any more toes. By day I walked on
my own: slowly, deliberately. I made
the meals. Lots of tacos, pizza, spaghetti
sauce, sometimes quiche, homemade
bread, and ginger and lemon grass tea.
I lived indoors, and Tim took care of
the hens and the shopping, carrying
Wag outside and back in. Now the boot
is off. One more x-ray and I’m free. They
all say, “Use a cane.” I still don’t want to,
but I will, at least until 
I walk surefootedly again.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Six

Zinnias and cosmos a few years ago in my backyard.

Talking to Myself Twenty-Six June 14, 2020

Our Corona Virus Nineteen is supposed
to be going away, but each day there
are more deaths, more cases. The numbers
are going up, not down. We are living in
our houses all the time, if we’re careful.
But we see the rebels rushing by in fast
trucks, on speeding motorcycles. The
neighbors play loud music. The reports
of the pandemic show it’s getting worse,
not better. Some people wear masks
in the grocery store, in the mini-mart,
in the post office, but some don’t. They
keep urging us: “Wash your hands, wear
a mask, wait six feet apart.” There were 
protests and worse. People in crowds
yelling, “Black lives matter,” The crowds
carry the virus. We know about germs
now. We’re too angry to follow our
governor’s rules. I lost a filling, but
I haven’t called the dentist back or gone 
for my eye appointment. I can take off
the boot I’ve worn ten weeks. Will I
walk okay? Resume my balance? Go
outside more? Can I help plant the
flower seeds? Can I go back to feeding
the hens? When will it be safe to drive 
to the stores? Let people into the house?
Hug each other? Will I be alive when
the virus finally dies? Or will it die?
Will our lack of patience do us in? What 

will it take to outlive a pandemic?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Five

Judy beside blue hydrangea bush June 2019 by Doug Williams

Talking to Myself Twenty-Five June 7, 2020

The flowers continue. Daylilies in front.
No one deadheads them. The blue
hydrangeas emerge rapidly. They love
all the rain. Once it dried a little, the
backyard hens go back to their nest
in the flower garden, among the small
spreading sunflowers aiming for the
sky. So many holes in my fences,
and the hens hop into my garden
and then take over the backyard. They
sleep in the dog house Wag rejected,
lay eggs among the bicycles, and who 
knows where else. Grape vines cover
the fencing that keeps hawks out of
the run. Once Tim killed a water
mocassin that had pursued a vole
into the coop. Tim gets out my mower, 
running but not fast enough. Finally,
he figures out that it’s the idler and
borrows a “big paperclip.” Then he
mows both front and backyards.
Janet has been digging out the deep,
thick roots of a wild grass, where we
want to plant big zinnias–all colors--
and cosmos called Sensation–pinks,
whites, lavender. William says he’ll
mend the fence. My next mystery
novel arrives in the mail two days
early. A poetry book review comes 
by email–one I didn’t know about.  
The hens lay lavish numbers of eggs.
In the corner where I have my Russian 
paintings and my Finnish poster of 

glacier-carved islands, I am at home.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-four

Buds of orchid from Rita Baldwin's Orchid House

Talking to Myself Twenty-Four May 31, 2020

Today we celebrate my birthday.
I turned eighty-three years on
Wednesday, but today my daughter
and her two children will join us 
in our front yard and sit six feet
apart. Tim will buy “take out” 
pizza, one meat and one vegetarian. 
Lilly begins grad school in August.
Bobby will be a junior at his college.
We all like pizza. Tim brought
two chairs from his storage unit. He’ll 
take out two of mine, old-fashioned
ones–one from my grandma. How
she loved me. She called me Judith.
How I loved her and those times
I visited her in Pittsburgh, and she
told me stories. I learned them,
too. What a life I’ve made. How
well I’ve lived. I trusted my heart,
and my heart thrived. We learn 
on Tim’s TV how angry our
black brothers and sisters are over
one policeman’s killing of a black
man he was arresting for no reason.
Our president has been unjust, our
country divided and too many
people angry. It’s time to consider
justice and transformation. Enough
of using force to achieve what we
need. Remember Henry David
Thoreau and Martin Luther King
and Gandhi. It’s time to trust

the God Within.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Three

Writer friend Sasscer Hill, as a child: 
"You can't have my chicken."

Talking to Myself Twenty-Three May 24, 2020

Here is Yuri, writing me emails in Russian,
which I find I can read only occasionally
turning to the dictionary. Then he tells me
of a translation program. I find it on the web. 
It works well. Another resource to learn
his meaning. He writes simply. So I
recognize most of his Russian words. Google
translates them quickly: Enlightenment!
No language in the world can keep me out.
We all adapt, stay in our houses, wear
masks when we venture out. Even I have
one, homemade by one of Tim’s fellow 
workers. My broken toes are healing and
soon I can walk without the boot. What
a good life I have, even so. Old friends
write to me. We’re all still alive, getting
elderly, but still as active as possible.
Tim finds the food, the paper towels, 
the medicines for the dogs; feeds and
waters the chickens. Janet carries Wag
out and is digging the grass out of our
flower garden. We’ll have zinnias
and cosmos, their lively colors, rising
again when the wind blows them
sideways. Our volunteer peach tree 
by the back of the house has green
peaches already. The invading blackberry
bushes have have red fruit. The hydrangea
has its hundred florets. The rain
stirred its roots and sent out blooms,
and Yuri has me reading Russian again.

Here is Yuri, writing me emails in Russian,
which I find I can read only occasionally
turning to the dictionary. Then he tells me
of a translation program. I find it on the web. 
It works well. Another resource to learn
his meaning. He writes simply. So I
recognize most of his Russian words. Google
translates them quickly: Enlightenment!
No language in the world can keep me out.
We all adapt, stay in our houses, wear
masks when we venture out. Even I have
one, homemade by one of Tim’s fellow 
workers. My broken toes are healing and
soon I can walk without the boot. What
a good life I have, even so. Old friends
write to me. We’re all still alive, getting
elderly, but still as active as possible.
Tim finds the food, the paper towels, 
the medicines for the dogs; feeds and
waters the chickens. Janet carries Wag
out and is digging the grass out of our
flower garden. We’ll have zinnias
and cosmos, their lively colors, rising
again when the wind blows them
sideways. Our volunteer peach tree 
by the back of the house has green
peaches already. The invading blackberry
bushes have have red fruit. The hydrangea
has its hundred florets. The rain
stirred its roots and sent out blooms,

and Yuri has me reading Russian again.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Two

Talking to Myself Twenty–Two May 17, 2020

It can all be done, I remind myself.
In a pandemic things slow down. My
proof copy takes three weeks. Then
three more to get a whole shipment.
I’ll change the pub date. My foot
heals. That was slow, too. I spend
more time looking at the green trees,
watching the hens who have learned 
to hide their eggs among Tim’s
bicycles or in the midst of the flower
garden. The daylilies are rising, and
Janet and I are plotting to plant zinnia
and cosmos seeds to arrive in two
weeks. It means weeding and corralling
the hens, clipping their wings, mending
their fence, fertilizing, but that’s what
farmers do. It means work. I’ve been
idle because of three broken toe bones,
but they don’t hurt now. Let me
recover my strength and wits, feel
less helpless and more canny. Things
will grow even now, and slowly
our pandemic will let go.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-One

Vera and Yuri Lebedev, my Russian friends from Kostroma

Talking to Myself Twenty-One Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020

I saw the word pismo (letter) when
I glanced over my shoulder. A Russian
letter from a Russian friend. Then I saw 
Yuri. I hadn’t heard from Yuri in years.
He wrote to me after Mikhail died in
2015. They didn’t know–even his closest 
friends didn’t know–that he was dying. They
learned too late. His wife and his son
cared for him that last year. I’d written
to him in January and sent my new
book, This River: An Epic Love Poem,
the Volga painted by Rumyantsev on  
the cover, looking across to Kostroma.
They were connected by their childhoods.
Yuri explicated Russian writers of the
nineteenth century. Mikhail’s novels
explicated, and were saving, the Russian 
soul. It can’t be faked, but it can be told.
When Mikhail left town, Yuri came
and took me to their apartment. They
fed me and put out honey for my tea 
to heal my cough. We sat hours over 
our meals, speaking, sharing stories.
I had very few Russian words, they
no English, but we used the dictionary.
Everything was told. We didn’t hesitate.
We played with baby Vanya. I taught
him to say, “Hi.” It came out, “Argh.”
How we laughed. Vera gave me a 
mustard plaster. I’d never had one.
Then she brought in big art books
and showed me paintings while the
mustard plaster worked on my cough.
An apartment was found for me. Vera
showed me what was safe to buy and 
what not. Yuri walked me to the university 
 so I could meet the Rector. At night  
we talked and laughed and told secrets.
 The rest of the family visited. We feasted.
When it was time for me to go home, I
cried. Yuri said, “Don’t cry, Judy," and I
cried more. Now comes a letter in
Russian, and photos of Yuri and Vera, 
then the whole family. I am loved, not
forgotten. “We hold these memories

in our hearts."

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty

Blue iris in Judy's garden 2018.

Talking to Myself Twenty May 3, 2020

What am I afraid of? In my dream
I couldn’t organize other writers 
though I tried. They were all so different,
and they wouldn’t listen to me. Then
they disappeared, and I was lost. All
around me were huge stone buildings,
but there were no trains. I asked help,
but no one helped me. Then I was
alone. I didn’t know where I was or 
how to get home. We all are alone,
and I’ve always been that way. I
wasn’t afraid. It was easy to love
other people, and they trusted me.
I need to heal. I am healing, It takes
time and patience. My body has
ancient wisdom in its bones. It
knows how to get better. I can’t be 
lost if I’m alone. Alone I always
know what to do. A train will come.
Everything will be clear again. Some
few will listen to me. My words will
matter. The deep places will speak,
and many people will listen. I’m safe.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Talking to Myself Nineteen

Baby chicks on roosting bars in their coop.

Talking to Myself Nineteen April 26, 2020

Every day more white iris. The chickens haven’t
bothered them. Tracey gave me bulbs, which I
duly planted, but they didn’t bloom until this year.
Then the chickens ate the weeds which held them
back, and here they are. The violets returned when
I let go the reins, some mysterious, some defiant. 
This morning I think of losses. Lisa Mansfield
whose smiling face I met in the post office. I worried
about her, living so close to that coal ash dump.
Poisoned, then murdered, along with her husband
still angry about that coal ash dump so close to their
home. Angry enough to kill, but someone else killed 
him and Lisa. Then John Cross, so kindly, often 
gave me rides to meetings. Once he fixed a weak 
board on the back porch. Terica-for-Peace dies
of lung cancer. She cheered me on when I began
working against fracking. Then Johnsie. She knew 
the coal ash trains going through Southern Pines
were death trains. People talked about her love
and her smiles. No one was a stranger. No one
listened to her warnings. Was it the cancer which
killed her, or the cure? Now our twenty-first
century plague carries off thousands. What have we

come to in the land of the Pilgrims?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Talking to Myself Eighteen

Sunrise at Jordan Lake earlier this month by Doc Ellen, DVM.

Talking to Myself Eighteen April 19, 2020

Is this my eternal life, wearing a boot
to protect fragile toe bones while they
heal? Sleeping with one foot under 
the covers and one on top? Using a
borrowed walker to move from the
couch to the kitchen and to my
computer and writing chair; staring 
at the trees outside, watching the 
chickens cultivate the backyard
and where our garden was? Only 
blackberry vines now. We had the
perennials: daffodils, violets, and
now the white iris. In front, forsythia
and hydrangea, daylily leaves, and
next door the remains of our champion
black oak, finally on the ground, 
tangled in chickweed. Tim brings
in eggs laid among the bicycles
under a tarp The wilderness has
jumped the fence, but the grape
vines again run over the top
of the chicken run. They run over
the fig trees, too. It doesn’t bode
well for tomatoes and zinnias.
Emails from friends: “How
are you?” “Still healthy, broke 
some toes, but they’re healing 
slowly.” I write about my life,
remember when I kept our
baby writers’ network afloat,
when I influenced the National
Endowment panel to keep the
required number of books 
published to two, instead of 
increasing it to ten. I told them: 
“We have no household budget.”
I lived then in subsidized housing,
got food stamps. Janet comes,
and we reminisce about our losses 
and hardships and our small, but 
persistent, victories. I didn’t get 
the grant I tried for, so I said
we’d have a conference for 
women’s stories. Six hundred
women came, and I told them
their writing was important. We
called it “Tell Me a Story That’s True.”
I still believe, with Muriel Ruykheiser,
“If one woman told the whole story
of her life, the world would split
open.”I’m still working on it.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Talking to Myself Seventeen

  Judy's flock of white rock chickens outside their chicken door.

Talking to Myself Seventeen April 12, Easter 2020

We never know what will happen to us
before it does. I’ve had many surprises–
some scary, some gifts I never anticipated.
I always learned. I rarely anticipated success, 
but it found me in unexpected places. 
Last Monday night I fell, with cane, walking 
from my couch bed to the bathroom and 
hurt my right foot. I took Tylenol and went
back to sleep. In our pandemic we’re told 
to stay away from hospitals “Call your
provider.” I emailed her: what to do? My
little toes were hurting a lot.”Go to an
orthopedic clinic.” “Which one?” The answer
came back: “Ortho Now for emergencies.
Call first.” Tim doubted it would be safe.
I called.  It sounded okay. They were
careful because of the coronovirus. I
Could come right away. We went. A
friend of Tim’s had given him a walker.
We took it and I put a sock on my foot.
We were seen right away. My foot was 
examined and x-rayed, Two small bones
were broken. Then they put on a boot 
to keep it in position for healing. “Come
back in four weeks or later, if it’s healing
well.” Living with a boot and a walker
isn’t easy. I take Tylenol when it hurts
a lot. Gifts arrive: a better walker. Janet,
when Tim is gone all day and Wag needs 
to go out. I can wash dishes and make 
my lunch and our supper. I read and write.
I can send emails. I look at the greening
world outside my window, watch our
dogs and hens in the backyard, hearing 
the morning roosters. Janet nestles
Wag in her arms, talks to the hens and
our Silver Polish rooster whom she 
admires. Friends write to me, and I
answer. My days pass slowly, but

my foot is healing.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Talking to Myself Sixteen

Talking to Myself Sixteen April 5, 2020

A new kind of plague let loose
in the world. How could we forget
the numbers lost in the 1300s and
even to the 1800s in Europe and
Asia: the Bubonic and Pneumonic?
Millions died, carried by fleas from
rats, spread by ships. We thought we 
ran the world, but the world as we
knew it has disappeared. “Please
stay at home. Wash your hands.
Keep six feet away from your
friends and loved ones. Don’t travel.”
We have to go out for food and
medicine. The hospitals need masks,
ventilators, more nurses. “Please
stay home. It saves lives. Maybe
yours or someone you love. The 
elderly are most at risk.” Young
men in pickup trucks speed through
the quiet neighborhoods. “We are
staying home, but the death toll is
still rising. Blame China, blame
the president. Save the economy.
Wall Street is staggering. The
stimulus package won’t be enough.
Millions have lost their jobs. Stores
are closing. Yet this year there
were daffodils and forsythia, the
yellows of spring, and the white
iris. First one, then a second. The
violets have moved into the flower
garden. More iris lift their buds.
The hydrangea is leafing out. Day
lilies rise in time for June. We won’t
forget this--ever.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Talking to Myself Fifteen

A Champion Black Oak in Pennsylvania

Talking to Myself Fifteen March 29, 2020

Every time I take the dog out
or walk around the house to
the backyard, I see the Champion
Black Oak laid low between 
Chloe’s house and ours. Two
years ago, also March, we hired
Mr. Tyndall to take it down. He
didn’t even write a contract.
He trusted us each to pay him
$900. Then Chloe ordered him 
to stop, get off her land. The 200-
year-old trunk and a few limbs
were all that was left. Her husband
was in ICU. She feared he would
die. I paid Mr. Tyndall the $900 I'd 
saved. Then for two years I worried
it might fall on my house. We’ll never 
know whether it would have, but,
finally, Red was hired, and he and
his helper cut it down. I watched
Red cut around the trunk and lay
it down on top of all the other
tree debris. Before Chloe lived
next door, Robert and Emma 
owned the champion, and Robert
promised he wouldn’t cut it down. 
Then he died, and Emma moved to 
town. I sent Chloe certified letters
which she refused. And talked to
her of our danger. The tree still
stood. Then I learned of a tree-
cutter who charged less than usual,
and Chloe hired Red. She was at
work, but Red came, and with a 
quiet elegance laid our champion 
on the ground. A sad demise, but I
didn’t lose my books and papers.
I watched it fall. Now we live 

with its inglorious remains.