Sy Margaret Baldwin


White Scarf

—A Photo. Jewish History Museum, Amsterdam

The wind comes from the north

and gathers strength across

the flatness of the polders. In the gray

light of dawn, trains slide over canals

carrying long ribbons of faces.

There are glimpses of life in the windows

of seventeenth-century houses.

In one, a vase of red tulips, in another

a woman lost in reflection combing her hair.

She pauses, her thoughts

caught in the black and white

net of the past.

There are no color photos.

A small knot of people stand

in a courtyard, pressed into a corner

between massive brick walls.

One arm is outstretched

like a white scarf in a plea

for ordinary life. A bleak

wind rattles the shutters. Faces

in the windows of the trains

float like small colorless tulips

held against the dawn.

The Piano

Late afternoon. My sister sits down

at the piano, raises the hinged lid, and studies

the rows of black and white keys

spread before her—

a black and white map, an elusive code, a band

of black deer running across a snowfield.

What will flow out of her now into the world?

The piano relaxes—its many carbon-steel wires

unperturbed, its tiny hammers asleep in their berths.

And silence begins to accumulate

into a lucent blue lake—the blue of submarine

canyons and nocturnes—over

which swallows dip and veer, wide-gaped,

scooping insects out of the air.

Quietly the piano floats and reflects everything—

a moment's happiness

the calmness of the lake, a single breath

held in the beak of a swallow.


At the Garden Center

The garden center damp with breath

of the nearby canal. Bare light bulbs. Quivering

tinsel. Even in her blue coat

and with her handbag over her arm,

she is feeling cold. So in a back corner,

somewhat protected, we sit at a round table

sipping tea out of paper cups surrounded

by owls, gnomes, hedgehogs, mushrooms,

and buddhas, set out on the concrete floor,

green price tags attached—

as if we are part of a bizarre fairy tale.


The mother says to the floor—

I'm not quite ready for the bone-pile yet.

And the tinsel flickers in agreement.

The daughter says to the table, while studying

the blue cables of veins crossing her mother's

hands—You've pulled strongly my whole life.

And the gnomes cross-legged on toadstools

nod their assent. And the weeds outside

in the fields stand up straight, stiff with frost.


So silence travels slowly

across the table between us. In it we can hear

the poinsettias murmuring as they take

small sips of water into their leaves.

And the voice of the canal growing hoarse

as it slides under the bridge.