Thursday, November 18, 2021

Wigging Out


How is life for you?

Floods and fires: Is the world unhinged?

A few years ago Gold Man Review published my short story, "A True Gift," a surreal piece about wigs, a hostile audience and an ego as extravagant as wildfire. Inspired by unsettling events (political strife and climate change), it felt so good to write this. Like I could laugh in the face of chaos

A True Gift   by Linda Ferguson*

Just as I was about to give my speech the lights went off, so I stood there in the dark auditorium, and quickly came up with a witty line to say when the power came back on.

And let there be light – that’s what I’d say.

I could already feel the warmth of my audience’s response, my approval ratings skyrocketing.


But when the lights did come on, I forgot all about my clever line and stared dumbfounded because – prepare yourself, this is odd – everyone in the audience was now wearing a wig.

Before, there’d been the usual array of hairdos – the balding heads, the braids and buns, the mohawks, the faux hawks, the perms, the buzz cuts. Now all of those were suddenly gone and replaced with wigs in one of two styles: blond spun sugar and a polished black cap.

The long blond strands looked sticky (unfortunate flies that landed there would never launch again) and were molded in perpetual motion – a windswept sculpture perched on people’s heads.

It was something.

And then there was the other wig, which clutched the scalp at the temples and carried a whiff of black licorice.

Standing there with my own hair tucked behind my ears, I felt out of place and wished I’d worn the wig I’d inherited from my grandmother (the cropped russet curls clipped back with an emerald bobby pin). But there was no time for regrets because I still had a presentation to give.

I’m an experienced speaker and although the wig business was strange, I was ready to roll with it. So I plunged right into my speech, only to send the evening lurching completely off the rails. Instead of saying the words I’d practiced, I was talking in a language I didn’t know. This wasn’t Spanish, Icelandic or Quechua; each word was completely unrecognizable to me.

Yet somehow, I was saying something comprehensible to the wig people (the spun sugar and the licorice), all of whom were united in their response.

Picture my winged popularity pierced by an arrow and plunging with rapidity.

You could say my wig-wearing audience was displeased, agitated, riled up, enraged. I saw visible signs of this: lips pinched, temples pulsed, knuckles ground into palms (a mortise and pestle effect) – and I concluded that the speech I was delivering (against my will!) was not the one I had down – the one I’d rehearsed until it rolled off my tongue with the ease of rhyming couplets.

That address would have had the wearer of each wig gleaming with appreciation, but the one I was giving was an irritant.

Times ten.

Times ten million.

Faces turned red, and what began as grumbling quickly developed into a discontent that resembled a galloping herd of iron-clad hooves.

‘This isn’t happening,’ I thought and tried speaking again, but each new syllable I uttered added another splash of gasoline onto a pyre that was already devouring the oxygen in the room.

Someone lobbed a ripe tomato that landed, splat, on my shoulder like an epaulet. One hothead in a licorice wig even threw a can of tomatoes at me. Luckily, I have quick reflexes and ducked. The can just hit the wall behind me then rolled off the stage before I could grab it. Disappointing, certainly, because I had a recipe for a ratatouille that called for canned tomatoes, and now if I wanted to make it, I’d have to stop at the store on my way home, but no matter, I told myself, as people rose from their seats, fists raised.

One was even gripping a pitchfork. Another was looping the end of a rope.

It was clearly time to scoot, so I opened my mouth to briefly thank everyone for coming and almost laughed when I heard the sound I was issuing now: Aaaaaah.

This elongated utterance sighed from the stage speakers and had an instant effect on my audience. Lips softened, fists opened and wigs that had gone askew seemed to straighten of their own accord. I took a chance and opened my mouth again:

 Aaaaaah, I said, and – get this – an aaaaah murmured back from somewhere in the center of the room. Then another one– a baritone – came from the front rows.

Talk about making lemonade. My unfortunate situation had morphed into an opportunity to realize my cherished dream of conducting a choir or a symphony.

Aaaaah, I said, raising my hands, inviting more audience members to join in, and as a wave of aaaaah’s rolled back, I glowed like a kindergartner who’s just earned her first gold star.

Seizing the moment, I motioned to the those sitting on the right side of the room to aaah, and then motioned to those on the left, then scooped my hands to indicate I wanted to hear them aaah all together, and they did, just as I directed!

A pleasant ease descended. Some sank low in their seats and yawned. Children snuggled into their parents’ laps. Others rested their heads on their neighbors’ shoulders, and their neighbors’ arms circled round them amidst a breath of aaaaah’s as peace settled on the room like a soft blue blanket.

And all because of my speech!

This was better than anything I could have planned, I thought, and I tiptoed out the door.

Outside, I was still floating on the sweet cloud of my success, and I decided to walk home despite all the forest fires that had been blazing just outside of the city lately and the smoke that instantly irritated my throat.

The moon was full and orange-red, a bold twin of the setting sun – the air as silent as the looming haze – no car alarm, or ringtone or train horn.

Thanks to my new air conditioning, I’d been able to have the windows to my house closed the entire week, which kept out all but a trace of smoke, and I was looking forward to a cozy evening at home. The perfect way to relish yet another personal triumph.

*First published in Gold Man Review, Fall 2018.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Conversations in Autumn

Inspired by Kahlil Gibran's poem "The Scarecrow," my adult writing students and I recently wrote about conversations with fall things -- a crabapple, an oak leaf, a pumpkin, a sheath of hay, and a scarecrow -- each of which take on their own personality.

Here are some of the writings by Nathalie Le Breton, Susan Donnelly, Lindy Low Le Coq and Ron Smith. Enjoy! 

 * * *

Fall Musings by Nathalie Le Breton

Once I said to an oak leaf “Did you fall too early?”

She did not respond.

She looked up for a bit at her sisters still perched on dark branches. And then she went rolling, alone, in the wind.

At times she had a few companions. Among them were flamboyant maple leaves, shriveled rose hips, and the crows, always the crows. But mostly she rolled alone in the wind.

Because she never responded, I often wondered if indeed she had fallen too early. But then I thought that some of us do need to fall early, and alone.

Don’t cry. It is not a lonely thing. Actually it is not lonely at all. Remember the maple leaves and the rosehips? And yes the crows! There’re always the crows… They might be odd companions, but while you roll alone they tell it as it is:

“Keep going!”

“Get out of here!”

“What are you looking at?”

“I told you so…”

So you see, the rolling is not so lonely even if you have fallen, maybe, a bit too early.

And sure, I wondered what happened to the oak leaf. Often I even wonder what will happen to me!

Maybe it is now time to imagine the rest of the story, you know, after the falling, after the rolling alone in the wind. She must have felt the rain, and the soft burning, and the rain again. She must have cried. She must have smiled. She must have lived beyond what I could see, beyond what I can even imagine. She must have lived beyond the fall.

About the author: Nathalie Le Breton is a French native speaker who has relocated in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys exploring a different language as a form of personal discovery and melodic expression. She also enjoys reading poetry and children's books, knitting, drinking tea, and walking slowly through the seasons.

* * *

Walking the Neighborhood in Fall by Susan Donnelly

Once I said to a porch pumpkin, “How does it feel to wait on this cold concrete step for someone to give you a face?”

The mouthless pumpkin replied, “I am only doing what we all do – waiting for others to shape our  expressions.”

I glanced at the afternoon sky then back at his unetched skin and probed further, “But does it hurt to be carved, to feel the sharp edge, wielded in the hands of another, stab into your heart?”

 He said, “Ask yourself.”

I chose not to and went on down the shaded sidewalk pretending I preferred Autumn’s bright red maple leaves to dull orange pumpkins anyway.

Weeks passed; the days grew shorter and the nights colder. Rain pelted from dark skies.

One foggy morning, I walked past the same porch. The same pumpkin sat on the same damp step,

mold kissing his raggedly carved buck teeth. His triangle eye sockets had shrunk in on themselves, and all of his orifices oozed a sickly orange goo.

I approached cautiously and in a whisper asked, “How does dying feel?”

He responded, “You already know.”

About the author: Susan Donnelly, a retired middle-school teacher, walker, and dog lover, is a Portland poet who has studied with Linda Ferguson for a number of years.

* * *

The Kind Crabapple by Lindy Low LeCoq

Photo courtesy of Lindy Low LeCoq


Once I happened upon a crabapple tree and said, “How bright and cheery your apples are! May I pick some?”

“Yes, by all means,” the tree replied. “I get tired of seeing them drop onto the pavement and rot away.”

Looking around, I could tell the tree was right. Buckets of its bounty, unable to find fertile
ground, were decaying in all corners of the roadway.

“I see,” I replied. “Thank you for permission. I’ve wanted to pick ripe crabapples for a long time - and here you are - your branches overflowing.”

“Yes, they are a bit,” the tree nodded. “So tell me, what do you want with my sour little pippins?”

“From these I will make an old fashioned pickle, one my grandmother made when I was very young.”

“Pickles? Hmm,” the tree thought for a moment. “You intend to make my tiny tart fruit even more sour?”

“Oh, no,” I assured it. “These apples will be bathed in a brine of cider vinegar, mixed with sugar and spiced with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. They will absorb the aromatic flavors and fragrance and become delightful confections to accompany meals at my dinner table.”

“You’re sure about that?” The tree asked. “Wouldn’t a jelly be more useful?”

“Perhaps to some, but for my family pickled crabapples are a rare specialty that will brighten our autumn feast of Thanksgiving.”

“I see,” the tree said softly.  “Well you have carte blanche - pick away!”

Small, large, medium some bruised and blemished, I picked along the underside of the tree until my bag bulged, and oodles of crabapples were still left hanging.

“Thank you, dear tree,” I said as I hoisted the gift and turned to leave. “I may be back later, and for sure I’ll see you again next year.”

“That would be lovely. I enjoy having my pippins go to good use. The bees work diligently in spring to pollinate my pretty pink blossoms, I bask all summer in sun and drink the rains when they come so that in autumn I have a harvest for all who will partake.”

“Bless you, and when you smell the scent of roasting turkey waft upon the breeze around here, know that I will be serving your generous offering at my family’s gathering.”

“That’s a comfort - thank you.”

Photo Courtesy of Lindy Low LeCoq

About the author: After 30 years of counseling young adults, Lindy Low LeCoq now focuses her energy on writing, photography and landscape gardening. Her work has appeared in The Poeming Pigeon: In the News, Postcards, Poems & Prose and Plum Tree Tavern

* * *

Sheaf, a Sketch by Ron Smith

A sheaf of hay stood opposite me on the other side of a farmer's barbed wire fence as I trod the road, hardly more than a trail, really just a rut, between Creswell and Saginaw.  Though identical to other bundles of hay, standing in a row like sentries along the fence, there was something singular about this sheaf of harvest.  It seemed larger than the others, perhaps only because it was the one closest to me;  it's straw yellowness seemed fresher and brighter than it's brethren straw, perhaps for no other reason than that a ray of sun pierced the morning's clouds, and fell on this favored sheaf, and none of the others.  For these reasons, because I was uncertain of my location and needed direction, and there was no one else around, I addressed the proud bundle of straw:

"I say there, ye, upright bundle of hay, who will provide sustenance for your master's livestock, ye who reflect the sun's gold in your reflected hue, ye, who know your place and purpose, can ya help me out?  I'm not familiar with this road, see, and am almost lost:  is this the road to Saginaw?"

Unaccustomed to being addressed by passersby, and painfully shy, the bundle of straw mutely looked to it's brethren hay bundles for support.  They, some wiser, gave ascent for the bundle to answer:

"Honored - sir, though - I am -  butasheafofhay . . . and - will - soon - find - my - parts inthebelliesof horses - and - asses, - I - can - state - with - certainty,"  so shy, they could barely continue, "with - certainty, - you - are - headedtoSaginaw."   

from The Idler's Sketchbook  10/16/2021

About the author: Ron Smith has been playing drums and been in bands for as long as he can remember. His attempts at songwriting led to prose. He loves reading fiction, history and biography and specializes in writing short fiction. His favorite book is Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks. He shares a Woodstock cottage with numerous musical instruments and hundreds of books, vinyl records, and CDs. 

* * *

A Chafing Chat by Susan Donnelly

Once I said to a scarecrow, “Straw is so prickly, do you itch all of the time?”

The stuffed figure tilted his oversized head – perhaps to ease some discomfort or perhaps to see my face better, and replied, “Yes, of course; we all do, just for different reasons.”

Sunday, September 26, 2021

From Pandemic to Protest -- a New Anthology

What an honor to have my poem "Crown Thy Good" included in The Poetry Box's From Pandemic to Protest, a collection of work by poets from around the globe trying to make sense of the events of 2020.

You can read more about the anthology and also purchase a copy by clicking here.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Soul Poet Society

Thank you to Soul Poet Society for including four of my poems in their anthology Quintessence: Aspects of the Soul.

This book is packed with gems by poets from all over the globe. You can click here to buy a copy.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

In Good Company


I still can't quite believe my good fortune. 

I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to join the conversation of our community through poetry! Thank you, as always, to my fellow writers who continue to help me along this journey. 

And, of course, thank you to Shawn Aveningo Sanders and Robert Sanders of The Poetry Box for this honor!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Woof! A Work in Progress

My students and I were writing how-to poetry and prose last week: How to Be a Carrot, How to Let Things Go, How to Be a Bumblebee.

Here's one I'm working on:

How to Live with a New Puppy

Prepare to be unprepared

to forget to do the basics (shower, stretch, breathe)

prepare to forget the pleasure of ironing a shirt and reading beneath a tree

prepare for dainty nails to rake your shins and seventh-octave barks to shatter the champagne flutes of your inner ear

prepare to be hung upside down and shaken like dice in a cup so that keys and coins fly out of your pockets, so that the beads of your girlhood necklace finally break free from their 50-year-old string and tumble to the unswept floor to mingle with bits of dried grass and kibbledust

prepare for everything to come loose, for words like lunch and sleep to become as abstract as infinity or world peace

prepare for even your teeth to unmoor and rattle to the fir floor, leaving you to gum the puppy’s silky ears like a newborn infant seeking love as much as sustenance with its warm, blind mouth.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021


Something nice happened a few weeks ago.

A stranger who likes our poetry post slipped a book of their own poems through our mail slot. Inside the book was a handwritten note from the author, Taylor L. Ciambra:

"Hello! Thank you for sharing poems with the neighborhood! It always makes my day when I see a new poem up during a walk or jog. I want to share my poems with you as a way to show gratitude. I hope you enjoy them!"

Bowled over by this gift, I wanted to show my gratitude in turn. I took words from their poems (breadcrumbs, beard, motorcycle, heels, flannel) as well as the title of the book, Away with Words, and wove them into a freewrite/poem. Then I posted it for Ciambra alongside one of their poems to see the next time they jog by. I titled my writing "Improv" because Ciambra's bio says they're a "theatre maker and writer." The ending refers to a popular improv game that asks participants to work together, accepting each other's ideas and keeping a conversation alive. No script required.

Once again I'm reminded that writing is as much about conversation and connection as anything. May we all be joyful participants in organic exchanges with friends and strangers alike.


           for Taylor L. Ciambra

Away with words

      A way with words

with sentences

and similes

      dressed in hiking boots,

      not heels and stockings

A way

     to weigh


     to follow breadcrumbs

               to bandaids,

                   sleeping bags,

                        and beards

Your words

       the salt breeze on (y)our

              bare neck, whiff

                     of sugar and of smoke --

one shoulder cocked

    inside a leather coat,

              one shoulder nestled

                      in a flannel robe.

                 Away with words

A way with words

                A word:


                or two:

                     Yes, and...