through salt and time poems by theresa c. vara

picture of theresa vara

Theresa C. Vara


Extremes of feeling permeate the poems in Theresa C. Vara’s Through Salt and Time. They run the gamut from sheer grief to pure joy. The painful past of father, friends, students, and the poet herself, described in stunning detail, is alleviated by moments of sudden relief, like the grace notes of the father’s bass viol. Blessedly, the troubled past is followed by the fulfillment of a richly satisfying career in teaching and by the “birdsong blue” of a loved one’s eyes. Even when the poet’s students suffer and children move off into their own lives, the poet and her poems arrive at a place so essentially joyful we believe again that all manner of things shall be well. Elizabeth Thomas writes that “Theresa Vara’s collection of poems is both a gut-punch and loving embrace, traveling full circle from a painful past to an adulthood spent caring for others as a teacher, parent and human being. These poems explore a wide range of possibility in a voice full of straightforward honesty and compassion.”
  through salt and time by theresa vara cover image
  Photograph (detail) by Larry Gerbrandt.

Theresa C. Vara was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She is a graduate of Manhattan College (B.A.); New York Law School (J.D.); Wesleyan University (C.A.S.); and Swansea University, Wales (Ph.D.). She considers herself blessed to be surrounded by a loving and eccentric family. She and her husband Chris have raised two children, Chris and Lisa, and live in Connecticut.





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SBN: 978-1-936482-98-6

Copyright © 2015 by Theresa C. Vara

6" x 9" paperback, 64 pages



Copyright ©2015 by Theresa c. Vara



He says

fix your teeth
money is not an issue

and I say I cannot

they are the days of living in the cellar
they are the ghosts living and dead in that house
the uniforms     sixty in a classroom     yanked hair
iron ruler     slapped cheek
stoop men with their dirty mouths
break-ins     graffiti     prowling gangs
kicks     robberies     held breath
unfaithful father     mother anger rigid
unspeakable crimes     neglected cousins
babies cradle capped    flat headed
cracked sidewalks     broken streets
old lady crying for her lost dog
Bronx in the voice and in the brain
father unfleshed and dead at 35
mother balding and desperate     with three children
breaking every labor law
subways     stench      the hands of men in crowds

the tribal love of a broken broken people

These roots grow crooked
but true.

My Father’s Bass

After he died
there she stood
like all the others
blonde, shapely, polished,
aloof in a corner,
as if awaiting his next lovemaking.

We, just children,
thought nothing of her
or of the others with whom he dallied.
After, she was sold
for pennies on the dollar.

We did not know
she was both seducer
and instrument of seduction
turning a squat balding laborer
in painter’s whites
shouldering ladders and planks,
wife and children
six long days a week

into a tuxedoed Italian Desi Arnez
on stage,
focal, lighted,
his voice in the mic
charming crowds to rise,
      loosening women,
               drawing slanting glances of men
                        as he turned them at will
                                toward love or regret or desire.

For the unschooled invisible son
of a runaway mother

what power

his blunt fingers
coarse with work
now fleet as birds to their chords —
jazz, booze, floozies, smoke and spot lights
his home as Saturday burned away
like his last Camel.

While it lasted
he could forget the dead wood of the ladder
and the buckets of lead
up a thousand steps
in dank Bronx buildings
on pre-dawn Monday mornings
and faithful only
to the small fist of a bird
caged in his ribs
in the dark.

Bound for Loss

You were 14
and I was 12
when you looked out your window
across from mine
and casually
as if
without intention
drifted down your front steps
to sit near me
on the cold stone stiles
every day
in all weathers
First words
must have been clumsy
but who remembers now
And over time,
summers and winters
we sat
stringing words
like tightropes
forged minute by minute
toward one another
under the amused eyes of adults
who thought
they knew
what they saw

Not once did our fingers touch

One day
you stopped looking out
and played the same song
a thousand times a day
lifting the needle exactly as the last note receded
to start again
and now the light in your room never went out
at night
Your family begged you
unlock the door
Your father cried
that you did not eat

You fell off the earth as surely as if you had jumped

I know you were pushed
In silence lived the whispers

They took you away
wrapped in your own arms
the loneliest embrace

No words
could bear the weight of your terror
knowing you would never come home
never sit in the sun
or the cold
never know
that in my room
I wished
that just once
in those years
of slanting
staggered conversation
I had touched your hand.

No longer

the quiet certainty of you on Monday
the to-be-continued saga
habitual seat
your smiles at my classroom door

my prodigal
daughters and sons
spy the open window
and make your way
as you must
drawn by the unimaginable horizon

you leave
your shadows on the chairs
your voices in the air
a chorus repeating
your names
like lines from poems
sweet on my lips
returning unbidden
every day

And in August
in the declining sunlight
of our empty room
loud with your spirits

I almost
see you
and cry out
your names
my grateful vespers
at dusk.


The classroom
was ordinary
of its time
it promised books
so I was content
until week two
when you walked in
and I knew you
before I knew your name

this was
as it always is

This was not the click of iron
to lodestone
though it was

This was not the voices of our children
calling for ensoulment
though it was

This was a heart
at the sudden memory of its tempo

How long
I loved you
before we were born
I cannot recall

but when you arrived
I knew
for the first time
that I had been waiting.

Until you

         it was always winter
         cold rolling under the doors
         cold ghosting through the windows

If I dreamt of anything
in those days
it may have been

          shod in snow
          half buried in the early dark
          lashed by dreams proven
          just dreams
could imagine
the birdsong blue of your eyes?

Looking In

In my dream I see my son, seventeen,
off to court a girl I may never meet,

step into a house I have never seen
and I know he will be long in her keep.

Then I look in the window of a house,
where my daughter sits alone, sings,

wrapped in a quilt of tiny blue roses.
I ache for her patience; I know she waits

for me, pushing back her worry. I knock
on the glass, but she is frightened and cries,

seeing some figure backlit in the dark.
Fool that I am, with frantic signs I try

to gesture my words: this is your mother
who has clumsily frightened you this way.

She will not come to the door and she shudders,
glassed in, alone at the end of the day.

And I startle awake knowing that you,
my children, live rightly in far, bright rooms,

will live in towns I will never walk through,
in unfamiliar houses as night glooms

and long after, when you will no longer
wait for me, I will seek you with hunger

in my eyes and press my blessing against the glass.