Vive la Marilyns!

posted in: Poetry | 0

Poems by Marilyn Churchill, Marilyn Wallner, and Marilyn McConnell, in memory of Marilyn Shorr.
6 minutes


A few days ago, July 14, was Bastille Day. In France, people go around saying “Vive la France.” When I was growing up — and to this day — people in my family on July 14 go around saying “Vive la Marilyn.” That’s because July 14 was also my mother’s birthday; she would’ve been 101 this year. So in memory of my mother, some pieces by Passager writers named Marilyn.

First, by Marilyn Churchill from Passager‘s Winter 2018 issue, “Refugees.”

We are all refugees rising out of the volcano.
We are all molten lava still warm
from the maker’s womb.
We flow black red gold brown and white
streaming out of the earth.

Winged once, we knew earth
from a great height,
knew the vagaries of wind,
the seamless sky, the tops of trees.
We dream flight sometimes
as slaves dream freedom.
As children we practice
what we later forget.

We are all refugees.
We are all blood rivers.
Don’t listen to the strong men
with weak heart strings
who know only the business
of making money, who know
war’s strategy:
divide and conquer.
We are forever rivers,
we flow
into under around
as refugees
who run and reappear.
We refuse
to disappear.

“Refugees,” Marilyn Churchill. Marilyn said that the poem arose out of a desire to express something larger than herself about the ongoing refugee crisis in this country, which has been described as the worst since World War II.

Marilyn Wallner said that this next poem was inspired by an Irish friend who used this expression to describe a woman who kept her house in a constant state of readiness for visitors that were never welcome nor invited. “The House Proud Woman.”

She licks
her house
the way
her too fat tabby
grooms itself,
licks her
table until
she sees
her face
with drooping jowls
in the gleaming surface.
Hers the only eyes
that will see
the splendor
of this patinated perfection.

Marilyn Wallner’s poem “The House Proud Woman” from Passager’s Winter 2020 issue. Marilyn said, “I am a 90-year-old poet eternally vigilant to keep technology at bay, writing my poems using a pre-WWII manual typewriter.”

Marilyn McConnell said that a family tree composed some half a century ago by an older cousin she never met led her to write this next poem, “My Ancestor James.”

Sometimes I pretend my ancestor James,
who came here in 1776 from County Down
and enlisted in the American Revolution,
affects my fate, saves me from wrong turns
I’m not aware of, like an angel would.
And why did I pick him, instead of his wife,
also my ancestor, about whom I have
no information whatsoever, or
an elder he left behind in Ireland,
since, after all, an angel doesn’t have to book a flight.
And why them at all, and not my mother’s family,
combo of French Canadian and Pennsylvania Dutch,
sepia line of the broached and invisibly brave
who put me in mind of different sorts of farm houses
than do the McConnells – of shutters involving cutouts
and a more pinched aspect to their wear and tear.
I don’t know what it is in me that sidles up to Ireland.
Maybe someone who winds up being born there
a century from now, or in Manhattan, will reach
back to me after some uncle or cousin
composes another family tree. But why should they?
Why did I choose James, except that his name
topped the list of the tree my cousin Jim made,
and because I knew that one more thing:
He was a soldier, whose boots I picture stiffening
in the shape of Revolution somewhere in his barn
as he later walked, lucky, into his fields
somewhere in the Carolinas. Or maybe
it was Arkansas.

“My Ancestor James,” Marilyn McConnell, from Passager’s 2020 Poetry Contest issue.

Congratulations to our 2023 Passager Poetry Contest winner, George Drew from Poestenkill, New York, and each of our 48 honorable mentions. An interview with George, some of his poems, and poems by all of our honorable mentions will appear in Passager’s Contest issue, due out in September.

To subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.