...the chubby penny 

mills home

family portrait

i had only a single photograph
when she went away...
and a wish that she had smiled just a little
to let me know she never planned to leave
in my album are empty pages
her blood-red dress is black and white
in a color photograph
that shows the sparkle in her blue eyes
i looked once more at the photograph
hoping to see a smile before i said goodbye
while making it ready for a cardboard box
with a square brown lid to hide her pain
she didn’t, i didn’t
yet finally i put her paper likeness to rest
maybe she will smile now
at peace in the comfort of darkness

most people said it was much too soon
roses had not yet wilted from the first frost
fruit hung like planets on apple trees
abandoned pumpkins were still ghoulishly orange
everything lived except her
sometimes november strangles lonely souls
when the ground opens up too easily as if by invitation
and no one stands by the gate to keep innocence out
there was no warning that she couldn’t turn back
except on the plastic bottles she dropped by her bedside
years have passed since yesterday
laughter visits on occasion like a wayward stranger
in want of a meal and a place to lay his body down
but there is no safe haven where memories dare to tread
wilted roses kneel at the gravesite
a memorial to a beautiful life so quickly passed
thorns explode, guarding her as a sentry protecting royalty
but the earth remains soft and fallow
except for the soul she planted there



it’s as if you still smiled…
your glasses crooked,
just like yesterday.
some said your plaid wool skirt was out of place,
but i thought it was you...
in a bed you never would have chosen.
it occurred to me that they closed your eyes
just for me, so i would remember especially the
life in their true color—blue.

when i see me, i see you.  you never laughed much
—nor did i.

today you looked more like a child than you had
in thousands of previous yesterdays.

i suppose peace does that to a body
when all sins have been confessed.

i wish i could ask you why, just to speak to you again.
at night, when the world is quiet, i try to hear your laughter
but it is still foreign, i heard it much too seldom.
i listen to the wind
–tree branches brushing against the window—
and i imagine it is you, singing a quiet melody, a serenade into morning.

when the lid closed, your worlds separated like the wake following a boat
and i didn’t see you again…but i know you are there. 

at last, i hear your laughter.


she took the ghosts with her when she died.
the fear that made her cry out in the night
after the sting of wondering whether anyone loved her
was gone,
much like a diminished childhood that never happened.
she tried to talk to those who knew her well;
the conversation turned hard like a brass key
in a rusted deadbolt
opening up yet another secret room where the ghosts lived.

as a child
the ghosts fooled her into believing they were playmates
and the basement closet was a playground
filled with imaginary carousels and colorful marionettes.

even then, she never laughed…
but only watched in disbelief as they paraded by,
marching around another corner
where the music stopped;

leaving cruel whisperings about how wonderful it is
to play with silence
and count  words that can never escape.

circles of tears

she sat in her closet wrapped up in a ball
wading through old letters containing darkened secrets
reading wrinkled notes and looking through faded photographs
that were left to be forgotten
she tried to forget the haunting memories
that invaded her sleep
the familiar faces buried in her mind
that never freed her from the feeling of being watched

i look for her now when darkness quiets my heart
wishing i had never come across the note
bearing her name scribbled at the bottom
beside the stain of dry circles of tears

oh, the memories we dreamed to someday have
yet she was finally overcome by the last one
and now i am left holding it
she should not have gone on that cold november day
now i clench the memories like a wilted bouquet of dried brown roses
faded like dreams often do
i could have said goodbye if only i had known she was leaving
taking with her the bundle of dreams
drowning in her circles of tears


a little memory

It was Christmas, 1960.  Our cottage was treated to a day at Ft. Bragg, the home of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Each of us had a sponsoring soldier and the soldiers were kind enough to give us presents.  Sgt. Mike Weekly gave me a gray sweater that I wore for as long as I could before outgrowing it.

I remember I was not overly excited about going to Ft. Bragg and especially not excited about a sweater as a gift.  I followed my usual pattern of showing no appreciation for pleasantries that landed in my lap and now, decades later, I wonder how Sgt. Weekly felt about my lack of

I wonder whatever happened to him and even wondered if he ever thought about me.  Funny how he gave me a gift of warmth and I received it coldly...yet when I was cold I slipped it on and thought of what a nice gift he had given, warmly, to me.

I remembered his name and I'd be willing to bet he would have, if asked, said I didn't remember him ten minutes after our group left.

He was a lesson in life;  kindness and warmth are easy to pin a name to.


there’s a view from my borrowed room
colored amber by naked streetlights
bright colored graffiti has faded too soon
replaced by the blood of midnight street fights

black from street dirt and spray-paint profanity
my window screens hold in the stench of stale air
testing the limits of my inherited insanity
as I look from the window of big city, anywhere

corner windows face south and east
broken gables hang dangerously low
but i longingly look to the crowded streets
for a friendly face wearing an innocent glow

i watched a young girl stroll on seventh avenue
she traded her smile for something new
she was too young to vote and too old to screw
but a powdered nose was the best she could do

newspapers and napkins crawled slowly in the wind
switching direction with the slightest change
they looked like paper people in search of a friend
or like wayward cattle confused on the range

deliveries were announced by the squeal of brakes
newspapers were dropped and pastries were tossed
loud voices soon filled the empty streets
and the rising sun promised all was not lost

so I closed the door to the now empty room
turned the key and locked yesterday away
walked down the stairs, dodged the sweeper’s broom
and headed west for a brand new day

big city streets look the same everywhere
they switched the direction and changed only the names
still old soldiers on horseback wave swords in the air
like weathered old heroes playing unfinished games

a new morning will come, the same morning will go
and broken people will disappear with the wind
now start back at the top, and read again, real slow
this is only the beginning and not the end~






Well, you have come this far, it would be a
crying shame to miss signing the guest book! 

The tears of a pig only make the ham
saltier...especially a well-seasoned porker.


Homeward Bound     Simon & Garfunkel

                                          The Mitchell Cottage as it appears today.

        The cottage was named for Rev. John Mitchell.  
It was the first cottage on the xxxxMills Home Campus.  Now a museum, it was completed in 1885.

This picture was taken circa 1960.  Diane, my sister, is on the right.  This is one of  two arches leading into Mills Home.  Directly behind Diane, the view partly obstructed,  is the Mills Home Church.  The church, as you may guess from the arch is Baptist.  Beside Diane is Larry Lipscomb and beside Larry is MaryLou Carver

A beautiful picture of the Boy's Side, Mills Home Arch, dusted with
Photograph by Harry Walls.  To me it says
"Home for the Holidays..." xx
               xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Thanks Harry.



Snow was a big deal when I was a kid at Mills Home. 


I suppose it’s not such a good idea these days because we have

ruined the sky from which the snow falls and also the ground

upon which the delicate flakes silently accumulate, but one winter 

in the late fifties Miss Werner, my house parent, made a humungous 

pot of delicious  ‘snow cream’ that I can still taste.  Now and forever
the sweet taste of vanilla extract is synonymous with snow.


Even now, I wonder where the white goes when the snow

has melted away.


One winter we had a ‘Build a Snowman’ contest and our group

was more determined than smart and as it turned out, also more

motivated than strong.  Gathering all available “boy-power,” our

gang of snowman builders went right to work.  Who needs plans

to build a smowman, right?

The lawn in front of our cottage was quite long, and as we started

rolling the ball of snow it quickly seemed like we would end up in


What initially started as a small round snowball grew rapidly as we

piled the snow on, then patted and packed it to keep it's spherical
. Once the ball was established, we collectively decided to roll

it all the way to the street where we would build the second and third
phases of the project.


Taking turns pushing while others slapped on more snow, we finally got

the mammoth snowball to the street where, fully exhausted we realized

that the ball was so enormous we would never be able to lift a properly
proportioned second
ball on top of this one…and certainly not a third.


Looking around, we saw several small but well-sculptured snowmen

close to the street, one in front of each cottage, ready for judging. Our
enormous snowball finished last in the judges eyes but it was first in
ours.   We knew it was the best —and only—gigantic snowball on campus. 
More importantly, we made it together and that was an extremely valuable
lesson concerning the importance of teamwork.

Each of us gained a new understanding about the importance of planning
the simple things.

Years later I stretched out on my back and watched a star-filled sky that
appeared to be unmoving and uneventful.  I considered the shape of the
planets and realized our giant snowball was not a simple design after all.

"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and
the stars which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of
him, and the son of man that You visit him?"     (Psalm 8: 3, 4)

This is the narrow Mills Home Arch, located on the  'Girl's Side' of the  Campus.

I'm convinced that the colors are a reflection of the beautiful girls who passed under the arch on their way to the promises of life.

Photo by Harry Walls.
To me this picture  says 'Welcome home...'

Thanks Harry, you captured lots of memories in this


it was just a little town
to the north then to the west
where people lived and died for more years
than even an old man could remember

it hadn’t rained
and her thin cloth jacket smelled of dust
probably from yesterday
or some recent wednesday

she brought stories
to help pay for the food she needed
and with her hands she drew circles
to show me the moon

her life was more chapped than her lips
and her hair in need of a brush
had scattered in more directions
than the clouds on a stormy day

it was just a little town
and still there were people
who had forgotten how to smile
in the busyness of their empty days

ain’t rained for a spell
she told me
knowing i was an outsider
guess i better wash my hair again


freedom walk

some fields are muddy
others dried with dust
my mama just keeps a’walkin’,
sayin’ we just gotta trust

my brother, he can’t walk no more,
he’s too hungry, he’s too weak
says his feet are hurtin’
things are lookin’ bleak

mama’s  singin’ gospel songs
says we can’t ever turn back
ain’t nothin’ behind but pain
guess it don’t pay~be born black

the field is hard and barren
but mama keeps walking ahead
my sister laid on a blanket
jus’ restin’ on her bed

ain’t no use in cryin’
ain’t nobody gonna save the day
the lone ranger rode into the sunset
and turned his indian away

i know mama, she’s a weepin’
mouths to feed and hands empty and bare
i reckon i can’t know her pain
says we’ll know it when we’re there

ain’t no place to call our home
ain’t nothin’ left but yesterday
but mama says we got each other
ain’t nothin’ gonna take that away

some fields are muddy
others dried with dust
mama says we gotta hope for tomorrow
cause yesterday is filled with rust

when we laid her in the ground
and the crying was long and loud
we knew our mama loved us
we knew she made us proud

home as last, her journey done
she taught us to take the world in stride
and conquer every challenge
walkin’ tall with quiet black pride

at the Top of the Page and please leave a comment!!

more poetry by tolbert: http://www.kephale06.wordpress.com