By Cynthia Yancey

A First Conversation With My Principito

Propped up on a soft, comfortable pillow,
This terribly colicky baby boy looks momentarily happy.
A smile transforms his face,
He makes clear eye contact with his old grandma,
An enthusiastic lilt to her voice.
“So, what’s up, little boy?”
Knowing what happens when kids
Keep secrets, she goes on,
“I haven’t seen you for two whole days,
Young man, tell me, what has been going on?”
Because she wants this to be a lifelong affair,
Because she wants him from the very beginning
To know she will be there for him forevermore,
She says, “I want to hear all of your secrets.
You can tell me anything.
I will always believe you.”
A certain song in her voice,
An energetic sincerity behind her words,
Seems to entice the little fellow
To begin to make his own words
In order to converse with her.
As he croons all his coos and goos,
The grandma lapses into his speech
That she might be better understood. 
She imitates all the very precious sounds
Coming from his throat,
She sings his sounds back to her little Prince
In these first efforts to communicate.
Back and forth to one another,
Then in unison, they crow these happy noises
To the point,
Because it is new for them both,
This new language, this new union,
To the point
They both nearly cackle,
These common sounds coming
From a common place within
Little Prince in all his unfettered enthusiasm
Gets looks on his face as if
He is thrilled with this moment of his life
His little legs pull up and kick back out,
His whole body stretches as if to say,
“This woman really
Wants to understand me.
This must be love!
This must be a grandmother’s love.
Perhaps I WILL be able
To tell her everything!”
The grandma hopes he is thinking.

Late Longing

What is left of life’s longing
At sixty-six
After passing into 
The Golden Years
Where no one has ever wanted to go
Where life is much less brilliant 
Than such a title implies?
I long to no longer regret 
All the lovers I never met
Or the dreams that never quite fell into place
I wish, rather, to long
For the moment after the last breath is gone
To be a magic carpet ride 
Through a moonlit night
Fireflies sparkling against the hills 
I am leaving behind.

I long to find a friend on the rug behind me
Her hands on my waist, her mouth at my ear
Whispering something hilarious
To lighten the way
Into the next unknown

Poison Ivy

Might I but be 
A sprig of poison ivy
Who, when the first frost bites,
Instead of cowering, 
She ignites

Her leaves to scarlet flame.
Brighter now than ever,
No one in the world to blame.

Wounded worse than me, 
She turns her face on fire,
Then glows in the sun 
As if to say, “Hit me again,  
See what I might become.”

For the kiss of death
Only ignites
Poison ivy’s greatest strength,
Her beauty and her venom.

Never fear 
The death of her essence,
For she will doubtless
Resurrect again next year.

Might I but be 
A sprig of poison ivy.

Rooms of Life

A wise woman once explained
Those dreams of home
The ones all tangled with a menagerie of rooms
So many nooks and crannies, you get lost going through

“Those rooms in your dreams are just facets of a life.”

My hot little three-year-old head
Rests against my grandma’s breast.
She strokes my sweaty hair with her arthritic hand 
And whimpers how sorry she is too
That my mother is dead.
We are taking the train to trick-or-treat
In Chicago that year.

How many of her own ancestors 
Suffered the same
I may never know
Just that she took me with her that Halloween.

The youngster I sometimes try to be to build up my old bones
Pedals the bicycle hard down the homestretch of my back road
I lift my old arms to the mountain magnificence 
And send up a song of praise for their green bliss
I send them a prayer of thanks
For perhaps giving me a few more seasons
To watch them turn seamlessly one into the other

The honeysuckle scent of a fresh spring morn 
Melding into the dappled shadow beneath 
The emerald-green back-road canopy
With its welcome respite, summer cool.
The orange pumpkins peeking through the field of vines 
Their backdrop a flaming fall foliage will again turn to
That broad blanket of sparkling white
And frost will bite my nose

And I won’t mind

I take these rooms with me to my little
Prince, my six-month-old grandson 
And cradle his head against my breast as he sleeps.
I wonder if he will remember 
How deep and strong is my love
And my urge to protect him
From the struggles I survived.
If only I could be with him 
In every room of his life.

Gratitude occupies its own space 
Gratitude for time to understand 
Not only the grown children, but theirs
And perhaps theirs yet to come.

If only I might hold their heads 
And their hands through
Their most trying times
And whisper to them,
“These are just the rooms of life.”


With Willie Sutton by my side,
Just what might I become,
Cool, audacious, single-minded
All wrapped up in one
Willie only robbed those banks
’cause they had extra money;
While his stomach
Writhed with hunger,
Greedy bankers
Sucked down honey
They caught him
Time and time again,
But Willie’s will to live,
To smoke his Chesterfields,
To drink his Jameson,
To hold his Bess
Just one more time…

Helped hoist him
From his lonely cell
Time and time again
After busting free 
From Sing Sing,
To the river
He did go
To dig up 
His old money
From buckets 
Buried long ago.
Lover of books,
Called by some the
God of Brooklyn,
Folk hero for
The underdog.
Some say I romanticize,
But imagine if you could
That the downtrodden of his time
Found Willie the Actor
Their very brightest star

I recently understood 
For the very first time
Why my own kids became
Such mavericks and rogues.
In some deep-down space,
They must know
How utterly smitten
Is their mother
With her wondrous
Willie Sutton
And others just like him.

Cynthia Yancey was an English major before she became a mother then a medical doctor.
Now after working 30 years in the trenches of public health, from the
Himalayas to the Andes to my downtown clinic in Asheville, NC, she is
writing the stories of my life.

As to awards, Yancey received the Suzanne S. Turner Unsung Heroine Award in
2011, an award for public service. She has written a children’s picture
book entitled Zak and Niki: A First Look at Rising above Racism,
published by Grateful Steps in 2015. She is currently studying with Laura
Hope-Gill in the Lenoir-Rhyne Masters of Writing Program in Asheville,
NC. Yancey’s work has been published in Academy of the Heart and Mind, A Thin
of Slice of Anxiety, Amethyst Review, Atherton Review, The MacGuffin,
Broad River Review, Entropy, Streetlight Magazine,
and The Virginia

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