By Rebecca Rikleen

Rebecca Rikleen has been in the Writing from Life Experience Workshop at Morningside Retirement and Health Services for well over two decades. In recent years, she has begun writing about her aging, health, and struggles to keep alive her many interests in traveling around New York City.

The Writing from Life Experience group celebrated its 25th Anniversary in May 2019. The oldest members are 95 years old and the youngest is 76. People write about their childhoods, immigration experiences, World War II, marriage, divorce, illness—no subject is left unexplored.


I know why the caged bird won’t sing.
I know resentments
I have a few
I take each personally.
I sit on them
I chew their sour taste
square my shoulders
and butt my head into disappointment
then pretend it doesn’t matter
and hide my ill will
and lie and lie.
At the routine question, “How are you?”
I chirp, “Good enough.”

I’m not good enough
but will smile or nod
as if good-natured,
as if happy to be old,
as if cheerful to be slow
to lose words and thoughts.
as if happy to focus
on each step, lean on a cane.

This bird is not singing. . . . .

Maybe tomorrow
like a canary
I will sing.

Just such an alien bird flew in our springtime window once.
My lost frightened canary
Though fed cage door opened
kept silent for months
then began to sing,
such sweet thrilling trills
I was besotted with love.
This tiny creature, trapped and sold into foreign isolation,
had escaped
had flown into my window
had made rich my children
made sweet my troubles
until months later, it found again an open window and flew out of our lives, lost in this hostile world of concrete walls with winter coming.
I mourn still. Yet I celebrate its visit, a glimpse of heaven.

Perhaps tomorrow I will sing
for the sheer fascination
of watching
from my own cage
of withering old age.

Old House

My body My old house
I am almost finished with it. It is beyond repair
It has been patched, painted, cut and sewn
Medicated and doctored

It has fallen, been rebuilt
It sags, twists, creaks
And again collapses

To keep going, I need props, canes, pauses,
Time out for pumping air,
Go out of circulation for repair.

I will have to give it up entirely,
With no replacement
Parts may go to different labs for patching others
for data.

And then I, the manager, the engineer,
Must rejoin the bits and pieces from which I was made.
The soup, the soil, the dust,
Became the idea, the memory.

I’ll hope some new structure
Can use a bit here and there, a thought, a memory,
A new generation
In the long long line of forgotten connections,
Perhaps a bit sealed into
A corner wall.
Perhaps in the crack of a new house, a den, a story, a passing mention.

One day
Someone will say:
“We had an ancestor who wrote and painted;
Lopsided face, tall, lived a long time,
Through world turmoil.
I can’t remember her name.”


My kingdom
My shelter for the longest period
Of this life on earth.

My previous lives shifted
And dissolved
Move away
Burned up

In this house
A six room plus 1&1/2 bath archive
Are my strength in young adulthood
My father and mother
Two brothers
My four children
My shift from daughter
Sister wife
To solitary old woman.

I know every wall
Every window
I could find my way blind
Each packed nook and shelf
Whispering to my touch
How each looked and felt
Images singing to my fingers
My slow steps.

I wear my home with pleasure
And pain
Its hundred eight years
Cradling seventy of my 95.

About the Author:

Rebecca Rikleen paints and writes, not professionally trained in either skill, has a special affinity for young children, started and ran a preschool sponsored by Columbia University. She has four children and seven grandchildren. There was an eighth, tragically lost, can’t escape tragedy.

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