Giving & Taking

I am writing a poem based on Louise Gluck’s line from “Nostos,” which is also the opening of my memoir I’m really making progress on. So here goes. Check out more poems at Real Toad’s Tuesday Platform.


“We look at the world once, in childhood.

The rest is memory.”



A small chubby foot, bare on the splintered fence, a heave and hoist.

Then my curled fingers reach for the top wooden rung;

wobbling and steadying, I have climbed the outside

of my father’s fence,

the lush expanse of yard all for my eyes to see.

Like a bird.

I bet I see what the swallows and hummingbirds must see.


The flowering crab hangs its pink blossom-laden boughs

low to the earth. Its sweet honeysuckle fills me

and the petals tickle my bare shoulder as the breeze lazes in.

Through the menagerie of blush and branches I can make out

the white dirty hamper of a farmhouse, the purple

of the lilacs slipping in and out of view.

The dirt drive where my sister pedals the Big Wheel in jerky circles.

The screen tent where Little Great Grandma sips lemonade.

I like her. She gave me sour sugary sips out of her

real glass, the ice long melted. She wears a sunhat

with a scarf around the crown every afternoon.

From my perch on the yard’s perimeter I can hear the zip-zip

of the tent’s door as my little sister tumbles in to see her.


My father is somewhere. He is always here. It is the one solid thing–

an unquestionable fact. When we are here on the weekends,

he never leaves us. Read More

Magic’s Middle

(featured image by “blondie blu”)

Fire-blossom’s exciting (and hard) Friday Challenge at Real Toads. Here goes nothing’ (I’m choosing to write about a dream I had as a little girl that I never forgot, and it’s still just as vivid):

A red and white gingham tablecloth, light and worn thin,

overhanging the table and gently moving from the mountain air

coming in through the window.

Strawberries. The woman here has them in a green plastic crate

on the checkered pattern. I can’t see her in this part of the dream,

but she is bustling somewhere in this cottage built half in the hillside,

watching me tenderly.

Out the window, I must be climbing out of it…

and I see the patterns I’ll carry with me in dreams to come:

the deepest green grass with millions of tiny blossoms

dotting the expanse before me like a Monet painting in HD;

a line of tall spruce and pine border the horizon,

I am surrounded by a curved fish-eye wall of forest,

I am the center of the field, I am the flowers, I am the white

petals and yellow centers that promise more berries.

The mountain air is so clear and clean–I am magic’s middle;

and a chill comes on. Maybe I have goosebumps,

the old woman in the cottage takes the strawberries away

and cuts the gingham cloth.

I heard her humming in my head twenty-two years later,

when all was lost; it was her voice

I heard, it was her presence that calmed me in the pitiless night

and I listened, her words forgotten as soon as she said

them, but it was the hum, the tone, the incantation and cadence.

She calls me to the window

and I greet her with elation and abandon

“Child, oh my child,”

her voice is quiet, but I hear her;

the spell mourns;

the lines in her face

her bosom resting on loose-skinned

forearms on the sill;

what is this look in her face? Her blue eyes,

her babushka wrapping her hair,

tears blinked away almost unnoticed

“My girl, it is time to go.”



In a flash of chrome our banana-seat bikes tore us down Highway 2 towards the lake. The entire small town of Ashland swelled on a hill, rolling down into the point of it–the moody waters of Lake Superior. Pedaling downhill we took a short-cut behind Frankie’s Pizza where a gravel trail wound through the dense green. The crickets and cicadas filled our ears against the rush of air from our speed. And then, abruptly, the trees canopying over us cleared and there it was—the small field of thistle and weeds that led toward the stone ledge that dropped four feet to the water below.

Mike and I had no need for words. Our slothful summer days were filled with them. He was my cousin and my best friend, and to be eleven without permission is, I think, the last enchantment of childhood. We Read More

Be Prepared

I read a beautiful essay in Huff Post Parents on The Blog entitled “A New Season” by Lindsey Mead (on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her blog–A Design So Vast).  And it struck a nerve.  A big nerve.  And I’m now going to confront exactly what I’ve been avoiding for a while now–my Emma is growing up.

You know what my trouble with parenting is?  I’m always so prepared TO BE prepared, I plan for the worst and hope like hell for the best–the idiotic thing about this is no one can control everything.  ESPECIALLY with children.  Emma surprises me daily from her new-found 10-year-old ways and seemingly closer to her teens by the minute, to coming home with a drawing she made of flowers that says “To Mom Love Emma I love you” on the back.  And man alive the looks she gives me-!  And that’s just it–welcome to……dut dut daaaahhhhh–your child growing up.

Em and I, it’s always always been Em and I.  And gradually her life is ballooning out in front of her in such healthy ways (compared to a lot of my moments growing up).  Now there’s a boy she has liked forever and she found out yesterday he likes her too.  And the greatest part?–she couldn’t wait to tell ME all about it.  But I’m becoming more of that back-pocket person now: i’m here if she needs or wants me, but she’s more than ready to take on many things by herself.  Terrifying.  Fucking terrifying.  And it’s okay, too.  Fear doesn’t bother me, it’s the lack of control and the speed in which this is moving that bothers me.  All of the sudden, she’s not my partner in crime.  No one can teach you this shit–that those years of pure joy and discovery and companionship only lasts so long, and you have to let go.  And the harder you love, the harder it is to let go.  In the essay mentioned above (read it!) Lindsey writes:

“The predominant emotion of this time, as Grace embarks upon the vital transition from child to young adult and to an autonomous and independent sense of self, is wonder.  Wonder upon wonder, so many layers I have lost count: there is awe, fear, and astonishment, and also an endless list of questions.  I gaze at my daughter, coltishly tall, lean, all angles and long planes, and wonder where the last ten years went.  It is not hard to close my eyes and imagine that she is still the rotund baby or chubby toddler that she was just moments ago.  At the same time I can see the young woman she is rapidly becoming in her mahogany eyes…..”

and lastly, and ever so eloquently, Lindsey writes:

“And all I know to do as we move into this new season is to pay attention, to look and listen and write it down.  Everything I write, and everything I live, is an elegy to what was and a love letter to what is.”

So, I think she sums it up best.  Pay attention, because this moments are so precious and yet slipping from our grasp, soon we’ll just be watching from afar.  Are we prepared in our hearts for this?  My guess is–never.

Small Parts (2)(excerpts from a work-in-progress)

a possible insert to “Small Parts”  

            To a little girl, his face was the moon.  He had a big chin like that, and a heavy forehead that shadowed his large, lashless eyes.  In later years, the years where he sat around a lot and stared from his recliner into the wall, or into corners, or out the window, his eyes developed this film over them that made it look like he was crying all the time.  I pretended he was, to find significance.  I imagined those red-rimmed, swimming eyes shrunk in on themselves because he saw me—damaged—before I even knew it.  He saw my future breakdown in the very manner I fought against him and my mother.  I was stubborn.  I was a burier.  I’d dig forever to retrieve my parts, because they were mine.  But those eyes, in the early years, shone clear with one of three states: personal satisfaction, witty sarcasm, or white anger—when all’s you could make out when you turned your head to see how far back he was from you were his pupils inside wide, white circles.  When you’re a child, you’re a fool to run, but it’s instinct.  And when you can’t run anymore, you run inside, stride for stride, etching scars across your psyche like ice-skating. 

            To a little girl, his very presence was an odd curiosity.  No hands-down, palms-up.  Hands belonged in pockets or around newspapers or cigarettes.  He had a strut that made his stiff blue jeans make a “whisk” sound.  He wore shiny, black boots.  I never saw black so shiny.  I loved to watch him polish them.  I’d sit closer than my sisters dared so I could breathe in that polish smell.    

—stuck here, come back to it


            It was just after the climax of the spoken (and lied about) betrayal.  The cover-up.  The thing I-must-not-tell-anyone.  And I knew better, and they knew I knew, so their patience took a seat to their anxiety as they tiptoed around me, waiting for the dreaded phone call or the cops to arrive.  Time, even at those moments, can have a way of halting everything in a moment and making it stand-still, as if it had its own life.  My dad came outside to the deck which I was standing on.  Now this was out-of-custom because one of my given demands was that he “stay the hell away from me.”  Part of the bargain.  This time, judging by his eyes, he had been crying.  He cried a lot in those days, but I steeled myseblf to it.  I had no room for pity for molesters and pedophiles. And I was his captive.   I glanced at him as if there was nothing there, and stared straight out into the willows.  His slippers scraped across the boards and he settled at a good distance.  ‘Come on Lori, come on come and get me’ I was thinking.  What he said must’ve killed him.

            “Amy, I want you to know something…I want you to do something with your life.  You have the most talent and the most potential than in anyone I’ve ever seen.  And I mean that.  Don’t waste your life.”  I stopped breathing, speechless.  My chest hurt.  He turned and walked inside.  That was the first time in my life that someone believed in me—someone I had once looked up to and begged for attention.  For one second, I was his daughter and he was my father.  For one moment I meant enough to be told that.  For one moment, I ached for that dad I always wanted.  And then it was gone.  I had an alcoholic biological father who was too drunk to recognize me, and a step-dad who watched me shower, and a mother who hated me.  But that moment wasn’t diminished, because he meant it.  I know he did.  For some reason, no one else could have said it that I would’ve believed.

…excerpt/CLIP/the Present…

     I never quite know who I am.  When I have a long enough stretch of time where I’m in my own skin (my own mind), I feel like I have more room inside to breathe.  I think ‘So this is me.  This is who I am.  Ok, then, let’s go.’  And then, some Tuesday,  DPD (Depersonalization Disorder) opens its mouth and I fall silent in the chaos of that vacuum.  I’ve lost me again.  No reasoning or science or soul-searching or writing.  I am disabled from the pen and so I know it must be real.  Just my physical stillness and internal cavity that is crying–the cry that offers no relief, but more panic.  I see all my thoughts in a speeding parade of sentences that pour from the mouth.  Mine doesn’t move or quiver.  I can’t feel anything but this aching tiredness and piercing terror.  All thoughts without emotions, all memories without any attachment–my skin is loose and thin.  I don’t speak at these times because I don’t know the girl that will form the words.  She’ll talk in short replies in a voice I don’t know.  This isn’t me.  And I’m slipping.  Everything is false–the world around me–merely particles of matter that aren’t there–they’re mirages.  They’ll dissolve away, and leave me here, alone, to madness.  I may not return.  …Three days later, or sometimes just three hours later, it’s over.  I made it.  I’m tight in my flesh and the bedsheets are cool beneath my fingers.  Okay.   Round 967 over.  Get up.

Small Parts (excerpt from a work-in-progress) part 1

I remember sneaking up on him, crawling across the nappy green carpet in my scratchy nightgown. Sometimes staples stick up from hidden ridges and prick my knees. The carpet is green and smooshed like fields after a storm, with mysterious, stitched rivers dividing the landmasses. I crawl to the end table that’s dull and sticky. Two owls with glassy, yellow eyes sit on their perch, holding up the dingy lampshade. A glass ashtray takes up the rest of the room. I watch his profile as he smiles and talks with his brother–my new uncle–who sits among empty beer cans on the other side of the dim living room. They’re talking with words I don’t quite understand. He laughs, so I laugh. I like his dimples. I like everything about this strange, new character. We’re learning how to spell his last name. He wants us.

He hears me laugh and slowly turns an annoyed, oily face in my direction. My hair is still wet from the tub. He puffs a large cloud of cigarette smoke into my shiny face. They laugh. I cough and laugh, too. They keep talking. It means go away.