Bio of B.E. Stock

BIO OF B. E. STOCK B. E. Stock has been writing poetry since the age of eight, and has lived in New York City since age 16. She studied...

Hi, friends. I went to a friend's house in the Hudson Valley this weekend, and we visited Locust Grove, the residence of Samuel F. B. Morse, a remote ancestor of mine on my mother's side. He was a respected painter and a supporter of other painters, who went to the Royal Academy. Like many artists, he had trouble making a living, and for years scraped out an existence traveling and doing portraits. Then he became obsessed with developing the electric telegraph, which he eventually did, going through tremendous difficulties before, during and after. He was part of the Hudson River School, but frankly, while I like many of the paintings of that school, his on the whole are not the ones I like. Still, I am glad to think of him as one of my forebears.

Here are poems from a couple of years ago.


No more parade; a shopping cart squeals
On a quiet avenue; next door
A brown dog complains over and over.
The distant fireworks we hear
Will be surrounded by excitement
For the makers of horns and banners
In an unfree country across the Pacific.

Somewhere, zeal will puncture people
Before turning the weapon on itself.
Somewhere, a child will play with fire
And blow off a hand or an eye.
But freedom together has become a rune
Whose key no one can discover.

We harangue one another over and over:
“Learn to be free!” rehearsing our speech
In an empty ballroom, a bathroom mirror,
While, below, the progression
Of tasks and pleasures grinds to a halt.

We should at least attend the wake
If we cannot make the celebration.


Some would say, why not give it up
Entirely, as just another fantasy –
The  notion of a god who cares, the universe
Holding together like one gigantic song,
The magical mornings when my pen flows
With mysteries I could not have concocted?
God, the creative, have served their purpose,
And now I could shed all my baggage
And learn about money and influence
And do a whopping charity fundraiser
Before my body collapses and is burned.

But then how would I face the song
Of a thrush, or the redbird’s flash?
How would I feel in the cold ocean
Or before an empty, silent sky?
The blood in my ears would accuse me
And the birch in the meadow would turn away its leaves.

Even the skyscrapers, even Liberty,
Those symbols of eager hope and pride,
Would stand witness against me:
That I had one small note to hold,
And just because I was tired, or hurt,
Or lonesome, or bored, I let it fall.


Happy Memorial Day.

Love, Barbara
Hi friends.

It's been a busy time and I haven't posted for a while. I thought I'd share one of the stories from my new manuscript, Bay Ridge Tales, "Family Business."


They told Alex that his father, who died in the big war, was a born soldier, though he’d have been happy to go on fixing cars and making babies. In the pictures, he looked great in a dark sort of way, and seemed to be telling his oldest son to be prepared.

No one could have done a better job. Alex became a crack shot with a bb gun, then a real gun. He followed box car racing and participated a little. When other boys were playing in Little League, he studied the way machines worked, and got into Advanced Placement science and math. He camped in the mountains and volunteered with the Eagle Scouts. He got A’s at MIT, where he learned to hold his liquor and have sex without babies or disease.

So, of course, when he was drafted for Vietnam, they made him a cook. He would slave in the wet heat at 3 AM, preparing not very inspiring food which had to be dispensed at top speed to hundreds of grumpy, half asleep men. In return, during recreation, he got permission to sleep. He had never cared much about food, but this stuff, to his intense disgust, was making him fat. He got Bill, his younger brother who was in pre-med, to send him a book of isometrics, which he did whenever he had to wait. The Army was all about waiting, and soon the flab went away.

Alex never shot anyone and was never shot at. But his entire unit came down with a virulent strain of some Asian disease, and a lot of them died. He lost his beautiful Greek skin and some of his hair. He would have brownish, rucked up skin for the rest of his life. Periodically, his digestive system erupted, and he would be unable to eat, and be weak and weepy, and have to rest for a day or two.

His sole purpose became to survive his two years and get home alive. Rose was waiting for him. He would make airplanes, or houses, or highways. They would live in the country and have two beautiful children.

During his last six months, Fr. George came to do the Catholic mass. Being Greek Orthodox, Alex was allowed to go to either the Catholic or the Protestant service. He liked the ritual of the Mass, though the bad behavior of the Catholics and their doctrinal errors had been referred to often in Sunday school. This young fellow was full of enthusiasm about God, and he compared Christ to a lighthouse. If you kept your eyes on him you would not go aground. That was the only difference between the saints and the rest of us. They kept their eyes on the light, and became beacons themselves. Alex went to see him, and ended up confessing to him, though he could not give absolution. Instead, he handed him a little statuette of a lighthouse, and a little leaflet he had written. Alex kept those with him for the rest of his life.

When he got home to Bay Ridge, there were no jobs. Everyone hated the Vietnam vets. There was a glut of engineers. He lived with Mom and Aunt Sophie and the brothers and sisters, and got a job as a dishwasher at a diner called Chris’, an offshoot of Pegasus that recently opened on Fourth Avenue. It took him five years to save up enough money to marry Rose and lease an apartment on the second floor of a store on Third Avenue. Then the chef, who drank too much and was resentful about his pay, walked off the job. Until another one could be hired, Alex took over. He was so good that Chris hired him at the old chef’s wages. Ten years later, when Chris retired, Alex bought the store at less than the going price. It was not doing too well, and after walking around the neighborhood thinking, he moved it to Third Avenue and 75th Street, and changed the name to Lighthouse.

Staffing was a problem. The short order cooks came one after another up from Sunset Park. Jose, then Paolo, then Cezar. They began to come late, disappear in the middle of the day, drink on the job, mess up the eggs. So Alex would be back in the kitchen. The girls he hired as waitresses were impossible. Eventually he got Donna, who had divorced her drunk of a husband, to come from across the street and hold down the counter. Then Harry, Rose’s cousin, lost his restaurant in Bensonhurst, and came with an infusion of cash to invest and be a partner, and he managed the help. He was an extravert, and customers loved him; the business grew.

Alex liked cooking now, when everyone was eating lots of butter and sugar and meat and eggs, and he could make it yummy and feel the hum of appreciation. But there was always a fly in the ointment. His niece Susie, who had some ill-defined mental problem, tried being a waitress. She would stand in the aisle, take an order, then get involved in what someone said and hold forth in a loud voice. When people talked to each other at the counter, she interrupted to talk to a third person. She took a dislike to certain customers, such as Jennifer with the bike, and would lean her elbows on the counter and glare at them. People began to avoid the store, or just get take-out. They peered in to see whether Susie was there. Eventually Susie freaked out while the family was on vacation in the old country, and they stuck her in a kind of nursing home over there.

Then Adrian appeared one rainy night with two crying children. They shared a single chicken dinner. Harry brought extra bread and salad, asked a few questions, and found out they were fleeing from her husband, a drunkard who had become violent and abusive. Harry took them in until they could get another place. In the meantime, Adrian became the best waitress they ever had. She showed up when needed, day or night. She remembered the orders, people’s names, and the prices. She put up holiday decorations, and she could add.

Alex had a couple of vendors left over from Chris. They were fine except for Black Cat, the bakers. They began to deliver a day or two late or before 6 AM; they ran out of things or stopped making them. Recipes changed for the worse. There was a batch of muffins with maggots, and they gave new muffins but not money. There was a new outfit that had a proper contract with specifics; they called you to see how things were going; it was a little more expensive. Alex signed on with them, and the next time Fred, the Black Cat driver, asked for the order, he told him he was not going to order from them any more.

“You’ll be sorry,” said Fred.

“Oh yeah? What does that mean?”

“You’ll see.”

A week later, Alex went over to open up, and found the lock glued. He called three locksmiths before one said they could deal with glue. Then he called Manny, getting him up out of bed.

“Did you tell them to glue my lock? This is Alex at Chris.”

“What? No. No, I swear, I wouldn’t.”

“Your driver threatened me.”

“Oh boy. Well, he’s gone.”

“No he’s not. You may need him to testify.”

“You – what?”

Alex laughed. “I’ll send you the locksmith bill, ok?”

“I’ll pay it, don’t worry. But why are you running out on me, after all these years?”

“Do you have half an hour to listen?”

“Yes, but not right now. I’m not even awake yet.”

“OK, go back to sleep. Bye.” Alex hung up the phone, and sat a few minutes in the empty shop, drinking black coffee and thinking. He had realized recently that he would never get out of the diner. His wife had Lou Gehrig’s disease; his son was still in school. He collected lighthouses and set them up around the store. He bought a new American flag and got the building owner to mount a new fancy flagpole. Every morning he put up the flag and every night he took it down. One by one, his old customers were dying, replaced by young ones who said no butter, no mayo, who wanted low fat everything, and complained that the bread was too salty. They did go for the Greek yogurt. The cops, truckers and firemen usually went to New Royal, which was open 24/7.

Then came 9/11. People’s schedules were knocked awry, and they came in and sat there talking for the sake of hearing each other and themselves. They exchanged information, gave reassurance, had a laugh, had a beer. At times they just sat with a cup of tea and wept, and Alex let them. The take out line was out the door – people found he was the quickest, and he would say a word or give a smile, and remind them he had served in Nam. That lasted about five years, then things became less hectic. Alex signed onto an internet food hub, and licensed his bike messengers. Then came the crash of 2008. There were very few customers for supper and night snacks; a few of the same people now came for breakfast or lunch instead. Rose needed 24 hour aides. The kids moved to Pennsylvania to save living costs. It was around that time Alex fell in love.

She was young and rosy, from a family so long in America they could not say they came from anywhere else. She worked in a doctor’s office, and in her spare time she collected day old bread and muffins for food pantries. Everything made her laugh merrily. She had a long neck, an ample bosom, and nice wide hips accentuated by colorful leggings. She listened, asked questions, cared about everyone, and loved large dogs. He didn’t like her name, Jane, and neither did she, so he called her JJ. Five days a week she came at 6 for his unsold muffins and bagels. One rainy Saturday morning she plunked herself down at the counter, ordered Wheaties and strawberries, and stayed for two hours, chatting with him between customers.

Rose took a turn for the worse, and Alex stayed late at the Lighthouse until JJ finished work. He’d give her a free dinner at the store, then take her out for a beer and see her home. The first time they kissed, he was so happy he thought it would kill him. Rose would die, he would marry JJ; he would sell the house, and move to Jersey, where they would raise two kids.

Alex cried a lot at the funeral, where to his surprise the whole Lighthouse staff showed up at one point or another. The kids wanted him to come out and live with them. Instead, he took time off to stay with each of them and play with the grandchildren. Then he began to reveal what his employees knew: there would be a second wife. His kids made the right noises, but their faces slammed shut. It was too soon. He was close to being an old man. The financials didn’t make any sense. He talked about selling the house, then getting an apartment in Pittsburgh. Gee – Dad, in an apartment?

So the marriage was quiet, with old friends and neighbors, in the Pearl Room. The baby came seven months later, and they said she was premature, but as Adrian observed with her signature scowl, “She’s completely healthy.” Two years later came a little boy, shy, with a lisp. Then it was time to sell the house.

Cousin Estelle, Harry’s wife, had started a real estate business when the kids went away to school. She had some beginner’s luck, a few bloopers. Alex had his doubts, but of course he would do his house through her, it would be awful not to. He put her business cards by the cash register from the beginning; now there was the promotional picture of his house on Colonial. She came through at all hours with her customers. One was a speculator trying to buy up the block, so he could build condos after the like to like rules of Gentile finally came off. One had rings on all his fingers and offered cash. At Alex’s insistence, Estelle did a deep check on him – he was in the mob in Chinatown. She managed to shake off a couple of Russians with a record, an underfunded rabbi. Then a great deal came along, but an inspection revealed an asbestos problem. Estelle had thought it was ok if you covered it, but the updated rules required removal. At that point, the idea of selling had to be abandoned.

JJ was not very domestic, and wanted to make money and travel, so they moved in a family from Sunset, who took care of the house and kids in exchange for a break on the rent, and lived on the second floor. Juan created an illegal bathroom and kitchenette up there, and a play room in the attic with a skylight. It took six months to work out schedules, rules about noise and booze and all that. JJ took courses and became a med tech, then a PA. They sent the kids to the nearby Greek parochial school, which meant that Alex occasionally showed up in church. After ten years, they finally had the honeymoon – a month in Europe.

In Paris, Alex ran into Fr. George, a Jesuit working with Arab Christians in the ghetto. His flaming red hair was now a yellow fuzz, and his ruddy cheeks were seamed. He narrowed his eyes and said, “Let me think. Vietnam. The Greek cook. – Sorry, the name won’t come.”

“Alex Vounousiou.”

“Of course. Welcome to Paris! Not quite the guide book, is it.”

“Not where you are!”

They both laughed, and had another absinthe. It was no use trying to supervise JJ’s shopping. It was her money, and she was the financial whiz in the family. In fact, she had already begun to straighten out Estelle’s real estate business. Seemed that everything was going to work out fine, as long as he left it alone.


I use multiple points of view a lot in these stories. The main character is actually the neighborhood itself, as I explain in the preface.


By the time we found Bay Ridge, it was about half gone already. It had been split and partly demolished by the ramps to the Gowanus and the Verrazano Bridge and the BQE. Two large apartment towers, with attendant parking lots, stood at 65 Street and ruined the view of the Bridge from the highway. Still, there were real coffee shops, there was Woolworths, there were linen shops and hobby shops, book stores and cobbler shops, old fashioned grocery stores and ice cream stores with gum ball machines and quarter kiddy rides outside. Even now, in the little yards of small houses, there are trees that bear real fruit, and walls are decorated with fancy brickwork; sculpted faces look out at us from stucco surfaces, and pine cones nuzzle at our toes. Down the block from our modest apartment is a double promenade by the Narrows. One to walk and sit in the shade and look, one to go down and ride or walk or jog close to the Narrows of the river. In between are playgrounds and sport fields for the many schools in the area.

We were interlopers, but we stayed. My husband goes to the Catholic church; I ride a bicycle; there’s clearly no money. So gradually they got resigned to our presence. But there is a feeling of the tide taking away the precious things, and people fighting to hold onto pieces of them, hoping the tide will turn before they go. Perhaps they can hold on until the new immigrants, though they look and sound different, are able to continue this dream of decent living. Not millionaires, not wild and crazy bohemians, not crime gangs and violence. Just hard working family people who try to cooperate and do the right thing.

So I will write about Bay Ridge, and how people think, and what they want and do not want, as long as this treasure remains in the City, a sign of true diversity indeed.

B. E. Stock, Brooklyn, New York, March 29, 2017


Happy spring to all.
Love, Barbara

Hi, friends. I can't resist sharing a few more ballad type poems here.


Pirate, come and find the gold
You buried long ago in me
Spread it on a blanket
For everyone to see.

It’s just a beggar’s market
And students going by
Say “something’s wrong with it”
And meanwhile shade their eyes.

On us the sunlight dances
Fleas can sting in vain
My King delights in diadems
That Trumps disdain.

The competent forsake you –
Where would I ever go?
Come, fold me up at evening.
We’ll feast on snow.

Until the storms we lived at peace
Encircled by the sea
Our beaches laved by waves at dawn
A small eternity.
The fish and crab were unafraid
The rabbits multiplied
Our houses like our very selves
Were warm and safe inside.

Then came the storms, and fearsome floods
That tore our houses down
Reduced our farms to salty swamps
And caused our lights to drown
And finally covered all the land
Until we had to leave
And live in boats as aliens
Whom no one would believe –

Until they noticed in our eyes
A certain shade of blue,
A bit of home that still remained
In all this weary crew,
And how at times a child would gaze
So very far away,
Like one who peers through murky clouds
To recollect the day.

Someone has to be to blame –
John has sucked upon the head
Of a soldier in his game
And was injured by the lead.

Punish then the older boys
And the store where toys are bought;
Punish all the future toys.
Thus the blame is neatly caught.

Never more allow the fun
Of uniforms and strategy,
Learning battles lost and won,
Learning life in effigy.

Boys will punish when they lose
And curse the dirt for being dirt,
Knowing that they cannot choose,
Nor by accident be hurt.


P.S., I wrote the "Trumps" line many years ago, referring only to a man who was super-rich and had his name on everything and seemed kind of pompous. And of course a "trump" is a winner. Who knew? At the same time I mock "students" who assume that the work of a loser selling things on a sidewalk (which I did many years ago) can't possibly be good. Those who know Emily Dickinson's work will find an echo in this poem, written while taking a class on theological ideas in great literature. If you try to understand ED's theological ideas, you will go insane. Fortunately, most of us just enjoy her "naughtiness" and leave it at that.

Love, Barbara