A Catalog Of Small Machines
A joint publication of the Driftless Writing Center and the Arts + Literature Laboratory
Volume II: Spring 2023
Editor: Mark MacAllister, Driftless Writing Center Covers and Page Graphics: Katrin Talbot
Thanks to Andrea Potos for the gift of her grandfather's 1940's typewriter!
A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.
— William Carlos Williams
Writing Around Obstalces
As writers, we face many obstacles—and a blank page can feel like one of the biggest. And the most isolating. The craft of writing requires many solitary hours staring at the page, the screen, while hoping (believing) in one’s ability to ﬁll it with something useful, good, essential in some way.
Obstacles also ﬁgure largely into the product of writing, as part of the writer’s job is to render obstacles on the page—be it the largely unacknowledged stigma associated with aging, the looming specter of one’s mortality, the curious problem of time speeding up, or the realization that one’s canoe is empty and racing away down the river—and then write ways through or around those obstacles.
Yet it is hard, in those quiet moments alone in the writer’s room, to feel capable of that task, as we each toil away in our own silos of creating, doubting, failing, and trying again.
We at the Driftless Writing Center hope that in connecting those individual silos of work, writers might gain strength in the knowledge that they are part of a community of people toiling away at what is in many respects a similar task: making the invisible visible through language, not only bringing obstacles into focus but also revealing unseen paths around them with the shape of our words.
Which is why we started our Connect & Write program—a virtual writing lab open to all writers. Alone-together, we write—in the company of other writers—our way through the challenges that come with putting word to page. And, somehow, we all ﬁnd the path forward, not just ﬁlling that dauntingly empty page but transcending it with a thought or idea that ends up weighing more than the act of writing itself. We ﬁnd a way to render that person who provoked our sense of self, like the collarbones in Mark MacAllister’s poem “Grace Kelly Collarbones.” A way to describe a moment that held us breathless and anxious and grateful all at once, and in concert, no less—like the plane parting the clouds over the airport in Katrin Talbot’s poem “Waiting for My Daughter to Land.” Or how to capture something ineffable about the distance between head and heart, between want and love—as with the strangers conversing in a pub in Alex Sawyer’s prose piece “Head and Heart.”
Whatever things we are writing our ways through or around—or straight into—there is comfort to be gained in doing so in community with other writers facing the same challenges.
This anthology is a testament to all that has been accomplished by a group of writers who found strength in tackling those solitary challenges together. We hope you enjoy their hard work, and appreciate all that they have overcome to produce it.
Table Of Contents
4-Wheel-Drive with 10-Ply Tires to Sliderock’s Summit
you can’t go straight up circle around switch back and forth carefully slowly
sometimes you’ll meet a blockage a tree down boulders in the path need to nudge it in reverse ﬁnd a little purchase then inch to and fro a dozen or more times to turn around
this one lane (that’s being generous) a lumber or mining road from generations back endured still with little help or maintenance no crews to resurface only the occasional stalwart who brings his own chainsaw to portion the fallen trees sledgehammer to chip away at boulders
take care when clearing the path one step wide would send you down the mountain in a ﬂash
and keep your eyes open for the lions and bears who’ve been nibbling mice or huckleberries watching the show
if you make it to the top today or another the prospect is goldenMaureen Adams ~ 4-Wheel-Drive with 10-Ply Tires to Sliderock’s Summit
Debra Ahrens for my children
Michael —— so convincing said stay in your life if only to offer my body as a chalice in which to pour your anger
My cup runneth overDebra Ahrens ~ for my children
Knitting on the Plane
Do you ever run out of yarn, and just knit and un-knit for the pleasure of it? When I am too lazy to get off the couch and forage through my stash for another skein of yarn, I simply unravel and re-knit. Knitting is a repetitive pleasure, like Groundhog Day minus Sonny and Cher singing that irritating “I Got You Babe.” No wonder Punxsutawney Phil stays underground.
I relish the story of Gioachino Rossini (Darling, these are smart readers; they don’t need the ﬁrst name./Yes but don’t you just love saying that juicy Italian out loud?). He was, as usual, composing opera from his bed. To retrieve an aria that had fallen on the ﬂoor, he simply stayed put, happily horizontal, and rewrote it. Man after my own heart.
Once on a long ﬂight, as the plane was climbing to altitude, my ball of yarn slipped off my lap and rolled back behind me, down the aisle which the ﬂight attendants had left uncluttered just for me, apparently. Once the seat belt sign turned off, I had to slink down the aisle peering shamelessly at passengers’ feet as the yarn unwound without mercy, past several glaring and apparently ﬁberunfriendly passengers. I ﬁnally had to ask a sleeping three-piece suit -- in the V of whose wing-tips it had landed perfectly -- to hand it to me, please. He glared.
I took a ﬂight right after 9/11 and was astonished that the TSA did not forbid circular bamboo needles which, in addition to being pointed, form the perfect garrote. Guess they ﬁgured, incorrectly, that a nicely-coiffed older woman wouldn’t strangle anyone.
Shock of the Selﬁe at 70
Darling you were crushed utterly to see your face in bathroom light this morning. Was it the angle harsh and unforgiving? Are you heartsick at age so cruel, and you so kind? Aging is tough enough without the blight upon the spirit, the need, peculiar to women over age 10, to look good. It’s the lie, the delusion swallowed whole: women and beauty, beauty or die. Isn’t the highest compliment “She doesn’t look her age”?
This lie, it’s a leaf-blower on all my lovely days, scattering them away every which way, until I end up shufﬂing along the sidewalk, Yeats’ shivering image: “a tattered coat upon a stick.”
But wait--there’s more. There’s Shame, my Dark Familiar. Did you buy the lie, Darling? The shame of an old woman, stuck to you like skin, the hopeless thing with wrinkles, not feathers?
Nora Ephron wrote I Feel Bad about my Neck
Yes Nora I do feel bad about your neck, and mine. So let’s raise a glass to sagging skin and gravity which, apparently, is a law.
Walking outside today, I pushed my mask down to gulp fresh winter air, and realized that the mask is cupping my chin, ﬁrming it. I’ve saved thousands on a chin lift! Thanks pandemic!
No plastic surgery either, unless I want to look like Cher or E.T. (Wait, maybe Cher IS E.T.) When I walk by a construction site in summer, I hear no unwelcome leers or whistles. Jackhammers do not pause. Invisible is good (you can get away with so much, like sizing up a hunk your son’s age. Or wearing cowboy boots. Someone stop me).
Moisturizer? Save the planet. Lay all the aging women side-by-side in a farmer’s ﬁeld, and with a crop duster, moisturize ‘em all.
If you’re scared of aging, exit stage left with a white hanky in your hand. We get it, darling--and do it while you’re still not doddering. As for me, I’m still on stage, in the show that’s currently running, thank you. When it closes, after a record-setting long run, I’ll hope for good reviews. And a tender eulogy. And, of course, 20 minutes for rebuttal. (Those people are cut out of the will anyway.)
In planning trips requiring hiking and physical agility, I work backwards. Let’s see, how many National Park trips have I got left in me? Maybe Yellowstone in ‘23, Tetons in ‘24, still walking not drooling in ‘25. There are 63 Parks, minus the few I’ve knocked off the list so far. That makes…(Stop there darling. The math is not good here. even if you double up. Just save Death Valley for last and you won’t have to travel too far.)
Life is But a Feeling
Life is but a feeling, here today for a while. A feeling of excitement or joy, that puts on a smile. A feeling of pleasure, or of things of the past. It stays but a moment, yet sometimes will last.
Feelings of love, to elevate our day. Feelings of loss that torture your stay. Some try to kill it, deep in their heart. But a life without feeling will tear you apart.
Deep down within us, deep down inside. Don’t try to ﬁght it, don’t let it hide. If for a moment, you feel something great. You truly are living and dancing with fate.
Sweet Autumn (Our Dog Max is Old)
In the planters on Capitol Drive, annuals hit their stride in September, and why then? Salvia petals
ﬂash brighter at summer’s end than they ever did in June. Later yet, autumn clematis blooms on fences – fresh – just as hydrangeas go greeny and hostas are chewed. It has a scent, it’s actually called sweet autumn clematis, and I had a vague and plotless dream where you ran, Max, and ﬁxed yourself to the scent and white petals, curlicued purple and green stems, and the litter of spent stamens and pistils on the leaves. When I woke up, you were associated with sweet autumn clematis, and that may not change.
Max, when you were young and droll the hair round your bright eyes was brown like chestnuts. All of your hairs laid smooth, shining like lacquer, and your socks were chestnut too.
Those hairs have gone from chestnut to ivory and the ivory round your eyes is spiky. You’re urgent and bossy and look like a raccoon or vole. Max, I call you. Maximum, My Sausage...Sweet Autumn Clematis Sweet autumn clematis, the hour is getting late...
the hour getting late...mortality dropped here like a stone, without the ﬂesh of music, or a plot. Deep! Then another day, another mood it fades from profound to maybe. Maybe not! It’s okay. In the park you relax.
Your kicks backwards towards glistening turds are full of vigor. Grass and little sticks ﬂying! You did that!
In the yard you also have some ease. It’s time to run in for biscuits, toSue Blaustein ~ Sweet Autumn (Our Dog Max is Old)
ﬁnd the shortest distance between points and gather speed. Ears up! We’re old, not dead! You leap over the downspout, and take the steps at high speed – for mini-biscuits of joy, or whatever comes next.
Fantasy Spliced into Reality
Bam! Pow! Blast!
“Rubbish! How can you read that trash, let alone write it!” His words rose like cinders of burnt paper from a winter solstice bonﬁre.
The moon-faced girl, Amiracal so named, with hair the shade of a red sunset maple quivering on the edge of cold, looked up from the comic book—no, graphic novel—she was reading.
The speaker, Gunnar, with spine straight as a riﬂe and hair the black of iron, raised his arm, a gesture that made Tabby, purring on the moon-faced girl’s lap, leap with excitement.
“You don’t understand art! Ideas, emotions are more important than an ambush in the sands of the desert. Or soldiering with shells ﬁred into air for the purpose of destruction! The dust of fantasy raises us above the dusk of darkness in humanity! Imagined heroes, saviors—super human women and men —are the necessity of belief!” And she jumped to follow the cat that skittered out the door when Gunnar opened it to collect the mail, late in coming for that time of year.
More indistinct words ﬂoated in the background of Amiracal’s direction as she paid no attention.
Tabby, the grandmother’s cat, a butterscotch streak across the snow, followed the song of a wren trapped in a tree. The grandmother, now gone, once laid out in a cofﬁn in the front window facing winter, as on the day she was born, her house now occupied by cousins Amiracal and Gunnar, perpetually fractious in their jealousies and disparities.
Tabby tumbled beneath the ancient pine on the side lawn, illuminated by the blood orange sun on its descent. Amiracal trailed behind the cat’s tail into a hollow of branches.
The weight of snow, the water of snow, in wetness on the cusp of frozen. The pine trunk arced like the back of an arthritic crone. Amiracal trapped.
She held Tabby in her arms. Purrs—no whispers—from the cat to calm her, cloaked her in sound, interrupted by snaps from the bending tree. “If a tree falls in the forest. . .” Amiracal repeated—an incantation in rhythm to Tabby’s whispers—her grandmother’s voice, an arm stroking her back, the brush of pine ﬁngers against her cheek. A swirl of peace. And then a scream!
Ladies screeching, siren voices stabbing the air, ﬂames of sound like dragon ﬁre turning to icicles in the frozen atmosphere.
And Gunnar calling—a bugler blaring a charge in the twilight of neon-starred night that Amiracal saw through the pine sheaves overhead.
Crack! Roar! Thrash!
Pine tree fallen. Amiracal, Tabby and the wren nested therein. Cradled in the hollow of branches, untouched by the weight of the tree arched around them, ﬂuttering feathers whirling in a world of miracle-making.
Gunnar, hero, sweeping the girl; Amiracal, saving, cosseting the cat; both pulled from the hollow before complete collapse of the pine—the temporary haven—lives rescued. The singing of the wren.
Fantasy spliced into reality—balanced like pine needles on either side of the tree twig.
The basement of my university’s interfaith center had become something of a sanctuary for me during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was when the small campus was abandoned by most of my classmates. I wasn’t there to engage in matters of the occult, I promise. Rather, it was a local haunt of mine to peruse the clothes pantry for my next morsel of gender euphoria.
One quiet Thursday, I ran my hands through the dress rack, the musty stench of students past tickling my olfactories. My ﬁngers felt it before I saw it with my eyes, which widened in joyful surprise when I beheld something rare: a dress that, though it looked a tad too small, was comprised of a bodice woven by white and red rope bottomed out by a black, pleated skirt. My mind envisioned all the ways it could add some much-needed femininity to my physique, rounding out my shoulders and showing off my legs with just a twirl, the ordinary fabric suddenly imbued with a sort of magic.
I tore it off the rack and bolted upstairs to the well-lit bathroom. I couldn’t get my clothes off fast enough, but then I squeezed on the dress and admired my ﬁgure in the mirror. It was better than I had imagined; I instantly felt the high of such afﬁrming fashion and decided that I’d wear it the rest of the day, unwilling to wait to wash it like I do with other clothes pilfered from the pantry.
It was when I started my way to the campus cafeteria that I ﬁrst felt the rope straining against the length of my collarbone. I wrote it off as a need for the dress to stretch with wear, so I strolled down the student center’s grand staircase with conﬁdence, the skirt swinging with each step. My mahogany ﬂats click-clacked along the gray concrete, until—I merely tripped down to the landing one stair away. I was still adjusting to the unfamiliar weightlessness of the dress, it appeared, every moment a new experience.
At last in line for food, I ambled behind a formation of zombie students. They were all inching through the morning without the elixir of energy that was coffee. My euphoric glow was a near-endless source of energy, its own dress-fueled nuclear power plant. Imbued with impatience, I bore the linewaiting cross and staved away my hunger. Will this still ﬁt after brunch? I thought, all of a sudden aware of the lack of abdominal wiggle-room in the tight ropes along my midriff. I tried to subdue the rising panic at the idea that I might go to bed tormented by rope burns, and not the sexy kind.
It was now my turn to scoop the mass-prepared brunch onto my tray’s assorted partitions. My mouth watering, I opted for the fried potato cubes and the always-too-moist scrambled eggs. I batted not one eye since it took little effort to procure my nourishment in the bubble of this university. Topping my food with the obligatory salt and ketchup, I made a beeline for a dining booth, coveted by the most devout cafeteria-goers. Then, after claiming my spot, I took a reprieve to the bathroom, what would prove to be a mistake.
Here, the ﬂorescent lights shone harshly, exposing all the beauty and blemishes that comprised my visage: I noticed the hair sprouting out of my chest despite the woven patterns vying to cover it; the petite skirt transformed into a neon sign pointing to my eczema-laden thighs; the slim bodice advertised the breadth of my rib cage as it expanded with each shaky breath. The feeling of out-of-placeness escalated as my euphoria shattered into a state of panicked self-judgement. Regretting my decision to don the dress with such bright conﬁdence, I shufﬂed back to the cafeteria in hopes to shovel down the fast-cooling food and then ﬂee to my dorm room.
There, I slunk into the private bathroom and stared into the mirror, ashamed. I started to pull the dress off, easing the ropes apart with care, but failed. What had been a dress put on with little strain was now too slim to slip past my shoulders. The bodice was a prison that tightened the further I struggled, a ﬁnger trap of dysphoria. Rope rubbed against ﬂesh, marking it red and raw. The only escape, it was clear, was to tear myself out, a ferocious butterﬂy leaving its cocoon. And so I did, so I did.
In the Afternoon of the Woodland Garden
The ﬂowers tell stories. Each has a tale of being touched by the woman’s hands. Some days, her hands come wrapped in animal skin, and her pinch is tough and hard to bear. But on days she comes barehanded, her warmth on their necks is a reassurance. Summers, the water spits from the mouth of the long green snake. The snake never bites with its copper teeth. It simply regards the garden with wonder, oh. The creeping jenny tells of stretching her arms over the wooden plank. It took weeks to ﬁnally touch the stone step below. During that time, mice scampered past with their soft bodies, and her leaves bounced along the bumps of their spines. She is gentle, as the woman sometimes is. At night, they all listen to the quiet drumming of the animals’ feet. Sometimes, the owl descends on a silent wind. In the morning, the woman returns with silver beaks in hand. The weeping maple loses an arm. When winter comes, the woman tucks them all to sleep in a blanket of mulch. Everyone knows it comes from chopped up trees, but no one dares say a thing.
Jesse Lee Kercheval Viroqua
I stand in the middle of a ﬁeld in The Driftless and the open space makes me a letter. Me plus you a word. Us plus four sandhill cranes a sentence walking forward on skinny bent legs. I stand in the middle of the West Fork of the Kickapoo and I am, at the very least, an exclamation point—emphasizing the fast ﬂowing water. Add the yellow canoe I tipped out of, racing down the river, and there is the start— or end—of a sentence. The day an alphabet in a line above the blackboard in a classroom. Lines: vertical, horizontal, curved—the odd dot. A convenience store of language. But it’s the space around the letters gives that shape to the words. Swimmers coordinate their strokes and inside the crook of an elbow, water ballet is born. Existence makes a thing useful. Nonexistence makes it work. The hollow in our hearts makes room for all the blood.
Box Elder Syrup
One ﬁne spring day we discovered icicles in a box elder tree. So, we ate them and enjoyed their mild sweetness. We called them “sapcicles!” I don’t remember researching the process, before the internet, but we tapped box elder trees and made syrup. Thus, we added value to a tree that is known as a weed!
Box elder trees, Acer Negundo, are in the maple family, Aceraceae. The sap is less concentrated than that of sugar maple and others in the family. We made spiles, ﬁrst from dowels, soaked in melted parafﬁn, so the sap wouldn’t travel through the wood of the spile, as it does through the sapwood of a tree. Eventually I made stoneware spiles, which were not vulnerable to woodpeckers and sapsuckers, but only to the hammer used to install them in a tree.
Sap was collected in steel coffee cans, with a hole, for hanging, large enough to accommodate the spiles. We were fascinated by the “plink, plink, plink“ when sap dripped into empty cans. It was wonderful when, rarely, sap ﬂowed so fast that it streamed into the cans.
Our ﬁrst evaporation was accomplished in a cooking kettle, hung over a campﬁre. Next, we used enameled refrigerator drawers on a grate over a ﬁre. Eventually, I put Grampa Truax’s large copper kettle on the open end of a ﬁfty-ﬁve-gallon drum, ﬁtted with a stovepipe outlet for smoke and a makeshift door for fuel. Our fuel was always wood. We burned a lot of wood.
Maybe our evaporation technique had a lot to do with the preference for box elder syrup, over pure maple, at blind taste tests at Whitewater State Park. Our syrup was always darker, due to the slow, primitive evaporation. But I believe it was preferred because the ﬂavor more closely resembled that of commercial “maple” syrup.
The main disadvantage of a wood-ﬁred evaporator is the difﬁculty of turning off the heat to go to bed. On one occasion this resulted in production of a facsimile of a large burnt marshmallow! I was able to repair the only damage to the copper kettle as the leak was in a brazed joint.
I revived the process, in Winona, with a ﬁfty-ﬁve-gallon drum modiﬁed with a wood-stove kit and an open space for an evaporator pan. I thought that the stainless-steel soda fountain, that I found at the Perkins recycling area, would make a great evaporator pan. I took it, with permission, to a welding shop in town to be modiﬁed to meet my needs. It was too tall and the ﬂoor was fastened with silicone, not welded, because it was an ice bin. After a long delay, and many hours of effort at the shop, it was complete with the knowledge that it would have been easier and cheaper to start with new steel. Why didn’t they tell me that?
My evaporator works well. We bought a house with two large walnut trees, one of my favorite species! A friend had told me about tapping walnut trees, as a young man, at his boyhood home in Michigan. His father was not pleased! While tapping typically does not harm the health of a tree, it can certainly affect the timber value. There has recently developed a niche market for tap-scarred maple wood. But I had no intention to harvest these walnut trees for timber. I researched “black walnut syrup” and found a study from Kansas State University on the topic. The sap is evaporated to the same speciﬁc gravity and has the same sweetness with a different, delicious ﬂavor. I really enjoyed our black walnut syrup! The City of Winona Parks and Recreation Department conducted sap collection and syrup production activities in 2019 and kept their walnut sap separate.
I am delighted to report that my son, Daniel, has carried on this family tradition. His evaporator is ﬁred with natural gas through a furnace burner. It was built from a ﬁfty-ﬁve-gallon drum by his friend who is an industrial arts instructor at the community college where Daniel teaches. He has a preheating shelf, so the boiling never stops, and a stainless-steel evaporator pan. To “top it off” he created labels using an image of us feeding the wood ﬁre in the barrel forty years ago!
— This is an “outtake” from my novel-in-progress, Rooting for Time, which I have been revising during Connect and Write. Sometimes you must “kill your darlings.” Other times you can gently excise them, tweak them a bit, and publish them! Ruth felt too agitated to sleep. She got up and paced in her room. She’d known all along that her idea was probably crazy. Time itself, speeding up? She’d also known there was a certain grandiosity in her ambition to come to her father’s think tank – the International Interdisciplinary Institute for the Study of Time – and convince him and the rest of the Fellows of the problem. But today’s conversation with the South African anthropologist Justin Mbewe had suggested the enterprise was misguided in a whole new way—that even if she was right, the idea of trying to “ﬁx” it by slowing time down was unconsciously riddled with white supremacist thinking.
Ruth tried to ﬁnd the slow pace of walking meditation, but the room felt too small. She moved quietly past the other bedrooms in her suite, out through the apartment door, and down the long carpeted hallway. Eventually she found herself in “the Hub,” the part of the high-rise condominium tower that had been converted into communal space for meals, brown bag seminars and planning sessions. A couple of the other Fellows were there reading quietly. She’d been meaning to explore the small collection of science ﬁction she’d noticed on a shelf near the couches. It was a sort of “Little Free Library,” with no rules other than that the content should somehow relate to the topic of time.
She selected a small hardcover that had several torn-paper bookmarks ﬂopping from its top like rabbit ears. It was called The Thinking Machine’s Guide to Our Imprecise Origins: A History of Biologically-Based Language, Culture, and Life , by Ima Sheen. As she headed back to her room she realized the author’s name must be a joke, a play on “I, Machine.”
She snuggled into bed and opened the front cover. She knew she was indulging an old strategy for escape, but at least her body would be resting. The book was a sort of fantastical glossary of terms, supposedly helping AI beings of the future understand the human forms they had evolved out of. Ruth ﬂipped to the ﬁrst of the bookmarked pages and read the deﬁnition.
An external device to track the passage of time before internal sensors were continuously calibrated to cesium-decay chronometry. Biologically-based optic sensors were used to ping these external ‘clocks’ and smaller ‘watches,’ now to be found only in museums and usetabee collections.
There was a cross-reference marking the page for the deﬁnition of “usetabee,” and Ruth ﬂipped to it, catching the pastel green bookmark that ﬂuttered out of it.
Usetabee, alt. spelling youstabee, Late Anthropocene: A small ﬂying biolifeform that terriﬁed humans with its painful, poisonous, and self-immolatory sting. Usetabees worked in collectives to create a sweet, viscous, golden ﬂuid from the nectar of the ﬂowairs. The term ‘usetabee’ has come to mean any entity from the past towards which nostalgia and/or regret may be attached.
e.g. “They longed for the days of the shikkeneg and other youstabees.”
or: “The notion that intelligence originated with soft, ﬂeshy, entirely biologically-based life forms is widely considered to be nothing but a usetabee.”
Ruth wrinkled her nose. It was clever, and chilling, and not all that relaxing. Was that where things were headed? A future in which the only remnants of life would be intelligent machines that synthesized and
incorporated so-called ‘biologically-based’ life as component parts? What would time be like in such a future?
She thought of the character ‘Data’ in Star Trek, who needed to turn off his internal clock to understand the human expression that “a watched pot never boils.” Ruth supposed that in the dystopic world of ‘Ima Sheen,’ time would no longer seem to vary its pace with mood, level of stimulation, religious rituals, or other human variables.
But even if this chilling future where the humble bees were all but forgotten came true, the runaway pace of time would still not be stabilized unless it were only a perceptual thing, or only an uptick in the pace of activity — the number of actions per unit time, with the denominator still proceeding at a steady rate. If, somehow, the spacetime continuum were shifting, time itself moving faster… well, God only knew what then. Perhaps the only life that could survive would be artiﬁcial intelligence.
So much for escape. Ruth put the book down and turned on a guided meditation to help her relax into sleep.
Winter snow blankets my world, Quiet, still, It softens the harsh edges of cold. I have nowhere to go, And the hour is late. I view the whiteness
Turning to shades of blue and lavender, Awed by this beauty around me, Just outside my window. I am not bothered by the cold, Snuggled into layers of blankets, The comforting sound of the furnace kicking in. The scratching of frozen branches on the window pane, Worries me not.
Burrowed into my cozy nest, I wait for that deep, winter sleep.
Then a thought creeps through the warmth, Cold, as a foot escaping the blankets, Tugging at me.
A man is blanketed by snow, Quiet now, The shaking, shivering stopped quite a while ago. He’d tried to pull his worn, thin jacket as close as he could.
Struggling to ﬁnd some shelter in the corner of the old brick building. Squeezing his thin body tightly into the wall Away at least from the brutal wind, That had bitten and torn at him, As wisps of snow danced in the alleyway.
Now warm, strangely warm, As blood thickens and ﬂows sluggishly in his veins. Snow gently wraps itself around his shoulders, His head, his neck. Because snow remembers the lost, the forgotten, When no one else will. As he, too, succumbs to that warm Winter Sleep.
Grace Kelly Collarbones
The pickup and trailer took up two spaces but I parked anyway washed my face using the rearview some canteen water and a dirty T-shirt
then queued at Will Call for the symphony ticket I had ordered some days previous while pumping fuel at a truck stop three states over
the woman in line ahead of me faced around and nictated her eyes at my heavy boots and stained ripstop pants the juniper smoke smell
she had Grace Kelly collarbones wore a black-and-white dress of some fabric designed to fall to the ﬂoor of its own accord
during the concert and for days afterward
I thought Rear Window how she became both curious and alarmed once she looked even brieﬂy into another’s life
and when I returned home to my unblinded windows
I saw how easy it was to watch me as I worked
to note the ﬂannel shorts and thermal shirt here and there [stet] jotted above a crossout the halo of white desklight the poems that require no ending
At Last a Moment
I felt my feet ﬁrm on the ground, my junior-year-abroad friends surrounding me, gathered in the courtyard in front of the brightly painted off-orange city hall. We were young, still growing, barely twenty years old. The uneven cobblestones, probably several hundred years old, but having been damaged in the Second World War, were solid beneath my black Reeboks. As much as my cohort was close by, the depths within me were suddenly touched and feeling more akin to the dancing spinning noise blue canary yellow bright red deep green colors that ﬂoated about me. They pulled on a part of me that had only been sent to my room before as a child in conﬂict with my father. A part of me that had run and cried in torrents when friends or relatives had left and I felt abandoned. A place of deep solitude, but also of revelry, because there was joy in this place. Only no one had ever stayed there very long; I cried when others left it. Sadness spouted from the same deep font of passion and delight.
Fasnet precedes Ash Wednesday, beginning on Schmutziger Donnerstag (Dirty Thursday) before Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent in southern Germany, where Catholicism and poorer folks started the ritual to chase out demons and drive out winter. This festival is called Karnival or Fasching in the more northern parts, but not celebrated in all of Germany. The cool breeze of spring touched my cheeks as I pulled my scarf tighter around me. I watched Fasnet. Various Vereine (clubs) of fools or characters represented leagues within mostly southern parts of Germany.
The fools were the ﬁrst to celebrate: I found company in this promenade. I watched, but I was also somehow part of the scene. I didn’t even mind that it was cold; I dug my ﬁngers deeper in my pockets and breathed in the warmth of feeling akin to the individuals walking by. The old green, orange, blue buildings, white, curl trim, no doubt that I was in Germany, foreign, yet here I was, found, a part within.
I was surrounded by costumed people who somehow knew what was inside of me. Their faces were wooden and angular: large eyes, deep, dark black pupils, reddened lips and cheeks, large eyebrows etched across their foreheads. The frozen smiles somehow captured the joy within. Figures danced by, dressed in bright red, yellow, green feathered bodies, some masked faces with slits for eyes—mystery— broad cheeks prominent atop their smile, wearing a purple foolscap over their forest green shirt and pants. Women, knobby noses, laughed their frozen cheery Schwarzwald (Black Forest) grins, passed down through the centuries. Then, the truly whimsical: mythical beasts with bronzed faces, elongated noses, indented holes for eyes, antlers sprouting from the creature’s forehead. Madness captured in the whole parade, dancing past me, stunned. Their huge eyes looking about, sometimes even looking over at me, faces moving as ﬁgures pranced in caprice, joy, and surrender.
Jesters, women, lions, dogs, roosters, all danced to the tune of whistles, drums, cacophony, pipes, all hopping, skipping, running in circles. I could understand this. I could understand freedom: no rules, laughter, smiles, delight, and jovial beat. I stood still, unable to believe this existed somewhere, that I stood amid this festivity, something I had never experienced before outside my rigid obsessivecompulsive existence. This was abandon. This was joy. This was freedom.
I was pulled in whether I wished or not; via something, possibly love, possibly whimsy. I avoided eye contact so I wouldn’t be swept up by this wave I had never felt so publicly before—only in private—so powerful; it connected my heart, the veins pumping within. I didn’t want them to see me and how shy I was, how distant I was from their frolicking, how scared, but also desperately drawn in. I was something to which even the people within the costumes might aspire; something animal. I wondered what this energy under the masks and gaiety was. I felt a longing to connect to this unknown, but also distant and scared of it. Long ago, I had constructed an intricate cage within, so good at fending off such powerful,
surging energy. I stood on the cobblestones, permitting the creatures to tap into my cage with their colorful costumed energy. Little did they know the effect they had on this youth in the cold: they celebrated Fasnet; she contemplated within.
One Tiny Bud
I climb the uneven stairs exactly 83 of them and perch myself on the outcropping looking out over the brown-green valley below shifting my weight until cold rock and bone settle in against each other
Then I pray from this my unsanctioned altar
I am not a prayer person yet ever since I found this place and made visiting a daily routine one began building inside me, insisting on itself The ﬁrst syllables came on the third week and by the sixth, a fully-formed ﬁve minute invocation had been conjured ready for ritual
One day after climbing the stairs and saying the prayer I noticed a tiny bud peeking out at me from the knuckle of a narrow branch a lime green sliver of a thing
The next day I looked for the bud again She was easy to ﬁnd sitting at the height of my left shoulder so close I could lean into her I said There you are, it’s nice to see you again
The day after that I took a picture so I could track her progress and she sat with me, reverently, as I recited my fragile new prayerBy solstice
my view of the valley was obstructed by a thick canopy of leaves and the tiny bud was now a deep green frond who waved hello each time I arrived
Reﬂecting on our friendship
I realized that before the plague stopped time I hadn’t noticed buds or leaves at all Not the ones twisting and twirling in the air in October or poking out of the ground by my porch stairs in March Not the ones brushing my legs by the back door in July or clinging to the cedar by the driveway year-round
They’d been longing for my attention all the while calling for me to sync my rhythm to theirs to take my place at their table but I was too busy with Very Important Things™
Today sitting on this lannon stone vista as another spring looms
I wait patiently for my friend my fellow congregant the one tiny bud to wake up and greet me again
Red River Coats
It must be fall because it’s cold enough to wear a coat, and it must be a Sunday because the Red River Coat is only for church. And I must have been ten or eleven, because that was around the time my mother’s mental health took a turn for the worse. At least that’s when I’d started to notice that things weren’t quite right. Possibly it coincided with the summer my two oldest sisters moved out and I no longer had any buffers, or surrogate moms to take care of me.
If my mother had been more on top of things that year, the Red River coat would have been stored in the cedar closet, and not in the armoire in the bedroom I shared with the older sister who hadn’t left home yet. There were no closets in our house, an 1840 farm house that had never been “renovated.”
The Red River Coat was an almost-black navy wool melton, shaped like a pea coat, with a red stripe down the side, a loose hood with red ﬂannel lining, and a long and thick red knitted sash knotted at the waist. It’s said to have been created by the Metis – the mixed-race French and Indigenous people living on the prairies. The thick wool material kept out the prairie cold but the red sash and leggings were pure show, a French touch.
There were three such coats in our house. My mother liked having her children match – as if people wouldn’t know we were all from the same gene pool – but it was also a common practice at the time to have siblings in matching outﬁts. Thankfully, the fashion trend of matching mom-daughter outﬁts hadn’t caught on in our family.
All three coats would have been purchased around 1952 for my three older sisters. Luckily for my brother, the trend was usually restricted to same gender kids. Except the one time when my mother couldn’t resist – the photographic proof shows him standing a foot apart from my three older sisters, all of them on the lawn in front of trees just starting to turn colour. They wear identical blue blazers with piping in blue and white; the girls in MacDonald plaid kilts, and my brother, in MacDonald plaid shorts.
By the mid 1960s I had started wearing whichever Red River Coat ﬁt me. My older sisters had long outgrown them, and my younger sister had yet to wear them, but when she did her growth was so rapid, she was in and out of them in no time.
As you can imagine, we stood out at school, and even at church. Nobody knew what a Red River Coat was much less wore one. Although occasionally, some silver-haired, powdered, and erect Anglican lady in a fur coat would come up and remark how nice it was to see young people wearing such respectable clothing.
There’s one photo of me wearing the coat but the red wool toque and the sash that matched the stripe had disappeared, so I had on a scrunched-up velvet tam. The get up was quaint, a curious blend of Depression-era and something uniquely Canadian. I stood in stark contrast to my trendy 1960s school friends with their go-go boots, fringed belly tops, and the latest offerings from Pennyworth’s.
That autumn Sunday when I took the coat out for the ﬁrst time that season, the sleeves were shorter, the boiled wool scratching the skin above my wrists. When I put my hand in the pocket, I felt the hole, and the remnants of a paper serviette, stained dark from the date square or pecan cookie I must have tucked away from church coffee hour. Since my mother was so strict about consuming sugar, we kids (and even my father with his sweet tooth) made a beeline for the coffee hour table after church. What I couldn’t quickly devour of rainbow marshmallow brownies, chocolate confetti squares, marshmallow yule logs, I jammed in pockets for later.
Tiny cut-outs in the coat’s dark navy cloth and the shredded serviette made it clear a mouse had polished off the date square tucked in there. It wasn’t having mice chew holes that surprised me – you could hear them racing up and down the walls all night. It was shocking that I’d have forgotten the sugary morsel.
And the Award Goes to…
The “Hitting Yukon Gold” awards ceremony had begun. A core of paparazzi stood by an organic kemp carpet dyed red with artisanal beets, ﬂanked by an international crowd of chefs, food stylists, critics, bloggers, and restaurant magnates.
Kale sauntered in front of the photographers ﬁrst, dressed in a bespoke outﬁt. His curls were not too long, yet not too short, in a style known as “baby kale.” He was everywhere now. At any given moment he might be crisping into chips, diving under mild salad greens, swimming in miso soup. Where once he lived hidden in a musty garden pot, he now headlined menus. Word on the street was that even McDonald’s® wanted him. Every day it seemed their food scientists pitched him with new ideas: be a milk shake for St. Patrick’s Day? We’re so over the faux mint-green shake. How about you mix it up with russets, mayo, and garlic for emerald frites?
Just then Sweet Potato rolled her way through. Fries? Please, that is so early oughts. With her plump muscular shape and all over tan, she had busted out of her Thanksgiving chains years ago. Now she could be found on the hottest grills, or shapeshifting into uniform cubes for a cold corn and black bean salad, bathing in olive oil with sprinkles of southwestern spice.
Next up was Arugula who strutted in, her leggy stems on display. The crowd clapped long and loud – unable to contain its excitement. Her conﬁdent vibe all but saying “It’s so good to be Italian and part of the discerning crowd.” No longer conﬁned to metal salad bowls, she now competes with Basil in the pesto wars. True she’s peppery but also strong. With a name like rocket is it all that surprising? She’s polyamorous – here with cavatelli, next with polenta, then rolling with juicy tomatoes in a hot pot of meatballs. Her vegetarian fan club begged for more and her star turn in a velouté previously reserved for animal-based stock was, well, critics agree, delicious.
The applause was suddenly overpowered by the sound of a broken mufﬂer belching out smoke and the whine of timing-chain misses. A beater car pulled into view with Okra (behind the wheel) and Lentil (slouched low in the seat).
I wanted better for myself, Okra was saying. But it’s tough man, when I get featured as one of the twelve best foods for when you’re constipated. Yeah, I’m short and kind of bumpy but why is that held against me? I’m just as eligible for a makeover. Am I right? Look at corn on the cob. Now he’s showing off at festivals as Elote - Mexican street corn, dunking in melted butter, and rolling in shaved parmesan and red pepper ﬂakes. But hey, not that long ago he was simply buttered and salted!
Lentil was quiet, sinking into his greyness. He gathered what little conﬁdence he had and spoke.
“At least you’re not called the nerd of the food world.” Okra nodded. “Go on.”
“I mean, everyone respects my substance, right? I am packed with nutrients and so many people are into me, but they don’t happen to be on the A-list. Canadians, for example.”
Okra, lighting a blunt, blew out his match. "I hear ya man. Those hippies grabbed on to you for their lentil loaf, and then they abandoned you, for what? KOMBUCHA!?!? What a slap down.”
The moon tugs the oceans to and fro
The mountain shows a stream which way to ﬂow
The sun draws puddles into the sky
Clouds loose rain to drip from up so high
Water works miracles, each and every day
Water is a wonder in its own sweet way
The ocean cradles oysters, who grin to hoard their pearls
The blue bayou ﬂows sluggish in a harsh and weary world
Holy Water cleanses unoriginal sin
Ice cubes freshen drinks when we hoist whiskey or gin
Tears streak down a cheek to wash some sorrow away
The sea holds all the salt from all our tears from all our days
A ﬁshbowl grants a guppy, a castle and a crown
Winter lends each snowﬂake, a shape its’ very own
Hydrants help summer in the city stay cool
Desert oases pump a camel’s hump full
Irrigation wets seeds that bloom as daffodils
Erosion grinds mountains into petty molehills
Water points a rainbow at the pot-o-gold’s tomb
Water fosters life that swells inside a womb
Water works wonders each and every day
Water works miracles in its’ own slow way
I pitch a penny in the well to make my wish come true
I listen for the splash, thinking only of you, Trusting water will work, this time too, And ﬂoat my message in a bottle to you
Body Blushed Into
On weaning day, Mama became a crow foot cauldron hung for dinner, her amethyst pocket ﬁlled with herb gardens, pollen and thorn.
Sundusted cicada shells crusted her insides. Half blood. Half sap. Nature, nurture, nourish, it isn’t all symbiotic in the end.
She watched her son grow into robin blue egg mornings and full moon nights, while her body blushed into a bruised shadow of a line, a trick of the light.Rebecca
The best seat for birdwatching is the outhouse, a remnant outbuilding beyond the kept lawn, down a moss path, into a tangle of honeysuckle and long neglected prairie. It is hushed and dim inside. Keep the door open. It is a box seat with unobstructed view and great acoustics.
The repertory is seasonal. It could be Brown Thrasher singing couplets, or Yellow-Shafted Sapsucker drumming, or Wood Thrush soloing a sweet aubade. Or Jays clowning. Crows bullying. None know their audience is live. Nor do they care.
Career Before and After
Previously, my frivolous fears kept me from sitting In the same room with discomfort (and other people) For more than a few minutes
Before excusing myself to use the bathroom and hit my head
A ﬁnal leave, absent extraferrous magnetism
Today is a separation: car and eer, with a why sound Carry and eerie, these inescapable truth serums taste awful On the way down and back up
But I have learned to be like the dog who eats too fast
Devouring that which I could not metabolize
As a wet feast on the ﬂoor in front of my heaving face
Disgust life is much discussed, unless fatalism has been achieved
And yet, there are edges that raze the buildings we built
To remember that plants got it started Or perhaps bacteria
Tiny and slow and green and generally invisible
Second person to ﬁrst existence
Brick by creeping brick, the foundation gathered a self around it
Humming, strumming, dreaming humanness into a dream
Buttered, ﬂied, tears to be cried
A Zen strike in the fourth head
As our ship of Theseus regenerates to the backbeat
Have you found what you love?
It’s a silly question, that I’m ready to answer. Sentences were useful in grammar school and insurance companies. But I’ve outgrown the period
And leaned into the space bar and the eternal return
To scratch out another and another line
Head and Heart
After dinner, a group of old friends and new acquaintances lingered in a brewpub over drinks at a scattering of high tables. A woman surveyed the scene with mixed feelings as she sipped a glass of water. A man sat across from her.
“My head and heart are full of you,” the man said, leaning in close to her. His body language made clear his intentions. The woman couldn’t hold back a snort of laughter. The man looked taken aback. “What? Do you think I lie?”
“No, at present, I don’t think you lie outright. I think you lie by omission, because clearly your cock is full of me too.”
The man ﬁdgeted and leaned back, struck by bluntness. “Well, I thought it was unwise to mention.”
“Your politically correct statement is also vague as to timing,” stated the woman. “I see at present, you may be full of me, but women are also told, time and time again, to think of whether you will be full of me tomorrow.”
“Of course!” the man interrupted.
The woman just shook her head. “A statement of future intent in the present is not reliable. I have to look to past actions to test your statement. I believe that even though I was present an hour ago, you were full of your hunger, for you stated how famished you were. It is the nature of humans to get hungry, so I have reason to believe you will be full of hunger again, and, therefore, no longer full of me.”
The man listened with wide eyes and mouth slightly agape in shock. “Forget I said anything.” And he moved away, already scanning the room for someone else to try his line on. The woman sighed and reminded herself that a bunch of empty moments still meant you had nothing.
“What if I promise that I will hunger for you the same way I hunger for food?” asked a voice with a quaver of uncertainty. The voice was neither male or female. The woman turned and saw another of her dinner companions. They shook their head slightly. “That was perhaps not well stated. I mean that, perhaps, once I am full of you, I will stay, knowing that I will become hungry again?”
The woman considered the ﬁt and androgynous person in front of her as she took a sip of water. The person raised an inquiring, frightened eyebrow, and took a sip of their own glass of water. The woman smiled.
“That could be interesting.” The inquiring look transitioned into a smile ﬁlled with warmth. They were still talking when the brewpub closed, and they looked at each other as they walked out into the night wondering what this new possibility might hold.
The ﬁrst Europeans swashbuckled through this world they christened New, pushed to all corners as if they owned the place. And pretty soon they did. My white settler ancestors did not wage the conquest, did not draft the writs of deceit, exile, control.
Nonetheless—my kin staked futures on boundaried measures of earth, swatches dissected from Ho-chunk landscape. Did my forebears consider who once peopled their farms—ask: How do they fare now—Where are they—
For those of us occupying ill-gotten land: it’s a long learning curve toward humility. We face—when willing—seeming impossibilities of squaring up ancestral trespass, reckoning unsettled debt, untangling entitlements.
I want to wrap up this piece, to hollow these conundrums into tidy conclusions. I resist. All I know now is to listen.
Running Is Over
The U.W. Madison, largest college of the Driftless Area, has long been one of the two or three biggest producers of Peace Corps volunteers. I met my ﬁrst real girlfriend in the Peace Corps, on a city bus in Bamako, Mali, West Africa, while riding home from my drug dealer. It happened in Summer, 1977, during summer break at E.N.Sup., the teachers college where I taught in Bamako—a city of a million people or so, on the edge of the Sahara Desert.
To call these buses is inaccurate. Called vaches, these were actually pick-up trucks with wooden benches nailed to the sides of the back-cargo bed and a canvas roof suspended over the back by steel frames. About twenty people could be jammed onto these seats. Inevitably babies and goats and chickens roamed around in the open area in the middle. A little boy always sat on the far-left side and he took the coins from the passengers, banging on the side of the truck shouting “An be ta” (we go now) or “A bana” (it’s over) to the driver indicating that it was time to move again.
The residence of Alpha, the man from whom I purchased marijuana, was in a neighborhood called Bankoni, on the eastern edge of Bamako.
On this particular day, Alpha slipped me my brown paper wrapped parcel containing marijuana outside the house in his walled garden. I thought it strange that he did not do this inside the house. So, I quickly slipped him my folded up 5,000 Malian Francs (about $10), again outside in the garden. I tucked my parcel in my bag and Alpha led me into his house. I was stunned to see sitting next to the cassette player and Issa, a musician well known to both of us, who played for the Ambassadors, a police ofﬁcer in uniform. There really were no police ofﬁcers in Mali. It was all Army. So, this man was wearing an Army uniform. He had a gun strapped on his side and a big smile on his face.
Well, I reasoned, this is why Alpha wanted the transaction to take place outside, out of sight of this cop. We all sat around the cassette player and Alpha inserted a tape of the Ambassadors, and Issa nodded and smiled approvingly. However, at the same moment Issa also took out from his stash a small sample of marijuana and began to roll up a joint. I carefully sized up the reactions of everybody in the room, especially the police/army man. No reaction from anybody. Issa lit up the joint, took a drag, then passed it on to Alpha who also inhaled a goodly amount. Alpha passed it to the soldier. This man inhaled a huge amount, clearly this was not a new experience for him. Then the police ofﬁcer handed the joint to me.
This was a dilemma. Alpha was a very good friend and I trusted him thoroughly. However, I had never met this cop. I risked it. And in short, nothing happened. Everybody was happy and we listened to music together. I recalled something Steve, my best friend in the Peace Corps, had told me: “John, we are really buying the marijuana from the police.” Evidently, that was the case.
Nevertheless, I decided that it was time make an exit. The marijuana made the ride back into town all the more pleasant. My route took me along the rail road track, past the city horse race track, and past the Dibida public market. At Dibida, we picked up a young woman dressed in a stylish robe (or boo-boo). She had the ﬁnely chiseled features of the people from the desert areas of Gao and Timbuktu.
This young woman sat next to me, and since twenty or more of us were jammed together in the back of the vache we found ourselves pressed up again each other. Another woman exited the vache, carrying an awkward sack. As the vache pulled away and entered trafﬁc, the sack the other woman was carrying split open and she lost her tomatoes, onions, beef, okra, peppers, and small packages undoubtedly containing spices and condiments.
The young woman and I watched this unfortunate scene as we went farther and farther away from the unlucky woman. Suddenly she turned and said to me:
“I can make many ﬁne African meals from those things.”
“I bet that is very enjoyable.” I responded. Hoping somehow to engage her in a conversation.
— An excerpt from a novel-in-progress Summer, 1965, Anat’s parents were getting a divorce. She hadn’t seen her friend, Dee, or the Williams all year. When Morris moved out into an apartment downtown, Gramma Sima stayed overnight with Naomi, Bina, and Anat in Redondo Beach. The evening newscaster on CBS TV reported there were riots in Watts, sparked by a routine trafﬁc stop, but Gramma Sima told the TV it was Negro people rising up. Anat saw footage of familiar blocks burning, white National Guardsmen with helmets and riﬂes raised.
She worried about Dee’s granny, Deidra Williams, remembered how the front door of Mama D’s little house across the street from the Watt’s Towers was always open to let in the breeze and gentle noises of the neighborhood. Those days she visited Mama D with Dee and Ronald they had run freely in and out, loved and comfortable in their skins.
Anat understood that the smoke must burn Mama D’s eyes, and hurt her throat, that Mama’s doors and windows needed to be locked up tight now against the sirens and shooting. A deep shame took possession of Anat which she didn’t understand, only knew she had felt that way before, because of the ugly secret about Ralph, the man next door, that hurt her throat. This time her bad feeling was about something bigger, outside of herself.
Although she was eleven now, too grown to believe in magic, believe she could leave her body and change things by pretending, Anat disappeared into the fabric weave of her mother’s homemade couch, without meaning to, and found herself in the Gully across the street under the stars. Like an outdoor dog with a buried bone, Anat dug the dry dirt, scratched out embedded rocks until her ﬁngers were rough and sore. She unearthed a question; she knew didn’t make sense. She could not swallow her question whole, bit hard on it, and a sharp, painful piece, lodged deep in her gullet:
Would the whole world be different, she asked over and over, if I could make Ralph stop?
Anat decided she would keep away from him; never let him touch her again.
Gramma Sima pressed Anat’s shoulder and held a pale, tangerine segment up to her mouth. The citrus smell brought Anat back to their living room.
“You were asleep? Sima asked then answered: “I’m telling you, you cried and called out “Mama D, Mama D” in your sleep, Sha’ Anatele, ergern nisht, (don’t worry) Deidra Williams is strong. She can take care of herself. Believe me. I’ve known her longer than you.”
Her mom led Anat to bed and helped her put on her pajamas like she was a little kid. Her hair was snarled. Her bangs fell in her eyes. “I’m making you a haircut appointment before school starts.” Naomi said and saw Sima look at Anat’s dirty feet and a little pile of sand on her bedsheet. All summer Anat had been going barefoot on the beach and mostly slept in her bathing suit. Her feet were calloused with a sliver of glass in the ball of her right foot.
Quickly snapping off the light, Naomi apologized to her own mother, “I guess I just haven’t had the energy to be a very good mother. I just couldn’t ﬁght with her.” She braced for her mom’s sharp tongue. Instead, Sima said: “I wouldn’t judge, believe me. I know what it’s like to get divorced and be a single mother.” Gramma sat on the edge of Anat’s bed in the dark and sang her a Yiddish Lullaby:
Oyfn pripetchik brent a fayerl, Un in shtub iz heys
Un der rebe learnt Kleyne kinderlekh, Dem alef-beys
(On the hearth, a ﬁre burns And in the house, it is warm And the rabbi is teaching little children The alphabet.)
Naomi stayed and listened. She thought of the Kovno Ghetto version of the song about ragged work brigades smuggling food, ﬁrewood, and money into the Ghetto during the Holocaust. She had memorized the words listening to her mother and Deidra Williams rehearse both versions in their living room for the Los Angeles Community Choir, not long after the War ended just before Naomi married Morris.
Waiting for My Daughter to Land
Nothing dramatic like sky jumping, a hang-gliding or her birth at eleven pounds
Just a little plane, her second today, from Denver, which is so often as dramatic as it comes— the mountains’ gift of turbulence, the Well, I guess I’ve had a good life moment
But I wait in the darkness in the lot facing the runway and in this town that is a city, gaze at the shimmer of blues and reds of the ﬁeld and watch the lit cloud cover for arrival
And after a few minutes, the bright clouds give birth
I watch the plane land softly and wait for the text, along with a dozen other cars
Each dark car lights up with its news, then the backing up and slow ﬁling towards pick up
I tell you this because it’s a feeling as strong as any— the approach, the rolling search, the ﬁnal sighting, the exquisite privilege of lovingKatrin Talbot ~ Waiting for My Daughter to Land
you will shout to heteronormative suburban skies: nothing in this world is more powerful than being loved authentically. isn’t that another way to say liberation?
you will walk, ghostlike, down sidewalks you’ve never seen invisible beside your murderers. call it an emotional bandage ache for something, anything, to let you feel again lost in the basements of used bookstores disaster in the queer theory section, eternally love grrls only to let them go like passing trends question gender, sexuality, the meaning of life oh, and have a fun little political identity crisis.
you will read emma goldman in the rain, mistakenly thinking it’s romantic get to know the queer anarchist you never thought you had in you, only to reluctantly become a walking Leftist FAQ Page. answer a thousand variations on the theme of “who takes out the trash” by some miracle you won’t mind; you have a raison d’être, if only temporarily a purpose other than clawing at cotton balls searching for the radiant homosexuality that used to catch on ﬁre inside you shone like a star in broken suburban skies. you will realize you are a tiny ember who used to be a ﬂaming queer.
you will see family, broken and whole simultaneously you will become family; even if you were already family crisis means sometimes disaster warrants reinvention memorize the feeling of being understood, let it sustain you forever see you through the way every family reunion feels like a funeral to be wake up crying in mourning of the college graduation he might never witness picturing how he’ll think it’s cool you majored in gender studies and won’t even mock you for minoring in english but once in a while, worlds end: these days you major in tears
minor in daily steps toward assimilation. (you will begin tragically storing kleenex by your bed, or at least meaning to. you can foresee needing it every day of your life.) you will write angsty gay poems to honor a thousand late-night text chains tech problems, articles, gay tiktoks, photos of pride ﬂags, liberation you will write to memorialize the meme he sent you when he still thought you were bi
you will realize you’re actually a lesbian honor him with every step on your awkward queer road you will blast his playlist as you walk toward freedom radically queer again or for the ﬁrst time stare into mended suburban skies
nothing in this world is more powerful than being loved authentically. maybe family will always be another way to say liberation
Morning rays illuminate The late autumn grasses On the marshy lake. Eagles sit at attention atop The tallest oaks on the island.
This golden sunrise Is pure magic –The moment is ﬂeeting, In a blink
The regular blues and greys and browns Return.
The golden hour is bittersweet, We want it to remain Forever –
Art helps us to remember And reimagine –
WELCOME to my world of drawing images and words together.
Since I was a little girl I loved drawing as a way of learning. My kindergarten teacher told my mother to support me in drawing as she could tell that I loved it. Fortunately, my mother had her own incredible healing story of using drawing as therapy to help her move through a nervous breakdown when she was only 19.
I remember learning to write cursive when I was in First Grade. It seemed kinda cool to draw the letter ‘f’ starting at the middle line, going up, up, up to the top line and then coming down, down, down to the bottom line and ﬁnally coming back up to the middle line. Whew! Fun!
I thank you for joining me in drawing out the INNER LIGHT from within. Our INNER LIGHT is a consistently available light of understanding that lives within us. We’ll blend our visual and tactile sensibilities - and discover new valuable insights!
A point of view is a position from which a thing is viewed.
Everyone has a unique point of view. We each look at the world we share through our own eyes. I am the only one who can look through my eyes and you are the only one who can look through your eyes.
Our unique, individual point of view includes our present state of mind. Sometimes our state of mind is relaxed and open to seeing things in a new way. Sometimes our state of mind is tightened up from a recent accident or health diagnosis or job loss. Our point of view can be knotted up, which makes us see things that may not really be there.
Drawing, painting, sculpting, playing the piano, singing, dancing, writing poems and stories and really any kind of creativity can help us to learn more about our unique P.O.V. (point of view).
Take a few minutes right now to relax and just look at the world around you. Practice observing what you see without judgment or labeling things. Notice the vertical, horizontal and diagonal edges of things. And if you have another minute or two, get your pen or pencil and play with drawing out your point of view.
Lesson is a word that means “something to learn”.
Little children go to school and they are given a variety of lessons to help them learn how to read and write. And when they ﬁnish high school they use what they learned to apply for a job or enter a university.
Our life is a kind of school. Each human being has been given unique lessons for them to learn. Life gives us these lessons. Every day is new and that includes today! Ask yourself: What am I willing to learn today?
Now if you have a few minutes, sit down and relax and get a pencil and paper. Step 1) Use your dominant hand to write the question: What am I willing to learn? Think about this for a minute or two. Step 2) FEEL your heart taking in this question. Step 3) Use your other hand to write words or draw lines expressing your heart’s response. Take a minute to look at the marks on your paper - and then move forward into your day willing to learn.
You have a self. I have a self. My self is not your self. You are responsible for yourself and I am responsible for myself. Very few people really know themselves. What does it mean to “KNOW THYSELF”? Lao Tsu said: “Knowing others is wisdom; knowing the self is enlightenment.”
To KNOW THYSELF you must practice the ancient skill of observing yourself without judgment. Eventually, after long practice, observation blooms into its full maturity. You begin to identify with your higher function. You see yourself as an “Energy Converter” - converting the coarser energy of ego polarities and separateness into the ﬁner energy of connection, LOVE, ONENESS.
Self observation is the way we clean our MIND of ego and polarized/binary separate sense of self.
No one in the world can clean your mind - BUT YOU! No one but you can clean out the gunk - the old patterns, beliefs, prejudices, biases - that prevent us from living fully. Self observation is an amazing practice. I recommend the book, Self Observation, by Red Hawk.
Maureen Adams writes from a recently-painted basement corner in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. Creating poetry has improved her attention and observation skills. Some of her pieces have appeared in Trouvaille Review, Creative Wisconsin Magazine, Capsule Stories, and A Catalog Of Small Machines. She was also an award winner in the 2022 Muse Prize through Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.
Debra Ahrens lives in Madison, WI in quiet companionship with her cat. She believes that writing is a radical act of agency in a world intent on shaping our reality. Her poetry has been published by World Enough Writers, an imprint of Concrete Wolf, and A Catalog Of Small Machines, Volume I. Her essays have appeared in Catholic Digest and The Lookout.
Jane Barnard is a Madison, Wisconsin writer. These ﬂash pieces are excerpted from her hybrid memoir. Jane imagines a reader both erudite and tender, who enjoys irreverent wit and riffs on language. And who’s also moved by a journey of surviving depression and darkness with hard-won grace. The memoir is her spiritual punctuation in this earthly sentence, an intimate summing up of a long creative life. With punchlines. Jane has a Master’s Degree in English and is also a visual artist/teacher.
Adam Becker is an ordained minister. He holds a degree in Biblical Studies from an accredited seminary. Adam is an author, musician, and songwriter as well. He is the father of four children and loves people. Currently, Adam has a Real Estate license and is a volunteer ﬁreﬁghter. Adam also has a nondenominational ministry that he serves in. He lives on a hobby farm in the majestic rural valleys of Wisconsin.
Sue Blaustein is the author and publisher of In the Field, Autobiography of an Inspector (2018) and a 2022 chapbook, The Beer Line. Sue retired from the Milwaukee Health Department in 2016. She blogs for Ex Fabula (“Connecting Milwaukee Through Real Stories”), serves as an interviewer/writer for the My Life My Story program at the VA Medical Centers, and chases insects at the Milwaukee Urban Ecology Center. Her publication credits and bio can be found at sueblaustein.com
Deb Bushy is an Artist/Creator living in Madison, WI. Deb recently started writing short stories and personal poetry. Although she has been interested in writing for many years, her primary creative outlet has been creating artwork in the form of paintings and photography. Deb believes that the outlet for inspiration can take a creator into many different ﬁelds of art.
During the summer, Cynthia Dorfman lives in an old shoe factory in Madison, Wisconsin. After working for the U.S. Department of Education as a writer, editor, director of publications, and communications manager, she returned to creative writing. She has degrees from Skidmore College and the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College. Her work has appeared in such online and print publications as Ekphrastic Review Challenges, Red Ogre Review, and The Library Love Letter, as well as on the Viewless Wings poetry podcast.
Rose Grokwick is an emerging writer who explores ideas like climate change, gender, queerness, spirituality, and found family. When they're not writing, they enjoy voice acting, photography, and language learning. They have a degree from Lawrence University and recently moved to Madison, WI. Their latest project is a novel where the climate is "strangiﬁed" and a family of witches must confront their own ghosts as well as the monsters that inhabit their marsh.
Cynthia Marie Hoffman is the author of the poetry collections Exploding Head (Persea Books, 2024), Call Me When You Want to Talk about the Tombstones, Paper Doll Fetus, and Sightseer, as well as the chapbook Her Human Costume. Hoffman is a former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Wisconsin Arts Board. Her poems have appeared in Smartish Pace, Lake Effect, Blackbird, The Believer, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Madison, WI and values the lively and connected community of writers she has found there. Her website is cynthiamariehoffman.com.
Jesse Lee Kercheval is a poet, writer and translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry.. Her latest poetry book is, I Want to Tell You (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2023).
Chuck Kernler is a retired Fisheries Specialist from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. A man of many talents, he is eager to point out that he was the only Fisheries Specialist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. In his retirement he enjoys writing, gardening and toy making, to list a few.
Rebecca S. Krantz lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She has a PhD in Sociology and has worked with non-proﬁt organizations as a director, community organizer, facilitator, consensus process trainer, somatic leadership coach, and funder. Becca is married, has two adult stepchildren with disabilities, and enjoys ceramics and singing. She has blogged and written poetry and academic papers and, years ago, wrote and edited for the newspaper collective Feminist Voices. She is new to writing ﬁction.
Hildegard (Dee) Lambert was born in Vienna, Austria and immigrated to Wisconsin in 1955. In high school literature class she fell in love with the English language, both read and written, and has been writing poems and short essays since those teen years. She has been published in the anthology A Short Walk on a Long Road, a collection of works by UW-Rock County writing students, and also in Voice of the River Valley (January 2022).
Mark MacAllister grew up in northern Illinois and spent a great deal of time on his grandparents' dairy farm in southwest Wisconsin's Driftless region. His poems appear in several journals, including Steam Ticket, Quiet Diamonds, The Journal of Undiscovered Poets, Deep Wild: Writing From the Backcountry, Abandoned Mine and Passager Journal. Mark’s chapbook, Quiet Men And Their Coyotes, won the 2022 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Contest and was published in January 2023.
Karen Milstein has been writing for as long as she can remember, wishing from about the age of eight that she could write a screenplay for the Narnia series. Karen now splits her time between working as a Peer Specialist—using her lived experience to help individuals with mental health challenges strive towards their recovery—and writing a memoir. Her memoir crosses boundaries of culture, language, and mental health that show the fragility and brilliance of the human condition.
Katie “KT" Mullen is a visual artist and writer from Milwaukee who uses creativity as a catalyst to magnify our shared humanity and create change in her community. Her written work includes poems and essays with recurring themes of messy women, mental illness and complicated relationships.
Alex Newman is a Toronto writer. She wrote this piece on one of her many Driftless write-ins, workshopped it with her Driftless Critique Group, and had it published in September 2022 in *82review
Caroline Oldershaw lives, writes, and cooks near the Sugar River in Southwest Wisconsin. Caroline has studied poetry at the University of Iowa Summer School and considers creative nonﬁction and poetry her primary genres.
Peter Overholt retired from business in 2016. He has since decided to pursue writing as an avocation.
Rebecca Ressl is a nonproﬁt grant writer, poet, and prose writer, amongst other things. Her work can be found in Lily Poetry Review, Sky Island Journal, Masque & Spectacle, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Courtship of Winds. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her partner, child, rambunctious dog, and piles of books. Her poem within, “Body Blushed Into,” was originally published by Lily Poetry Review
Chris Rundblad regularly hauls her typewriter and classical guitar between Milwaukee and a Richland County ridgetop, ﬁnding happy opportunity to look around and write at both places. She thanks the Driftless Writing Center for encouraging the writing habit and for making this opportunity to share.
Roman Ryan is a poet and essayist who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He traded in a corporate strategy career for language, cultivation, and movement. Roman had just enough patience for two bachelor's degrees from American University and an MBA from Seattle University. Some of his writing can be found at romanjohnryan.com.
Alex Sawyer received their J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. They received a bachelor's degree in molecular biology and history of science with comprehensive honors and a minor in European studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Lynda Schaller grew up listening to elders' tales and free-ranging the land on a dairy farm in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region. She has lived in the rural Gays Mills intentional community Dancing Waters since its founding in 1982, where she tends and learns from the land and writes essays and poetry.
John Sime was born in 1952 in Viroqua, Wisconsin. He graduated from UW-Madison and served in the Peace Corps. He is a longtime businessman in the Driftless Area, and an author of prose and poetry.
Esther Malke Singer lives in Viola, Wisconsin. With the fabulous help of her partner, Laurel Lee, and their Driftless Writers critique group, Ms. Singer is writing her ﬁrst novel informed by her long life in urban California, her experiences as a lesbian mother, and the descendent of progressive Eastern European Jews. She is learning the lay of the land from the back of her pony.
Australian-born Katrin Talbot’s collection The Waiting Room for the Imperfect Alibis was just released from Kelsay Books, and The Devil Orders A Latte and Falling Asleep at the Circus are forthcoming from Fernwood Press and Turning Point Books, respectively. She has seven other chapbooks, two Pushcart Prize nominations and quite a few chickens. Her website is katrintalbot.com.
Molly Torinus (she/her) is a lesbian performative poet and organizer who writes on the themes of queer desire and emotionality, lesbian feminism, and her very out-there political views.
Jan Wellik is a writer and lover of nature living with her family on the backwaters of the Mississippi River, where this poem was written.
Heather C. Williams grew up in Watertown, WI and graduated from UW-Oshkosh in May 1970 with a Bachelor's Degree in Art and Humanities. In June 1970 she moved to San Francisco, CA in search of a Gurdjieff Teacher. She met The Prosperos School of Ontology, a school based on the teachings of Gurdjieff and Carl Jung. She is the author of the book Drawing as a Sacred Activity, published by New World Library in 2002. She retired in 2017 and in 2019 moved with her partner Cindy to Madison, WI.