The season of the centaur, with pieces by Joyce Abell, Alan C. West, Nancy Davidoff Kelton and Dennis H. Lee.
7 minutes


We’re in the thick of Sagittarius, the astrological season that runs from November 21st to December 21st. In fact, I know very little about astrology. But according to a couple pieces I read, Sagittarians tend to be bold and adventurous, adaptable, curious, and visionary. This episode of Burning Bright features pieces whose characters possess those traits. 

Novelist Ann Patchett said that Joyce Abell’s childhood adventures rival those of Harry Potter, except her stories are better because they’re true. Here’s a bold and adventurous excerpt from “My Mother the Spy” from Joyce Abell’s memoir Prickly Roses.

Though my father was the first to re-marry and it took many years before my mother did, it was she who orchestrated their separation and divorce when I was 15. She had realized that times had changed and she now had the chance and ability to do something far more interesting than selling clothes at Macy’s. She had even done some duty as a spy for the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, posing, with her Nordic looks as “Hilda Holland” and joining the German-American Bund of Milwaukee, where she helped to gather information to discredit the anti-Semitic propaganda about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other anti-Jewish garbage. This specious screed had infected the country with a belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy in the late 1930s . . . If neither she nor anyone else was able to do much to stem the tide of anti-Jewish sentiment, which persisted and flourished even after World War II, she at least proved she could work effectively outside the home.  

Convinced that she could get a good job and support herself and me, she was done with my father for good. My father could see this coming but, since change was what he hated and feared the most, he clung to the last strands of their marriage, listening to my mother’s bitter, biting analysis of him until my mother just savagely cut the strands into little bits and we moved.  

That piece about boldness and adventurousness from Joyce Abell’s memoir Prickly Roses

Next, this piece from Alan C. West to illustrate Sagittarians’ adventurousness and imagination: “Dancing While Sweeping.” 

Surreal comes tonight
  in the eyes of a cat  
   and the broom’s used beauty 

Without white tie
  or tails I am  
   Fred Astaire naked 

  as lonely  
     as Polaris immobile 

sing La Paloma 
  drape on the broom  
   her lavender robe 

one sleeve lifted high
  one over my shoulders  
   Arpege-scented silk 

clings never missing
  a beat holds me  
   my need to be 

held Our dipping
  and turning shape   
   circles and gyres 

embracing my heaven
  of table lamps  
   floor lamps

enchanting our tango
  The wide-open back door  
   welcomes our dust 

Allen C. West’s poem “Dancing While Sweeping” from Passager Issue 50.  

Another characteristic of Sagittarians is adaptability. Here’s an excerpt from Nancy Kelton’s book Finding Mr. Rightstein

We talked and ate, not noticing that a nearby table collapsed. Dishes and glasses fell and broke. Broken pieces scattered onto the floor. Our waiter and the hostess moved our food and us to an empty table in the next room.  

I marveled at how Margo picked herself up, continuing our conversation unfazed by the move and the mess. No wonder she steered the ship. She had the stuff to be at the helm.  

After lunch, at her request, I walked her to her office for back issues. Pictures of her husband and three children lined her windowsills. Her corner office faced the East River and Roosevelt Island.  

“I should write a profile of you and how well you juggle everything,” I said.  

Margo, glancing at the photos, chuckled. “It looks that way, doesn’t it?”  

Her husband called. She told him she’d get back to him as soon as she checked the train schedule. When she hung up, she said, “We have to decide who’s driving the kids up to our house in Rhinebeck later. Our middle one’s bringing a friend. We can’t fit six people in our car. One of us has to take the train . . .” 

An excerpt from Nancy Kelton’s book Finding Mr. Rightstein. 

We’ll end with a poem that evokes the Sagittarian as visionary. Dennis Lee and his book Tidal Wave won the first Henry Morgenthau III Award for a First Book of Poetry by a Writer 70 or Older. Here’s his poem “Fortune Cookie.” 

I cracked open a fortune cookie
and a great song began to play,
and everyone looked,

and two dancers began to dance,
and I was one,
and everyone smiled,

and one of the dancers let go,
and I couldn’t dance anymore,
and the music stopped,

and the onlookers began to cry.  

Dennis Lee’s poem “Fortune Cookie” from his book Tidal Wave

To buy Joyce Abell’s book Prickly Roses, Dennis Lee’s book Tidal Wave, or Nancy Kelton’s book Finding Mr. Rightstein, or 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. 

By the way, Passager editors Kendra Kopelke and Mary Azrael and assistant editor Rosanne Singer are all Sagittarians!

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

Due to the limitations of online publishing, poems may not appear in their original formatting.