Remembering Sarah Seff Rolfe

“It is so easy to forget that the essential you… might be lost, and that the you might forget to remember from whom or what it came.” –Ronald Rolfe, geneticist.

These lines were written during aphasia when Ronald was dying from a brain tumor


It was my pleasure to have met Mrs. Rolfe at a time when my ideas were just beginning to develop.  When I was a child of six, I used to come over to her home to play piano and spoke of my conceptions of music.  She then moved away and I never thought I would see her.  However, during a troubled period in my life in my late teens, she returned to the very same house she had lived in earlier!  I met her at a march of candles for Soviet Jews and discussed some of the novels I had been reading.  I was most gratified to have found an informed literary companion.

Sarah Seff Rolfe or Rose Rolfe(her preferred name) became my poetry mentor and good friend.  She had come from Minnesota, where she had studied with Robert Penwarren.  She had a long correspondence with Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, and adapted his Hasidic Sayings in her collection, Songs of Legacy.  In North Hollywood, California, she took active part in poetry readings and took classes in Everywoman’s Village.  However, she did not publish a book of poetry(Terebinth Press) until one year before her death in 1984.  She titled her book, Heart And Mouth Are One.  The book was encouraged by her teacher, Carol Lem.

Mrs. Rolfe inspired me with a sense of the mystical and profound elements in nature.  She was a master at revealing human nature in its contemplative, reflective, troubled moods.  Her poems are quite musical.  In fact, some of her longer pieces resemble musical compositions;  starting with a melody, developing it through skillful rhythmic and word changes, transitioning into new harmonies, but still staying with the one original pattern.

I can still hear her musical voice, absorbing every nuance of every syllable.  Her voice was very similar to Barbara Luddy’s “Lady” in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp.  

She often invited fellow poets over for an evening of poetry and and analysis.  She was patient and kind with my early endeavors and always supportive and encouraging.  To remember her, I am including Blue Pawn, one of the best poems that she wrote.

 Blue Pawn


Very old, the dealer said, Navajo.

Small white prayer-beads near the clasp…

Touching the unpolished, turquoise stones,

I find underground springs,

Ghosts of my Hebrew ancestors

in fringed prayer-shawls

sway at my shoulders–quiver.

But something else here… evokes

the craftsman who shaped the necklace.

Crouched under canvas eaves, he plies

his art, sun-baked hands holy with care.

His axe rings.. where thick blue veins

of turquoise… tear from the matrix.

And what has the blue necklace to say

of such distant visions?

Pawned and redeemed at trading posts…

caught in a chain of sorrows and celebrations

and coming here to my alien hand,

my Native questions?



My pulse holds tembrilsJewish theology, Native Americans

where the Hebrew God of Place and the

Indian Gods of many Weathers–touch.

Though sea and sky belie their blue,

I say what I see–say sapphire, cerulean,

lapis lazuli–circle of faiths.

Their laughter carves the iron wind

where turquoise winks in the rock

and earth’s blue bead, quarried in space,

trembles in the rite of stars… plays.

“Don’t Get In The Way Of Helen Martin’s Cane.”

Dr. Helen Martin was an extraordinary individual and teacher.  She taught medical courses at the University of Southern California when my dad was a student in the 40s.  He relates the above anecdote and his personal relationship to Dr. Martin, who had a great influence on his medical focus.

MW:  One of the most outstanding professors was a woman called Helen Martin.  She had polio(so did my Dad as a child, but he had a complete recovery) and was quite crippled, but she was ambulatory with a cane, then two canes.  During the war, she practically ran the Department of Medicine, because everyone else had been drafted in the army.  She was a brilliant woman, and for some reason, she liked me.  She was a very, very difficult teacher.  The standing joke was “don’t get in the way of Helen Martin’s cane.”  She would poke at you and say:  “What do you think that is Mr. Weiss?  What has this patient got?”

She taught me the ethics of medicine.  She would approach a sometimes disheveled alcoholic guy in bed.  She would walk up to him and say:  “How do you do Mr. So and So.  I’m Dr. Martin.”  She would shake his hand and say:  “Do you mind if these medical students talk about you and examine you?”  She was one of the few professors that did this.  Many professors just walked up to the patient, and ignored any politeness, but Dr. Martin really taught the ethics of medicine.

She seldom gave A’s, but for some reason, she gave me A’s in a 10 or 15 unit class.  It really shot my grade point average up.

I stayed on the faculty for 35 years, and she had Diabetes Ward in the County Hospital and was the senior attending physician.  She always wanted me on what was called “her service”, so I was a junior attending physician to her services group for 30 years.  We used to go to the County Hospital on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, making what they call rounds;  seeing patients and the residents and interns, acting as faculty to the medical students.  Incidentally, that was considered part of your job, so you never got paid for it.  I also was the Chief Physician of the Diabetes Clinic, and ran that for about ten years.

Helen Martin was a graduate of USC and one of the Claremont schools.  She stayed full time faculty all her life and lived to be 100.

Just A Little Thought

“We have a defense

against other defenses,

but who will defend us

against our own?”

Piet Hein, Grook

Low Water Greets Inner Tubers On Rogue River

Last year was an unusually dry one for Southern Oregon, so it is no surprise that the Rogue River is quite low.  This means rocks are poking their heads up at inappropriate places and tree branches are plainly visible.  But the current is not as strong, so if you end up on a rocky bar, you can simply walk to deeper water.  However, a lack of rain, combined with a very warm May, has allowed more moss to grow, so be careful of your footing!  I would recommend sports shoes or boots, not sandals, and, of course, a sturdy flotation device.  The waves are smaller in many rapids, and dodging is more of a requirement, especially in rapids like Rattlesnake or the series of rapids below Casey State Park.  But, on the whole, the river is more forgiving than previous years, and resembles more the pre-Lost Creek Dam years when there was no river control.

For kids, there are more sand bars, beaches, and places where there is no current.  You can simply lie on your back and float.  This is a great time to introduce kids to the fun of being in the river with a minimum of danger.

Whatever age you are, please visit the Rogue River this year and have a great time!