A Tilted World poems by Carol Gabrielson Fine

picture of Carol Fine
Photo by Hollis Dorman  

“In A Tilted World, Carol Fine offers us a chronicle of loss, deeply moving in its honesty and courage.” So writes the poet Edwina Trentham, who goes on to say, “Beginning with ‘the chill of. . . childhood,’ where she never dared to assume her family loved her, she vividly shows how this early wound contributed to a sense of being ‘tilted / out of place’ in a world that offers and then too swiftly takes back love. She writes of a husband who dies five years after leaving ‘the bleakness of our life’ and thus allows her no right to grieve, even as she mourns ‘the aloneness / greater even than marriage’s, / the absence of shared memories.’ Not surprisingly, Fine’s searing exploration of loss expands to more devastating and universal losses, as she describes relatives writing to beg for refuge from the Holocaust. And this understanding of a shared oppression is quietly explored later as she describes a sign on a tourist cabin near her summer camp, which advertised ‘No Jews.’ Yet throughout the book, despite the reality that she and anxiety have always been ‘inseparable as school girls,’ the poet continually delights in the sensory experiences of life. And although sometimes she wonders if she is ‘dreaming / a lusciousness that never was,’ the past is painted with ‘winey plums, rosy peaches / against navy glaze’ and ‘the clear, hot, ruby liquor’ of borscht, while more recent memories, including seventeen warm and loving Grace Notes, reveal a rich and loving connection with her four grandchildren. The poet thinks ruefully, ‘I must have done better than I thought’ as she watches her daughter ‘mothering her baby’ and laughing ‘as his drooly hands flail at her face,’ and ends the Grace Notes with a grandson insisting after a dinner at Friendly’s that they must take their grandmother home, because she will be lonely if she has to go by herself. The experience of such tenderness leads naturally to poems of quiet joy and acceptance. In the end, this sense of a ‘soul restored’ remains, confirmed through the description of an all-day reading of the names of ‘four thousand of the six million,’ a shared experience that leaves the congregation ‘strangers no more.’
  A Titled World by Carol Gabrielson Fine cover image
  Cover: Photo by Ira W. Gabrielson

Carol Gabrielson Fine is a graduate of Vassar College, Clark University, and Wesleyan University’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program, under whose auspices she earned a second Masters degree forty years after her first. Had she believed in the advice of her freshman year English professor at Vassar, Amy Louise Reed, she might have written poetry sooner. Instead, she became a nursery school teacher, school psychologist, and research psychologist working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children. At Wesleyan she began writing poetry in the classes of Edwina Trentham and Charlotte Currier, and shortly thereafter was the invited reader in the Prosser Poetry Series at Prosser Library in Bloomfield, CT. A sometime art student, she painted in her younger days and has always been a devotee of chamber music, opera, and theater. In addition to membership in several poetry groups, she has been a member of the Social Justice Committee of Congregation Beth Israel, coordinating work at soup kitchens and knitting hundreds of winter caps for Hartford children in the after-school program at Charter Oak Cultural Center. As a member of the West Hartford Interfaith Housing Coalition, she worked to procure affordable housing; and as a founding member of Adventures Together, she seeks to foster interfaith understanding through book discussions involving members of Congregation Beth Israel and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Carol Fine is the mother of two children, the grandmother of four, an aunt and great aunt many times over. She lives at Seabury in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-88-7

Copyright © 2015 by Carol Gabrielson Fine

6" x 9" paperback, 86 pages



Copyright ©2015 by Carol Gabrielson Fine

Never More Than Six or Seven

years old, no matter what,
I thought
the world had tilted
that first day I wore glasses
at six
when the living room floor
slipped sideways
though the piano never
skidded out of place,
its keyboard still at the window.

I stayed tilted,
out of place
in that flat world,
slipping, sliding on cold floors
careening on my own
dizzying path through
silent hallways,
dusty parlors,
never in focus.


The dingy elevator at 99 Pratt filled
with the tang of oranges
brings me back as surely as a madeleine
to summers at camp in New Hampshire,

painting the stone church in Elkins
where the tourist cabin sign next door
advertised “No Jews,”
where we all breathed
“rabbit, rabbit, rabbit...”
as we dashed past the town cemetery,

and lunchtime in the hot sun
peeling oranges,
stripping the membranes
from the sweet sections,
licking fingers
sticky with juice.

Cooking Borscht

Nanny and I are making borscht
although she is not here,
has never been to Hartford.

“The burikes, Cherilah,
scrub them clean, boil them,
decant the liquid, peel them, grate them.”
I see her blowing on the clear, hot, ruby liquor,
see the small ripples in the spoon’s bowl.
I taste it for myself, as I did for her,
know without a doubt
that it needs more lemon,
a pinch more sugar,
another bit of salt.
Beat the eggs to a froth.
Slowly drip a spoonful at a time,
stirring rapidly.
The foamy eggs become a vivid pink.

All those childhood years
the official taster, and now
Nanny is talking me through her recipe.
Only the memory of the winey taste remains,
the rich magenta lightening to a
bright borscht hue
and finally
the quart mason jars cooling
in cold water.

Nanny is silent now, smiling.
Jars of summer borscht cool in the sink.

Seeing My Father

On Main and Asylum shoppers dash
like ants scurrying from stepped-on anthills.
Near the corner without thinking
I begin to run,
almost calling after
a fading figure –
the impatient walk,
the square shoulders on the tense body.

People bump into me, glaring
lunchtime shoppers,
prisoners of the clock,
as he begins to fade into the crowd.

But I keep running
as if I could touch him,
as if I could throw myself into his arms,
as if he would notice.

People of Memory

Late afternoon sun through stained glass
dappled white gloves into
shards of ruby and sapphire as
we sat all afternoon at the side aisle,
stood for Kaddish,
remembered, prayed for father,
for grandparents,
for we are a people of memory –

just the two of us as the afternoon lengthened,
those jeweled blurs fading,
the joyous notes of Neilah, and the shofar
sounding as we knew it would,
as it has always sounded.

All that long afternoon with the sun
streaming over us as the day closed, we sat,
just the two of us,
putting aside our different natures:
mother and daughter
remembering the past,
finding comfort in just being together,
in knowing
that we are a people of memory.


and I are a pair
inseparable as meiotic cells,
divide yet cleave.
We go everywhere together,

inseparable as schoolgirls
wearing the same colors,
liking the same records,
never making a move
without the other.

Anxiety guards me jealously,
fearing I may slip away,
making sure I never leave,
never know more
than fleeting peace.

Postpartum Joy

“One more push,” my doctor said –
“It’s a girl!”
Of course. I had a daughter
just as I had hoped.

My landladies marveled
at how tiny she seemed,
“like a $1.98 doll,” they said.

Learning to talk, she watched me,
moving her lips as I spoke.
“I do it myself.”

As I left for work
a few months before her brother was born,
she ran, plucked knitted hat, gloves and scarf
from the bottom bureau drawer,
gleefully put them on, and danced about,

The morning after I brought Ben home
from the hospital, she climbed on his crib
and announced, “OK, baby stay.”

McKinnon and I and Brahms

In the high-ceilinged white living room where
the faded red butterfly chair cradles me
slinglike in its black metal frame,
I sit facing the fading afternoon,
McKinnon curled at the window,
soaking up hazy November sun.

Capriccios and intermezzi
sparkle across the room as I watch
the sky slip from rose and blue
to lavender and gray.

The long window frames
gnarled black branches of the catalpa
into a Japanese print,
broad pads of yellow leaves
flapping against skinny pods.

Listening, sketching tree and sky until
the music stops,
I feel the silence after the brilliance
of Richard Goode.
The sky has softened, grayed, as
McKinnon stirs,
stands noiselessly on the sill,
swishes her tortoise shell tail and
springs silently
to the floor.
She pads softly toward me,
rubs against the metal frame.

Sunapee Mikveh

mikveh: ritual bath


I thought I had forgotten the sweet
fragrance of the lake,
the pleasure of water.
There had been nothing to keep
that memory before me.
But I had not forgotten
its soothing coolness,
the unimpeded view of the furrowed bottom,
sandy ridges that stay –
no dried skate cases,
no calico scallop shells sand-polished,
only last year’s pine needles,
shreds of bark settled to the bottom,
cushioning my feet.


The mountains have vanished again.
The air is damp and heavy.
A rowboat moored near the point rocks,
turns gracefully,
stern out toward deeper water.
A grave wooden owl guards the dock.
Ducks wait in the reeds along the shore.
Maple and spruce branches dip
ever so slightly.
I shall not disturb the stillness
when I walk into the water,
swim a few strokes barely
breaking the surface.
I’m going nowhere in fog and water.


I have had my ritual bath
even though I have not dunked three times,
no one inspected my fingernails
or watched as I walked into the lake,
no one pronounced me kosher
as I emerged,
pleasantly chilled,
my skin soft,
my soul restored.

Is There WiFi in the Afterlife?

in memory of Ira Wilson Gabrielson

Wherever you are, I bet The New York Times
has a delivery route.
Have you subscribed? Or no ... you changed
to online; it was much less expensive.
You wouldn’t even have to look for a pen.

You sometimes called me on a Saturday.
Once, by phone, we shared the crossword.
Could we share another?
It wouldn’t have to be a Saturday.
Do you even have Saturdays?

Is your Mac always on? Is it wireless?
Do you chat?
Anytime after 8 a.m. would be fine.

I See My Daughter

mothering her baby,
laughing at him
as his drooly hands flail at her face,
“Alex, be patient,
we’re just changing sides”
as he stuffs those fingers into his
mashed-banana-coated mouth,
smiling amused when his father says
“Alex, you have the table manners of a goat”
as she philosophically mops his chins.

I tell her
she never drooled,
never spit up.

“That’s my boy,” she glows –
exuberant Alex
crowing at each new skill,
blowing raspberries.

I must have done better than I thought
for her to give so lovingly.

“I’m an Artist”

Eli says. “That’s what everyone says
at Leila Day.”

Abstract impressionist at four –
purple, brilliant blue, green,
that splash of shocking pink
swirling off-center.

A delicate, ghostly green pirate ship
glides across the page, almost
disappears in a morning mist.

The fire engine races to its call,
firemen poised to leap.

Prehistoric horses prance
across the sky,
spindly legs on oblong bodies.

One day a silvery, sparkly oval
moon arrives in the mail.
For you, Granny.

Mother cuts a string of paper people.
Eli colors them, each a different person.
“Don’t put them on the refrigerator,
Granny,” he says as he colors their backs.

“I’m doing my work, Granny.
Please don’t look.”

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