Apr 17th 2008

Phoenicia, from Barb

Posted in Barb, Izzy

Barb and Izzy
Barb loves to talk and tell stories while Izzy keeps her company

April 17, 2008 – Working with Helen and Warren, we came up with the concept of the Living Poem for Hospice patients, poems woven from memory and experience, and recalled near the end of life. Powerful experience for me as a writer, and it seems also for the patients offering their stories. A powerful experience as well for the many people – thousands now – who have responded out in the world by offering their own poems and messages.
These poems have profoundly affected the lives of Helen and Warren, and hopefully Barb as well. She is in her 90′s, and living with family members in the Adirondacks. Her husband died some years ago, and she often and very fondly recalls her adventurous mother, an unusual woman for her time.
I love hearing the stories of Hospice patients, they are spare and honest, and speak much about a life. They have no reason to hide, nothing to fear and their memories are pure in spirit. These stories help them recall their own lives, and understand where they are in life.
When a writer hears stories like this, and then puts them down on paper, there is a bond that is as instantaneous as it is powerful. For me, it will last a lifetime.
Here is Barb’s first poem.


My mother used to pile all of us into the car.
Me, four siblings, six of us in all.
We would set out from Long Island
and go to New England, or upstate New York.
My father didn’t drive and never came.

In those days, it was so different.
Not many gas stations, or motels, or rest stops.
My mother was very strong, very dependable,
and we were never afraid,
Even though we were always going to strange places.

It was different then.
You really depended on people to help you.
Every night, when it started to get dark,
My mother would pick out a house
and ask if we could stay, or pay to stay.
She always packed dried fruit and cereal
In case we didn’t find a place -
And sometimes we didn’t.

We all loved those trips.
We went through all these little towns.
There were no big roads then, all small roads,
And no place to fix a car.

Once she said she was going to Mexico by herself.
We were all afraid and told her not to go.
She said she would talk to the family doctor about it,
And abide by what he said.
The doctor said well, they have undertakers in Mexico,
And they wouldn’t leave you lying in the street,
So you should go.
We were all right about it after that.
She drove herself all the way to Mexico,
And she had a wonderful time.

On one trip to upstate New York,
We drove through a small town called Phoenicia.
We couldn’t find a place to stay,
And it was getting dark.
My mother pulled up to an old farmhouse.

The woman there said she didn’t have any room,
But she owned another house.
An old house that was all “cobwebbed.”
If we wouldn’t mind cleaning it up a bit,
We could stay there.
So we did, and we had a great time,
Cleaning out the cobwebs,
Pulling out our sleeping bags,
Spending the night there.
In the morning, the woman, who was gracious,
Brought us fresh milk and cheese and eggs
To eat with our cereal,
And she wouldn’t ake any money from Mother.

She told us that the house was lonely,
And wanted some strangers to stay in it.

I didn’t follow in my mother’s footsteps.
She had a million hobbies, and she went hunting for rocks,
Even for diamonds at a mine upstate.
She sewed and tatted.
I could never quite get the hang of it, tatting.

I went to nursing school and got married and had a family.
But I often think about those trips,
About us children setting out with Mother
For all these strange places,
Always having fun and never once being afraid.