A Journal of Contemporary Arts 





Carolyn Raphael



In 1515, Raphael finished an oil portrait of Count Baldassare Castiglione,
the author of
The Courtier (1528), when Castiglione was 37.
Among Raphael’s most famous portraits, it hangs in the Louvre

How every inch the courtier is this count,
Who wrote the book on protocol. His clothes
And poised demeanor are impeccable:
Black doublet wrapped in fine gray fur, the bloused,
White pleated shirt beneath. And on his head,
Which to his shame was bald, good taste confirmed:
Black turban topped by a grand black notched beret.
A courtier to nobles first, he rose
To be ambassador to Rome, unmatched
As tightrope walker of diplomacy.
And yet the viewer cannot help but note
A weary melancholy in his eyes.
Perhaps because the painter was his friend,
The count allowed a glint of truth to show—
The cost of knowing, after twenty years
Of service, what a courtier must do.

        *portrait at Louvre Web site; hit back arrow on browser to return





                 For my grandsons and granddaughter

There was a war—no, not with action heroes
like Captain America but real ones, men
who had a single superpower: courage.
Grandpa Larry was three when war was declared.
His father was too old to be a soldier,
but he grew a Victory Garden in his yard—
tomatoes, strawberries, string beans, cucumbers, squash—
his family ate the vegetables he grew
so most of the canned ones could be sent to soldiers.
When 20 million people planted gardens,
on rooftops and in empty lots, it helped
to keep us fed, and we were helping too.

The rationing of food began when I
was one-year-old in 1942.
This meant that everyone in a family
received a ration book with colored stamps
to buy a certain amount of food each week.
(There were three of us before my sister was born.)
Come look inside this woven pouch. These are
our ration books from 1943.
One says: If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.
My mother signs her age as 27,
My father, 35, and I am 2.
My ration book says Occupation: child.

These blue stamps were for vegetables, soup, and fruit,
(frozen, canned, or dried) and baby food.
Each person was allowed 48 points
a week: canned pears cost 21 points, canned corn,
14, but soup cost only 6. My mother
had to choose wisely. The red stamps are almost gone;
they were for meat and butter, fats and oils.
People recycled fats, rubber, and steel
but also paper and cans, as we do now.
Speaking of now, as you eat your Cheerios,
tonight when you are hungry after dinner
before you go to bed, think of the days
when your great-grandmother counted points and planned
meals carefully to make sure that the food

would last her little family for the week.
I heard we always had enough to eat.


       *from Grandma Poems—Not Too Sweet
         Kelsay Books, 2017





When I pick him up at nursery school,
near the geraniums,
he sees my face through the open door
and hums.

When he attacks my apple cake,
then licks up all the crumbs
from the plate and then the tabletop,
he hums.

When his jigsaw puzzle’s almost done,
and the final piece succumbs,
his eyes ignite, his smile spreads wide,
and he hums.

What is this sound that captivates,
this pleasure note that comes
from deep inside a happy heart
and hums, and hums, and hums?


       *from Grandma Poems—Not Too Sweet
         Kelsay Books, 2017






Our big boy’s lost a tooth, the family sings.
At night, he buries it beneath his pillow.
He sleeps and wakes, trying to peek at wings,
then finds, at morning sun, a dollar bill.

I, too, have lost a tooth, but no one sings.
I’ll need an implant or a bridge. My pillow
declines the ivory bribe—no fairy brings
me cash to help me pay the dentist’s bill.


       *from Grandma Poems—Not Too Sweet
         Kelsay Books, 2017

t the Retreat

I sleep in a nun’s bed—reflection begins.
I gaze at the Bible, the sunlight, the sea;
then I put on my makeup and ponder my sins.

First, Gluttony leads me to gorge on Rice Thins,
which I eat without guilt since they’re now gluten-free.
I sleep in a nun’s bed—reflection begins.

An arrow from Eros (I yield as he grins),
but Sloth neuters Lust; I am saved temporarily.
Still, I put on my makeup and ponder my sins.

When Envy and Greed vie, I hear violins
that solemnly practice my soul’s threnody.
I sleep in a nun’s bed—reflection begins.

Engaged in a battle where nobody wins—
I rail against Wrath (to a modest degree)
while putting on makeup, pondering sins.

I stare in the mirror at Lucifer’s twins:
the dragon of Pride and his servant called Vanity.
I sleep in a nun’s bed—reflection begins
as I pile on makeup and ponder my sins.


Thank You for Coming*

Please say your name—I have been ill;
the thunderclouds are with me still.
But now that you are here, I thrive,
a gracious gift to be alive.
I vowed to conquer, and I will.

You bring me warm regards from Bill—
I can’t recall …I feel a chill….
Yet I’m determined to survive.
Please say your name.

Reposing in my chair I fill
my hours with reveries until
the happy moment you arrive,
and then I manage to revive.
Who is this handing me a pill?
Please say your name.

* originally published in Blue Unicorn, 2016;
also appeared in Dancing with Bare Feet, White Violet, 2016

Translation of this poem into Italian will appear in Journal of Italian Translation
later this year. Luigi Bonaffini is the editor, and Michael Palma is an associate editor.


Traveling While Old*

Where are the days of serendipity,
when plans were flexible, and so were we?
When one of us could climb up Giotto’s Tower—
when both, like Holland’s tulips, were in flower.
Now all is measured by our drops and pills
(for wayward heartbeats and digestive ills).
We know the nearest hospital address
and where to go in case of tooth distress.
We locate bathrooms in hotel or bar,
park benches when our destination’s far.
Our hearing is good except for when it’s not;
we can’t remember what we just forgot.
We smile at each new day and hope that chance will
(we have insurance if we need to cancel).



Before You Leave*


Before you leave for baseball, soccer, girls—

may I interest you in armor at the Met?

(May I run fingers through your wayward curls

before you leave for baseball, soccer, girls?)


And how about Rossini, whose Barber whirls

as fast as hockey players near the net?

Before you leave for baseball, soccer, girls—

may I interest you in armor at the Met?



*Originally appeared in First Literary Review: East, and in the collection Grandma Poems--Not Too Sweet

    Kelsay Books, 2017