Carole Berkson, Winter Lullabies


Outside my window
a cold wind blows.

Its face to the wind,
a full pink-petalled rose

peeks in at my window,
then out at the world.

My mother is there
in the wintery swirl.

My mother is there
in the soft pink rose.

My mother is there
in all that grows.

In all that leans toward me,
in all that weeps,

my mother is there,
in the earth, asleep.


You leave it,
but it never leaves you,
the winding of the year,
the seasons:
snow falling in winter,
lush green grass coming up
out of the mud in the spring,
the humid heat
(and yes, even the mosquitos)
of summer,
rain pouring down
and with it
the changing colors of fall,
and then all over again
the winter, the spring, the summer
an annual rhythm you can count on
or could, once upon a time,
robin red breast
pulling worms from the earth
every spring.


My bed beside the window,
a half wall of window
in a ward for six
in an Irish hospital
run by nuns:
I didn’t want to come,
but I’ll always be grateful that I did –
they thought I had cancer,
which I didn’t,
but I did have hepatitis
and an ear infection that had caused
a gland in my neck
to swell to the size of a golf ball.
I was in a lot of pain when a friend brought me in.
They probably saved my life there.

The nuns were especially kind.
They understood charity.
On Christmas morning
they let me go to mass,
even encouraged me to go,
dressed only in my hospital night dress,
and robe, with socks on my feet.
I said the prayers that I could
and listened to the singing.

My bed beside the window
gave me a privileged view
of a tall tree
where crows nested at night.
I watched them fly to their rest,
listened to them caw to each other
each night as the sun was setting.

I had a pad of water color paper
and a box of paints and a brush.
One of the nuns brought me a cup of water
to dip my brush in.
I painted as the sun went down
catching the colors in the sky,
the pinks, the purples, the blues,
the sunsets I’d painted since childhood,
sometimes on bigger paper,
standing at an easel outdoors,
with jars of tempera paint
holding many brushes.

There, in my hospital bed,
each night I painted the sunset
with my little tin box of paints
my single brush,
dipped in the cup of water a nun daily brought me,
watching the sun go down,
the dusk descend
evening after evening,
each day a little bit better
hearing the crows caw
flying home to rest.

Carole Berkson is retired from the RAND Corporation and pursuing a lifelong dream of writing every day, splitting her time between a studio in Santa Monica, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and a house in Marin County. Her poetry was shortlisted for the Fish Poetry Prize in 2019 and published in Oberon Poetry Magazine in 2019 and 2020. Her short memoir Looking For a Wagon was longlisted for the Fish Short Memoir Prize in 2021.

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