Melinda Petersen has been writing stories and poems since she could first string together a few sentences as a child. Lots of life happenings and detours and interruptions have kept her from writing full time as she once dreamt she would. She is grateful for these choices, especially having children and grandchildren, an interesting working life, and earning an MA in English while her daughters were still young.
Along with writing, Melinda’s passions are reading, a lifelong yoga practice, art history, photography and a childhood legacy of love for the outdoors, especially hiking the forests and mountains of Oregon. She lives in the city with her partner, and is grateful for their lives together and their travels.
Melinda sees writing as both refuge and a portal to the larger world. Her writing has mostly been private, but she is finding great benefit in being part of writing circles such as the former Mountain Writers group and currently with Portland Women Writers. She is grateful to those circles for giving her the gift of other writers’ efforts and the support of the writing community.
Morning Museby Melinda Petersen
I walk with the poet around her still pond, early, even before the crows appear. We move down the long path, breaking the skim of ice in the frost. We move past the trees laden with moss; they likely have no memory of bare arms, chilled and frozen, reaching for the high slate sky. Be brave, the poet tells me, which means be exactly who I am, without shame, without apology. If a crow can be its raucous self, telling all the world its joys and complaints, if it can answer the world with sharp black eyes, who am I to silence my more hesitant self? This is why we write? I ask the poet and she replies well yes, but truly this is why we breathe.
Streamby Melinda Petersen
When it happens, when I am carried as if in an eagle’s talons into the river where you stood, I feel the icy water around your thighs, the sun at your back, beating its rays down the slope of the Cascades that tower around you. This is how I recall you, before I became an adult, before your presence changed from the deep velvet of belonging into the blue light of the rest of the world. I learned from you: how to be still in a river, how to walk across rapids and find rivulets almost hidden in dry brush and dark pools of stillness. I learned from you but could not match your sure-footed and stable hearted sense of being in the wilderness, even though I would grow to want that, later, much later in my own life and following the end of yours. Back then I clamored for attention and time, misunderstanding the deliverance you laid before me: the wild rivers, the cold bite of forest air, the need to tread softly and leave sanctity as I found it. But it was all changing even in your time although we didn’t yet know it. And today I harbor a fantasy that if you came back, you would have the power to bring all of it back with you.
Callingsby Melinda Petersen
Rivers were always sacred for you. You would not have used that word, sacred, to describe something filled with joy, in this case trout fishing. Your wife was gone with the century’s turning more than a hundred years ago, and she who owned the word “sacred” held it tight in the steely grasp of one hand on her little prayer book, her other clutching a handkerchief and a vapor of laudanum. Silent journeys crept between you. Where was a simple fisher of trout to go amongst all those fishers of men? And her fervent faith, how it rose like steam all one winter, so hot she must have burned her fierce fury into your guilt, your desire to flee the perfection of glory before it consumed you. So you found your mistress in rivers of cold icy water, in the sun and silence of streams, in the current of a moving faith: hers with her solace in the hereafter, you with yours on the muddy shores of grace.
Following PathsBy Melinda Petersen
I love hiking with a camera, especially if I am awake enough to the day that I let the camera dangle from my hand and capture what I’m seeing not with aperture and light but with my senses: the tang of air and mist on my skin, the aromatic smell of blackberry vines changing from blossom to berry, the tart taste of dripping rain in the air. And what I see is sacred, and what I hear is even holy, the rush of wind and river and the startled flutter of wings and bird cries overhead. I know as a human I can walk in so much richness it is easily lost on me. I also know if I just keep following the path even as it turns out of sight I am pulling myself into the moment, scrambling across roots and fallen logs and stones and pinecones, feeling the soft cushion of pine needles whose crushed essence fills the air. I am moving; I am still; I am for moments inside something that feels like infinity, like belonging
TreasureBy Melinda Petersen
I am an alien on your shore
a sigh of your breath
a rolling wave in your surf
a cloud aloft in your sky
Show me flowers in your garden and I will become one
Let golden bees drink from my eyes and settle in my hands
I need no explanation
I already feel who it is to be you
and to know your deepest treasure
I am with you on this planet this land this strip of sea edged sand
I delight in our refusal to take any of it for granted
Previously Featured Writing
1873-1959 by Katie Scott
A cascade of soft pink ruffles.
Tight rose lips, red petals, red paper.
A pale pink fortress.
She grips the pale arm of her chair, ready
to plunge through paint and time.
She sets her eyes on you.
Telling you, I
am still here.
A feeding shadow lurks behind her,
threatening to devour the painter's imagination.
But she is resolute.
Forget the sterile darkness of the last five years.
Let me be your patron, she tells him,
and I will let you use my muse.
Right hand softly holds the red rose paper folds.
I know these words are what you think, she says.
But this, here, is what we must do.
Paint me, paint my eyes.
Don't let me become
pale pink forgotten.
Left hand clutches the chair,
trapped by history and assumptions.
She will throw off the silk fluff, the petite pretense,
and become an unstructured advocate.
She is pale pink fortitude
Her piercing gaze fights the rigid silk pink,
forcing me to remember what I gave up.
Locked in a cellar, damp
pink ruffles, trampled.
Silky pink haze,
white petals, pale skin,
This Wind Doesn't Howl by Katie Scott
Cool waves rip through the pines.
Winds become distant rippling waters,
wrapping around my ankles.
Needles flutter, tree trunks bend.
The wind is everywhere at once,
swirling up to me,
lifting my hair,
and running away.
This sound puts me on edge.
I can’t pinpoint the origin,
it comes from no one direction.
It is not a cool summer breeze
in the soft glow of a hot afternoon.
It is the lonely sound of isolation,
the disconcerting sound of air molecules
transforming into a roaring river.
This wind doesn’t howl. It stands
behind me and whispers dry crackling dust.
It steals my voice when I call out,
pulling the thread of each word high
into the branches,
away from those who might hear my cry
Out Here by Katie Scott
This is the best part of the drive,
I know you’ll agree.
Highway 26, headed home,
where the sky gulps down the mountains
and reaches past the edges of what we know.
Our headlights faded to black nothingness
on that long straight road
up high on the plateau.
Remember that night?
When we burst from the deep fir trees,
and the stars demanded that we stop?
Those ancient pinpricks of light
only now reaching our earthy sky
Smuggling Flutes by Katie Scott
Acres of metal boxes and dust, stretching out of frame,
further than you want to imagine.
The children dream of swarming rats and wake up to chip, chip, crawling.
Consequences, mundane practicalities, of millions living unplanned.
The nearest city unprepared, unable to pick up the trash.
Hope is thin.
The world doesn't give a fuck, he says. People are freezing to death.
How dare I make music abroad, he says. What can one person do?
And so he smuggles in flutes,
the Syrian musician and his artist friend.
Pain veiled behind kind, tender eyes.
The girls laugh and sing and clap.
Pounding drums, their headscarves flowing.
They talk about fleeing.
They talk about going back.
It's a moment to feel beyond the metal, dust, and death,
beyond what you are.
A moment to practice hope.
Isn't that worth sharing?
Isn't that as essential as food?
20 Things You Most Likely Haven’t Heard About My Apartment by Brigid Bello
My apartment is so teeny-tiny that it is hard for me to fathom how twenty things of any significance could even fit inside.
There are way more than twenty significant things inside of my apartment.
When my mother found out the address and drove by, rumor has it that she went home and cried. Because of the motels across the street and the street itself and because of what she saw of the outside of the apartment.
My mother has been inside my apartment two times. One for each year that we’ve lived here.
We have upwards of seven types of hot sauce in our minuscule kitchen.
Upwards of eight cast iron skillets.
Six cutting boards.
An excessive amount of chopsticks and not a single wine glass.
There are no dogs allowed in our apartment. Even though our landlord loves dogs and has two herself...
Seems kind of messed up if you ask me.
I never. Ever. Hear the neighbor whose apartment shares one wall with our apartment. It is probably just a very thick wall, but sometimes I worry that she’s a ghost. Or, spookier, that she’s simply very quiet and can hear our every word and movement quite clearly.
We’ve had friends over for dinner a mere five times in this apartment.
I can count off on my fingers the number of times that I have been to the Taco Bell across the street from my apartment. I think this is an accomplishment, though I wish I could say I only needed one hand.
This one time, some dude screamed himself hoarse right outside. He banged on the windows and circled the building and we turned off all the lights and locked the doors until he wandered away.
I could break into that apartment in under three minutes.
I was very skilled at locking myself out.
We got married while we were living in that apartment.
There was some kind of safety mechanism on the faucet of the tub that never let the water get above luke warm.
It was really affordable.
We had a puppy in that apartment for a week and a half before we moved. Don’t tell anybody.
Firsts by Brigid Bello
I’m twenty-one and in London, studying abroad. Apparently he’s travelling the world, “studying life.” An unplaceable accent and barely-there smile stop me from laughing in his face at that line. But no actually he’s got plans to be a DJ or something.
Wearing worn out tennis shoes at an overpriced bar, he has appealing dreadlocks, a green track jacket, and no place to stay that night (though that last one doesn’t come up until later). We’re both half Nigerian. I want to say his name is Tony. The kiss is straight up asked for, denied, and then later gifted unexpectedly. Stolen? The same whiskey gingers that fuel the evening make it difficult to remember specifics.
Everything is closed and there’s a lone suitcase sitting outside one of the stores that sells suitcases. I steal it for no reason on our way back to my flat where I shatter a glass and have second thoughts— first thoughts really. I had hit my head falling from the monkey bars on that playground where we sat overlapped in a tire swing and swapped stories about lucid dreaming and who knows what else.
It’s on the cheek and two hours too late. I sloppily mumble something about how I don’t think my program actually allows overnight guests as I usher him downstairs, still in his socks, handing him his sneakers as I close the gate.
The Strength of Mothers by Natalie Hirt
I know my great-grandmother was strong. She had to be. Her name was Luz, meaning “light” or “to bring forth life.” I remember seeing her in the nursing home, her gray braid longer than my brown one. It ran the whole length of her back. She, an indigenous Mexican woman who’d borne eleven children to pick crops up and down the California coast.
I know my grandmother was strong. Grandma, handing out food to immigrants passing through San Ysidro, fugitives from Immigration. And the grandchildren saying, “Don’t feed them!” But Grandma saying, “Shh. They’re our people, too.” This grandma walked back and forth from one country into the next to make sure her children were not fugitives. They would be born U.S. citizens, all except one—my mother—was born in Mexico.
And I know my mother has the strength of all the women before her. She’s given me the stories of how hard life was in Mexico, and how hard life is here. My mother, who found me crying because the cousins were making fun of my Spanish. “Mama, they say because I don’t like nopales and I don’t speak Spanish like them, I’m not really Mexican.”
“Shh,” she said. “I did it that way on purpose. When I was working at the chicken ranch I said my children will never do this work. I said my children will go to school with the white kids. They will be smart and have an easier life. So I married a white man. That’s why your daddy is white. That’s why you don’t eat nopales and I didn’t teach you Spanish.”
But what my mother failed to see was that because she wasn’t an American citizen, that white man she married would meanly say he’d just send her back to Mexico and keep us kids if she didn’t straighten up. When I got up to help her, to keep him from killing her, I was too small to save her. She was too afraid to call the police. So it was me in my Cinderella nightgown who ran down the black alley while he burned our furniture in the fireplace, breaking it down stick by stick. I ran to a neighbor’s house and told them he was going to hurt my mother. They called the police, and that night no one was taken away.
At their 50th wedding anniversary my mother announced to all at the dinner party that marriage is hard. She said she watches TV with a laundry basket on her head so he cannot stare at her. He knows she hates to be stared at. So there is my mother watching TV through the slats of an upside down laundry basket. She has taught me survival in the deepest sense of the word.
Cooking with spice by Natalie Hirt
Seems like everything my mother cooked had comino. Comino in the tacos. Comino in the mole or enchiladas. All day and into the evening my mother had big cast iron pots bubbling with roasted chile and sauces. A cauldron of homemade beans. It was how she kept the house warm because we didn’t have heat. At night she left the oven door open and I stood with my back to it, the backs of my knees so close I could feel the burn, and ohhh! The warmth.
She fed everyone in the family and my friends, too. Anyone who came home with me after school. She, rolling out flour tortillas and us taking each mouthwatering warm tortilla with oozing butter dripping.
There was even the homeless guy who came up to the door. “Hello!” he yelled when my mother opened the door.
“Yes?” she said.
“I want breakfast,” he said.
She was taken aback. This was new. Who did he think he was? “No,” she said. “You want to go down the street. The shelter is that way. They have breakfast there.”
“I want this breakfast!” he demanded.
What do you do? My mother closed the door on him, but came back with a burrito de huevos y papitas con chorizo. She handed it to him, and in the same gruff way, she said, “Now go away!” She pointed down the street. “That way. Go there.”
Once when I was sixteen, I had an afterschool job filing paperwork in a law firm. My boss offered to drive me home from work so I wouldn’t have to wait for a ride. He owned the law firm. I didn’t want him to see where I lived. But he insisted I get in his fancy car. “It’s going to get dark soon,” he said.
At the house, he asked if he could come in and use the phone. I about died. No—I didn’t want him to come inside. But what could I say?
So he followed me in. I tried to warn my mother by calling out ahead. “Mama, Mr. Heiting is here. He wants to use the phone.”
The house smelled wondrous of roasted chile and cominos. All that food cooking. And my mother looking adorable.
But I’ll never forget watching him stand there, phone to ear with his eyes tracking the cockroach walking in circles on the ceiling. I watched him look around my little house taking it all in, all 800 sq. feet. The broken windows, the cockroaches, the matted carpet, and my mother smiling as she stirred the rice. And my heart broke.
I was in my twenties before I realized comino was really cumin. What a weird word, I thought. Cumin. It sounds so much more natural as comino. And it tastes better, too.
All That Matters by Natalie Hirt
He’s taken to saving squirrels in his old and mellow years. It’s hard for me to reconcile this doddering old man with trembling hands with the one I grew up with. Today he tells me he’s been trapping squirrels in a cat trap—one about every day, if not every day.
They have a large plot of land with various fruit trees. They have orange trees, lemon, avocado, figs, persimmons, pomegranate, just all kinds of trees. And tons of fruit.
Dad says, “I don’t mind sharing. If they want an avocado or an orange, and whatnot. Go ahead! There’s plenty for all of us. But the rascals, they gotta take a bite out of each one. Every dang avocado and orange has a bite taken out’ve it.”
He says he takes the squirrels to the local park. “You know, I don’t want them to be unhappy or get hurt. So I take them to where they got the lake for water nearby and across the little road is the old veteran’s center. I figure they can find some scraps there, maybe some French fries, or bread if they need it. And then there’s the rose garden. They got that, too.”
“That sounds real nice, Dad. I’m sure they’re all happy.” I can’t help grinning the whole time.
He says he’s taken so many over there they’ve gotten to where they all come out and greet the latest trapped squirrel when he goes to drop it off.
He said, “They come out of the palm trees and wait. And they sit there and snicker all together. Then they greet each other like they’re happy to see him. Like he’s a long lost son or something.”
All that matters is that the squirrels are happy.
"In this vital new collection of poems by Ash Good, desire for the sacred, desire for oneness with the Beloved, becomes a journey and a story. This journey/story begins with visionary observations such as “the universe fits in that two-man tent,” and concludes with the epiphany-like acknowledgment of “the gauze/of the thing/that connects everything.” Here, inner life and outward existence—spirit and body—are both given their due in a voice as spare and natural as Gary Snyder’s, as insightful and alchemical as Rumi’s. Open These Things Will Never Happen Quite Like That Again, read it cover to cover, and enter the sacred and sensuous space created by this gifted poet. You will want to reside there."
—Gail Wronsky, author of So Quick Bright Things
"These Things Will Never Happen Quite Like That Again is a read-in-one-sitting kind of book—and then you read it again to see where you’ve been. It’s not a poem, except when it is. It’s too impressionistic to be called a memoir—but aren’t impressions all we have? It’s not a story—or is it? What it is is: a word-being that refuses classification. It couldn’t care less what you call it; in fact, by the end, you may be more concerned about what it calls you. A critic might call it experimental but I call it a voice, utterly alive, tough, lyrical, concrete always, sensual always—a voice telling us, from the title on, truths as basic and vital as These Things Will Never Happen Quite Like That Again."
—Michael Ventura, February 2017
The paperback and ebook of These Things Will Never Happen Quite Like That Againwill be widely available at BN.com, Amazon.com, KOBO.com, Kindle & Google Books. The audio book with be forthcoming shortly on Audible.com. Pre-orders of author-signed editions can be ordered at:
Poems from These Things Will Never Happen Quite Like That Again ~
“My greater self rose before me”†
Once you hit the windmills, you’re finally out
of Los Angeles. Well into the desert, well on
your way to nowhere.
We ride the Guzzi there, geared up, a heavy sail
of a pack on my back. The winds blow wild
across the highway and our bike floats,
leaned at forty degrees, skipping
from one side of a lane to another.
The yellow lines go straight until they disappear
past the earth’s curve. My abs ache when
we roll up to Joshua Tree alongside
a ’round-the-world-traveler from Spain.
His Kawasaki’s hardbags are covered
in sticker souvenirs of lands his two wheels
have already conquered.
Chronos makes friends fast.
We share a site, setting our tent high
up in boulders next to a desert bush
of honey flowers.
I make dinner over fire and later we try
to explain when we offer him a brownie—
They’re special brownies. You know, like, weed?
He shakes his head and takes a bite of half of one.
Like, magic brownies? Cannabis?
He knows that word.
His eyes grow wide and he spits the second half out.
What will happen?
Chronos howls hysterically.
You’ll get a real good night’s sleep.
In the morning I rise
and Chronos has run off
to run up rocks
and our Spaniard companion is
still quiet in his tent.
I look at the glass pipe that smells like burning
tires, I look at the little crystals tawny and tacky
in the bag. Have you ever smoked this stuff
they make from an acacia tree?
I lay down inside and before I’m done
inhaling she starts dancing above me.
The universe fits in that two-man tent
while she’s a queen hypnotizing
the creosote’s bees.
Their vibrations fuel
the sole sound wave of being.
The quiet realizing happens
that I’m watching god,
that I’m watching me.
† With gratitude to Lucille Clifton’s it was a dream
On my way here
A stranger walks down the sidewalk, pretty
sarong, all noble in reds. Every fabric that swaths
her looks of the hand that weaves it, dyes it, sews
it. Hair golden wild, brushed by sleep and sunshine.
Tan over shadows of triceps and trim pelvic bones.
Alighting barefoot on the cement, soft steps,
purposeful motion pushing that baby stroller.
I expect her baby to be (just as he is) steeped
in this mother and our Mother alike. Planted strong
in this that grows us, she plods about with enough
sense to know where she comes from, even while
navigating this strange paved way through hardware
stores and traffic lights. I want to be like this.
But I am driving.
This stranger invites me to remember that
I live forever in the bask of two summers ago
when us sacred seven get lost in ancient trees
and fall over counting how many greens and
untie our sneakers to let mud in between
our toes. We roll down grassy hills and believe
this circle will be our people forever.
Sierra and I listen to secrets of conifer seeds
and I scour the floor to weave a nest the size
of my outstretched arms. Love holds her crystal
ball but we don’t care about the future and when
dry twigs crackle and my woven altar is blazed,
burgeoning, Mother knows we are here from the
They say it is a sacred space
I always think it is beautiful then—
the big arches, the wooden planked ceiling,
the long benches. The place I sing hymns.
My kindergarten teacher stands up in front
there and says with the same conviction
that she names the colors
that one day (we just don’t know which one)
we’ll all rise up out of here, out of our clothes,
through the pretty wood ceiling,
up to heaven to be with god.
I always think it is beautiful there.
Until I watch my daddy confess his sins, crying,
then dipped clean, still not sure he is whole.
Until I watch mama go kneel before that god
who hasn’t taken me yet, sobbing, surrendered,
broken. The frail old lady behind me
has a perfect silver updo and her voice
sings soprano. Holy. Holy. Holy is the Lord God
Almighty. The man is red faced while he yells
about the ways I should be.
They say it is a sacred space.
I roll out my afghan and light
a dollar store Jesus candle.
When I burn the palo santo
this place is sacred.
When the spot in the center cracks open raw
my grandmother’s grandmother’s great-
grandmother sings with me,
Remember sweet child, remember you’re okay,
and you’re the whole thing.
Everything here is for you
You made it just for you
When you die you return to
read these words you forgot you wrote
to remind you that you’ve forgotten
and nothing else.
The Sovereign Self: A Contemplative Writing Retreat for Womenwas held in the end of October at the Historic Balch Hotel in Dufur, Oregon, where the Columbia Gorge meets Oregon's high desert. This retreat was an opportunity for women to step away from the demands and loves of daily living in order to reconnect with their creative spirit and the Sovereign Queen within. For more information about this retreat, click here.
The following pieces were written by some of the beautiful and compassionate women who participated.
Infinity of SeasonsBy Lisa Kagan
I walk out alone in the crisp morning the mountain lifts her skirt of clouds her strength is in simply being generations of rock sculpted by an infinity of seasons.
Orange BlossomsBy Lisa Kagan
My queen has a torrent of bright orange blossoms flooding out of her heart orange like the rind of fresh citrus shockingly orange so it makes you stop and take notice she is not surprised by her own brilliance though sometimes it overtakes her
I am not one for palaces or crowns I am not so much drawn to the heaviness of jewels and stones but more to the lightness of water her strength has buoyancy to it that is part of her magnetism I know she is close by when I am floating in solitude and a few of her warm petals wash up on my shores
I know that the color of my power is revealed in the tides of my heart I allow brilliance to enter me in the darkness.
Living ThroneBy Anne Richardson
My Queen swims from heart to lungs
out through the songs
sung by ancestors’ mothers’ mothers
She inhales fern spores into her heart
where she swirls them in her caldron
brimming with the frankincense, lavender, myrrh poultice
spreading through cell walls,
radiating her beauty like the skin of red bartlett pear
My Sovereign Queen is unadorned,
for she relishes her softness
as bounty after rain soaks the hills in spring
feeling stretch of sinews
of her thighs from birthing ideas,
her breasts wet with nurturing,
her arms bulging from carrying them
until they are ripe enough to
thrive on their own
She is naked except the small emerald stone
hanging on a chain between her breasts
She moves from heart to womb
cell to cell
creation to death
Embodying her throne
UntitledBy Betsy Langton
I now understand, in the Buddhist tradition why it suggests that it can take upwards of 10,000 lifetimes or more to fully wrap a fleece of compassion around myself and to breath with ease. The race is over and only love abides, the mystery is my container.
Who am I?
I am Betsy. My mom gave me the perfect name- energetic, outbound, adventuresome and curious. That’s how I see her choice. Thank you Mom.
I am a mom, a sister, an orphan who used to be a daughter. I am an aunt and I am a friend.
This is a big question- to avoid psychological terms, spiritual endeavors, identify with my livelihood- how can I just sit here in this circle in quiet, being another human working through probably the 2 thousandth of 20 lifetimes left to love- when will I sit amidst the stars in my full glory along with all other beings- no more seeking, just floating?
I don’t want to brand myself- oh, I do this, I do that, even though what I do does give me a reference point to go out from everyday. I feel another layer of fear and replace it with wonder- I swaddle myself in love. I’ll be back to the questions of self and connection to the mystery that will one day tell me- like the questions that the free radicals sing about: did the captain of the titanic cry or what does the wind say when it cry’s or did Sampson really love Delilah? I just don’t really know much.
The Queen of Highway 216By Jeanmarie Riquelme
What is realm?
And even more than realm--
I am like that black calf who
with all the vast grange arrayed
presses her nose
against the fence.
Whence these limits?
The scent of wild sage contains
the sum of my power:
it roams on air
then settles in the dust.
the total of my nobility
in this haphazard stack of hives,
neglect of a lazy beekeeper.
an old crow
tugging at roadkill
the truck bearing down.
I hold the road
between two rivers:
There is no realm
more than the waterfall
pouring itself without cease,
no belonging more
than the falling rock.
NamingBy Karen Waters
Facing a dark abyss
I cry to myself, I don't know I don't know
Karen, that name seems an assumed identify
Who was I when I was born?
What is the name that would have connected to my history
rooted me in this world
And carried me through this life?
A dark abyss, an assumed identify.
Reveal me, I cry
By Allie Hein
My name is Sadie. It hasn’t always been Sadie, but now it is. The name my parents gave me, well, I’m not going to tell you that because then you’d see me in a different way, and I only want you to see me now, not make guesses about me based on my old name. It wasn’t really my name anyway, see. My parents gave it to me and the way the story goes, they had a big fight about it, and my dad stormed out of the hospital, and my mom named me before he could get back and interfere. So, my name is Sadie and that’s the end of it. I chose it, gave it to myself as a gift, all wrapped up in legal papers, and signed by a judge. So Sadie really is my name, and the way I found out is that one day I went to the library and I took out one of those baby name books. It was called 500 names for girls, and I opened the book and I started with the A’s and I stood up tall and looked at myself in the mirror and I tried out each name one at a time. It took me 6 weeks, and by the time I got to the S’s I was starting to lose hope. What if I couldn’t find my real name, and I got to the Z’s and nothing really fit? I know there’s probably other books, but I don’t know if I could’ve faced starting with the A’s again in another book. But then, there it was. Sadie. Isn’t it a pretty name? It just fits me perfectly don’t you think?
I didn’t have a normal girlhood, because nobody knew I was a girl. I knew, of course, and I don’t think I was the only one. I think my brother Ned knew too. Ned’s dead now, died of AIDS in ’95. Those were the early days, before AZT even, and I miss him all the time. I think he really saw who I am, who I was, but in general, my girlhood was my secret. I had a best girlfriend, her name was Karen, and that was very ok because everyone thought that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and after raising my gay brother, my parents were relieved to have a child behaving the way the neighbors would expect. But I knew that we were girlfriends, and she was so kind to me, never objecting to my wanting to braid her hair, or asking her to try on 6 different outfits for me before we went to the movies. Maybe it was better in some ways, because I never would have fit in with the girls in my town, and because they thought I was a boy, I was already a kind of alien, so my odd ways didn’t make so much of a difference to them. It’s also true that Karen was my shield. We could just sit together and talk and laugh, the way you do with a girlfriend, and it always felt so natural.
I always said that if a man hit me, that would be it. I’d leave him, and no waiting around to decide, or to hear him apologize, no accepting gifts, or make-up sex. None of that for me. I’ve seen down that road, and I know where it takes you, and I told myself I’m not going there, not ever. But that was before the time it really happened, and I knew, really knew that when he apologized, he really did mean it. That when I ran out of the apartment, and down into the basement, and he ran after me saying, “I’m sorry, that was wrong, I’ll never do that again, I didn’t even mean to do it this time” I could believe him. I knew he’d been looking and looking for work, and finding nothing, and both his fancy college degree, and his parent’s money didn’t seem to be helping him to get the kind of respect he deserved. And he did deserve it. He was smart, a poet, and he never met a situation that couldn’t be improved with a pun. So when he ran after me, into the basement and he grabbed my arm and tears ran down his face and he pleaded “forgive me, please forgive me” I, still stunned, as much from the fact of the blow as from the blow itself, said “Yes.” Of course, I understand, you didn’t mean to, it was just so many things converging all at once and I happened to say, do, that one more thing that was too much, the tipping point and his hand flew off of his too much to handle, and crashed against my face and he really, really was so sorry. So I went back up the four flights of stairs, slowing as we got closer to the door, and I felt my heart beating hard, from exertion, or maybe from defeat, thinking, it was just this one time, it’ll never happen again, thinking, if this could happen once, it could happen again, thinking, I can’t think about this, I’ll forget, and never think about this, again. It’ll never happen if I just don’t think about it, it never happened. I can stay.
I can’t explain the mess I was born into. They are such hippy, groovy weirdos, and they think everything is always so fine, and everyone should just accept each other, but they are so wrong! There are some things that are normal, and you know they’re normal because that’s what everyone does, and it’s not as if you have to decide about these things. What’s normal just IS. I always knew that once I got done with high school I’d get away from this sucky weirdness and be a normal person. Lots of my friends can’t stand their parents, and couldn’t wait to get away, but that was for normal reasons - like they weren’t allowed to date, or they couldn’t drive the car. Me, I couldn’t wait to get away so that I could have the kind of organized, normal life my parents deprived me of. I just want to be in the kind of family where there was one mother and one father and they went to work and came home and made sure the kids ate and did their homework. All I ever got was, “find your own bliss,” and “hey, I want you to meet my new friend,” and “do what you think is right.” They don’t even wear normal clothes. Everyone else wears jeans and my dad shows up in a utilikilt and my mom has some velvet dress that dusts the floor when she walks.
by Kirstin Lichtfield
My Magical Shape-shifting Friend
A friend is coming over this week. She’s going to help me out, help me get ready for Christmas, do a little babysitting, coach me some.
She’s a shape-shifter, changing from my younger self to my future self and back again, over and over. She is the fun Young Me, the one who organized huge events and still had energy left over to mingle with the big wigs, worry-free. But in an instant she is the wise, Older Me, the me I hope to be, who can sit still and listen and who looks back on the Now Me with a gentle heart and decades of perspective. Both of these women live in my friend, the one who is coming over to help.
The house is so dirty. The family photo Christmas cards were just ordered last night and it’s already December eighteenth. Baby is sick again. It’s a good thing my friend has magical powers. Which version of her will sit beside my father-in-law when he requests yet another iPhone tutorial? And then who will it be when my mother-in-law asks the same question fifteen minutes later? Thank goodness for my dear friend.
And what will I—the Real Me—do while my friend is wiping Baby’s nose? Telling Husband that he can’t possibly wear those pants with that shirt? Setting the cat food tray on the floor in front of the wild hungry beasts?
I will watch and breathe.
Through the Open Doorway
Through the open doorway, I could hear my parents talking.
“Do you think we just need to…pull the plug?” Mom said.
My eyes filled with tears. Panic froze me. They had been talking about Tom, our cat since I was two. My cat.
I searched my brain for a different meaning to her question. At nine I knew exactly what she meant, but I didn’t want to believe it. Maybe she meant…some slang about his injury? Something about the money for the vet?
They really didn’t know I could hear them.
Why I Write
Inspired by Terry Tempest Williams
I write because I choke when I try to say it out loud.
I write to say the things we were silently forbidden to say in my family.
I write to figure out men.
I write to make sense of it all.
I write when a wave of realization slaps me and reminds me yet again that things are not black and white—I have found a gray area—I write because no one told me about all the gray areas.
I write because I am in love.
I write because I am pissed off.
I write because I am a mother.
I write because I feel joy.
by April Arevalo
I’m afraid I dreamed you up.
When you were in the womb, I cared
too much and prayed too loudly.
You were born my brother, but we’ll die
I know I loved you too much.
Did you know our mother once confided
that her family felt incomplete?
That she also wished me a sister.
Will you tell her I helped you choose a name?
A name so beautiful and so ripe
for picking, when you told me
I could see the pulp seeping from your lips.
You were plucked too soon from
the branch and had to soften
in a cellar. But now we can
feast, and sit, bellies full
at the sight of our past.
I didn’t send you the flowers
with no name that made your
wife mad when she saw them
after her very long day that just wouldn’t end and
was only made worse by
your insistence that they weren’t
for you--because who would
send a man flowers in
the middle of the week and
who would send them the
old fashioned way by
calling a florist
and having them delivered
to an office where there
may be witnesses,
but thank you for thinking of me.
I make excuses for not spending
the night. The dog. The traffic.
I leave my toothbrush at home.
I stay long enough to hear you speak softly
in your sleep. I do this because
I want to watch you dream.
I make lists of all the things you say
that seem to matter.
Collect them in my cheeks,
like a little hamster. I scurry home
to spit them out. Enjoy each one
like a pomegranate seed, ruby rich.
I stain my fingers with your attention.
I want to remember everything for when
I have nothing.
I am a thief. I watch you
from a distance, call for you, collect
my treasure and disappear.
I have been gasping for air
since you left me.
I have air since you
I have left me.
I have me, left.
by Debby Stinton
I Saw a Hula Dancer
My husband and I picked Oregon because of the cooler weather and the coast. We both love the beach and ocean.
In a moment of deep sadness over the weekend, we talked about the coast and how even though we have been there about 10 times since moving, we haven’t really been able to enjoy it. Or at least I haven’t. I tried when we took the dogs. I ran with them into the cold water, all of us going around in circles. I watched them run and chase and have fun. Russ is always content to walk on the sand smoking a cigar. I enjoy walking, but not when it’s really cold. We’ve been there to look at the ocean on cold days, but we run back to the car faster than we walked out to the beach.
We've been married almost ten years and during those years, and before our move to Oregon, we would take a trip to Redondo Beach about once a year. We would stay in a hotel near the beach, walk everywhere, eat at Scotty’s on the Strand, and lay in the sun. Or I would lay in the sun and Russ would play in the water for a long time. We laughed and had good times there. We always hated the drive back to Arizona.
Our new beach days are nothing like our old beach days. I loved those times. The times we’ve been to the Oregon Coast, I’ve enjoyed it, but it hasn't been the same. When we were in Arizona we planned vacations to cooler places, but now that we're here, I think of the sand and the sun and my little hula girl there.
I’ve always wanted to rent a beach house and invite all the kids. I thought it would be so much fun. When Rick was young, my friend Lisa and her son Tyler and my sister and her two boys made it down to Rocky Point a couple of times. We would play in the water, lay out on the beach, buy trinkets from the Mexican vendors carrying their ankle bracelets and other pieces of jewelry down the beach.
We would go to Manny’s and all the boys would request the Backstreet Boys from the DJ and then do a funky dance routine out on the dance floor. We moms would eventually join in the dancing comradery and laugh the night away.
Those are beach days. I’ve always wanted a beach house, even though I lived in Arizona, so I did the next best thing and decorated my condo in a beach theme. I decorated my house with Mexican trinkets. A sign hung outside the front door - Mi Casa es su Casa.
I loved the days in Mexico and Redondo Beach. Those were beach days. My husband says living near the coast is his top priority. It would be mine too if only we had every one here to enjoy it with us.
The Center of my Being
Or the loneliness of the mountain
I am here. Lost
Purple and orange sky
Caught my eye
And took me back
To another place
In the hole of me
Flowers grew more readily
In the distance
Its majesty whispers
You are not alone
Come let me cradle you
prayers will be answered
As my earthen body envelopes you
Soothing the weariness
Permeating the sinews
Binding the brokenness
Holding the fragility…
I stare endlessly
At your beauty hoping
Surety will fall like
Snow, covering you
And filling me.
The following writing was done by participants in Donnella Wood's monthly workshop this spring entitled "Writing the Story of our Pelvis: Deepening our Connection."
When I set out to offer writing and experiential anatomy workshops on the female pelvis through Portland Women Writers, I knew that powerful experiences and material would be sourced, but the impact of the writing and the transformations that took place in the workshops even surprised me.
It reminded me that sourcing stories from our body and calling upon our innate intelligence can awaken what needs to be remembered, witnessed, and known. In Writing the Story of Our Pelvis we embodied our uterus, ovaries, and pelvic bones. We felt the energy of our pelvic floor muscles and the voluminous nature of breath. We revisited the past when the Pelvis was sacred. And we danced, cried, grieved, laughed, and delighted in awakening our female landscape.
Mostly we paid attention and made as one participant said, “sacred promises” to honor ourselves. Included below are some of those promises in poems and prose written by a few workshop participants.
We invite you to settle in, breath into your pelvis, and receive.
Being Held by Debbie Baxter
The warmth of being held
You don't have to look away
To be with that place
To boldly hold yourself as no one else can
There is a baby wanting to be held
Wanting to feel the warmth of your body
Wanting to feel the love of your presence
Abandoned she has felt
Separated from the heart beat that she considered God
Separated from the one that loved her like no other
Holding the crying child within
Wanting to turn away from the pain
Crying for her
Crying for me
Crying Crying Crying out for someone else to do what only I can
Love Letter by Elena Weisenthal
I am only here for a short time, a moment, before I recede and all traces are swept up into mother ocean.
I walk on the shore with my dog. He is 10. He walks ahead of me, his footprints disappearing several steps behind him, filling in with sand and salt and water. In that moment of sun and surf sound, I know he will go ahead of me; a sigh of relief, but I will follow.
He does not look back at his receding footprints in the sand, so I do not look back at mine. He notices something new ahead, picks up his gait and moves forward.
This body, I have a prayer for you, a mother’s plea. Keep me as your passenger for as long as I can be contained. I will fill up your bowl with moonlight and rain, sunlight and sandy shores and loamy soil and poetry and stories. I will use your hands with intention. I will love you and tend you and I will use you to love. To mother my child. To soothe my husband. To pull my vital self from its hidden places and grow, and show, and unfold my many petals, a magnolia blossom reaching skyward before the rains come, revealing my beautiful interior until I fall apart and petals sink back to soil, sweep back to sea.
This Journey by Molly Knott
There are leaf-strewn
That one meanders slowly.
And this journey
Is not that.
No, the journey back
To my pelvis
Is one of dark and haunted halls,
Pulse racing, fingers groping
Cold walls for some familiar feature
To help find my way back home.
Alone, sometimes fearful as I
Make my way through the black passages,
But then their voices begin to emerge.
These other walkers, navigating
Their own journey back to the cave of our emergence.
The voices, they illuminate
Like a brief spark of flint on wood.
I will light the fire in the cave
So that the others may see I found my way.
By Jillian Rhodes
Inside there is a bowl.
bowl of sorrow bowl of shame bowl of desire that must not be named
but was and is and the aftermath— the wreckage— lives here in this bowl
bowl of you are bowl of please don't be that bowl of space and dimension muscle, bone, tissue, fat
bowl of tears bowl of blood bowl of drought bowl of flood
bowl of joy bowl of grief bowl of doubt and disbelief
a barren desert a fertile crescent a baby that was and then—
bowl of pleasure bowl of pain bowl of anger and disdain
bowl of Yes! bowl of No! bowl of I've had it. fuck you. just go.
bowl of more, please bowl of enough bowl of fragile bowl of tough
bowl of sacred bowl of mundane bowl of let go bowl of refrain
bowl of I won't bowl of consent bowl of keep going bowl of relent
bowl of silence bowl of rage bowl of youth bowl of age
bowl of daughter bowl of mother bowl of self bowl of other
bowl of life bowl of death—
I still myself, fill you with breath
and vow to keep listening and vow to speak when the time comes.
By Rose Neal
I’m tired of remembering this story, the story of shame about being a woman, about being me. There is no more shame, no more judgement, condescendence or ridicule. There is no space for that in my being. The essence of my being is sacred. The receptive vessel of my feminine core is strong, wise, infinitely creative and loving. The power of its force is finally being acknowledged and it wants no part of the patriarchal mockery that has poisoned our women and families.
Unearthing Truth from the debris of illusion and pain is sacred work that isn’t easy nor does it draw any attention. But it is, and always will be the cornerstone of who we really are.
My womb has held three lives that have emerged into this messy world of ours. When we create we must release our creations and trust the process that goes beyond us. How often do we hold back in this process? Contracting into identifying as the maker, the sole custodian of which direction this creation grows. Creations will grow, creations will change, they will morph into unrecognizable images that only hint at their maker.
My womb is not done creating although the physical birth will not expel the fruit of this next gestation. Tenderly I touch this space of me, the enclosed nest within my core. Inquisitive, curious, supportive and encouraging I bow to the possibilities, the unknowing of the fruit but aware of the gestation.
Canyon Passageway (draft)by Birch Dwyer
She leans back against a sun-warmed rock
a lowering sun, the canyon cliff rising before her
in striated fire, the sandstone around her legs
a cradle, warm and secure.
She breathes in sage and pinion
she breathes in the rocks’ largesse
she imagines how long they have been there
the wind and water they have witnessed
how long they will outlive her.
Caressing the honey-colored stone
she remembers stone goddesses from her college days
Venus of Willendorf and the Sleeping Goddess of Malta.
She closes her eyes and imagines the rocks around her as goddesses
with dimpled rumps and lichened thighs, rising from their appointed seats
to circle big-stoned bellies in slow time, rounded rhythms
finger bells and whisper-light ankles, deep-bellied breathing
resounding against canyon walls and echoing back,
their bodies so massive that when they finally
settle back down against her with titters and giggles
their warmth and weight nearly bowls her over
loosening all that she was spoon-fed
all that she was groomed to be.
She too gets up, in a haze gathers courage.
Stares her death cage in the eyes.
Sees it for what it is and who it serves.
Calling forth her own deep-bellied breath
she places her hands on slats and rips the cage
apart with rage, all those oh-so-comfortable beliefs
loosening, well-hammered nails and wirey bits torn asquew,
her limbs so marred and scratchy that finally
she can’t help but throw it all off the edge
with a gravely umph and heft
down into the canyon
down into copperfire abyss
the sound of it a birth rattle
full of terrible longing
the allegiance she must let go of
the allegiance she burns down now
beneath the curve of the evening’s moon.
This Power by Donnella Wood
What is power
An electrical charge
An on/off switch
A hand holding a wand
A land at its mercy
Eyes that only see through tunnels
Billowing buildings obscuring light
This is not that kind of power
This power knows breath
and the way the foot finds the floor
It wraps an arm around a shoulder
and brings life into the World
This power is a wild horse
galloping gracefully through open meadows and rugged landscapes
She lingers alone under trees and nuzzles bark and skin
She sees from the sides of her body
quietly and softly taking in
This power has been traumatized
It has been asked to mask herself
To be brightly lit lace
I know the mask of her sexuality
The “putting on”, “the need to be” “10 things that will make him Wild in bed”
This is something else
This power is a foreign landscape
A distant past
A shamed child
A wondering nomad
A longing heart
An unnourished land whose roots are there
burrowing down into their dirt dark caves
waiting for their next spring
by Kristine Backes
I am learning to claim the voice of authority, of sovereignty, of my own Life. This is surprisingly new, coming as it is in mid-life. I have spent the largest part of my life to date tagging along on others’ authority - mostly men and a few women: father, husbands, bosses, teachers. Now it is time to let go and stand on my own. I did not even know I was ready for this, although there had been signs. Resistance was showing up with even the most beloved teacher over the past year. That same resistance had gotten me to walk away from past teachers, two husbands, business partners, and others. I had thought the resistance was something to overcome - “learn to surrender” - in the overlapping voices of a former teacher as well as my own inner critic. But it turned out that my resistance was the voice of my own true self. No wonder she is so hard to ignore!
But I still didn’t expect the command that came at the end of the Soulfire retreat: Let go of teachers. The crystal clear words were unmistakable. They came as part of a meditation on one of the last days of our week together. The guided session had started with a question about what the soul most wanted to experience, and ended with asking about what was in the way of the soul’s full expression. While the first answers were fuzzy and lacking impact, the instruction for what needed to happen next, what was in the way and needed to be released, came immediately, unexpectedly, as a complete, clear phrase: Let go of teachers.
I have learned that when the words in my head are accompanied by strong emotion, they come from a deep and true place. When this direction came to me, I felt immediate shock and grief. I even wrote ‘OH SHIT!’ in my journal. This was not what I had wanted or expected to hear; I did not want to give up my beloved teacher. Yet I knew this was right and necessary and what was more, that my teacher himself would be the first to second my soul’s voice if I were to ask.
As this new direction settled in over the days after the retreat, it became clear to me that it was part and parcel of the process of reclaiming my voice, my own voice, my sovereign voice and authority. The journey began long before I did, and it continues.
I know what it is to need silence, to escape the voices in my head that tell me nasty things about myself and others, that comment and critique around the clock, telling me what I like, what I don’t like, what is good and what is bad. I have found that I need silence like I need air or water; it feeds my soul. The spaces behind and in between sounds and thoughts show what is there all the time, the ground from which it all springs.
There is silence, of course, in sleep when I get past the dreams into that still place. But that is not a conscious silence, even though it feeds and replenishes me. And I can’t find it at will, can’t shut down the dreams to notice the quiet.
I have learned to find my own waking silence consciously, sometimes through meditation, sometimes through simply sitting still for a moment. Not without fail; there are still many times when the mind covers it over. Yet I now know It is always there, and there is such peace in just knowing the silence is never absent. I wonder if this same silence is what calls to those that decide to leave this Earth so soon, prematurely.
We have done our damnedest, in our world today, to cover the silence and distract ourselves from it. Music - 24/7 for many; television; chatter; constant stimulation; 100 different kinds of yogurt at the grocery store along with flickering fluorescent lights; rushing around from place to place in busyness - all to hold the silence and darkness at bay.
But silence calls like a siren, no matter how loud the distractions. Until I answered its call, I don’t think I realized that not only is it friendly, it is the origin of Life itself. Life springs from that very silence.
I want to spend more time in silence, in solitude. It has been my balm for nearly as long as I can remember, often in nature, sometimes in the company of books. I simply can't spend too long around noise and stimulation and people who want to talk all the time without coming away depleted and exhausted.
Have I always been this way? I’m not sure. Much of my career was spent talking, socializing, communicating. I think there was a time when I pushed away the silence and along with it, things I did not want to feel, thoughts I did not want to hear. Yet even then, I valued my time by myself and longed for my own space and my own time. I seem to need this more than many, and perhaps even more than I did in the past. In fact, the more I claim the idea? reality? realization? of my call to write, the more I love that it both allows and demands solitude, and appreciates silence, even if these are held in a community such as our beautiful writers’ group.
Sitting with memories, thoughts, intuition, a pile of books, and my notebook or computer, in silence - this is Heaven.
Commitment. The butterflies in my stomach begin flapping their wings, the little touch of chill fires up my spine, my jaw begins to tighten against the fear and resistance that show up at the thought of committing to this new vocation as a writer.
On the one hand, it is romantic and exciting and oh, so right to write. My Dad had wanted to write, and loved language and books. I inherited that love of words and buried myself in books as a kid. I started writing in one way or another as a teenager - journals (which were called diaries back then), papers, ad copy, press releases, memos, letters, e-mails. I even started a book once, a dozen years ago. I had completely forgotten about it until I found the outline and introduction when I flipped through an old notebook.
It feels good to write, feels natural to get some of the words rattling around in my head to settle down on the page. There is also satisfaction in editing, moving bits and pieces around, finding words better suited, crafting meaning into a less-than-lively sentence. And besides feeding my still-present bookworm, writing fits my need for solitude and quiet. The excitement of doing something that is suited to my likes and dislikes, rather than at cross-purposes, has its own sensations of fluttering and chills and tightening.
But it so easily tips back over into the fear: Who am I to up and decide I’m a writer, an artist for Heaven’s sake? How could I think I’m good enough, or interesting enough? Or even disciplined enough, for that matter? It is somewhat comforting to read well-known writers and find that they have some of the same questions; but from the outside looking in at them, they’ve already received answers to the questions. After all, I’m buying and reading their books.
But there is another element to my commitment to write: my voice wants to be heard. By others. Who might not like or understand or appreciate or support what I write. And there’s the rub. It’s not the putting of words on paper, it’s the sharing of the inner world that calls up the fears. To commit to being a writer is to commit to putting it out there, to being known.
It’s not as if there actually seems to be a choice about this business of being ‘a writer.’ After all, I got pretty darned clear instruction last summer after the retreat in which I really listened to myself. It was so clear as to beg the question of how I had avoided the knowing for so long, how I could ever have thought of doing anything else. Of course, knowing and doing are two different things.
by Sarah Pemberton Kastrup
I was so wrong.
I imagined they'd bring him to me in a small box, cushioned on a soft blue blanket, sized to scale. I would gaze at his face as long as I liked, then close the lid and carry him with care to the car. In my mind's eye I see it. Jason and I drive home - I am cradling the ornate box in my hands with the utmost attention. We feast our eyes upon our son in the privacy of our living room, cushioned by the comfort of our own couch, memorizing every feature. We finally close the lid and set it on the piano top. The next morning when we wake, we bring the box down again, take a last peek and say our goodbyes. We slowly drive his boxed body to the crematorium. I can sneak last peeks if I like. We arrive and walk through the heavy wooden doors into the carpeted lobby and up to the front desk where we, personally, hand the box to the man. He gently takes the box from my open hands. This is a heart wrenching moment, but I am brave. The man, perhaps older but still with a full head of brown hair, disappears to a back room for a while as we wait in the lobby, quietly crying and holding hands. He returns with Levi's ashes in the same box. We take it home, placing the boxed ashes on the piano top again, until it becomes clear to us what to do with them.
I was so wrong. It didn't go anything like that.
It was time to leave the hospital, but I had to leave with empty arms. I had to leave without my baby.
My husband and I have been separated for nearly a year. It is a big transition, but we've been doing it pretty gracefully, overall. I really want to support the kids as best I can though, so I found a play therapist and have been taking the girls individually to see her for a few weeks now.
My 5 year old daughter thinks Jocelyn's office is her house. As we drive there she always says, "Is this the way to Jocelyn's house? Are we almost to Jocelyn's house?" She doesn't know that Jocelyn is a play therapist. I just told her that Jocelyn is a new friend and she has a lot of toys in her office and we are going to play with her for a while.
So on the fourth visit, Jocelyn told her that she is expecting a baby. Later Jocelyn shared with me that my daughter got really present, looked into her eyes sweetly, touched her cheek and said with great feeling, "Oh! Now you'll have someone to play with!"
by Koren Mullins
Language of Soil
I am a gardener in surrogacy only. I can keep a living thing alive, but I can't yet raise it up from seed.
But this is what I can do-I can take something hardened, dried up, cracked, and I can soften the edges and nurse the fissures. I can turn outstretched and unfurled leaves toward the sun or keep curving stems safe in the shade. I can operate on instinct. I can listen closely to the language of soil sucking up water until it reaches fullness.
My Grandmother's hands are small like mine. Her hands finally fit her body as the weight of gravity has its way. They smell faintly of pear soap and rose scented lotion; these hands cracked from gardening, from pulling beetles off rose petals and dropping them, one by one, into a small coffin of turpentine.
Her blue veins are more prominent now moving under her pale skin. These are the hands I picture pulling open her top dresser drawer. I picture her hands on the polished metal brass pull which beckons against the dark, sturdy wood. This is a drawer worth returning to, on days like this stuck inside, as winter makes itself heard.
Even in her nineties, nervous energy winds itself inside her. Without her daily walk, she has been rearranging, filing and preparing. Names of loved ones are placed on objects of importance.
Her hands linger in the top drawer; the smallest one, it reaches barely a foot across.
She pulls the drawer gently open. Cautiously, as if this space is not her own. Inside, under the small boxes of semi-precious earrings (blue lapis from her honeymoon in Mexico, ruby from their first trip to France, emerald from the last trip home to England), she reaches into the back left corner. My Grandmother, regal in her halo of downy white hair and flowered flannel nightgown, untucks her love letters. Written during World War II, while my Grandfather was stationed away from her, they are from both before and after the wedding.
My teenage hands, in a flurry of purpose, find, hesitate, read. And although I should, my teenage self feels no guilt. Those snooping hands of unsentimental youth pull back a brass handle and learn the truth. A new truth, one able to rewrite the story she had been told.
by Darlene Nastansky
Shivering woolen Burber blankets. Dirt floors. Dusk fell heavy and fast. Within two hours we’d be over the pass, but daylight would still beat us. Temperatures dropping, I knew there was little in my overstuffed backpack to truly survive a night out. The high Atlas Mountains of Morocco, jagged before me, would be home for the next several weeks.
The Lonely Planet’s excerpt promised scattered nomad homes of Burbers within this vast mountain range, and the gratitude, along with a little Backshes (or cash) would ford the traveler with a home stay, including 2 meals. Never more than a stone’s throw apart. I remembered reading that once finding these villages, families would emerge from their mud homes, vying for your occupancy on their dirt or upgraded cement floor, offering couscous and fresh fruit, perhaps a chicken.
Seven hours later, trekking over the narrow dirt trails beaten by sheep and goat, we found nothing of the sort. Nothing. White crumbling cement sign posts etched in Arabic with 2 or 3 arrows in multiple directions. Were we traveling in circles? Had we not seen this very sign, traveled this very path? A few sips of water sloshed in my bottle. My pockets of sweaty almonds and dates pressed together were numbered. If only I could hear the call to prayer, bellowing from a minaret. I’d have a direction, anything…
Packs of camels stalled in the distance, or was it a mirage? I waded through date palms and argon shrubs, but absent were the herders I’d read about. Blisters broken down, my heels bleeding, we were under-packed, overwhelmed and hungry. Sun fading quickly now, we fought over sign post arrows pointing to distant passes. Were we even still in Morocco? Would we be kidnapped? Killed? I was becoming delusional. Towering shrubs brought dark shadows under the moonlight. We would sleep here for the night.
And then, I was hit; a rock, aimed perfectly at my neck. Children giggling, years of practice hitting goats with homemade slingshots. I dropped my heavy bag and so began the chase, the youngest crying out as this mad, white woman trailed behind them. But I wasn’t interested in catching and yelling at the children. I wanted the village they came from - the water, shelter and food.
Later that night, atop the roof of Mohamad’s Burber’s, after a meal of couscous and chicken with dates, we counted the stars. I brushed my fingers across my welted neck, thankful
I’ll never forget the tiny Ethiopian baby, born too late, too blue. He was pulled from her body and placed into my palms, his sky pale lips contrasting with the beautiful brown skin, eyes swollen shut. Shaking, I ran to the wooden table and placed him tenderly, lovingly onto his mother’s Gabi, the handmade chiffon swath adorned by all women of the region.
I couldn’t fit the ventilation mask over his minute, undeveloped mouth. I molded my fingers, pressing hard, squeezing. I forced his little chest up and down with blows of air, but nothing. “Come on baby, come on baby,” began my mantra-like cry.
With two fingers on his sternum, “1 and 2 and 1 and 2,” for 15 minutes I tried in vain to revive this little man, his mother watching out of the corner of her eye, grimacing as the nurse brought her torn privates back together with suture.
I couldn’t pull the Gabi over his head. Instead, I carried him like a king to his family. Not a word of Ahmaric was exchanged. But they understood everything and I will never forget.
Wednesday, water day. The parched 100 gallon plastic blue tank mended with tape, wire and more plastic, was rumored to fill. Like a 5:30 alarm clock, along with the cock’s crow, you could feel a pressure building in the rusted pipes, drips of water slowly coming to life, sputtering out apologies it had taken so long. We woke up seconds too late to find the entire village encircling the well, their Gabies - home sewn cotton swaths - entrenched with water and everyone fighting for a share. Families wrestling their yellow and orange 3 gallon buckets from the market, made in China, all vying to catch the precious element before the government shut off the weekly commodity.
Wednesday, surgery day. Our dilapidated hospital cranked up the generator, bleeding water to perform the emergent surgeries waiting for the week. A chain of nurses passing the same yellow and orange buckets from the hospital well to the ward. An urgent appendectomy, a C-Section, an abdominal exploration, a circumcision, a broken arm would take their place in line. If the water ran for 3 hours, filling the cities tanks to the brim, we could work into the night, candles providing shadows.
Wednesday, bathing day. A one bucket allowance for cleansing one’s dirt encrusted body. Crouching in a corner, splashing frigid water over skin and hair, soap, repeat. Shaving is selfish. But if one can horde 2 liters, oh the glory of submerging feet in heated water. Bartering was a skill, and water was trump. Cooking water would be saved, later reused as a flush for the broken squat porcelain toilets
September 2013 by Mary Ellen Boles
I stop at my parents’ apartment for a visit. From the window I can see my dad in his usual place, stretched out in the recliner in front of a blaring television. His size 14 ½ feet exceed the length of the chair’s footrest by about three inches. They are encased in sheep-wool slippers, a Christmas gift from me two years earlier. He holds a lit cigarette in his right hand, while the fingers on his left hand drum constantly on the arm of the chair. I let myself in and give him a kiss and hug hello. My mom is just walking out of her bedroom, her steps slow and tentative. Briefly I hold an image of her when her steps were young and efficient. I hear the rapid click of her heels, the confident swish of her dress. The memory fades as I hear my name.
My mother stands in front of me, wearing bright red flannel pajamas. Her face lights up when she sees me.
“Mary Ellen. There you are!”
Her words are spoken with such obvious pride and pleasure that I can’t help but smile in response.
“Hi mom. How are you today?”
We kiss hello and move into the kitchen. I hug her and find myself once again concerned about her size, the same worry I’ve harbored daily for so long now that I can’t remember the before time of worrying. She is more than a foot shorter than my dad. She used to be 5’4”, but scoliosis and severe osteoporosis have robbed her of over four inches. Her current weight is ninety, ninety-five pounds, at most.
“I’m fine sweetie. Just fine.”
“Have you eaten today mom? Why don’t I fix you an egg?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Where’s your father? Howard? Howard?”
She calls out to my dad, who is always in the same spot in the living room. As she speaks, she shuffles her body around in a slow circle. Her short hair moves slightly, as though brushed by a breeze. It is a swirl of lightness, blonde and brunette competing for attention amidst some grays and struggling white hairs. Her deep-set eyes search, darting quickly about the kitchen. She continues to call his name.
“Howard. Howard. HOWARD!”
“What is it Rita? I’m in here.”
His loud, gravelly voice travels easily to the kitchen. As a child, the largeness and deepness of his voice could terrify me. Now, I find it comforting.
“Did I eat? Howard?”
“Did she eat today dad? Has she had anything at all?”
“Nope. She wouldn’t. I’ve offered a few times to fix her something. She just keeps saying she’s not hungry or that she just ate.”
This was offered as a statement. No obvious emotion, no vocal inflections color his answer.
I look at my father in the next room. He is wearing what I call his “Dr. Who glasses,” glasses with telescopic lenses for each eye. It’s the only way he can see even a faint outline of shadows on the television. He lost his sight years before, due to macular degeneration. As I watch, he removes the glasses to massage the bridge of his nose. The glasses are heavy, leaving dark red imprints on his skin after just a few minutes.
Each day this same pattern repeats. Each day, two or three or four times, I see my parents and experience these moments. Today is a bad one. I’ve driven around the block a few times before parking the car and opening their apartment door. There are times I can’t stop crying, so I drive until I can compose myself enough to face whatever awaits inside. I seem to drive more with each visit.
I am losing her, a little more each day. She is disappearing. Is that even possible, to fade away until you just aren’t there anymore? My mom left me years earlier. As the Alzheimer’s advanced, she became more childlike and dependent. The person who was my mom simply ceased to be. That independent and strong individual, that wise woman was gone. The mom, who could spew forth advice and reassurance on anything from motherhood to politics, had been reduced to a child. My child. That was the way it was. I adjusted.
She’s speaking to me. We face each other across the kitchen table. My dad stays in his chair. I take a deep breath, and another, trying to inhale the necessary strength.
“Sorry mom. I missed what you were saying.”
I can’t focus on her words, just stare at her while jumbled memories fly at me. I begin a running commentary with myself while I smile at her, wanting to reassure her, always to keep the panic at bay. My dad and I have already talked it over. I just need to get the words out.
“Mom. We need to talk.”
Her hands are the only things that haven’t changed. No that’s wrong. There are two - her voice and her hands. Neither shows her rapid decline, her changing identity. I cling to both of them as a way to remember her, who she used to be. Who I used to be.
She looks up at me, her face full of trust. I take one of her hands; fold it between both of mine. Protecting her. Her skin is still so soft, softer than mine and she is thirty years older. Her fingers are slender and elegant, the kind that are perfect for long tapered nails. A layer of soft pink color covers her nails. It’s rare for her to go without polish. My earliest memories hold these hands. They are beautiful. They are my mom. She sits quietly, waiting for me, puts her other hand on top on mine.
“Mom. You need to eat.”
“I eat. But I’m not very hungry.”
“I know mom. But your body needs food. You’re not eating very much at all. You need the nourishment from the food and….”
My voice trails off. This is not the first time I’ve attempted this conversation. It’s all we can do to get an egg down her every few days. One lousy egg with butter.
“Honey I don’t really want to eat.”
“I know you don’t. It’s just too much. I know.”
My voice is almost a whisper. The effort to speak takes too great a toll. Another deep breath in, and as I exhale the words come, precise and without emotion.
“So you are choosing to die.”
It isn’t a question. My mother and I have discussed this very situation many times in the past. She had stated that when her time came, one option would be to stop eating.
I freeze at the look on her face. Her mouth is slack, her jaw open, eyes so wide, the panic evident. Her lower lip begins to tremble as she grips my hands, hard.
“I don’t want to die….”
Her voice falters and breaks. The few words she speaks belie our past conversations about death. Her beautiful deep brown eyes, the keeper of her emotions, fill with tears.
“I thought this is what you wanted mom.”
It’s as though I am conversing with a child. In fact I am. I thought, or rather hoped her capable of decisions and depth that are impossible now. The innocence and purity that accompanies her words make it clear that I need a new approach.
“It’s ok mom. It’s ok.”
I lie. I will do anything to erase this conversation for her, to wipe away her face of terror.
Gently I pry our hands apart and move closer to her. I wrap my arms around her, security for us both.
And I lie again.
“It’s ok mom. Really. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. How bout I fix you an egg?”
Going on beyond
Each night her legs grew,
wrapped themselves around
the metal rungs of the hospital bed.
Morning was the time to untangle,
to wipe her face,
moisten peeling lips and swollen tongue.
Bits of her swirled in the water glass
after sponging the soft pink insides of her cheeks.
Wishing she would die.
She became a part of the living room furniture.
My father turned on
his war stories and nature shows
cops and robbers and the wild west
blaring violence and venom and gibberish.
Did he know she was next to him
trying to die?
I sat between
my father’s coping
in his recliner with the tv remote in hand
on my left
and my mother’s holding on
in her motorized bed of pain
on my right.
They say hearing is the last to go.
In the middle of Law & Order
I whispered to her that I loved her.
During the cat food commercial
I cried that it was ok to leave.
After the local news
I asked her to follow the light.
Then I went to the kitchen to fill a bowl
with Breyers butter pecan ice cream for my father.
We sat in the living room watching tv
me & my dad, sometimes
as though she
What else is there to do when someone is
dying beside you?
June 2013 by Cheryl Vassaur
The deep grief
I felt on Monday night
Is a natural part of life
So too is
In Life it's all energy
Wanting to be fully felt
I seem puzzled
By how I was brought up
To not have feelings seen by Others
My pain wasn't anyone else's
So keep that hidden away
And put a smile on your face
Recently I sang along to a country song
About hiding your crazy
Isn't that what's kept us so heavy with dense stuff
We barely squeak out a peep
For fear of what Others may think
I see how I've become merciless with this pen
How I've said "no" to those who said I should keep that in
Grateful I am to Women and Men I've written about
But not speaking the truth about the one I feel most grieved about
Has to come out
With tears about to emerge
My heart aching
I let out these words
"I'm sorry that living with me has not been easy"
I said this to Isak my son 13
Except for my Mother, family, close friends
Those with roots themselves to God within
When I became different
After the brain injury
What we shared died abruptly
Isak was 3 in the first impact
So he couldn't say if he wanted to go away
Or I don't know if anyone would notice
Pay attention to how a child's feeling
It's strange how he's not spoken this till now
That he finds my way of living extremely annoying and inconvenient
And he doesn't want to have to deal with it or
Put up with it
How this is not my fault
But when old enough to speak
He wants to leave
Brain injured persons lose a lot
Self worth the biggest blow
Next is the spouse exit
You never return to after many failed attempts to try to
Friends, even the ones closest to you
All vanish from the world you knew
Activities once pleasing now cause pain
Limiting participation in things others take for granted as easy
A concept of self death
By the grace of God
Could I feel so rich in my Heart
Whole, complete, not missing a thing
Only the brain would limit me
To learn this I had to experience this
To see for myself
What I was
Who I was
And it's Love
I breathe and feel peace
I live in that stream mostly
I still weep fully
And Love that I am "Hu"man
As is everyone
Bliss is our birthright
There's Love in all of this
Even the dark shadowy stuff
God's in that too
It's what's guiding us to the hidden blessings in all of it Truth
Am I a Challenge to your Balance?
I open my heart
To this life chance
Then he walked in
And I sitting like I normally do
The unpolished establishment
A man Tashi
He says "hi"
No native dress
Nike sweatsuit and shoes
My mind had to work hard
To create the images
He reflected for me
He worked as a shepherd
His family co-existing
With the harsh conditions
Of the natural world,
Moving their home
When the landscape decided
It was time
A tent to protect them,
Him to protect the lambs
From the eagle
All that the animals provided
Is what sustained their bodies
In appreciation of the other
My mind took me to Tibet
I couldn't bear to know if
He suffers right now
Did it hurt to know
He might never go home?
He remembers him there
Free and at Peace
We spoke of the delight
In Buddha seeing Buddha
To remind each other
Of our own essence
Leading us to peace
In this lifetime
With southern roots
With the winds of Tibet
In his breath
What this really means
The sacred heart
Where there is no difference
Only light and love
I don't know what was meant
By Wholesome Blends...
I appreciate what life gave me
In some magical way
A Prayer to St. Michael by Caroline Petrich
St. Michael, have you ever returned to Heaven and retreated
Deep in your cave, weary to witness the perpetuity of betrayal?
Have you ever shared your sorrows with Lucifer who
Weeps down in Hell, grieving and keening for the morning light?
Is this the for-ever forever, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end?
What if, instead, the end of our world calls for a restoration, a coming together, a homecoming
And all the demons to it?
Oct. 25, 2012
A pale china doll I was
Born under a Taurean sun
Unsure how to obey
Denying my true nature
And always finding myself
On the run, escaping, panicked
Through shards of doubt
Gashed and bloodied
‘Til death do us part
So sacred a vow:
How strange it has to do
With you, like Chiron
Captured by ancestral orbits
The memory of that wound
Cooled by death and fixed
To your celebrated celestial path
While Pluto and Uranus
Dance and dance
Up in the heavens with
The cosmic hum—leading us
To Eleusinian mysteries, chthonic
Stresses, sudden shifts
Fracturing, reshaping, releasing us
May 13, 2013
April 2013 by Natasha Pettit
On a blustery day in paradise, we played by the pool. I was a pretty good swimmer even at five, and we'd dive down to the round heat vents in the deep end and stay for as long as we could hold our breaths, having conversations with the tiny people who lived inside the pipes. Looking up through our goggles, we could see the shimmering surface of the pool: wavy warm and the wind that whipped and scattered across it. Eventually we'd surface and climb out, half mermaid, lips blue but not shivering, to investigate the palm trees and clouds, the ocean crashing just over the small ivy-lined cliff at our backs. Then we'd jump in again, breaking the rippled and delicate surface tension with huge advancing circles of splash. The bluster increased.
I'd always been afraid of wind. Even as a baby I hated it, screamed until people took me inside or rolled up their car windows. On this blustery day the palms were swaying wildly above me, bending over as if to visit my small world and then thrashing angrily up and away. I did not approve, and asked my mom if we should go inside. Her word was golden.
We're fine, she said.
But what if a palm tree falls on me?
The trees definitely won't fall on you. They sway in the breeze.
Seconds passed. I watched pencil-grey clouds scurry in to cover the sun. Stiff goosebumps formed on my newly-tanned, small body. Finally, with a whoosh like a whale breathing in, a wild and angry palm frond fell from the heavens and slashed at my arm. I was shocked. My mom had promised, and yet here I was, tiny scratches lined up perpendicular to my bones and veins, pointing the way towards a lifetime of trusting no information but my own, toward the end of believing in promises. To my child-brain, that I'd barely been hurt was unimportant, negligible, just dumb luck.
My wind fear grew large and overwhelming over the next decade of intermittent sunshine. I'd lie in bed on hot September Santa Ana nights, listening to the warm winds slapping at the tall pines that lined my block, and I'd wish for sleep - but my eyes stayed open, mind wracked with worry. It wasn't just that I was scared of wind; I was also scared that no one else was scared, that the danger was more real than anyone else knew or would admit, that I might have to use my puny strength to save the family on my own. I wasn't sure I was up to that task, as much as I wanted to be a hero. As long as I stayed afraid of nature's breath and of the unflappability of adults in the face of this grave danger, I turned to questioning that which most people took for granted: Was the house strong enough? Would the car be jostled and pushed in the breeze, twisting up and over the lip of this mountain? Would the trees uproot themselves to slap me across the body and heart like rulers wielded by an angry god? The adults told me to sshh - to close my eyes, that it would definitely, definitely be fine, that I shouldn't worry because children don't need to worry - but that made me clench my teeth and worry more, tiny forehead furrowed.
by Christine Gray
Chrstine wrote this poem in the Poetry of Witness: For Healing & Transformation workshop facilitated by Traci Schatz
driving through the gorge
on a clear day with the miles mapped out before us
we packed each other into the cramped comfort of the
car – on our right the constant azure pull of the river,
to the left the face of the gorge and walls of henna and
sienna-marked desert earth and cliffs towering
up so sharp against cerulean sky that they push against
our eyes and brains. we squabble over the radio until only
static remains and the hum of the wheels in between those
two soothing streaks of blue pushing onward even as we
resist, even as the only thing propelling us or holding us up
are the spirits cut loose – the static the hum becoming a
bloodsong even as we lose track of the fading brightness
and the point where the water beside us turns black as the
stars poke out one by one through the mirror above
flashing their silvery scales at us. the point where we stop
and start a remembering – the bloodsong a rush in our ears –
too young to have forgotten yet what it means to go home
but knowing the meaning was too self-imposed , a cliché,
a warmth that still sings to us at the end of the road
February 2013 by Anke Mulder
Anke wrote these pieces in the Wednesday Morning Weekly Writing Practice group facilitated by Dawn Thompson
I am five years old and standing barefoot on the cold step outside our front door. I am waiting for daddy to come outside, take my hand, and laugh really loudly in that way that makes his face all wrinkly and his eyes twinkly. Every morning before school daddy and I get up early and go for a walk down to the creek with the willow tree. Sometimes we look for birds' nests and sometimes we look for butterflies. Daddy has a bird book that he uses to look up bird names he doesn't know. Daddy really likes birds. He calls me his little bird. I think birds are pretty, but I like butterflies more. For my birthday this year, Daddy gives me a butterfly book. Now I can look in the book to find the names of butterflies. The names are really long, and I try to sound them out while putting my finger along underneath the words. If daddy is not around to help me read the names, I usually just look at the pictures.
First Take Off
It was May, and the season was winter. My family and I would soon embark on a journey to another world. Very soon. In a matter of days. To be honest, I was frightened. And sad. And very much confused as to what would constitute a proper emotional response to leaving one's home for another country. Of course I grew up idolizing American kids; I thought Home Alone was just so funny, and the X-Files with Agent Mulder was deliciously scary. But, most of all, I was in awe of the grown up, confident teenagers in Beverly Hills 90210. Only, how would I fare in a country where children were so grown up? Did I even want to enter that world? My existence of barefoot adventures and tree climbing seemed naive in comparison. And yet, it was what I knew. It was home.
When the day finally came, my belly was tight with anticipation. All the belongings I was allowed to bring from home were safely tucked into one bulging suitcase. In anticipation of grown up teenager Americans, I was wearing a brand new outfit. Tight leggings with an animal print sweater. The animal print wasn't for America, it was to remind me of home. I even wore shoes - brand new, super cool boots with red laces.
The airplane was bigger than I could ever have imagined beforehand. I carefully arranged myself in the seat, belly still clenched, and waited for my first take off.
And Then We Slept
Well, my dear, you can't say that I didn't at least bring provisions! A bag overflowing with all the South African candy I could possibly buy last minute, the book requested, and of course your cell phone. So, we cozied up together on your tiny bed, you carefully holding onto those candies and me managing all else. We started with the book.
You rested that weary, bald head on the hospital pillow, and I read to you. I don't know what time it was. It didn't matter if your IV bags needed changing. I stayed put, and I read. You listened. Or you ate your candy. Sometimes you slept. Sometimes I slept. Sometimes we both slept.
At some point we started making phone calls. I had to dial the numbers and then you would say goodbye. Sometimes you were too sick, and I had to say goodbye. And then we read. And ate candy.
People came to see you one more time. I still didn't move. Even mom and dad and littlest brother came. I stayed put. I had to read to you. And you had your candy. And then we slept some more.
Eventually they removed all the tubes and all the medicines. I never did stop reading, but at some point, you stopped listening.
by Akela Auer
Akela wrote this piece in Writing Through the Darkness: A Workshop for Those Whose Lives Have Been Affected by Depression (facilitated by Traci Schatz)
Akela Auer is storming.
i feel my calling doing barrel turns towards my own immediacy. i have shifted to the right and 6 inches above ground and there is a smell of sage and cinnamon up and over here that is change. manifestation of self. woman into man into 650 years of birth, truths, death and ultimate loss.
in short i am becoming my father.
i feel it all over my skin lately, the dewey feeling that is optimism mixed with bullshit. i feel soft warm palms under the balls of my feet lift me in the most painful ways. when the world of this city lost him i listened to the music played in his honor. watched grown men fill mason jars with him and drink themselves conscious. they told the stories. and now his marks are my marks. when i draw i have a conversation with him. our letters, words, lines, curves, colors and eyes are the same. i too should leave my artist in the laps of everyone around me. i should be the small town hero god fortress that he was. i am wearing his clothes and painting his body parts. i am finishing his sentence. i am becoming the woman i imagine he imagined id be. righteous and loving and fucking insane. i am called to fill the shoes of a man no one has stopped missing. to live in the light of someone who handed me his chin, his talent and his stubbornness. i will write the songs intended to be heard over seas and to transcend lifetimes, realities and color lines.
called to be in constant grief in order to breathe. surrounded by a constant death, in order to live.
by Valerie Johnson
Stream Deep Inside
The loss of her own room sent the creative force underground. One day she was dancing with women, rehearsing in warehouses, performing on small stages...and then he arrived, fresh from somewhere else with nowhere to stay but her room. The dancing stopped. His needs were hungry, and his pain was compelling. She dropped it all in an attempt to bandage his wounds and get him moving again. And once he was, it was with an energy and enthusiasm that filled every corner.
By then they had married and she had forgotten all about the stream deep inside. She was grateful for the one day a week when their work schedules did not coincide and she could spend the entire day in her jammies in the quiet house staring out windows and not doing or being anything. The years passed this way and they made an agreeable life together, cooking, eating, hiking, camping, watching The Sopranos. But there was a sinking feeling, which she tried to ignore, that something, somehow, somewhere was missing.
Nights without him now mean sound sleep, no more tossing and waking at his snores. Mornings that used to be hectic and coffee-filled are quiet and start ceremoniously with tea and journaling. She imagines dancing again, moving smoothly through space, improvising, even singing. Her paints are set up on the dining room table, though that territory is, thus far, too terrifying to explore.
In the last year of their marriage she requested separate bedrooms - the snoring! "And think of how fun and exciting the conjugal visits will be!" How she yearned for her own room. He bristled, took offense, and declined.
Now the room, the whole house, is hers alone. And she is just beginning to hear the sounds of a river coming up from underground.
by Nancy Flynn
Because Paul Cezanne Recognized Long before I Did That the Pear Is a Poetic Fruit
Cargo of fruity flesh, one single season’s alchemy: Rain, I take thee sun. A teardrop’s tug bearing wet, bearing lip-smack, grainy, sweet. Anjou is you. And me? I’m pear-shaped, blushing, too. And boast as well the bruise, age spots a mottle on my hands. I love your listing typically off-true. I have to turn to seek or hide the flaws, the ones all sport— hell, I’m an orchard weighted down. Then someone plucks you green, oh temptress, branched. Leaves you on that windowsill begging: Please more drops, more rays! Not unlike me. Eager to float free from this too-mortal coda, sail a few more years. To peer, old pear, appearing not to care while I recollect my lost, so long ago green, and ripening skin.
From the vinegar of a small town hell-bent to pickle its vulnerable, the tender ones bottled and stopped by the age of eighteen. From the tentacles belching fire up the grates, an open-jawed furnace to cinder every birthright, no matter if chestnut,
buckwheat, pea. From the ration stamps of get along, coupons thumbed until worn, the pinching of pennies and cheeks. From the dizzy of a nosegay, bow-tied on birth- days, eau de toilette compliments of Jean Naté. From the lovelorn blasted, buried by
the dime store rumors, every dowry of resignation grateful for a run-down half of a double block. From a washboard pitted with ache, jutting from the unclear suds in a galvanized metal tub. From the busybody’s clothesline inventory— what you are
hanging, what you are not. From the alibi you’re a beggar seeking refuge in a sonata, your sole audience a moth. To the fickle consort of the inkwell, the one who’ll spend decades disparaging comfort, her hair knotty and unkempt.
by Sophie Drisko
"Are you letting your vagina die?!"
"Are you letting your vagina die?!" Half concerned, half irritated as hell, my best friend peered into the bathroom where I was carefully applying my last coat of mascara in anticipation of our girls' night out.
"What?!" I asked incredulously, avoiding her stare.
"You heard me." She was swirling her pre-funk martini as she stood in the doorway, not letting go of me with her already perfectly lined and mascara-d steel-blue eyes.
"Are. You. Letting. Your. Vagina. DIE?" Her voice was a tad softer and more deliberate. If not dripping with a little sarcasm. We have always been blunt with each other. And we never shy away from the tough questions - the ones that force us to look at ourselves in ways we wouldn't choose to if left to our own devices. And asking about the death of one's vagina fits into the category of tough questions. Even if it comes in a smart-ass package. Sometimes the tough questions are more easily asked and answered wrapped in smart-assery.
"No, bitch, I'm just giving it an indefinite rest!" I shot back with a smirk.
She smiled her sly "don't give me that bullshit" smile and I knew we weren't done with this conversation. This was about more than vaginas and sex and dry spells and we both knew it. It was about life and love and lust and wounding - relationships, friends, parents, lovers, life journeys and our current, parallel dramatic divorce experiences. It was...existential. This is how she and I speak in code to get to the meat of things.
"Well," I finally turned to meet her gaze - perfectly shadowed smoky eye to perfectly shadowed smoky eye, "make ME one of those martinis and maybe we can have this conversation."
"Come play with me!"
"Come play with me!"
The words resonated in her cells and reverberated throughout her body. Even though it was only a text. Even though they were texted by a man who was a boy, who could never be a safe place to play. Maybe that was the appeal.
"Come play with me!"
He wanted to go swimming at High Rocks swimming hole just outside the city. It was like a place she remembered from when she was a teenager - when she could just drop everything on a hot day to go out with her friends. Old pick up trucks, loud music, cutoff jeans, cheap, smuggled beer. And fun. Maybe not completely carefree fun since there is always ample angst among teenagers. But certainly carefree in a way that it could never be again once the adult world got a hold of her and life hung heavier around her neck with each chapter. He wasn't a teenager, but close enough. He still lived that kind of life. She hadn't for years.
"Come play with me!"
She had to work. Well, not really. She had a flexible schedule, but that was her go-to reason for not playing. Ever. Plus, what would her body look like next to all those 20 somethings at the hole? Disgusting, she figured. Pale, white skin, jiggly thighs and a poochy tummy. He probably wouldn't want to play with her if he saw that. But, still, in the moment those words came across her phone, something woke up in her. The spark she hadn't remembered was still there, somewhere...buried. She realized how long it had been since she allowed herself to shed the toil and drudgery of dealing with 40 years of life's crap - even temporarily - and just play. Or be. Or feel "carefree." Whatever that meant. But it sounded heavenly.
"Come play with me!"
Liberation. Sweet release. No expectations or rules...not from a man-child. Nevermind that he'd probably texted the same thing to several girls and whoever took him up on it first would be the winner of the play-date. She was tempted. A little exhilarated even at the thought of possibly throwing caution to the wind and feeling some simple, unadulterated joy in her body. She nervously poised her thumbs on the phone screen to type an acceptance to the invite. Pause. Hesitation. She thought of the work that she really did have to get done. And the risks of having fun with a risky boy. Again, she felt the heaviness of her diligent life around her neck. Her thumbs started moving. And "I can't play today" was all she wrote.
by Johanna Courtleight
Here is what I want you to remember.
In all of eternity, no one else will ever be you.
You were called here, ordained, by the exquisite wisdom of the Infinite. To be its eyes and hands and voice and soul. To be in and of the mystery, holding it all as you would a star, full, in the palm of your one glorious heart. Wide open, arms raised, bowed down, before the feet of your own Divinity.
You began, a sea, lifetimes ago. As a hundred million longed their way through the undulating ocean of the possibility of you. Braving that wild tide, against all odds, and finding the egg, bent, begged, as she reached out and drew into the womb of her rich, sensuous body, the one that in that holy moment would conceive another universe.
Every time you turn your eye away in judgment, sorrowing against your own immeasurable beauty.
Every time the mind sings of its own degradation, cruelty upon cruelty, as generations have sung and passed down.
Every time a sun is rising and you do not rise to meet it.
The God within you weeps.
You came in as love. The magnitude of your own unfathomable mystery inhabiting every molecule. Even as you curled and dreamed and rode the warm wet tide of your mother, cell upon cell, expanding, in the flawless choreography of this grand assignment.
Take yourself to the mirror, to the edge of any river. Place your hands over the small bird of your heart. Regard yourself, and for the very first time, name yourself, the all and the everything, diving deep the waters of this love.
Place your hand gentle upon your cheek and dare: ‘Precious’. Whisper your name quietly, and know: ‘Beloved’. Welcome yourself here and breathe yourself in, as your would lily, gardenia, hyacinth, rose. Singing out your presence, a most delicate music, as a lover might chant you awake in the faint light of morning.
Be here, in, with, as and for God.
Be here fully, the humility of reverence.
Take yourself, this sacred marriage.
And call yourself, mother, child, holy, One.
None, ever, has been this lucky.
To be born as this.
To have come here to be you.
by Sue Epping
The year I stopped having my period, my daughter began hers. Oh, what a blessed, painful burden I have given you, my love. The worry, am I late? The embarrassment of stains on underwear, anointed - the period panties. No scrubbing gets it clean. I clean up the little messes, but the big ones I stuff into my memory sack and how the weight makes my body ache, with the untold truths locked away. My peripatetic soul travels to far away places. Journeys not made, personal promises postponed. You, my songstress daughter. All golden glow of innocence, smudged by girlish pettiness, yet still sparkly. You, are the lever of this weight. The lifting of my soul. Oh, how your gibbous mooned mouth splits into a smile that breathes life into my workaday world. A gossamer thread of spider silk wraps our souls together. Then unraveling, trails your star dancing steps into the world. You gave my transition worth.
July 2012 by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince
I carry a lantern with me. I carry my light outside me. Since I feed the lantern with my soul, this is not efficient. I should channel the light directly to my own eyes. Then I would see better. Then I could go farther. Then I might find what I seek.
Carrying my lantern, I leave a trail others may follow. It's not like I think other people should go this way, because it's not like I know where I'm going. But because I light this path, because I go this way, there are now more ways to go. The world becomes bigger, the paths less blind. Walking into darkness, I give my soul for this freedom.
*** I will make a bowl for sadness
It will be blue and glassy It will be brown and dense I will make it with shaky fingers I will make it with buried strength Paint it with spit and poetry And I will hope that it can hold every drop shed by a weary heaven June 2012
by Megan Thygeson
The Only Boy
Once upon a time a little boy walked with his mother and sisters and aunts out to the field. He wondered why he was the only boy. He tugged his sister’s braids, pulled away from his mother’s hand and raced across the rocks to the river’s edge. His aunts called after him warning him not to fall in. He stood on top of his favorite rock staring at the racing river water. The foaming eddies turned the water green.
A quick dark shadow fell across his bare feet. He looked up at the open blue sky. A large red-gold bird circled above.
Around and around.
The boy’s neck grew tired as he watched and he had to look away. The pine trees next to the river began to call to him and he started to climb the tallest one.
Up, up, up.
He caught glimpses of the bird between the branches that were heavy with pine cones. Pine cones his mother and aunts would want. He reached for the top branch. His fingertips brushed the edge of the needle fringe. He felt himself starting to fall forward. Down below he saw the churning green water, the sharp gray rocks, and his sisters running towards him. He looked up as he felt the branch slip away. The red-gold bird called to him.
Those who tell the story say that his sisters saw their brother talking with the bird. That the bird flew underneath their brother as he fell towards the great flowing river. That the bird lifted him up on his back and saved him from a sure death.
A single feather fell onto the boy’s favorite rock by the river. The sisters picked up that feather and called to their brother.
But he was gone.
The bird was gone.
They held the feather gently in their palms. When the aunts found them they pointed to a bright mark in the boy’s favorite rock where they found the feather. It was shining like a golden red sunset. It blinded them all until they cried and the green racing river turned into a deep blue pond washing away the loss.
Every morning red-gold birds gather at the pond’s edge, dipping their beaks into the fallen pine cones, leaving a single feather and a pile of pine nuts for the mother, sisters, and aunts.
by Hillary Tiefer
The Accordion Player
A week after Joan’s mother died Joan went to the Bloomberg Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles and had the sad chore of clearing away her mother’s meager belongings. All of her mother’s well-worn clothes and cheap, gaudy jewelry would go to Goodwill. Joan emptied a drawer of nightgowns and was surprised to see a dog-eared black and white photo of a young man. He looked more charming than handsome. This was not her father. But he was familiar.
Joan’s memory crossed the continent and went back to her childhood summer in the Catskill Mountains, known then as the Borscht Belt. She focused on one night in the casino -- the exotic name for a rec hall -- of Bob and Sylvia’s Bungalow Colony. All the men were away, working in the city, while their wives -- weekday widows -- and their kids enjoyed a concert by an accordion player. The accordion player’s smile was infectious and her mother’s grin was wide -- she was mesmerized by him. Joan noticed, too, that he looked at her mother.
His fingers bounced over the keyboard and his body swayed side to side while women and children clapped. Her mother sang along, “I can take you in a taxi, honey. Better be ready by half past eight.” Finally she said, “I know this man. We worked together at Grossinger’s before I got married. He was no accordion player then. He taught women to dance. What a charmer! Yes, that’s Sid Lowenstein.”
After he took his bow and women gathered their children to leave the casino, she looked at Joan. “How would you like to visit your friend Susan for a while?”
“I do, Mom!”
Susan’s mother, Flo, wasn’t as enthusiastic. “Listen, Dottie, it’s close to nine already and Susan has trouble waking for camp.”
“I promise I won’t be long.” Joan’s mother left before Flo could protest further.
They played Monopoly while Flo stared at the clock, muttering and shaking her head. At ten she left the girls under the care of Susan’s older sister, Lisa. She returned momentarily, looking flushed and frowning. “Well, you’ll have to sleep here on the couch for the night,” she said to Joan. “After this, stay away from my daughter.”
Standing in that tiny room at the Bloomberg Home, Joan held the photo in the palm of her hand, and after more than a half century she understood why.
April 2012 by Lynn Thomas
Last year we married our cocker spaniel dogs. They looked so cute, one bow-tied at the neck, the other with head veiled. Sally, who was then ten, stood up straight and serious with her backside to the fireplace mantle. I’ll never forget how she read the marriage ceremony from the Episcopal Church prayer book we stole from the new church being built just down the road. We must have been curious about marriage, or maybe it was about relationships that lasted “till death do us part.” Today we want our friendship to last forever, and so we plan another ritual to become “blood sisters.” Surely, we think, sharing blood to blood will connect us for life.
We have already built a secret fort, one carved in the bottom of a huge bush not far from our two houses. Having our ceremony here will be secret. Not like our dogs’ marriage when both our parents were invited, my Dad bringing champagne for the occasion, and Sally’s Dad running around the whole time taking photographs. Today is about just us. We even bought silver rings for each other the jeweler calls “Friendship Rings.” When the dogs were married we made a layered dog food cake iced with cottage cheese, decorating it with two porcelain dogs we placed on top beneath a hoop of twisted artificial flowers. Yesterday we baked chocolate chip cookies we’ll eat later. I have already placed a white lace linen napkin on the bare earth floor. Together we sit cross-legged facing each other, Sally a bit nervous as she tugs at her sock.
I confess, I’m a bit squeamish about cutting my finger with a razor blade. Sally must notice my concern as I unfold the razor blade from a kleenex, the blade I’ve stolen from my Dad’s razor. “Don’t worry,” she tells me, “it’s only blood,” but I wonder if it will hurt, or if there will be a lot of blood. I’ve never cut my finger. Bravely, I attempt to make a small cut in the tip of my index finger. “Man, there’s no blood, Sally!” Sally waits patiently, her eyes wide in anticipation. I try again, this time pressing the thin metal blade deeper into my skin. A small trickle of blood appears and, relieved, I quickly hand the razor blade to Sally. “It really doesn’t hurt, Sally. Here, it’s your turn.” Sally’s first attempt produces a bead of blood, enough we think to squish our fingers together. “For life,” we proclaim as we join our two fingers in ceremony. We hand each other our wrapped presents of rings and, smiling, place them on each other’s fingers. “Till death do us part,” we promise. We eat our home baked cookies, somehow feeling closer to each other. Feeling like we can share anything between us, not as we do in our own families where everything is kept secret and, on most days, no one seems interested.
by Jill Elliott
Lady, can you help me?
All that was visible beneath the cuddle of blankets between a sodden gray hat pulled low and a grubby brown collar pulled high were two watery blue eyes overflowing with sadness.
One outstretched hand palm upward palm empty reached out begging for compassion.
In hindsight he would have suffered less if she’d killed him in Belgium ten years ago, before they’d obtained a mortgage and created two new lives. But life, or death, rarely follows a well-designed plan.
They’d argued that rainy night in Brussels. It ended when he slid between the sheets of their bed and refused to utter one more word. He lay on his back, arms folded across his broad chest, eyes closed against her white-hot anger. How dare he lay there so serenely while she boiled? It was at that moment she considered walking to the kitchen, selecting the perfect knife, and returning to the bedroom to make one true slice across his swarthy neck.
The set of knives came with a sharpener. Every Sunday, while she cooked their roast dinner, he sharpened each knife before he carved the joint of meat. He was a man of ritual, a plodder who thrived on the slow routines of his own making. Even though he invariably used one particular knife, he sharpened every one. He didn’t like to be questioned or argued with. That she asked why he was late home that night was the nucleus of their first argument.
Quietly she left the bedroom and walked down the narrow hallway into the compact kitchen. She slid all five knives from their slotted wooden block on the counter, and lined them up them from smallest to largest. One by one she lifted the knives, feeling their heft in her hand. She tested each blade by making tiny cuts on the inside of her left arm. Each cut bled. Each blade was sharp. She returned the serrated bread knife to its place without testing its sharpness. She didn’t need to cause the man unnecessary pain.
by Penelope Scambly Schott
The Layered Rock
under their hooves,
the layered rock,
shadows of layers,
and the deep crack
where I came out.
Look, a slow hawk
skimming the slope for mice.
I could be the hawk or the mouse.
I could be my own mother
who tried to devour me.
Today I hear birdsong
below my feet.
Am I walking upside down
on the lid of the sky?
I fold my cold fingers
into my palm.
The yellow streetlight
won’t warm my hands
but when I say
my husband’s name
he begins to begin.
Before her marriage
my daughter kept phoning.
For the first time in years,
she called me Mommy.
I will wake before dawn.
A jewel glows in my house:
my young grandson,
When my mother was a kid
she used to chew warm tar.
She spit it into a lilac bush
next to the porch steps.
That’s the most personal thing
my mother ever told me.
Those four antelope,
how they go on grazing
by that cracked place
in the blue rock
where I plan
to go in.
“The Layered Rock” first appeared in Frontrange.
by Melinda Petersen
When I Write with Other Women...
I am encircled with creativity - as if I am in an old fashioned quilting ceremony where connections fly like sparks around a banked fire each of us stirring those flames with the long stick of memory each of us seeing bright flames from a slightly different angle - maybe you see red embers that become your warming hearth that place that carries you back home to yourself or maybe you see the lick of tall umber flames reminding you of the long tresses of your daughter's hair that summer she turned seven when she flitted like a firefly in the warm air of a summer evening and maybe you see blue flames like a steel shaft that cold dark pain that engulfed you all that winter after she left we each have our patch of quilt to make our patch of earth to claim no matter what or where the circle and it makes me feel a connection with this life this world this spark of love and expression.
What I Remember
the cloud bank below like a snowfield a horizon so broad I swear I see the curve of the earth a man sighing next to me, a child kicking the back of my seat, the drumming rhythm of Silk Road in my earphones. I am high above the earth on this unexpected journey as if the Universe itself brought me here just to give me perspective.
Ironic my clarity is only the vapor of clouds, bowl of sky, curve of this horizon's hazy definition. What is real, my earth bound life, is somewhere below a thick cloud cover, as if my past stands alone down there in some dimly lit room seen from across a dark rainy street.
In the window a girl frames her silhouette in the yellow square of light, looks blindly out the window at me, the woman of her future waiting on the corner with a stillness that says stand where you are and look closely at me - keep searching for yourself out the window and not in the darkness behind where the light seeps first into shadows then into shafts of darkness and light and then into something neither seen nor heard: a silent fury swelling open and keen like an unmet longing.
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