TEN MONTHS AND THREE WEEKS, Therese Broderick

Ten Months And Three Weeks
by Therese Broderick

Still too young to tell me what you’re searching for
after I rest your purple spoon on the highchair tray
nearly cleaned of peas and tuna bits, after I lift
your body to my shoulder to thrum away bubbles

of swallowed air. You babble ”Khaa” while prying
open my lips, sticky fingers pinching moist bottom
front teeth, then poking innermost cheeks,
gums, porcelain-capped molars and all along

my tongue–fat muscle nannying you
on Monday mornings. Maybe you’re reaching for
warmed-up wads which had been oiling my throat
through lunchtime–“More? More?”–new words

your family and I must sample; or are you
probing for a seedless red grape which
you’ve always sensed should be pulping here
within me, if only I were Great-Grandmother

chewing to harmlessness your next new food then
passing it by lip with a kiss? same first reflex
born to shorebirds–beaks pecking, baby necks
outstretching to mother gullets or father pellets.

I’ll wait for your knuckles to tire out
and tuck, before humming our song to thumbs.

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THEIR MOVING VAN DRIVES OFF, Therese Broderick

Their Moving Van Drives Off
by Therese Broderick

and so I bed down on their kitchen floor,
sleeping bag next to their one radiator
widowed by its one thermostat,
a golden monocle stuck at 60;

feet coupling near the rickety refrigerator,
coils gagging, motors coughing,
minus-seven-degree winds rasping
other tenants’ carports and dumpsters.

I close my eyes to my mother’s story:
no matter how chilly the drafts
from hand-sawed doors and shutters
her people would huddle on the carpet
of their parlor, beside their coffins–

stillborn infant, pocked schoolboy,
spinster aunt, or one more young uncle
frozen drunk on the Erie barge.

TO THE THREE TEMPLE BELLS HUNG ON MY NEW SPARE ROOM’S DOORKNOB, Therese Broderick

To the Three Temple Bells Hung On My New Spare Room’s Doorknob
by Therese Broderick

Altogether now, not too loudly,
let’s ring out my former
Storage Room–
my parents’ chairs, lamps, wall mirrors
and too many years of photo frames;
and my Office painted green–
that Macintosh console I hauled home
then sold too cheaply one December;
and my wallpapered Nursery–
those longest nights of my life dangling
the faces on a checkered mobile;
and my off-white Vacancy–
brand new room, upstairs, back corner,
south sun when we both moved in
that June weekend I chimed vows,
chimed promises to him
to stay in one place.

Therese’s process notes:
When writing poems, I strive to envoice “thought-sounding”, the sound of mind-in-action, the tidal murmurings of feeling. One of my composition strategies is to study and emulate the work of other poets who have already mastered that intimate tone. Most of my poems blend three elements: Autobiography; a turn away from The Actual for the sake of The Art; and homages to the examples of other poets.

Therese L. Broderick has contributed to her poetry community (Albany, New York) for 14 years in various roles—writer, reader, teacher, critique buddy, classroom guest, judge, and Board volunteer.

Therese blogs at Poet Apace.

FISHING FOR MEMORIES, Elizabeth Crawford

Fishing For Memories
by Elizabeth Crawford

russ-crawford-going-fishing-at-left-foot-lake

photograph (c) Elizabeth Crawford

Times when I think I remember too much.
Sixty years plus is a mountain of memories,
each one a small stone or huge boulder.
Getting older makes it worse.

Sometimes curse the flow
on those days when I want to look back
and can’t seem to catch anything
but shadows slipping through doors
closed tight with locked latches.

What I remember most fondly is going fishing
with my father. Cool morning mist dissipating
slowly, like soft sensuous dream disintegrating
at awakening. Silence that wasn’t really silent:
water lapping, birds chanting morning prayers,
fish jumping for flying insects then dropping back
to gently plop leaving only an echo of ringed ripples at surface.

Threading hook with live crawlers
caught the night before with bare fingers
at edge of flashlight beam
(had to be quick or they’d slip back into darkness).

Letting the line down until it hit bottom
then reeling it up a bit so bait
would move with current, look enticing to perch
feeding in weeds.

Smell of dad’s cigarette drifting through air,
not many words shared, some quiet teasing
about who would catch first one,
the biggest, the most.

Long ride back from Sturgeon Bay or some other direction.
Didn’t make much difference, I was willing to go wherever he led me.
He didn’t make demands that I be a certain way,
dress in a certain fashion,
not be quite so passionate about things.

Coming home with a pail full of perch.
Silently watching him clean them, helping
where I could, taking my turn at scraping, cutting and gutting.
Hardest part might have been moving back into that world of others,
mother and siblings, having to share him again.

Elizabeth’s process notes:
My relationship with my father was both emotionally supportive (he was the only one who told me, in my formative years, that I could and would do whatever I set my mind to) and complicated by the shadow of a car accident that left me (at age four) with a permanent scar that shelters my ear, a steel pin to patch shattered skull bone, and a very dark pre-surgery prognosis of Cerebral Palsy (the doctor called me his little Miracle Girl for years afterward). I have often wondered if the guilt we shared silently was the reason for our bond or if it was allowed by my Mother to insure that neither one of us strayed too far away from family and home.

The photograph was taken, I believe, about ten months before he passed away from pancreatic cancer. He couldn’t join us in the boat (sick with chemotherapy) so was fishing from the dock of the rented cottage my husband and I had arranged for a family vacation. When I and my son and ex pulled into the dock grinning, he leaned over and said, “You caught a big one didn‘t you? I heard you yelling across the lake.” When asked how he knew it was me that had caught the Northern, he said, with a cheeky grin, “Cause I taught you everything you know and you will always be my favorite fishing buddy.”

HAND ME DOWNS, Elizabeth Crawford

Hand Me Downs
by Elizabeth Crawford

helen-olive-gunville-age-16-1934

photograph (c) Elizabeth Crawford

A holder of hope, a whisperer of dreams.
Her blood in my veins, songs we sang together.
Words from a journal she tried to keep to please me.
Still lifes, landscapes carefully painted in vivid detail.

She prayed each night, counting beads
of the rosary always kept beneath her pillow,
each filigreed orb slipping between silky skin of bent fingers.
A holder of hope, a whisperer of dreams.

So many images, memories like fine-line cracks
in plastered and painted walls of my mind.
Each day, new ones seemingly forgotten,
her blood in my veins, songs we sang together.

Tiny feet crawling swiftly across awareness.
Sometimes causing me to flinch away
from sadness and grief at her passing.
Words from a journal she tried to keep to please me.

Once said I had healing in my hands, surprised
when I nodded that I knew, that others had said the same.
Her hand in mine giving gifts to new generations,
still lifes, landscapes carefully painted in vivid detail.

Elizabeth’s process notes:
I was one of four children, and the one who carried none of my Mother’s physical characteristics. Although our relationship was strained early on, she became a role model in many ways, teaching me that one is never too old to begin to act on a lifelong dream (she found a teacher and began painting in her mid-sixties, while I met my teacher and began writing poetry just before turning forty). I became one of her primary caregivers in her declining years and only then realized how much she had handed down to me about seeing the vivid details that daily surround each of us. The photograph is my Mother at age 16. She was so proud of the fact that in it, she “weighed only 98 pounds and wore a size 4 shoe.”

The poem started as a cascade poem, using lines borrowed from another poet as the first verse and repeat lines used at the end of others. Re-visioned, I wanted to keep the form, because memories often seem to follow that echoing sort of pattern.

Elizabeth Crawford views poetry as an educational and therapeutic tool. She hopes to continue writing until she can no longer hold a pen. She began her poetic journey in mid-life and only desires to catch up before running out of ink.

TIME–AND TIME AGAIN, Vivienne Blake

Time–and Time Again
by Vivienne Blake

Time is but an abacus
that flows like a river in spate,
the river of my childhood, green
and cold and smelling of drains.

The sound of rushing, roaring winter flood
or the trickle of placid summer drought,
the Thames, a thread through my childhood
and beyond.

A move away in adulthood–
the wrench from my foundations,
accelerating time and ageing.
Merde, I say, at time’s effect on
gravity, as everything sags
and loses color.

The swooshy rush of time’s river
slows almost to a standstill
in old age and yet, and yet,
days pass in seconds
as this old frame flows into
amorphous dirt and all but disappears.

Vivienne’s process notes:
From the age of 9 to 14 I lived beside the river Thames, with Windsor Castle in view across the water meadows. Most of the time I was in or on the river.

GREY, Vivienne Blake

Grey
by Vivienne Blake

That was the year we all had a crush on Miss Mayland.
A year of triumph and disaster
And we did keep our heads.

We swam a mile at the lido,
Domini, Kevin and me.
The weather was grey,
the water too cold at fifty degrees.
We sang as we swam
Rose, Rose I love you
Skin starting to crinkle
A you’re Adorable
Strokes slower and slower
I’d like to get you
On a slow boat to China.

Counting the lengths–
when can we stop?
That was the year that they kicked Churchill out.
Everything grey
Everything drear
Rationing still at its worst.
Ten million for the spectacles and eightpence for the meat
At Much Binding in the Marsh.

Everyone grim,
everyone grumpy.
That was the year we sang at the Festival:
How beautiful they are, the lordly ones.
Precise, rehearsed and drilled
heartless girls but we all did our best.
So we won, we won, we won.
On the way home we sang on the bus.
Took off our hats and shouted.
What would they say at the Convent?
Took off our gloves, shock horror.
What would they say at the Convent?
At Church street we went in the chippy.
How frightful, what would they say?
Fish and chips in the street
in our prim uniforms
but no hats and no gloves. It was good.

We paraded our triumph, our pride and our sin,
broke all the rules in loud celebration,
banished the grey.

Vivienne Blake discovered poetry in her seventies, during an Open University Creative Writing course. She is making up for lost time, with poems published in anthologies and magazines, including Long Story Short, Equinox, and the French Literary Review (in English and French). She lives with her retired dentist husband in rural Normandy.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 1994, Nicole Nicholson

Sunday, December 18, 1994
by Nicole Nicholson

Sunday, December 18, 1994.
A gray woolen sky unfolds herself
over our heads, bleeding in all directions.
I am eighteen years old, have never
been behind the wheel of a car. The
white Mustang, only five years old,
rumbles and snorts underneath my seat,
its rippled mechanical muscle churning
just below the surface of white paint
trying its best to glisten in cloudlight.

I pull my leaden, brand new brake foot
away and rest it on the gas pedal: that
horse gallops, veering right. There are no
rubber treaded hooves rolling cleanly
over double-yellow striped asphalt. They
stomp and thunder, embossing new tracks
into the green grass softly lining the road’s
shoulder.

My memories of what happens next:
a series of flashcards, in sight and sound.
BRAKE! BRAKE!
I hear my stepbrother shouting, but
his mean steed is charging ahead through
other people’s front lawns: I hear him only
through a tunnel. I cannot move my body.
I cannot feel my fingers. I cannot see anything
except scenery rushing towards me.
Someone’s mailbox – a little metal head
stuck on a long wooden neck – falls underneath
the horse’s hooves and dies. We keep
rolling forward until the horse slams itself –
headfirst – into a long brown giant with wires
strung around the ears.

The horse dies, of a broken skull.
We are soon taken away in the bellies
of screaming red metal creatures.
The paramedics wrap our necks
in plastic and foam, fearful that they
are even just a little bit looser from
our spines. We are just a little bit looser,
too, from our tiny wrinkled hovels in space-time:
but neither of us acknowledge this. The sirens
announce our exit as we leave
a broken metal carcass behind.

Nicole’s process notes:
When I was home from college over Christmas Break in 1994, my stepbrother insisted on taking me out on the local roads to teach me how to drive. I had never been behind the wheel of a vehicle, and I didn’t even have a learner’s permit. But excited at the prospect of actually driving a car, I decided to go.

Out of this whole experience, I ended up with a citation for driving without a license and a hospital bill that haunted me in the form of bill collection calls until it was finally paid by my stepbrother’s insurance company — not to mention, a tendency of driving a little too close to the left side of my lane even to this day (the car veered off the right side of the road, so I’m still a little nervous about driving too far right).

I had talked a little about this experience before, but I had never written about it. When I wrote this poem, I had to remember this experience — without over-analysis or careful thought — and just let the memory carry me, trying to notice the details as I went along.

SPEAKING IN TONGUES (THIS IS AUTISM), Nicole Nicholson

Speaking in Tongues (This is Autism)
by Nicole Nicholson

I speak in tongues: I burn,
scorching my voice with the rising dawn,
igniting words and air
until my throat-flame has gone –

and I leave a phalanx of fire made
from bundled armies of fulgent spears.
Trees bend low to the river
to soothe their scorched ears.

My bones are gravid with words,
my brain swollen with pictures:
my attic cries for release from
words drenched with tinctures –

bleeding film, turgid and dripping,
slithers underneath my skin
to exit through my fingertips. Read
the blood to know where I’ve been.

Tear the stars from my belly if you must:
but know that my feathers are ink and sky.
Pull down Heaven upon my head –
maybe you will see me cry,

but maybe you will see me dance
my stripped wire patterns into the earth,
a waggle dance woven into my soul,
double-helixes programmed before birth

from which both my gifts and pain come.
I will not erase these from my soul.
They are the reason I speak in tongues,
extracting ribbons of cellophane gold

from the cathedral of strings, alive
and forever oscillating in my heart.
I would not be this colored soul:
a tuning fork, pitched by this art

of words. This is my autism: it blossoms,
lotus-curved, white floating blooms
open to the sky to drink in the rain
while the ignorant build rows of tombs

and declare us dead. Pity is a grave, unfit
for the living. I don’t regret the wings
that God gave me. I will speak in tongues,
I will fly, and I will forever sing.

Nicole’s process notes:
I wrote this poem almost four years ago, when I was a self-diagnosed Aspie (the term “Aspie” is a colloquialism for someone who has Asperger Syndome, one of the manifestations of autism).

The first version of this poem came out of me in a much different form than you see here. It was a word train of anger and frustration at not only my difficulties with communication and being misunderstood but also the misconceptions about autism I had encountered up to that point. The latter I had seen to some degree because of Autism Speaks’ pity-based fundraising and negative messages which painted autistic people as hopeless, helpless, tragic people in desperate need of a cure. I subscribe to the idea of neurodiversity, which is the belief that autism and other neurological conditions are not only neurologically valid ways of being but are normal variations in the human genome, and of course, I was upset at the idea that I needed to be either “cured” for simply being myself or that people like me should be genetically wiped out of existence.

Fast forward to late 2013. I heard about the “This Is Autism” flashblog event in which autistics and their allies were encouraged to write about what autism means to them. This was an action of positivity to combat yet another round of negative messages from Autism Speaks that implied that we and our families suffered because of autism, or that we were helpless burdens on our families. I suddenly got inspiration to rewrite the original poem, as I always felt that it needed…something else. So I rewrote it to reflect a more focused and positive statement of what autism meant to me. I normally don’t write rhyming poetry, but when the first stanza rhymed itself, I just kept going. Every word is the truth – my truth.

Nicole Nicholson is the editor of a new online literary journal, Barking Sycamores, which focuses on poetry and writing on the autism spectrum.