Monday, January 21, 2019

5th Grade

5th Grade

I lied. I do remember my 5th grade teacher’s name. Mrs. Medillo. She said in my school year book that I was her “busy bee reader.” I kept track of all the books I read on index cards. I had a stack of them. I didn’t know how to score the books I read more than once. It seemed a miracle that because of redistricting I was able to spend 5th grade back at my old school Driscoll, except by this time my friends had moved on. We were different on a scale that only a tween would understand. I was desperate to read a friend, a book that loved me for who I was—somewhat nerdy, existential, an optimistic fatalist.

Little Women.

I could actually see Jo staring into the depth of her grief when she opened Beth’s hope chest, where the mementos of her short life were stored. Even today, my throat catches every time I read this passage. I am Jo, the writer, smudging the outside of my finger as my hand rushes over fresh ink on the page.

Secretly I nurture a secret power.

Friday, January 18, 2019

4th Grade

4th Grade
We moved in the middle of 3rd grade, from one neighborhood to another. Yet it necessitated a switch from Driscoll Elementary to Stingley. At recess I was an outcast. There was a sign, a symbol really, by a door that we never used. I must have asked someone and they said it was a bomb shelter. What?

At Stingley I decided to read every book on the shelves in the school library. I got through the Ds. I stumble upon an old-fashion book by Nancy Barnes titled The Wonderful Year about a girl much like myself whose heart breaks when her family has to move. She also rode a bike. I read the book through once, twice, three times. I remember telling my mother about it. Here was my story, told in fiction, about another girl in another time, yet it was also about me.

In my school picture I flash a cheesy grin. I took the photographer literally when he demanded that I smile. Pinned to my jumper was a seal with a marble-size fake pearl for a body. I still have this pin.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

3rd Grade

3rd Grade

No one bothered to straighten my bow. Peter Pan collars were very popular growing up. Later I would gravitate toward angular, heavily ironed collars. In high school I’d sew my own clothes. But for now I was stuck with whatever my mother picked out for me. One time she took me shopping at Elder-Beerman’s where I was forced to browse the chubby girl section. It took a while, but eventually I would attempt to assert some autonomy over my clothes choices. Mostly I wore hand-me-downs from my sister Nancy who was only one year older.

Case in point: 

Though I was a slow reader, books became very important to me. My teacher (I cannot remember a single teacher’s name) read Charlotte’s Web to the class. I can still hear the sing-song back-and-forth lyricism in her voice as she read the scene of the kids on the tire swing in the barn. I was confused by the ending because up to that point no one had ever died in a book I’d read. Also I thought the title should feature Wilbur. It would be later that I’d realize the sacrificial heroics of Charlotte. She was a true friend.

Never diminish the importance of reading aloud to children.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Spooky! The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition

The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition
Deadline: January 31, 2019
The Ghost Story is seeking fine flash fiction on a supernatural theme. $500 first prize, and $100 for each of two honorable mentions. All three will be published online and in our print anthology, 21st Century Ghost Stories: Volume II. Ghost stories are always welcome, of course—but we're searching for well-crafted sudden fiction incorporating any supernatural theme or element, or magic realism. 250-1,000 words; $10 entry fee.

Image result for ghost

Monday, January 14, 2019

2nd Grade

2nd Grade

Same bob haircut. My teeth are like boxy appendages stuck into rubbery pink gums. It will take years for me to grow into my new teeth. My parents did not believe in braces. Orthodontics was for rich kids, or for the most serious cases.

I would come home from school and change into play clothes. It was possible to climb a windbreak of hedge apple trees separating our backyard from an undeveloped field. Starting at one end, I could go from one tree to the next without touching the ground. I’d carefully navigate the branches, trying to avoid inch-long thorns, slowly making my way through the canopy. Sometimes I’d just sit in the crook of a tree and make up stories inside my head.

I was largely left alone by my older brothers and sister. I knew it was dinnertime when the sky began to darken.

Friday, January 11, 2019

1st Grade

1st Grade

Hard to believe how short my bangs are in this picture. I might have tried to cut them myself and then a hairdresser had to even them out. I remember telling my Dad I had a loose tooth, and he tied a piece of string around it and the other end around a door knob. Then slammed the door shut. I screamed seeing the bloody stump of my tooth dangling at the end of the string. My brothers and sister were like planets orbiting around me—or perhaps I was a satellite circling my family. None of us seemed to fit together. A picture I hold in my head is sitting in front of our console black and white TV, a newspaper spread before me and my sister Nancy, eating popcorn before bed. I remember one night the show was very boring. A man was taking numbers out of a capsule inside a tumbler. I came to understand that if unlucky my older brother would have to go away to a place called Vietnam.

I also came to understand that no one knew what was going to happen—not even the adults.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019



My mother cut my bangs and set my hair in pigtails all askew. She suffered from depression and would go to the hospital for “treatment.” During summers a neighbor lady would watch me so Mom could rest. I was often left alone.

I remember exploring the woods behind our house on Princewood Avenue. One time, pretending to be an Indian, I stealthily stalked a man walking ahead of me. When I think about this now—I cannot blame my mother for being so anxious. I’d return home late for dinner with muddy shoes.

Funny—no one would ask me where I’d been all day.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Wife

The Wife
Movie review

Almost typed The Good Wife, a TV series I never watched but can tell from the title and synopsis—a typical story of the wife who stands by her man who has gotten himself into trouble. The definition of a good wife. Faithful, loyal.

Thus, The Wife, originally a book by Meg Wolitzer, a very intuitive writer. She’s able to bring readers into her characters using few words. Much like a good actress. I once read an interview where an actress told a director—I can communicate this without words. With her eyes, small gestures, she acted. Glenn Close did the same thing in The Wife.

To be fair, I saw this movie on the plane from Seattle to Minneapolis. It left me shaken—or was it the turbulence? The time change? The shifting taking place emotionally within me. As a writer I’ve lived a lot of The Wife.

A recent conversation about the #metoo movement with a feminist friend: I’m not all in. Me too, no pun intended. Yeah, I’m afraid this might come back to bite us on the butt.

The subtext is this—I’ve been to writers’ retreats, conferences, residencies and seen writers interact, drink, and sleep with each other. For a week or two folks are just kicking back. It seems mutually beneficial. I’m not talking rape, but adults making choices. Sometimes bad ones. Maybe they’re bored with their marriage, maybe they are eager for appreciation, for their work to be advanced, etc. Of course, as an outsider I can’t judge specific situations. This is merely a generalization. Which makes retrospective judgment against a writer male or female seem like a slippery slope.

So, yeah, I still read Junot Diaz and Ernest Hemingway. I respect their work, their words. Maybe not every choice or lifestyle decision they’ve ever made.

Watching The Wife you respect the writer whose body of work is about to be celebrated by a Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet what unwinds through the course of the film is another narrative. About the wife behind the writer and her contributions. Here is where Glenn Close worked acting magic, communicating so much through a look, a breath, accepting a cigarette and blowing away the smoke. She is in love with the writer, disgusted by the man. Her’s is a hard decision.

In this film the character of the wife refuses to be a victim. Yet she still needs her own story arc. Space to dream and grow. Here is a snippet from Glenn Close’s acceptance speech:
“Women, we are nurturers, that is what is expected of us. We have our husband and our children and we have to find personal fulfilment and follow our dreams and we have to say, 'I can do that' and, 'I should be allowed to do that'.”

Congrats, The Wife.

First & Last Ride

First & Last Ride

The scent of pine
& the sound of Christmas
a one-legged vet waits at
            the corner for the light
to change, to roll backward
            into the intersection
            of Broadway & Oak
we shop at St. Vincent DePaul Boutique where
everything is picked over—

Can we stay close
            though far away
Can we harness time
            & stand still?

Lights twinkle, the
            shortest day of the year
We order an Uber—
            We are Kerry’s first ride
Ever? we ask . . .
He goes left, right
            Left, right, right
he accidentally cancels the ride
seatbelts don’t work
                        dog hair covers the floor carpet
We eventually direct him

Early morning, we
            hug good bye,
the neighborhood sleeps—I emerge
onto the mossy deck, slick with rain
“I’ll be right down.”
            Are there words left unsaid, unthought?
We don’t live close.
The taxi idles, I linger,
            Smell one last time the pine.
As we speed to the airport
            Jim tells me I am
his last ride.
Next week he starts a new job.
He is injured from the war &
            Will go to school on the GI Bill.
I look back at the
dark hills. We are already
Image result for taxi in a dark forest            so far away.    

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Work Up @ Spitfire

by Jane Hertenstein

Have you ever just wanted to connect with someone--even a stranger or ghost
Ashley digs deep into the world wide web to find that someone

Image result for missed connections

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

In January, 2019

James Schuyler, In January

"In January"                                            After Ibn Sahl

The yard has sopped into its green-grizzled self its new year

A dog stirs the noon-blue dark with a running shadow and dirt
smells cold and doggy

As though the one thing never seen were its frozen coupling
with the air that brings the flowers of grasses.

And a leafless beech stands wrinkled, gray and sexless–all bone
and loosened sinew–in silver glory

And the sun falls all on one side of it in a running glance, a
licking gaze, an eye-kiss

And ancient silver struck by gold emerges mossy, pinkly
lichened where the sun fondles it

And starlings of anthracite march into the east with rapid jerky
steps pecking at their shadows."
— James Schuyler, “In January”

James Schuyler, 1970 or '69

He wrote poems for friends, to mark a day or morning, to say he was still alive. He wrote for himself, for Joe Brainard, for Frank O'Hara, for Joe and Jane Hazan, for a whole circle, school, the New York School. God bless James Schuyler.

a pugnacious James

The poems of Schuyler catch time as movement, as
fluid, graceful, beautiful —

and quick.

They don’t suggest much agency I guess.
I am not going to judge him.
--Poems by Ken Bolton

What if we all decided in 2016 to catch time in our words, a line or two each day. Just to say Hi!