Sunday, November 15, 2015



Sunday gravy
On the basement stove

Family gathers
Clusters of cousins

Dining room for
Not for family

Plastic folding
Topped with market plates

No fine china
Set here
Who’s there to impress?

Aunts and uncles
While Grandma serves us 

Spaghetti’s perfect
With peas
I’m on Grandpa’s knee

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Do You Come Here Often?

Do You Come Here Often?

I’ve always hated this part.
“Lift your arm. Like this. Now rest your other arm here. Sorry, my hands are a little cold.”
The doctor presses her palms on my breast while I stare at the ceiling. I’m always worried the temperature of my hands will make my nipples stand up. Then this awkward situation will become all that more mortifying.
            Seconds go by. She concentrates on one spot, just to the right of my nipple. That’s never happened before. She checks the same area on the other breast. She returns back to the spot.
The doctor says the four words no woman ever wants to hear:
“I feel a lump here.”
My body feels like its made of little particles, and each one of them has just spread along the exam table. She keeps touching the spot as she asks questions. Did I notice it? I didn’t. When had I done an exam last? "Recently," I say. That’s all I say. I used to do them more often. I mean to do them. But I forget. What if I think it wasn’t long ago, but it was months or even years? The older I get, the more time has a way of speeding by. It’s like when I thought that wedding was two or three years ago, only to find out the couple just celebrated their five-year anniversary.
 Besides, when I push down, it’s all lumps. How do I know a lump is lumpier? In the past, when I was worried something was suspicious, I’d feel around it, and it sort of seemed the same.
The doctor measures the lump. She writes the information down. She says the number three. Three millimeters? Centimeters? Inches? I don’t want to ask. I had a baseline mammogram years ago. Could it be possible a tumor has been growing in my breast for these subsequent years, and I didn’t know it?
She makes me touch the lump. First I can’t tell. Then I realize it’s slightly bigger from everything around it. No, it’s definitely bigger. Here I am, touching my breast while the doctor watches, just minutes after my biggest concern was that I’d have erect nipples. How my perspective has changed. I came to this exam dreading the pap, worried about my cholesterol, wary of my blood pressure. For a long time, I’d forgotten to fret about my breasts.
The doctor tells me to change. She says she’ll return in a few minutes.
A few minutes is all the time I need to remember the conversation we had before the breast exam. When my long overdue check up hung in the air. And she found out that I’d been regularly having eye exams and dental check ups instead. And I’d asked if I should put off a mammogram for another several years because it was controversial for people my age. She assured me that an increased likelihood of false positives was not a reason to forgo the exam. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if yearly exposure to radiation could cause problems in the long run.
A few minutes is all I need to picture my uncertain future. I might lose my hair.  A chunk of breast. A breast. Would I get so sick that I’d have to quit my new job? I would if all the cancer metastasized all over my body. It happens to people. It can happen to me. And if it has, it’s my own stupid fault. Why did my fear land me in this situation? I knew other people who put off going to the doctor only to get bad news, and I’d shake my head. I knew people who’d died. And now here’s me.
The door opens. The doctor’s laughter tinkles and dies. Would she chuckle if she thought it was serious? Did she stop because lumps in breasts are common for her, and it’s not going to stop her from joking with her coworkers in the hallway.
She must see my expression. I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings, like blind panic.
“I think it’s a cyst,” she says.
She rattles on that I need to have a mammogram and an ultrasound. And then she wants me to return when I’m in the beginning of my cycle. Am I having the ultrasound to watch out for false positives or am I having the ultrasound because there’s a possibility it is cancer. Is she trying to calm me down or is she telling the truth? I so want to ask her. I want to confess why I’ve waited too long and explain that this isn’t the person I am. I know better and I’ve made a mistake. 
But I just nod. She doesn’t know me. After all, I hardly come here.

PSA: Check early in your cycle and check often... and visit your doctor yearly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Inbox

My Inbox

We’re past the time of
Return receipt requested
From slush pile to inbox
Right to spam.

I’ve initially been reviewed
While my submission’s been received
I should expect to hear back or
Not at all.

If they’re interested,
They’ll let me know
In other words, don’t call us,
We’ll call you.

Phone interview screenings
Lead to real in person views
Let’s play 20 Questions before
Mock lessons.

Like what we’ve read, so
We’re requesting pages
A partial, a full, a

The position’s been filled
Form rejection’s been sent,
Expiration date’s passed 
Like bad milk.

Crafted resume, cover,
Query, synopsis, pages
It’s all the same in the end
No, thank you.

I collect interview requests
Like business cards,
Third time’s the charm
Job offer.

As they like to say,
it just takes on yes 
Maybe’s an agent’s next...

One more try.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Haikus and Summer Notes

morning chill, midday
swelter, wind-swept dusk, crisp night
stars succumb to rain 

morning after road
puddles scar, a reminder
on this journey sought

white. barren. ink sketch.
bursts of lemon drop color
on lush green canvas.

sunset walk with dog
his nose never leaves the ground
I gaze at hushed sky

Summer Notes: 

My summer poems are not available on this blog because I'm entering a local poetry contest.

 Vine Leaves Literary Journal , where I'm a poetry editor, now comes in a print edition and will be published twice a year. 

I received a job offer in July, and I just started my job working as a special education teacher. I'll post when I can. 

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, July 19, 2015



There’s all those cliché songs about time:
Time like a clock, precious
Time after time
Time keeps on ticking…

And at first it seems impossibly far
And you fear you’ll never catch up
And then you want to hold onto that time
But before long it slips away.

Then those “well meaning” busybodies
you want to throttle when they
tell you to appreciate time
because it goes too fast…

They’re just twittering
because they can’t wait
until you join them on the other side
where the sand’s settling on the

Bottom of the hourglass.
But you can laugh
Bitterly a little bit longer
Because your time isn’t up yet…

tick, tick, tick, tick….

Sunday, June 21, 2015


by Theresa Milstein

I turn from the television and glance at the clock.
I have thirty minutes.
One more show.
The TBS channel runs a steady stream of nostalgia: I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch. All before my time, though technically I watched them in reruns as a kid, so they’re a part of my childhood too. Adults look back at their favorite shows, and long for those better times. But were they really anyone’s good times?
A coffee commercial.
I need coffee.
I’ll grab some on the way.
Yesterday, I went to my English 101 class for nothing. It’s the third time we’ve been stood up. This time the professor collapsed in the parking lot. He’s got emphysema. The old man’s so addicted to cigarettes that he smokes a fake one during class. When doesn’t collapse, that is. Assistant professors get only ten minutes before we’re allowed to leave. Because he’s a full professor, we have to wait twenty minutes to see if he shows up. Thirty minutes to commute plus ten minutes to park and walk, plus twenty minutes to wait, times two equals… a big waste of time. I should quit smoking.
More commercials.
I have twelve minutes. 
What show’s up next?
I won’t get to watch it anyway. This morning I have math lecture. Not that there’s any point in sitting through it. I’ll be lost among the hundreds staring at the small man on stage. The only “help” comes from a recent Chinese immigrant who teaches my recitation. He stares inches from the board while he solves problems and whispers in a thick accent. When we ask him to slow down and speak up, he speeds up. What does he have to be nervous about? I’m the one failing math.
Five minutes.
I’ll sit through these commercials before the next show.
Then I’ll go.
Science is no better than math. On the first day, the old man on the stage told us, “I have tenure. This means I can f*ck a chicken on the stage and they can’t fire me.” I’d like to see him do that. I’d get more out of the class. On that first day, he also told us, “Look at the student to your left. Look at the student to your right. By the end of your freshman year, both of them will be gone.” I thought that seemed like a high dropout rate. But each week there are fewer of us.
I like this Bewitched episode.
Even though the “bad” cousin has brown hair like me.
Bad brunette twin on I Dream of Jeannie too.
At least the History professor’s class is accessible and interesting. Just like English, his class is in a regular room too. He sees our potential.  The first day he said, “This is 13th and 14th grade. It’s your second chance.” He always tells us we can make something of ourselves. While his pep talks are inspiring, in some ways I feel worse. When I applied, I thought the place was a prestigious alternative to a community college. Instead I’m the family black sheep at a former agricultural college. That’s irony, right?
Another commercial.
If I leave now and there’s no traffic, I can still make it.
I pull out a cigarette.
If trouble didn’t show up on Bewitched, Samantha would be bored. Why doesn’t she have a job all those episodes before she has the baby? It’s weird that all the women on these shows are stay-at-home moms. When I was a kid, most of the moms I knew stayed home. Now they’re all divorcing and working at garbage jobs, like my mother. That won’t be me. When my parents’ divorce finally goes through, my dad, sister and I will flee this hellhole. Then I can concentrate on homework without her screaming.
I don’t get why Samantha isn’t allowed to use her powers.
Jeannie isn’t either.
Who wouldn’t perform magic to make their lives better?
In real life, we can’t improve our destinies with a twitch or a blink. Life just keeps moving on and making demands, even if we’re not ready. I’m eighteen, and I already have regrets. In high school, I free time working or hanging with friends without a plan for life afterwards. Now I’m stuck. Most of those friends have gone away to college where they have new friends, new opportunities. I’ve been left behind.
I glance at the clock.
It’s too late to make it now.
One more show.