This Friend You Love

This friend you love
is bleeding inside
and you dare not
staunch the flow.
Her heart is breaking,
but it must break often
if she is to find her way.

Does she say her world
is falling apart? Old worlds
must fall apart before
new worlds can be born.
Does she say that life
is more than she can bear?
She is stronger than either
of you can know.

Walk with her but do not
steer her down your path.
Talk with her but do not
write her script.

Dance with her,
just dance with her now
to the silent, healing music,
the Oneness of Love.

© 2014 Dennis Ference

The Stranger

(Based on an actual incident and its retelling as a short story by my son, Daniel Ference, this poem deals with the darkness we must sometimes unexpectedly wrestle with both without and within ourselves.)

The subway train sluiced out of the tunnel
to an impatient stop. He boarded, as always,
the third car from the end, lips still vibrating
with venom; nerves, muscles, veins, lungs–all drumming
with the thunder of a racing heart; adrenalin
still surging like a tsunami; thoughts smacking
into each other like dozens of pinballs
launched together into clamorous anarchy.


Fifteen minutes earlier, exhausted juggler
of academic and family demands, he sat sleepily
on a bench in the empty underground station,
spongy thoughts drifting in and out the vodka ad
across the tracks promising good times and sophistication.

Gimme two dolla’. Reverie fractured,
he strained for focus and double-clutched
before exhaling, What? to the stranger
in the down coat and couple-hundred-dollar sneakers
suddenly looming over him. Gimme two dolla’–
this time tellingly precise, a razor-sharp edge.

The air shimmied with ominous vibes, and
he had little hope I ain’t got it would cap
the matter, but he laid it out there anyway
like an angler casting a fly onto a fished-out pond,
landing only heckled speculation that he was
both a liar and maybe a gang banger as well.
He sensed he was being jacked into a clash
of wills, and a panoramic sweep of his aloneness
rapidly turned his mouth into a desert,
his tongue an outsized slab of meat.

More demands, refusals; plays,
counter plays; voices louder, words
uglier. Suddenly, practiced fingers
snatched his wife’s gold Christmas gift
from his neck with the speed of a serpent’s strike,
blasting his animal instincts into high gear.
Flying to his feet, he collared the assailant’s wrist
with one hand, coat with the other. Back and forth
they muscled, strained for advantage, inching
toward the platform’s edge like tightrope walkers
drawn to the scent of danger. Finally,
cued by the grumble of an approaching train,
the mugger surrendered the prize, uncoiled
and retreated, bravado intact, but now
lacking substance and bite.

For months after, the young man inhaled vapors
newly released, for he had never been in a fight
before; was content to share the planet
with all manner of things. But that fateful morning,
a bomb had gone off in his head, and these days
he could not say for certain, that given half the chance,
he would not have sacrificed his antagonist
to the indifference of a speeding train. And
in this awakening, he became, for the present,
a stranger to himself.

© 2009 Dennis Ference

Mary’s Psalm

( Celebrating the Light ought not diminish
our compassion for those suffering the dark.

They were the benchmarks
by which she reckoned her life—
order, cleanliness, God.
Supper at five, always at five;
socks, underwear, towels,
carefully ironed, meticulously folded;
windows washed inside and out,
once a month, spring through fall;
daily mass, daily rosary, daily
invocations to keep her kids
safe, to keep her kids good.

And her house was clean, her kids
were good. Everyone noticed.
Everyone said so. Except, perhaps,
her husband who didn’t say much
of anything but worked hard,
didn’t drink, didn’t hit her, but
didn’t love her as an untidy
imagination said he should.

One day, when her kids were grown and
emptiness had soundproofed the house,
she crawled under a bare kitchen table
and proceeded to tear at her face
and pull out her hair while
her husband dozed
in the other room
after a long, hard day.

© 2007 Dennis Ference

A Summer walk

(This poem is about how we sometimes
unknowingly pass on our pain.)

He was only five,
programmed to believe
all that she said; so
something fragile broke
on that summer walk
when she casually announced,
I’m not your real mother,
then recounted how she
and her sister traded babies
one day a long time ago.

True, she recanted all
with a dismissive smile
and pat on the head
as a drizzle of tears turned
into breath-stealing sobs; yet
she remained blissfully unaware
that he was doomed to suffer,
from that day onward,
the far-reaching tentacles

of disquiet and doubt.
As they crossed the threshold
upon their return, she unveiled
her final ploy, an aside
for which the entire game
had been played—would he
rather live with her or his aunt!
In reply, he instinctively
sought to sink his roots deeper,
declaring with a child’s
passion, that he would stay
with her forever and ever
and ever.

And so the woman’s own wound
was soothed for another day,
but under the salve, would fester
and bide its time, surely
to erupt again.

© 2004 Dennis Ference


Oxygen slithers
–tube to mask,
mouth to lungs–
while patches of relief,
queued like checkers,
dot the neck in front-line
defense against the next
painful onslaught probing
for a breach in the wall.

Day one, day two,
now three. Chaos
vying for control while
quiet routine endures:
the cleansing, the turning,
the comforting, the cloaking
with compassion of the harsh
and naked truth– death’s
fetid presence is seeping
into the room.

A daughter sits nearby
rocking to the rhythm
of breathing that bubbles
to the surface of this quiet night,
rocking to memories of a vigil
past when liquid spirits numbed
her heart far, far away
as father died and mother
cried alone.

In the morning,
the mother will die,
daughter at her side, and
a steady stream of tears
will wash away the last
of the long winter’s snow.

© 2006 Dennis Ference

The Diagnosis

The pegs were discharged,
one peg to each, and mine,
this time, was decidedly square.
Now, I firmly believed that
only round pegs could
fill those round holes
obstructing the path
that snaked to the goal.

Still, I worked that square
with hopeful resolve,
twisting and pounding
till the truth seemed clear:
Surely, this square peg
was meant for another,
some square-peg-player
in some square-hole-game.

With compassion and grace,
I summoned the wind
to deliver the peg
to whomever it belonged.
But the wind only laughed
its raspy old laugh, and
for the moment, at least,
the peg remained mine.
And the rules I had learned…
they no longer applied.

Such was my grief and musing
after the “diagnosis”
broke down my door.

© 2004 Dennis Ference
(First published in Journey to Glory)

The Flock of Seven

The Flock of Seven,
grey feathers, sparsely
layered on heads hinged
atop bluntly compromised
bodies and bones, alight
at their usual watering hole,
as their usual routine demands.

They have loped again in circles,
or waddled or limped, on hairless,
bowed, blue-veined, and spindly legs,
just as they have for more
than 25 years, these migrating
cranes of the waking, morning mall.

They sip, now, their steaming
brew, reminisce, hold court, and
jostle each other’s pride,
an occasional teen-like laugh
rebounding off enclosing walls.

But though all seven remain
acutely aware, there will be
no spoken reminder this day,
that less than a month ago,
              here they sat,
the Flock of Nine.

© 2014 Dennis Ference