Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A New Publication in Sparks of Calliope

My heartfelt thanks to Randal Burd, editor of Sparks of Calliope - A Journal of Poetic Observations, for publishing my poem "I Want to Speak Norwegian." You can find the poem by clicking here and scrolling down to the post for November 10, 2019.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Parting Is Such...





We've lived on the same street for 29 years. Same sidewalks and oak trees. Magnolia, plum, maple.

This is nice.

The hard thing about staying in one place for so long, though, is that most of the people around us don't stay. They need a bigger house or their rent is too high or they decide to try cohousing or move to Bali.

Which means that we, who are rooted here, are always saying goodbye and goodbye and goodbye.

The little house next door to us was just sold, and we parted with another set of neighbors. They weren't family or close friends. We never sipped cocoa together after raking leaves or toasted the new year in together. And yet we lived in such close proximity that their faces and voices and the bark of their dog (Tony!) and the color of their winter coats remain firmly present in our consciousness.

Maybe we'd all be surprised if we knew the effect we made on those around us. Here's an excerpt from an essay I wrote about another couple who once lived next door to us.*



Arcadia

When we met our new neighbors we couldn’t believe our good fortune. Allie and Jay were young and attractive, with sparkling personalities that filled the air with a champagne fizz.

Our family had lived in their house for ten years before we moved to the Victorian next door. We’d sung our babies to sleep there, and in its yard there grew the columbine, coneflowers and chrysanthemums we’d started from seeds, as well as the apple tree my grandmother had given us.

The embodiment of joie de vivre, Allie and Jay seemed to love the house too. They made wine from the grapes that grew along the fence and filled the rooms with books and thrift-store furniture as well as the many friends they entertained. Whether the occasion was a birthday or an evening of reading Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia aloud, the sounds of their company – car doors opening and closing and hearty greetings and laughter – became as familiar as the horns of the trains that run just a few blocks away.

Although they both worked and went to school, they also made time for our children. Jay awed our son with stories about playing Bernardo in an amateur production of West Side Story, and our daughter, who rarely deigned to talk to adults, confided in Allie that her stern second grade teacher, Mrs. Young, pronounced her y’s as h’s.

“Mrs. Houng!” Allie laughed, and our daughter laughed with her.

The couple had a similar effect on my husband and me. We soon discovered they were also Jane Austen fans, and a neighborly “hello” in our driveways could turn into an energetic conversation about the likes of Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth.

At the peak of our friendship, Allie and Jay had us over for dinner. It was the beginning of autumn, but still warm enough to eat outside. They set a ping pong table decorated with white candles and grape vines on their brick patio, and as we ate herbed chicken and apple cake I knew we were in Arcadia.

Then one spring day our neighbors told us their news: Jay had been accepted by a medical school in another state. Even as they began packing, we already missed hearing Allie's stories about her beginning tap class and the sound of their party music dancing over the fence. We couldn't hold onto them, but we could hold onto the house. When we offered to buy it back to use as a rental, Allie and Jay gleefully started packing their books and booze and knickknacks.

They left on a July afternoon. Our stoic daughter insisted she wasn’t sad, while our son fought to keep his face composed as we watched the couple hop into their U-Haul, faces beaming with the thrill of a new adventure.

The next morning I opened the gate to their backyard. Since I hadn’t been there all spring, I was surprised by what I found. The grape vines grew unchecked, reaching for a telephone wire, while the asters I’d planted when our son was a baby were bursting like purple stars, and the branches of the apple tree were bowed with the weight of the most abundant crop of fruit I’d ever seen. Best of all, a large plot where we’d once grown tomatoes was now a sea of leafy vines, sprouting dozens of trumpet-shaped blossoms and green-striped pumpkins. Poking their heads up between the broad leaves were slender stalks of calendula topped with yellow-gold blooms, while tangled trails of orange and crimson nasturtiums wound around the edges of the garden and into the rosemary and lavender bushes my husband had put in years before.

I ached for Allie and Jay – because we’d longed to know them better and to be known by them. Still, I marveled at the riot of color we’d all created. Our neighbors' leaving had hurt more than our family wanted to admit, but how good it was to be alive and aware of the depths of our hearts.






*"Arcadia" first appeared in the 2010 TAWK Press anthology Seeds of....
The names "Allie" and "Jay" are pseudonyms.






Sunday, October 27, 2019

Creative Nonfiction by Jan Rinehart






A Thing I Used to Do When I Was Little

by Jan Rinehart




My grandmother, 'Mom,' lived one block from our family home. To walk there alone was always permitted.

Mom raised hollyhocks and snapdragons in her flower bed on the east side of her home. As a child it seemed enormous, but in truth it was about 4' by 4'. As I sat on the ground I felt hidden.

I was a loner, so often wandered to Mom's special flower bed. There I would sit on the ground, hidden and make hollyhock dolls and puppy dogs from the snapdragons.

I could spend hours there as a small child, having tea parties, lengthy conversations and quiet moments with my friends, the hollyhock girls and their puppy dogs.


About the Author: 
Twenty-five years ago Jan Rinehart was accepted to participate in the Oregon Writing Project. She carried those skills to her classroom and taught beginning writing skills to many elementary students. Since then she has 'flirted' with personal writing but is now ready to 'commit' to daily writing. She has endless praise for the Women's Writing Group for the success she is feeling with writing today.


Poetry by Susie Donnelly




What the Mirror Does Not Show
by Susie Donnelly






I am a purple sharpie,
one shade in the sky
just before the green flash.
                                                             I am a single car garage
                                                             with no automatic
                                                             door opener.
                                                             
I am spooled
white thread wound tight,
waiting to mend.

                                                              I am a wooden clothes-pin
                                                              forgotten and grayed,
                                                              hanging useless
                                                              on the backyard line.
I am steaming
black coffee,
rich and acidic,
needing to cool.
                                                              I am a deck of cards,
                                                              worn with bent corners
                                                              and missing the king of hearts.
I am a foreign coin,
valued only in exotic places
with cobblestone streets
and mysterious words.
                                                              I am homemade cornbread
                                                              easily prepared but
                                                              grainy on the palate.
I am a forgotten crystal rosary,
coiled in a corner
of the bottom drawer.
                                                              I am a vine maple leaf
                                                              in chilly October,
                                                              clinging to the limb,
                                                              destined to fall.
I am the sounds
of three a.m.,
hushed, whispered
but always present.

   I am a shadow
   of yesterday’s child;
   a seed of tomorrow’s hope.




About the author: 
Susie Donnelly lives in SE Portland with her husband and their Goldendoodle. She has written poetry off and on (mostly off) for years.




Friday, October 25, 2019

Creative Nonfiction & Poetry by Judith Armatta






On Binaries

by Judith Armatta




He criticized my wearing black. Widow's weeds, he said, and I was only 22. No one close had died except my grandpa. I didn't see it that way. I could hide in black, be almost invisible. Hide an imperfect body. Black moods, not so much. 

At night, blackness revealed the stars’ sparkle, while cloaking wildness trying to live among us, also evil sneaking up.


Black was marshmallows too long in the fire. The bottom of a forgotten pan gone dry on the stove. It was berries in August with vanilla ice cream. And it was my friend’s perfect judo kick.


A Black Maria arriving in early morning brought terror to enemies of the state who disappeared.


My post op face turned black and scared the dentist and all the waiting patients.

Black for funerals, white for weddings and first communions. Chinese tradition requires white for mourning. I wore a black dress at my wedding. White whispered from underneath.

We contrast black with white and pronounce one bad, one good, stuck in binary thought. Black skin, white skin. Where does brown fit? Where beauty? Is not skin deep.


I had three cats, two white, one black. They were not binaries. They were complexities. A gray cat adopted us. The three others were prejudiced. They did not like him.

Black is the absence of . . . red, yellow, green, blue. Black absorbs.


After living eons in the light, we will all disappear into a black hole. Which could be another universe. Or nothing.










Chasing Words

by Judith Armatta




I used to put them in a jar
Uncommon words
Jimjams
Jiggery pokery
Crepuscular
Common and lovely words
Dusk
Courage
Star rain


Just now I went to take them out
Dusty, ignored for years
I shook out words
And a dead fly
More words
And a dead bee
I kept the bee


Snollygoster
Lycanthrope
Dysgenic


Solitude
Death
Joy


They fall out
Or I pull them out with tweezers
Until they all lay scattered on my desk


Is this where they’ve been hiding
As the white page looks at me
Empty
As my mind?


A jar of words
To make a story
Or a life







About the Author: 

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist, and human-rights advocate who monitored the trial of Slobodan Milošević on behalf of the Coalition for International Justice. For over two decades, she has worked to increase awareness of and response to violence against women and children. Armatta currently consults and writes on international humanitarian, human rights, and U.S. Criminal Justice issues. Armatta’s book, Twilight of Impunity: the War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milošević, was published in 2010 by Duke University Press. http://www.juditharmatta.com/






Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Gesture


Here's a small, personal story: It was 2016, and we were in a vegetarian café in Eugene, Oregon, where my son was working on his M.A. in Journalism. He was telling us (his dad and me) how he felt about a controversial issue. I was so moved by the eloquence of his hand gestures - and how they mirrored the depths of his heart and mind - that I took this photo while I was listening to him.

Here's another story, one of worldwide significance: In 1970, West Germany's Chancellor Willy Brandt set a wreath on a memorial for Warsaw ghetto victims. And then, instead of making a speech, he knelt on the steps and bowed his head.

"I looked into the depths of German history, and, under the weight of the millions of those who were murdered, I simply did what men must do when words fail," he wrote in his memoir.*

What gestures - large or small - do you notice around you? A flip of hair. A pat on the head. A furtive exit. What do those actions have to say? Maybe they're the starting place for greater understanding. They could also be the springboard for a story or poem.




*Tyler Marshall, October 9, 1992, "Willy Brandt, Post WWII German Statesman, Dies," Los Angeles Times.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Wild Moon -- Poetry by Deborah Lee




















Here's a poem by Deborah Lee that embraces the darkness of fall. To fully relish its rhythm, you might try reading it aloud.



Wild moon

       Brightsobright

       Backlighting massive evergreens, silent sentinels of the dark.

Aged hills watch, wise to our foolish ways
as we slowly devastate the earth.

The man in the moon laughs.

Someone howls.

Wings flap.

Blood oozes.

Wild, wild moon.

A stray Tom Waits lyric faintly wafts, "...never felt so alive or alone."

So goes the night.


About the author: Deborah Lee loves to sing, plays the guitar, and enjoys writing essays, songs, and memoir.